10 Advent ideas

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Picnics with peacocks, presents and parties! Half term break was a good one. We went away to one of our familiar holiday lets, and enjoyed a slower pace for a week of pottering and walking, eating and playing. Sleep was awful, still all the usual family dynamics and stresses plus the transition into and out of the week but as these things go it was a good one! And we’re nearly the other side of the autumn family birthdays… one belated horse themed party tomorrow still to enjoy and then we start thinking advent!

Do you make plans to mark advent as a family?

For us, times like this can be very hit & miss and we don’t always achieve the picture perfect social media effect. Isn’t it hard to look at ideas thinking ‘I’d love to, but…’ – comparisons are not a good thing. Lets face it every family is unique, with unique skills and interests and dynamics. We all shape our days, weeks and seasons around those – and the wonder of the truth of Advent and Christmas is that God came into the heart of that – into each unique home that will welcome him whatever it’s unique culture looks and feels like. I am encouraged by the thought that our advent, our preparation for Christmas, can have that truth woven through the muddle and mess – the chaos that so often comes from trying to intentionally remember the stories together in tangible ways.

I have posted a number of times about this challenge – this opportunity, should I say this privilege! So you may find these posts interesting.

 

advent ideas  

planning for advent

don’t panic…

This year I wondered if, like me, you’d be pleased to find a list of easy, adaptable advent ideas for families all in one place. There are so many out there, put together and thought up, and illustrated by so many wonderful creative people and these are ones I love:

  • follow the star – hide the star somewhere in the house each day of advent, find it & read the verse for that day. On the last day find it at the nativity scene.
  • the giving manger – I love the concept of adding straw to the manger every time you’ve served or loved someone during advent, so as to fill the manger with love to welcome Jesus.
  • names of Jesus – printable bauble ornaments each decorated with a name of Jesus. Can be coloured and hung during advent, either on a DIY tree, or strung up like bunting.
  • advent prayer – a lovely prayer with actions for littlies that could be used with an advent wreath or advent crown.
  • reverse advent calendar – instead of getting something every day this is a simple way of giving instead.
  • a verse a day – beautifully illustrated, quick to read verses from the Bible free to print out and tuck into an existing advent calendar or to take out of a treasure box on the tea table when you can throughout advent.
  • kindness elves – or acts of random Christmas kindness are another way to focus on giving rather than getting, and to talking together about serving and loving like Jesus.
  • Devotions using ‘The Jesus storybook Bible’ – we absolutely love this book, and these free advent printables help make this easy. Good for snuggling on the sofa or just before bed with little ones throughout advent.
  • Jesse tree ornaments with readings from ‘The Action Bible’
  • Jesse tree with lego challenges although I suspect we would turn the suggested order on its head and begin with the lego and slip the readings and Jesse tree bits in while hands are busy.

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Volunteering together

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Firstly, apologies for the unexpected gap in posts. It was a packed summer, and the new term feels similar! A few good friends are at my side reminding me I’m ‘doing too much’ for which I’m grateful – and am listening, but it’s not a quick fix – life is a bit of a juggling act of lots of demands on my time and energy and in the midst of it all I’m trying to be wise and listen to God’s prompting about what I should be filling each day with. One thing’s for sure – I’m missing writing!

One of the new things that has come into my week over the last 2 years is Girlguiding volunteering. In a way it has crept in, but I welcome it. It’s something the girls and I are all part of now. In fact just this last week we had a first planning meeting for a new Brownies unit and T, B & me all walked down and joined in together which was rather special (with hindsight, it was a bit full on at the time!).

I got involved when T was offered a place at Rainbows, she didn’t want to stay on her own so I stayed too and just helped out a bit where I could. When she moved up to Brownies we wondered if she would stay on her own if she joined the unit where B was volunteering as a young leader but she couldn’t do it very easily – and it was going to impact on B’s freedom to complete her young leader training so I stayed again. This time I began my volunteer leader training to be able to offer a bit more help.

To cut a long story short I find myself this term now heading up the Rainbows and also involved in leading a new Brownies unit – both at Holy Trinity Church.

It’s a bit of a roller coaster finding my feet with more to juggle, and at the same time collecting evidence for the leadership qualification but it’s great to be in it together. Girlguiding’s vision is to be a safe and nurturing space for girls. It has structure, purpose, is adventurous and has the potential to give girls of all backgrounds – and all abilities opportunities to gain life skills, practice teamwork and friendship and to experience things they might not without the group. The structure also has a clear pathway for girls to develop leadership skills, and begin volunteering and leading as they move through from Guides to Rangers and beyond which is what B has been doing.

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Of course B & I are really enjoying the creative side of planning, there may be some projects on the dining room table – again!! – a centerpiece floor mat for our circle time in Rainbows is well underway and should be ready for our first promise ceremony after half term.

There is something really lovely about joining in with something the girls want to be part of. It’s not been without its challenges by any means but I am getting to know some lovely people I perhaps wouldn’t have outside of Girlguiding, and am making the most of the way my girls (at the moment) want to be in it together with me. There may come a day when they don’t want that so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

 

BBQ & picnics – eating alfresco

 

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The summer brings its own unique challenges when your children are hypersensitive, and when they are stressed by change. There are of course the obvious challenges, summer brings heat, heat means different clothes are worn which feel different, are unfamiliar and outfits don’t feel as practiced. There’s sun cream – the feeling and the smell, and the need for sunhats. School breaks up for the holidays so you add in a whole string of changes of routine, weeks at home with parents working; at home and parents off work some days; holidays away; days out & visitors. And along with the constantly shifting routines comes very unpredictable eating compared to term time.

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We plan fun eating as families don’t we! Days out can involve cafes, tea-shops and picnics. Some stay at home days mean take away in the sitting room with a film, some days we eat in the garden ‘because it’s hot’, other days we have people round and BBQ outside. Over the years we have found eating outside together as a family really difficult. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, eating together as a family even in the normal routine has always been a challenge. In fact it has only been possible at all in the last 6 years! It still feels fragile and new to me! (I wrote about it in ‘no-one told me that’)

There are many things that make eating outside difficult.

There are lots of distractions, some of them are good but often we all end up on high alert due to other distractions – wasps, (bees, hover flies – in fact anything that flies and could possibly be misinterpreted as a wasp!), spiders, ants and flying ants, seagulls and crows. The fact that many insects and animals in the great outdoors are attracted by the smells of our picnics makes eating outside incredibly challenging. It’s tricky to enjoy eating when facing an overwhelming feeling of impending doom!!

We have had some very memorable, funny-with-hindsight, eating alfresco experiences so far as a family. One of my early memories of these challenges was a picnic in County Durham, on a wooden picnic table by a beautiful giggling stream. All dappled in the sunlight coming through the trees. I sat one side, Andrew the other. B & A were still quite little, and I remember by about 3 minutes in I was sitting with both of them sitting on the table facing me, their heads burying themselves as close to me as possible with me drawing my rain coat around them to defend them from all the flying things – with Daddy of course standing guard against big flying things near by! So much for the beautiful spot. We did get a fleeting glimpse of a water vole though in-between the cries of terror when gnats came too close!

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When they were a similar age I remember a fateful picnic on the beach during which a seagull plodded nonchalantly over and took the sandwich out of A’s little hands – I’m not sure he’s been able to forgive that seagull yet!

Yet another memorable outdoor eating experience was at a family farm attraction, which just happened to be having a wasp problem that summer. We started our lunch outside but the wasps were dive bombing us, flying at us and down at our food through our hair!! We quickly went inside with our picnic only to find exactly the same problem but this time in an enclosed space. Goodness it was grim.

At a zoo day out quite recently actually we had problems with dive bombing seagulls. One took the food out of my hands in flight. Again we tried putting Daddy on guard walking around us but it was not enough, and we had to abandon outdoor eating and run for shelter.

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Just this lunch time A was recalling a camping meal with friends during which we had to warn a friend who was just about to take a bite & chew that there was a wasp sitting on his mouthful.

Many a camping meal outside the tent has been abandoned as one by one members of the family have run inside despite the heat inside the tent in the day, and eaten zipped in the bedroom behind the flysheet.

Ah, fond memories (who am I kidding!!). Well, this summer is no exception, we’ve already had some BBQ’s in the garden, eaten outside (well, for some of the meal anyway) and been camping. So far mosquitoes are coming out top predators during mealtimes but there’s still plenty of camping meals to be had so wasps, ants, earwigs & seagulls all have the chance to come out on top still! Bring it on!!

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special interests

 

Some call it obsession, some think it narrow

but in our family we love special interests;

with intensity, with all we’ve got

we focus, we explore, we research and find out.

Our knowledge creates a safe space in which we can curl up and rest.

Familiar and known.

Digging and drawing,

collecting and cuddling, playing and gaming,

gather the facts, devour the info.

It is expertise we can share.

Breathe it all in, get the sand between your toes,

the clarity of focus takes experience deep, deep, deeper;

you can taste it, smell it, know it.

It’s all or nothing,

all in, or not at all.

That’s the wonder and beauty of special interests.

And in the pursuit we see

fierce loyalty, tenacity against the odds;

a single-mindedness that isn’t swayed.

Peer pressure can’t touch this.

So yes, some may think it narrow, some think we obsess.

I guess some may even find it boring,

but in this family we love special interests.

In them we see echoes of a Creator, a Father’s heartbeat.

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logistics of a short break

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Sunny weather, beautiful home-cooked food, the sea, sand and sky – what more could we need! We managed to get away for a few days during the school break to spend some time with family.

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It was beautiful to get to the sea. As T commented it is a place which can make you feel ‘free’; on the beach she had space; to talk, sing, collect, dance, watch, notice, feel. (Of course, sensory overload is never far away so short doses required!)

Getting away for a break is tiring though (Oh the irony).

Routines are very different. As a guest you don’t want to call the shots about what and when meals will be, and the unknowing brings its own anxieties when you already live with anxieties about eating. Our animals and familiar surroundings are missed terribly even for a few days. New surroundings means unfamiliar smells, textures, sounds all of which can be tiring to adjust to and difficult to relax around. Family time inevitably includes trying to balance different needs, some needing and wanting to see new places and explore new experiences while others need and want to do the same outings or watch the same movies as last time we visited.

Getting away involves major transitions; leaving and arriving and travelling in-between – twice! And it’s logistically challenging. Choosing outfits in advance, trying to wisely pack the right extras (toys, books, sensory fiddles etc) to keep things calm in all the little gaps, medications (forgot my own this time which didn’t help anything) and those essentials without which the challenge of the new cannot be faced. Making sure things back at base are ready enough for the return.

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Here are my tips for keeping short breaks as smooth sailing as possible in the midst of all the challenges ASC, PDA & SPD throw up…

  • Don’t give in to the embarrassment of taking too much luggage. I struggle with this one even when we are staying with family. Even a few days requires a lot of stuff for us. But the times we have tried to cut things out we have regretted it. If the dolls need suitcases too so be it!
  • Screens come too. If no internet access then favourite programmes must be downloaded in advance. Check favourite games/apps to see if they need internet access, and if so find one that doesn’t and try and introduce it well in advance of the trip.
  • pack some snacks and nibbles (or even a tin or 2) that will almost always be eaten to have on standby. Just knowing they are there can help reduce anxiety.
  • Do some things that you always do at that place so that not everything is new every visit.
  • We are National Trust members which has been so helpful for us over the years. Each new place has a very similar feel to it, and a similar set of components – a house to look round, a garden to ramble through, a play area, a cafe/picnic areas and toilets. So new places can be explored whilst still feeling manageable. Also being members (paying a yearly fee) means we don’t stress if an outing only lasts a short time. There is no pressure to make the day last if it’s not working for whatever reason.
  • Try not to forget essential medication (note to self!!).
  • Take timers/visual timetables etc if you are using them regularly at home. Don’t expect it all to feel easier.
  • Pack sensory toys and fidgets.
  • Anything that makes bedtime feel familiar in a new place needs to come too. Is it a particular blanket, their own pillowcase, a cuddly toy that’s always there, their own clock to hear the same ticking as usual, using the very same devotions or prayer – whatever it is, work it out, pack it and still prepare for some even more sleepless nights than usual.
  • Don’t forget to take lots of pics; stop and take a breath every now and then to remind yourself to enjoy it all and notice all the good bits (after all dancing on the beach is not to be missed!).
  • And when you get home, take a moment to be aware of the many things that happen much more smoothly because of the home and family routine you help put in place – you might need to remind yourself in a few days time!

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