Tuesday, 29 November 2011

November's Gifts

"Guard me against ... the poverty of spirit that refuses to acknowledge what is daily given me."
 (Gunilla Norris)

November has been a month full of gifts just waiting for me to acknowledge them.  When I start to reflect on what they might be it doesn't take me long to compose a whole list of things for I am grateful this month.  How full and rich life seems when I 'acknowledge what is daily given me".

  • A very positive first scan of baby number three, how wonderful to hear that tiny heart beating - I will never get my head around the miracle of my body creating a new life.
  • Lots and lots of good reading, mostly fiction, there's something about this time of year that I just want to snuggle under a blanket and read.
  • The return of my crafting bug, again possibly related to the time of year as there is nothing else for me to do in the garden my interests have turned towards the indoors.  Some knitting, some sewing and lots of plans for more.
  • The first frost.  Cold, crisp and sunny days.
  • A very fun bonfire night, celebrated with neighbours.  Hot dogs for supper, a large bonfire, sparklers for the children and a few good laughs.
  • My homemade birthday cards from my girls.  Precious, precious gifts.
  • A beautiful walk on the North Downs, very peaceful.
  • A very fun day at the wildlife park with my girls and our friends.  
  • Witnessing my indoors Hyacinth bulbs starting to send out green shoots - the only thing growing right now (other than my waistline)
  • The anticipation and excitement of making plans for Christmas when we will have lots of time with family from overseas.
  • The darker nights, the PJs, the candlelight.
  • A really sweet letter, ( a real letter, handwritten and on real paper!) from my parents in law.
  • Small scale kitchen renovations, taking away cupboards so that we can gain space to entertain friends and family around our kitchen table - so very important to me.  

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Made with love

A knitted pair of baby booties, a gift for a special little one as I finally dusted off the knitting needles.  We'd had a 'falling out', they just haven't been producing things properly lately! I certainly am not  a fantastic knitter, but I do enjoy it and I've been trying to get some joy back in to my knitting, inspired by Jane Brocket's 'The Gentle Art of Knitting', http://yarnstorm.blogs.com/  Knitting should indeed be a 'gentle art' that I shouldn't use to beat myself up with because it's one more thing that I would like to do but am not really that talented at.

Crafting in general can be such a wonderfully satisfying pastime when you do create something about which you can feel proud.  There have been things I've made which I've been really pleased with.  I am so in awe of all the crafters I like to keep up to date with on blogs and in books, 'Pinterest' (http://pinterest.com/all/?category=diy_crafts) is a new find for me, it's just a pure indulgence to sit and swoon over the images on their craft section. There just aren't enough hours in the day to make all the things I would like to.  So, small 'baby steps'! I have a basket with three projects waiting to be finished, a cardi, a hat and a doll, all for my girls - my favourite kind of project.  A 'mummy-made' article, probably made with flaws, but also made with love.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A tale of two mummies ....

Some days I'm the mummy who starts the day with a book in bed with my girls, they then eat a healthy breakfast of cereal and fruit, or we make a fruit smoothie together, before they run out of the door to play while I prepare some wonderfully creative activity for them to do.  The day is full of play, art, reading and good nourishment for their bodies as well as their perfect little souls.  Some days.

Some days none of the above happens and I've shouted at my daughters before it's 7am.  Some days they get beans on toast for dinner because it's all I have the energy for.  Some days the rules are broken about sweets during the week and TV before school because I've been weak and given in to the pester power.  The truth is - isn't it the same for all mums?  At the end of some days we can pat ourselves on the back and feel content with the fact that we got it right today and our children are tucked up in bed healthy and happy.  Sometimes though I go to see them asleep in their beds and I feel guilty that I shouted, guilty that I had to stay late at work tonight, guilty that we didn't spend enough 'quality-time' together that day, just plain guilty.

I want to be the mummy who gets it all right every day, but I'm not, so what can I do?  I can forgive myself, practice patience and gentleness with myself so that I can practice those same things towards the people I love.  I read somewhere once that we have to be our own best friend sometimes, counsel ourselves as we would a good friend and say, "It's OK, you did your best , you have good intentions, you love your kids and that's all they really need, go to bed and get some rest and try again tomorrow."  I like this inner best friend of mine, she's kind and understanding, she knows that I do have the best of intentions and that I will try again tomorrow, that I'll never stop trying to be the mummy I know my children deserve.  The kind of mummy that I know I can be.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sunday walks

Sunday morning, the sun rose and shone after a very foggy start to the day.  It was cold and crisp and bright, perfect weather for a walk on the North Downs.  Every time we go for one of these walks my husband and I feel so lucky to live in such a place of great natural beauty.  It's just breathtaking looking out across the Surrey countryside on a morning such as it was on sunday.

Of course, when we announce to the girls that we are "going for a walk" they are reluctant to leave whatever game in which they are involved and there are cries of, "I'm not going for a walk, it's boring!"  Every time my daughter, Caitlin, declares this and every time we go she loves it.  The girls run ahead of us and start up some imaginary game, this sunday they were having a battle in the forest and they were horses with knights on their backs.  (Caitlin is hugely inspired at the moment by tales of Agincourt and Henry IV, the 'Horrible Histories' series has ignited something in her).  So off they run and we try to keep up and take in the scenery.  I practice trying to be in the moment and not let my mind run away with thoughts of work, household chores, 'what are we having for dinner?', etc, etc.

We stopped in a beautiful glade where Matthew took some nice shots and I dished out the hot chocolate and shortbread.  I wanted to stay all day.  It was so peaceful, so quiet and was just where I wanted to be, surrounded by my family with nothing to do but enjoy each other's company and take in our beautiful surroundings.  We said hello to fellow walkers and bikers.  Smiles all round among people enjoying the countryside, far away from bustling shops, crowds and traffic.  A sunday walk was what I needed to feel replenished, to feel grounded.  I firmly believe in good nourishment for the body through healthy food, but its also important to find something which nourishes the soul or the spirit.  Nourishment for the soul was what I found on this sunday walk, I'm looking forward to my next one.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

An advent calendar

Last sunday morning we decided we were going to make an advent calendar.  (Normally I don't think about doing this until the first week of December when it's already too late, but not this year!)  With just two pieces of A3 card, a red for the top and a green one for the bottom.  My husband meticulously cut a christmas tree  out of the red card so the green card underneath would show through.  Then the girls got busy drawing decorations to go on the tree, robins, baubles, snowmen, stars, etc.  We cut them out and placed them inside each of the 24 pockets.  When December starts they will take turns to take a decoration out of that day's pocket and place it on the tree on the calendar.  On Christmas Eve they will get to put the fairy on the top.

What a great way to start a sunday it was.  We were all involved in the process, even my three year old got to decorate the pictures with glitter and drew around each of the numbers on the pockets.  I just love it when we all work on a project together and it is taken very seriously by all concerned. When everyone has their head bent over their work is when I stop to savour the moment.  That we were all together for the day, no school, no nursery, no work.  We were warm and cosy in our house and still in our PJs. We were all working together on something fun and there was no where else where anyone of us wanted to be other than right in that moment.  When our work was done, the girls went running off to play, I started the breakfast dishes, my husband went out for a run.  It was like a magical bubble had burst, but it was so, so sweet while it lasted.  Of course, now my girls are very excited about Christmas a little too soon and are asking me "how many sleeps until Christmas day?" and "when can we get the decorations out of the attic?"  That's O.K., I'm excited too, it's a time when there will be many more 'magical bubbles' to savour.  

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Watch them play

 It's only as I've been lying around feeling very sick and very sorry for myself that I have been doing something I wouldn't normally do.  I've been watching my girls play.  I'm not normally the type to sit and do nothing, if my girls are busy playing I'm usually busy with dinner, laundry and any number of other important tasks.  I'm always doing something and squeeze as much out of each day as I can.  Lately though, because of this early stage of pregnancy which has wiped me off my feet, I just don't have the energy to do anything other than the essentials, like feed my children!  Not much else.  A great bonus of this though is that I have actually sat down long enough to watch them play.  I came in to the living room and found Erin playing with her doll's house, she re-arranged all the furniture, got some pets for the dollies to play with and sang so beautifully and happily while she played that it was just a privilege to observe.  I would have missed it had I been in the kitchen.  I would have missed just sitting and 'being' with my three year old girl.  I would have missed such an opportunity to witness the magic that is the play of a young child when they are totally absorbed in their game.

 Soon, I will be back up to my normal energy levels and will again be squeezing as much as I can out of the day but I'm at a stage in my life, in my spiritual journey, where I'm trying to learn from my experiences.  My experience at the moment is teaching me that it's OK to slow down and just sit sometimes and do nothing.  When I do so I get to witness my girls in their natural state of play and it's generally so beautiful to watch.  If I spend so much of my time trying to complete that long 'to-do' list I will miss some of the most magical gifts in my life.  I will miss hearing her sing while she plays, I don't want to miss hearing her sing while she plays, it's the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A good read

I just love it when I pick up a random book which I haven't heard of before, I don't know the author and have read no reviews.  When that random book turns out to be a really good read it's such a pleasant surprise.  This book won't win any literary prizes but that wasn't what I was looking for.  I wanted a really engrossing read that I couldn't put down, this was it.  The author is American and this is her second novel (I will be sure to look for her first, 'Still Alice').  The basic story is about a high-flying executive woman with three children and a very crazy schedule which is all fine until one day she's rushing around so much she has a car accident which leaves her partially brain-damaged.  She then has to re-adjust to her new life of going a lot slower and in the process learns some very valuable lessons about what it is she really wants from life. It's a lovely story and resonates with me so much because of its message about re-evaluating one's priorities in life, really thinking about what is truly important.  Loved it, I think you might too, x.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A beautiful distraction

Sunday at the arboretum.  The colours were stunning.  The weather was mild.  The sun shone a little.  My girls ran and laughed even though they had protested about going.  My husband took the photos.  I moped around, feeling very weak and very pitiful as I have done all week.  My 'morning, noon and night' (and even during the night!) sickness is wiping me out.  I am so happy to be pregnant but this is pretty rough.  What I have realised is that distraction is a wonderful thing, much in the way I would try to distract one of my daughters when they're about to have a tantrum in a public place, I've been trying to kid myself in to forgetting how nauseous I feel.  I'm watching way more TV than I would normally, but it works and this right now, writing for my blog, is a wonderful and welcome distraction.  As was the walk on sunday, it was hard not to be distracted by such majestic beauty at the arboretum.  While my girls ran about and chatted non-stop and my husband held my hand (I love it when he holds my hand) as we mounted a lot of steps up the hillside.  I tried to quietly take in the beauty around me, I took deep breaths, swallowed my nauseous feelings and felt very grateful to be surrounded by such heart-achingly beautiful trees displaying their autumnal glory in red, yellow and amber.  It was a beautiful distraction and it worked, just for a little while.  

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Journals for my children

This week I started a new journal for baby 'number three', his or her's official title until we know the gender. I have two journals already that I started when I found out I was pregnant each time with my girls.  With my first daughter, Caitlin, I don't even know where the idea came from to write a journal (it could have been an original one!) I just felt the urge to write about the experience.  I wanted to write a record of the pregnancy, the delivery, the first few months and I haven't stopped writing in it yet and she's six.  I will continue to write in these journals until they are eighteen when the journals will be passed on to them as a birthday present, perhaps they would like to pick up the story of their lives where I left off.

I write in the girls' journals roughly once a month.  I write about what they're doing at the moment in school and nursery, who their friends are and the activities we do as a family.  I also like to write about the funny things they do or say.  One entry from Caitlin's journal dated January 2010, when she was four, reads, "Today Mummy was talking about how handsome Daddy is, to which Caitlin agreed but after some thought added, "but Daddy doesn't have any hair though does he Mummy?"  (She's right, he doesn't, but it makes him even more handsome)  I also stick lots of photos in the journals, birthday cards, drawings, leaflets from places we've visited, even little locks of hair from when they were babies.  It's also nice to take prints of their little hands and feet every now and then to see how they've grown.

What I didn't anticipate when I started the journals was how much the girls would love looking through them.  On sunday morning I came downstairs to find them sprawled on the living room floor with their journals, looking at the photos and reminiscing about the things we have done, the places we used to live.  They also love looking at pictures of themselves as babies.  What I also didn't anticipate when I started writing them was how precious they would be to me and they become more so as my girls grow up.  I don't have the best memory so for me to look back and read about the time when they were babies is just so very special.  These journals are a record of my daughters' childhood and also a record of my thoughts and feelings about them as they grow up.  I can express to them in their journals now, when they're little, just how much I love them and maybe one day when they're adults they will truly understand how their Mummy felt about them.  I think the journals will be a very special eighteenth birthday present indeed.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Simple Fun - In 'Families' Magazine

[Today I bring to you a post I wrote a short while ago which has been published in the latest edition of 'Families' magazine for Surrey West.  Many thanks to the editor, Sarah Hatch, for considering such a newcomer like me.)

Living a simple life, in search of truth and beauty, these are my goals.  The reason why I have these goals is ...simple.  I want us to enjoy our lives together.  We can do this by having fun, simple fun.  If I could have a chat with my 60 year old self when my children are grown and I'm pottering around the house wondering where the time went, I would ask myself what advice I could give my 33 year old self. The older 'me' would chuckle and smile and hold my hand and tell me to not take it all so seriously, worrying about how my children are doing at school? are they eating healthily? are they developing in to the well-mannered and caring people I'd like them to be?  She would tell me to enjoy my time with my children while they're young and they still want to be with me.  As she held my hand she would look deeply in to my eyes and she would tell me to just have some fun.  

We do have fun, but sometimes I'm so caught up in my daily tasks that I forget this very simple life-affirming principle.  When we dance around like crazy people, when we tickle and tumble and blow raspberries on little tummies, when we play 'can't catch me!' or hide and seek or when we play snap and cheat outrageously, this is fun, this is me connecting with my children, this is life.

In his book, 'The Hurried Child', David Elkind writes about the pressures put on children in the modern world, to perform at school, to be engaged in several extra-curricular activities.  Indeed, these things are important, but so is the need for children to have fun and play.  He sums it up beautifully, "A playful childhood is the most basic right of childhood."  I want my children to have a fun and happy childhood, I want that 60 year old me to look back fondly and think "you did a good job, they were happy kids."

Even as I was composing this post in my head it occurred to me, did we have fun today? did I make them laugh at all today?  There was dinner to cook, laundry to fold, floors to be swept, homework to be done, but was there any fun?  The beauty of it is that it's so simple to have fun together, to laugh together.  I once read somewhere about a woman who made it all very clear for me, she said it wasn't about having quality time together with a specific pre-planned activity involving money or toys.  Rather, making the time together that we have everyday, at the dinner table, getting dressed, on the way to school, making these times fun and enjoyable.  I suppose you could say enjoying the journey instead of focusing on the destination.

So, last night I finished clearing up after dinner, and remembered this.  I got the girls ready for their bath and they told me some things about their day.  When the bath was ready I asked them to get in to the 'aquarium' now please.  They looked puzzled but went along with it.  They got in to the 'aquarium' as I chucked in toy fishes, seahorses, and dolphins, and we laughed as we made up silly names for the toys  and laughed as they refused to get in the water or couldn't because they were 'too shy.'  We laughed, we relaxed, we just had some simple fun.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Find your 'Flow'

This is my childhood encapsulated in a frame.  They are a selection of the 'crayola' crayon set I had which contained about fifty in total but these are the ones I have left.  I remember being so intrigued by the rather exotic (or they seemed exotic to my 8 year old self) sounding names such as 'raw sienna', 'midnight blue', 'periwinkle' and 'sepia'.  I loved the names of the colours as much as using the crayons themselves, which I did, probably every day until one day I remember crying because I had finally coloured in every colouring book and used up every piece of paper I owned.  'Lavender', 'magenta', 'aquamarine', and 'mulberry' were redundant until I could persuade my older sister to give me some of her paper.

I look at these fond souvenirs from my childhood and wonder why was it I loved to colour and draw so much?  I didn't know it at the time but when I was happily occupied with my crayons I was in a state of 'flow'.  This term I have found so intriguing since I first came across it some years ago.  It was coined by a psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (don't ask me to pronounce it).  I understand it to mean when one is in a state of  such concentration, when the world melts away, time doesn't exist, nor do any woes or thoughts.  There is just you absorbed in your chosen activity, completely connected to it.  This was me as a child with my crayons, as an adult I find 'Flow' when I read and write, I could do both all day long and not notice the time or how hungry I was.  University life was bliss for me.

For me 'Flow' could be seen as a spiritual experience or a meditation when one transcends our earthly cares.  It could also be seen, quite simply, as something which everyone should try to find so that they can have some peace and contentment in their lives.  So that the enjoyable task, whether it is baking, golf, singing, whatever, nourishes the soul and makes you feel more complete.  I know how I can achieve 'Flow' I only wish that everyone could and I already observe my daughters and encourage them to pursue their passions for that is how they will become truly happy and nourished, I'm not sure I can think of a better life lesson I could pass on to them.  Find your flow.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Divine creatures

Early pregnancy is no fun.  What a reward you get at the end of it though!  This is my new baby niece, Grace, absolutely gorgeous and a very calm baby who hardly every cries (I've ordered one of those too!)  For now though I have this rotten early stage to get through, in which feeling sick, hungry and exhausted all of the time is just an everyday reality at the moment.  I'm not here to moan though, what I do think is that the female body, and whoever designed it, is a truly marvellous thing.  The way I feel right now absolutely forces me to slow down and pay attention to my body.  I don't have the energy to rush around doing all that needs to be done, mopping the kitchen floor, vacuuming the bedrooms, shopping for christmas presents, there is a long mental list which has had to be temporarily suspended.  Just getting through the day, feeding my girls and clean clothes for us all are the only things on which I can focus in between the bouts of nausea and utter 'dead on my feet' tiredness.  And that's OK, I realise it's a good thing really, my body needs to rest, needs to conserve its energy for its very special project its working on.

I do wonder at what other times in a woman's life should she really be paying attention to her body in this way, every month when the pains start and I start crying for no apparent reason?  Every evening after work, dinner, bathing the girls, when I'm tired and I really should listen to my body and go to bed early instead of collapsing on the couch?  My body is practically screaming at me at the moment to pay attention to it, to feed it, nurture it and rest it.  At other times though, when our bodies speak more subtly to us do we really listen and give it what it needs?  I'm taking this exhausting part of my pregnancy as a lesson to remember in future, to pay attention to my body, certainly the older I get the more important this will become.  To think about what would my body really like me to feed it right now?  Do I need to exercise my body and get out for a good walk?  Do I need that early night or that warm bath before bed?   Shouldn't I be paying attention to that ache in my back, that dry patch on my skin?

The female body is a marvel, mine is in the process of creating a new human being which is no less mind-boggling being that it is such an everyday occurrence.  I'm listening to it, I'm giving it what it needs, (even if it's chips for lunch) I'm respecting the fact that my body and nature itself knows better than I do about how to create a baby.  I'm aware of the fact that even though it doesn't always feel like it when I have my head stuck down the toilet at 4.45am ( that was this morning) it is certainly an honour and such a gift to have this female body capable of creating a new life.  It makes me look at all women with such respect and pride in what our bodies are capable of.  What divine creatures we are.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

My November top ten

"Like a woman who has found her authenticity, November's beauty radiates from within" 
  (Sarah Ban Breatnach)

At the start of a new month I like to write a list in my journal of the things on which I would like to either focus or achieve in the coming month.  I think about any particular events coming up that month and about the season in which the month is found.  November is a transitional month when Autumn leads us in to Winter.  Soon, Autumn will be done with her colourful display, the trees will be bare and the ground will be frozen.  For this November, the month of my birth, I have some things in mind on which I would like to focus.
  • Sort through our winter coats, boots, hats, scarves and gloves.  Assessing who needs something new and what can be donated to charity. Also, finally getting around to storing away sun hats, sun creams, shorts, etc.
  • Make plans for Christmas, buying stocking fillers and planning some ideas for food with the help of Nigella Lawson and Mary Berry.
  • Finish up in the garden for the season, veg patch cleared, leaves raked and bagged for leaf mould, terracotta pots stored away from the expected frost.
  • With more time spent inside with my girls I think a trip to town for some more art supplies is due, stickers, googly eyes, glitter, coloured card, etc.
  • Make our own advent calendar this year, I always mean to and this is the month in which to do it.
  • Food, I'm thinking comfort food, homemade rice pudding, hot chocolate, cauliflower cheese, jacket potatoes, soups and scones.  Invite friends over to enjoy all this with. 
  • To cheer up those dark evenings I'd like to look in to some new movies and box sets to rent.  A good series (we've loved 'The Tudors', 'Rome' and 'Pillars of the Earth' in the past) to get stuck in to will help see us through.
  • This month I'm organising a book club with friends, again something fun to look forward to as well as lots of books to get through.  I'm interested to see if I'm introduced to a good book I wouldn't have normally chosen.
  • Make plans for our winter table,  I will gather our winter children's books, maybe make a few new  pieces such as little snowmen or winter fairies.  Also get the girls to draw some winter pictures and make some salt dough animals for the table, deer, robins, etc. 
  • Finally, embrace all that is November, bonfire night, toffee apples and fireworks, enjoy the last of the splendour of the trees, savour the fact that Winter is nearly here with its own gifts and charm.  Connect with the changing of the month and the season, no matter what is going on in our own complicated and busy lives,  November will always come bringing Winter with her.  The leaves will always change and fall.  The earth will turn towards the darkness for us in the northern hemisphere.  November is the month to retreat in to our homes and to enjoy each others company.