Monday, 23 September 2013

And I am grateful.

"Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness."
(Henri Nouwen)

It's been said so many times before, in many different ways, but Gratitude, when you really 'get it', when you really practice it is a powerful tool for mindfulness.

When I hear myself starting to think 'poor me', I try to stop it right there and fend it off with a small dose of gratitude. 

Yes, I was up many times in the night with a very snotty, teething baby, but I also get to spend my day with that baby and am fortunate enough to be able stay home with her and not have to put her in a nursery. And I am grateful.

Yes, there's never enough money for me to go and buy those nice outfits I see in the shop windows, but we are fortunate enough to live in a nice, warm house with a lovely garden and there is always plenty of food on the table.  And I am grateful.

Yes, it seems like there's never enough time for me to do something for myself a yoga class, a trip to a gallery, poor me, but I always wanted to have children, would have been devastated if I couldn't have had them, and here they are, all three of them, beautiful and healthy and funny and clever.  And I am grateful.  

Friday, 20 September 2013

Something to think about ...

"Ask the river: 'Do you feel useful, given all that you do is to keep flowing in the same direction?

And the river will answer: 'I'm not trying to be useful. I'm trying to be a river.'

Don't try to be useful.  Try to be yourself: that is enough."

('Manuscript found in Accra', Paulo Coelho)

Monday, 16 September 2013

Greening up

"You are not separate from the whole.
 You are one with the sun, the earth, the air.
 You don't have a life.
 You are life."  
('Guardians of Being', Eckhart Tolle)

It comes with the territory.  When you try to be mindful it becomes obvious that living mindfully means to live lightly upon the earth.  In harming our world we are only harming ourselves and our children and their children.

I have always been very interested in environmental issues, though I'm not so great at taking the relevant action.  Lately, I think I appreciate the need to 'green up' our lives due to my interest in mindfulness.  How can I be still, be quiet, be present and not hear the voice of nature asking me to be gentle with her as I try to be gentle with myself, my husband, my children, my friends?  It's just so obvious that it is the right thing to do. 

There is so much that can be done in order to protect our environment that it simply overwhelms me sometimes.  As with all things, little baby steps can help.  Making sure I take my shopping bags to the shops, trying to make fewer car journeys, making cloth hankies instead of buying disposables.  Little things I know but important nonetheless.  I am also always aware of the example I am setting for my children, they should see their Mummy doing all that she can to safeguard their future.

Some much-needed inspiration recently came from Bea Johnson's book, 'Zero Waste Home' and her excellent blog We are far from being a 'zero waste home', but this woman is such an inspiration I'm certainly much more aware of the waste we produce and the things we buy.

So, I'm reading, I'm learning, I'm reflecting.  I'm trying to go about my day in mindfulness so that my actions and my purchases do the least harm to the environment.  I have such a long way to go, but I believe in it and I want to do it in any small way I can.  

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Mindfulness in the everyday

Mindfulness in the everyday, this is what I'm interested in. Always on the hunt for inspiration I recently watched this video It's the highly inspiring Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, at the Plum village monastery in France giving a talk about mindfulness.  In it he discusses 'mindful walking and breathing' and 'mindful eating'.  He goes in to great detail about how to conduct such activities with mindfulness and thus bring more joy and contentment in to one's life.

It occurs to me, as I go about my daily tasks, can't all of my tasks be undertaken in mindfulness should I choose?  Today, for example, there was 'mindful drinking of tea'.  It tasted so good and was so warming on a cool September morning.  There was 'mindful washing of dishes'.  'Mindful driving'. 'Mindful changing of nappy"!?  Mindfulness in everything, that's the goal, or at least the journey.  

Mindfully conducting each task.  Taking deep, nourishing breaths. Trying to not think about all of the other things you need to do, but  trying to be present and enjoy the moment as it is right now.  This is not always easy to do for sure.  As a practice it is so worthwhile and I know for certain that makes for a more pleasurable day and a more calm and present Mummy.  I try to practice all the time.  Listening to my girls' stories from school, playing with my baby, taking a moment to be still and savour the beauty of a curl on my daughter's neck, a bird in the garden, that first cup of mint tea this morning.  This is mindfulness in the everyday and it tastes good.  

Monday, 2 September 2013

Rockpools and reverence

"If we perceived Life with reverence... we would stand in awe at the experience of physical life and walk the Earth in a very deep sense of gratitude."
('The Seat of the Soul', Gary Zukav.)

The most beautiful August morning.  Already warm, the dome of a clear blue sky above us, white cliffs behind us and sand, pebbles and rockpools all around.  She grabbed her bucket and ran to the shore.  So eager to explore those rockpools, in search of treasure.  We found some too, a starfish, which she handled and gazed at for the longest time.  

She has 'reverence' for Life in abundance.  It comes so naturally to her.  It is quite something to witness.  She stood 'in awe at the experience of physical life'.  I don't know if she yet walks the Earth 'in a very deep sense of gratitude', I hope she will one day.  I know that I sat there on that beach and watched her, utterly content, and immersed in the natural surroundings.  I watched her pick up pebbles, swirl the water in a rockpool looking for creatures, she was so alive and present.  

I try to walk the Earth in a very deep sense of gratitude.  For mornings like this one, for this daughter of mine, for all of my many blessings.  For a few quiet moments on a beach, with the sun on my face and a few deep breaths, observing this child.  Sometimes the experiences of this physical life are just so beautiful, if I take the time to be still and witness them.  

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Try again tomorrow

"You are not expected to be perfect in the sense that you never feel overwhelmed, frustrated or irritated, but... living a conscious life means dedicating yourself to growing in wisdom, peace, harmony and love... to raise the level of well-being for you and your family."  (Deepak Chopra, 'Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives'.)

She had set herself the impossible task of wanting to be the perfect, or at least, a very good mother.  Unsurprisingly, she was doomed to failure.  Each day she would make many mistakes and fail to live up to her own very high standards.  Each day she would end that day berating herself for they way she lost her patience with her children today (many times), for the way she lost her sense of humour when the children were being silly and having fun, for the way she failed to feel gratitude for the great blessings she had.  She was her own worst critic.  She needed comfort, solace and understanding.  She needed some words of inspiration and encouragement so that she could try again tomorrow, and keep trying again and again, to be the gentle, loving, mother figure that she truly felt herself to be in her heart.  She would have to dig deep, be still and look to herself to find those words of encouragement and understanding.  As she was quiet, the words came to her, "just try again tomorrow."

She would try again tomorrow to love her three small, divine creatures.  To treat them with respect, gentleness and compassion.  To listen to them intently.  To speak to them softly.  To go about her business with their best interests in mind.  They deserved nothing less.  She would try again tomorrow, wake up, kiss them, make them breakfast, settle their disputes, answer their questions, tell them 'gently' what they had to do next.  She would try again tomorrow and she would forgive herself for today's shortcomings.  She would try again tomorrow with the best of intentions, with all of that love brimming over in her heart, to be the person she really was - and she was getting closer every day because she kept trying and learning and reflecting.  If she tried again tomorrow, that's all she could ask of herself, don't give up, even though you're tired, keep on trying, it is such important work that you do.  She will try again tomorrow, she will learn from the mistakes she makes and she will also acknowledge the things she gets right; the patience she had, the time she gave, the love she showed.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Oh, the irony...

Oh, the irony.  It was after lunch, the house was empty except for me and my littlest one.  "Great, time for Isla to have a nap," I thought, "and I can do some writing for a little while."  My daughter had other ideas, why go to sleep when there is so much to explore and so much fun to be had?  She refused to go to sleep and I felt very frustrated.  I just wanted a little bit of time to write, a little respite from domesticity. I wanted to come here to this spot and write about the things I like to write about; being present with my children, practicing mindfulness and patience, looking for the truth and beauty in the everyday.  Why wouldn't she just go to sleep so I could write about all those things?!  Ha ha ha, I had to laugh at myself.

I've said it before, I don't need to travel to India (though I would very much like to), these little ones of mine are my gurus.  If I'm open to it they have so much to teach me.  "Why do you need to go and write Mummy?  Can't you just be with me here, now, in this moment?  I'm not ready to go to sleep, I just want to be with you."  So here she sits now, emptying the drawers in  my bedroom while I write and chuckle to myself.  I love to write, I feel compelled to write.  I also love my children more.  Time to sign off and go play....I'm still chuckling at the irony though.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Be present

"Being present builds a child's confidence because it lets the child know that she is worth thinking about."   Stephen Grosz, 'The Examined Life'.

In my pursuit of trying to provide a nurturing childhood for my three girls this is the big one.  Being present with them.  I have so many other ideas of practical ways in which we can provide such a childhood for our children but ultimately it comes down to this.  I want my children to know and feel deeply that I have time for them, I want to be present with them and I'm practicing all the time even though it might not seem like it when I lose my patience with them and speak more harshly to them than I should.  I keep trying, keep practicing, slowly I'm getting better at it.  I listen to what they say, repeat what they said to acknowledge that I hear them, I might even say "I'm listening" and gain their eye contact. My goodness it can be so hard though.  Often one of my daughters wants to speak to me while I'm on the phone or have a task I want to finish before the baby wakes up.  They have to practice patience too.

Sometimes the best time for me to be present with my girls is at night.  They're ready for bed, I've finished with my tasks for the day, the channels of communication are open.  I make myself available to them as I sit in their room while they finish clearing up, choosing stories for bedtime.  During the day there might not have been much presence on my behalf but there is still time before they go to sleep for some quiet time together.  In this time I may just stroke their hair and have a cuddle, they may have an issue from their day at school they wish to discuss with me, we may make plans for tomorrow.  

Be present, look in to their eyes, listen, hold their hand, be patient, take a breath; this is the essence of trying to provide a nurturing childhood and if I didn't do it very well today I will certainly try again tomorrow. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

'Minimalism' - An obsession

I can't quite remember how it came about.  Searching around the web I came across some very inspirational blogs dedicated to the idea of minimalism and simple living.  When I read this stuff it just made so much sense to me.  "Of course I would love minimalism!"  I said to myself.  "It's just so me!"  Decluttering and simplifying my life? Yes please!  Reducing the physical and mental excess so I can focus on what I truly value in life?  I'm sold.

I have now made at least 10 trips to the local charity shops, have sold items on Ebay, and am wondering what else can go?  I have really tried to be quite ruthless with myself, here's what I've let go of so far;
- lots and lots of books that I have been carrying around with me for years and I'm still working on it
- clothes that I don't really like and don't fit me very well, it is so liberating to have a minimalist wardrobe.  I am definitely a person who benefits from having fewer options to choose from.
- don't tell the kids but I've removed many of their toys, some for good and some I've just hidden away to see if they notice they're missing, they haven't so far.
- kitchen utensils that rarely get used - I'm tired of rifling through a drawer to find the vegetable peeler, which I use every day, because it is surrounded by items I rarely use.
- a vase, framed pictures, candle holders, various trinkets that I don't really like and just sit there gathering dust.

As promised by many of the blogs I've been reading, decluttering and simplifying one's physical surroundings is about so much more than just stuff.  As I get rid of this stuff I don't really need the obvious question arises, what do I need?  What do I want in  my life? This is what I've learned;

- more time to spend just hanging out with my girls, now that I've decluttered so much there's also more space to hang out and play, what a gift.
- whittling down my book collection has reacquainted me with some books I really love and I've let go of the books that weren't that important to me - I never will be a very good dressmaker or baker, those books have gone.
- when you get rid of physical clutter it is like a reflection of what is going on in your mind.  In a clearer, less cluttered space, my mind feels clearer and less cluttered.
- Now I know all the things I don't want in my life and how I don't want to spend my time I am clearer about what I do want, I want to write.

I am in danger of preaching this message to everyone I come across, my husband is quite tired of hearing about it I'm sure.  I can't help it, minimalism for me is such a profound and spiritual concept, I just want to spread the word.

One last thing to share.  With less things to think about, to clean, maintain, repair, organise, I found myself lying on the grass in the garden with my youngest daughter one sunny afternoon this week.  Dinner was prepared (and it hadn't taken me long now that I've removed so much stuff from the kitchen), the house was relatively tidy and as a result of this I felt relaxed.  I lay there with my daughter crawling around, exploring the garden, and acknowledged to myself how relaxed and 'in the moment' I felt.  I can tell you this was a direct result of my project to minimalise our possessions and simplify our life.  My mind wasn't caught up thinking about all the stuff I had to organise, I felt liberated.  I could be there with my daughter, enjoying such a beautiful afternoon with her, encouraging her to take her first steps, giving her my presence.  This minimalism stuff is a powerful thing.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A childhood treasure for my baby

A stolen five minutes here, a stolen few minutes there, I will eventually get this done.  It will be a cushion when it's finished, one day when it is actually finished - it seems to be taking so long.  I will get it done though, for my littlest baby, a childhood treasure for her to treasure.  One day she may be sitting on her bed at university, a friend will reach over to pick up the cushion and comment on how sweet it is.  My littlest baby may respond with something like, "My mum made it for me when I was a baby", and with that comment she may be reminded of how much she means to me, she may look at the stitches and see my love for her embroidered in to the cloth.

In simple little stitches of pink, blue, yellow and red, I am drawing a picture of a house with people in it and surrounded by a cute little garden.  It is a home, not unlike ours, filled with people and a cute little garden.  This childhood treasure, like the others I have made for my other daughters, is not particularly skilful or imaginitive.  It comes from a place of love though, I think that counts.  It will be added to other treasures I will make over the years; to her baby photo album, a treasure box containing her first clothes and 'new baby' cards, and to the journal I started to keep for her the week I found out I was expecting her.  These treasures will be passed on to her the older she gets, she can take them with her when she leaves home.  She can tell that university friend her Mummy used to sit and stitch this cushion while I was having a nap as a baby, she would sit and think about the little girl I would become, she would sit and stitch this childhood treasure knowing that I was one of the most precious treasures she had in her life.

Monday, 4 March 2013

A story for mothers

Shall I tell you a story?  One day a woman with three young children, a long to-do list and dark circles under her eyes told herself that she was not allowed to do something that she really loved doing.  She told herself, in rather harsh tones (the same voice she used to shout at her children), to stop being so silly, who did she think she was anyway? and that she had far too many other important things to do.  She told herself that as a mother of three, soon to be returning to working outside of the home, she had no time to be indulging in her particular interest.  Her children needed her, every moment of the day, to take care of their needs and their comfort.  So she stopped doing what she loved, she 'put away those childish things'; literally - in a drawer, where she didn't have to see them because it was too painful.

Fortunately for her there was something inside her that would not give up so easily.  A small quiet, gentle little voice that listened to all these harsh reprimands and nodded sagely and admitted that she was, indeed, 'very busy', and her children did need her very much.  This quiet little voice also suggested in softer, kinder tones than she used with herself, that perhaps if she did do a little of the something that she loved very much, if she gave this to herself as a gift, then maybe she would do a better job with all those other things she had to do.  All those other roles she had to play.  If she allowed herself this thing she might perhaps be more of a whole person and that whole person (as opposed to a person with a hole inside her) might be more pleasant for her husband and children to be around.  The little voice reminded the woman listening intently that as the mother in the family she was the heart of that family and a heart with a hole in it does not function as well as a whole one.

The woman knew these words to be very true, deep down she knew.  So, she took her notebooks out of the drawer, she took up her pen, she switched on her computer, she opened up her heart and her mind.  She allowed herself to do what it is she most loves to do.  She gave herself this gift and she was grateful.  The words poured happily out of her as she gave them some time and some space to do so; the words were relieved that they had their channel back again.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The only parenting book you will ever need

'Everyday Blessings: The inner work of mindful parenting.' Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn'

This is it, the holy grail of parenting books.  I've read a lot of them.  This is the one that really spoke to my heart.  This is the one which resonated with me so much.  On every page I would read something that I knew deeply to be true.
 "The very fact that we are a parent is continually asking us to find and express what is most nourishing, most loving, most wise and caring in ourselves, to be, as much as we can, our best selves."
The authors share stories from their own family life raising three children, such inspiring and honest stories, not all of them about the things they got 'right' but they also share the times they got it 'wrong', when they weren't their best selves.  This is so encouraging, to be comforted and reassured by the knowledge that we won't always get it right, even if we are the 'mindful awareness' gurus of the literary world, but we can always learn from our experiences and try to do better next time.
"To attempt to see and honour the deep soul needs of our children as well as our own as best we can."

I could repeat so much of what I love about this book, but you just have to read it and take from it what resonates most with you.  What I can say though is that it has left me touched and moved.  It has left me with the overall feeling that no matter what choices we make as parents in how to raise our children you can't go too far off track if you act with gentleness and kindness and allow one's children a degree of 'sovereignty'.  This is a key term in the book which means that we help our children to develop into who they really are and respect that person and the choices they make.  Viewing our children as the unique individuals they are and giving them the space and the recognition they need.  This was very powerful for me.  I struggle with just backing off and allowing my children the freedom they need to become their own selves and, in truth, to distance themselves from me somewhat because that is what they will increasingly need to do.

As parents we don't need books to tell us about routines and the 'right' way to discipline children.  What this book has to offer is more profound.  In essence it reminds you that you love your children, so start with that and remember it even when they are rolling around on the floor in the middle of an all-consuming tantrum.  Stop, try to bring yourself in awareness and react from a calm place of love; I know, it's so hard, I've been there - a lot, it takes a lot of practice and strength.  I was soothed by the following words though,
"An important part of the process (of mindful parenting) is seeing ourselves with a degree of kindness and compassion."
This book is a wise old owl of a book, which embraces you in a loving cuddle and tells you to take it easy, parenting can be hard but also so joyful, take it moment by moment, be kind to your children and be kind to yourself.  It strokes your hand and plants a kiss on your cheek and tells you to keep trying, keep learning and reflecting and it will be alright, it will be alright.

Namaste Mr and Mrs Kabat-Zinn.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A divine morning

She is Aphrodite, known as Venus by the Romans.  Famously known for being the goddess of love.  It was a Sunday morning in the British Museum, here to support our eldest daughter in her school topic of 'Ancient Greece'.  We walked around the collection of statues and pottery, she was surprisingly very interested, our five year old daughter was unsurprisingly not, the littl'un was happy as long as there was milk to be had.

The big girls ran off with their Daddy at one point, I sat on some stairs and breast fed the littl'un, in view of lots of museum visitors, a staff member and Aphrodite of course.  The museum visitors seemed not to notice, it's really not that interesting compared to some of the most precious antiquities of the ancient world and I was being very discreet, the (female) staff member gave me a small, acknowledging smile and Aphrodite, well she wasn't overly concerned with me or my baby.  She did nod my way though, and smile, her feminine curves gracefully outlined by her robes.
  "What's your name?" she enquired.
  "We are 'Mother and Child", I said, "only a temporary exhibit".
  "Oh", she casually responded, "they're not as interested in you as they are in me are they?" 
  "No", I admitted, "but sometimes the everyday is no less extraordinary despite its ordinariness; childbirth, breastfeeding, those two girls running around getting under the feet of irritable tourists, these are the special treasures of my world.  I am the goddess of my family, my husband is the hero, and our children are living breathing deities who have blessed us with their presence.  We're all a temporary exhibit", I explained, "just here for a while to experience some of that love you have at your disposal.  By the way, thanks, for all the love, it's really pretty amazing stuff, it just blows me away sometimes," as I glanced down at my baby still feeding, a veritable rosy-cheeked cherub.
"You're welcome", she replied with the subtlest of flicks of her golden hair and a glance at her nails,   
"you flesh and blood goddesses are so lucky, you don't have to stand here and be gawped at for all eternity."
"I know, I get to go home and look after my little ones and drink in their loveliness, I'll be off now Aphrodite, nice chatting to you", I hoisted the littl'un up on to my hip and went to find the others.  My moment in the world of the Ancients and the divine was over, I did get to go home and look after my little ones and drink in their loveliness and I would do it for all eternity.     

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


This February I am;
- Looking for signs of Spring and finding them, just peeping through.
- Enjoying the games being played, the pictures drawn and the spellings practiced on our new chalkboard in the kitchen, I think we should just cover the whole house in chalkboard paint.
- Thinking that we might eat more meat-free meals in the light of the whole horsemeat scandal, you can't go wrong with veggies.  Ratatouille, butternut risotto, poached eggs and vegetable rostis.  Not sure    my, "it's not a dinner without meat", husband will agree.
- Eagerly anticipating the half-term break, a rest from the school run, lots of time for my girls to play and a few nice activities planned as well, oh and the odd lie-in, which in our house means until 7am.
- Shivering in the cold, hibernating inside, dreaming of a sunny day when I can out to the greenhouse and get those vegetable seeds sown.
- Searching for something new and inspirational to read, any ideas anyone?  I get twitchy without a pile of books by my bed at the ready.
- Trying to muster the courage to write a book proposal, not sure I can, but I do know that writing this blog is good for me, makes me feel I get to do a little something for me, and then I can return to my family feeling a little bit more fulfilled.
- This February I am looking for signs of a more authentic and peaceful me and finding them, just peeping through.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The lessons of a messy children's bedroom.

Once upon a time I lived on my own, in a tiny little flat in London, fairly happy, lots of friends and a good job.  I always knew I wanted a family and then one day along came a man with whom I fell in love.  So began the story of our family.  Three children later, my days are quite different now.  Each morning there are so many tasks to be done just to get us all out of the door on time for school.  When I return from the school drop-off, it's just me and the littl'un.  I have a coffee while I feed her, we then make our way around the house clearing up after the tornado that passed through at 7.30 that morning.
  This is a picture of my two eldest girl's room.  This is it on a good day, I really would be too embarrassed to show it on a really bad day when the carpet is no longer visible.  When I come in to this room in the morning I feel utter despair.  The beds are unmade, there are toys and books everywhere to be seen.  Pyjamas, toothbrushes, hairbrushes strewn around from the morning rush. I straighten everything up, smooth out the duvets, put books back on the shelves, cuddly animals back in the basket.  And I will do it all again tomorrow. I'm no martyr, it's just the reality of being a Mum.  Doing the same things day after day, meals, laundry, cleaning, diplomatic relations and lots of picking stuff up off the floor.
  I do realise, however, that this is just all part of the territory.  My children love their toys, they play endlessly with these horses, barbies and baby dolls.  They read those magazines and the books.  They really inhabit this room and the rest of the house.  Their physical presence is truly felt.  When I come in to this room after I have left them at school for the day these objects lie inanimate,  without the spirit and imagination of my daughters to animate them.  I think I should try not to feel despair when I enter this room in future, but gratitude that they are here, my girls are here and they are happy, they are boisterous, they are filled with the joy of a childhood in which they get to play with their toys, flick through  their magazines, making a mess as they do.  This is not to say that I don't get cross with them when they do make a real mess, I do.  There are often tears when I insist that they clean this mess up.  In quieter moments though, I do enjoy discovering the little scenes they have set up with dolls, animals and wooden blocks.  I do feel grateful that I have these girls in my life at all.  That I am not still in that tiny little flat in London, on my own, wondering what it would be like to be a mother.  This is what it is like.  A messy house, a tired body, little free time; the price to be paid for having three beautiful children.  There are lessons to be learned everywhere, even in a messy children's bedroom.

Monday, 11 February 2013

These are books, my darling.

These are books, my darling.  You can taste it if you like, turn it around, open it up and shut it again with a loud bang.  You can pat it, drop it, scratch it, open it up to enjoy the colours and the shapes.  Inside these books you will find stories to fire your imagination, characters who will become your friends and words that will become your words.  We will share lots of these books together, cuddling close while we do.  You will ask me what words mean, I will ask you what do you think they mean.  You may ask me to read the same book again and again and I will, for you, I will.  We have lots to look forward to, you and I.  We will buy some books, borrow some books, make some books.  Just like your sisters before you.  (I have some experience in these matters).  In moments of boredom, tiredness, sadness I will reach for a book and we will escape in to it together.  For me, it is the most wonderful thing I can introduce you to, the world of books and stories.  They have been great companions and teachers to me and I'm sure they will to you too.  You will have your own relationship with books, your own tastes and preferences, just share them with me will you?

For now though, you are just getting used to the taste, the feel, the shape of books.  You take your time. I'm here when you're ready for a story.  I have lots of suggestions of stories you might like.  You're a lucky little girl, you have a Mummy, Daddy and sisters all eager to read to you and a house with lots of books.   Elmer, Kipper, Wibbly Pig, Wobble Bear, are all ready to meet you too, to say hi and welcome you in to their colourful world.  These are books, my darling, I hope you like them as much as I do.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

An alternative 'To Do' list

My normal 'to do' list for a day would include the usual things like, call the dentist, pick up dry cleaning, buy milk and bread, order a birthday present, etc.  The standard kind of stuff.  Last night I was just about to write a to do list for today, so that I could empty my mind before I go to sleep, otherwise I can't go to sleep.  It occurred to me though, what about a different kind of 'To Do' list?  What if I made a list of some of the things that are really important to me?  What if I gave these things a focus for today instead of the more mundane tasks?

So here goes, an alternative 'To Do' list;

- Sit down with that first cup of tea of the morning and taste it
- Inhale the sweet scent of my baby
- Kiss my husband and tell him I'm proud of him
- Check my e-mail only once today
- Give my girls my time and my love, the best gifts of all
- Go out in to the garden and see what it's been up to all winter
- Enjoy the feel of running my hands through freshly washed hair
- Listen to the responses when I ask people questions
- Read, read, read
- Forgive myself for not being perfect
- Give thanks for everything

What would be on yours?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Life is beautiful

"One reason why we are so refreshed and uplifted by natural beauty is that we feel, even if obscurely, our connection with the great scheme of life on our planet and its deep imperatives"  (A.C.Grayling, 'Why Beauty Matters')

A hungry baby waiting patiently in her highchair.  Two big girls drawing and colouring at the kitchen table as my arms reached out like tentacles to make baby food, steam vegetables, pour milk, lay the table and wash dishes all at the same time. (It's a special superpower you develop when you become a mum)  And then I glanced up and saw this out of the window and everything had to come to a halt while I went to get my camera, exclaiming over my shoulder,  "Look how the sky has gone pink girls!"  And orange and blue and purple and yellow.  The sky looked like this for such a brief time, it had to be snapped quickly.  It had to be appreciated right now, this second!  The trees stood in shadow, highlighting the rainbow colours in the sky.  Then it was back inside, the moment had passed.  It was  beautiful.  It would have been beautiful if I had noticed it or not, but I did notice, I did look up from my 'getting dinner on the table' busyness.  I saw it.  I really saw it.    

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Blissful reading

With a sleeping baby on my lap, my two eldest daughters happily playing upstairs and a few hours to go before I had to get dinner ready, I stole a few precious moments of blissful reading.  I had raced through most of the book and now wanted to read the last few pages.  It is such a wonderful book,  it is a non-fiction account of the relationship between a mother and son after the diagnosis of the mother's pancreatic cancer and the subsequent book club they form, just the two of them, reading and discussing the books sitting in hospital whilst the mother was undergoing treatments.  I loved the story of the relationships in the book, the wisdom and kind nature of the author's mother and I just love a book about books and the joy of reading.  How poor my life would be without books, what a different person I would be, what a tidier house I would have with all that free time!

A book written honestly and from the heart, about real events and real people is just the kind of book I like.  Fiction can be great too, but this style has to be my favourite, I should write one sometime.  I finished the book, still with my sleeping angel on my lap, and reached for my laptop to write and thank the author for writing such a wonderful, moving book.  (I have only ever done that once before).  I received an e-mail thanking me for my e-mail, do I write and say thanks back?  This could get silly.    Read it, read it, read it, is all I can say.

 The baby woke up, my little reading time was over.  I had to put the book down, dry my eyes and get on with my various roles of cook, cleaner, laundry woman, peace keeper; but I resumed these roles a little bit wiser, a little bit more nourished, and a little bit more grateful for a life with good books, happy children and a beautiful sleeping baby.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Watching their creativity flow

"Everyday is loaded with creative potential"  (Danny Gregory, 'The Creative License')

I love it when a little something new in the house creates a new energy, a new source of fun.  Last week it was liquid chalk pens, which proved to be a really good purchase.  I opened the box and off they went, doodling and writing away all day on the windows and they're still coming back to it everyday, adding something new.  This weekend it was the addition of a chalkboard to the kitchen wall.  A small tin of blackboard paint and a little piece of wood for the chalk to sit on and again the girls got straight in to it.  We introduced them to the game 'Pictionary' and they haven't stopped playing it since.  We see lots of potential with the new chalkboard, messages left for one another, games, pictures,  spellings, times table practice and maybe a few inspirational words for Mummy, who likes to be reminded of the wonderful things she reads.

Our house is steadily being taken over by children's artwork, we may continue to cover every wall, but I love it.  I provide some new materials and give the girls the freedom and space to just do their thing.  I'm not so easygoing when it comes to other things, I like them to be in bed by a certain time, wash their hands before a meal, but when it comes to their creativity I really just want to sit back and watch it flow.  When I was training to be a teacher some years ago I came across the concept of a teacher being a 'facilitator' as opposed to being a fountain of knowledge, imparting that knowledge in to the students' brains which they would just soak up.  Learning and creativity doesn't work like that.  There are some things I teach my children, we're still working on shoelaces and telling the time.  There are also many things I don't want to teach my children, I want to be their facilitator, providing the resources and the environment in which they can learn, explore and discover things all by themselves.  This is my thinking behind these new materials in our home.  That and, quite simply, we had a really fun time.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

'Ten Mindful Minutes' by Goldie Hawn

I did a double-take too when I saw the name 'Goldie Hawn'.  You mean 'Private Benjamin' Goldie Hawn, I thought?!  She is the author of this really wonderful and inspiring book, 'Ten Mindful Minutes'. It goes in to great detail about how to live a more mindful life with your children and how to help them develop certain skills that will help them deal with stress and ultimately make them happier.  The opening paragraph grabbed me from the start as it resounded with me so strongly;

"From the day my first child was born, I knew that I could not fail at one thing in my life - being a good mother.  My most challenging and important role would be to help shape those little beings of pure potential."

There's lots to reflect on and lots of little practical snippets that I like to collect from non-fiction books like these, like a magpie collecting treasures.  Ideas like getting your children to describe what the food they're eating tastes like over dinner as a way of encouraging them to be mindful of what it is they're actually eating (good for their literacy too!)  Or, asking them to write a small list or discuss with you what it is that makes them happy.  One I particularly like is 'The Paper Chain of Kindness', I ask my daughters have they done anything kind that day?  Or I decide that they have just done something kind and I write it on a slip of paper to make a paper chain out of.  It's a small thing, we probably won't do it forever, but it's a pleasurable exercise for now.  This is the magic of kindness isn't it?  My daughters smile and feel good about themselves when it has been acknowledged that they have done a kind thing (I know I always acknowledge when they do unkind things, so this is really just redressing that imbalance)  An added bonus is that it also reminds me, have I done anything kind today?  I'll see what I can do before bedtime.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Their natural habitat


We nearly went in to town on a saturday afternoon. We saw the sunshine and the blue sky and realised we couldn't waste this opportunity to get outside.  Three children walking around shops on a busy afternoon in town is not really my idea of a good time.  Watching them become totally absorbed in their game of den-building and mud-mixing is my idea of a wonderful time.  Sticks were carefully placed to an already existing structure, the mud was mixed with some water to make "ice-cream and beef"!  We stayed at a distance with the littl'un.  We marvelled at how much they were enjoying themselves, they could have stayed all day, I could have watched them all day.  There was no arguing, no hitting, no technology,  no toys, no whining.  Just pure, all-consuming play.

They were children in their natural habitat, doing what they do best.  We were just the facilitators, we got them there, we supervised them, I washed the mud out of their clothes that night.  It was a beautiful reminder that children really don't need that much to enjoy themselves, to express themselves, to 'be' themselves.  (So why did we spend so much at Christmas?)  From where I was standing they just looked so content and so alive and all they cared about was this very blissful moment.  I was reluctant to burst the bubble and announce it was home time, but they came, mud-smeared, rosy cheeked and nourished in a very natural way.

Monday, 28 January 2013

What will today's 'pleasurable moments' be?

"We need to remind ourselves that many pleasurable moments exist each day in our life.  understanding this we make a decision to start noticing them.  We take a few seconds here, a moment there, to stop and appreciate the small joys and beauty in our lives...we find ourselves refreshed by this practice."  (John Kehoe)

Friday, 25 January 2013

January's Gifts

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have in to enough, and more..."
                                                                                                           (Melody Beattie)

January's gifts so far;
- A healthy, bonny baby, getting used to eating food and putting on weight, phew!
- A few quiet moments in a beautiful cathedral
- My biggest girls got to have a sleepover at their cool Auntie's, they had such fun
- Three girls sitting in bed, two of them brushing their teeth, my baby Isla using her new toothbrush to brush her new tooth.
- An evening of reading and writing, lovely
- A wonderful, magical day watching the snow come down from the warmth and comfort of our nest, then outside to make snowmen and snow angels.
- Opening up the curtains one morning to find a flock of goldfinches in our Lilac tree, they are so beautiful.  The girls ran to get the binoculars and were excited to see them too.
- Baking with Caitlin and Erin, I stood back and let them work out what to do themselves and they lived up to the challenge.
- A mum who comes to stay, takes over cooking dinner and the cleaning up and spoils my girls rotten
- A new addiction, 'Twinings' peach and cherry blossom green tea, love it!
- A husband who reminds me that I actually do really love writing and should just get on with it!

Obviously, these are just the moments for which I am most grateful.  There were moments too when I wasn't feeling so positive or grateful for what life was throwing my way (lots of broken nights and 4 a.m. starts to the day were pretty tricky).  Yet, why dwell on them? These are the things, and there were others, which I can count as blessings.  Small, simple little things which enrich my life and enrich it again when I take the time to remember them.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

'Creative Play for your Baby'

"Play is joy.  When we play, we are fully integrated into ourselves and we feel at one with the world...This is the wisdom of childhood."
'Creative play for your baby.' C.Clouder

I just love this book so much.  I first came to it years ago when my older children were babies, it inspired me then and has done so again the third time around.  It comes very much from a Steiner-Waldorf perspective, a philosophy which really speaks to me and just sounds so very 'right'.  This book has lots to read and to reflect upon as well as very practical guides to making little toys for your baby.  I made this little family of chickens for Isla, they're sitting on a 'nest' of wool, on a 'field' of green velvet (a plaything which is used pretty much every day in this house).

This is one of the things that so interests me about this book and this philosophy.  The idea that children need 'playthings', not necessarily toys which have been bought from a toy shop.  That's not to say that we don't have those things, we do, but I also like to add to the collection in our house things like the green fabric above, handmade little animals and just the wool itself is regularly used for stables and to feed the horses.

They are not the most beautifully crafted animals, but they were made with love.  I see now that they were also made (subconsciously I think?) as a representation of me, the Mother Hen, and her three little chicks.  She likes to keeps them close in her soft, cosy nest.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

A wintry delight

It has been the most magical of weekends.  The snow arriving in our little corner of the world is still novelty enough to incite sheer excitement and delight in both children and adults.  Especially when it means Mum calls it a snow day and the girls get to stay home from school.  We rearranged the furniture in the living room and made a den by the glass doors.  There we nestled for the day, watching the snow come down, watching the birds come to and fro from the bird table and from the pine cone feeders we made (just pine cones spread with peanut butter and rolled in bird seed).  Wood pigeons, robins, blue tits, blackbirds and even a flock of my favourites, goldfinches, arrived in our garden this weekend looking for food. It was such a beautiful spectacle.

'Magical' is all I could think.  The snow, its brilliance and purity, invites such a feeling of stillness and an oppurtunity for reflection.   All I have wanted to do this weekend is sit in the chair now facing out to the garden and watch the snow fall.  It is so quiet and so peaceful it simply commands you to slow down and breathe and appreciate this wintry delight.  As dusk came I didn't want to turn on the lights, it plunged the garden in to shadow, instead I lit some candles and held on to the magic of the day for just a little while longer.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

"I like it when you smile"

The day had felt like an endurance test.  As life with three little ones can.  How many tasks can I perform?  How much patience do I have? (not so much) How tired can a person get?  All I could think as I helped her in to her PJs and brushed her hair was, "I'm going to bed"; it was 7pm.  We had a cuddle  and I smiled a weary, puffy-eyed smile.  "Hmmm, I like it when you smile", she said.  It struck me, I could take this one of two ways.  First, I don't smile enough and she really noticed that I had smiled for a change? I hope not! Secondly, (the one I'm going with) she just likes it when I smile, I look friendly, warm and loving, not tired, irritable and impatient.  I know how I would like to look as she climbs in to bed each night.  Preferably that warm and loving version of me.  It seems that all I have to do, in fact, is simply just smile.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Mindful moments

Rush, rush, rush.  We were rushing to one school to pick one daughter up before we rushed down to the other school to pick up my eldest daughter.  Racing along the road.  Isla bobbing around in the buggy as we went.  And then I looked at her.  Really 'looked' at her and I had to stop to drink in her sweet beauty.  "Mummy, I'm here and I'm gorgeous and in all your 'busyness' you're missing it!" she said, though not using words of course.  "You're right" I thought. "I'll slow down, I'll really look at you and appreciate your 6 month old 'wondrousness".

Such mindfulness is something I am very interested in right now.  Being mindful in daily life of what is really important to me, what it is I truly value and being aware of the abundant blessings in my life.  Even though I don't want to always admit that I am blessed in so many ways and I just want to have a good old childish tantrum because someone has something that I would like or gets to do something that I want to do.  "It's not fair!" I think as I stamp my foot.

In my better moments I am drawn back to the moment, the life I do have as opposed to the life I 'think' I might like.  I am drawn back to this precious little creature staring up at me from her buggy, always smiling and pleased to see me.  She is a reminder to me to BE HERE NOW.  She is my little Buddha, my little Guru in a fluffy pramsuit.  "See me, connect with me,  because I love you Mummy", she says all of this with her eyes.  "I love you too baby, I'm here, I see you." If I do nothing else better today, I have done this, I have really connected with my daughter; it has been a good day.