7 Ways To Survive Summer!

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I know, I know, you’re thinking survive summer, I’m gagging for it, bring it on! Just hear me out mama; a few years ago, about 2 days into the summer break I overheard the desperate cry of a mother of 4 school aged children say “they’re driving me crazy already, I can’t believe I have 6 weeks of this”. I’m sure you’ve never felt exasperated 2 days into the summer break (ahem) but this romantically desired long break from ‘business as usual’, whether it’s the school run, homework and parent’s evenings or homeschool planning, curriculum choices and homeschool co-op taxiing around it can be tough on Mum when the honeymoon period (2 weeks days in…smile) is over.

Here in the UK we’re just winding down for our 6 week break; I know you US mama’s are well into your summer break, but here’s how this schedule loving homeschool Mum keeps sane.

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1. Make a wish list 

I’m pretty opposed to using the term ‘bucket’ list as I don’t intend to ‘kick it’ before the end of the summer but I get why people use it! We always make a summer wish list, it often has similar things on it year after year:

1. Go fruit picking

2. Visit Bourton-on-the-Water

3. Sit around the fire pit and roast marshmallows

4. Go visit the ________ family

Etc.

You get the idea; we make the list and we slot them on the schedule (see no.2) to make sure we do them!

2. Make a plan – print it out for all to see

Yep, I’m that Mum, but it works! I make a table on Word covering the 6 (or 7) weeks we’re taking off and fill in every day as much as I can. I then print it out and stick it in various places around the house. So next time they ask ‘are we going out today’ you can just point them to the summer schedule – simple (unless they can’t read of course…wink)

3. Talk about expectations

I’m all about the family meetings and ‘briefings’ – we can’t expect our children to behave a certain way or respond in a particular way if we haven’t first laid out our expectations right? So this is where you show them the schedule, talk them through it, explain that they’ll still be doing chores (see below), remind them that the word ‘bored’ is banned in the house (highly recommend that one!) and definitely have some clear boundaries around technology, but most of all lay down an expectation of fun. Summer needs to be memory making and journal worthy, for all of you!

4. Keep to some routine/rhythm

The first few summers after we started homeschooling I didn’t really do this and I found myself working harder than ever! Because our chores and household responsibilities are so much a part of our homeschool day I totally let them slip but of course who picks up the slack? Mama here! If nothing else I make sure we still ‘gather’ at some point in the morning to talk about the day, pray/read etc. and then we do our regular chores. We all need some kind of rhythm remaining in our summer, a familiar beat that helps us stay centred.

5. Plan a day in/day out routine or two days in one day out

When I’m scheduling our activities I try to make sure we’re not in the house for more than two days in a row. I have a lot of projects and personal work that I like to achieve over the summer and I love being at home, but half of my children are pretty extreme extroverts and have a need to be all go go go, so I try to keep a balance for all of us. Being out of the house doesn’t have to have a cost involved – it could be as simple as visiting a friend or taking lunch to the park; be creative!

6. Make a list of household projects all the family can get involved with

Summer is a great time to sort out the school room, the plastics cupboard or even paint that old chair you’ve been desperate to up-cycle. Make a list, make it realistic (says she, the absolute overachiever) and slot them into the schedule. Get the whole family involved and make it fun – it feels great ticking off that list!

7. Do your ‘back to school’ prep earlier rather than later

As a child I used to hate seeing the ‘back to school’ supplies in the supermarkets just as classes were finishing for the summer, but now it makes sense to me. Give yourself a break mama, lose the stress and prep early. Instead of running around Asda the night before the first day back, grabbing at the pencils and uniform, do it now! Do any shopping, planning, book buying, bag packing, organising of the school room etc as early in the summer as possible, pop it on the schedule and don’t procrastinate!

Believe me, you’ll relax so much more knowing it’s done.

So what do you do to make sure your summer break is memory making and stress free?

Cautious Bravery – A Reflection On Introversion

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With glistening skin and sandy toes we’re slowly emerging out of our camp cocoon into the reality of laundry and the glaring need to valet the car!

Watching my children by the water was revealing for me and forming for them; from extreme caution to fearless bravery they all approached the same ‘task’ in such different ways.

Hoping that their appetites might be the homing call for dinner I lovingly prepared spelt bread (made at home), slow cooked lemon and herb chicken (yes, even on a camp site) and salad; but instead I had to send out a search party for my eldest two children which unsurprisingly led me to the water where they were so immersed in fun and community that they barely heard their stomachs rumbling. I watched them run and jump repeatedly off the jetty, high into the sky and come down with a jubilant splash!

As I walked my youngest two to the waterfront, one with little hand tucked into mine, the other child running ahead; even their clothes spoke of their glaring differences. One in full swimming attire, fully intending to dive right in – the other still in shorts and t-shirt with swim shorts in hand ‘just in case’! They were both cautious of the cold water, dipping toes and running back to base. One face lit up and let out squeals of delight, the other pondered, straight faced, considering the cost.

After a delicate process of entry one wannabe water baby lay fully in the shallow water, head safely above chin level and shouted ‘I’m swimming mama’; and with every subsequent ‘dip’ said child took less and less time to get brave on the descent.

And my cautious child went waist deep after much cajoling and he finally smiled; we cheered and whooped and high fived him on his exit. He grinned all the way home.

 …and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep.

Ezekiel 47

I was starkly aware of my own personality peering at me with mocking eyes; not the diving and repeating but the caution and the toe dipping.

I was the shy, compliant child; desperate to please, then I was the quietly adventurous traveller walking this lonely planet; scaling the streets of New York city with new found plane friends but loving the alone.  Then I was the mum at the theme park holding the coats and the baby five year old. And then there are the times when I don’t want to answer the phone or go to that party; I can talk to hundreds but struggle with the one. I like books and stillness; they bring fullness to my struggling fuel tank. Apparently I ‘push the red‘ and my seeming extrovert self is dead.

You see introversion can walk the path of shyness and ‘the quiet one’ but passion and creativity push through that wanten personality and we become who we are with that familiar recharge of still and silent and quiet.

“It’s not our experiences that form us but the ways in which we respond to them;” ― Pico Iyer, The Virtue of Stillness

I have this friend; she’s the run around the park with the kids, dragging shore line introverts into the water, stay late around the campfire, join in the water fight, include everyone party mum and I love her. I love her for many reasons but one big reason, between you and I, is that I want to be more like her. We so often admire qualities in people because we see them in ourselves. In my case I see the possibility of those traits in myself. I have to make those possibilities a reality, it’s my choice.

So where I used to dip my toes reluctantly into the braver aspects of life, I’ve been around long enough to know that you eventually acclimatise to the cold water and it becomes fun, and easier – and then you can go a bit deeper.

And it’s in the depths that I want to live; learning to swim freely through the open waters of God’s love, freedom and opportunity.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:7

So next time you see me trying something new and I’m not smiling (yet); give this introvert a minute or two, keep cheering me on; I’ll get there eventually and make sure you high-five me on the way out.

(And then leave me alone for a while…)

Smile.

Mashed Potatoes and Parenting

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Have you ever been deceptively deceived by food in disguise?

I have.

In 2010 I traveled to Zambia with my husband, an 8 week old Sienna in utero and a team of young people; in one of the locations we stayed we were served up the good old British ‘delicacy’ of mashed potatoes with a delicious Zambian sauce poured over the top. I was at the back of the line waiting for food but the servers confidently assured me that there were mountains of mash in the kitchen. The few students in front of me were served from a fresh tray of ‘said’ mashed potatoes when all of a sudden there were cries of “blargh, what’s this?” It became apparent that what seemed like copious and extra amounts of creamy mashed potatoes were actually trays of nsima (n’SHEE-ma); a delicate mix of maize and water. This is a wonderful Zambian staple served daily in their homes but it is incredibly bland on its own (in my opinion) – especially if you thought you were eating mashed potatoes. The students were disappointed, the servers were embarrassed and I had my first experience of nsima.

Parenting can be a bit like this. Have you ever felt ‘this is not what I signed up for’? We see the cute babies and gorgeous tiny clothes, glossy magazine shots of glamorous parents laughing whilst rolling around their immaculately made up beds dressed with white linen and scatter cushions, and then we give birth! And we don’t sleep and we drink cold tea and we walk and work in a daze and life goes on beyond the magazine cover.

Maybe we expect it to be hard but I don’t think anything can prepare us for how much it will truly rock our world forever.

But just because something isn’t what we expected, or is hard or different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Here are 3 little things they don’t tell you in the parenting books:

1. There Are No Experts

No matter how many people claim to be a ‘leading expert’ in the parenting field, they probably haven’t spent a day with your children. Here’s a newsflash, YOU are the leading expert on your family; try putting that in your twitter bio. No one else in the world can love, nurture, disciple and lead your children the way you do. God made you for them and them for you. Be proud of your position and lavish in that glorious game changer!

2. You’ll Experience An Emotion Explosion 

You’ll feel love so deep that it will scare the pants off you. The bravest of warriors will go into that quiet and darker place when their child is hurting or suffering; there’s not even a word for that one. You’ll feel lonely at times in your personal parenting journey. You’ll feel guilty a million times and guess what, you might once in a while feel like you don’t even like your child (what?!). And that’s ok. But please don’t stay there. Emotions are meant to be felt, it’s a reminder that we’re alive and sensitive to words and actions and reactions. But it’s how we respond that is the power tool right here. When you feel love deeply, show them; when you’re afraid, talk to someone and pray, pray hard. When you’re lonely, reach out and when you feel guilty,  process and move on. And if, or when there’s a moment when you feel like pushing your child away, draw them in – hold them, hug them, tell them you love them.

When it’s hard, do the hard thing.

3. Children Don’t Need Everything

All they need is love (and food and shelter, oh and a bed…and books!)

But really, we do over complicate it! Do you remember that list of ‘must haves’ that you made when you were pregnant with your first child? That list your husband almost took a second mortgage over…and when your second baby arrived it radically shortened…and with subsequent children you merely breast-fed for 2 years and bought nappies (and even they were cloth)!

Don’t worry too much about what the ‘book’s’ say, I guarantee you won’t use half of it!

Maybe we need to spend more time preparing our hearts for our children more than our homes?

I can’t live your life and you can’t live mine but I can give myself the gift of freedom by not judging you; I want to be the best version of me I can be. So as the saying goes ‘free mothers, free others’.

Moments On Mothering

Have you read Moments On Mothering yet? Available to download on Amazon Kindle; individual creative essays on motherhood that should take you no longer than 10 minutes to read each. Check out the reviews here – enjoy the read!

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The Sunday Struggle

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Roughly calculated I reckon I’ve been in around 1,872 Sunday morning church meetings in my lifetime! Different experiences, all unique, imperfect and incredible. From living rooms in Coventry to lavish orthodox gatherings in Athenian buildings, I’ve met with my Father, been loved on, welcomed and caught another glimmer of the many faceted God through each unique pocket of people.

I believe in the gathering of God’s people; whether large or small, coffee shop or school hall, community is important. There’s something so real, so vibrant, so holy when we embrace the potential of God’s company of lovers lavishing praise, honour and affection upon Him, together.

This passion for the Church has grown in me, been nurtured and drawn out of me by those near and far. This ‘I.can.not.keep.silent.’ cry from my heart lingers in the air through each season of my life, and it looks different year to year. Forming, changing and emerging like the magnificent monarch leaving its cocoon.

And this passion wasn’t left in the delivery room when God brought my children into His world. The call and ‘spoken out’ adventure over my life didn’t expel like a final breath as Dave cut the umbilical cord separating each of our four children from their 9 month life source. If anything it became greater.

So I’m calling out to every Sunday morning mother who’s thought ‘why do I bother coming?’

I need you to see the worth and the power in connection; whether finger tips touching or group hugging affection. Life source to power force we’re ultimately entwined; spirit binding, commonality finding, to you I am assigned.

I know that Sunday after Sunday is an epic tale of ‘get up and out’ and success is marked by your children wearing matching socks. You get home and realise you didn’t speak to one person, your three year old was hanging from your leg and getting tangled up in your stretchy wrap encasing the baby who has been feeding constantly since 10.30am. Missing naps and endless snacks mark your day of rest but mama I know you’re doing your best.

I know how ‘worship’ can be an endless cacophony of  ‘shhhh’s’ and rushes to the nearest convenient spot to place the potty because life doesn’t stop on a Sunday. As you lift your arm to ‘surrender all’ you’re hit by a crayon and the loose lidded sippy cup takes another fall.

And I also see your little one snuggle in close as you sing and sway, arms aching – heart swelling. I see you pull in your distracted eight year old and ruffle his hair as he mumbles the words from the screen. I see your tears as God reaches into the depths of your longing soul and continues to make you whole.

I need you to know that motherhood shapes a generation, it breathes life into our changing culture and form beyond this local congregation.This is not just a passing season and a quest to stay alive; this is our day and our moment to thrive.

I want to shout loud like a cheerleader declaring victory, ‘you’re doing amazing’. I need to tell you it’s all ok and we’re all walking this together; the stress, the mess and this seeming test; you’re not alone. I want to look into your face and tell you we need you. The Church needs your ache, your tired eyes, your listening heart, your warm smile, your incredible strength and tenacity, the Words He whispered to you at 3am, the song in the shower and what you’ve been bursting to share for the last hour.

So the next Sunday you spend sipping on cold tea and clearing up the polystyrene cup your five year old just shredded, look around at those who love and celebrate you…oh and make sure your coffee is fully leaded!

The Table

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We eat dinner around the table in our home every night, apart from of course the nights when Dave declares it a ‘TV dinner’ night (usually Friday’s); the children yelp with delight whilst I have visions of spills and pizza and pesto and dog paws mixed together on our leather sofas. They balance their plates and fight over film preferences whilst I catch drips and drinks and the looks on their faces; which are usually pretty beautiful and relaxed; I guess everyone needs a break from routine!

Tonight is Wednesday; so we were most definitely around the table. And we had a guest, so we served up flash fry steak, a mix of small white and sweet potatoes cut into quarters smothered in olive oil and pink Himalayan salt  baked till crispy, and of course a luscious salad made of spinach and whatever else I could find in the bottom of the fridge; chopped apple, cheese and red peppers. We inched the 7th chair around the table and slowly served up the steak and potatoes with surround sound of “please pass the water, I don’t like spinach, where’s my Elsa doll”, you know the drill! Then we offer up the question ‘who’d like to pray’ and it’s always Sienna, followed by Micah; it’s always the same words and they never cease to bring a smile of gratitude and love across my face. But then the talking does.not.stop! There’s the chatter and clanking and occasional pinching, there’s crunching and munching – and thanking. Most nights Dave and I naively try to ‘catch up’ around the table and frequently get frustrated at our inability to get a word in edgeways.

But there are days when the beauty around this table catches my breath; the repeated rhythms of chopping and cooking and serving and saying thanks are indicative of the heartbeat of our family. This table has won our hearts, fed our appetites, caught our tears and revived our souls, this table has watered weary travellers and maybe even entertained angels. This table has been the birth place of dreams and the laying down of schemes; it holds married secrets and whispers of weakness.

And even when it’s not surrounded by chatter and things that matter; the table stands as a significant place of gathering in our home; a visceral holding place of all things family. Like now, all is quite – I’m tapping out these words late into the night, the food has been cleared away and most of todays table inhabitants are sleeping. I can see on it a cloth doll in a white dress with brown woolen plaits, a pair of pink patterned socks and a book strewn across the wipe clean cover.

And all is still until tomorrow where again, it will get its fill.

Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine, flourishing within your home. Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees as they sit around your table.

Psalm 128: 3