Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Whinge....

Well, not really a whinge, to be honest.

More a lament (wow, that sounds Biblical...)

And, an attitude of gratitude for what I have, where I live, and the bubble I get to inhabit.

I took 1st and 2ndSister to London for the day on the train on Saturday, to see the amazing Matilda the Musical. The girls were scarily well behaved, especially as one was fighting off an illness, and a good time was had by all. Yet, yet...

The day was MARRED by other people!

Not by the delightful hospitality representative at the Cambridge Theatre, who greeted us at 2pm, who were by this time breathless from navigating and negotiating our way through the busiest and most ignorant crowds I've know, seated us in our VIP area and provided us with drinks, sweets and programmes. Not by the guy who wrapped up the small souvenirs the girls chose in separate bags. Not by the friendly northern people on the overground train, or the one solitary person on the tube who was sympathetic and chatty.


I know, I know, it's London in the run-up to Christmas and I should have expected it. Standing-room-only on the Underground, and people who clearly aren't pregnant (or even awake) in the priority seats for pregnant women, happens all year round. It used to disconcert me when I visited London in my youth/before kids, but it was still an adventure. Now, 1stSister, a talented artist who, you never know, one day might aspire to art college in the capital, is NEVER GOING BACK. "It's freaky."

It was freaky, compared to our relatively sheltered existence in a small town. But she's been to London before, and it was fine. Same with Paris. And Newcastle upon Tyne. (And Hull.) It just wasn't manic, like on Saturday. SO MUCH HUSTLE AND BUSTLE! Virtually impossible to keep 2 girls aged 8 and 6 by my side, AND protect my clearly visible bump. I forgot how much time it takes to get from train to Underground, from Underground to street, from street to theatre. How you have to jostle into a lift. How when it gets ridiculously busy, you're exhausted at the end of the day and just want to get to some hot food and the train home, and they stagger the number of people into the tube station, it brings out the mother hen/wolf instinct in a person....

....I pushed in, in the end. I got called on it, fair enough. And I probably gave a terrible impression of a pregnant mother with children. But safety was at stake. And, as I told the complainant (an older woman, as it happened), I knew I would have to stand on a crowded tube train, so there was no way I was going to stand in heaving crowd, pregnant and with two young girls. But I also told her, as she'd complained passive-aggressively (in a "who does she think she is?" way to those around her, which my 8 year old was astonished at and found rude), that if she had a problem with my behaviour, she should address me, rather than make snide comments to other people. Yes, I know there's a queue. No, I don't want to faint or cause danger to my unborn child and existing children. Badly behaved all round, perhaps, on my part, according to London etiquette....

....but I found everyone else's behaviour appalling, quite frankly. Yes, we're all in rush! Yes, we all have a destination, an issue, a problem, a hunger, a tiredness, an illness, whatever - but does that entitle us to be rude and bump and brush past each other, almost denying that other people exist, that other humans are worth our time and energy and attention?! Perhaps I was locked in a slow-down-it's-Advent bubble (and de-mob happy to be out without 2 year old 3rdSister to see some musical theatre), but the city of London was crazy-busy and those who were out there largely had no regard for anyone but themselves.

I like to think that the lovely, comfortable, comforting people were tucked up at home doing the sensible thing, and that there were a large number of tourists hustling and bustling through Covent Garden and King's Cross as well as locals out for the day. And I think I was misguided that I could just take a day trip to the capital in December and expect it to be straightforward, and I probably wouldn't do it again. But why do families and pregnant women have to be frightened off a beautiful, historic and wonderful city just because the majority of people are rushing through at a crazy pace, oblivious to the needs of others? We have a right to enjoy ourselves, and travel without feeling like we're in danger.

While I'm at it, it wasn't of course just the other people in London who burst my bubble - as soon as we got on the train, I discovered someone in our pre-booked seats (with table, and at least one seat travelling forward to prevent sickness), and said I was sorry, but they were our seats and could she move. "Are we in FIRST CLASS?" she thundered. "No, but we've booked these seats." Disgruntled, she barged off. HONESTLY, people, there's just no need for it, whatever your religion, or lack of it.

In closing, can I just say that Matilda the Musical was AMAZING (it just won another clutch of awards today), continues in London into the new year and opens on Broadway in 2013, so if anyone in the States who reads my blog finds NYC easy to navigate, take any children you have aged 6+. Me, I'm holing up until 4thSister is born in the spring, only venturing out to see perhaps my favouritest musical EVER, Les Miserables - at the local cinema down the road.

Friday, 9 November 2012

7 Quick Takes: 9 November

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 151)


In case any of you (none?) are desperate for a potty training update, despite me scaling way back in this area due to 3rdSister I having a virus last weekend, she is enthusiastically counting to ten and, um, performing when I sit her on the toilet, as well as asking to come to the toilet after she has done something in her pants. To me, this is progress enough at the moment!


Christmas Cake in progress

Christmas time, Mistletoe and Wine...well not quite, but I've certainly been preparing this month. I've bought shiny purple paper to wrap the books we read, one a day, during Advent. I've started writing Christmas cards. I've made a Christmas cake! (which admittedly, needs sticking back together with marmalade. Yes, I wept, and have had to make a sumptuous carrot cake this morning to feel better.) Last night the 3Sisters took it upon themselves to snuggle on a duvet with hot chocolate watching a Christmas episode of the Simpsons. So lovely to get a glimpse of what's to come! (And if anyone thinks I'm insane doing things this far in advance, remember I'm hormonally challenged, and I also like to get stuff done so I can 'cruise' through the holidays the Flylady way.....)


I'm also using the advent of Advent to re-focus on my prayer life, which dwindled when I was sick for a couple of months. I always take the 6am slot to sit with tea and toast and read scripture. I'm now trying to re-introduce a morning prayer time, using Angela Ashwin's Woven into Prayer collection, accompanied by my Prayer Journal (which I last filled in on 8 August!) I truly feel it sets me up for the day, and I benefit from the discipline.


I have to say, however, that today all 3Sisters were up at 6am today, two of them writing Christmas cards (don't say a word!) and chattering around me and sometimes to me. I was clearly sat in the computer corner, reading aloud from a book, sitting with God - and you know, it is lovely to have a reminder of how prayer and life aren't separate, but I would have liked things to be a little more still. I reminded 1st and 2ndSister about how we visited the Wesley rectory in Epworth a few years ago, and recounted how Susanna Wesley used to put a teatowel over her head to signal her time in prayer. "Can you think of a way I could signal to you children that I am praying?" I asked. Well, apparently it would be a good idea to wear my dressing gown, or put the fish tank on my head. This may require some thought. 


Yesterday I attended the first of three sessions with half of our new Pastoral Visiting Team. This is a new thing set up by our priest, and although it coincides with me becoming a Lay Minister in pastoral care, I've been very much taking a back seat due to illness, and what with having a baby in a few months, I'm kind of along with everyone else for the ride. I didn't learn a lot in terms of the material, but it was good to revise it and spend some time getting to know the new team. It feels very strange returning to work after more than two months away - it was great, and inspiring, and getting back to feed the girls snacks, remind about piano practice, supervise homework on the computer, get 2ndSister ready for dancing, make dinner and bath 1st and 3rdSister was not the rest I needed afterwards, but that's life!


Further potty training update - while writing this, 3rdSister came up and told me she needed  the toilet. And went! There is hope...


Something a little gratuitous, because I'm otherwise uninspired. 1stSister finished the book of The Hobbit recently and wants to see the film which comes out shortly before Christmas (something we'll allow unless it's a 15 Certificate)....we got to see the 3D trailer at the cinema recently and it all looks well worth it - especially   the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, who I really should marry as he's around the same height as me, and looks almost as lovely as the actor who plays him did as Guy of Gisborne in the BBC Robin Hood series. When looking for a picture to try and convey this, I stumbled across a blogger who is even more obsessed with Richard Armitage as Thorin than I am - can you believe it!

* with thanks to Jen Fulwiler @ ConversionDiary.com for hosting - head over there now and read a whole load of other Quick Takes!

Friday, 2 November 2012

7 EXTREMELY Quick Takes

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 151)


I've been working in 15 minute increments this past couple of days. Potty training. I hope I don't need to say more. I can now get 3rdSister to happily sit and have stories on the toilet, and not leap up in horror if anything emerges from her nether regions. Believe me, this is progress!


We're using pull-ups as well as knickers though, so I have been having some respite from timed toilet visits and unscheduled accidents-on-the-lounge-floor (we knew not to ask for the standard cream-coloured carpets when we moved into our new build houseast December.)


And this morning it's swim nappy time, as after a long hiatus, 3rdSister gets to splash around and play in the local swimming pool. We call this 'swimming'. It's not. But it's exercise, and different to being in the bath.


Yesterday all the ingredients for my Christmas cakes arrived, from organic fruit to brandy. Now I've just got to schedule in time to watch the oven while they bake, at a time that's conveniently after a slot where they could soak overnight, presuming I have had enough time to weigh and measure the ingredients. (I probably won't measure the brandy, mind you, just glug it in there.)


One of our favourite charities, Compassion, through which we sponsor a young Guatemalan child, reminded us this week that if we wanted GuatemalanSister to get a photograph of us all in our Christmas card to her, it needed doing by 1st November. Cue a hasty 'Christmas' family photo from folks dressed variously, including as St Rose of Lima and in dark colours for a Halloween-type party. And 3rdSister, in her pyjamas and not knowing what was going on, refused to smile. The result is not too bad though - I think it'll do for sending with our Christmas cards anyway.


Speaking of which, yesterday was the date I pencilled in for starting to write Christmas cards. But I'm still finishing off sending out birthday thankyous from 1stSister (October) and 3rdSister (August.) Still, big girls & Daddy are off to watch fireworks this evening (I always get much more excited about Bonfire Night than Halloween!) so if I'm not collapsed comatose after 7.30pm tonight, you can guess what I'll be doing.


These are longer than I thought! What else has been happening other than potty training? There are other things, although it does not seem like it. Hmmmm.....we also sent 3 shoeboxes off to Operation Christmas Child this week (you can understand why I'm early for Christmas - all this sending overseas needs to start early don't you know!). If you aren't shoeboxing, consider donating instead. Some of the videos of kids opening their shoeboxes show that what they get really is a gift, and it's a great way for our little ones to learn about giving to and thinking of others.

* with thanks to Jen Fulwiler @ ConversionDiary.com for hosting - head over there now and read a whole load of other Quick Takes!

Friday, 26 October 2012

7 Quick Takes Odds and Ends

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 193)


It's been a bit of a surreal week so far. On Monday 3rdSister (aged 2) informed me that she had a 'little ball stuck up my nose.' I believed her, initially, but my cautious exploration made me think my fingernail was scraping on an inside bone of her nose (shudder), so I put it down to a snot bubble and shipped her off  to Gran's while I did my antenatal pool workout. Later on, when I was changing her nappy beneath a direct light, I found she was telling the truth after all - I managed to help her push out a small circular bead, thankfully with a hole through the centre, and got on with making dinner. On the one hand, I just put this down as one of those normal, everyday things a mother has to do; but on the other, I thank God for being on this and ensuring it didn't get any worse!


The reason she'd found the bead in the first place was because, now I've got my 16-weeks-pregnant mojo going on, we had a bit of a house-sorting weekend and the sofas in the lounge were re-arranged, thus revealing an assorted array of toys, tissues, tiny playthings and dust. We also extracted ALL of the toys that were in there for a big sort, so in my kitchen I am trying to box up dolls/doll clothes/cot, lego/wooden blocks, books in a bag, and so on. The lounge, however, is completely empty, and I find it weird. "You like mess, " my husband said. "No, I like a lived-in look, " I replied. "Mess," he reiterated.

 Mess (not even our house, either, and we made it messy.)


Since I wrote Take 1 above, coincidentally, a friend of 3rdSister's from church and Pram Service had to be taken to the Accident and Emergency department after lodging a kernel of SWEETCORN up her nose. Unlike my bead extraction, this required surgical implements and a lot of screaming at nurses. (The little girl's mum is a nurse. Uh-oh.) TOLD you it's a weird week.


During this second trimester I've been having seriously odd dreams. I know it's TMI, but some of them are emanating from some deeply-buried warped erotic subconscious. At the weekend, for example, Justin Bieber was begging me to sleep with him (and although I may enjoy his tunes, any other type of attraction to him just makes me go ewww!!) in real life. This isn't the weird thing, though (all the best pregnancy websites assure me these types of dreams are completely normal.) The weird thing is that I tweeted about the weird dream, and not long afterwards someone posted back that Justin Bieber was visiting my city soon and wanted to make a film with us both in it! (I can only guess what sort of film it would be based on my odd dream.) And then, mysteriously, the tweet disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived. Obviously, a case of silly spam and an efficient spam-removal service. But it made me feel like I was living in a parallel universe for a couple of hours, in which I imagined I was going to be walking the red carpet with The Bieber.


I'm frustrated today - a longtime friend who kept trying to make plans to visit when I was ill in my first trimester, cancelled on us today. In a way it's a relief not to be hosting, but I've spent the week focusing on some small details for the visit - ensuring fresh soup was delivered, a cake baked yesterday, and baking little cakes at 7.30am this morning. I even listened to the breadmaker kneading dough at 3.30am! I'm still planning to mop the floor though (after we've eaten lots of cake as a second breakfast), so at least domestically things are looking up, even if I feel exhausted because of an event that never happened!

Cake for breakfast


Another odd thing - I've recently realised how good 1stSister has become at lying. Not evil, bad lying, but lying nonetheless. She's been writing 'thank yous' from her eighth birthday. In fact she designed templates on the computer, which she then filled in with the gift that had received, and then wrote a little bit about it. About a book she had been gifted but wasn't bothered about (we're talking an 8 year old who's tackling Lord of the Rings, here), she wrote "I read it all the time!" and about a jewellry crafting kit which kind of fell apart when she tried to use it, she wrote "I've made lots of lovely things!" I find this a bit surreal - one the one hand, she's imitating socialised, adult behaviour, but on the other - they are complete untruths!


Finally - someone more superstitious than I would put the weird week down to the impending doom of Halloween. But we don't really 'do' Halloween in our family anymore, not even in a Fulwiler way (see pictures below which include FirstSister dressed as a ghost in a towel). Here in the UK, churches seem to be a lot more anti-Halloween, and I am an official church minister after all these days, and our church is throwing a 'Light Party' to celebrate all the good stuff in the world/Jesus, instead of trick or treating for charity, or something. To me, this misses the point a little bit, although we've attended previous Light Parties. I agree to an extent with Dan Lord's piece on why it's good to confront our evils in a fun-filled way. As a  social anthropologist, I'm convinced that mocking the nastiness in the world is a great way of helping confront it. But UK Halloween stuff seems to take elements of what happens in the USA and just render it a bit lame, really. Almost ALL of the costumes are based around witches, ghosts, skeletons etc - no happy pumpkins or glorious fancy dress. People moan about children wandering around the dark streets unaccompanied frightening the elderly. Most kids tend to make little effort - I remember one year a teenager in a black binliner growling 'trick or treat' and seeming offended by the sweets which we gave (I think most kids expect money). FirstSister gets to go to a Pumpkin Party at Brownies, mind you, and I've compromised by focusing on holy dead people (we're reading the wonderful Lion Book of Saints this month and next) and having a saint party with party food with bright colours, and a saint's treasure hunt that copies Kate Wicker's. Oops - I think this turned into a Halloween post! Have a good week everyone - and those of you in the USA, enjoy Halloween for us!

1stSister & 2ndSister Halloween 2007

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Things I never knew...

My 8 year old has a WordPress blog. And an app for it on her iPod. "Surely," my husband said, "there will be a Blogger app for your phone."
"But I won't use it, will I", said I.
Maybe I will, maybe I won't.
But here is last Sunday's lamb roast, before and after, that I snapped on my phone :-)

Friday, 19 October 2012

I haven't got TIME to have more kids!

I didn't even think about posting Quick Takes at Conversion Diary today - I have a head cold and am too throughly sluggish to post anything 'quick' and 'snappish'. Instead, we have rambling and wittering, I suspect....possibly ranting...

BUT ANYWAY - one of the things Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary did bring to my attention today, was their family suddenly seeming over-scheduled with activities. I've written briefly about this before, in the context of having larger families. But today I'm inspired, if that's the correct word, by a comment a fellow school mum made to me yesterday:

"I haven't got TIME to have more kids!"

Now, let me make it clear, she didn't mean time for you-know-what or pregnancy or maternity leave. She went on to list the activities in which her children participate as a reason for not being able to contemplate a larger family. And although they, boy and girl, take part in less activities than mine (and the Fulwilers), it seems like things like football can take over an entire weekend or more.

Chess in Pyjamas. Optional fight afterwards.

And I have to say, I agree with her. I feel that I don't have time to have more kids either. But, we're going ahead anyway, because we think it's a wonderful thing to do. Strangely enough, we didn't really take into the account that throwing more children into an existing set of activities is a difficulty we should avoid. Which is quite possibly crazy, since my (self-employed) husband currently does two short days in order to pick up and take to swimming class, rather than me dragging my pregnant still-nauseous self and a pre-schooler to the poolside. Rather, we are choosing to embrace the challenges another child is certain to bring, regardless of the impact on activities and other factors.

Having the Worst Pregnancy Sickness I've Ever Experienced threw things into perspective this summer, for one thing, particularly on the return to school. I mentioned to my friend (a mother of four children aged 12, 8, 4 and 1 whose activities seem to require particularly intense micro-management due to their spacing) that as long as my children are fed, get to bed on time and bathe semi-regularly I'm not going to fixate on the details. Things that were once seen as very important to us as parents, like a tall girl needing to do ballet to enhance her coordination, confidence and posture, or a 6 year old not being able to attend an after-school club this time around, now simply don't have the priority that, I suspect, families with one or two children focus on.

Yet we do already heavily over-schedule - three dance classes for 2ndSister (ballet, tap and modern theatre), piano lessons on what used to be our free night, swimming and Brownies for 1stSister on the same evening. Yes, the activities ebb and flow, and sometimes (gasp!) they even get skipped, but fitting them in with homework, dinner and bath night remains a juggling act sometimes. And although we don't find the cost prohibitive, that's only through blessed circumstance. The lure of extra-curricular activities, for parents and children alike, not only means that we may feel we have the time to have more kids, but that we couldn't afford to support them in a contemporary lifestyle either.

Brownie girl

I'm aware that there area huge amount of things that larger families can do as entertainment, education and exercise - we no longer get out to roam around in nature as often as I'd like, for example. But because it's the norm to do at least one or two activities outside of school in the week, or at the weekend - often juggled with two parents in paid employment - I wouldn't want my children to miss out entirely. What would devastate me, however, is if their existing commitments were a prohibitive factor on how much 'extra' (a NEW LIFE!) we could take on. To me, personally, there's nothing more important. Obviously, it is crucial to me that my children don't spend all their time as a family, or indeed with their class at school, and of value that they participate in structured exercise and music time. Yet however many children we have, we'd try to ensure a healthy mix. Sometimes, something's got to give. But for us, not the possibility of a new pregnancy.

Although my children learn life skills from their activities, I see their natures developing via the simple activities they participate in at home. Spontaneously reading storybooks to a pre-schooler; doing dishwasher duty as a team; sharing movie night; playing a game of chess that ends up in an argument. Knowing when time is needed for oneself; helping sisters with outfits and makeup; making each other laugh; celebrating each other's achievements with a round of applause. Family time is precious, whether you have one child or more - I would suggest it be ring-fenced and nurtured, allowed to breathe between rushing harum-scarum betwixt pillar and post. Allowing them to be, allowing them to be bored, allowing them to imagine and create. If you feel another child would throw a carefully managed schedule into tailspin, does that mean there is already a lack of breathing space?

3Sisters Playdough time

I know parents who spend lots of time trying to discern God's will for them regarding children in today's world. Sometimes, just trying to get through the day with one child can make us feel ill-equipped to cope and the thought of pregnancy, labour and a newborn cause us to panic and postpone. Oftimes I feel a little like the Mayor of Whoville, trying to deal with the needs of all the Sisters at once. We know that what is right for one family isn't right for another. But, not wanting to have more children because you already have a pressured extra-curricular schedule, is a sentiment that saddens me.

Can't something be tweaked, adjusted....can't we strive to live in a less busy, cluttered world in order to raise new life?

Friday, 12 October 2012

7 Quick Takes: the Light at the End of the Tunnel!


As fast as we go through suffering, God reveals Himself with all the amazing aspects of life to light up our world. I'm not saying he wasn't there while I was feeling all whingy and whiny and ill, of course - just that His ultimate goodness often shines through just at those times when we need a positive. Following the 1st Trimester, for example, you get the 2nd Trimester - and although I have pelvic problems and still feel dicey once I get to the afternoon, I am so, SO far improved on how I felt three weeks ago that I literally could jump for joy!


One of the best things has been being able to re-connect with people. I literally didn't feel up to seeing anyone outside family during the past two months, which can be isolating and depressing, and I was literally scared to get back to the school run and make small talk! But I've even had people over (even though I'm still not on top of the cleaning) - close, holy women friends who completely embrace my new pregnancy and are supporting me through it. I mixed up the day I told one friend to come over, but when I texted her to find out where she was, she dropped everything and came over anyway. Another came bearing baked goods from Marks and Spencer....one of the hugest gifts of kindness!


Speaking of food....I think getting back into homecooked meals has made me feels tons better, now I can do it without feeling ill. I've only baked banana loaf and done bread in the breadmaker, but roasting a chicken, simmering the sauce for meatballs, making everyone's favourite squash soup, the colour of sunshine....we've even had venison in red wine sauce....all the meaning my life as a homemaker generates is almost instantly restored, even if the mopping isn't done. This God-given gift I have of crafting a meal together, creating flavours and wanting to gather the family around the table even if there is squabbling, is AMAZING. Not having it for two months was a hard cross to bear, but of course - it makes me appreciate it all the more.


Which reminds me, I am continuing to pray daily for those women suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidum, or continued pregnancy sickness past 14 weeks, those who cannot get what they want to eat during pregnancy, and those who cannot get what they NEED to eat. Now I am emerging from my own pit of doom, I am focus my energies on prayer and completely offer up my small problems when there are those genuinely suffering. (Not that my suffering wasn't real, but it was all-encompassing, I felt so wretched and alone.) What a joy to give genuine gratitude with a thankful heart!!! (Reminder: order those copies of 1,000 Gifts for the two people you think need it.)


As well as receiving guests, I've been getting out. My friend's father passed away this summer, when I was too occupied with vomiting to even manage a phonecall - her family have since moved house, and I was able to deliver a lovely gift to their new abode and stay and chat for a while. Another friend was commissioned as a Lay Minister this past weekend, and the scripture on the gift I had for her apparently had huge significance and was just one further sign of God's brightness, grace and tenacity through life's difficulties.


Both the friends I am grateful for the opportunity to visit are singing this Saturday in our local Ensemble's fundraising concert on behalf of the Tommy's charity (I am desperately missed the singing and fellowship but will join them again!). I didn't know much about Tommy's until it became a cause close to the heart of another of the group's members, but now it's another cause I regularly pray about.  Believe it or not, 3Sisters in, my husband and I were both diagnosed with fertility issues when we first trying to conceive a child, and can understand just a fraction of what people who want to be parents but can't are going through, and my hearts go out to those who have lost children through stillbirth and miscarriage. Tommy's can provide hope and healing for women and couples in this situation - donate if you can!


The final light of joy I wanted to mention here is the "online community" that have buoyed me up during pregnancy, particularly the women whose blogs I regularly read which affirm marriage and family. I am unable to find the words to convey the enormity of my thanks to Sarah Reinhard, currently on book tour promoting A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy. As the first reviewers have said, finding a pregnancy book with a Christian focus on pregnancy, which also empathises with the very real feelings of difficulty and despair we can encounter during pregnancy, is a rare encounter. Just knowing that other people struggle like I do provided a beacon of hope and helped lift me out of my first trimester doldrums.

Join Jen @ Conversion Diary and many others for this week's Quick Takes!

Friday, 21 September 2012

7 Quick Takes: the First Trimester edition

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 151)

I honestly haven't been doing anything else to write about, so I'm posting some Quick Takes this week based around what I've been going through for the past couple of months or so (or, what I've been desperate to complain about, but haven't felt well enough to type.) Now I'm approaching the end of the first trimester, I give thanks for everything that's sustaining this new life within me; but honestly, during the past weeks, there are times I bore this suffering very badly. Now, I know there are people much worse off than me, and I maintain that having children is just amazing, and more than worth my recent difficulties, but I refuse to perpetuate the myth that everything is sunshine and flowers when you get pregnant (well, not until the second trimester, anyway!) So, here we go - First Trimester Woes:

~ 1 ~ 

Nausea. We're not talking feeling slightly sick from time to time here, either. We're talking pretty much permanent nausea, which even by 12 weeks has just begun to dissipate slightly only if I keep eating all the time which isn't actually possible, let alone desirable. Until this, my fourth pregnancy, I had never even begun to comprehend the miseries of nausea, even though I've had morning (noon & night) sickness every time. Unable to physically function, look after the kiddies, even think about food....unable to see anyone socially, feeling extremely isolated, as well as extremely sick - I know it's regularly said that pregnancy isn't an illness, but I felt more ill than I am when I'm ill. Simply by feeling nauseous. Bleurrrrch.

~ 2 ~

Sickness. Yes, of course I didn't just get the feeling of wanting to be sick, and accompanying retchings, most days I even WAS sick - anytime of day, even if I had an empty stomach (why don't fashion designers ever bring out anything in the shade of bile? Such a nice bright colour.). I had a bucket ready by the side of the bed, and one in the car for absolute emergencies, and tried to stay still in the bed as much as possible. Eventually I figured out a routine of eating two rounds of toast toast in the morning, bread or crackers at lunchtime, nothing dairy and crackers in the evening or food would come straight back up.  It helped if I had something in my stomach, but my pretty much non-existent lack of appetite didn't help much there. Vomit, it's just nasty.

~ 3 ~ 

Nosebleeds. I'd forgotten about the nosebleeds this time around until one arrived in the shower while I was shampooing my hair and I had to scream for help - must've looked like something out of Carrie. I got used to them arriving unannounced, although my particular favourites I have to say were nosebleeds which arrived because of the force of my projectile vomiting, thus making everything in the bucket actually quite pretty and red. (Designers again? Crimson and bile, a suitable hue?)

~ 4 ~

Ptyalism. Huh? Exactly, and I cannot believe some people have to suffer this on a permanent basis. (Or if they have mercury poisoning.) Sometimes, this was even worse than the nausea which it accompanied - I can't hardly describe it! Once again linked to an empty stomach, but still happy to stick around when I had eaten, my mouth started to produce excess saliva. This not only made me feel sick, but the drooling drove me mad - I kept having to swallow, or sip water, in an attempt to make it ease off. Common in pregnancy apparently = joy.

~ 5 ~ 

Self-pity. Yes, I know some people get Hyperemesis gravidarum and some people have pregnancy sickness for their entire pregnancy, but it was still time to throw a pity party. I prayed for people without babies and who have lost babies, I prayed for cancer sufferers and people whose chemotherapy and other treatments made them nauseous, I thanked God for pregnancy and all its blessings - but I nevertheless felt SO UNBELIEVABLY LOW. I wondered if we had done the wrong thing inviting another pregnancy. I worried about the other children in our family. I tried to place ultimate trust in God. I felt like a complete failure. In fact, it wasn't until the wonderful Sarah Reinhard let me read her new book, that I realised it was okay to feel this way, and that I'd get over it. There is nothing worse than going through something alone. There is nothing to lift you  more than knowing that someone else understands.

~ 6 ~

Silence. I've had first trimester bleeding during all my pregnancies and although they've all gone on to produce healthy children, I've never been comfortable about sharing until our first ultrasound scan. Sharing publicly, I mean. Some family, friends and colleagues have known, since the early days (often through guesswork, as why else would I be ill for so long?!). But then they largely haven't been people who have been through the first trimester doom of pregnancy sickness, in the same way as I have experienced, it this time round. And if they have, it was thirty years ago for them, and their platitudes hinder rather than help. The people I NEED to be sharing my first trimester woes with, ironically, are other people going through similar woes, who are likewise being similarly silent in arenas where sharing could make me feel better (Facebook, Twitter) because they too are keeping quiet! I could have jumped for joy when Hallie Lord announced she had been quiet due to pregnancy and didn't the First Trimester suck.

~ 7 ~ 

Exhaustion. People tell you, in a pregnancy, that you need to get used to the tiredness because once you have a baby, it'll be second nature. But NOTHING compares to pregnancy fatigue. (OK, nothing compares to newborn exhaustion either, but I maintain the two are completely different.) This first trimester, standing up to take a shower was a problem. I could go to sleep on a stick. I couldn't function, not just through lack of food/energy, but total tiredness. I'm currently suffering with the common cold, and just want to snuggle up under the duvet all day. Having a baby certainly takes it out of you. Now I'm emerging from this difficult trimester, I can appreciate all the amazing work that my body is doing helping create a new life. NO WONDER I'm exhausted. NO WONDER I felt so ill. THANK GOD for the placenta taking over maintenance duties just when I thought I couldn't cope anymore. Whatever the outcome, this first trimester has been worth it. Now excuse me while I head back to the sofa for another snooze.....

Disclaimer: I just realised I forgot to specifically mention hormones - which are not only responsible for all of the above, but probably require a whole post all to themselves for the moods and thoughts they can induce!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

A few minor struggles.....

So, our summer break from school (20 July to 4 September) started out wonderfully...

I spent some money on an inspiring Spanish DVD to give us a focus each money, chose a family chore for the day, a trip out every week.....we had piano lessons and swimming lessons to go to, we had a weekend away with friends and yes we even managed a day at the beach and an outing to the local stately home which only ended with one of the children in the hospital. We began the second Harry Potter for our after-lunch quiet time, hoping to watch the film at the end of the holidays. For over six weeks without 'going' anywhere due to my husband's work commitments (I did contemplate flying the 3Sisters to Spain, but the local airline insisted on another adult to help me out), the first week or so we were on a roll.

And then?

And then.

For anyone particularly eagle-eyed, yes my last post about suffering in pregnancy didn't refer to my previous pregnancies. It referred to the new one, the one we confirmed after we buried my grandmother, the one that explained why I was exhausted our end-of-term weekend (and thus came home a night early). It referred to the pregnancy which has managed to surpass all previous pregnancies in the sheer volume of NAUSEA I am experiencing and of course also includes some accompanying vomiting and nose bleeding (sometimes into the same bucket, at the same time......sigh.) Oh, and with this pregnancy I also developed ptyalism....I never knew drooling could be so annoying!

(This is not the time, by the way, for anyone to recommend Seabands, Vitamin B, raw ginger, crackers, fizzy drinks, eating, not eating, medication, pot or any other 'amazing' cure for morning sickness, thanks. There is nothing I can take that can shift my sickness and nausea during pregnancy, and usually, I can focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. And the light of God.)

As much as it doesn't sound like it, I'm trying not to moan. I'm trying to offer up my suffering and get through this positively. But it's easier said than done, particularly when faced with a ton of hormones that induce crying, guilt, desperation and worry. Yes, I'm managing to keep down enough food and, in particular, liquid, so I don't require hospitalisation. Yes, we have enough food in the house and money to pay for extra food to satisfy the whims of what I do or don't want to eat. I'm not in a Third World country or a warzone. I have an accommodating husband and three girls who can entertain themselves some of the time. And yet....

And yet, I'm finding it difficult to let go and trust God on this one. I find myself wondering all the 'what-ifs' - we're only 8 weeks in. What if? what if we lose this one, what about the risks of 'problems' with the baby, with the birth. If I don't feel I can cope now, what will the newborn weeks be like? How can I combat these hormones that induce rage and impatience? Granted, the unwelcome concern of my parents the strain of pregnancy and labour on me are partly responsible for my worries - but why I am letting them inside my head? A friend experienced psychotic episodes and a mental breakdown after the birth of her fourth - what if that is me?

And that's nothing to the feelings of regret I'm going through at this new pregnancy. It's part of me, part of my principles, my ideals as well as my heart that we would have a bigger family. Yesterday I was thinking that even three children was too much, when usually I want to share how wonderful it can be. I was wondering why the heck we had tried to get pregnant this time round when pregnancy is so difficult. And worse. I'm still wondering why God makes pregnancy so difficult. This puts our family under strain. My husband is a true godsend, but his paid work is enough juggling for any person without me delegating dinners and bedtimes to him every night while I avoid the kitchen and later try to keep food down. And I know this is likely a short-term thing, this too shall pass....

So where is my faith? My constancy? My obedience? My patience? My trust? Why in the face of dehabilitating sickness am I still turned inward? I keep getting moments that I know Jesus is giving me. The 3Sisters have never bonded so well. There is so much love in our family. We learn new things about each other every day. This new pregnancy is such a gift, whatever happens. But still I feel, several times a day, that I can't go on. And it's not always the tear-inducing pregnancy hormones that are responsible.

I will continue to offer this up in prayer. I've had a quick scout around the internet and found headlines such as 'morning sickness so bad I want to die' (which make me feel like a real whingepants in comparison), but it really seems there is no practical solution to my dilemma. I will continue to rely on a spiritual one, knowing I am supported my by husband and girls and the few close friends who I have shared the news with (a Facebook message from ThirdSister's godmother was such a welcome pick-me-up.) I can't be the only person out there going through this.

Sometimes you just need another person to share something with - and possibly have some insight and understanding - to get you through the day. Or another person's prayers. That's what I'm going to aim for. I had to blog this, even if it just ricochets around the web, to get some perspective. That's already helped. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

New life

Complicating, circulating
New life, new life
Operating, generating
New life, new life

I'm not sure that those Depeche Mode lyrics refer to pregnancy at all, but they are bouncing around my head this morning. I just read a post by Brianna Heldt about the struggles and joys involved in being open to life (well, that's how I saw it!) and things have triggered in my brain.

Obviously, we can't be expected to be as holy as Mary and say "yes God, I will bear this baby and accept the inconvenience to my life without complaint", can we? (Can we?!!!) Is it sacrilegious to ponder whether she moaned and griped just a little bit? Other saints have certainly gone through life struggling with their sufferings, not always relying on God's support. What is acceptable for the rest of us?

I personally tend to find that pregnancy exposes my humanness, and can interfere with my spiritual radar. I don't like who I become, and at a time when it challenges me to rely on God the most, and be thankful for the newness of life, it tempts me to hide under the duvet and not listen to anybody!

There are certain things associated with motherhood that I'm fine with - changing nappies, cleaning up vomit, researching better ways to parent, even getting messier than I'd like with glitter and paint! But first trimester pregnancy is so utterly transformative - hormones affect mood, create nausea, induce complete fatigue and in general make me feel less like God's vessel than a slightly unhinged selfish person. Why do they get to enjoy food and enjoy staying up reading/watching television in the evening? Why can't anyone grasp merely by osmosis that I am feeling rough, don't want to chat and need a lie down? Why can't I carry this life within me without feeling resentful and cross, even though it is much-longed for?

I know hormonal changes have a lot to answer for here - and I have to admit I go through something similar with my time of the month. I remember answering someone's question about what I would like to ask God about after my time on this earth, by saying I wanted to know why women's reproductive systems were so difficult to live with! But I already have my own answer to this, don't I - they are complicated, because they are what brings new life into the world. Why should they be easy? the more I try and understand DNA and the whole process, it astounds me.

This doesn't necessarily help with the suffering and complaining though, does it? It's one thing to be able to contemplate and appreciate the mystery of God's wonders in the abstract, and another to deal with them head on with your head in a bucket, trying to parent 3Sisters when you want to be prone on the sofa. Brianna put it into context for me by focusing on the existence of the new baby's SOUL  - I really don't want to be Grumpy Mama for my family, OR the tiny one growing within. But it's still troublesome to overcome my attitude when I feel physically dreadful, emotionally fraught and mentally drained.

It hardly compares to time hanging on a cross, I know, but I'm the kind to take my suffering seriously. So much so, it took my 7 year old to point out that my selfishness was on show. How can I expect little girls to empathise with what's going on inside of me, when they literally have no clue? It's an opportunity to show them that childrearing is wonderful, joyful and doesn't stop you from loving all the others like there's no tomorrow, so that they can take this memory into their futures. This isn't necessarily easy, but it's something to aim for. I don't want to pretend that pregnancy is a picnic, but I can shape the way I react to it - with God's grace (bring on the grace, God!)

I've also been thinking this week not just about Jesus on the cross, or Mary's sacrifices for God, but of God giving His son, Jesus, to us for the sake of humanity, and seeing him suffer and die. What we go through is little compared to that. I suppose it must just be holiness versus humanity. Pregnancy and labour reveal us in our humanness - this can be ugly, shameful and desperate. But it is us, and it is how we feel. I don't want to repress my feelings on the subject, but a blog is perhaps a better place for it than the dinner table (or whingeing from the sofa that I don't want to come to the dinner table.)

New life (and obviously my children in particular) brings an unspeakable joy to me. I find it unfathomable at times that I grew (well, God grew) my girls from a bunch of cells into what they are now. It's a mind-blowing process whose effects I think we are right to question - for instance, newly pregnant couples can struggle to find togetherness at the very time they need it most. Yes, it can bring out the best in us. But it can also bring out the very worst. It asks us to remember that God is in control, and simply trust. We have to remember to petition him frequently for assistance, and to help the others in our families who are also dealing with first trimester fallout. We have to take the bad with the good, and focus on the visceral reality of our lives.

I feel taken away from the things I love spending time with the most - my husband, my children, reading, singing, cooking. But they will still be there when the energy has been put into growing the baby. The physical, warts-and-all realness of pregnancy. The thing that has always been there, before the development of culture and aesthetics and 'me'-time. It's OK to feel like this, and talk about this, the difficulty of this. We aren't expected to do it alone, nor do we have to shut up and get on with it. It's just getting used to a new normal, as they say. It won't last for ever - it's a phase, this too shall pass, and although the clich├ęs won't help me, something will (like Brianna did) because that's also the way life happens, thank God!

Apologies for the disjointed, unfocused nature of this random post. I blame my hormones ;-)

Saturday, 28 July 2012

I did it!

Well, obviously, with a lot of help from the Lord above who gifted & enabled me & support from my ever-patient family (I am trying to retain some humility here!)....but I did it!

Yes, I have received my Certificate in Lay Ministry in Pastoral Care, and I have a badge to pin on too!

This is the result of three years of hard work, constant study, pastoral encounters with friends, family, hospital patients and many mothers I have come across - and now I am qualified :-) And did you know during my time of study I was pregnant and now ThirdSister is nearly 2?!

There are plans afoot in the Parish to revise the way we organise visiting the sick, bereaved and so on, in which I'm involved.

But for now, the 3Sisters and I are having the summer off - so far there has been water play, trips out, library visits, the Church Fayre and ice lollies! Sadly my grandmother (the last remaining grandparent I had) passed away recently, so there's also been a funeral, and a lot of grief. But there are happy times ahead, and the girls and I shared stories about Grandma Phyllis by her grave this week - and this week many celebrated the Feast of St Joachim and St Anne (the names given to Jesus' grandparents), and held grandparents near and far in their thoughts. (There's a Catholic church dedicated to these two saints in Aberdeen, Scotland. I went to Aberdeen for a conference once. Just a thought!)

Anyway as you can see, my thoughts are all over the place trying to blog, and process what's going on around here - I've already shouted to be left alone, so I need to put my blogging away somewhere while I devote the summer to my children. But an update was due. More in a couple of months....

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Moment of Parenting Genius

I haven't often posted about parenting on here. Perhaps that's because parenting the Three Sisters is much, much, harder than maintaining faith in God and a regular prayer life. But today I have to post, because a moment of parenting genius paid off. Perhaps my ONLY moment of parenting genius. Lightbulb!

Since we went to Spring Harvest over Easter (another thing I didn't blog about yet), and experienced a family holiday in a Christian setting where we were more than a little disappointed by the accommodation but had a whale of a time anyway, Rebecca has had a fear of water. I have no idea whether this was due to her being disappointed by the lack of means to have a bath - she ran screaming from the shower cubicle on Night 2, even though she has always loved that kind of thing - or whether her yelling jumping in the waves on the beach meant she was not having fun, even though it really sounded like it!

Bubble Rain by Steve Jurvetson

But packing up the party bags to give out at SecondSister's 6th birthday party (which is admittedly over a week away, but I like to do things in advance) I realised that bubbles may be the answer. Not just bubbles in the bath, but bubbles blown from a plastic container - bubbles to pop! Now, I have often grumbled about these bubbles. When the kids are little, the bubble mixture gets spilled, and you have to help blow, which is not fun for Mummy. When they get older, the bubble mixture gets spilled and/or thrown by a pesky sister or two, which is not fun for Mummy. But bubbles in the bath - bubbles to watch, laugh at, and pop; bubbles to grab at and be promised after a body wash, a hair drenching, a shampoo; bubbles to be blown into the water so a little tyke who just simply WILL NOT SIT DOWN in the bath at least obligingly bends over to pop with her fingers so her nappy area can be a little cleaner this week.

Bubbles! Parenting inspiration! Bubbles!

Thank you, God :-)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Wrapping it up

I haven't been blogging much recently. Other responsibilities, illness and life in general just seem to take over...plus I spend a lot of time journalling my pastoral ministry which includes encounters I need to keep confidential. I am not planning to stop blogging, as some things I just need to put out there.

BUT, in a way, the blog accompanied me stepping out into 'official' ministry, it went alongside the theological training which comes to an end this month. THIS MONTH! This is not to say I won't always be learning how to deal pastorally with people, or cease theological enquiry, as these things are just a part of me now. But my formal teaching by our Diocese, which started back in 2009 (before ThirdSister arrived, who is now almost 2!) is going to wrap up soon. And I am ready for a short break from the intensive weekly study nights.

In a way I'll be bereft, because this three-year continuity has been the longest I have studied something since the last time I studied something (which was the social anthropology of mobile technology, for my PhD, if anyone is interested....) But at the same time, as I mentioned above, the cessation of formal teaching doesn't mean the learning is ended, and in fact, I will be officially 'commissioned' as a lay minister in the Church of England in late summer/early Autumn which not only starts a new chapter, but necessitates ongoing learning and reflecting from the existing and new work I take on in and around church.

It's possible that the summer I envisage I'm going to have, with no weekly study nights, no dropping FirstSister and SecondSister off at school and having to pick up, taking in free museums and art galleries and possibly potty training ThirdSister, may not pan out the way I envisage. At the start of our 6-week chunk of school free time we will stay in a Holiday House with our friends (an annual thing - we are now up to 12 adults and 15 children) but then there is little planned other than a day trip or two to the seaside. It will be a rest from routine and study and my blogging may drop off. (or, it may pick up.)

AS the other thing that is continuing is the development of my enquiry into ordination as a priest in the Church of England. This was always there before I started the lay ministry course, which has confirmed my pastoral strengths but also been an affirmation of God's calling to possible ordination. So there will be more reading, thinking and reflection in this area as well as my regular Bible Study and prayer time. Perhaps I really will take the summer 'off' (although it's impossible to do this, as I'll always dip into the life of a saint or two on my Kindle!) and allow things to recharge...I often find this is when I can make inspired theological leaps, while I'm somewhat inattentive to study but my channel to God is fully receptive on a non-academic and more emotional level. And I know that while having this idyllic image of 'hanging out with the children', 'just' being a mother (which is what I am first and foremost anyway) is somewhat foolish - especially with the potty training! - a little break is right at this time. And, as ever, the rest is in God's hands. So, if you don't hear from me, you know why.

And now it's time to play with ThirdSister before my grocery delivery arrives :-)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The journey continues

I don't know why I always forget how utterly transformative Holy Week can be, especially when I attend Compline (Evening Prayer) every night. (Well, in 2011 I missed the Wednesday because SecondSister had to be rushed to hospital with a shoulder injury from dancing on a table....but we have already been to the Emergency Department for FirstSister's trampolining neck injury, so hopefully....!)

In the worldly world in which we live, it can be troubling to try and live up to others' expectations of us. Parents, teachers, employers, colleagues, and friends want us to fulfil obligations in certain ways. For all our trying, we can get nowhere, or wind up with a people-pleasing complex. Societal demands and family responsibilities may feel overwhelming, and this before we pay much attention to our spiritual life.

If I take a report card to God, though, even if there have been myriad times when I have not tried and effort is lacking, even if I have not succeeded in excelling in even one area, he still holds me in embrace without disappointment. His expectations are divine, but He also knows how it is to be human. He knows our weaknesses and our failures better than we do. That's why He asks us to lean on Him. 

I can sit through a Holy Week reflection, berating myself for being unable to modify explosive anger earlier in the day, shaking with tears - or I can accept that these behaviours are absolved, as long as I know they are desperately wrong, and try to move on and do better, and teach by example.

At the end of a day, with its ups and downs, with its trials and tribulations, do we beat ourselves up for our failures, or do we recognise that we have already surpassed all of God's expectations of us in our humanness, in our situation on earth, that we have done better than imagined given the current set of difficulties we were born into, or live within?

God asks us to love, to love Him and rest in Him, to ask for guidance and to listen for a response, to recognise we cannot do it alone and that we need assistance to reach any wider potential He may have in mind for us. He asks us to love ourselves, including our failings, and to love others, especially the needy, which, face it, we can't do effectively unless we have ourselves fairly sorted. We will fall down and get back up a million times on His watch, but as a kind and loving parent, He will bestow on us total acceptance, forgiveness and grace. He loves us without requirement. Yes, He knows we can do better - but He also knows how good we can be at admonishing ourselves, counting our sins and storing up our penances, without letting go. And we need to offer them up to Him, to ask for more assistance, to do it with His help.

I have always found psalms and hymns to help me in times of comfort...in fact they helped bring me back to Christ. I never doubt that meaningful poetry accompanied by holy music can be as transformative as direct scripture, sermon or prayer. Last night I sang these words and emerged a different person:
Sing for God’s glory that colours the dawn of creation,
racing across the sky, trailing bright clouds of elation;
sun of delight succeeds the velvet of night,
warming the earth’s exultation.
Sing for God’s power that shatters the chains that would hold us,
searing the bleakness of fear and despair that would mould us,
touching our shame with love that will not lay blame,
reaching out gently to find us.
Sing for God’s justice disturbing each easy illusion,
tearing down tyrants and putting our pride to confusion;
lifeblood of right, resisting evil and slight,
offering freedom’s transfusion.
Sing for God’s saints who have travelled faith’s journey before us,
who in our weariness give us their hope to restore us;
in them we see the new creation to be,
spirit of love made flesh for us.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Holy Week begins

There is a nail in my coat pocket, which I turn around and around against my fingers and palm, from time to time pressing its thickness and point into my skin. Our priest speaks of grace and mercy, and all I can think is I am not worthy. All my time in the darkness, a part of me was waiting for my prodigal return, for God to carry me home. I rejoice that I came back to Christ...I can think of the years I was away as 'life experience', preparation, academic and practical, for ministering to people in the now.

But it still can feel such a waste, especially during a Holy Week service. A darkness I don't want to touch or even acknowledge, really. 

Many good things happened to me without my realising Jesus was in my heart. Relationships, understanding, learning, seeing the wonder of God's world in different countries. Cooking, baking, making music. Making connections. But it was like this little impervious bubble, only able to let occasional bursts of God-light through a tough exterior.

And now it hurts to feel. I am encompassed by a sadness, I can feel the betrayal. I am guilty of turning my back on the one who brought me into existence, and who now sustains me.

But, after a dark and lengthy week, with altar stripped bare, nails contemplated, time at the foot of the cross and an impossible understanding of such pain, we will rejoice. We will rejoice in each day being a new day, in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection, in our humanness, in our reliance on the divine. Like Judas; like the other disciples who were His closest friends but stood by and watched, empty; like all the others who have gone before me into the darkness - I am mercifully loved, my transgressions accepted as part of me, my return to the fold a complete joy.

God doesn't sit there contemplating my past failures. I think it's enough to know what took place, and live in the now, for Him. There is too much to be done to take much longer pondering, although Holy Week is a fitting time for it. It's enough to realise that the pure joy, the mercy and the grace is what matters - not those years before the breakthrough of holy technicolour...

Friday, 9 March 2012

7 Quick Takes Volume 12: The Soup Edition

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 151)


It strikes me that I never really got soup before I got God. As I sat eating soup today, during this Lenten time of fasting, where we are serving mainly simple meals, I had a lightbulb moment. I never previously used to understand the point of eating a meal that, although nutritious and delicious, never filled up my stomach unless accompanied by half a loaf of bread. Now, savouring every bit of taste and flavour, allowing the hot meal to soothe my soul and distribute good things to all parts of my body (over time), it made sense - I may not be cramming my stomach full of stodge and feel complete, but I'm restoring my body with what it needs. Sort of like feeling life is full when you focus on the wordly, when really, it's the spiritual stuff you are actually crying out for, no? (Or Chicken Soup for the Soul, as somebody may have mentioned already somewhere.)


I must say, if these Takes are maintaining a soupy theme, that I was imbibing Abel & Cole's delicious Potato and Cauliflower soup at the time, that arrived yesterday with a selection of organic meat, fruit, and vegetable boxes. I didn't plan to take on these boxes during Lent in particular, it just kind of occurred, but it's been helpful in ensuring I'm taking the good stuff into my body, physically, while my morning Bible time and weekly study group keep on with the spiritual. I'm also trying to move my laptop onto the top floor so writing and reading is reserved for down time, rather than present in the day's activities. That's proving a little trickier....


I've also been practising making chicken broth this last month, from the carcass and giblets of the whole chicken I roast and already make into a leftover meal and sandwiches. The first week, it looked delicious, so I pureed it so the kids might try it without picking out the vegetables, and it looked like vomit, so I didn't even serve it. (I think I pureed up a few bones in there, so I was desperately searching on Google for 'can humans eat chicken bone' while my 7 year old peered over my shoulder trying to find out why I wanted to know this.) The second time it was quite fatty, but I managed to skim off a lot of it using squares of kitchen towel, after more internet inspiration.


Anyway, the next time I make chicken soup, I hope to have in my possession a strainer which will separate out the fat from the stock from one of my favourite stores, Lakeland. I honestly don't know what I would do without this shop - it markets all sorts of things I anticipate I will never use, but also lots of handy, amazing things. I have also got to choose some new plastic boxes for my husband's packed lunches, something I am positively excited about, which demonstrates how much Lakeland means to me!


I also made butternut squash soup this week, from the simplest of recipes, which we also use for pumpkin soup. Which reminds me of First and Second sister's favourite books, Pumpkin Soup and a Pipkin of Pepper, which are highly recommended for the under-fives, and I can't wait to introduce to Third Sister.


If I were American, I'd possibly include a paragraph here about 'Souper' Tuesday, but as I am not, I won't, although my specialism for my Politics A-Level was US Government and Politics, and I am still interested :-)


I think that's probably it from me on soup, so I am going to big up once more the Veggie Tales series - most of whom, let's face it, feature in my minestrone - which my kids are going to be watching at home on Sunday morning while I take in two morning services at a parish in the city centre with a friend. Which will hopefully be chicken soup for my needy soul :-)

* with thanks to Jen Fulwiler @ ConversionDiary.com for hosting - head over there now and read a whole load of other Quick Takes!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ministering to the sick....during Lent.

I flew out of my comfort zone recently. I've recently completed a placement at the local hospital both shadowing the Chaplain, and visiting patients on the wards who are in need of company, sympathy, prayer. The time I spent there was brief, but the depth and breadth of the learning, the needs, the work to be done, has overwhelmed me.

I now have some time to reflect on my experience before trying to make sense of it somehow, both practically and theologically, so I can submit an assignment as part of the qualifying criteria for my being commissioned as a lay minister in the summer. But with it being Lent, when I'm already reflecting on poetry, and injustice, and discipleship....it makes me feel a little suffocated.

I feel privileged and humbled to have done my little bit, as part of my training. But I am overwhelmed by the overall NEED of the sick, the lonely, the suffering, the dying. How did Jesus do it? No wonder he needed time to go off by himself and pray. There is so much. It can't be done by one hand alone. And yes, I know this is why there is an entire DEPARTMENT of Spiritual and Pastoral Care at the hospital. There is a team of people who excel at what they do. And sometimes they get weary and need refreshment. And then they go back and do some more.

I don't know whether I will be going back and doing more. I have existing pastoral responsibilities with parents of young children here in the Parish, which may increase, and I may also take on more study, and responsibility in a different area. I have my young family, and it's possibly not the right time to be going and making a difference to people who are spending their time in what is, basically, an institution - people who are longing for mobility, independence, their own homes, but are at the mercy - quite literally - of health professionals. It can hurt to come away, and know the suffering is continuing. Ever continuing.

It's a timely thing to have done during Lent.

The hospital I was at was established in the early twentieth century as an infirmary and workhouse. Basically, a place for those who had nowhere else to go. I don't know whether there was a chapel attached then - there were very few medical staff, and hundreds of patients. I'm not sure either at what point the hospital came under the charge of the National Health Service (NHS), but I do know that when the NHS was established in Britain in 1948, there was a focus on the WHOLENESS of the being to promote WELLNESS - on the emotional and the spiritual wellness of people, as well as the physical - recognising that both needed to be treated, hence the presence of chaplaincy departments throughout NHS hospitals during the 20th century. 

Today, despite funding cuts, the UK government thankfully continues to support this need, and these departments continue to employ paid and voluntary staff, lay and ordained - they are both ecumenical and cross-faith (including Muslim chaplains) - and they do so much. From providing comfort in the instance of a stillbirth, dealing with the bereaved, praying that a baby with live after its life support provision is discontinued, from ministering to people who have lived large proportions of their life in hospital, to those in for 24 hours, even being there for the hospital staff, seeing the best of healing and new life, and encountering a depth of suffering, sickness and death you would hardly see in parish work - these people do SO MUCH.

I am at a crossroads right now - I feel I can close the door on my work with the hospital for a while, reflect, write up, submit and hopefully be commissioned in the area of pastoral care. Then I will be more equipped for parish and/or hospital work, and.or exploring further study, or taking on God's other plans for me. But processing this - realising that I can't actually walk away now I have experienced this, that the knowledge and experienced I have gained in the few weeks has opened my eyes to another world, a transient section of society with whom we only usually intersect in the briefest of encounters in our lives - it's going to be with me, churning around my mind, for years, yet, possibly forever. Like others' visits to Bolivia or Guatemala on behalf of charities like Compassion, I have been exposed to an area of need that I was previously happy to compartmentalise and walk by. Hospitals were where other people worked, what other people dealt with, people who had a medical vocation. 

God often takes us right out of our comfort zones, and shows us that we can do it, we can survive and, indeed, thrive. I found this in the hospital environment - yet I think it will be a while before everything comes together and I know exactly what I can give back. But meanwhile, I can't turn off the switch - I can't just forget the people to whom I've spoken, the institution I became a brief part of, the patients, the staff, the blood, the fear, the pain, the boredom, the depression. It's difficult to put into words here, because it's heavy on my heart. And that's my Lent - other people's suffering. Something too big for me, personally, to alleviate. But possibly something that my small self, in this big world, can help with, in thought, in word, in deed. 


For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25: 35-46.)

Friday, 24 February 2012

Quick Takes Volume 11: Lent Week One

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 151)


So, it seems people are giving up the compulsion of escaping from life to internet this Lent. Me? Nah. I've probably been more immersed in it than I have in previous weeks, to be fair - I've started getting organic fruit, veg, meat & assorted other goodies from Abel and Cole, so I'm re-inspired (if there is such a word) to cook and create. Except, we're trying to eat simply for Lent. So, there's my first Lent challenge!


I should possibly challenge myself to turn TO my blog this Lent, as my entries this year have been very sporadic. It's not as if there has been a lack of things to log. My ministry training is pretty amazing at the moment, including a placement at a local hospital chaplaincy. My husband helped organise a local Beer Festival last weekend. We all recently had time off from school and work and had fun together. I even took photos. Which haven't made it online. Yet, I'd like a living, breathing document of what we all get up to - we'll see if it it gets re-prioritised (if that, too, is a word.)

For anyone out there who is still maintaining interest in our non-existent fish. You may be pleased to hear that my husband has repositioned the fishtank, wired it in, applied 'trunking' (I just learned this existed) over the wire - and I have put together the amazingly complicated filter system and glued the background on. Once my elder daughter goes and chooses the tank decorations, we can put in the gravel and water, and are good to get fish!!!....once the water has settled for a week and its ph levels are OK. (Is it just me who finds this amazingly complicated? God did wonders with the oceans, I am convinced our fish will die within days. Or at the very least when we go on holidays.)

I did finally get my Kindle, too! (I am sure there are at least two of you who have lost sleep over my agonising decision.) There weren't any old-heavy-ones-with-a-keyboard left, so my husband got me the newbie-light-version-thingy (technical terms, obviously), and it's quite a useful (if distracting) addition to my bedside. I haven't spent a great deal of money, and I have to confess I find the Kindle store very difficult to browse so need to make time at the computer to shop - but I have some G K Chesterton on there and downloaded some of the very cheap classics - St Augustine, St Ignatius, St Teresa of Avila & Julian of Norwich, for starters. Any other recommendations for spiritual bedtime reading much appreciated.


We aren't doing anything huge for Lent, just the usual, although I'm finding Sarah Reinhard's 'Welcome, Risen Jesus!' a blessing, as we did her Advent/Christmas book....FirstSister was so delighted there was a companion volume she almost jumped up and down in excitement! I can also recommend Janet Morley's The Heart's Time which is not only feeding my spirit but my love of poetry. As well as eating more simply, we're thinking about our giving this Lent - we have some charities to choose. The kids are finding the Lenten Path calendars from Catholic Icing useful in getting a bigger picture. Next week FirstSister starts First Communion classes and, if all is well, will receive her first Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. So there are additional reasons to look forward to Easter!

Another thing I do in Lent is tempt myself by ordering in all the Easter treats I won't get to eat for weeks...now, actually, I don't do this on purpose, but I have been staring today at a delicious Simnel Cake and an Italian cake in the shape of a dove, which is for Easter breakfast, which arrived courtesy of Lakeland Limited.


What I can't have....yet!


I have actually been quite hungry yesterday and today, and stopping myself from shoving food in my mouth just because I can. It's already given me pause to think of my attitude to food, and of others, and to realise what nourishes me, physically, emotional, spiritually. A little girl we sponsor through Compassion has her birthday this month, and the children immediately brought her to mind when we spoke of children going to bed hungry. If this is the major theme of my Lent, I will be fulfilled, I think....hopefully there will be another small epiphanies, but this will do as a start.

* with thanks to Jen Fulwiler @ ConversionDiary.com for hosting - head over there now and read a whole load of other Quick Takes!