Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Our Jesse Tree
{incl. Adam & Eve, Jacob, Joseph, & David}

Sophie as the Star of Bethlehem

I really love her pensive, unselfconscious look

Imogen as Mary

A baby!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Well, we have a wakeful baby, two big girls who are ill (but better than yesterday) but happy and look forward to some special family time together. Merry Christmas to everyone who stops by here!

Friday, 17 December 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday* Volume 4

1) Illness has struck! All of us girls (OK, that's everyone EXCEPT my husband) has suffered from temperatures, coughs and runny noses, with some vomiting thrown in. But we're OK. A little tired and moody, but OK. Even the baby. Who slept last night waking only once for a feed. In comparison to recent wakeful nights due to a stuffy nose and teething. Yay!

2) Advent - it's wondeful! Coupled with illness and snow, we've been resting and peacefully preparing, living quite simply and taking things day by day. The children are counting down to Christmas, but taking enjoyment in taking turns to unwrap stories and stick pictures on the cardboard Jesse tree (I really must do a photo!). Things are MUCH less crazy than in recent years. My husband thanked me yesterday for taking care of the preparations allowing him to focus on his work, but it hasn't been a burden. I've purposely not taken on too much.

3) Like Jen, I'm a bit torn over Santa Claus, and gifts in general to be honest. We're hammering home the Saint Nicholas/spirit of Christmas thing, and the children don't expect much in their stockings. We did 4 Samaritans Purse shoeboxes, and the kids aren't hugely focused on what they are getting. But recently I've brought home HUGE bags of gifts from other people, friends and family members, and I literally haven't got anywhere to put them!

4) Hopefully though, like we managed with Advent, I'm going to instigate a whole 12 days of Christmas thing this year, and open presents from different people every day. We have dinner with the inlaws on the 25th, we visit my parents on 26th, and then will be opening things gradually and visiting family friends for lunch on a couple of days in Christmas week before attending that great English tradition, the Pantomime, on New Year's Eve! It's nice for me that I'm not completely focused on Christmas Day itself, but the whole tranche of celebrations.

5) We always have a few people over the Saturday prior to Christmas Day for a preliminary celebration, a mince pie and a slice of Christmas cake, spiced apple juice and mulled wine. This year, it will REALLY be a few - I've pared it back big style, as last year our house got quite trashed with all and sundry - which is making it more special.

6) I tried to do IKEA, Mamas and Papas (for a buggy repair run) AND Starbucks on Tuesday. By the time we got to Starbucks, the baby was grizzly, and there was no way my 4 year old and I would get to sit and chew the fat over gingerbread latte (hold the whipped cream) and a cookie, so we left. To add insult to injury, my husband regaled me with tales of eggnog latte at his business meeting! I'm so glad I already had one gingerbread latte this season, as who knows when I will get another.

7) BUT I did get a haircut! I had an hour and a half without the baby and got my hair cut into a long bob! It was needing it soooo much. And I had a positive experience at the salon this time :-) It feels like several Christmases have come at once, to get a little break and to have my hair treated. I rarely fuss with my appearance, but having a Christmas haircut feels like part of the preparations, readying myself for Christmas day, dinner and visits.

And that's the seven! Next week, we'll be cooking the turkey before going to the Crib Service at church on Christmas Eve, so I think I've crammed everything into today's quick takes. Happy Advent & Merry Christmas!

*with thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Stuck behind the kitchen sink?

Recently, I had my third child. It is understandable that the last few months have been hard work, physically, mentally, even spiritually. In addition to existing commitments with the eldest two girls, we now have to find time to schedule in clinic appointments, make sure we don't run out of nappies, and catch up on sleep while we can.

But, to an extent, #3 has to fit in. She grizzles her way through the wait at ballet class, and comes on the school run without complaint. She is washed enthusiastically by her big sisters in the bath, and sits up in her highchair at the table for meals, even though we haven't begun weaning yet.

And a truly great thing, is that she has fitted in with my work outside the home.

Now don't get me wrong (as the wonderful Pretenders once warbled). As I have recently blogged, I am a devoted servant to my family; it comes easily to me - I love to clean, cook, wipe little bottoms, and have my patience tested on a regular basis ;-) My husband and I enjoy as much quality time as we can together given his self-employed commitments (and my role in our company, from which I am currently on maternity leave). One might speculate that being a wife and mother 'completes me'.

BUT, although my primary role is with my family at the moment, I also know I have others to serve, both now and in the future.

I am a listening ear. I am a member of the Playgroup committee, and the church Women's Group committee. I am studying towards a Certificate in Lay Ministry, the end result of which will hopefully see me serving in a more pastoral role in my Church, while edging towards chaplaincy over time (if I'm discerning correctly...). I serve on the Baptism Preparation team. I regularly read from the Bible in church services. I co-lead the Pram Service for under-5s. I sing with an Ensemble, and bake cakes for their concerts.

Yes, that sounds a lot. Yet I don't strive to be what they term an 'Uber-Mom'. I have many years of practice of learning to say NO, firmly. Certain things have been shelved since Rebecca was born. I am most gutted to be too exhausted as yet to attend singing practice, which spiritually revived me, amongst other things, and church on a Sunday evening without kids in tow. If I can't make my study group on a Monday, I don't. I only committed to one slot selling raffle tickets for Playgroup this year, and sat with my baby and watched the nativity rather than serve coffee. I do miss meeting the families who are getting their babies baptised, but I am not sad to have put Baptism Preparation sessions on hold indefinitely. And I haven't even been to a women's night out since well before the baby.

Yes, some things have been easier to let go than others. I know God is with me on this journey, feeling my resentment at not being able to do everything I want to, and negotiating my acceptance that I simply cannot. But I feel fulfilled when I do a little of other things, as well as being at home. I can't imagine life without dipping my toe into the world of further ministry, being there for people in a wider sense, and finding spiritual renewal in spaces outside those I inhabit with the children.

I know the commitments I have are voluntary, but I believe I manage them well, and don't try to over-commit or over-achieve. One of the things that has sustained me through Rebecca's early months is that I have been able to continue at least one thing - the bi-weekly Pram Service for under 5-s - without missing a beat. OK, so she needs feeding and the other parents and carers are talking about her to me as well as their own issues and there might be children at the craft table trying to eat the glue but - for me it's been do-able. The simple joys of choosing a story which fits with the liturgical season, matching worship songs to the theme, having God throw out-of-the-blue craft ideas at me that I have just had to run with - that's been great. Yet, I know several people who have questioned why I have retained the commitment. Yes, perhaps I am ploughing on with it for selfish reasons - a sense of purpose, a way to be seen as something else than 'just' a mother, who knows? But I also feel it's where I'm meant to be right now.

SO.... how to deal with my total antagonism towards (probably well-meaning) people who are clucking sympathetically towards me at the moment, telling me that "now is the time to be with your children." Well, yes. For the most part. Every breakfast and dinner. Every weekend. Every bedtime, at the moment. Every illness. Every need in the middle of the night. Every homework time. Swimming. Ballet. Play dates. Outings. That's a given, that's the job I love.

But I took that job in agreement with God - I didn't have it foisted upon me, I was blessed with a choice. And although I love it and see it as my primary role right now, as a feminist, I don't believe our talents as women are useful only for nurturing our families. I was also gifted with an intellect, which I don't intend to sit and atrophy, however small my baby is and even if I am (at least) quite tired most of the time. I fully believe God intends me to use every gift He gave me in some capacity, at some time. In the build-up to this Christmas in particular, I have had my own realisation that this time at home is a type of advent, a waiting and preparation for the day my children no longer need me (so much) and I can serve others too. Skilling up as a mother and learning how children see the world, needing to be patient with them and serve their most basic needs takes me back to Jesus, and shows me how to be a disciple (if not an apostle!)

But anyway, to get back to the point of my mutterings - I was praising Advent, and being snowed in, as helping ready our family for Christmas, and how I was happy to cut down my commitments at this time of year. I was mainly meaning dance and swimming lessons, and rushing about to visit friends and family, as well as watching VeggieTales at home rather than getting the kids into Sunday School, and ditching the Baptism prep and not attending the evening services. "Yes," one of our ministers said. "You shouldn't feel bad about it. God will understand you can't do everything. This is your time, with your children, while they are still young."

Feel bad about it? DO I GIVE THAT IMPRESSION?!! I'm just really pleased I've got a balance! I'm not apologising for not being involved in organising Sunday school activities, or attending church meetings, for goodness sake. I'm stating my acceptance that I can't do everything. And people are telling me how right it is that I don't do anything much outside of the home. Do they want me stuck behind the kitchen sink? Do they regret their own time away from their young family? Or are they just saying what they think I want to hear?

Consider this. If I was a surgeon, a lawyer, a teacher, someone who actually used the university education from which she benefitted, someone who really needed to earn money to contribute to the household, or someone who would rather die than look after 3 kids full-time, where would that leave me? Would I be a Bad and Evil Mother for returning to work (even on a part-time basis) when my children were young? Are other church mothers who work outside of the home on a paid basis judged for letting others take care of their children?

Is it because I'm taking my children along on the job with me? Is it because they know how much ministering to others squeezes your own life into a tiny compartment and want to warn me off? Because they think I can't cope? Because they have know idea how challenging I need life to be to embrace it?
Justify Full
There probably are no answers and as I keep saying, only God knows His plans for me. But any insights from the blogosphere would be greatly appreciated. Do other people go through this? If people aren't vocalising their thoughts about our role, do we worry what they are thinking anyway? Do mothers vilify themselves for spreading themselves too thin, and think they should be always doing more to serve the family? I'd like to know!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Preparation and Penance?: Striving for Humility in Advent

A little while back, I posted on how I'm quite happy that I'm following my calling of motherhood and homemaking, fulfilled by not achieving my academic potential. I'm afraid that was only a representation of the truth. I'm a proud, proud fraud.

Although I DO love cleaning, baking, preparing meals, wiping little bottoms and so on (not that I do enough of all this!!), and feel very fulfilled while immersed in it, if this were all there had been in my life, I'm not sure whether it would be enough.

Although I laugh when my children get confused when Daddy says Mummy is quite clever, my University of Oxford education often sustains me. Yes! I was clever enough to go there, my ego tells itself. And I managed to read a lot of books! And pass a lot of exams!

Although I happy to be referred to as Mrs, I am permitted to go by the title Dr due to my acquisition of a PhD eight years ago, and if people don't realise that, or call me Miss, or comment on my being Dr Standen but then continue to call me Mrs, only my husband can tell you how angry I get! Sometimes I use my credit card that says Dr on it because I want to show off my status, in a very different way that I like to tell people I am the mother of three wonderful girls.

Obviously there are issues here. When I was younger, my academic abilities were championed at the expense of other things I could do, but not as well; I never felt that I had to work that hard at being clever, which felt fraudulent in itself. Few of my contemporaries at school saw academic achievement as a good thing. For years I kept my academic successes hidden away because I was ashamed, and because I felt they detracted from how people related to me when they found out I could use my brain well. The fact that I have qualifications but have not gone on to publish confounds some people; conversely, my fellow PhD students can't believe I gave up my career to focus on motherhood.

But really, people generally don't care (and if they do, they have their own issues with status.) And after all God gave me this brain to use well, and I have, and I may keep on doing so. But I really need to practice letting go of the awards this brain of mine has achieved. Yes, slogging for a PhD was really hard work, and it's nice to have the thesis on my shelf (for one thing, it presses dried flowers beautifully.) But it doesn't define me as a person, and if I'd never undertaken it, I wouldn't want to feel regret or bemoan that I was 'only' a mother.

I know I have had opportunities others never get. I don't consider them a waste, but I don't consider them something here and now in my life - they are like the plaque on a wall commemorating my former self. I've evolved into something new, who now studies theology with a passion but loves, despite her feminism, to place herself firmly in the kitchen. Of course I feel God's hand on this whole journey. I feel the gifts he has given me all come together with a synergy that may take me somewhere else he wants me, if he needs me to.

I found out this week that someone whose gifts, talents and self I really respect turned down the opportunity of a similar education to mine, and it just blew me away. The fact that we don't have to do the status thing. We don't have to hide behind labels. We need to do what we discern is right for us. We have to be honest and humble, like the Father sees us. He has His plans for us, and although the human world may place certain attributes higher than others, He just wants us to serve, as we grow into the people he designed us to be. I've been dissing Saint Paul over at Conversion Diary this week, but he was quite right telling us that the way the world perceives wisdom may be foolish God. And of course Jesus too asks us not to seek the praise of humans.

This Advent I've felt myself being stripped bare little by little; feeling overawed by the heritage stemming from Genesis that we view through the Jesse tree. Realising that even if I mind that my minister sees me mainly as a mother, a helper and a volunteer, then my ego needs to re-adjust. Realising that being a mother, or an academic, or managing to turn in my next assignment for my theology course, is not the important thing. Listening, and responding; awaiting the coming of Jesus; letting loose pride and taking on humility, are.

It's not a fundamentalist interpretation, but I surely don't believe there was just Mary and Joseph in that stable. SOMEONE would have helped them out, brought them water, gave help through labour. But that someone has been lost forever in history. Their role in ensuring the Messiah came to us safely doesn't matter to anyone but God. And that's okay.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday: October city break

If I had time, it would surely be a wordy Wednesday, even though my fingers are chilled to the bone! But I have much to do: taking delivery of two weeks worth of groceries that got blocked because of the snow, and organising for our Pram Service Christmas party for 25 under-fives this afternoon, so just a few pictures for today, of when it was less cold here in the UK!:

Friday, 3 December 2010

7 Quick Takes Vol 3

1) We're snowed in! Well, technically we can get to the supermarket, but schools are closed and my husband has been working from home. The family, altogether, not having to be anywhere.

2) Being snowed in has its advantages, even though the kids are sick of each other. We're not rushing around. It's Advent, and the highlight of our day is opening the Calendar and sticking the next ornament on the cardboard Jesse tree. We're not doing much - baked some snowflake cookies, made some soup, watched some movies. It ties in with the season.

3) I'm thinking about those it affects adversely. Especially the homeless. My bed was freezing last night when I got in it. But I have a bed. And shelter. And heating. I give thanks.

4) I also have food, even though my grocery delivery was cancelled. (They said they could re-deliver in 6 days time. 6 days time?!!) My husband popped out for nappies (diapers) and essentials. But we are kind of living out the freezer. I defrosted some meatballs in tomato sauce so we could have a hot lunch. It reminds me that we have opportunity to buy the food we want most days if we need to. I'm waiting to see if my fruit and vegetables get through this morning.

5) A week ago we finished reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We're not snowed in for months, getting down to our last potato, in temperatures of -40, enduring blizzard after blizzard. But I can empathise a little with them, and it makes me admire them all the more. How DID they survive that pioneer winter, all in the same house, tired, cold, hungry, without killing each other? OK, even saintly Ma got snappish at one point according to Laura, but honestly - I couldn't do it.

6) The first day it snowed, I manage to engage (well, semi-engage) the big girls in wrapping ALL of the Christmas gifts we have so far purchased. Job well done! I'm trying not to put the tree up until the third Sunday of Advent this year. Usually I'm an early Christmas person (our cake was baked in September) but this year I'm trying to place more emphasis on Advent.

7) Did I mention we're loving the Jesse tree? The kids are enjoying the OT stories - we had Abraham's Veggie Tale yesterday (not the best of the series, but it's something that they know) - and I'm getting a real sense of the waiting, from Eve through Noah and Abraham, for the birth of Jesus. And we're not even at the prophets yet! Hopefully it will rub off on the kids too, and shift the focus from waiting for Santa to waiting for the Son of God. (Mind you, Monday is St Nicholas' day, so Santa Claus will get a look in!) The Conversion Diary tips have helped set apart the season very nicely thanks Jen.

Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Devotion to St Christopher

We Anglicans often forget the Saints. I loved All Saints Day this year as it gave the girls and I chance to focus on a chosen few saintly lives and see how others have served God. My Twitter feed from CSLewisDaily yesterday was:
The stamp of the Saint is that he can waive his own rights and obey the Lord Jesus.
Saints give up what they want, in order to do what God wants. Numerous stories of the saints provide inspiration, but many of us either never find out about these historical figures in the Christian church, or we fail to remember, listen to or pray to them.

But sometimes, they come to us. Last weekend our family of five were finally seated, restfully, around a table in a pizzeria in a city in the north of England.We had driven for over three hours only for our vehicle to overheat in the middle of the city centre as we strived to find a car park. While hero of a husband waited in a cold car for the breakdown guy, I managed to take two big girls and a baby through the city for their promised pizza treat.

It wasn't that simple. It was absolutely pouring with rain. I hadn't been in the city for almost a decade and didn't know the way; my paper map got soggy and unreadable. At one point in the city's most famous street, we realised we were up on a stepped area (thanks, postmodern urban planners!) and had to retrace our route to get the buggy down. On arrival at the restaurant, at the bottom of a very steep hill, we were faced with more steps, so not only did I have to struggle to separate the parts of the buggy and hoist them into the restaurant while the big girls waited patiently, but the bathroom was two steep floors up and I had to lug the baby up carefully in my arms. All this without knowing what was happening with the car and what the rest of the day held!

But it was there my luck began to change. Although the restaurant had access problems, it was from a chain we knew and trusted, and there were nappies of Rebecca's size, wipes and nappy sacks there in the bathroom so I didn't need to lug the nappy bag too. There were two sisters from another family helping each other in there, and the restaurant was filled with other families yet had a table for us too. The waiting staff took great care of us, adding my husband's order at the last minute, and within the hour we were all seated, eating hot food, having fun, knowing that we could check into the hotel with the car fixed, and drive on to our relatives' home to spend time with them and deliver birthday and holiday gifts.

[One of the ironies, incidentally, was that the car broke down opposite a car park; when my husband explained to the rescue guy that we had been unable to find a parking space, he had the car park across the road pointed out to him. And although again, there were many steps and I had to wait with the buggy while my husband brought the car around, it was fine.]

So the lessons learned were not just that a city I spent time in as a student is not the best for wandering around with kids. It was about trust and faithfulness. I had been eager for us to depart from our home as soon as possible, in order to get to the restaurant so we could eat, meet our relatives and visit an art gallery and, for some pre-Advent preparation, the cathedral of St Nicholas. In the end, we just got to eat. But our car got fixed. We got to our destination eventually. And we were soon sipping hot tea in the welcoming home of Aunty Kath. So thanking both God and St Christopher in the restaurant was pretty much a given!

Each daily journey is part of our life's journey and we need to treat it as such, without the rush and the worry. We will be helped there, whether by the saint dedicated to travellers, or others. We just need to trust, and know we will get there eventually. In terms of spiritual, emotional and personal matters, it may be years before we get there, but we are still being helped along.

As an aside - Christopher was someone who said 'No' when God first asked him to serve. He was a big fellow, and didn't think he could do the whole fasting and praying thing - he needed to eat! So God reconsidered in this case. And he found something that Christopher was better suited for - carrying travellers across the river. Sometimes the things we think God is asking us to do seem too hard. We fail to trust. We can spend a lot of time saying no. We put our needs first. And most times God wants us to keep on trying. But sometimes he gives us a break. God seems to know when we've had enough. Jesus knows the limits of our humanness. We are all potential saints too, but serving Him on this earth can be hard. But, like us in the city that day, we need to keep on journeying, and hope to get there, one way or another.

(We also managed to avoid the pile-up on the motorway on the return journey...)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Quick Take Friday Vol 2

1. I am alive, breathing, and drinking tea, for which I give thanks!

2. With great thanks to conversiondiary.com's other feature this week, on Advent, I have purchased purple table linen and tissue paper so we can celebrate in new ways along with candle, readings and calendars. I am enjoying the anticipation of the advent of Advent, if that makes sense. Practicalities mean we have to start buying gifts and planning early so to REALLY mark the start of the season on 1 Dec with new and special things is wonderful.

3. What else has been going on? I made favourite foods this week - Yorkshire Puddings for Imogen aged 4 and Lemon Curd for Sophie aged 6 this week. I am really appreciating immersion in household tasks at the moment, I guess it's the season (see point 2) BUT given that there are other things I could choose to focus on (study, visiting friends, emailing, blogging LOL) it's a huge achievement for me.

4. I DID write my essay on prayer, finally, but it's 800 words over and I can't face the edit. I missed the first session of the new module on Monday, but hope to go next week, whether I've done the prep or not. It's Old Testament for the next few weeks, which I have learned to appreciate :-) Every time I read the doom, gloom and gnashing of teeth stuff in the OT I'm reminded of how Jesus means we no longer face God's vengeance, just forgiveness, compassion and grace, and I do a little happy dance!

5. My husband is being a hero this week, just in doing the small but actually huge things that serve the family. And not just because he watched Fireproof this week (which was an act of sacrifice in itself. Good concept, scary acting, I thought.) For a non-worshipping person, he sets a huge example to follow.

6. Baby Rebecca is 3 months old now and a pleasure to be with, always (other than when she is tired and screaming obviously.) It's my middle daughter who's had the bulk of my attention this week though, as she has been going through illness and behaviour issues which could only be solved by a) removing all possible privileges and b) simultaneously showering her with as much love as possible. This means TV has been replaced by doing jigsaws together on a couple of days, and we even hung out at Starbucks while the baby slept, instead of pre-school. I don't think I can continue this pace, but she starts school in January so I truly hope I can continue investing in her. As well as focusing on my eldest daughter whose needs probably got lost this week in the tussle for attention...

7. I just noticed in someone else's blog that Betty Beguiles family got to move into a new place and have a new couch which her internet followers gave her and which she accepted with such grace. Such an act of Christian love pouring out to others. Something to celebrate!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Small Successes! Volume 4*


I clearly haven't been blogging lately, even though I have many ideas. Life is happening around me, so that even when the needs of our 3 month old daughter are met, there are the needs of other family members, church meetings, online gift shopping and studying to be done. I have been feeling slightly unhinged about this lately - that I can't do many of the things I was used to with 'only' two children to look after - but things seem to have come full circle in terms of my understanding, as this week's Small Successes explains.

Inspired by a chat with a friend who is a mother of three (with no more on the horizon and starting to develop certain bits of life more for herself) we realised that until recently, I was in a position to do lots of things for me. My lay ministry course was flying, I rehearsed and performed regularly with a singing group, helped run our church's Pram Service, ministered on the Baptism Preparation team, attended committee meetings for the church women's group and my middle daughter's playgroup, enjoyed cooking from scratch using the produce from our weekly organic fruit, veg and meatbox, baked cakes for events, attended church on a Sunday evenings solely for my own spiritual satisfaction - and so on. As well as taking care of the family.

It sounds a lot, but actually it was in balance. I am skilled in saying no to things I know I can't do, or would stretch me too much. But since the new baby, everything has dropped by the wayside, to an extent. Obviously I'm indescribably, madly in love with baby Rebecca, but I have also missed church services by myself, getting up to read the Bible to the congregation, women's nights, singing rehearsals and baking. I will be unable to perform in my Ensemble's upcoming November concert. I have kept on with meetings and helping at Pram Service, but along with blogging, lots of parts of 'me' are left behind.

But after talking with my friend, I've had an epiphany - and not one of the 'it won't last forever' type. Just that, I had become used to these gifts to me - time, space and the motivation and ability to do different things than mothering. Yes, one day they will come again, but that's not what's changed my attitude. It's more the fact that, when I had two kids under two, I had none of those things. And it was wonderful. Hard work, but do-able, and there wasn't much left for me, but there was always enough. I'm only missing things because I had them, and had developed them, and become used to them. It's a privilege to have them, and success is in realising that I am content mothering, studying a little and playing a little. It doesn't matter if I am not getting to do what other folks can, because they are not in the same place as I am. And I am great where I am.


I have helped keep the family alive, fed, clean, well-slept and generally happy this week!


Thanks largely to Imogen's godfather, who is sat playing games with her while I type, and my husband, who is in the other room where the baby is sleeping, I got my small successes done this week, which is a small success in itself. What a gift. Celebrate. Woo hoo!

Hosted by Danielle at Faith and Family Live

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Peers and promise

I had the benefit of an amazing undergraduate education at a prestigious university. I learned so much, academically, socially and personally. I was no doubt quite a different sort of person than I am now. Yes, I was concerned with saving the planet and the people of Myanmar, and was an early supporter of the Fair Trade movement in the UK. I tried to stop motorway development with direct action and got a Member of Parliament's fellowship withdrawn because of his contribution to education cuts. But it was still pretty much all about me.

It was, admittedly, a fantastic time to be young and enjoy oneself. Rave culture, recreational drugs, Glastonbury, and the LGBT community were an important part of my world. Student politics, stage managing a drama production at the Edinburgh Festival, busking Christmas carols and dabbling in journalism were also things I got involved in. I knew a lot of my peers, but had quite a small, close group of friends; we spent a lot of time sitting around drinking, smoking and castigating the state of the world.

Fast forward almost 15 years since graduation, and many of my friends from that time are fulfilling their early promise. One is Director of Strategy and Planning at the British Library (and a wife and mother of two.) Another writes a regular column for a national Sunday newspaper. A third is a research scientist, a fourth a published academic who has held a professorship. My dear friend Edmund, godfather of my middle child, has many composition credits to his name. It's the same with my wider peer group. The president of our Junior Common Room was private secretary to our last Prime Minister. Natasha Kaplinksy (who used to bounce in to breakfast in her netball gear, having not partaken of any of the debauchery down in Hertford College Bar the previous night) is a famous TV personality and newsreader. It may not be long before people I knew at university are trying to run the country.

But not all of us have continued down the prestigious path, myself included. My husband sometimes jokes that if I had done the 'milkround' for a job in the City I'd be pulling in 60k per annum and we'd be rich. Instead, I'm a wife and mother to three girls, doing volunteer work and studying towards church ministry. But it seems that career riches weren't to be. And if I had sought them, I possibly wouldn't have been in the place to meet my husband, develop our relationship, and start a family.

But I don't feel disappointed, bitter or insecure. It doesn't make us any of us other graduates less worthy (or, for that matter, those who haven't been exposed to a college education.) All of us have paths to follow, and promise to be fulfilled. There may be several different ways we can travel through life, but ultimately we need to find what is right, and what is meant for us. For me, a glittering academic career was not on the cards. Yet I have never felt second best to those whose job titles attract more attention than 'wife and mother'. That's for them, and my path is for me. I know I'm fulfilling my potential in terms of the person God hoped I would be and the role I currently carry out. Looking at it from a human point of view, it may look like a failure to succeed in an aspirational arena. But I have long since stopped seeking the praise of individuals and this post was never designed as an apology.

Since the Child Benefit debacle, I have spoken to so many 'wives and mothers' who believe that the role is their most important achievement, and I think I agree. My education to date has placed me in a good position to develop my understanding of theology, and hopefully a wider ministry once my family needs me less. I am not contributing directly to the economy, nor a shining light of my university alumni. Yet, my role is crucial, valuable and special, and if it were all I ever achieved, it would be more than enough. I contribute widely and importantly to my family, just not in a financial sense. I don't measure my worth in income, possessions and appearance, but in relationships, happy girls and how supported my husband feels this week. There are thousands of us who feel this way, and I'm proud to fly our flag. This thinking may have confounded me as an undergraduate (more than all those books on archaeology and anthropology!) but it doesn't make me defensive or disappointed now. If people don't get it, they don't get it; I'll continue standing up for what I believe in.

This post was part-inspired by what Kate Wicker wrote about her feelings at a recent visit to her alma mater and a previous post about being in the company of her husband's colleagues. We are all challenged by what others think (and what we think they think!) of our role at times, and need to boost each other up. Boost up the mothers (and fathers!) around you as often as you can and let them know how important they are and what a great job they are doing. Do it today!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

I HATE having my hair cut!!

Well - let me clarify that a little, as hate may be a little strong. Although, I do actually detest going to the salon. More importantly, I hate myself and what I become.

There is nowhere else I would let someone boss me about and dictate to me what they think about my appearance. There is nobody else I would be willing to sit and chat inanely to about partying, TV shows and general meaningless tittle-tattle (willing is perhaps the wrong word when I am held hostage by scissors). There is nowhere else I would sit and wait more than half an hour for my appointment without complaint. Or feel guilty for using the bathroom in the back, even when heavily pregnant. Or feel compelled to tip, even when I don't feel they've done a good job. I used to enjoy the pampering of having my hair washed, and reading the trashy magazines they have, but even that doesn't do it for me anymore.

And now, because I have a very little baby again and don't want to lug her to the salon, I've gone and done something even worse. (Can I first say, it's the not the person, it's the situation.) One of the women from my exercise class cuts hair in people's homes, so I booked her for 9.30am on Friday. I somehow thought thatg things would be different. How wrong was I!

She was lovely. But - I had to wait for my appointment with her, too. She did text to say she would be late, as she was dropping her baby with her mother, but it was still late - and of course I didn't complain. In fact I probably apologised - I was apologetic throughout the whole encounter. I apologised that the hot water took a long time to run throug;, that my kitchen chairs weren't clean; that I preferred a low maintenance hairstyle since I have 3 kids and need to be out of the house by 8.15am.

The worst thing was that I didn't get the haircut I wanted, and I had only myself to blame. I wanted it cut back into a long bob, so it doesn't hang heavy on my neck and annoy me. I had in my head all morning that this was going to happen. But when she asked me what I wanted doing, some part of me suddenly worried that it would be a bit cheeky to ask her to do a restyle and that she might have just expected to be doing a trim. So I mentioned that I had a long bob previously, and wanted to go back to that, but what did she think?

"Layers", she opined. "With your thick hair."

Now get this, folks, I have had it with layers. My hair is thick and wavy, yes, but put layers in and without the aid of 30 minutes concentrated blow-drying and straightening, I look like something the cat drags in. To look the best that I can, I need that long bob, with hair all the same length. I normally kowtow to hairdressers. But not to this one.

"Not layers, thanks. I need something low-maintenance, I'm afraid. Just take a couple of inches off," said I.


I HATE what I turn into in the hairdresser's presence. A scaredy-cat, quite frankly. Someone afraid to voice my own opinions and ask for exactly what I want, although I am paying money for it. I didn't even take up her offer to blow dry the cut. I didn't complain when I went up to the mirror and saw that it was still far too long for my liking. I wasn't truthful with the hairdresser, or myself. And I really don't like that aspect of myself.

I always tell myself that next time, I will specify exactly what I want. I will not chatter incessantly about nothing to hide the fact that I am scared. I will not pretend to be someone I am not. I will behave with the hairdresser the same way I deal with supermarket staff, the bank, teachers - confident and assured. I will not end up driving to the store and buying hair dye to make up to myself that the cut doesn't look great, so I'll put on a colour so it looks a bit more passable.

Those who know me well are fully aware that I don't place too much importance on appearance - it's often style over function with me. But at the same time, I do strive to make the best of what God gave me, even if it's just a touch of lip gloss or an okay haircut. If I'm not happy with the way the clothes I buy look on my body, I return them. If I don't like a perfume, I won't use it. But haircuts? I'll just accept what the hairdresser gives me. Without complaint. And probably with an apology thrown in :-)

I HATE having my hair cut!!!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Small Successes! Volume Three*


1) I think it's a success that I'm actually sitting writing to be honest! Or, that I'm giving myself time to take stock & review the past month or so. Not that life's easy now, but it's definitely easier, and though I am tired from school runs and night feeds and trying to get the baby to nap when she wants - I am less tired than two weeks ago! I generally try to live in the now rather than worry about the future or more than glance at the past, but just sitting here, with a sleeping, fed baby, a household that is running OK (with much help from a hero of a husband may I add), I am happy to look back and think - WOW! how far we have come in such a short time. Rebecca is 11 weeks old and we are finally finding our feet, enjoying days out and looking forward to the half-term break. (I think this probably counts as a big success rather than a small one, but I haven't sat and written for a while!)

2) I'm getting back into my culinary groove. Granted, it wouldn't be possible without all of the above, but I'm getting organic fruit, veg & meat delivered and ACTUALLY USING THEM!! rather than them sit doing nothing in the fridge until the expire. Last night I even managed to throw together and have on the table in under an hour, this little gem from Delia Smith - a traditional UK 'cottage pie' of savoury beef mince & gravy, topped with mashed potato, sliced leeks and cheddar cheese and baked in the oven. Tonight (fingers crossed) it will be a spaghetti carbonara with mushrooms, leeks, garlic and bacon.

3) Despite my return to culinary form, Friday night, the last day of school for 10 days, means a visit to the fish and chip shop for our family. And this is my most major success - giving myself time off. I must have looked as run down as I was feeling this week because a friend offered to have my 4 year old to play this afternoon, which has (don't laugh) enabled me to tackle my grimy kitchen floor as well as sit and have some 'me' time. Back on Monday, another friend offered to make me lunch and the pumpkin, lentil & chilli soup we shared together set me up for the rest of the day, together with a long chat! Tuesday night, my husband took care of the baby while I slept. And I LET THEM. I let these people look after me. I made sure I didn't feel like a failure in accepting their kindness, like years of trying to prove myself a capable adult to my parents can still make me feel. I am a SUCCESS at mothering and looking after the family, but I am learning to recognise that an important part of that is learning to let others look after me - even asking for help if I need it :-)

It's great to take stock and recognise our successes and the people we know & things we do that contribute to them.

Share your successes too:
*inspired by Danielle Bean at Faith and Family Live

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Child benefit blues

OK, before you all start thinking, "She's only mad because her husband earns over £44k and she's going to lose out on some money", the newly-announced Child Benefit cuts won't affect me directly.

But oh my Lord, am I hopping, spewing, mad!!!!!

Part of this is due to the fact that the cut will affect families where at least one parent earns £44k - but not families where both spouses work and each earn £80k. So, 'traditional' families or whatever we should call them, where one parent works and the other provides full-time childcare for their offspring, are more likely to lose out, even if it's not every family unit that is fortunate to rake in this amount of cash from one salary.

My own personal circumstances are biased - as a triple-qualified graduate professional, who was earning a good salary but chose to go the 'stay at home mum' route through choice, I wouldn't want my Child Benefit slashed - yet if the earning potential of both parents was shared and I chose someone else to look after my children, I could keep it (and we're talking £2,500 a year now with 3 kids.) And for a long time I thought that the middle classes/higher earners shouldn't be getting Child Benefit when they didn't need it. Ours goes on dancing and swimming lessons rather than shoes like mine did when I was young, for example. Yes, how middle-class. But as well as discriminating against families who have chosen one spouse to put most of their energies into earning money, and the other put most of their energies into full-time childcare, there's a wider, deeper problem here.

Child Benefit was introduced in 1945 to encourage the population to, well, populate, following the decimation of life during two World Wars, and was initially paid to people who had more than one child. It was termed the 'Family Allowance' - it was introduced to benefit larger families, to help them with the cost involved in bringing new life into the world. The subtext read - 'Having children is a good thing. We support it. We respect parents having more than one child. Whatever their income. We're incentivising child-rearing.'

Over the years though, with the increased use of contraception and reduction in the numbers of children in families, the rights of parents to have bigger families and be respected for this have been eroded. Child Benefit is now paid for the first child too, and you get substantially more for the first child as well (the rest clearly aren't worth as much, or, someone figured out that they are going to wear elder siblings' hand-me-downs.) In the United Kingdom, the noise, the clutter, the sheer silliness and physically intrusive spectacle that is family life continues to be frowned upon, especially when compared to the love that kids get in continental Europe, when each tiny person is valued and children are fussed over in every area of life. Yes, people do have large families, but they're not seen as the norm anymore, and if they can't or won't support themselves financially, people have a go. Some of this may be justified, but surely bringing new life into the world is a right, not a privilege; a universal event, not something to be sneered at.*

Prime Minister Cameron has been pushing a pro-family agenda and has a young family himself, so this whole shebang has actually shocked me on a political level too - the Tories will surely lose middle-class voters if they actually do get to go through with this. It certainly doesn't accord parents and children with the respect and love they deserve. It's bloody hard work, parenting - taking money away isn't about the finances, it's about what that money symbolises: that each new life is welcome in society, whatever your income bracket.

I went into a new delicatessen/cafe yesterday with (we discovered) no baby-changing facilities, so ended up wiping Becky's bum on my own mat on their bathroom floor (and resisted the temptation to hand them the bag with the dirty nappy in it). They'd completely failed to understand that some middle-class cappucino drinkers in their midst might have a young family that needs supporting practically, psychologically, and politically. Ditto the UK Government, I reckon. Sort it out, George Osbourne. Now.

*especially when you are pregnant and usher two young girls out of public toilets without washing their hands because they're being difficult (and you have anti-bacterial handwash in your handbag anyways.) You know who you are, Judgemental and Intefering in Whitby.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wittering Wednesday!: Lost at sea without an anchor?

I can see I'm going to have to alternate my Wednesdays...how typical that the blog has been silent for a week and when I want to spill, it's a Wednesday! (And I haven't had to be inspired by Morning Prayer this week. But we are talking spirituality here.)

My second year of lay ministry training for the Church of England commences next week, so we've been doing a little reading. I've already read Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water during my first year, and appreciated it, but this week we are asked to look at the foreword by Martin Marty, which refers to spirituality not in terms of streams, but in terms of being 'moored' or 'unmoored'.

It suggests, basically, that spirituality which is linked to an organised church or religion is 'moored', whereas the 'New Age' "I'm spiritual but I don't worship" kind is unmoored - a ship without an anchor, as it were. And I'm not sure that this is a useful way of looking at things.

Firstly, it draws a strict line between those who worship communally according to shared rules and regulations, and those who don't. Those who find God in creation, who seek him in meditation, who don't label the intangible but nevertheless feel it, are seen as adrift. Those who go through the motions of church services, getting wound up about who is doing the coffee rota with them this week and fussing over the choice of hymns, are seen as connected. How is that right? How is dismissing the strictures of organised religion in favour of something freer and more personal that works for you, guaranteed to take you away from God?

Admittedly, it winds me up. People whose behaviour I consistently see as selfish banging on about their 'spirituality' and 'feeling something' when their actions don't change; they aren't interested in a holy spirit acting within them or others. But for many, including myself, that's where it begins. My conversion from atheism to Christianity actually came about through Muslim friends discussing their faith; I'm not suggesting that Islam is in any way unmoored (no pun intended), but I didn't know if I had found a spirituality, Allah, God or Gandalf the Grey at this stage.

Everyone has to start somewhere on their spiritual journey. At every point on it, whether finding calm through yogic meditation or finding transcendental peace up a mountain, I tend to think God is there, trying to reel us in - looking for His lost sheep, putting out the feelers, welcoming us home. We're not disconnected from Him, we're just experiencing Him in a different way. Over time we may discover the Qu'ran, the real meaning of Jesus, the faith of Judaism, and start to engage in religious practices.

But these practices themselves can be seen as mere ritual; people go through the motions every Sunday without feeling anything spiritual. God knows and understands why so many people are put off organised religion when it is responsible for so much hurt and indifference. Yes, the Abrahamic religions can offer a structure by which to live our lives - but does that make us any more connected to God? What about the person who blindly follows the rules of a dubious religious cult - faithful, and moored to what exactly?

If Marty had been explicitly speaking about the Christian faith and Jesus, I could understand a little better. Yes, perhaps toying with crystals and never convening with other Christians renders you adrift from the wonderful fellowship of the faith and discovering more about the Holy Spirit. But the author's dividing the world into those who are meaningfully spiritual and those whose spirituality has little meaning in his terms. (And really, who is he to judge?)

The Christian faith & Church of England are obviously important to me, and I desire that many more people I know can come to understand their importance and worship God through them. I want others to encounter the glory and humility of Christ, and learn to live more like Jesus. But there are other types of Christianity; there are other world faiths; there are other ways of connecting with God. Aren't we all experiencing the same thing, under a different guise, at a different point on our journey? Is it just a question of semantics, after all?

This time last year, I asked friends and colleagues to define spirituality. The most loquacious on the subject were largely atheists and agnostics; they recognised spirituality as a human phenomenon, this need to connect with the something out there, but they didn't necessarily relate it to even a personal theology. Martin Marty defines unmoored spirituality as 'self-acquired', but I think he's missing the point. God surely helps us acquire our spirituality, in whatever shape it comes; he made us with the capacity - the desire - to seek for the spiritual, wherever we can find it.

To me, it's not whether my spirituality is moored or unmoored - I believe that all spirituality has God as its anchor at some level, striving to break through any drivel and fakery (and I'm not just talking about New Age approaches here!). It's how we commune with it. It's how we let God meet with us and shape us, direct us and allow us to grow into the people we are meant to be. It's how we let our spirituality define us and run through us like the letters in a stick of rock, rather than a label on our foreheads. It's about whether we listen when we're praying or actually care for the people with mental health problems who come to church, rather than just tolerate them. It's about what our quiet time inspires us to do, and challenges us to become. It's about what we read means to us, as well as to others, and what it helps us, with God's grace, to understand. It's not about being linked to a specific religious tradition or not - rather, it's what we do with the spiritual tools that are at our disposal, right now, on our journey to God. Never mind the anchor - how and why is the rudder being steered?


(By the way I would thoroughly recommend Streams of Living Water as a read!)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Small Successes!* Volume 2


1) Managed to wash, sterilise & fill the bottles I needed for the crazy morning ahead, plus shower, get kids fed, dressed etc, without the extra pair of hands I usually rely on...

2) Managed to not yell at the kids *too* much to get us out of the house on time, and had a lovely talk with them about how Daddy needs to go to work to earn the money but it sometimes means Mummy has to rush around like a blue-arsed fly to get everything done & isn't as patient as usual. (No, I don't think I really used that epithet but that's how I felt today!)

3) I only forgot one thing when leaving the house!

4) Baby Becky has put on another pound since we last had her weighed two weeks ago! This is a HUGE success considering that a month ago her weight was plummeting. She's still not up to her birth centile, so it's still feed, feed, feed round the clock, but she's doing very well :-)

*Thanks to Danielle Bean at Faith & Family Live.

Monday, 13 September 2010

May I feed you baby?

OK, I'm hyper-sensitive because breastfeeding didn't work out for more than a couple of weeks with my new daughter, and she's only chunking up on formula. To be honest, what with pre-school, school and two elder girls vying for attention it's made life a little easier in that respect, and my husband loves giving Becky her bottle - the big girls have even helped give her some cooled boiled water.

But why isn't that where it ends? I honestly was looking forward to having this baby a bit more 'to myself' - the big girls are away a lot, and there is no need to hand her over to another caregiver. Last time around, I had a 19-month old and a newborn, and was happy to take any help I could get, over time.

But Rebecca is barely 6 weeks old, and she has already also been fed by three dear women - Sophie's godmother; one of my dearest friends who visited all the way from Scotland; and my sister in law's mum. I was actually happy for them to give her a bottle, or else I would have been extremely (and hormonally!) vocal about it. BUT what I wanted to write about is - people don't normally ask 'May I feed your baby', do they? Because bottle-feeding is something anyone can do, it's assumed that it's OK to go ahead, or to jump in and say 'I'll feed her', or just pick up the nearby bottle and put it in baby's mouth. It's often thought of as 'helping out'.

Yes, I have feelings of inadequacy re the breastfeeding - this is my own issue and is clearly exacerbated by the fact that anyone else can feed the baby (if I let 'em.) But if I was breastfeeding, no one would assume that they could do this, let alone fail to ask permission (although yes, I am aware of the cross-nursing phenomenon). Feeding a baby is part of the bonding process, especially in the early weeks, and as someone who's suffered with post-partum anxiety and depression, this is pretty key for me. Sitting down and nourishing a child, whether it is breast or formula milk, gives you a chance to cuddle your baby close in the hurry of the day, and rest in the moment (if you're lucky.)

I'm also a person who puts a lot of effort in feeding my family good food (most of the time), which may be a reason why I'm feeling this so keenly. And there are a lot of people who do choose to formula feed, rather than do it because they are struggling with breastfeeding. But for those of us who once had the idea in their heads that they would breastfeed long-term, and were unable to fulfil that idea, spare a thought - and ask permission to feed the baby :-)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Small Successes Volume 1


1) Got my eldest daughter Sophie (nearly 6) to school safely and on time this morning;
2) Got her sister Imogen (4 and a half) to pre-school safely and on time;
3) Got someone to watch the baby while I used the bathroom there;
4) Re-enrolled the older girls for their swimming lessons at the Leisure Centre;
5) Bought Sophie sushi for lunch tomorrow;
6) And some party clothes for her to try on that she'll probably hate, but what the...;
7) And returned home intact with the baby for a cup of tea and sausage sarnie before she woke for a feed.

THAT, my lovelies, is what small successes look like on a school day in the UK with two little big girls and a 5 week old baby. Go me! (I'm just glad I'm not writing this at the end of the day after school pick-up and dance lessons for the big ones, lol.)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Happy Birthday Mother Mary!

Well, it was going to be Wordless Wednesday, but I haven't yet downloaded the September photos , and after going to Morning Prayer at our Church with Becky (who just slept - our current running joke is that she will think she never leaves her house) I felt compelled to write.

Most people I know are aware I'm I'm baptised in the Church of England, I think, (Anglican/Episcopalian, to narrow it down) although some of my best friends literally are Methodists, and I have some leanings which are very Catholic. During the first few weeks of Rebecca Mary's life, when I was dealing with long and difficult night feeds, I had August's copy of Magnificat propped alongside me and it helped me immensely, as do the words of bloggers such as Kate Wicker & Sarah Reinhardt, dedicated Catholic wives, moms & writers gifted with incredible and helpful insight.

Although in the Church of England we don't perceive Mary in quite the same way as Catholics do, today's Morning Prayer was devoted to her, as we celebrate her birthday on 8 September, and it took place next to the Lady Chapel, which is dedicated to her and is a special place of healing in our Church. Prayer flowing from me in front of licensed clergy in a way it has never done before, I was able to offer up thanks to Mary for saying yes to becoming God's servant, & giving us Jesus. (I also prayed for all God's children, especially the little ones starting school, facing new challenges today.) As a mother, with my 5 week old baby girl next to me (who, although two of my great-grandmothers were Marys, is named for the Blessed Virgin) I could strongly feel empathy with dedicating her life and her child to God. But although my children will go back to God sooner or later - I believe they are a precious gift on loan to us as parents, to nurture them during their time on earth - I have no concept of the suffering Mary encountered during Jesus' last days.

The Old Testament reading during our short, informal service was about the Judgement of King Solomon. He had to decide which of the two women was really the mother of the living baby before him (the other had died; both claimed the living one for their own.) He realised that the real mother was the one who was willing to give up her child to another, as long the child was allowed to live. As a counterpoint, Mary, mother of Jesus, gave up her child to God to benefit us all, but she had to see him die.

Today, in addition to Mother Mary's suffering and loss, I will be thinking of all the precious moments she shared with Jesus before he left this world. I will hold in my heart mothers who have lost their precious babies, some of them even before they were born, some of them before they were even recognised as life. I will also be thinking of all the mothers and carers where I live who sent their precious children to new schools and new classes today, many of whom were tearful or felt on some level bereft.

Thank you, God, for the honour and gift of mothering, and helping us through the difficult times; thank you Mary, who truly suffered as a mother, and whose dedication to the path God laid out for her can help us as mothers today.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Daybooking* in the month of September

Outside my window: Rain, rain, rain. I managed to rescue all the washing from the line before it tipped it down last night. People keep saying it's Autumn, and I know it's not official, but the weather is definitely autumnal. We're back to school tomorrow, so it fits. I do love it though - especially listening to it come down outside when the windows are open.

Most of my waking time is filled with trying to achieve as much as possible with the girls into not very much time. Sometimes it is just making sure they are fed, clean and rested. Today it is Imogen's swimming lesson and completing the invites for Sophie's 6th birthday party. My thoughts are, by necessity, very much on the practical side...also, Becky is 1 month old now, and starting to smile at us!

Thanksgiving: For everything good in this world.

Kitchen goings-on: Ooh you won't believe it, I'm already back into cooking mode, and contemplating getting the organic fruit & veg box delivered again. Just the comforting action of stirring onions and garlic in olive oil, roasting a chicken, bringing the combination of all tastes together....

Reading: I've finally managed more prayer, scripture & psalms as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder for the girls (The Long Winter this time) so my brain is feeling less dead - but it's still Facebook & Twitter feeds on my BlackBerry in the dead of night.

To 2 girls pretending to be fairies in *very* high pitched voices (they've exhausted princesses and spies). The baby wailing, sometimes, if she's hungry or cross she can't sleep. Radio 6 Music, although my favourite DJ has just left as she's now on maternity leave. Rain!

Wearing: A summer maternity dress which looks halfway decent - we're poolside this morning which gets really hot! I'm still waiting for my 6-week medical check before I go back to postnatal swimming & aerobics, and get my Davina DVD out, so meanwhile I'm still covering up those lumps and bumps which may not disappear for a while (if ever!

Around the house:
We're getting there. I'm trying to do stuff like the Home Blessing Hour, but mainly I'm just keeping on top of things like vacuuming the huge spill of tiny beads from an Egyptian headdress (a holiday gift from grandparents - like, thanks.)

A Favourite Thing: TV. I miss TV! I tend to only record a few programmes - family history, murder mystery - and I haven't had chance to watch them. So, I'm looking forward to Autumn evenings when I stay awake after the bedtime feed :-)

*With thanks to Peggy.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Tiny glimmers of hope

Some days, when you're sleep deprived, it feels like you're an actor in a drama, with things happening around you which don't feel properly real. If you're down, it can feel like you don't belong or feel connected to events around you - you just keep pushing onwards in the hope that eventually things will get easier and/or you'll feel better. In this late summer/early autumnal beauty, with dusky pink sunrises and light glistening on deadening leaves, it's easy to register such images without them actually having any effect - I can see God's amazing creations, but they don't move me like they used to.

So how thankful am I for the small things that have been taking place which remind me not only of the presence of God in my life, but the whole amazing bigger picture. I detest the term 'God-incidence' (like a coincidence, but God-directed, for those of you who thankfully don't know the term), but it only takes two or three little things to happen together to help me out and make my day better.

Firstly, I have been granted grace at bedtimes. Patient with the behaviour of two excited, silly little big girls - how did that happen? It certainly didn't come from me. Answering the ludicrous questions. Talking about problems. The putting back to bed. The putting back to bed. The putting back to bed. The putting back to bed.

Secondly, it's the stuff that springs out of the kids that turns things around. Yes, I know we just had a newborn, but at the start of the 6-week holiday I was thinking we might be able to recommence a daily slot at the piano, like we used to - we have simple books of nursery rhymes, seasonal songs & faith songs. I love to play (in an amateur way) and haven't for ages. Of course, this never materialised in practice. But yesterday, after Church, a roast dinner, a DVD and chocolate, the girls actually *asked* for songs at the piano. And it transpired I haven't played since the piano was moved to a space in the lounge which has better acoustics; I haven't sang with the girls since I joined a performing Ensemble for singing practice. And it felt magical. I felt more 'me' than I have since the birth of the baby, enjoying making and sharing music. Maybe it was the songs for the season, such as 'The Farmer Gather His Hay Today, It's Harvest Time', and 'Paintbox', about all the different kinds of vegetables (and I am hankering after getting the organic vegbox delivered again). Anyway, I was uplifted (far more than singing Onward Christian Soldiers in Church...)

And finally, while I was sorting the music books I came upon a recipe, 1 solitary recipe, on the piano, for Green Beans A La Grecque, that I had put there to, ahem, 'file', months ago; maybe even last summer. And it was just the recipe that I was planning to use today, to use with the remainder of the runner beans my friend Mary brought round from her allotment when she came to visit the baby. (We had some with the Sunday roast - delicious!!) And I just felt at that moment, that everything was in alignment, that everything made sense, that God is all around, & that the good things in life outweigh the bad, at least for now.

I am so thankful for these tiny glimmers of hope.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Quick Take Friday - Volume 1

I am much less sleep deprived than yesterday. Rebecca (4 weeks) only woke to feed every 3 hours. Imogen (4.5 yrs) needed tucking in only twice, and I was already awake. Sophie (nearly 6 years) woke twice (including from a sSakemare) and only kept me awake for an hour. This all adds up to much more sleep than the night before! What a difference some sleep makes! When I was in labour I thought of Jesus's suffering. When I'm sleep deprived I'm just impatient, ratty, unreasonable...


I don't want to be stuck around the house today, but I've missed an important parcel full of baby stuff for the past 2 days so I'm sitting in with the baby while Imogen visits Grandma and Grandad, and Sophie goes hiking with Daddy. I would so love to hike, it makes me ache but I'll settle for returning the books to the library & shopping for a new lunchbox for Sophie...please deliver the parcel this morning.


I cannot believe how smoothly shoe shopping went yesterday. Both big girls chose smart, proper fitting school shoes within about ten minutes. I even got an Iced Caramel Latte from Starbucks. Becky stayed asleep throughout. She must think she never leaves the house!


Finally, finally, finally, our Church Next Door (aka Sunday School) starts again this week. I think the big girls are more than ready, although they have done well drawing and colouring, with some singing and dancing, during the Family Service in Church. And hopefully it will mean people getting to see Rebecca without me being swamped at the end of the service!


It reminds me though - now she is starting in Year 1 at school, Sophie gets to go up to the next group at Church Next Door, without me, without her sisters. I always embrace the back-to-schoolness of the season, and I think ordinarily we would all be looking forward to the new, the return of structure and routine, the change. But we have spent the summer with a new baby, and I feel it will be a huge wrench for Sophie. New class, new classmates, new term, while I go home with the baby. New group at Church. Dance exams, then moving up to new dance classes. I'm sure she'll survive. But I'm praying especially for her at this time. I always thought Imogen would be the most affected by the new baby, but Sophie has been stuck to me like glue this holidays. I hope to prise her from my leg in order to go in the classroom on Wednesday morning...


Although of course, Jessica will be there - the 'best friend' (who I am trying to get Sophie to call a 'very good' friend, so as not to put all her emotional eggs in one basket). Hopefully returning to school, learning & Jessica will give Sophie something new to focus on. She had her first sleepover at Jess' house this holidays, which was a great success, especially considering the clinginess :-)


It's the end of the last full week of the long summer holiday. Only next Monday and Tuesday left to rest and prepare. Part of me is full of a sense of melancholy - the changing weather, the season, the elder girls starting back into their routine - can you tell? But, we have a new life to nurture and help develop, to introduce to the wonderful things in the world, so I need to embrace that joy. And there's the run-up to Christmas of course - and Sophie is sat at the kitchen table crafting the first homemade Christmas card of the season as I type...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Daybooking* in the month of AUGUST

OK, so I missed July. But, I was heavily pregnant, had finished my first year of assignments and the kids had finished school. Early August, I had the baby, and 2 weeks later, I feel a little more human (I said a little....)

Outside my window: Actually, it's getting Autumnal, which is mad, as I purchased quite a bit of newborn stuff for Rebecca envisaging that we were going to be in the middle of a summer heatwave this month. I love the view over the fields and woods at the back in the sunshine, and also the nip in the air, but its bittersweet - Dear Husband is returning to work next week, leaving me with the entertaining of 3 beautiful yet demanding girls (nearly 6, 4.5 and 0) and in less than 3 weeks the elder ones will return to school and pre-school....just as I am getting used to spending lovely time together as a family of five.

Thoughts: I don't think I am thinking as such - my mind is idling, between feeds and naptimes. I'm thinking of food a lot. Especially things I didn't have during pregnancy, like smelly, really stinky, nasty cheese. And not thinking at all about the food I craved like billy-o during pregnancy (I would not care if I never ate Mexican again. Go figure.)

Thanksgiving: For the safe arrival of Baby Rebecca Mary. For keeping me safe with my family. For the gift of life.

Kitchen goings-on: Hahahahaha. Ask my Husband. He's been washing, preparing food, cleaning surfaces, sterilising breast pump, nipple shields and breast shells ad infinitum. I have planned a weekly menu and ordered some food for delivery from the supermarket this afternoon. But I'm not cooking. Despite my mother's assumption I would be whipping up a blackberry and apple crumble (the blackberries my Dad picked from the garden went straight in the freezer.)

Reading: Facebook, Facebook, BBC News, Parenting Magazine, HIPP Babyclub website, Mothercare website - what do you know, I'm in a baby bubble.

Listening: CBeebies TV Channel. Girls lounging around on the sofa. Dustbins being moved around outside. More CBeebies. No 2 week old baby screaming for food - yet. She's napping.

Wearing: A lovely button-up red and white summer dress which is suitable for entertaining guests and quick breastfeeding (I mean quick opening, we don't do quick feeding in our house - minimum 45 minutes, up to 1.5 hours, each session.)

Around the house: I'm doing as little as possible. Girls are getting their sheets changed, we're going to try and do some vacuuming today. The day before labour, I was sticking up wallpaper borders and painting gaps in the kitchen wall white. I'm super glad we got the new sink, but strangely enough, household things aren't annoying me this month!

A Favourite Thing: The family. Girls. They're being great. From the biggest to the littlest. All troopers. And Husband has been a hero, from supporting me through labour to putting up with my sleep deprived rattiness.

*With thanks to Peggy.