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In which I write a Christmas letter…

Except, I didn’t. About 3/4 of my cards are in the post, the last 1/4 still waiting to be addressed. And none of them will have a Christmas letter in them. But the blog will, so pay attention! And I’m feeling festive, so it’ll happen in the form of the 12 days of Christmas!

In the Herdrich house this year, we were blessed with all of these…

12 day trips to castles, abbeys, and historic homes (maybe more!)

11 cricket sessions for Jessica

10 business meetings for Marcus (ha–more like 100!)

9 visitors to our house (Barbara, Kiki, Andrew, Wyatt, Nolan, Mick, Mercedes, Nancy, Amie)

8 swimming lessons for Jessica

7 races Kelly ran in (2 half-marathons, 3 10Ks, and 2 5Ks)

6 cheerleading practices for Samantha

5 knitting pattern designs by Kelly

4 trips exploring (Cornwall, Edinburgh, Germany/Bavaria, Hadrian’s Wall)

3 diving competitions for Erica

2 piano recitals for Samantha

And 1 happy Herdrich family!

Ta-da! #nailed it

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In which there are challenges and changes…

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.  -Fred Devito

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote recently.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking about it in the context of the Straybirds, a ladies’ singing collective that I helped start with a small group of amazing women.  Though my part has been small, I’m thrilled to say that I was a part of it at all, and was involved in the evolution of this North Yorkshire-based choir.  I have been challenged and changed.

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You may remember that I was singing back-up with a group of women on stage at the Tour de France Opening Ceremony for the Grand Depart just a few months ago.  Shortly thereafter, several members among us decided to branch out and try to form a new group.

I was scared.  I like things that are comfortable.  It was scary to step outside of a safe zone I’d created and be involved in something innovative.  Looking back, I’ve approached every change in my life with trepidation.  This was no different.  Move across an ocean with two young children?  Scary.  Leave my job to stay home with my children?  Scary.  Publish my first knitting pattern online?  Scary.  Publish my novel, which was, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my soul?  Terrifyingly scary.

By comparison, this should’ve been relatively simple. This was an adventure, not torture.  It was exciting and full of opportunity and promise.  It was a hobby, I was surrounded by friends, and clearly there are bigger challenges and changes happening every day all over the world.  #firstworldproblems

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I was scared anyway.  My mind rattled with what-ifs.  As we moved forward, I erred on the side of caution with every question we discussed or decision that needed making.  I didn’t want to take any more risks.

Luckily, I was surrounded by amazing, take-charge women who laughed in the face of a challenge!  Change?  They approached it with ease (or, they simply faked it better than I did).  With their know-how, we hired an amazing musical director, Neil Balfour.  He’s a gifted singer, director, conductor, and pianist with oodles of skills and a few extra hours a week to share with us.  I even approached his arrival with worry.  Was I, were we, good enough for him?  I was afraid.  I was comfortable with where I fit in our last choir.  In the back of my mind,  my self-doubt crept in. What if there was no room for me in this new singing collective?  What if where I fit before didn’t exist anymore?  It lingered, even after rehearsals rolled on and solos were doled out and we improved and grew and changed.  It lingered, though I was able to push that voice to the side more and more as time passed.

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And now, after months of risk-taking and challenging ourselves and stepping outside of proverbial boxes, the Straybirds have done their first gig. (Though I missed the gig itself while I was travelling, I practiced and rehearsed and worked alongside everyone else through the preparation stages.)  The feedback from family and friends and musicians we’ve worked with in the past was overwhelmingly positive.  The performance was impressive.  We made so many positive improvements.  We were a dazzling new singing collective.  We have challenged ourselves, and we have changed in a thousand positive ways.  I have changed in a thousand positive ways.

And there is no better feeling in the world.

I’ll try to remember that next time a new challenge crosses my path.

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In which we’re ready for the deep end

I spent some time scrolling through my blog recently, looking at things I wrote once upon a time, and remembering so many moments in time that I captured here. I was stunned when I came across this blog post from 2009 about Samantha and Erica’s first round of swimming lessons. I even had incredibly cute pictures of the girls’ first jumps off of the diving board in the deep end. It made me smile, looking at 3 year old Erica’s jump.

Erica, 3, contemplating that first jump

Erica, 3, contemplating that first jump


In she goes!

In she goes!

Why, do you ask? Because I am still filled with this amazing sense of wonder watching my girl dive, more than five years later. At eight, Erica dives on a squad, competing as a novice here in England. She can already do these amazing things that are little more than words to me (pike fall, tuck jump, straight jump, back tuck roll), all off of the poolside, the 1M, the 3M, and occasionally the 5M. She’s incredible. It’s easy to forget how far she’s come in just 7 short months–easier to see when you realize the change in 5 years.

Preparing for her first poolside dive

Preparing for her first poolside dive


Erica, 8, Diving at the Tynemouth Trophy

Erica, 8, Diving at the Tynemouth Trophy


Her favorite dive!

Her favorite dive!

But looking back at her first jump off of the diving board in 2009 really brings it all home for me. She still makes the face, with her hand in the mouth, when she contemplates a new challenge, working her way through it, deciding how to proceed. It’s funny what we forget with time.

I’m so proud of my amazing, talented girl. I was when she was three, and I am today.

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In which the sun shines in Yorkshire

It is, it really is!  It might be almost freezing out there this morning, but the sun is shining and it’s beautiful.  When we first moved to England in 2006 someone told us that when the sun shines here it’s the most beautiful place in the world.  They weren’t wrong.  They were so very, very right.

The Yorkshire Morning Mitts  Photograph Copyright of Joe Hancock

The Yorkshire Morning Mitts
Photograph Copyright of Joe Hancock

And it’s that sun shining in Yorkshire that inspired the Yorkshire Morning Mitts, my first pattern to appear in a book! 3 Skeins or Less – Fresh Knitted Accessories is by knitwear designer, publisher, and editor Tanis Gray.  The book includes patterns by Tanis, Ann Weaver, Romi Hill, and so many more popular designers in the field today.  I feel absolutely ecstatic to be in their company!  From shawls and socks to mittens and hats, there are a plethora of accessories to fit every requirement in Fresh Knitted Accessories, making it the perfect choice for 1, 2, or 3 skeins of yarn that you’ve been saving for a special project.

3 Skeins or Less - Fresh Knitted Accessories By Tanis Gray Interweave/F+W; $24.99

3 Skeins or Less – Fresh Knitted Accessories
By Tanis Gray
Interweave/F+W; $24.99

When Tanis first approached me about the opportunity to put together a design for this book, I was over the moon.  But we had literally just arrived in England.  We were living in temporary housing (five of us in a tiny two bedroom flat, with one bathroom), without our household goods, with no car, over the summer holidays.  I had three skeins of yarn to my name and no needles.  I looked at Marcus and said, “Can I make this work?  I really want to do this.”  He said to go for it, and I jumped right in.

I had an idea for these fingerless gloves, inspired by the autumn mornings in Yorkshire, and they practically designed themselves.  The girls gave me time to work, with Marcus’ help, and I met the first deadline set by someone else since I stopped teaching in 2005.  It was this massive achievement for me, a huge sense of accomplishment.

The Yorkshire Morning Mitts are knit in Rowan Pure Wool DK which was an absolute pleasure to work with.  They include a decorative cable and lace panel along the front of the mitts and a stockinette palm.  They’re long enough to keep your arms and your hands warm when the weather is chilly, as it so often is on a Yorkshire morning.

When the book arrived in October, I was over the moon with excitement.  There are so many beautiful patterns in it.  I can’t believe I have something in there, too.  It’s a book I would have seen online or in the book store and wanted to own a copy of.  And I do…only it’s even more exhilarating to flip through the pages because something inside this book is mine.

When the sun shines in Yorkshire…indeed.

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In which I learn about the hill

Not long ago I came across the 25 Golden Rules of Running. They’re fabulous, and were immediately pinned. The guys and gals at Runner’s World have hit the nail on the head with many of these, and as I’ve looked to improve my running over the past year (has it really been that long?) I’ve returned to them often.

And on one of those returns, I started thinking about #14, The Up-Beats-Down-Rule. Please go and read the details and the entire piece here, but the rule is this: “Running uphill slows you down more than running downhill speeds you up.”

It’s totally true in running, though I’m prone to forget it. I go up a hill and slow down to 11 min/mile. I reach the crest of the hill and expect that I’ll speed up to 9 min/mile and average 10 min/mile. But that never happens. I only run down that hill at 10:30. Faster than I ran up the hill, but not as fast as I’d have run the entire course flat. It’s a huge realization for me as a parent.

Yeah, I’m onto parenting now. Follow me here.

Three days a week, my youngest daughter is in nursery while my older girls are in school. So that means that three times a week, I get approximately 5-6 hours to myself.

I have this amazingly supportive and helpful husband, but on a few occasions when I need his help with things that he doesn’t want to pitch in with, he’s been known to say, “But you had all day to yourself! How can you be tired?”

Ta-Da!

It’s the “Running uphill slows you down more than running downhill speeds you up” rule all over again.

My time three children, all in school, is totally running downhill. I get it. I appreciate it. I run child-free errands. I do child-free chores. I have a coffee date with friends or sit down and eat my lunch in peace while watching a television show. I work sometimes, but it’s work on my own terms as a freelance writer and designer, so it’s work that I love. My life when the girls are in school is downhill.

But the mornings and the afternoons and the evenings are uphill. Not always uphill. They aren’t always these steep inclines on cobblestones. But sometimes they are. And when they aren’t, they are these slow ascents, often reaching a crest where I can sometimes hardly catch my breath. I can see that downhill in the distance (in this instance, bedtime). But will it ever be enough to truly recover from the uphill?

I love parenting. I love my girls. But it is, in so many ways, an uphill battle. And those downhills that husbands or friends and family members see aren’t enough to make the entire course flat. That’s why we’re tired. It’s why we need help. It’s why working women don’t have it easier than stay-at-home mothers (that’s a whole different uphill battle that I can’t even tackle in this blog post). It’s why I had a long lunch with friends and still didn’t manage to get dinner on the table on that night after a diving lesson, a piano lesson, and a meeting with someone’s teacher (plus an impromptu play date and spelling lesson). It’s not just true of parenting–it’s why you can have this crazy, mental week at work and don’t feel refreshed after the weekend. Why the night isn’t enough to prepare you for tomorrow. Why a cat nap doesn’t make up for the sleepless night.

I am such a lucky mom to have those downhills. They’re that moment when we can catch our breath and realize how hard the incline was and how proud we are that we made it.

But the parenting route isn’t, never will be, as fast as a flat one.

And that’s probably what makes it great.

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In which we “gather up the ones we think we want to perish with!”

Contrary to my numerous humorous conversations over the past few days, I’m actually acutely aware of the fact that I’m never really going to be a celebrity. I’ll never be swarmed by fans or chased down the street by paparazzi. I’ll never be sat at Barnes & Noble doing a book signing of my first novel (which I did write, at least). I’ll never perform an arena gig to 10,000 people and be broadcast around the world.

Strike that. Just that last one.

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That’s just one bit of what’s been so amazing about being a part of Hope & Social‘s Band Anyone Can Join.

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Don’t get me wrong–it’s a big bit. I still cannot believe that it happened. Two and a half days of rehearsal for a three minute stint on stage supporting my favorite band, launching what is one of the largest sporting events in the world, surrounded by some of the most incredible people that I’ve ever met.

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It’s that last part that I really want to, have to, talk about. When I sat down this morning to start to put together this piece, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people that I’ve met and worked with and socialized with (read: drank with) during the course of this project. Really incredible people, with talents and stories and experiences to share. And share them they did. Because of these people and what they shared, I can honestly say that my life will never be the same.

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Martin Green, executive producer, rocks. Like, totally rocks my socks off. He’s just so down to earth and had this really kind way about him. He is what parents should be to their kids (and for the purpose of staging this event, we were definitely like kids). He praised at all the right times, encouraged when it was needed, and was incredibly present, accessible, and pleasant. Not only that, but he toasted us at the pub afterwards. In short, he rocked (did I say that already?).

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The Grand Old Uke of York have so much talent and they had fun and kept calm all day. For an entire day of rehearsals, these guys and girls stated in full costume and played ukelele. Like, played all day. They kept everyone’s spirits and energy up. What I really loved about them, though, was their collaborative spirit. They weren’t possessive about their music. Every song they played it was, “sing along”, “join us”, “what should we play next?”. They put on special “shows” for the kids, played H&S tunes to keep us all excited, and wanted everyone to be happy. They were amazing.

Of all the volunteers in this little band that the Tour of Infinite Possibility brought together, I think the Spa Town Roller Girls had perhaps the hardest job to do. Skating back and forth across a stage, over three different surfaces, spaced out evenly, not bumping into musicians of instruments, kneeling on stage, and doing some of it while holding bells and singing. You know…just your typical Thursday night. Not once did I see or hear these ladies falter. They took it all in stride. And in the waiting time, they laughed, smiled, talked, and were generally just awesome sauce.

There were more people–Westgate Primary School children who (I kid you not) were the best behaved children I’ve ever seen in my life), a brass band, more ukelele players, and a chorus and the orchestra, too. There were Kate and Craig and Helen who made the event even more amazing with all the work they did behind the scenes in conjunction with the band and with Grassington Festival. There was just so much going on and I could write forever about everyone and what they did.

But I won’t. Because if I don’t start to wind down, I’ll never finish this post. And I still have to talk about two more groups of people that made this day what it was for me.

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The Northern Songbirds are the only reason that I was involved with this amazing (I know…I have used that word a lot today) event. If it weren’t for them…well, I’m not sure. These girls have become some of my closest friends in the world. Not only do we sing and dance (ha!) together, but we are there for one another, through thick and thin, the good and the bad. And this was definitely, definitely, the good. I got to stand on stage with some of my best friends, doing something we all love. Is there any better feeling in the world than that?

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Finally, I have to talk about Hope & Social (yes, again). These guys are so phenomenal. They are these talented musicians, but they aren’t conceited about it. They have followers and a huge fan base and they make this music that…wow. But they’re so down to earth and approachable and just awesome. They’re friends–to everyone that wants to be friends. They’re Rich sitting at the pub and sharing really inappropriate stories and James telling me about home and Si smiling while he and Rach hug after the gig and Simon surrounded by people but still making time for everyone and Ed on a table at the bar and talking to Gary about his girlfriend and…well…you get the idea. They are more than the music they make. And that’s what makes them great.

This may have been my only arena gig, but it won’t be theirs.

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And I’ll say I knew them when. And once upon a time, I was a part of “The Big Wide.”

In the meantime, I’ve done what the boys suggested in “Rolling Sideways.”

“So we’ll gather up our family, gather up our friends,

Gather up the ones we think we want to perish with…”

Thank you. Thank you all for everything.  This entire experience has changed my life for the better.  Thank you isn’t enough.

PS:  Watch this amazing performance by Hope & Social and the Band Anyone Can Join here!  Love the song?  Download it for free here!

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Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings’ performance serves as a master-class in music at Grassington Festival

To be able to do something you love, and do it well, for decades is a gift many are denied.  But for those lucky few artists, a lifetime of music can delight entire audiences year after year.

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Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings are among the lucky ones.  Performing in front of a large and energetic audience at Grassington Festival on 25 July, they proved, once again, that talented musicians and good music can stand the test of time.  The former Rolling Stone has gathered around him some of the greatest soul, blues, and rock ‘n roll musicians, creating a fluid group that performs so comfortably with one another that you almost feel that you’ve stumbled upon a jam session in someone’s garage, instead of a packed marquee in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  They’re music, done right.

Seattle-based singer/songwriter Emily Cimber opened the evening on a sunny evening in Grassington.  Her raspy voice, lyrics that are the perfect combination of romantic, dark, and touching, and talent on both guitar and piano set the stage for a great night of music.  Her work is a mix of country and folk, and songs like “Saying Goodbye” had the audience leaning in to one another and asking, “How do you spell ‘Cimber'”?

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The lead in to the evening’s headliners was perfectly coordinated, with Wyman taking the stage to a loud chorus of applause and introducing the kings (and queen) that make up the Rhythm Kings.  Highlights of the evening (for me, at least!) were without a doubt Frank Meade’s masterful performances on the harmonica, Bev Skeet’s incredible vocals on “This is a Man’s World,” and the opportunity to hear a range of classics that I haven’t heard in years, with a new twist.

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Seeing Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings live in concert?  Awesome.

An introduction to Emily Cimber, a new talent who’s right up my alley?  Amazing.

The opportunity to engage in audience participation during “Talk to Me, Baby” with legends of their craft?  Absolutely priceless.

Thanks,Grassington.