Thursday, 24 December 2015

Advent fun

24 days into advent and jee whizz what fun we're been having! Well actually, it's more MY fun, although of course the children have enjoy the period too. You see the problem is this....over the past decade or so (I guess since having children really) I have realised/woken up to the huge amount of commercialism that occurs over this festive period. The vast amount of unnecessary spending, waste, anxiety, boldness and pure selfishness that occurs at this time of the year. Some think I have a 'Barhumbug attitude' but that simply isn't it, I simply can see what is happening and am conscious of it and just don't want to be part of it. That doesn't mean that I don't like Christmas, in fact it is quite the opposite, I see Christmas as the perfect opportunity to make a difference to the world.....why do others not see that?
So back to this advent business......

What is advent? It's the count down to Christmas. Right? Where we all buy or are given a Cadbury's advent calendar with chocolates behind every door. Right? Unfortunately this has become the association. There is enough sugar-filled rich food around at this time of the year without the need for more and what about the waste that is generated by those plastic/cardboard voids??

This year thankfully nobody bought my children a calendar. Miss P made one for the Little Lady in the form of unwanted items that she wrapped and labelled for each of the 24 days of Advent and for Small Boy she made a calendar with colouring activities and quizzes for each of the days.

Back in early November, the children hassled me for some kind of Advent marking symbol. They get my dislike for the chocolate numbers and now share/are brainwashed into thinking the same, so they set about looking for an alternative :-)
Pinterest. If you haven't yet discovered Pinterest then google it, it's amazing and perfectly suited to the likes of us creative folk.
Miss P found a whole host of suitable 'things' that could mark the days of advent that were just a little different. Of course in my busy world I didn't actually get around to looking until the first of December! Pinterest provided vast amounts of inspiration, 'cook mince pies', 'sing carols' etc. I sifted through the suggestions and then.........and then......I came across '50 random acts of kindness for kids'. Perfect! Just what I wanted. The perfect opportunity to embrace the opportunity to make a difference whist marking the days of Advent and having a little fun at the same time.
In my chaotic state, I hadn't got around to making any form of calendar or housing for my ideas, besides, I very much like to act on impulse and flow in the direction that each and every day takes us. So it was decided that our blue and white stripy teapot was to become the 'magical Christmas teapot for Advent'. Pinterest has some lovely printable templates so that you could write your own ideas on little decorated squares, fold them up and hide them away to be discovered. For those with even less time, there are even ready printed slips available.

So what ideas have I come up with so far?

Day1: Make bookmarks and send them to people without saying who they are from.
           When you do a good deed for someone you feel good in the knowledge that you've made a                                    
           difference to that persons life.

One Small Boy watched from a distance whilst engaging in a useful pastime!

Day 2: Clear up litter from the area surrounding our house and our neighbours.
           My children are human and you can imagine the reaction to that one! 'So who is that going to
           benefit?' Exactly! They armed themselves with a bin bag and rubber gloves and collected a
           whole bag of rubbish!

Day 3: Choose something nice for tea.
           What could be so difficult about this one? Nothing at all apart from possibly complimenting
            the choice of others. Amazingly everyone worked as a team and we shared lovely bread,
            olives, cheese to name just a few things.

Day 4: Sit next to someone at lunch whom you don't usually sit next to.
            It just so happened that on this particular day we were off to a Home Ed Christmas party at a
            group we are fairly new to. This task was potentially fairly daunting but a perfectly reasonable
            ask. It's brilliant stepping out of your comfort zone and each one of us (yes, even me)
            seemingly effortlessly managed it :-)

 Day 5:Take Santa out for tea and cake after work.
            Hehe! This was rather a fun task. Out village Santa hasn't been too well in the past year and
            needed two helpers to give him a hand at the annual bazaar. Miss P and the Little Lady were
            more than thrilled to be asked, especially when I suggested that I make them costumes for the
            occasion. The girls took to their roles like ducks to water and Santa himself was thrilled to be
            treated to refreshments following his busy afternoon.

Elfing around!

Day 6: Write a letter to Santa.
            We actually don't 'do' FC ( I've talked about this in previous blogs) so this was really a
            potentially silly creative writing opportunity. Nobody did it!

Day 7: Play a board game by the fire.
           There is something really warming on a deep soul level about this one. Stopping for a moment
           and actually genuinely tuning in to family life. The children love me playing with them
           especially when I'm free from distractions. Try it sometime :-)

Day 8: Buy something for the food bank.
            I myself am apparently living my daily life on the 'breadline' but I still manage to feed my
            family. For whatever reason, sometimes people find themselves in a financially desperate
            position and wonder where the next meal will come from. In Oxfordshire and many other
            counties too, local churches and charities operate a community food bank where people
            can turn in genuine times of need. The children each chose an item to donate.

Day 9: Movie night!
            We hired a film on DVD from the library but you could just as easily watch one that you
            already own or borrow one from a friend. We chose a Christmas film 'Magical Christmas'
            it was pretty old and actually not great but it was still a super activity to do together and made
            us appreciate better films!

Day 10: Give out free hugs
             Again not something that the children felt thrilled to be doing but  it just so happened
             to be the day of another Christmas party. Two out of three children reported back that they
             had hugged many friends!
             Some people never receive a hug.........

Day 11: 'Wendy and Peter Pan' at the RSC in Stratford.
              What a treat! We were fortunate enough to buy tickets for the understudy performance
              and what an absolutely fab show it was. If you get the opportunity do go :-)

Day 12: Put up the Christmas tree...
              Have you noticed how much earlier people have started to put up their decorations?
             When I was younger my Mother in Law put her deco's up by the 5th Dec and that was
             considered REALLY early. Now folk have adorned their homes in November!
             I finally got the hint after a week of the children commenting 'Oh look! They've got their
             tree up'...hehe, it's up!

Day 13: Learn to play a Christmas carol on an instrument.
             We have several musical instruments in our house yet no one really plays them, so this task
             was a bit of fun and had the whole family for one evening as 'budding musicians' :-)

Day 14: Make a movie
              There are apps available on phones and tablets these days that make putting a movie together
              relatively simple, you just need a bit of imagination and the desire to actually make the
              movie. I left the children to work this one out for themselves and if you saw my FB share
              you may well have witnessed the finished result. Give it a go, it's fun!

Day 15: Out for dinner at ASK Italian
              This little treat tied in very nicely with a trip to see a light show at the Physics
              department at the University. We are so lucky to have such amazing facilities
              right on our doorstep. Our little trip to ASK following the show proved to be the perfect
              'opportunity to make a difference'. On our way to the restaurant, Small Boy found himself
              a stick (as you do). It didn't seem appropriate to take said stick into the restaurant so I
              suggested we propped it up against the wall in the entrance porch. Whilst we were busily
              chomping away on our tasty dinner, a tramp cycled by; belongings on his back with a snood
              over his head. He passed the window and then turned around and passed again stopping near
              to the porch. Of course, he had taken the stick! Small Boy was furious and launched into
              'Scrappy Doo' mode of 'Let me get im'. We used the opportunity to think about the man
              and his situation and the possible reason behind his taking the stick. Once we'd finished up
              we headed back towards the bus stop and there outside Sainsbury's was the homeless man
              in question. He was clearly a little merry on Christmas spirit and was singing carols! We
              needed a few provisions so popped into the supermarket and in doing so purchased some
              Matchmakers to take to a friends house the following day. Once at the till I suggested
              perhaps giving one box of the Matchmakers to the chap. Well, you can imagine the response.
              Small boy was far more interested in giving him a fist and piece of his mind and the Little
              Lady refused to acknowledge the man due to his drunken state (thus prompting further
              discussions as to the possible reasons behind his intoxication), Miss P agreed. So
              leaving the two younger children at the bus stop (with a friend who we then met), Miss P
              and I hand delivered the treats.
              We were staggered and stunned by the number of people homeless in Oxford at this time of
              year. How can it be that so many people don't feel they have a place to call 'home' or family
              and friends to turn to in their time of need? I'd love to organise a 'pop up soup kitchen' or
              'friend at the table' set up where by these people could gain some love and encouragement
              to carry on.

Day 16: Phone someone and tell them you love them
             Not difficult but only two of us did this......

Day 17: Make a hamper for someone and deliver it.
             An 85 year old neighbour benefited here; having lost his wife earlier this year this will be his
             first Christmas alone. The children enjoyed choosing and giving thought to things that may
             bring a smile to his face and may be simple to prepare. So soup and finger foods were a good
             choice. Finding a suitable box, cutting it to shape, wrapping it and filling it were all
             thoughtful activities and brought joy to myself and the children and then delivering it too.
             Unbeknown to us all, the poor chap had just come out of hospital following a three week    
             stay. He was tired but obviously touched by out actions.

Day 18: Jump in the car and go out and see the Christmas lights.
              People seem to have toned down the 'cheesy' lights this year and gone for subtle delicate
              decorations instead. There were still a few out there though who had gone to town. It's great
              to see.

Day 19: Make pomanders with oranges and cloves.
              Miss P was taken off to London to see the Nutcracker and the younger two and I had a
              photo shoot today so no pomanders were made. Perhaps we'll combine them with
              tomorrow's task!

Day 20: Make a gingerbread house :-)
              We cheated and bought a ready baked house that just needed assembling and decorating.
              It's great that the children have finally reached that stage in life where they can read and
              and carry out instructions by themselves; whilst also working as a team. We'll share the
              finished house on Boxing Day.

Day 21: Bake cookies for friends and neighbours.
              We do this every year. It doesn't cost much and feels good. Baking, wrapping and giving :-)

Day 22: Meet at a cafe for hot chocolate with friends.
              There's a new cafe in Enstone called 'The Art Cafe'. It's run by a friends husband and is
              certain to become our new 'cool' place to go!

Day 23: Read a book together.
             My eldest is now 15 but still enjoyed sitting and listening to 'Father Christmas' by Raymond
             Briggs. It's a comic strip book with few words but perfect to animate in your own way.

Day 24: Christingle service and further Christmas stories.
              It's become a tradition to attend the local carol and Christingle service on Christmas eve.
              Once we returned home and had eaten, I read once again from a little book called 'Star of    
              Wonder'. It's a gem of a book that's been on my bookcase for years and is packed with lovely
              snippets of Christmas wonder (all the best bits) taken from a host of well known classic
              tales. The children happily listened for an hour or so before making their way up the wooden
              hill to the land of slumber.

The children and I have thoroughly enjoyed thinking beyond ourselves this advent, it's been a lot of fun and I know that our actions have made a difference to peoples lives.
Of course random acts don't have to be reserved just for Christmas.........:-)

Merry Christmas to you all :-)

Friday, 11 December 2015



I've not had the desire to blog much recently. That usually means that I actually haven't had time to leave the ho hum of daily life to do so.
I've been very much reminded recently of the need to make the most of life, to be kind and thoughtful towards others, to savour time with friends and family and to really appreciate the little things. I've also been trying to remind myself to slow down a little. Life is not a race, there's no prize for reaching the pearly gates first!

Apple days seem to be really popular these days. This one was at our community orchard. Twice a year they host a shared lunch, singing, apple pressing, live music, games for the children and an opportunity to socialise.

Hanging strips of toast soaked in apple juice from the branches of an apple tree was an unusual activity!

December- How did we arrive back here so fast? It feels like Christmas but it certainly doesn't feel like December! Some of the trees on my regular little drives haven't even shed their autumn leaves yet. What is going on?
Wasn't Autumn beautiful this year! I sooo loved the colours and the way the light presented itself. I took quite a few lovely photos back in October that I haven't got around to sharing as yet. I do hope they look as beautiful on here as they do on my little phone camera!

The Little Lady and her friend.....babies!

We finally found a sweet chestnut tree!

The fungi this Autumn were stunning. We found so many different varieties.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a permaculture course in November. I have to admit that 'permaculture' kept cropping up and although I thought it was something I should know about, I had never really looked into it. Not until now that is.....As always, I was probably the only student on the course that didn't really know what I was about to learn....but that makes it all the more exciting!
For those who are not in the know, as I wasn't, permaculture can be summarised by me as the interconnectedness and working together of 'things' to produce greater effects. An easy example to understand would be a garden setting where by you would plant in sunny positions against south facing walls and make the most of your growing space by 'stacking' crops. You could also grow your own salad near to your kitchen in a sunny spot and encourage insects into your garden to pollinate and aid production. A wormery or compost converter could make use of kitchen/garden scraps which when well rotted could then be added to the beds to improve soil quality.
That's a pretty brief summary but this idea of permaculture can be applied to all areas of life. It was pretty interesting!
What I realised though was that what I learnt was really stuff that I already know and do, I just hadn't thought about all things as being interconnected (not sure why as it was something I also learned during my Montessori training 10 years ago!) and hadn't given my way of life a label of 'permaculture'. So, lovely garden field year will be your year!

The children gathered essential items and gifts for their Christmas Child boxes to be sent to children in need.

Miss P turned 15.......

.......and gained her Baden Powell award!

Other than that I've been very busy in the sewing room. I realise it is now two years since that moment of thought that I should indeed try and make a living out of the (mainly) self taught sewing skills I somehow acquired. If I look back, I am not quite sure how such a decision came into being other than at a moment of despair at having become 'without work' unexpectedly. I drafted a little note and popped it in a local newsagents window and 'the rest' as they say 'is history!' I feel very fortunate that I have managed to continue to make 'just enough' and remain at a steady pace. I've met some lovely people along the way too. Always a bonus!

Sissy dear painted our nails. Not sure that red is really my colour neither is nail polish my thing for that matter! It was rather a novelty in the beginning and to say I 'chipped a nail' on day one, felt somewhat vain. It wasn't long before they began to annoy me. Said sister took five weeks to visit again and these gel things don't come off with regular NP remover. I managed to chip the damn things off with some force and perseverance.  Never again!

November marked the fourth anniversary of my soul mate's passing. It seems, in so many ways like yesterday yet at the same time I have come so far on my journey. Grief is a strange thing. I still miss him greatly but this year the anxiety of that anniversary was so much less painful than previous years. I'm ready to write my story now and have been gathering thoughts and notes in order to do so. It's going to be a story of my survival....Early on I was told that we are not victims any longer but 'survivors'. I like that!

Have a peaceful December :-)