making gifts together

We are just beginning to make our plans and preparations for filling shoeboxes with gifts for children which we collect as a church and send around the world with Operation Christmas child.

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homemade flower crayons

This year I am keen to get B, A & T involved more and have been wondering if there are any gift ideas that would be easy enough for us to make together to put in. There’s something prayerful about spending time making something to bless someone else, and those times we do manage it I find it inevitably changes, and blesses us too.

So here’s a list of ideas I’ve found:

  • T-shirt headbands (‘lovestitched’ have an easy to follow tutorial here)
  • T-shirt neckwarmers (needs sewing) (‘lilblueboo’ have a good tutorial here)
  • no sewing tutu skirt (Simply Real Mums have instructions here), the same method can quickly also make a flowy headband, or wrist band.
  • braided bead bracelets (see beadaholic’s video tutorial here)
  • no sewing fleecy pom pom hat (great instructions here from Creative Jewish Mum)
  • homemade shaped crayons (valentine ones on Mumdot here) These can be any shape you have a silicone mold for of course.
  • dolly peg fairies/dolls – sharpies, lace, tulle, felt, wool and imagination! A quick google for ideas revealed lots and lots to be inspired by.
  • wooden car tracks (BuggyandBuddy share their instructions here for wooden track) I was wondering if the same concept could be done with felt pieces, which would mean corner pieces could be made too.
  • lollipop stick puzzles (Mum Endeavors makes some here)
  • a world in a tin/suitcase – you can buy tiny tin suitcases, or use a little tin or large matchbox. Buy a little soft toy or little play figure that will fit in the tin or box, and then use felt, pretty papers and tape to decorate in the tin. Maybe the box will turn into a bed for the little doll, or maybe you have room in the tin for a whole house, or scene for the play figure.
  • baby tag blanket  – will need sewing (‘wholefully’ has a good tutorial here)
  • stacking game made of cotton reels (Handmade Charlotte has instructions and a printable design for beautiful animal mix n match, look here.)

Well, we’ve made a start at having a go at some of these. It’s a great way to stop and chat together, particularly about what the children who get the shoeboxes will be like, and what they will enjoy playing with or using, and where they might live.

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a rainbow tutu headband

 

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when I grow up I’ll …

 

We are entering the era of big life choices for our older two; which subjects for GCSE?Then completing them and asking what’s next? What direction to move forward into? School career advice and the education system are asking what direction my children want to choose, and the pace of the asking feels fast and the pressure to decide feels enormous. And I find myself thinking back, and wondering if I really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up at their age. The power of hindsight of course means I know that no matter what our choices are at 14, 16 or 18 there are many more choices to come, and each of those will affect how we keep on moving through life.

I was chatting yesterday with A about whether or not these decisions were actually choices at all! He came to me wondering how they could be once we are disciples of the all knowing, all powerful God who has a plan for our lives.

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It’s a good question! So good of course that theologians have wrestled it for a long time – predestination and free will, they feel they ought to be contradictory yet there are verses in the Bible that suggest both, equally strongly! So what do we do, how do we ponder it? How do we work out a truth to live by as disciples, a truth that will direct our decisions?

As A & I chatted we thought about how things that seem contradictions to us might not be to all knowing God, they may be two perspectives on the same thing. I think we have that same thing when we think about love and justice for example. For us they are seen as opposites but for God they are always held together. The paradox of free will and God having a plan for our lives is impossible for us to understand, but they are held seamlessly together by God. So we talked about the truth that God is not restrained by time, he is all knowing, he sees our whole lives from before our beginning until their end yet somehow there is space within his knowledge of us and his holding of our lives; space to really live, breathe and choose – and choose him!

That thought, our freedom to choose God, led us on to chat about whether our career choice is top priority for God in the plans he has for us – is that what ‘good works’ ‘prepared in advance’ for us means? Is there one right answer about our career and everything else lets God down? and what if the career God has chosen for us isn’t one we’d enjoy, or choose for ourselves? What then? The Message writes the same verse this way:

“He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

We wondered together if actually this work God has for us, this plan of his has more to do with who we are, whether we are close to him and whether we are joining in with him in his Kingdom work than to do with which career. What if, we wondered, whatever we choose we could live out that life, do that work in a God-pleasing way? What if wherever we end up working we have the chance to do it in a way that shows those around us what God is like and how he loves?

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At the beginning of the verse we are described as God’s handiwork – and when God looks at what he’s made he sees it is good. We are made with incredible talents, amazing potential, each of us have gifts to use in our family life, community, and world. And God can shine as we do that. He shines when we are close to him being truly who he made us to be. So I’m not sure that it’s true that God’s plan for us inevitably involves work that we wouldn’t choose, or wouldn’t enjoy. Yes we will find challenge, and be drawn beyond the safety of our comfort zones but it’s true that those who delight in the Lord find he gives them the desires of their heart -of course it’s also equally true that when we are close to him, the desires of his heart are really catching, and quickly become our own!

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

shifting sand

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The seasons change as surely as the tide comes in.

A new term begins.

New adventures, new challenges. Back to a different pace and different demands on our time. Groups begin again, homework will loom, clubs after school all fitted around vicarage life and ministry again as that too changes gear for term time. Just like being at the water’s edge as it comes in some of us rush in wanting the excitement of the sudden cold wave crashing over our feet and some rush in and then jump back as each wave hits; others hang back wishing we could face the inevitable a little more gradually, feeling a little more in control! I guess most of us fluctuate between the options…

Standing in the edge of the waves as they come in lets you feel their unsettling tug, shifting the pebbles and sand under your toes as it pushes and pulls. With each back and forth they are lifted and adjusted, re settled into new arrangements and places. Change is unsettling, unpredictable. It’s the beginning of movement towards the unknown.

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Change also reveals what is constant, what is trustworthy. In the anxiety and stress of change we reach out for something steady and safe to hold onto, and some things we try to rely on wobble and others prove safe and strong. I love the paradox of the verse in lamentations. God’s love is both forever new and forever constant, faithful. It is in the ebb and flow of the change as we follow after his call, and yet is the solid, steady safe fixed point we can cling to.

B & I have begun using the ‘she reads truth’ app at bedtimes. We have been reading about God’s permanence in a changing, shifting existence. Tonight we were prompted to remember together that no matter what out circumstances or feelings, God’s word, God-truth is fixed… through every page of the Bible we hear God’s mercy-full ‘I Love you, I am coming to you’. It remains. It’s trustworthy. We can cling to it as things shift beneath our feet.

This is the way God put it: “They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!” God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love! (Jer 31:3 MSG)

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jer 31:3 NRSV)

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admin

 

So, we’ve been back from our camping just over a week now and the dining room is now about a third full of stuff rather than so full you couldn’t get in like it was a week ago. Feels frustratingly slow progress though.

Trouble is I clean, sort, tidy away and then turn around to find other explosions of stuff happening everywhere else! (just this morning A ran over a new bottle of shower gel on the stairs, so I need to add ‘vax the carpet’ to the long to-do-list) Not to mention the explosions of emotion – sibling negotiating, stress from the change in routine, overtired but fighting it, meltdowns and the odd paddy (often ask myself why on earth we need those – this family are just so very talented at full on meltdowns, you know, the ones which are non verbal, aggressive, out of control, last hours, exhausting!).

So with the constant spiraling housework situation, and the constant emotional/behavioral trouble shooting, not so good sleep and a whole church service to prep thrown in it’s been a long week. We also tried a new discipline – a Sabbath time together – last Friday eve through to Saturday lunch. When we have fallen into a pattern I’ll let you know how it’s going.

I’ve also been aware of all the admin that goes with our family life. This week has been particularly busy with it and it brings a very particular tiredness with it.

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There are the forms to fill in for big organisations – for health professionals or DWP which inevitably mean going through a process of putting down in words the hardest bits of our family life – the unseen bits. The negatives, the ‘deficiencies’ (I’d like to see them as differences but to live in the culture we are in these are things that become obstacles in an inflexible system). These forms are asking for evidence, they feel cold, I fill them in feeling I’m having to put my children into a box just as I’m struggling to fit adequate explanations into little boxes on paper. These neat little boxes are an isolated snap shot of a bigger, vibrant picture, but this is not the place for the strengths. It is an emotionally draining process, but the support and opportunities we hope for as we fill them in make it a necessary one.

 

There is research to do – to prepare and resource myself for the academic term ahead. This week I have spent some time reading up anything I can about how to teach exam techniques – is this seemingly instinctive skill (as we seamlessly transfer knowledge we have often learnt from inference over many years of education from the lesson context into the exam room) something that can be broken down into steps or rules that can be taught? What are the ‘rules’ that unlock the meaning of an essay question? How can I teach how to find the question in amongst all the words? Do these questions have a knock on effect on how I need to be supporting the process of learning how to read for meaning while T is still an early reader? I also need to find out how to explain what ‘revision’ might actually look like in practice. How do others do it? What might work for us? Can we find ways we are comfortable with if we really think outside the box. How does B learn best, remember things best? How can I best help her to find a pattern that will be manageable, and how can I best prompt and support her getting into the rhythm of it. And yes, I am aware that my research as I sit waiting for people to settle to sleep is one thing, that hard bit will be sharing what I find out!

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There’s also ongoing admin that gets revisited in the breaks. The visual timetables, the looking for the right visual timetable app (still haven’t found one we’re happy with), the updating of the behaviour agreements which get carefully discussed with each separately and agreed on (including appropriate consequences if we go beyond 3), signed and displayed. We use the 1,2,3 magic style agreements to work on 3 behaviours only at any given time. All other difficult behaviours we try to distract away from and prevent, but the 3 we agree to work on together we try to consistently work on in a ‘zero tolerance’ way till they improve. Really good to see improvements in the ones we had been working on last term… we no longer need ‘hiding the hairbrush’ on the agreement! We also have agreed parental controls limiting the time spent on computers in term time, but these will be looked over nearer the end of the holidays.

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I also want to think about what pattern or book we are going to use next for regular Bible reading and reflection with each of them this coming term and get into a pattern with them. I quite enjoy the way we often need to be creative to make this manageable but the process of choosing the right thing together and enthusing takes time and is a bit fraught at times so I need to begin…

Anyway – it all has to be done… but right now, I’ve been ‘called away’ ( ie: pulled from my chair and demanded) to be the teacher again for T’s dolls Annie and Lucy who happen to be dairy and gluten intolerant, struggle with being left and come with a whole heap of admin of their own!! But it’s ok, I’m meticulously told the script and stage directions as we go so at least I know what I’m doing – it also helps that we’re now a few days into the game so I’m getting the hang of it – and finding I’m having to be corrected slightly less often!!

 

Summer Festival

 

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a little patch of blue sky was spotted during the week!

For the last few years we have been going to the Christian summer festival, New Wine. Last Year I was reflecting on how important it has become for us as a family because it is a week of intensive community with our church family (both locally and families who camp with us from other churches). The week following New Wine we meet up with parts of our extended family for another week of camping in lovely Somerset. Inevitably we get chatting about the Christian festivals we each go to, some to Spring Harvest, Word Alive, some to Keswick. This year we chatted a fair amount about the logistics of taking our families – all in some way shaped by additional needs – to such large, noisy, intensive festivals. On paper it sounds mildly ridiculous to attempt such a thing, so what does it work out like in practice?

These are some of the ways we as a family handle the logistics of camping, being in community, going to the meetings and events, sleeping, eating, staying clean enough… and growing in our faith:

Eating

When we first began the adventure of camping the eating side of things was actually really difficult. B has not ever found eating easy, her diet at that time was really very restricted and her usual routine involved managing to eat just enough sitting on her own with the TV on simply to dampen the stress and panic enough to face the food. So eating while camping was tough for her. Most of her ‘safe foods’ were possible to store and prep in a tent so that was something, but of course no TV, no space, family and wider church community right there all the time.

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Plus whenever a bug, fly or wasp came even remotely near her she was panicked. So at first food was eaten (or looked at) rather stressfully outside with the rest of us, but by the end of each mealtime B was usually quite distressed and sitting in the bedroom, zipped in on her own. Over the years this level of stress about camping mealtimes has eased a little and most of the time B manages to join us and eat something. I think in part this is a reflection of a wider change about how B is coping with meals together all the time. Needless to say wasps are still a problem! This year with 5 adults around our table we still had a bit of a job dealing efficiently with them and keeping the meal on track!

As a church group we eat together in ‘family clusters’ – so everyone is included, and supported. This year we had the joy of 3 extra adults eating with us. All known really well by our kids, and all extremely accepting and patient of how our family life happens. Their help was invaluable at mealtimes, getting the food started when Andrew or I were still walking back after fetching T from a group, helping involve the kids in washing up and generally keeping us cheery throughout even the most dysfunctional moments, and bringing the first evening meal so we didn’t need to cook after putting up the tent and sorting the kids out on the day we arrived.

We have a menu that we only have to tweak each year as dietary needs change, and alongside the menu we have 3 shopping lists! One is a list of what needs to be prepared or bought and packed to take with us (we prep 2 main meals in advance and take them frozen.). The second is a shopping list for Andrew to fetch while I register the kids with their groups after the tent has gone up on arrival day. The third is to be bought on the day off, including things to take to the BBQ with our whole church group that evening.

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a bit wet for BBQ but great food & company! (Thank you A.Wall for the photo)

Sleeping

What can I say??? We’re not naturally great at sleeping anyway! This year though we all slept in the same bedroom section and I think, miraculously, we possibly got more sleep than usual!

Washing

There are shower blocks dotted about the showground where New Wine is held. There are also sinks in all the loo blocks which lots of people use for washing faces and doing teeth though we do that in the tent where it’s less crowded and distracting. The showers are quite small and there is almost always a queue, it’s also fair to say that they are a little hit and miss – usually a mixture of hot moments with unpredictable cold ones thrown in. This year we also faced the challenge of some of the showers losing water pressure – not easy with shampoo already applied but only a dribble of water running down the wall to rinse with!

When B, A & T were small enough we took a large-ish flexi bucket for baths in the tent. It was a bit of a slow process heating a few kettles to add to cold water to get the temp right, but it was clean, enough room for me to help, and no queuing, as they grew a small paddling pool also came in handy in a similar way. Now they are all too big, but we have managed finding times to use the showers and have coped. And with T this year I simply haven’t pushed it – baby wipes took care of it! There is a disability accessible shower on site, with enough room for a parent to help a larger child. We may well look into using that next time.

I take travel hand wash detergent with us and try to wash tea towels and any other essentials on the afternoon of the day off. This year was so wet I didn’t get the chance – nothing would have dried. But of course the wet, and the festival mud created a lot of washing, and ‘Our Place’ (New Wine’s inclusion teams) came to the rescue washing the things we really needed – especially T’s ‘apple blanky’ when it was dropped in a puddle.

Meetings

There are kids groups right through from baby to late teens, and registration forms are taken between certain times on arrival day, and the kids are given wrist bands. Most of the groups have a couple of sessions each day, babies fewer and older teens more choices but a similar amount of time.

There is a thorough system of dropping off and collecting, with more than one check of your ID, the handover card you gave in that day, and the child’s wristband. It takes a bit of time but works well. T didn’t like the wristband at all this year, and kept taking it off and ‘putting it somewhere safe’ – so on a couple of the days that she went to her group we had to get her an alternative, approved ID badge from the admin team at the back of the venue.

The groups are very busy and so they are quite noisy even without the music & use of microphones. There are stage lights and live worship bands, and in the younger groups often team in costume for the upfront parts of the session. Kids are in smaller groups with team looking after them and always get dropped off and picked up in that same place with those team members. For the younger groups the sessions are very tightly structured and include upfront storytelling, silly games and worship and prayer and also active games. craft and chat in the smaller groups.

This year T struggled again and we were so very thankful for the Our Place team. Our Place have team in every venue supporting children to help them join in with their group. They also have a break out space near the side or back for times when kids need to escape or some calming down space. They have fidgets, a visual timetable and ear defenders at the ready! We needed support at drop off, and T needed support during the sessions she attended. Our Place also have a separate kids, youth and adult venue that is open a bit later than the others as a safe haven for those who can’t settle or who can’t manage a whole session. T loved the kids venue and most evenings we went there rather than her group having used all her energy up during the rest of the day.

Some mornings were also just too much and we took T with us to the main arena. Getting out my emergency distractions and other little games that I always have to hand.

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B, A & T all have boxes or tins in their rooms where we put all the little oddmenty toys – from those fast food freebies, to the one off homemade and all things small and unique. I pack up a small bag of these when we go for days out or away for longer like these weeks. I also like to have bubbles (the small tubes sold as party favours are great), fidgets, little notebooks and pens (the ones with multiple colours in just one pen are my favourite – space is of the essence, I have to carry it everywhere!). This year A & I turned a little mint tin into a habitat for a tiny dinosaur complete with rocks trees and volcano – a whole world in a tiny portable tin – perfect!

It sometimes feels frustrating that it’s not straight forward getting to sessions I want to get to – this year I didn’t make it to many things in the evenings at all – but over the years I have found these times when I take a little one to an alternative venue (either Our Place, or Stepping Stones when T was little – a large play space, with tea coffee and the main arena being shown live on a screen) to be full of valuable conversation, chances to connect with other parents often feeling the same frustration and the team in these venues just as ready to pray with you and to talk discipleship!

Our Place run seminars for parents in the mornings which have been a place of gentle challenge (ok sometimes challenge never feels gentle!) encouragement and prayerful support. I have grown such a lot in my faith as I have been a part of the Our Place family network. The encouragement and safety of the space they provide has helped me to go on wrestling, to dare to step out and step up, to trust and hope in deeper ways as we share experience together, know that whoever we sit with or pray with there is understanding and acceptance. This year we looked together at the story of Ruth and reflected together on feeling uprooted, the frustration and pot-boundness circumstances can sometimes make us feel; how God provides, often through the support and help of others – like Ruth’s Boaz; and how God turns the situation right around breaking the chains around those women and leading them to fruitfulness. Plenty for me to treasure and to keep on reflecting on in the midst of piles of muddy washing, a garden that has grown quite a bit while we were away, a tent in need of drying, camping gear to put away, a house that is in disarray and trying to help the kids adjust to down time at home, while Andrew goes back to work!