a little rest

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I enjoyed a little retreat at the weekend. Two nights away in a beautiful place I have been to before, which is so peaceful. Westwood Christian centre in Yorkshire has a little place in my heart. I seem to have stayed there at really key times in life; in celebration and new beginnings and in despair and disappointment. Its simple, comfortable flats never fail to host me with loving arms.

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I spent the first night alone, enjoying silence and time to think, pray, write and read. The centre’s welcome book had helpfully included some questions to prompt reflection, such as ‘what significant things have you noticed in the past week, month, year?’, ‘where do you sense your attention is being drawn?’ and ‘what is on your horizon…and what obstacles are in your way?’ I found these a good starting point for my thinking and listening, although I reread my answers and wonder where to start!

The following lunchtime, two special friends arrived and we spent the rest of the day talking and sharing. Literally 12 hours of talking and knitting, stopping occasionally to eat, make more tea or pop open the champagne (of course). We laughed and dreamed and wondered and shared. There was so much to share, so much goodness and also struggle. We had a ‘rite good natter, as they say in Yorkshire! Isn’t friendship such a blessing, when you really know each other, when you can pick up where you left off, when you know what the other is thinking? And they’ve both become serious knitters, though someone forgot her knitting so her commitment to the handcraft is now in question! Lucky I had my colouring book to keep her hands busy.  There was much excited chat about the wonder of alpacas. Most blokes just don’t really get this stuff! I was inspired to step up my knitting and challenge myself a bit more. There was a little sadness in my heart that I’m not closer to share it all with them more often and I shed a few tears when it was time to leave. My, I love those girls. We got so stuck into chat & knit that I forgot to get busy with my camera so most of the memories are in my head.

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It’s really good to get away from home, from your work and all the normal stuff, to look at your life and listen for what’s next. And to be thankful. We had a few nice days with family before and after the weekend, and it was so lush especially to spend time with my nieces and nephews and smell the cheeks of the newest babe…delish!

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Oh, and he loved the blanket – apparently, its his favourite colour. What was I so worried about? 😉

It took a few days to work through that depressing transition of coming back home from holiday when you just have to get on with it all. Do a lot of laundry and be at places for an actual specific time and work out what everyone is going to eat today. And I forgot just how hard work a puppy is, after a week away from her. It felt like a bit of an uphill struggle towards the end of January.

The snowdrops and spring buds are teasing me but there’s still a fair bit of cold weather left. Some sunshine would be really great right now. Holiday to New Zealand anyone? Let’s keep dreaming…

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introvert alert

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I’ve been known to claim that I love being around children. Now, there are points in my day where I doubt this and wonder if I’m lying to both of us. But really I do think its true. I love the way they welcome the day (until they’re about 4 years old), I love their zest for life, I love the way they play and inspire each other – far more than we could inspire them. They’re precious and honest and vulnerable and so strong. And I think they quickly feel safe with me and it feels good to be good at something. I recently spent a couple of hours of babysitting time reading and singing to a two year old girl who really should have been traumatised at my appearance in her bedroom, because she had never laid eyes on me before. And her parents weren’t there. She had just turned two. She should’ve freaked out to the extent that I had to call her parents to return home, but after a look of initial surprise, she was delighted to make friends. We read some stories together – I think she would’ve happily climbed from the bookcase to my knee all evening; eventually I just had to call it. Back to bed. It took at least another hour of singing lullabies (like I said, Mary Poppins) for her to fall asleep in my arms. I wasn’t the least bit frustrated that she’d woken unexpectedly when I could’ve been knitting downstairs. I had one of those wonderful moments where I hear the whisper of God. This is the most important job in the world and I’ve made you good at it. I think God was talking about mothering but you could also describe it as nurturing, caring; it’s not confined only to motherhood. Now, we could argue that was the voice of my inner pride, the child who lives within me and still wants to be at the top of the mountain first…the best and the fastest and the most beautiful. But, no, it was His voice. I know it. Because it didn’t leave me feeling proud, it left me with that indescribable peace in my heart.

So, I love being around children, but I also wanted to share that I usually love them in really small quantities. Preferably one or two at a time, preferably when they’re having a quiet day and want to listen to me read to them. That, my friend, is called being an Introvert. I am a proud and happy Introvert and would share at length all that I’ve discovered this means for me and those around me. As long as we could have that chat in a quiet room (lets have tea and chocolate too), just the two of us, or maybe three. For those of you who haven’t ever completed a personality test (you don’t know what you’re missing. Its so fun!) or don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll try and summarise. Introverts mostly get their energy from being on their own or in very small groups of people they already know well. They think before they speak and often prefer to listen to or write things rather than talk. My lovely husband is an extrovert and these foreigners speak out loud as they are thinking. They do not check first that what they’re about to say is sensible or wise or appropriate (well, without training). OK perhaps I’m doing extroverts a huge disservice. I’m possibly exaggerating, but hopefully you get the gist 🙂

So what does being an Introvert mean as a Mum, who is with most of her four children most of the time (other than she’s made some crazy decisions)? It means it can be hard work! Their requests and demands and leading the conversation and all the fire fighting (spilt milk, bottom wiping in the middle of cooking dinner, younger sibling is destroying my LEGO model RIGHT NOW) is hard for anyone but is especially hard as a introvert. They demand me to speak when I’d prefer to remain quiet. They shout the house down when I want a calm space, they choose cartoons on TV with annoying whiny voices, they fight, they want to join me in the bath, help me chop the veg (so sweet, how can I say ‘No’ to that?) and basically be around me all. the. time.

Now, I want to share with you the real actual me, through blogging. Yes, I love children, yes I’m sacrificing some other stuff right now to be home educating our children. But I want you to be under no illusion that I am very special and some kind of super human being. I mean there are moments when I want you to think that, but really I want you to know the truth. And nobody wants to be around Mrs SuperMum because she makes you feel crap about yourself. So, right now, while I am merrily writing this post, our 3 year old is playing a maths game on the iPad. The others are at gym class with dad. Should 3 year olds be playing on an iPad? Ideally NO, in my opinion. Never actually, its not what’s good for their developing minds and bodies. So sometimes I choose what’s less good for them because I need to look after myself. And I’m an introvert. I need some thinking time with a gingerbread chai tea in a quiet place where I have a secret stash of very good quality dark chocolate. I’ve learnt my lesson (I hope) from many points of burnout along the way.

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If you ever see this chocolate…buy it!

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As well as being an introvert, I am what some people understand as being a ‘highly sensitive person’. OK you’re either gonna love this label or hate it. I’m a little of both. I love it because it describes and helps me understand myself better, and bring a sigh of relief that’s its ok to be like this. But it also sounds like someone you’re treading on eggshells around and I don’t want to be that person. Its a couple of years since I read  this book which helped me to understand further the power and strengths of Introverts, but also has a section devoted to being highly sensitive. As I remember, a highly sensitive person is exactly what it suggests. Your senses are more sensitive. This may be focussed particularly on only one or two of your five senses, but likely they will all be more effected by stimuli. For myself, I am particularly aware of my senses of smell, sight and hearing being highly responsive to my environment. Bad smells will really make me feel unhappy and tired (petrol, an oily oven in need of cleaning. Ugh!), where as the smell of grapefruit essential oil that I drip onto my handkerchief (you don’t do that?) will make me feel happy. It will instantly lift me. Without exception.

Likewise, lots of noisy children all confined to the same room as me, I find really hard. All talking and shouting around the dinner table? I hate it. Playing drums on the kitchen pans? Get away from me! I really struggle with an untidy house and our house is often untidy. I would need a full time housekeeper for it to be anything else. Can you send me one? Clutter on the floors, dust and mould around the windows, a big puddle of dog wee slowly seeping into the floor boards (hold on while I just go for a little walk around the house and see what else I can find….). Ok, its hard to describe, there’s just stuff. Everywhere. Clothes littered around the stairs, hallway, in every room. What should be a beautiful kitchen dresser camouflaged with boxes and mail and bits of toys and batteries and pieces of yarn and a bread crust. A whole lettuce in pieces around the hallway after the dog pulled it out of the veg box. Its awful and I’m not good at changing it. I’d rather hide away and pray for the fairies to come and do it for me. Have you ever been in the shop ‘The White Company’? I want to live there. Tidy, clean, ordered, beautiful, smells like heaven itself.

But I cant hide away all day and I do actually enjoy the company of my kids, I just need a little time out. The time comes to go back out into the dust and noise and choose patience and kindness and love. OK, and scrubbing.

These just arrived….

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I might just string out this alone time a little more…

So that’s a little more about me. What gives you energy and how do you look after yourself? What have you learnt you need?

a little less plastic

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We all love a little practical don’t we? This week, I shared a post on Facebook challenging us to use less plastic and showing the devastating affects of plastic on the natural world. I don’t know if I share too many of these kind of things, I only share what really touches and challenges me, but there’s a lot of that stuff out there isn’t there? One FB friend’s response was to ask everyone to contribute ideas on how we can use less (or no) plastic, and I’ve enjoyed reading the other comments (I’m now on the lookout for wooden earbuds). And that is my kind of practical. I enjoy reading for inspiration but I also want to skip on to the last few chapters of the book which just tell me what to do.

So here’s my little contribution today…

I’ve been making our own cleaning products for about half a year now. They are kinder to the environment, cheaper and effective! OK, I think they are cheaper although I haven’t actually measured this. But kinder to the environment is enough for me. I think they smell nicer because they are natural, especially if you drip a little of your favourite essential oil in there. And we all need more motivation to get cleaning (well, I do).

The recipes I’ve used have come from this book that I found at the Bristol Harbourside market..

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(I’m not sure what the deal is with copyright and all that. I will try and be vague and hopefully no one will arrest me.)

One of my favourite and very simple recipes for a creamy all purpose cleaner is to mix about 90g baking soda with 115-ish-ml of liquid castile soap (that wasn’t very vague was it?).You can buy both these ingredients in large quantities from Amazon. Add a few drops of your favourite essential oil, if you like, although this is optional. I like using lemon or tea tree; something that smells clean. Give it all a good stir and pour it into your re-useable plastic bottle (mine are from Ikea). It will need a good shake every time you use it and will be too thick to squirt out, so just pour it onto your cloth. It smells lovely, is really effective (Bi-carb is amazing!) and is using less plastic, by reusing your bottle over and over again. You could of course use no plastic by storing it in a glass jar or similar.

I would really recommend the book. It has lots of recipes using a small repertoire of ingredients, so once you’ve stocked up, there’s no stopping you. It’s so quick to make up and I really love the whole potions thing. Remember making potions as a kid, looking around the house for ingredients to add? Yeah, I think we’ve all done that. The kids enjoy joining in too and I’m not complaining about that…. it’s science, people!

The book is also available on Amazon – there’s some used copies available, which are so much cheaper. Or check out your library. Now, go and order those two ingredients and get started. Go!

what am I…

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What am I enjoying?

Some really good friendships made here in Bristol. When we moved here, a few people said it takes a couple of years to settle somewhere and make good friends. I thought, ‘surely not that long, that’s ages. I’m sure it will be different for me’ (confession: I often think ‘it will be different for me. That’s either Hope or Pride, you decide). And although I did meet friends within the first couple of months of being here, it took a lot longer to feel settled, to have enough relationships locally that sustain us. Longer even than two years, I think. I can look and see we are so blessed with good friends and community and people wanting to share life to the depth that we do.

 I’ve had this thing about community and sharing life more closely for many years. I remember when it started, prompted by an inspiring book I read (as many things start for me). I remember being on my knees asking God for that depth of community and His Kingdom in our lives. It’s taken ages. I mean that in the ‘new testament’ modern kind of way; in the old testament they really did wait ages. Ages and ages and ages in a way that would’ve driven me crazy and probably drove them crazy too. Forty years? I’m not waiting that long! (as if I have a choice). So thankful to be Living Now with internet and good tea and comfortable beds and shops.

Still it’s happening but not yet happening. We are closer but not yet there (I wonder if we ever will be ‘there’ in this life. I really don’t like that feeling of not-being-there-yet. I’m always waiting for everything to BE HERE. Happening NOW. The Journey, Ugh!, the Journey.) And, goodness, its happening in a surprising way, amongst people I didn’t expect. Isn’t that often the way with God? We have our ideas and make our plans and God laughs (in a kind way I want to point out, just in case you’re hearing a cackle).

What am I working on?

I’m getting up early. Setting the alarm kind of early, which isn’t actually necessary when you’re home educating and most mornings have nowhere to be before 10am. I’ve been up early for the last two weeks, even at the weekend and it is SO GOOD. I’ve realised the trick to getting up early is to be getting up for something you actually want to do. Has that been obvious to the rest of you for a long time? I’m slightly embarrassed to face those of you who have no choice to get up early and get the bus in the rain to be at an actual job, which you may or may not love. Really sorry about that. Can I buy you a cappuccino next time we meet?

So I get up and brew a lovely pot of tea in my bedroom and take it to my office next door (its actually a shared office with Matt but I call it ‘my office’ because he has another actual office with real people and work in it and its not fair for him to have two.) And I listen to the Bible audiobook (one of my goals for the year is to listen to the whole Bible. It’s the NIV read by David Suchet (Poiro!), who’s voice I mostly love but sometimes his God Voice is a bit cross and I definitely don’t hear God in that voice. But that’s a whole other conversation.) So, I listen to the Bible and I DO COLOURING IN or KNITTING.

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Hello, is that a lovely start to the day? I think so. Then me and God have a follow on chat where I do more listening because He makes more sense than me. I might also write down some ‘thankfulness for the previous day’, another new habit I’m trying to form. Noticing and writing down thankfulness really does grow a thankful heart. Although I have to admit its impossible to get another person to do this unwillingly (i.e all of our children, yours and mine)…it really has to be done willingly doesn’t it? I forget this sometimes when I threaten our children that we will spend the following whole evening watching video clips of ACTUAL CHILDREN STARVING AND NOT COMPLAINING AT ALL ABOUT THE FOOD THEY ARE GIVEN. I haven’t followed through with that threat but if I do, I’ll let you know how effective it is.

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And I’m always disappointed by how quickly the time goes and 8 o’clock comes around which means its time for Matt to leave for work and hand over any awake children. I do love my children so but I never ever want to leave that place of peace and quiet, where its just me and God and no other noise or demands or requests. Taking God with me into making porridge and finding clean laundry and listening to complaints and directing little-and-middle-sized people into purposeful tasks is what I’m working on. I know He comes with me. He’s there already, but remembering Him in my mind and my body. Knowing His presence in the Noise doesn’t come naturally.

I’m also working on balance and boundaries. With myself and our family. I had it pointed out to me lately (quite painfully, but with love) that I’m absolutely rubbish at boundaries. Abysmal. Dire. Dreadful. Perhaps I knew that already but was pretending I’d forgotten. I don’t know how to make these decisions….do I let my kids talk to me while I’m on the toilet? Do I listen to their soul-sharing moments when its past 9pm and they know its meant to be our adult time without them? Do I give them every last piece of myself and my time? No, probably not, because when I do, I turn into Horrid Mum and that’s not who I want them to be around. Giving myself time and space makes me Lovely Mum and that’s who I want to be.

What am I reading?

‘Refugee Boy’ by Benjamin Zephaniah. Our book group choice. It’s a really good and easy read which is tugging at my heartstrings for all the people far from home, fleeing war and violence.

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I’ve just finished ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S Lewis and want to make my way through his collection, which I bought Matt for Christmas. It was a gift for Matt, it really was.

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Dipping into this self sufficiency book. I don’t realistically aim to be self sufficient any day of my life (and I think that label goes against my belief in community, although I get the gist), but we are looking into getting pigs, as part of a small co-operative to raise for meat. So there’s a lot of experience to learn from here, which is very easy to read. The pages on butchering make me feel queasy and remind me that I’m not great with raw meat. I really really want to outsource that!

What am I making?

I’m still knitting a blanket for my baby nephew who is now over half a year old.

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I’m nearing the end and will be able to hand it over soon. I have enjoyed the pattern which has been easy, but it’s quite a large blanket knit with a small needle size so I’ve definitely lost motivation at several points on it’s journey. And the rows are long and involve me constantly counting. But putting it aside for a while means it takes even longer to complete; I do understand the logic of this. Nevertheless, my hands put it down and my mind tries to forget and I do something I can complete more quickly. And Mojo returns. I’m insecure about the colour I’ve chosen for it. I like the colour. For me. But I can’t imagine him liking the colour until he’s at least 43 years old and, by then, it will have been lost or passed on or chewed by someone’s dog. But I didn’t realise this until the said project was well on its way, too far to go back. And I haven’t found an alternative homemade gift that I can easily make now. And I really want to hand something over very soon. So blanket it will be.

Soap.

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I need to trial a recipe which includes Sunflower oil. I haven’t used this yet, but have been doing a little research and want to give it a try. Its inexpensive to buy, full of goodness and, as far as I know, not doing the earth damage in its’ processing. Ok, I admit to having done very little research on the latter point but it’s important to me, so I will do.

I’m still in the phase of trying out different oil bases for my ‘perfect soap recipe’. I’m not overly enjoying this phase, although I find it interesting. The smells are what really enliven me and I can’t wait to try out wonderful and funky scent combinations. Until I decide on my base ingredients, it’s probably wasteful and expensive to use too many essential oils. I’ve been sticking to the more basic ones such as lemon and lavender.

There’s a lot of waiting (that old friend again) in this phase of soap making. I should wait at least 4 weeks (ideally 6) before using the soap I make, and I find this stops my flow quite a lot. I’ve realised I need to make a lot more soap to keep flowing, and because I need the practice. I really need to practice and practice and make mistakes and learn from them. I’ve got so much more to learn. Letting go of the desire for every bar of soap to be amazing and useable will serve me well in the long run.

What I love is that God is in all of it; my quiet times with Him in the morning, my soap making, my writing, my conversations with the kids about the food they eat. The starving people and the full people. The walking and the sleeping and the food and the tea and the playing and the watching and the talking and the listening and the singing and the crying and the waiting and the making and the journey and the destination. He’s HERE. NOW. I don’t have to wait for that. We don’t have to wait for that.

For now, my friends, a hot pot of peppermint tea and a big kiss xx

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And this happened…

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They’ve grown a bit since my last post!

I’m not sure where I’ve been exactly, except I know it will have involved dust and chaos, tea and chocolate and knitting, books and games and talking and mud. Oh, and I forgot my password and couldn’t quite figure out how to get a new one. For a long long time.

I’ve missed keeping my record, and when I ask myself why I really want to blog again, it always comes back to it being a record for myself and our children to look back on. I have loved reading my old posts over the last few days and sharing those photos with the kids. Because we do forget stuff, when it was wonderful and not so wonderful. I’m so glad I recorded so much in what, looking back, was a really crazy year; moving cities, having our fourth baby and three other children under 7, starting home educating (but in a new city that I didn’t know where the playgrounds were and who the people were. There was a LOT of driving around!). And I can look back and remember that we did create a play dough bakery and read a lot of stories together and paint and make our Christmas cards and make a lot of mess and pretend together. Because I had forgotten.

So I’ll bring you a little bit up to date; this has happened…

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Rosie is our adorable cockapoo. We got her on the day she was 8 weeks old (so young!) and she’s now four months old. We are loving walking her and being mobbed whenever we come downstairs, but not-so-much cleaning up of the little puddles and parcels around the house. She’s like a teddy bear and gets lots of attention and admiration when we take her out. Our dog journey started with a daughter desperate for a dog. Desperate, I tell you. For a long time. I arranged to borrow a dog once a week, through the website ‘borrow my doggy’ (highly recommended) and it wasn’t very long at all until we saw how much having a dog would bring to our family. All the kids adore her, and so do we. Matt spent the second night sleeping with her on the sofa as he couldn’t take the crying any longer (we have crate trained her at night)! I knew he would be a big softie!

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And aside from being mother and home educator to four lovelies, I’ve got THE best part time job in the world. A babysitter. Yes, I know its a teenagers job, but I get to hang out in other people’s tidy ordered houses (everyone cleans up for the babysitter) , read stories to children who LOVE me. Because I am Mary Poppins. Drink my herbal tea and knit quietly, do admin, journal, even watch TV if I’m that exhausted. Can you believe I get paid for this?!

And this happened….

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I am an official soap maker, my friends. I’ve wanted to make soap for a few years but just couldn’t bite the bullet and teach myself with all that scary chemical stuff required. So, I booked myself onto a soap making course and haven’t looked back. I love making stuff and soap making will be another creative outlet for me…but its also pretty science-y, and I’m really enjoying that. I will enjoy making our own soap (for hair and body as well as our laundry powder- I know!) and gifts for people, but I also really want to sell soap and one of my goals for this year is to start selling. So watch this space…

planting

  

Spring doesn’t seem so far way when you’re planting springtime bulbs. Who am I trying to kid? 

We spent this weekend digging out unwanted messy bushes and weeds from the front of our house ready to plant pretty flowers. Tulips, Aliums and a couple of other flowers that will look pretty and colourful next year…all being well. 

We made two trips to the garden centre last week, firstly to buy some seeds for quick growing flowers (they don’t exist this time of year, so we settled for cress seeds). I was lured by the bulbs and so went back later in the week when my dad was visiting. After making my selections (‘Stop now and go to the till!’ Dad cries….but so many pretty flowers!!) we ate cake and sat in the sunshine while the boys played outside.

So bulbs to plant gave me the incentive to start digging (OK, I weeded. Matt dug). 

I was very patient and restrained, allowing all the kids to help plant the bulbs, fighting every urge to lock all other members of the family indoors while I carefully planted exactly where I wanted. There was a little method to the chaos, hence the lolly sticks, but I decided random would look ok too. I hope they survive the winter and any passing animals who might want to dig them up (or children!). 

 

There’s something very satisfying about planting bulbs for next year. Ooh, is this what planning feels like?

since we last met

we have…

Moved house, rescued baby ducklings and returned to a stream, had more kittens, hosted many friends and family in our new home, acquired chickens, eaten lots of lovely fresh eggs, decided to stop paying a cleaner and then quickly reversed that decision! Enjoyed a foreign holiday (so lush!), picked a lot of blackberries, spent a dreadful wet bank-holiday Monday buying school shoes (insane decision), endured a mini festival, harvested our first vegetables (it is completely acceptable to use the word ‘harvested’ when picking from your own back garden), devoured a lot of pancakes (with crispy bacon and maple syrup, then warm blueberries and creme fraiche…because you needed that detail). 

 

 

I’ve started to write so many blog posts and found myself stuck or without time to finish the job. Not having written for so long, it’s hard getting started again. And when I find I have some time to write, I also feel the need to sit, stare at the walls and REST. I have some time for myself today and I can become paralysed in deciding what to do with it. Options: Walk at an adult pace until I feel tired enough to stop (yes I long for this!), eat something nice somewhere nice, phone a friend, make a lampshade, knit, write, read a book, catch up on blogs. So I’m trying not to let myself become paralysed by the choice and just move….do as many of those things as possible; don’t fret about what order they are in or try and create the perfect day. Just do it and hopefully at the end of it, I’ll feel more refreshed. So that’s what I’m doing here; just writing.

I’ve been tackling some things that take too much time. Life-sapping things, like tidying up too-many-toys. I’ve created a toy library in the loft room. The idea is that the kids have a couple of toys out at a time, then swap them when they want something new to play with. Having a clearer space and just sorting through everything was very therapeutic and the house feels much calmer.

The kids have been playing really nicely when they come home from school and seem to enjoy that space and freedom to play again. I had hoped to have a really good story time with them but they seem to need the space and freedom more than sitting listening to stories. Their bodies need to move a bit more. I’m looking forward to winter evenings when it’s cold enough to light a fire. I imagine us snuggling under blankets in front of the fire, reading together.

So…school. Yes they are back. The elder two anyway. What a journey in deciding to send them back! I could talk about it for hours, but the long and the short of it is that places came up for them in a nice local school. They wanted to go back. We talked endlessly about our options and I was pretty much standing alone as the only person who wanted to carry on home educating.
There’s been a few ups and downs with going back…mostly ups actually, and it’s nice to see them happyand enjoying the experience. At times it’s been tough for them to be the ‘new kids’ and I’m trying to stay close enough to catch the moments when they need to let off steam or have a cuddle and a cry.

And I’m trying to unravel myself from the big ball of home educator enthusiasm, because it doesn’t really fit anymore. Not for our complete family anyway. I’m left with some confusion, and a whole variety of strong and competing emotions (ahem) about the purposes of the last year but I think I’m meant to stop fuelling that fire. For now anyway.

And it’s nice to be back here. Even if it’s not perfect.