Saturday, 8 July 2017

Wasting Time

A couple of evenings ago I was in the kitchen after Luke had gone to bed in a whirlwind of batch cooking for the freezer for his meals, whilst trying to cook dinner for us too of course. Such is the busyness of life with a little person, or seemingly just life these days. I know I've never had more demands on my time than I do right now. There is no time to waste, every second is precious. My 'to do list' is now epic with as many sequels as an Agatha Raisin novel!

It's a weird paradox that the busier you feel the more feel you must fill your time. I don't have time for so many things now that I find relaxing or that I enjoy. So when I have a few precious hours to myself I'm like 'quick read a magazine, have a bath, sew, go for a swim, bake, read that book you've been meaning to! Quick, quick, quick!' Very quickly 'relaxing time' can become the most stressful part of the day. It's so precious that using it suddenly become so stressful!

That evening, amid assembling tiny chicken pies and stirring up saucepans of lentils, I noticed that it was actually really beautiful outside. I also realised that I hadn't had a single moment to sit and enjoy the warmth because, you know, BABY. So I took the food off the boil, poured myself a glass of wine, sat on the back door step and did absolutely, blissfully nothing.

This is all part of what I have been trying to cultivate in my life recently - the art of graciously wasting time. Of being in the moment with the thing that I'm doing rather than thinking about all the other things I could, or should, be doing in this moment. It's not easy but it is immensely rewarding. Those thoughts don't go away but now they get gently told to shove off because I am busy enough in this moment, thank you very much, experiencing the thing that is right in front of my eyes.

That evening in the garden, in just fifteen minutes sat on the back door step, I realised that my garden (courtesy of the plants that I always berate myself about not watering enough) smells of warm strawberries and thyme. Though we are surrounded by neighbours the view from our back step is all green, just trees which incidentally are full of birds singing away for attention. I realised that wine tastes even more amazing when savoured. I realised I can find the kind of peace that relaxing on a holiday balcony in Greece can bring just outside my own backdoor, in the suburbs, in British summertime.

So here's to 'wasting time', which, it turns out, might be what it takes to really find it after all.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Vicar's Sofa - The Deep Pull

One of the strange by products of having a baby has been having a sort of sabbatical from all the normal things that make up my life. As the dust begins to settle, and by dust I mean baby induced chaos, it almost feels like there is a clean slate in front of me. What things that made up life before do I want, even need, to pick up again? And as time is shorter than ever before, what is really important enough to get a slot in my post baby life?

What I have really noticed is that there are some things that are so important, so much a part of who I am, that they have an overwhelmingly deep pull drawing me back to them. I first recognized this feeling, perhaps quite understandably given my job(!), in church. There was something about coming back to those familiar words that I have said so many times before that spoke to something very deep in me. I hadn't even know that I missed it, I hadn't really had time, and yet I felt like something in me that runs deeper than my own thoughts was satisfied. A need I hadn't even articulated to myself was met.

As I mentioned in my last post I am also still very much crafting away post baby. I think I realised within about a week how important getting back to sewing was for me. I wonder if this is to do with sewing being something for me where I lose myself, enter 'flow' I think psychologists call it. Church for me often clarifies things, or challenges me but sewing is the way in which I escape all thoughts except 'this button with that' or 'how to do the maths to make that skirt fit just right'. Suddenly hours have gone by and I still have to drag myself away.

Making clothes might not seem like the most important thing in the world when there is so much else demanding your time. But sometimes I wonder if the really important things might not look like important things from the outside. Babies are great at teaching you how to waste time graciously. How to appreciate that the great big list of accomplishments that we all tote around with us might not be all that important after all. That the most important thing might be just being with someone or doing something creative just because.

I suppose the things with a deep pull are the things that make you whet you are, that draw out something fundamental about you that needs to be expressed. Whether that be your beliefs, your gifts, your passions or a combination of all three and many more besides. I think sometimes what has a deep pull on you might take you by surprise. It might be something that you discovered that you loved almost by chance. Its power might surprise you over and over again in the most wonderful way.

So what things for you have a deep pull?  

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Vicar's Craft Corner – Why Stitching Is Good for the Soul

Just under 11 weeks ago I was sat at home two weeks over due and utterly boiling as the UK experienced an epic heat wave. It turns out I was pregnant with a ten and a half pound baby (I KNOW!) and as the days ticked by I realised I was staring down the likelihood of having my baby induced in hospital. There is little that could raise the spirits of such a person but one thing saved my sanity in those days and that was cross stitch.

Gone were the days of dressmaking as one, I was huge so there hardly seemed any point making anything. And two I could no longer bend over to cut fabric. I couldn't really do much that involved heaving my oversized body out of my chair. But I desperately needed something to engage my hands and slow my mind. I can really see why colouring has made a come back for the same reason. Don't we all need something to take us out of ourselves for a minute, even if we aren't massively pregnant?! I'm no psychologist but for me time to not think, rather weirdly, seems to bring more clarity in the mind. Like your brain needs time to rest itself so that it can order itself well.

It seems I'm not alone in rating the theraputic benefits of stitching and the fab online shop Sew and So have recently hosted a blog series for Mental Health Month with stories from people who have found sanctuary and healing in their creative projects. The stories are really worth a read and chart how having a craft to focus on helped these people through everything from anxiety to depression to chronic illness. I know for me, in the long road to having a bambino, taking a dressmaking course gave me a new joy and passion in my life when I needed it most. So much so that the baby now gets some quality Daddy time for a couple of hours every few days so I can get behind the machine again.

One of the lovely side benefits to something like cross stitch for relaxation is that you have something beautiful in the end. The cross stitch I took on in my last days of pregnancy, and finished up a few weeks after Luke was born, was the Love Tree by Bothy Threads. There is something very special about stitching the word 'Love' over and over again as you wait for your greatest love to arrive on the scene. My house is rapidly filling up with things that have emerged in this way but isn't it lovely to look around you in your own home and be surrounded by things that mean something and tell your story.

If you fancy giving it a go then cross stitch really is ridiculously easy. Just stitch in the same direction and maybe get yourself a snazzy magnifying mirror to hang round your neck if you really want to channel cross stitch cool. Next on my project list is a Christmas sack for Luke and then I am stitching an A-Z of the Christmas season called Oh Holy Night. Like a true Vicar-geek I exclaimed to my husband that I just had to have it because the theology in it was so sound. I know, I'm beyond help! Still, I can't think of any better way to really dwell on the true meaning of Christmas.

So how about you? Any tips for creative ways to unwind and rejuvinate? I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Becoming Mum

It has all been a bit quiet around here because, well, I have been busy growing and birthing a new human! It has been the most extraordinary time. So extraordinary that I almost don't know where to begin in saying a single thing about it that doesn't sound horribly cheesy, dangerously honest (verging on a massive overshare!) or like a terrible cliché.

Becoming Mum has changed everything and it has changed nothing. After Luke arrived I realised that a part of me thought that I knew what I was doing in life (I know, hilarious right?!) A part of me thought I had things figured out, that I had experienced so much and that a baby was just another thing that I would approach in much the same way (I can hear all you parents laughing from here...!)

I had no idea that it would be such a radically different experience. That it would challenge so much of my character, my beliefs, the very foundation of my world. I didn't realise that I would feel brand new things that I had never felt before. I wasn't ready for the shock, for the terrifying love, for feeling like a tornado was running through my carefully organised world! How can you prepare for that?

And yet, though changed, I find that I am still completely, fundamentally me. All the challenges I face I do it with all the strengths and flaws I had B.L. (Before new measurement of all time!) I like the same things, I want the same things, I am passionate about the same things. I am not absorbed into a new world like I thought I might be. A new Mummy character was not bestowed upon me the day of his birth. I'm still funny old me – energetic, passionate, impatient, sensitive and prone to a grump. Now I just have a little person magnifying all I am, reflecting it back at me like a scary truth telling mirror!

I wondered if having a baby would involved me morphing into 'Mummy' and I would suddenly be overcome with the urge to get a sensible haircut and spend the evenings looking at OFSTED reports. But I am surprised to find that as much as I am changed by having Luke in my life already I am not defined by it. In the same way as I am not fully defined by being a daughter or a wife or a Priest, even, I find, a bit to my surprise, that I am not defined by being Mummy either. As much as I love being all of these things, I am more than any of them.

But, just as I suspected B.L., Luke is not defined by me being his Mum either. He arrived on the scene so fully and brilliantly himself as to leave me in no doubt of that! My job, I think, is to help him be the best version of him that he can be, certainly not to define who he ought to be. I want him to find passions. To carve out a life that means something to him because that is where I believe that there is real joy. My expectations, whatever they are and wherever they have come from are very much a side issue.

The scary thing though is where is he going to learn this passion in life from if he doesn't see it here, at home? The scariest thing about being a Mum so far has been realising that this little one will only know what I show him. He will only know love if I give it, he will only know kindness if I show it, he will only go out there and give life all he has with confidence and energy if he sees it here. So perhaps becoming Mum is really about becoming a bigger, better me. And that makes me think that life has just got very, very interesting indeed...!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Vicar's Craft Corner – Chest of Drawers Revamp

The new addition to the family on its way has given me the perfect opportunity (ahem...excuse...!) to do a bit of home decorating. We have never lived in a place that we own so I have gotten used to making my mark through the furniture we have, usually against the standard renters white and beige walls.

As I started to fully appreciate the mountain of stuff that comes with a tiny person I realised that I need to get hold of a chest of drawers for them or risk being swallowed whole under a pile of baby grows, never to be seen again. As regular readers will know I always prefer secondhand furniture. It is better built, better priced and offers the chance to get creative. I love bring a new lease of life into something that someone else has gotten fed up of.

So I was looking for ages for the right chest of draws in our brilliant local Age Concern furniture shop. It needed to be wooden, but real wood not mdf. It needed to be chunky and feel solid but not be a big old beast because the space in our second bedroom is a bit tight. Finally I came across this one which fit all my requirements and was a snip at £40.

I started by spending a good couple of hours on Pinterest (when is that ever wasted time?!) and got some inspiration for something a bit different for this piece given that it is going into a nursery. As I have done a fair bit of furniture revamping I have a little stock of paints to play around with so I didn't need to spend any more money on getting a different colour.

After sanding I set about painting the front of the draws and the whole outer unit in Laura Ashely Eggshell Eau De Nil that I previously used for my SewingTable Revamp. This needed about three coats to get a really nice coverage. I painted the inside of the draws using some left over Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in white which just needed a couple of coats for a good coverage.

After everything was dry I used a stencil I had made, just using card and scissors, to stencil on this Orla Kiely-esk pattern to the front of the drawers using the Annie Sloan paint. It is by no means perfect up close and I used a fine brush that I use for painting pictures (you know the artist kind!) to do some of the edge that got a bit rough. 

Overall, though, I really like this little transformation! It looks great in the room, was great value and saved another beaut from the landfill. Win!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Vicar's Sofa - Easter, I'm Just Not Over It

A few years back I tried to buy some mini eggs on Easter Sunday but was told by the shop keeper that 'Easter is over', as if I was some sad hanger on still singing Jingle Bells in January. This particularly drives me a bit crazy with Easter because the run up to Easter has, of course, been Lent. As soon as the moment of celebration and indulgence arrives on Easter Sunday it is pronounced over. How unfair is that? Not least because of the mini egg sitch!

Where have all the Mini Eggs gone?!
Weirdly enough church sort of does that too and I've never really gotten that. We spent forty days, quite rightly, thinking about the journey of Lent and reflecting on some of the tougher points of life as we follow the story of Jesus on his way to the cross. This is all incredibly meaningful and has allowed me to bring all my fears and worries and pains directly to God and without fail receive comfort.

 But the story doesn't end there and the overwhelming story of Christianity is one of hope. Jesus doesn't stay locked in the tomb and we don't have to stay locked in our darkness. There is light, there is life, there is joy, there is hope, there is beauty - and celebrating Easter is all about that.

A pic I took a while back - Let the Light In!
The Easter season actually lasts for forty day but it rarely seems to be marked that much. I get so excited about it and find it such a refreshing time that I wander round with a spring in my step and a big old grin on my face. I think people probably think I'm a bit odd (not least because of the grin!) wandering round in this thoroughly festive mood when everyone else has gotten over it already.

I once read a book by a Bishop who suggested we ought to pop the champagne and have a glass a day throughout this season, it should be such a joyous time. As much as I'd love that my bank balance, nor current condition, don't really lend themselves to that just now. But I have been using this time as space to deliberately enjoy and focus on all the wonderful things of life and to reflect on the meaning of Easter in my own life right now.

And for me Easter really is about that, about life. The story of the resurrection is about the unwavering, unstoppable, unquenchable power of life. And being a person of faith is about seizing that life, loving it, upholding it in all that you do.

I have been reading a set of reflection each morning in this season by Paula Gooder called The Risen Existence – The Spirit of Easter and one that really struck me early on was one in which the question was asked 'How can I bring life in this situation?' That strikes me as the true spirit of Easter and a great way to joy and freedom and life to the full. Seeking life, loving life, growing life wherever we can. This has prompted me to do things that I wouldn't have otherwise like twin my pregnancy with a woman in Malawi with Chasing Zero and take long walks in the park in the sunshine.

So even though the rest of the world might think it is over I still say Happy Easter! And may the season bring life abundant to you.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Life Rediscovered

The last few months, as I mentioned in a previous post, have made blogging rather difficult. First it was feeling unwell, then it was realising why I was feeling unwell and then experiencing the overwhelming avalanche of emotions that came with the realisation that I am pregnant. Yup, there's a big reveal for you!

Since then I have been in a little world of my own. A world I, quite honestly, have longed to be in for such a long time. This little one has been hoped for, prayed for and wanted for so long that I almost felt like I knew who they were before they were even here. I felt like I was simply waiting for them to choose their moment to make their arrival. It has been a journey of loss and many tears but finally here we are and all I have wanted to do is to revel in it. To sit around and be in a private little world of joy with just this little one for company.

I don't know about you but I often do my most honest and upfront thinking in the middle of the night. I find myself waking up with a thought screaming out in my mind that I have perhaps been suppressing in my waking hours. Sometimes that has been frightening. Realising a deep sadness or a pressing fear but recently (as well as the waking up with all the usual fears that accompany pregnancy like 'Oh my goodness what is something happens to the baby!') I woke up with this very loud thought in my mind and sense in my heart, simply 'Life'.

It was like life bubbling up, life rediscovered. All I could think was that it felt life was surging through me like an electric current. The clouds had parted and I could well and truly see the sun. I realised that I had been staring up, almost unknowingly, at the clouds for so very long and that now I was looking up at pure sunshine again.

I say this knowing full well that so much of life in recent years has been an absolute joy. I remember vividly praying in church towards the end of last year that even if my biggest prayer for this baby was never answered then I would still be so deeply thankful because in these last few years, in this lifetime really, I have already been given what feels like the whole world. How could I respond to all that has come about with any reaction other than a deep 'thanks'?

But as I wrote at the turn of this year, before I knew what this year held in store, that joy has been intertwined with sadness too. I hadn't realised how big the cloud was until I came out, so unexpectedly, from under it. And so it was a wonderful midnight revelation to realise that this new life was acting like a fresh spring breeze helping me to rediscover my own sense of life. Their life growing feels like life welling up in me and I am so hugely grateful for it. I feel like I am rediscovering all the best of things - faith, life, hope, the whole shebang.

And now? My goodness I have no idea what the future is going to bring. Everything has changed. I'm not sure how I will write about it, what I'll want to write, what I'll be able to. Who knows. But this seems good for now.