Friday, 25 February 2011

Lenten preparation

I'm really relieved to be getting to Lent soon. On the one hand, it seems like it was only just Advent. But the fact that Christmas and the first part of 2011 have whizzed by so fast tell me that we're ready to slow down, strip down the layers and start with Lent.

In previous years I've done plenty of research to settle on the 'right' Lenten theme. Well, this year's came to me without the thought processes - we're going for simplicity. I added in 'calm' and 'peace' but we rarely get any of those in our family. So I'm going (with so many others, I'm sure) to keep it simple.

This is easier said than done. For me, it means focusing just on one or two things, and trying to connect with God and get to know Him more. I'm even hoping to strip back Easter - asking the people we always ask over for a simple buffet meal, rather than roast lamb and rich desserts.

Last year, I followed the Love Dare, with the focus on my husband and kids. I'm not saying I've got that all wrapped up, but this year I'm focusing on Loving Myself. As I follow FlyLady, I've had this drilled into me for the past five years, but recently, I've got out of the habit. Yes, I've been going to AquaAerobics on a weekly basis, fitting in some walking every school day, ensuring we all eat together as a family. But my diet has been all over the place. I haven't been focused with exercise. I've been consuming things I know are bad for me, and although I've still been going through the motions, I could do with a figurative kick up the butt. We all need to remind ourselves to take care of ourselves as women, as mothers, from time to time. So....keeping it simple, of course:

I'm going to up the fruit and veggies. Not even thinking about '5 a day', but just getting more fruit and veg into me. And the family, because they eat what I eat, but starting with me. Trying to eat healthier. Cut out the junk. Make that dental appointment, and brush my teeth before bed every night. And perhaps a little more exercise. But not to set any big plans or high standards. Just to get back to treating this body God gave me like a temple, so I can serve Him better. Not so much penitence or penance. Not self-denial or abstinence. But keeping what happens with my body simple. Free of indulgence. Humble. Free from. Prepared. Healthy. His.

A relaxing break in the forest....

Yeah, relaxing, right! Although I *do* feel relaxed in some ways. And I wasn't planning to write about it, but when I sat down to blog about planning simplicity in Lent, loads of wireless network bobbins meant that I only have about enough mental capacity to list a few things that will remain in me after our Sherwood Forest break.....

  • My 6 month old Rebecca resolutely tried (and failed) to fight off a cold, and was below par for the entire holiday, sleeping more and eating less, but was ecstatically happy for about one hour, bobbing about in her inflatable seat in the pool with her family.

  • Getting 3 girls ready in the busy pool changing rooms at peak time (it's school holidays in the UK) was crazy, even with husband's help; the one we managed to get changed in didn't have a changing station for the baby, and afterwards there were no family rooms so we all squeezed into an 'adult' changing room....which was not fun!

  • It was partly due to this and partly due to Rebecca's cold that once the grandparents went home, the big girls only went swimming one at a time with their Daddy. It did strike me that if we had gone to the pool with Mum, Dad, a 6yo, 4yo and 6 month old, we would have been breaking the rules - apparently you need one responsible adult for EACH child under 5 (and one adult per 2 kids over 5 - if that makes sense.) Although taking them altogether isn't straightforward, it would be doable, without those rules - I don't know what bigger families would do (not that I saw any - where do bigger families go on holiday - do they go on holiday? and if they do, maybe they go camping like we do?

  • All this aside, one of the best bits of the vacation was being told by my 6 year old that I had to go with her to the outside bit of the pool and swimming through to a steamy, outdoor, forest setting with a pretend waterfall and beautiful view. It was pretty awesome.

  • The other best bit was the two bigger girls getting on really well. Obviously we paid for it when we came home today but, compared to the two weeks at Christmas when they fought like cat and dog every minute, this was blissful. They played, drew, listened to stories, watched TV, cycled, swam, talked, sang and danced together. TOGETHER.

  • I love to cook and bake, prepare food for my family and take care of their needs. But I loved not having to cook this holiday. I loved being able to order the fish special and indulge myself with takeaway.

  • I especially loved the date at French restaurant with my husband, with jazz playing in the background, a beautiful platter of cheese and meats to enjoy, while the grandparents babysat. This was our first date since before the birth of baby Rebecca. It was long overdue.

  • Finally, as a way of leading into the Lenten preparation, I will comment on the simplicity of it all. We didn't really budget strictly, so parts of it were indulgent. But others were focused on living simply and on simple pleasures. We lived off leftovers for lunch. We appreciated the squirrels, mallards and swans that came up to the french windows to visit. We stuck with early bedtimes (and early mornings.) We just did one activity a day, and some hanging out. The girls enjoyed drawing together, and separately, on the long chalkboard in our accommodation. We read stories. We read the baby stories. We enjoyed each others' company. We didn't have the use of computers or WiFi (although I still dipped into Facebook and Twitter on my BlackBerry.) All in all, it was a family holiday. And I feel pretty exhausted, but I know that part of me is very much refreshed.

Yeah, spot the camera flash reflecting on the windows :-)

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Daybooking* in the month of February

Outside my window: It's raining amid signs of spring - lighter mornings, crocii, snowdrops. Yesterday we had bike & scooter out of the garage for the first time in forever. Still wintry though!

We're in repose. It's the first day of the school holidays, and I'm hanging with my girls while Daddy sleeps. No hurry to leave the house, no lunches to make. Time at the pool to look forward to. Seeing grandparents. Things still require planning and organisation, but I've already lost my rush.

Thanksgiving: For my wonderful children, especially as they are learning to be less wakeful and more quiet in the early mornings. For books and reading and sight. For friends and fellowship.

Kitchen goings-on: Well, of course there was cake. But not a lot else. Rebecca has been living off food from the freezer and a few bought jars. But meatballs today and carbonara tomorrow, I'm going to get my Italian mama thing going on. (I have a friend who's an Italian mama, so I know what I'm talking about. Although my cuisine and hospitality cannot hope to rival hers!)

Reading: Not enough Bible, not enough on Matthew for me to get my assignment even started. Lots of blogs and Twitter! Reading to my children and from my children. I'm more than ready for Lent to get me focused on some more spiritual reading. But there is no beating myself up going on. I'm starting to get back into things :-)

My radio listening has mainly been noisy rock music, with some classical. I've actually been doing a fair bit of listening to others, as well as speaking my mind this week. It's difficult to listen to the kids when they are all speaking at once, which I am working really hard on!

Wearing: Once again I'm posting in pyjamas. But, it should be known, I have been getting my skirts on recently. Short skirts, with long boots, like I wore in my twenties. Must be the 6 months post-partum thing :-)

Around the house: Do you know, we're still in a mess. I've gone from ticking over to wash-and-sterilise-everything-in-sight due to the kids having picked up threadworms again. The washing is piled up in baskets and the machine can't run fast enough. After stripping beds, making beds and so on, there hasn't been time for much else.

A Favourite Thing: Sleep! This month the baby has begun to sleep through without needing a night feed. Hooray! Please note - this is a small jump for joy. Although she's not hungry, she loves to suck her soothers, and when she wakes and can't pop one in her mouth, she needs help, so I'm still not getting lots of sleep. BUT - it's enough for now!

*with thanks to Peggy.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

3 Small Successes


1) I made cake! 2 cakes! Nice cakes! Tasty cakes! Blueberry tea loaf AND double ginger cake. One was completed over breakfast, I still don't know how I did that. My elder daughter (6) was soooooo appreciative. I had been wanting to fit baking her a cake in all term and I did it with days to spare. AND I had something to give a friend who came over for coffee. I am so happy I managed to prioritise the gift of cake (without the housework and family suffering too much....)

2) I booked the baptism, and more importantly, a disco for one of the small rooms at the reception venue. As an Anglican interloper, I'm aware that 6 months is a little late for baptism (although my eldest was 1 year old due to myself not having being baptised - or even come fully to faith when she was born). I would have had it a little sooner but Rebecca's Godfather has his own churches to conduct a morning service at so we are having an afternoon service (followed by food, drink and aforementioned disco) with the entire congregation going to be invited. (Panics slightly about catering. And realises I have still not ordered the cake!)

3) I've been speaking out a lot this week. I've been very opinionated. Some of it has been through anger and impatience, but at other times it has been reasonable and discursive. This is a whole new side of me I'm learning about. I have gone through my entire life avoiding conflict and trying to people-please. Now I'm at the place where, when another mother tells me she will hit her child as punishment for hurting mine at a soft play centre, I tell her that I do not want her to do it in my name, or my kids' names. I will feedback on how we struggled with a church service, to the appropriate people (rather than moaning to others.) And so on. (But hopefully not on & on. I hope also to receive the gift of knowing when it's not appropriate to voice my thoughts!)

Happy Thursday people.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

7 Quick Takes

1) It's technically Saturday here in the UK, but I still have that Friday feeling. Coupled with me feeling unburdened about the next steps on my vocation journey, I'm trying to embrace an 'anything goes' mentality a little more.

2) It's been a busy week. I've met up with the baby's Godmother, taken baby to get weighed at Clinic, worked out at my aqua-aerobics class, met with the other women who run our Pram Service with me, met with the vicar about Year 3 of my lay ministry course, pureed veggies, lentils and ground rice for the baby and managed a little bit of study. All within the school day. I missed my study night though. What doesn't fit into the school day doesn't generally get done at the moment - evenings are for resting and early bedtimes!

3) Although I did manage to bake a breakfast loaf the other evening - it's one of Sophie's favourites and I haven't baked anything for her in ages. It's one of those things where you just put all the ingredients into a bowl at once so, coupled with 3 overripe bananas, there was really no excuse!

4) I finally booked a haircut. My last one was before Christmas. I had a very positive salon experience for the first time in forever (obviously, this is because the salon is run by two members of our church who are also school governors at my daughters' school - talk about multi-tasking!) so am much less worried about the experience than previously.

5) I'm quite happy all the things that spring into my head are domestic! My husband has been busy as a volunteer at our town's own Beer Festival which seems to have gone really well so far. I guess you could say it was established as a fundraiser for our church hall and there are lots of church involved people; it sounds like there is some great community spirit and fellowship going on as well as the CAMRA real ale drinking brigade.

6) Incidentally we aren't at our 'home' church of St Mary Magdalene for the Family Service tomorrow, but at St Peter's and St Paul's, another church within the town. It is Education Sunday in our liturgical calendar ("a day set aside for prayer, reflection and celebration on the role of Christian educators and the role of Churches in all kinds of education".) The 4-7 year olds from my kids' school are going to perform an action song. Their headteacher is also going to be there, speaking about it being 200 years since the National Society (for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church) was first established. In the UK free education was provided by the Church of England for local children long before any type of welfare system did the same. The girls' school grew out of this provision and I'm interested to learn more.

7) I'm ending with a quote I only just discovered from Mother Teresa which may sound naive and open to attack from those who don't see every child as a blessing, but it sums up the joy I feel about new life and the rejoicing I do when I see my 3 little girls interacting with each other:

How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.

Thanks Jen @ Conversion Diary and everyone else who posts their quick takes!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Trust in me....

I don’t know why I don’t trust in myself more. A part of it may be my failure to trust in God, His vision and His plans implicitly - but to be honest, most of it is self-doubt. Whether this emanates from self-esteem issues, post-partum hormones, ‘evil’ itself having a pop at me every so often or a combination of these factors, I am very good at denying the positives and focusing on the negatives.

Earlier this week, I remembered something our vicar said to me when I had been out at the front twice during a Family Service, not very many weeks post-partum, first leading sung worship and then answering questions about my lay ministry course (yeah, it sounds great in writing, but I would not have given myself recognition for it!). She said to me:

Well, you need to get used to it. You’re going to spending more time up at the front in the future.
I remember being wildly excited, feeling that my calling had been discerned by another, someone in authority – someone on the NATIONAL selection panel for ordinands in the Church of England none the less!!! – and then, as usual, I somehow mis-filed it in the brain folder labelled ‘irrevelant’ and chose to focus on other things instead.

These other things have been slight, but have taken on huge meaning over the past few months as I have been at home with a new baby. One of the ministers within our church mentioned I should be at home with my children rather than taking on too much volunteer stuff at Church. It made me feel chained to the kitchen sink. I was led to feel that leading the Pram Service with a baby on my knee was second-best, when I just needed to hunker down and let it be proved otherwise. I felt I was failing people by not working with the Baptism Preparation team for the time being, even though I had taken no other maternity leave from Church and my theology studies. I felt I was missing the times people needed me to be with them pastorally, as my focus was on my children. And so on.

But this was my perception of events. Our vicar feels differently, even though I went into a meeting with her convinced she was going to take everything apart and feed my negativity. I almost approached the meeting like a job interview, exposing only the polished veneer of my self and hide all the failings I have been feeling. Thank God I didn’t. Thank God I prayed for guidance beforehand and He said, Just Be Yourself.

The trouble is, my Self has been mired in self-doubt since childhood. As I over-achieved in many areas, I fell down where I could only be good enough. As much as I try to eliminate my perfectionism, it haunts me. I feel I need careful validation to drive me forward and within church ministry you rarely get managerial feedback in that sense. (Okay, I have the odd supporter from the congregation who continues to champion me, but I can tell myself during the more negative times that this is only because, I am one of the few who takes time out to genuinely listen to her and take her for who she is.)

But, I need to look at how far I have come. Having faith and trusting in God was once completely alien to me, and now look where I am. Having faith in myself – 50% faith would be good, I'm not out to achieve completely solid, unwavering faith – and trusting in both my abilities and the ability of others to recognize these, has surely got to come too. I am not competing against anyone. I am an individual gifted with a unique combination of talents. I can only do what I can do, and this is already more than enough.

So I think I need to learn to start to trust and believe in myself the way God does. He’s happy with me now – but he knows the potential of all the extra I can achieve given the possibility. Having grown up with critical parents - who, to their credit, are equally at home assuming the rest of society aren't equipped with the life skills I lack - it's taken me a long time to accept the Trinity as loving parent/guide/friend/bestower of gifts, for free! I hope it isn't that long before I see my over-critical, overbearing inner demons for what they are and just be accepting. Meet myself where I am, as Jesus does. I can accept others as broken, physically, mentally, spiritually. I can cut them some slack. It's time to do the same for me. Lent, you are weeks away and seem a world away, but I feel that this year you are going to bring it on.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Time passing

Ill at Christmas

OK, this isn't entirely wordless, but as this site is more of a journal for folk to dip into, rather than a YouMustReadMyBlog! type of thing, I'm allowing myself to get away with that :-)

I love the odd Wordless Wednesday because it encourages me to dip into those photographs which get downloaded from the camera without me noticing, often literally months after the moment was captured. I can sit and reflect on the driven, passing insanity that we lived in during Christmas and notice how my children are growing rather than try to get them all sorted at the table or ready to hustle out of the door for school. I need these moments, as life goes by at a frenzied, harried pace some days, or I'm too paralysed by tiredness or illness to lift up my head and see.

First missing tooth

First day at school

Eating, drinking and reading