By the Grace of God

Whilst at our Christian home education group a few months ago, I found myself talking to a lady with six (six!) children. She seemed together, happy and not at all like she was losing it, something I struggle with just half the number of children! I asked her how she managed it. Her reply really hit a chord with me and has stuck me ever since. She simply said ‘only by the grace of God’. So simple, so powerful but yet, such an overlooked and forgotten concept. The idea that actually we don’t have to be responsible for everything, that the weight of our lives is not solely on our shoulders alone.

Even if you’re not a Christian I believe there is a message to be taken here that is applicable for all of us. We don’t have to do everything by ourselves and more importantly, we shouldn’t be trying to. It’s just not possible. Asking for and accepting help is an absolute necessity if we want to live a life not consumed by anxiety and stress. Many an article has been written about the concept of the lost village. The assertion that a lot of society’s problems are created by the dispersal of family units, by the isolation and insular nature of our modern lives. And I think that it’s so true. In this village set up, there would always be someone to talk to, someone free to help out when it’s needed. Child raising would be shared, mothers would join together for solidarity in the endlessly long overwhelming days of looking after small people, there would always be a willing person ready to take the little ones off for a bit to enable the parents a break to get on with some other work or even just sleep.

Of course, ‘back in the day’ people’s lives would have been simpler with a slower pace to them. As technology increasingly creeps into every facet of our lives and the media are constantly bombarding us with suggestions as to what we should have and what we should be doing, our lives are getting more and more busy. Diaries are booked for months in advance and being able to drop everything at a moment’s notice to help someone in need is often easier said than done. But I really believe that we should try and channel the ethos of this village a little bit more in our day-to-day lives.

So if you’re struggling, try to remember to ask for help and more importantly, to accept it when it’s offered. And if you see someone else having a hard time, see if you can somehow ease their load a little. It might only take an hour or two of your time but you could make a huge difference to their life that day. After all, it takes a village…

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A festival for everyone

Festival season is most definitely in full swing and my newsfeed is full of pictures of tents, bands and amazing shows that friends and families have been to over the last few weeks. This year, there seem to have been very few wash outs and plenty of great experiences. Most recently was the very local Sidmouth Folk Week and they were blessed with plenty of sunshine for their beach side concerts and celidhs. We haven’t been to any this year (though my very blessed daughter is off to Beautiful Days this weekend with her bestie!) due to Elijah’s age…his latest favourite thing to do is to run as fast as he can away from you laughing hysterically and somehow, I didn’t think this would make for a relaxing festival experience!

I look forward, however, to choosing one to attend next summer. But which one? Therein the problem lies! I won’t lie, taking a family to a festival can be a fairly costly experience and so, for most of us, we have to choose carefully as we’ll only go to one. I remember as a teenager, the choice was much more limited. There was Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds, V Festival and Download and possibly a few more small ones setting up but nothing like the plethora that exists these days. There really is a massively wide variety, a festival for everyone. From alcohol and drug free ‘green’ festivals like Green Gathering and Into the Wild, family friendly festivals like Camp Bestival and Shambala, purely music oriented festivals like the legendary Glastonbury, folk festivals and even a rising number of Christian festivals such as Creation Fest. We went to the latter a few years ago and had a great time. Unusually, it was a free festival where you only paid (a modest fee) for your camping and situated on the Royal Cornwall Showground you could choose to go to the talks in the day or just head to the beach before being treated to a great lineup of all sorts of different artists in the evening. We’ll certainly be heading back there before long I’m sure. Another favourite of ours is Beautiful Days, just a stones throw away from us at Escot. It was such a friendly, inclusive and fun festival. We had a great time last year, even with the massive volumes of mud, and definitely will return once the boys are just a touch older.

Although it’s easy to be cyncial about the hype surrounding festivals, especially when they cost the same as a weeks camping, I really do think they are worth making the effort for. There is something about hundreds or thousands of likeminded folk pitching up, enjoying music and entertainment together and shedding their day to day lives for a pop up instant community that just can’t be beat. It is a one-of-a-kind, uniquely special experience and one definitely worth trying if you haven’t before. And although our very own Beautiful Days is sold out, there are still some festivals with tickets left that you could try this summer, from the rock based Reading Festival to the folksy Towersey Festival. Why not jump in and see for yourself?

‘festival girl’ (self named!) at Beautiful Days

Published in the Exeter Express and Echo on 15th August. 

Thoughts On Unity

After months of bitter campaigning from both sides, I woke up this morning, smugly confident that the vote on whether we should leave or stay in the European Union would have gone the way I voted. I rolled over, asked Dan to pass my phone to check and loaded up BBC News. Shit. I was actually rendered momentarily speechless. Although I knew there were a lot of folk wanting to leave, I didn’t think they’d actually get a majority (though 1% is such a measly majority, it doesn’t quite seem to count in my head). It seems like a lot of the Remain campaigners had felt the same, I think we became complacent in our confidence that people would see through the lies and propaganda and make the best decision for our country. (Or at least, the decision that we think is the best for the country, can’t ignore the fact that 17 million people thought different although, after today, I have seen many saying they regret their choice).

Fast forward a couple of hours, Cameron has resigned and Farage (git) is on breakfast TV backtracking already on campaign promises, namely, that the NHS would get £350 million a week if we left the EU. A mistake he claimed, can’t be helped I’m sure. I won’t bother list the rest of the initial fallout, no doubt you’ve read about it over and over again on the news and your facebook feed. I’ve read more stories than I’d like to about people who will be losing their jobs, about families who future here is looking uncertain. A friend summed it up perfectly this morning when she said she kept getting hit by waves of sadness. I think that’s my overwhelming feeling surrounding the whole affair, sadness. Sadness that this issue has so bitterly divided the country, sadness that people chose to believe lies from the far right rather than do their own research and find out the truth, sadness that so many people don’t know what to expect regarding their residency or businesses in the coming months and years, sadness that far right groups around Europe are congratulating us and calling for the same, sadness (and straight up fear) that we might end up with Boris Johnson as our PM in October, sadness that this decision seemed to be fuelled by misplaced fear and ignorance.

All day I’ve been pondering on whether to add my two cents to the fray. Words seem meaningless at this point and besides, I’d just be preaching to the converted. The fact that everyone I speak to is so angry and dismayed goes to show they’re all on the same page as me already. (Although I do feel blessed to be surrounded by such a group of sensible, compassionate people). But I did want to say something. Because as several wise folk have said, the challenge now is to pick ourselves up and make the best of what we’re left with.  Much as I’d love to go and hide somewhere pretending none of this has happened, that would achieve nothing. Now, more than ever, we need to be united. United against fascists, against hate and fear and discrimination. We need to be united in our thoughts and actions, in challenging those that do not have our best interests in mind.

We will not be downtrodden or ignored. We will not accept this culture of anger and prejudice that has swept over England. We will not let the fat cats in Whitehall control our lives. We will continue to show empathy, love and understanding to all. We will promote multiculturalism, inclusivity and tolerance. We will fight, for what is right, and just, and fair. We will not let them take our country and break it.

We’re going home!

So, in less that a month we will be leaving this…

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View from our front door

and moving to this…

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View of our new front door

We must be mad eh?!

But the new house is in Topsham and that pretty much changes everything.

We’ve been only at the beautiful Old Apple Barn 7 months so this could be the record for our shortest time in one place but at the end of the October we’ll be completing our 5th move in as many years. Itchy feet much!

In all seriousness though, a sequence of boring events preceded this decision (new baby on the horizon, rent being raised, my car breaking without reasonable repair) but what is boils down to is that for us, right now, in the great battle of being in the country vs in the community, the community wins out.

Whilst we love living rurally and the benefits it brings, we really miss living in a community with friends, good transport links and amenities within a stones throw. Every time I go back to Topsham (at least once a week for dancing) I feel like we shouldn’t have left, I see half a dozen people I want to catch up with and feel sad when the time comes to leave. So although we will miss our big country garden, the chickens, the uninterrupted view of rolling hills, the peace and quiet and the woodburner we think that they are sacrifices worth making.

I’m so excited to have so many good friends nearby, to be able to actually walk places with the kids, to be part of our local community again. Especially with the arrival of the new baby come February, I know having that support structure is going to be invaluable. And being minutes from the train station means that car-less friends have no excuse not to visit! It’s going to be great!

We have loved living here, it’s felt like an extended holiday-this is the kind of house we used to look at renting for a week. And I think that living rurally is something that Dan and I might return to in the future (if we don’t end up back on a boat) but right now, Topsham is where we want to be.
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A (non) milestone

My news feed on facebook today has been full of pictures of friends’ children, smiling for the camera, dressed proudly in school uniform, ready for their first day at school. In a bit of a contrasting damp squib moment, Sophia spent the day with Isaac and me at my Mum’s, reading books, dressing up, squabbling, catching crabs and making fudge. We’ve had a lovely day but not quite the momentous first day at school experienced by many of her peers today. image

Not that she minds (and I don’t really either). I think we’re both looking forward to the ‘not-back-to-school’ home ed picnic on Monday, our home education groups restarting after the summer break and as Sophia puts it, having a timetable. By this, she is referring to us starting the Wee Folk Art ‘curriculum’ that I mentioned in a previous post. It’s a very gentle approach, we’re going to do it over 3 days a week, have 2 days ‘off’ for groups and getting out and about and hopefully will be manageable as I get more pregnant and then busy with a new tiny one in the Spring.

There isn’t much point to this post, I just wanted to mark what could have been a milestone in some way. It’s a funny feeling, diverting from the mainstream path so dramatically. Although some of our early parenting choices may have put us in the minority (breastfeeding past a year, babywearing, co sleeping), choosing to home educate feels like a completely different ballpark. We’re embarking on a journey that less than 1% of parents in the UK have chosen to take.

But, we are not alone. We are part of a thriving community and have friends that home educate scattered all over Mid and South Devon. And that is what makes it, not a potentially isolating, but an exciting and enriching experience, not just for Sophia and Isaac, but the whole family. So I enter this school year looking forward to what it holds and to being able to be an active part of Sophia’s education and most importantly, without a hint of regret.

I’ll stop rambling now but just leave you with a lovely photo of crabbing during Dartmouth Regatta with some of our further flung friends. We were delighted to have the newlyweds and their girls to visit last week and look forward to seeing them again soon-congrats Matt and Jo, we love you guys!

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In the dark of night

I couldn’t park outside work last night. Not particularly surprising given that it was a warm sunny (ish) friday evening in June but it did mean that I was a bit late to work as I had to park on the high street and cut through the church yard and along the front to the pub.

Leaving in the dark five hours later I did consider taking the streetlight lit way back to the car but being tired and just wanting to get home I went back the way I came. As I started walking back through the churchyard I noticed a man approaching me. I nodded as we passed and continued on engrossed in replying to a text. I happened to glance over my shoulder and realised that he had stopped, turned round and was walking towards me. He caught my eye and said ‘hey’. I completely freaked out. I let out a strangled ‘bye’ and sprinted out onto the high street and down to my car.

As I sat in the car, doors locked and heart pounding I felt like a complete idiot. Why on earth did my gut tell me to run away?! He was probably completely innocent. Perhaps he wanted to ask the time or maybe he thought he recognised me. I probably made him feel awful by running away when he did nothing more but greet me.

It made me wonder, was this my overactive imagination at work or would have other women reacted in the same way. At what point did a culture of fear permeate our society to the extent that we see strangers firstmost as potential threats instead of fellow human beings. Where has our trust in the kindness of strangers gone?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be sensible about risks and choices that we make but maybe we err on the side of fear and caution too much. Or is it a sad fact that there is much more crime than 20, 50 years ago and that our instincts are an evolved reaction to the state of the world around us?

The news is full of stories of violence, rape, murder. Are we simply reporting more than we used to or is it really on the rise? I don’t know the answers but I do know that I don’t want my children to grow up in fear, suspicious of strangers. I want them to be safe, to be able to make well informed sensible decisions, not to be instantly distrusting but also not to be naive.

I have no idea how to achieve this, how to impart these values and skills. I suspect part of it depends on the community that you live in. A closer knit community means that you can get to know and trust those around you. I’m aware that that isn’t always possible though. So I guess it’s just finding the fine line between making wise choices (streetlit road over dark churchyard!) and not living in fear of the unknown. I still want them to be able to stop and help folk in need though even if others are passing on by, wary of what they don’t know.

Those of you with older children, would love to hear your thoughts on teaching them to be safe but not fearful…

strong communities

Yesterday saw the kids, Aunty Julia and myself (unfortunately Dan was poorly) at their first ever protest. The English Defence League were marching in Exeter and in response a group called Exeter Together was formed and organised a counter demonstration to celebrate diversity and respect in Exeter and to send a clear message to the EDL that they are not welcome here.

I’m happy to admit that I was a bit nervous on the morning of the march, although I’ve been to demonstrations before I’ve never been to an anti EDL one and given their violent tendencies I was a bit worried about having the kids in tow. However the organisers had assured us it was more a celebration of all that is good in Exeter, that it was family friendly and that the two groups wouldn’t even meet. They were right, there was no need to worry. And what an amazing day.

Hundreds of people (estimates range from 700 to over 1000) turned up to walk in a peaceful and joyful march before gathering in the city centre for a time of music, poetry and speakers.
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What I absolutely loved seeing was the diverse range of groups and people who were represented and who turned up, from punks with their foot high brightly coloured mohawks, old hippies swathed in wool and multicoloured fabrics, the trade unions, teachers union, folk from the Centre for Islamic Studies, pastors from local churches to just general members of the public who felt strongly enough about the EDL coming to Exeter that they gave up their free time on a saturday morning to join in.

Strong communities. This is what it’s about. My last post was concerned with how to make a difference, how to help. I believe the starting point is in having and participating in strong communities. 50, 100 years ago you could take having a supportive community for granted, whole families lived in the same town or village, everyone knew each other and was willing to help those who needed it. Now families are fragmented around the country, sometimes the world. You often move to follow the work. To find a good school. To get a cheaper house. We can’t guarantee knowing people in our local communities. I believe there is an increase in our poor health (mental and physical) because we don’t have those networks of support that we used to have.

But since moving to Devon I’ve felt part of a community. Perhaps it is because I’ve lived in a big city for the last 10+ years but living in a small town has been incredible. We can’t walk down to the shops without bumping into at least one person we know. When our car battery was flat and we needed to move it the local shop directed me to a nearby house where a lovely gentleman came and gave me a jump start. I later found out he was the mayor. That day sticks with me. I interrupted him and his wife whilst they were having breakfast with a toddler on my hip and a child bouncing around to say someone said he might help. He dropped everything and came round immediately.  Some friends from the pub where I work let me and the kids pick copious amounts of apples from their property because they knew I wanted to make preserves but our apple tree had failed. We were asked to put together a musical act for Carnival week, even though we’d been here less than 6 months.  And I know if you asked me in a few months I could give you even more examples of such a kind and friendly community.

Yesterday made me realise that it doesn’t matter if you know everybody in it, or even sometimes like them all(!) but being part of a strong community is essential. Through it you can find out where help is needed, where there are opportunities for you to get involved in something that you are passionate about, that is worthwhile. There are people who care, people who are willing to do things, to try and effect change. You just need to find them, to join with them, to be part of it.

I was talking to my friend just after my last post and he was talking about volunteering at the local food bank and just like that, I knew that was something I wanted to do with the kids. I know I will have to wait until they are old enough to be properly useful (or at least not counter productive!) but I want to get involved in that front line service. He has inspired me to pull my finger out and start asking the questions.

Similarly, our home education group was dwindling without somewhere to meet and now I feel really passionate about being part of that. We are looking for a venue where we can meet weekly now, where we can welcome in other parents who are considering home education or already doing it, to be able to do activities with the kids, to create another community.

Never have I experienced community like this, there are layers of different groups and they all seem to overlap; folk we know from  Topsham, the home education network, people from our Church, from being a parent, even at work as the pub where I work has become like family (albeit eccentric!) to me. Now don’t get me wrong, we had some very very special friends in Brighton and I still miss them daily. But our ‘community’ started and ended with them. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough but it was hard to be part of a community in a big city (although I guess we were part of the liveaboard community in the marina). It was hard to connect in the same way, there was an attitude of ‘but what difference will we make?’ or ‘but someone’s already doing that’. But if we ever do live in a city again I know I will make an effort to get more involved. Now I know how important it is to be part of what surrounds you.

So the answer, not 42, but, strong communities.