E+E Column: The Big Picture

I’m lucky enough to have been given a fairly free reign in this column but sometimes choosing what to write about can be tricky, I don’t want to be too serious or evangelical but at the same time, I feel there should be a point to what I’ve written. I’m not a fan of aimless writing and although I’m aware that an anecdote about unintentionally teaching my toddler to swear is quite amusing with your cup of tea on a Monday morning, I feel obliged to try and provide some more substance. Over the last few weeks, the news has been consumed with the increasingly bitter EU Referendum debate, interspersed with tales of tragedy and human loss, the mass shooting in Florida, the horrifying death of a toddler at Disney World, the unbelievably heartbreaking death of MP Jo Cox.

In the face of such sadness, anger and loss, I am reminded just how important it is to think about the bigger picture in our day to day lives. It is far too easy to get consumed in our own spheres, to focus on small, trivial issues that really will have no lasting impact on ourselves or anyone else. We can spend hours agonising over the most insignificant of things and forget about the things that matter more. We need to step back and remember what’s important. Being kind to each other, fostering good relationships in our wider community, looking after the environment that we live in, standing up for the downtrodden and mistreated. It can feel overwhelming at first though, how do we start to tackle so many big problems? How can one person make any difference at all?

But they key is to start small and build up. And if every person spent just a few minutes each week focusing their attention outwards, soon all the small things would build up to something bigger. Today I was at an African drumming workshop organised by the local home education community and felt really blessed by the network of friends and acquaintances there. Whilst taking a break from drumming, I momentarily lost sight of Eli pottering on the grass in front of the hall. There’s a fairly busy road through the trees, he can move at a surprisingly fast pace for someone so small and I started to panic. Several other parents instantly started to help me look and within a few seconds (though it felt like much longer) a friend called that she’d found him just inside the edge of the woods. It’s a small example of people helping in a situation that doesn’t affect them but it stuck with me. If there were more moments like this, perhaps there would be less tales on the news that make your blood run cold. Perhaps instead, we’d be seeing stories of people joining together to do incredible things, of people affecting change, of a more peaceful world.

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In between days

I always think of the week between Christmas and New Years as a bit of a no mans land in terms of time. It’s a funny period where most folk aren’t feeling particularly festive anymore but aren’t quite back to normal either. I’ve especially felt this this year. A combination of putting up decorations far too early in retrospect (1st December!) and then Christmas being marred by poor old Dan having the flu has left me feeling a bit all over the place these last few days. In fact, I’m pondering next year delaying the start of festivities until after Sophia’s birthday in order to have the oomph to observe the 12 days of Christmas and keep feeling festive until Epiphany on the 6th. Sophia is not so keen on this idea….

I also didn’t manage to take any photos on Christmas Day itself as Dan was still feeling pretty rough so I was trying to keep all three relatively well behaved and chilled at his parents in Surrey (am sure I failed miserably-sorry Chris and Paul!) I’m hoping others might have pictures to share in due course 🙂

I think part of my restlessness is the break from normal routine. I miss our groups and seeing friends regularly, the novelty of lazy mornings is wearing off and cabin fever is setting in (a condition considerably exacerbated by the horrific weather). The kids are feeling the same and I think we’ll all be feeling more settled once we get back in the swing of things next week.

Reading back, I’m unintentionally coming across quite negative and reflective. I’ve had a lovely Christmas this year. It was wonderful to spend time with the Durdin contingent (even if it was cut short) and the kids enjoyed the run up to Christmas and the day itself without too many tears or tantrums. Sophia sweetly announced to me several times that although she was looking forward to getting presents, she was more excited about celebrating Jesus’ birthday which nade me smile. I think we got the balance right this year.

We’ve also very much enjoyed catching up with friends and family who are usually at work, school or university. Definitely a plus of the holidays! A beach trip with our old Brighton friends turned into soft play to escape the wind and a most enjoyable afternoon was spent catching up with one of the families we very much miss!

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Babies making friends 🙂

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Impossible getting a good pic as always!

Hoping you’ve all had a great Christmas season and are feeling relaxed and peaceful.

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Christmas Eve Walk!

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'Traditional' stocking picture

Choices

I read this post the other day which I found really helpful and encouraging. The author talks about how rather than trying to balance or juggle more than we can healthily fit in, we should make choices about what we can take on and incorporate into our life without putting too much pressure on ourselves or negatively imposing on our family life and relationships. And sometimes this will mean closing a door on some new venture (perhaps just temporarily) even if it is something we really want to do, could bring in some much needed extra cash or is something we know we’ll be really good at. At least that’s what I took from it anyway!

Consequently, I’ve been thinking about what I’m doing at the moment and assessing whether it is too much and if I’m stretching myself too thin. I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’ve got going on at the moment is manageable as long as my time management is spot on and I don’t take on anymore. Back in August I took on some work doing social media management for a friend and now have 3 clients which is great! I’m really enjoying the work and it’s nice to have a bit extra cash coming in as well. I was reassessing as my name has been passed on to someone else who might be interested in my services and I was pondering whether I’d want to take on another client or not. 3 clients isn’t loads in the grand scheme of things but put into context with home educating, a very active baby who’s entered the phase of separation anxiety, trying to fit in regular workouts, general housework, feeding everyone and writing, I’m wary of taking on too much.

Knowing when to say no is definitely something I’m still working on. But I think it is so important to know when to say yes and when to politely decline for the sake of your mental and physical well being (and those of the people around you!) I think this can apply to other areas of life as well. So this advent, I may not have prepared 24 meaningful and creative activities for us to do every day but that’s ok. I’ve realised that it’s alright to cut myself some slack. When the kids are older and more self sufficient, I suspect we’ll have more time for advent crafts and acts of well being to others but now, whilst the baby is crawling the stairs at every opportunity or trying to topple the Christmas tree, it’s not a problem that our festive activities have been a bit more low key and just spontaneously grabbed when he naps unexpectedly!

I’ve also been feeling guilty that I haven’t been doing more on this blog regularly other than just posting my weekly Express and Echo column. I didn’t even mark Sophia’s 6th birthday here. I had the best intentions but it just completely slipped by the wayside. I might try and do one after Christmas but it seems a bit redundant doing it late. We’ll see. However, in the spirit of not overloading my plate, I have decided to stop feeling bad. Lack of content doesn’t affect anyone but me so I’m going to relax and just post when I can, even if that is only once every 3 months at the moment!

So my advice this Christmas is to make smart choices about what you take on. Don’t make your life a juggling act, keeping all those balls in the air gets tiring after a while. Choose what you need to do, what you want to do, what is best for you and your family and don’t be afraid to say no. And I hope that you can do this and have a most relaxing, joyful and wonderful Christmas.

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Merry Christmas everyone!

And so it goes…

I was reminded today by the wonders of technology that I have published a post on this date on facebook for the past two years. Although that in itself was enough of a reason to write a post(!), one of them got me thinking as well. Last year I wrote about sleep deprivation and added my humble contribution to the discourse on solidarity in parenthood, on building each other up and supporting each other, on celebrating diversity rather than letting it divide us. But two years ago I wrote rather more of a mundane ramble about our goings on and rereading it made me feel a bit je ne sais quoi as I could have written it this year and it would pretty much all still be valid.

I wrote about Dan’s ME being bad after a period of wellness and it taking us by surprise, of having amazing home ed days and feeling like a high achiever and of having awful days where everyone is grumpy and the TV is on a lot. I also wrote about preparing for a solo trip to Brighton with the kids to visit old friends and for a very special young man’s birthday, something I’ll be doing again this weekend (hurray!) The only difference two years on are a different house and an extra child in the picture.

Life seems to continue in cycles and rhythms over time, things change but not often in huge earth shattering ways. And I guess this realisation has me wondering that if we’re experiencing the same feelings, events and occurrences season after season, what’s the point? A spiritual answer for me would be to point to Jesus. I believe he has a plan for my life and even if I can’t see how the mundane ins and outs affect the bigger picture, there is a bigger picture. One day I might see what it is, or maybe I won’t. But nonetheless, it is there and I just have to trust in Him and keep living in a way that I think would honour him.

Alongside this is a reminder that I think everyone, regardless of faith, can take on board. That the point isn’t to necessarily keep blindly striving towards some end point or goal without looking at the scenery but to enjoy life day by day as it comes. The finish line might hold some incredible reward or it might not. But the race itself should be fully embraced and entered into just for the sake of taking part. It’s easy to get bogged down into the routine that your life entails, whether that is your job, parenthood or hobbies and to start finding it all a drag. I am prone to occasionally stopping, taking stock and concluding that my life consists of nothing more but washing dishes, doing laundry, ferrying small people around and preparing food. And in those moments, I can get quite grumpy! But if I shake off the ‘woe is me’ feeling and dig a bit deeper, I can also remember a baby waking me up with a heart melting smile, a sister and brother holding hands as they walk down the road, a delicious meal, an evening spent laughing with my husband and friends, some work accomplished that I’m particularly proud of or a new weightlifting goal reached.

I know I’ve written about taking pleasure in the small things before and I really don’t want to be repetitive, boring or start to sound like a motivational speaker but I do think it is so important. If you’re feeling a bit stuck right now, why not stop what you’re doing and think of three things that happened today that made you smile. I bet you’ll feel much better for it! Mine are: Sophia and her friend putting on a ‘show’ with the help of her friends Dad, cooking a new recipe that we all liked(!) and the look of pride on Elijah’s face as he stood unaided for one of the first times. It’s the little things that make the journey worthwhile, it really is.

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Opportunities

It’s funny to think that it wasn’t much over a year ago that I was in Sussex taking part in the Nurturing Birth doula training course. My thoughts were consumed with setting up as a doula, how we’d manage to juggle childcare when I was on call and excitement as starting down a new path, one that felt distinctly separate from my role as mother and home educator (something that I felt most grateful for). The shock at finding out I was pregnant just a few months later sent that all into a bit of a (temporary I hope) tailspin. I managed to fit in one birth before I was too heavily pregnant and that was an amazing experience and an honour to be witness to but afterwards I was left thinking, what next? Was I destined to just embrace the stay at home Mum role for the next 2 – 3 years before doing something for myself again?

Since moving to Topsham for the first time in 2013, I identified the importance of being able to carve out some time and some kind of activity or task for myself that is independent of my role at home. It’s been good to reclaim my identity away from the kids even if it has been significantly changed and moulded by their presence in my life (in a good way I hope). I started working as a bartender/waitress initially and loved it, it may not have been intellectually taxing or particularly meaningful or important work but it was good fun and great to get out for a few nights a week. I also started playing music with Dan and actually joining him in playing gigs which was great for us as a couple and me creatively. Unfortunately, both of those pursuits ended up trailing off when we moved to Thorverton last year. However, by then, I thought we were finished having babies and after a lot of thought (and encouragement from Dan) had decided to follow my passion for childbirth by becoming a doula. It seemed like the perfect fit with home educating and I was excited at the prospect of serving women in this capacity. But then I fell pregnant and so that venture is on pause for the foreseeable future.

So back to my original question…what now? I love blogging and although I haven’t got much of a following, enjoy the act of writing itself as well as creating a record of my thoughts and our activities as a family. So I will endeavour to keep this site alive, even if it is only one post a week. However, in addition to this… earlier in the year I received an email from a friend who works for the maternity clothing company Yummy Mummy Maternity. They were about to launch a standalone site, http://www.yummymummy.co.uk with pregnancy and breastfeeding diaries, celebrity gossip and general parenting news and information and she wondered if I’d be interested in writing a weekly breastfeeding diary for them. I jumped at the chance; I love to write, I am passionate about breastfeeding and I wanted something to do to replace my bar work and my taster of being a doula. Although it is still directly related to parenting, I enjoy the challenge of making our breastfeeding journey informative and (I hope!) vaguely interesting to read. So every Thursday if you pop over there, you can see how I’m getting on with breastfeeding third time round. I’ll give you a spoiler – it’s not been plain sailing. But I won’t say too much more here, go and read about it for yourself! I don’t know how long they want me to do it for but I’m enjoying the opportunity for the time being.

A friend has also, just this evening, asked me about meeting up to play together (she is a violinist) occasionally which would be brilliant. She has two small children so understands the challenges surrounding practice and playing instruments but it would be good fun and a kick up the backside for me to actually get my cello out and start playing regularly again. I just hope that I don’t embarrass myself after such a long break – must get a bit of practice in before our first session I think!!

So I guess it basically comes down to the fact that I’ve been pondering my life-work balance, as it were. And just as I wondered how I could claim something for myself, opportunities presented themselves – in the form of writing and music. Elijah is also ok taking expressed milk and with the local pool reopening next week I’m going to grasp the opportunity to do some solo evening swims with two hands. (There is also the added benefit of supporting a local community swimming pool that is in dire need of funds for some big repair work – if you’re in the area, why not take a dip at Topsham Pool and help support them!) I feel like this is a bit of a self indulgent post so apologies for that. I wrote it mostly so I could keep track of where I’m at, to share what I’m up to and have a record to reflect back on in the future. But if you’re up for sharing, I’d love to hear how other people balance the various roles in their life and what opportunities have presented themselves at key moments for them.

I find it funny that whenever we are invited to a wedding, baptism or dedication, I tend to pull out the same verse from the Bible to put into the card: Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’. Obviously this is unlikely to be of much comfort if you’re not a Christian but for me, I find it helpful to reflect on it and remember it when I’m not sure where I’m going in life. When one path turns out to be a dead end and another seemingly has too many insurmountable obstacles, I try to remember that there is a perfect path for me, I just need to find it. Right now, my doula path has ended but I’ve been offered new opportunities which I’m going to embrace and if I get to rejoin the original path in a few years, that’s great and if not, I’m sure the next part of the journey will be equally exciting, whatever it may be. So here’s to opportunities…may we take them with both hands and enjoy the ride!

And then it was over.

24 days of building excitement, craft activities done, nativity taken part in, gifts made, carols sung, copious amounts of food bought, stockings hung, and then, in a mere 24 hours, it had happened and was over, just like that. Such a strange phenomenon, advent, Christmas and all that goes with it.

Which is not to say that I (we) didn’t enjoy it. Quite the contrary. A most lovely and enjoyable time was had. But the joy was found in the company of good friends, of laughter, of remembering the birth of Jesus and of observing the kids slotting back into friendships despite the hundreds of miles between us. The comically wet, freezing and windy Boxing Day walk on Dartmoor will go down in history as well I think! In years to come, when we recall what an ace Christmas we had together, I doubt it’s success will be measured in the calibre of the presents or deliciousness of food eaten (though we might still be ribbing Matt for his insane ability to practically inhale cheese).
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I just find it so odd that all the build up reaches fever pitch and then ends so abruptly and leaves us on the 29th December wondering, what next? At Church yesterday I learnt how much of the nativity is fabricated. The Bible tells us that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem but not that they trekked on a donkey, that Jesus was laid in a manger but not that they were refused entry from several inns and ended up in a stable surrounded by animals, that wise men visited but not explicitly that there were three. The accounts in the gospels are direct and lacking on the picturesque details. We don’t even know when it all actually happened, the date was picked by the Church hundreds of years ago, possibly piggybacking off the preexisting festival of winter solstice. So much of the traditional story has been concocted and it leaves me pondering. (Much like Mary who pondered all that the shepherds told her about her son’s future between their first and second visit – Luke 2: 19).

I’ve ranted in the past at the rampant consumerism that accompanies Christmas these days, the extravagant competitive gift giving, the excessive consumption. When you add in a largely made up nativity (though granted, the most important detail of God coming to earth as a baby to secure our future salvation remains), it leaves me feeling a bit cynical about the whole period. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to turn into a scrooge next year and opt out of the season entirely (Dan and the kids wouldn’t let me even if I wanted to!) but I guess I just want to reiterate the point that maybe having a simpler, more meaningful Christmas is by far, the better option.

At the beginning of advent I wrote about wanting to be more outward facing and to try and practically help those less fortunate than me during this season. Unfortunately, my efforts didn’t get very far. We donated some presents and food to a local homeless charity (St Petrocks) and helped pack several family boxes for refugees in Syria with our home ed group but didn’t do anything else. I actually struggled to find local practical opportunities that weren’t limited by small folk, finances or were around the big day rather than committing to spending Christmas Day itself serving others (again, not something I’m opposed to but wasn’t possible this year with the final stages of pregnancy starting to limit me, friends staying and young children).

As we approach 2015 I’ve been thinking about volunteering locally (regularly, not just at Christmas) for a good cause but think I might have to wait a few years as the kids will need to be a bit older before they are helpful and not a hindrance and with tiny number 3 arriving very soon, I can’t really commot to doing anything by myself quite yet!

But I digress. Christmas 2014. Apologies if I’ve come across as negative today. I’m really not, honest! I feel blessed to have such good friends and family to spend time with, privileged that we can buy some yummy food and are in a position of being able to provide presents for the kids and am thankful that Sophia is already grasping the deeper meaning behind Christmas and didn’t get completely distracted by the abundance of parcels under the tree! I guess I just find it mad that even when I have intentionally tried to keep things low key, I still feel slightly knocked flat by the post Christmas come down. So, if you’re feeling the same, why not look forwards with me? Let’s not mope but be proactive in getting out in this gorgeous (albeit cold) wintry weather, in seeking out opportunities to spend time with people we love, to not get sucked into the post Christmas sales and more consumerism. Let’s get some perspective, yes Christmas was fun and yes, now it’s over but that shouldn’t spoil our enjoyment of the coming days and weeks. So here’s to a happy January and an amazing 2015 to all of us!

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Distance doesn't stop these kids loving on each other!

Christmas: Less me, more them

Usually by this point in the year I’ve got Christmas and Sophia’s birthday sorted. This year I haven’t and I’m feeling it. I’m struggling to shift a perpetual dark mood and am stressed by how much there is to buy, organise and prepare in a very short space of time. Last year I had bought everything by the end of October, worked on handmade items in November and had December to do Christmassy activities with the kids, relax and enjoy the festive build up. This year I kind of just want to fast forward to January…

Don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to the Christmas week itself and spending time with family and dear friends. It’s just the getting there that I’m dreading. There are homemade gifts to be made, Christmas crafts to be done (and baked!), presents to be bought, a party to plan, a Christmas dinner that needs planning (and necessary foods ordered), a newly moved into house that still needs sorting and all this on top of the normal demands of daily life and performed at less than 100% of my maximum capacity due to a small man that has started waking at night again…

I feel like a scrooge just typing this. Sorry for killing the festive buzz guys! I think I just needed to get it out there, to use this as a dumping ground so I can get organised, get over it and not stamp out the Christmas cheer before it has even arrived in our house. It’s also good to have a ‘written’ record so I don’t make the same mistake next year! Next year I’m putting aside a little bit of money each month and starting early.

And actually, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve come to realise how my head is really in the wrong space. Christmas isn’t about the gifts we make, buy and give, it’s not about the gingerbread or the wreath, it’s not about a meal that’ll be eaten in a fraction of the time it took to make. For us, for our family, it’s about remembering the birth of a very special baby, long ago, whose arrival changed everything. As the old saying goes ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’! And if you’re not that way inclined, I’m assuming it’s still not about any of the stuff I mentioned just now. I’m guessing it’s about spending time with your family and friends, it’s about love. We probably won’t remember the calibre of the roasties or gifts given and received in ten years time, but we’ll remember what matters. We’ll remember the smiles, the comfortable ease of being with folk we love, the laughter that brought us all to tears (though probably not what sparked it), the joy of spending quality time with quality people.

And I reckon that as long as I keep that my focus for the next month, I should be able to lighten up, get everything I need to get done finished and have a bloody brilliant December and Christmas. But Christmas for many people and families around the world  this year is going to fall far short of brilliant. So this week my task is to seek out ways of practically making Christmas a little cheerier for those less  fortunate than me and with far bigger worries than me. Our Church works to help support homeless people in Exeter and are collecting small gifts for them and we helped our home ed group with five family Christmas boxes for refugees in Syria so that’s a good place to start. But there must be more I can do than that. If you know of any opportunities please comment and let me know. If not, I will endeavour to find out and update you next week with my plans.

Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter those without homes. If I truly believe he’s the reason for celebrating this festive season then I need to think much less about my own (minor) woes and how I can enjoy the next month and start thinking much more about others. If I achieve nothing else but this, I’ll be content. I’m going to think beyond myself this Christmas, I want to help make it better for those that desperately need and deserve it to be.