A Syrian Refugee Support Advent Calendar 2016

Chocolate advent calendars are not a tradition in Albania and I haven’t done them neither when I was a student in Paris. So they are a relatively new thing for me. I haven’t yet introduced them to my children and I am not sure I will anytime soon (I know of many grown ups trying to break away from constant chocolate desire).

Instead of the traditional chocolate calendar I have seen other examples of advent calendars with “acts of kindness” each day in December until Christmas day. I like the alternative ideas on the traditional take and I thought that I would write my own advent calendar in support of something that occupies my mind a lot at the moment.

In the face of the “worst humanitarian” crisis in Syria since WW2, I have been having a full range of emotions about the hundreds of thousands of children and people suffering from this dreadful conflict. Feelings going from extreme sadness, to despair, to feeling powerless and guilty and unable do anything to change the situation. I am sure so have felt many other people.

But one morning on the way to work I decided that instead of “feeling bad” and doing nothing, I would do something each day that can help or contribute in alleviating somehow the situation of innocent civilians trapped in a war between extremist factions of a divided society.

So here is my Syrian Refugees Support Advent calendar 2016 with some real examples of things we can do everyday to help a little. The situation is terrible and desperate for millions of people, and having a comfortable and peaceful life, feels like “the best and the worst thing” we could have whilst others cannot have.


This is my list of actions:

1 – I decided to help Samara’s Aid Appeal, founded by Samara a mother from Brighton, in 2013 to supply Syrian refugees with items of clothing and shoes to keep warm while living in tents in the winter.

2 – I wrote to my MP Rosena Allin-Khan asking her to support the petition to airdrop aid to starved cities in Syria.

3 – I met with another mum from NappyValleyNet (our local online forum) to talk about solutions and doing things together to help refugees

4 – I dropped off our baby clothes and clothes from a friend at the Balham Vineyard Church in response to Samara’s Aid appeal December collection

5 – Attended Samara Levy’s address at the Balham Vineyard church to hear her talk about how she has set up Samara’s Aid Appeal and has done am amazing contribution for the past 3 years to desperate and vulnerable people in Syria and Irak.

6 – Made a donation to a local Syrian refugee fundraising event at the Tooting Tram and Social although we didn’t attend the event (hope it was fun 🙂

7 – Booked tickets to see Vanessa Redgrave film “Sea sorrow” on the refugee crisis at the Battersea Arts Centre. All ticket receipt will go to the UNHCR

8 –  Registered with Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees email address that updates on local initiatives and activities about helping refugees.

9 – Registered with Refugees at Home on Facebook and email address to register my interest to host refugees that could be matched to us in Tooting.

10 – Called the Foreign Office and wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson to support the safe passage of trapped civilians in Eastern Aleppo.

11 – Shared my activity on the NappyValleyNet forum where a number of local mums are discussing the issues around refugee crisis and how we can help.

12 – Made a donation to Syrian Refugees Blanket Fundraiser that is raising funds to buy blankets for Syrian refugees based in Jordan.

13 – Read about the Syrian conflict trying to understand the parties involved and especially who are the rebels and the Western countries foreign policy in the region in the last 20 years.

14 – Had a hard time sleeping after seeing photos of dead babies, and parents following the intensification of the war in Aleppo. I only calmed down after finding peace in sending prayers and thoughts to those affected.

15 – Called the Foreign Office and the Russian Embassy to make my concerns known about the current crisis.

16 – Helped load the lorry of donations for Samara’s Aid Appeal for Syria and Irak, from Balham Vineyard Church. 1200 packages were collected, next round will be in January.

17 – Considered joining a protest at the (empty) Syrian embassy in London but was confused about who was holding it and when (and didn’t go in the end).

18 – Went to the screening of Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow with 2 Albanian friends and spoke in the audience and to organisers afterward looking for ways to do something more. This fundraiser raised £1.5k for UNHCR.

19 – Called Caras, a local charity in Tooting working with refugees and asylum seekers to become a volunteer with them.

20 – I called and wrote an email to a local councillor, Candida Jones who organised the Vanessa Redgrave screening at the Battersea Arts Centre about facilitating a mum’s friend application to foster a Syrian child (she was turned away from the council).

21 – Organised a meeting at work to start “Refugee conversations” with refugees and asylum seekers in our work offices to help with English and general social and cultural understanding.

22 – Donated to the DEC Yemen Crisis Appeal

Looking for an inspirational quote to conclude, “the Ripples of Hope” from Robert F. Kennedy seemed appropriate.

“Each time a man (and a woman I hope) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Multitasking, is that really such a good ‘skill’ to have?

Everyone today talks about the need to multitask, and the fact that in particular women are naturally good ‘multi-taskers’. Some common combinations of numerous tasks:

1. Washing the dishes while supervising children’s dinner and cooking the meal for next day (yes I have done that in the past, with what I have called ‘tremendous speed’)

2. Taping on our smart phones while walking down the street (I see so many people do that, constantly, every day despite it being bloody dangerous!)

3. Checking on google maps for directions while pushing a buggy and frantically trying to hold a toddler in tow (me and many other mums do it regularly, trying to get to a playdate or birthday party in the middle of an unknown common)

4. Talking to family members on the landline while checking emails on the mobile (and loosing track of what is being talked about in the conversation; they didn’t notice, did they?)

5. Doing our online shop on the app, while finding recipes and ordering a gift for a 3rd birthday present (that’s called not wasting your time).

We make lists. We use apps. We work hard. We entertain. We have kids. We read a lot (blog posts, social media updates, ebooks, books). We have a social and family life. We commute. We have a side passion that we try to grow and nurture. We have wider interests.

The list can be even longer, if everything was included.

This is the kind of fast-paced life we live, where our attention is continuously divided between numerous tasks, presented to us in rapid succession and sometimes even simultaneously.

While women perform better than men at multitasking and prioritising in particular ‘in stressful situations’, as numerous studies have reported, women tend to downplay their multitasking abilities while men tend to overplay them.

However, the truth is that the more we multitask, the more we make mistakes.

Our brains are not that well equipped to deal with constant interruptions and distractions that take our attention away. It even seems to be counter-evolutionary.

My husband regularly reminds me that I am ‘putting too much on my list’, an inflationary process that ends up with some randomly selected items, dropping off my list. And the ‘to-do’ list becomes a ‘wish-list’. What was the point of the list, in the first place?

Concentrating and completing one task at the time, can sometimes be much more efficient than trying to do, three other things at the same time.

For example concentrating on pushing the buggy and holding the toddler in tow, without also holding the phone and causing it to fall and break (that would be a disaster, right?)

So in fact the more I think about it, multitasking can sometimes be counter-productive, especially on competing tasks such as checking email while on a phone call or walking. But for certain tasks it can work, such as commuting and reading, or pushing the buggy and running.

Personally I am growing tired of multitasking. 

I am going to start scanning my lists for competing items, remove them from today’s list and add them on to a new list. This way I will end up with a number of lists, based on priorities, but at least, I will lead to completion one list at a time.

Good at multitasking? Maybe, not so much for me finally. How about you? Are you good at it? How do find the right balance?

Some visual examples

Multitasking, is that such a good 'female'



The devolution that matters for housing 

I have written another work related post, during the three days I attended the CIH housing conference. 

I have been going to the conference every year apart from last year, when I was heavily pregnant with Elliot. 

This year’s conference was by far the one I enjoyed the most, as I made good use of my time, going into sessions, writing 2 blogs for CIH, one quick news article for Inside Housing, took lots of notes to write other content. I also enjoyed the sessions, had chats with some delegates at the conference, met some of the exhibitors and enjoyed getting to know CIH’s staff in Coventry more. 

Here is the piece on housing and devolution, the hot housing topic in town. 

The devolution that matters for housing

This year’s general election reignited the debate surrounding the devolution of powers away from Westminster. CIH policy and practice officer Laura Shimili shares her thoughts on this divisive topic following Housing 2015’s masterclass session: ‘Is the UK on course for a break-up – and what impact for housing?’.

In recent months, the sealing of the Greater Manchester deal – and other potential city deals to follow in Leeds and Sheffield – has hit the headlines. Devolution has become another ‘hot topic’ and is much debated, perhaps most of all as a result of the Scottish referendum which, despite not achieving its intended objective, managed to give the Scottish independence legitimacy.

Read more

Successful in Brixton and expanding, Makerhood promotes local goods and gifts

Makerhood has received a lot of attention since it started out a few years ago. Now, Lambeth Council is looking at rolling the idea out further afield. I went to find out more from its three directors.

If you enjoy buying gifts with a unique story and meaning, and you like to keep it local, you’ve probably heard of Brixton’s Makerhood.

Join Makers' Club

Three years ago, Kristina, one of its founders, wanted to find a piece of furniture made in Brixton. She didn’t know where to go. An idea was born.

‘Now people that want to shop for local goods can do exactly that, either through our website, or the markets, shops and events that we support.’

Since 2010, Makerhood’s site has been showcasing a variety of goods including art prints, paintings, cards, clothes, homeware and jewellery. Many of the items are handmade or can be made to the buyers’ specification, providing a unique one-off purchase and an ideal gift (especially for Christmas, hint hint).

Their success in Brixton led to the creation of another club in West Norwood. Supporting this kind of activity is about supporting the economy and helping people in Lambeth to become resilient, especially in tough economic times.

After receiving requests from makers from other areas outside Brixton to join, the three founders decided to pitch to Lambeth Council Transformation Panel. They liked the idea and agreed to support a wider roll-out across Lambeth.

‘Funding from the council is helpful to cover some of the start-up costs, but we still have to put in some of our income to cover for the costs,’ says Kristina.

Requests continue to come in from other areas, such as Wandsworth and Southwark, but as a group run by volunteers, Makerhood’s capacity is not unlimited. Becoming a self-sustained social enterprise in the next three years, by increasing the numbers of joining members, is the ultimate goal.

Creatives across Lambeth can now join Makerhood for an annual contribution of £25. It means they will have their work showcased to a much wider audience than if they were working alone, including the clubs 2500 twitter followers.

Learning to screen print

But it’s not just the sales opportunities that attract people to Makerhood.

‘Sharing and discussing issues with other creative people is the biggest value Makerhood offers to its members,’ says Kim Winter, the second co-founder of Makerhood (and maker herself). ‘For many of them, working alone can be quite isolating.’

The club organises regular meetings, business development workshops and other discussion sessions. Those interested in buying or selling can subscribe to a monthly newsletter via the website that contains updates about makers, markets and events’.

Members also receive a range of discounts from supporting business, such as packaging services, printers, framing and art suppliers.
This year Makerhood has also teamed up with the independent retailer, Diverse Gifts, on Atlantic Road.

‘Its a great opportunity for our members,’ says Kim, ‘as many of them will not have engaged with retailers before.’

Members can also take part in larger events, such as the Urban Art Fair, or the Women of the World festival, through a cooperative Makerhood stall, thus splitting the costs and enjoying a shared experience.

Making with Makerhood's members

‘We want to be a very local group that develops connections. We hope our members will bump into each other in the street,’ says Karen Martin, the third co-founder.

Volunteers are welcomed by Makerhood. There are a range of roles, from helping out with the website and events, to publicity, blogging and social media work. If you are interested contact Kristina Glushkova.

‘The support from the local community, makers and volunteers so far has been fantastic. We hope this carries on as we continue to develop,’ says Kristina.

A snapshot with words: chimney covered in red

The weekly writing challenge: snapshots  has invited bloggers to describe with words something we have seen that has impressed us, instead of snap! Taking a photo. 

For this one, what I saw was an image of an old factory turned into hospital covered in the red light at sunset. Even if I had my camera with me and had tried taking a picture the image wouldn’t have described ‘what I saw’. What I saw was an impression tainted with feelings, of sadness, sorrow but also love and compassion.

Love for myself and other people in my situation. Love for all those unborn babies or those that are gone too soon, and all their loving parents.

In that hospital with a chimney I had initially been to fill in the forms of my first pregnancy. I had then returned for the numerous tests following the loss of the pregnancy at 10 weeks. Such excitement was short lived and turned into sadness and a feeling of being powerless.

What I saw at that moment some time after the miscarriage while I was on a train, was the image of this promised little baby that never grew bigger. It was a moment of warm energy because of the sunset and the red light, but also of remembering the feeling of disappointment and sorrow. And finally as the train was moving faster I was taken away by a moment of renewed promise, of a new bright day starting again.

The only way for me to describe this moment is with words. I wrote a little poem at the time to record how I felt so that I could remember the exact feelings. It is below and it is the first time I am sharing it.

Chimney covered in red

A bright day is over, bringing a red sky
Red sky at night is shepherd’s delight
I feel impatient for tomorrow

From the train I can see the factory’s chimney
Its peak covered in red,
wearing the sun’s light

That particular peak means a lot to me
It sings with a baby voice,
a baby that was never fully grown

Left behind the trail of the sun
the factory revamped into a hospital,
falls into the nights’ sweet dreams

The river’s waters look warmer in red
but not enough to make me forget
I close my eyes

Tomorrow’s promise takes me away

Past (loved) but unfinished projects, how do you feel about them? What do you do with them?

You know how you have a feeling of regret about past projects that once meant a lot to you but you didn’t quite take to completion?

Lack of knowledge and experience, not enough confidence in yourself, not having the right state of mind, many reasons can be the cause. This is how I felt this morning about my translation of a book from French to Albanian and my collection of poems in Albanian, that don’t have a real existence other than that in my computer. The translation actually appeared in chapters in an Albanian newspaper ‘Ars’ (which has ceased to exist) and as a complement to another book (for one of the chapters on the Marquis de Sade) and the same for some of the poems published in ‘Ars’.

While I was pondering whether it is reasonable for me to do something with these projects or just forget about them, I was walking past St George’s gardens, the cemetery turned into a park, near King’s Cross, London which reminded me of the transience of our lives and how if I didn’t do anything, these projects would disappear without a proof.

St Georges gardens, near Kings Cross, London

I took this photo in the summer (for a previous post) but looking at the same place today, in a wet and gray morning, it seemed much more gloomy than this.

So conclusion, I said to myself ‘hurry up and make the most of the time you have, to finish your unfinished projects, before it is too late’. Even if a copy of these books is left behind, to rest in our library at home, that will be an achievement. My son or his children may look at these and think of me (I can hear myself think, they will need to speak Albanian though, but that is another story and hopefully they will).


Translation – I will make my translation of La litterature et le Mal, of George Bataille, available online. I will have to find the right platform for this.

Collection of poems – again I will print them into a pdf or some other nicer formats and make them available online using self-publishing platforms to share them with other people.

I would never know if what I have written is good or rubbish, if I don’t share it with other people, right?

So that was my resolution, this morning. Thanks to St Georges gardens (and all the souls they lay there) and Octavia Hill (who made it possible for these gardens to be where they are). I have a special connection to these gardens as I fell they bring all aspects of life into people’s daily reflections. On this occasion they helped me take a resolution and do something about some unfinished projects that matter to me.

The power of music – how ‘Bright Eyes’ (the band) music brightens my mornings (and photos as usual)

Some mornings I feel more stressed than others especially when I’m running late, and think about the list of things waiting to be done over the course of the day. The day is just starting and I haven’t woken up properly, nor have I had some proper rest for the past errr two (months) weeks but hey, here it goes again for another day.

As I drop my son at the childminder and start walking down to Brixton tube I feel down. Not even the sunshine will lift me up. What I feel is tiredness, lack of energy and motivation. I’m not ready to face the day.

But then I have this brilliant idea ‘what about listening to some music’? I have done it before and it seems to work, it lifts me up. Even for that that I feel too lazy but I force myself as I know it’ll be good. So I look at the list of songs and think what should I listen to? Hmmm Bright Eyes, I really like them and listening to their music always brings back memories. And it often inspires me about writing ideas.

So I choose their ‘I’m wide awake, it’s morning’ album as it fully resonates (not) with how I’m feeling (for me it should ‘I’m wide asleep, can you come back later?’) and start listening.

The first song ‘At the bottom of everything’ is a great song, although a little unusual as it talks about a plane crashing over the biggest ocean on planet earth and a girl asking a man sitting next to her ‘where are we going’ to which he responds ‘we’re going to a birthday party, darling, it’s your birthday party!’. This exchange only is enough to grab my attention (for the hundredth time) and make me realise how lucky I am that I am not falling over an ocean from a crashing plane (or some similar disasters).

A beautiful melody bursts out after that initial monologue that fills me up with notes and rhythm, all over my body. And it gives the falling plane in my imagination enough power to reverse the fall and start flying up again to a beautiful destination where all passengers meet their loved ones and are happy again.

After that first song I start enjoying my walk despite the tiredness, feel positive about my condition despite the lack of motivation and realise (for the hundredth time) how lucky I am. And as the music plays in my ears I start having (for the hundredth time too) that feeling of compassion and love towards other people that have their own lives and inner worlds just like me.


Feeling low and gloomy. Field of grass in Norfolk.


Feeling ‘brighter’. Rape seed field in Norfolk.

So in a matter of half an hour and thanks to Bright Eyes’ beautifully crafted music and lyrics that have a pacifying and energizing effect on me, the world has become a better place. Now I am wide awake and it’s morning!

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My digital life and how it can enhance my real life

It is often said that we live in a digital age where digital technology allows us to follow in real time news and updates from friends and family around the world.

For instance we all have an array of social media outlets that we can use to share what we’re up to with everyone: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google +, Instagram, Pinterest etc. The list is by no means exhaustive, it is just the outlets I am most familiar with (although I don’t use them all with the same effort the main reason being time or the lack of it).

Twitter pic

For me as an expat with friends and family in at least two other countries, the use of social media to stay connected is a must. And recently this blog and the natural desire to want to share it with other people, drives me towards social media again. Although it is different as sharing my blog will involve looking for networks that can be different from friends’ networks.

And this is where I find the use of social media extremely beneficial. It creates added value out of almost nothing in terms of initial investment. As most outlets are free there is no financial cost associated with setting up multiple accounts. The only cost is time and that is in terms of initial and ongoing efforts put into creating and maintaining various profiles alive. All social media users know that time spent online can be significant as the more accounts you have the more time you will need to spend updating them or writing your blog for example. But time spent online despite being the main investment (and the main loss so to speak) is also the main ally when it comes to achieving some success from online activities. The longer and more often you are on social media the more people become used to seeing you and start valuing your contribution. So perseverance pays!

But increasing the amount of time spent online often means less time spent on other things. That blog article you want to write, and the pinterest account to update, and the latest post to share on twitter, and the latest photos to upload on flickr, and the latest photos from your flickr contacts to see and comment on, and the latest posts from the blogs you follow to read and comment on, you start feeling that digital life is taking over your life. conundrum starts to emerge between the digital life and the real life when it comes to the use of time and efforts. Digital life and real life can start to compete, a situation which is very different from the starting point where digital life was a copy of real life and was aimed at improving it. 

Bloggers will know what I’m talking about especially those that have decided to make a living out of it. But in a way as they concentrate their efforts in one direction it might be easier for them to live the ‘digital way of life’?

For me blogging is still for fun so I do it when I can. But I often feel the frustration from the lack of time to do more of it or to engage in more interactions.

So digital life is not taking over for me yet but the temptation to spend more time online is there. I recently read an article about being alone in a digital world that describes how younger generations are learning to be ‘lonely’ in what is a much better connected world (https://medium.com/i-m-h-o/982692cea1c9)

That is the effect of smart phones or other devices people own that are so interesting but also so addictive!

For me it is easy to draw the line as other things take priority, my son, my family, work, friends and then what time is left goes to my digital life. And as long as I can make the most of the digital connections to enhance my real life I am happy.

Not only am I better connected to my existing friends, but I have made new friends and have expanded my contacts through online interactions. Mums online network ‘the NappyValleyNet’, twitter, the Brixton Blog have helped me find contacts in my area.  

The wider, fluid and obstacle-free network that digital technology is helping to create has the potential to increase our interactions based on the things that interest us. These exchanges often translate into face to face relationships that enhance our connectivity.

So it is all beneficial and worth the ongoing investment and efforts. And as long as the temptation to spend time online is under control and is being used for a good ‘real’ cause the balance achieved is the right one: all in favor of the enrichment of real life!