Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Where to Find Me for the Rest of 2018


Right here.

Ok, well, not all the time. But having gotten our last planned activity of the term done, I intend to spend more time under cats, in my bed, coffee in hand, than has been possible lately. This is always how I start my day, but there's not been much lingering here lately, and I do love to linger. Now I will have my chance. As we march steadily toward the solstice, the days get shorter, and it is time for a well earned rest. When the sun rises around 8am and sets before 4pm, it feels natural to spend a little less time doing things and a little more time getting cozy. I am ready for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Teaching My Children Through Literature (is Pure Joy)



After confessing yesterday that I pretty much hate teaching my children to read, I thought I should counter that with telling you about my favorite part of homeschooling. It is this, as pictured above - reading aloud to my children and discussing what we are reading. I love reading good books to my kids. I love exploring history and different perspectives and why people do what they do. All the other subjects come alive within the context of stories that expose the human condition. We read biographies and fiction and Shakespeare and myths of all sorts. Historical fiction is our current favorite; we can't get enough. When we have time, I read more than I had planned for the day. I pick up extra books which aren't part of the curriculum. Because we love it.

Right now we are reading The Book Thief and The Poisonwood Bible, neither of which are part of the Charlotte Mason curriculum that we use as the framework for our studies. These are primarily for Z, but E often listens in. I edit a bit as I read to omit things which are not age appropriate, but the stories and themes are things we can discuss. We ask each other questions. I tell them what I think is important, which is mostly that it's essential to do your best to find out what's really happening and why. Who do we want to be in our own stories? What can we learn from these people, both the ones who walked this earth and those who are fictional characters? How do our own experiences affect how we take in information? When we talk together, I feel like I am teaching my children the things that matter. 

I don't know how successful I am at this - results are not measurable, like math or spelling. And they don't have to receive or retain the lessons. But I hope they do. I hope that what they learn allows them to understand others and to be critical thinkers who can suss out the truth from all the information that will be handed to them. I am pouring my heart into this, hoping for the best. And I am loving it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Teaching My Children to Read (is Torture)


I started teaching Z to read much earlier than I intended to. We hadn't been homeschooling long when she announced that she needed to know how to read. She was younger than I thought she'd be when we commenced reading instruction, but she would not be deterred. She insisted, because she couldn't wait for us to read her stories every time she wanted one read. Sometimes we were too busy or too tired or one of the other reasons that adults have for not doing something that a child wants them to do, when the child wants them to do it. This has been her way with a lot of things; if we can't or won't do something, she will just take care of it herself. So she determined that she needed to learn to read, and she did, despite some difficulties in her way.

With E things have been different. She said she wanted to learn to read, and we began the same book I used to help Z learn (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and we installed two reading apps on the old iPhone she uses for this sort of thing, for independent study. But E wasn't as keen on continuing to learn after we got through about a third of the lessons in the book. At some point she decided the book was too boring and too hard, and she didn't want to do it anymore. As she was just on the cusp of turning six years old at the time, I set the book aside and encouraged her to use the apps when she wanted screen time. But I didn't push it.

In most cases, I would rather wait until my children are ready and willing to learn things before we make a herculean effort. To me, one of the greatest weaknesses of current education policy is the expectation for kids to learn things ever earlier. This is something that I feel that a lot of people don't understand about kids and academic pursuits - many kids can learn early, but it is a much bigger challenge than if you wait until their development advances a bit. And for those who simply are not ready to learn, it gives a sense of failure that is unfair to say the least. In our case, I knew E could learn to read if I pushed her. I absolutely could have forced her to do the lessons last winter and spring, but it would've been really difficult (for both of us!) and utterly unnecessary. I'm not into doing things that are difficult if they are utterly unnecessary. It seems...rather silly.

This term I realized that she was ready, but being willing is another thing altogether for E. With plenty of people around to read to her or tell her stories, which Z is keen to do frequently, she had no need to read things for herself most of the time. If she were going to learn at this point, she would have to be required to do the lessons. I wasn't opposed to waiting a bit longer, but there are a lot of things that she wants to do that she could do independently if she were able to read, and while she may say she doesn't want to read, she does want to do some of those things for herself. So I decided that, for her own sake, I would force her. We started the book over again. She flew through the first quarter of the lessons; we did two per day. Then she asked to do just one per day, and I agreed. We are on lesson forty now, and it is going well. I wouldn't say easily, as she would still rather not have to do it, but we manage. There are a few things that she wants to do each day which she cannot do until the reading lesson is done, and so she does it.

I have confidence that she will move through the remaining sixty lessons with relative ease. I've promised her that after she's done all the lessons and knows how reading works, she won't have to do any more required reading for me. This is what keeps her going without excessive whining - if she does the lessons daily, she will be done well before Easter. She looks forward to this, and I do, too.

When we set out to homeschool, I didn't really think about what the hardest parts would be. We were just trying to do what was right for Z, so we did it. But in hindsight, I see that my biggest challenge as a teacher has been reading instruction. There are other hurdles for sure, especially as we encounter more advanced material for Z, but something about the reading instruction process is difficult for me in a way that other things aren't. I am pleased as punch when my kids can read, but I do not get a warm, happy feeling from the learning process, as some fellow homeschooling parents have described. I'm white knuckling my way through it.

I get the sense that I'm not the only homeschooling parent who feels this way, which is why I am writing this today. It's okay if you don't love it. It's okay if you don't feel particularly nurturing while trying to get your child to say the sound for h when she wants to say Hamilton every time instead. (This was cute the first time. It got old fast.) We don't have to adore every aspect of home education. Sometimes, we just need to get the job done, and so we do it. There is nothing wrong with that. And as a bonus? For those of us who hate teaching reading the most, at least we're getting our biggest frustration out of the way early. After this, I'm pretty confident I can manage to teach my kids anything.

Friday, December 7, 2018

What Happens When It's Just Us


This week has found us mostly on our own. I think the last time it was just us for this long, we were in Nice (which is where the photo above is from). This week has been really good for all of us, in my opinion at least. When life is slower and we don't have a lot of outside input, we are all more relaxed. I get more done with less effort. We get through our school lessons in what feels like record time. My children get along better. That's the best part. It's not that they don't get along well most of the time, but when they are given a lot of time together, they fall into an easy rhythm, and they enjoy each other more. At the end of this week, I've found them in the same room with each other most of the time. They've got  a wide variety of things they are doing together, an endless array of ongoing activities to choose from. Their arguments are worked out within moments, and they continue with what they are doing. It's like a little bit of sister magic, all week long.

Obviously we can't have weeks like this all the time. But I hope that we continue to have them often enough that the relationship they have with one another continues to be well rooted in a sisterly bond, and to grow as they do. There will come a time when they will not have so much time to spend together. What we have now is an opportunity that will pass, and I am more aware than ever that the years that we can arrange our lives in this way are fleeting. I hope that we have enough weeks like this that the easy rhythm becomes well practiced, and they can fall into it whenever they are together, for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Motion of Life Slows



Tomorrow we have a full day at home. I can't remember when that last happened. We seem to always have somewhere to go, something to do, if not during the day, then in the evening. But tomorrow, there is nothing. On Monday, E had her last ballet class of the term. I have washed her uniform already, but I didn't need to rush it. I did it because I had time. That felt nice. I tucked it into her drawer today, knowing I wouldn't have to reach for it for a month.

On Tuesday, Z will have her last violin lesson of the term. We end the homeschool meet up term with a party on Wednesday. And then the hustle and bustle of term time life pauses altogether. I haven't made any decisions about when we will pause our usual lessons; we are enjoying them right now, so I see no need. It seems to be enough to have the space allowed by no extracurriculars to attend to. Even the Saturday classes are done. For the next month, we have a little breathing room.

Even the usual errands are tapering off, and this Saturday instead of scurrying from one shop to another as I normally do, I am taking the train to Windsor to take things slow. That is my intention for the entire Christmas season from here on out - take things slow. I am excited about this. It's going to be so good. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

More Than I Deserve


I was away at a parish council meeting for much of the evening, and I rode home partway with a fellow council member. We got to talking about holiday plans and where we come from and how we have decided to do what we are doing now, where we are doing it - both for the Christmas season and in life overall. We somehow got on the subject of homeschool, and as a person who has worked in education and who knows my kids, she had a lot of observations to share, and I walked away thinking about how lucky we are to have this option for our children. Sometimes I get to feeling overwhelmed with all that we need to do and all the decisions we need to make, but when it comes right down to it, the opportunity to do this is a gift. I'm sure I've said this before, but it bears repeating.

So much of what my life is filled with falls into this same category, of being a gift. I did not do anything to deserve this. I think that as human beings we like for things to make sense, and what would make sense is that if someone works hard and is kind, many good things will come to them. But I know lots of people who work hard and are kind who are struggling. I don't think that our own actions have as much to do with it as we'd like to think. Which is not to say that we shouldn't do the work which is set before us and be kind, but that we shouldn't be so eager to pat ourselves on the back. We shouldn't conjure up connections which don't actually exist.

I have been given so many things lately that I want. It boggles the mind, really. Here I sit in my warm house, with my family falling asleep down the hall. Soon I'll get into my own bed and read a book that I ordered because I wanted it, and another that was a gift from my godmother. I'll wake in the morning and shuffle into my kitchen, where there will I will pull my favorite coffee mug from the dishwasher and make myself coffee that I will drink in bed. I don't have to wash my own dishes, and I spend time just sitting in bed in the morning - if that's not luxury, I don't know what is.

When I was so busy last week, there wasn't much time to think. I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn't see what a privilege my entire life is right now. But as things have slowed, I see it. I know that I am blessed and lucky. I know that I have it easy in ways that many people do not. I am glad for this reminder of it, and I am grateful for this life.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Adding Quiet


Where that chair is in the photo, there is now a Christmas tree. I got up earlier than I preferred on Sunday morning to go more than an hour by Tube and bus to get the IKEA Christmas tree deal - buy a tree for £25, and get a £20 voucher to spend in January. I really couldn't resist, as I've got more than £20 worth of things on my "to buy at IKEA" list. I thought this might not work out, because the kids have wanted to go to get the tree as a family in the past, but this year they didn't mind if they didn't come along. I think that the past two years of getting the tree at the Marks & Spencer food hall has left them with a pervasive sense of boredom when it comes to Christmas tree acquisition.

This was more than fine with me. I was happy to go on my own to get the tree. It feels lately like there is a lot to do with a whole lot of people, and that leaves me feeling utterly unsettled. I need time to myself to feel okay. One might argue - and be right! - that queueing for a Christmas tree at IKEA isn't exactly time to myself, but at least it was time that I didn't have to be keeping track of anyone else or negotiating which tree to get. I got the one that I could bring home most easily on public transit; that was my only priority. And for a few moments on the trip to and fro, I sat quietly on my own.

I am trying to find more of these moments for myself. Part of my quest to get the Christmas tree was to get that necessary item checked off the list, to have very little left to do before the holiday itself. There is a lot of pressure to be doing things at Christmastime, but I am working on making this time of year quieter, not just for myself, but for us as a family. We've got another week in which there are some activities, but after that, I am planning nothing. I am stocking up on tea and baked goods. I have ordered some books. There are a few activities we always do over the Christmas holidays, and we will do those things, but I am adding nothing new. Instead, I am adding quiet. Or at least, I am trying.

I will let you know how it goes.

Monday, December 3, 2018

43!


Of all the things that happened in the last week while I was insanely busy, obviously the most important thing was that I celebrated my 43rd birthday. Forty-three isn't a very significant number, and I don't feel that it's much different from being 42. In fact, prior to my birthday, I kept forgetting that I wasn't 43 already. But now I am, officially.

Like many adults, I did my usual work during the day on my birthday. It was the day of one of our fortnightly home ed meet ups, so I did that, came home, and really didn't want to do much else. This is where it came in handy that it was my birthday, because I didn't feel at all bad about sending my children away to have extra screen time so that I could sit alone in the living room and read. I joked that it was an introvert's birthday party - no one else was invited, but cats were allowed. Honestly, it was just what I needed.

And then J came home with takeaway dinner and cake, and I didn't have to do much of anything that I normally do in the evening. I got the gifts I wanted and one surprise, and it was just right. I don't need or want a big celebration. I want a little bit of a quiet and a meal I don't have to make myself. So it was perfect. Hooray for 43!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Trapped, But Gently


Z walked by this photo and said, "Oh, Lucy looks so cute in this photo!" And she does. What Z failed to notice was the way Lucy was positioning her body in order to maximize her chances of successful escape. While she enjoys much of the attention lavished on her by E, she is not exactly a fan of being held like a baby against her will. But did she run when she saw E coming? No. And so here she is.

I feel a little like Lucy this week. Trapped, gently but firmly. In my case, I am held by a series of events and tasks related to those events. I got myself into this predicament (well, mostly), but unlike the cat, I can't wriggle away or bite my way out. My way out is through making lists, and checking things off those lists. My way out is through plowing through the week until Sunday, when the last item - getting a Christmas tree - can be checked off. Until then, it's full steam ahead.

And so I've decided that I will give myself a little break from writing here for the rest of the week. It has been a good exercise for me to come up with a little something to type out each week night, but this week I simply can't manage it without compounded my feeling of being held against my will. Should something arise that I feel simply must be shared, I'll pop in. If not, expect to see me next Monday, when I will crow about my status as a woman liberated from the bonds of creating nervous system crafts, hosting children's vespers, and getting a Christmas tree (among other things - many, many other things). In fact, if I'm lucky, I'll have a fully decorated Christmas tree to take a terrible photo of so I can show it to you.

Won't that be fun? It will.

Friday, November 23, 2018

TGIF! I Finished My Christmas Shopping!


As of today at 4pm, all of my Christmas shopping was complete, including the wrapping paper. My goal of being done by my birthday - which is on the 28th - has been met. Hooray!

I can't claim to have made this happen by myself. I was aided in part by the fact that J was working from home, and my children are now capable of occupying themselves for a few hours while I am away. I gave instructions that they weren't to bother J at all, but get what they needed to eat and drink on their own, and they did it. It's like a miracle! Except I think in reality it is the natural progression of time and maturity. Plus, they are really good kids...who can be motivated/distracted by a movie. Basically, just normal kids that can get things from the fridge themselves. If you have young children and feel like the work will never end, be encouraged! This is possible for you, too.

Tomorrow I start wrapping the presents, and on December 1 we'll have the last weekend obligations of the Christmas season to attend to. Then it's just the four of us and whatever Christmas magic we decide to make. I am very excited about this.

Happy weekend, friends!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

How We Spent Thanksgiving



Last year we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. I was not sad about this. Being Debbie Downer and also a home educator, I am really not keen on history being taught incorrectly, and Thanksgiving highlights a lot of narratives that are simply untrue. Also, I'm an introvert and can't eat a lot in one sitting, so it's just not my fave. But I do believe in thankfulness. And I am most definitely thankful for what happened on Thanksgiving this year.

Today, the kids and I were invited to see Hamilton with some dear friends who were visiting from the US. It was wonderful - both the show and being with our friends. If ever there was a Thanksgiving I approve of, it is this one. The whole day was a real treat, and we are so very grateful for the invitation and for the time spent together. The show was absolutely wonderful (we want to see it again!), and our friends are even more so. What a privilege to be surrounded by good things on this day. I give thanks for all that we have been given.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Letting Kids Help is Hard (for Me)


Confession: I am terrible at letting my kids help me with most day to day tasks. I mean, absolutely horrible. And so I don't have them help me regularly. I know. I'm awful. This puts me out of the running for Mother of the Year, and I'm going to have to accept that. And I will accept that. Because I would rather just keep doing most necessary household work by myself. (See? Awful.)

It's not that I never allow my children to help with things. As you see above, E is using a very well saturated paint brush to "help" paint our living room. Full disclosure: I only allowed this for about five minutes. But because I rarely have her help with this sort of thing, she was fully satisfied, thinking it was a real treat. In this way, I am clearly winning with my current strategy. But I still sometimes feel like I should allow them to help more.

I'll be honest that I have no idea how to make this happen without a lot of discomfort on my end. Every single personality test I've ever taken indicates that I work best independently. It's not that I can't collaborate; it's just that I do my bit the best on my own. And so it is in my life in general. I work best alone. I don't want my children to help cook every meal or do every home improvement task. I really just can't stand it. This doesn't mean it shouldn't ever happen, but I'm just not going to be the mom that calls her children in to work alongside her each time she enters the kitchen or starts a new project. And I think that's okay, overall. In every family - in every relationship, really - we must sometimes do something because it is fun for the other person. It might feel like nails on a chalkboard, but if we love someone, we put up with doing unpleasant things.

Here's what I have figured out to make it work for me. I need to plan ahead. It needs to happen when I have plenty of patience and we have plenty of time. Z is at the age now where her help is becoming helpful, but E's help just creates more work. I need to be ready to do the extra work and not care much that this work is coming my way. It's best if the house is in somewhat decent order, as I know that after cleaning up the messes that come along with a child helping, I will be a bit more cranky than usual about finding jackets tossed over random surfaces, sweets wrappers on the floor, or a half eaten muffin stowed in E's bed.

Once the conditions are right, I just have to go for it. This is not a bonding activity for me, but my kids feel valued when I do it, so I do. That's the bottom line. I make it happen. It is good, because my kids feel good, and then we are done until the next time someone comes up with a very helpful idea. I hope no one comes up with any helpful ideas anytime soon. We've got Christmas cookie baking and decorating coming up in about a month, and that might take all the rest of the strength I have at my disposal through the end of 2018. Let's hope it will be enough.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

If It Must Be Done Perfectly, It Won't Get Done


Precision is not my strong suit. It never has been. I wish it were, but alas - I am all thumbs sometimes, including when I am painting a room. If you were to walk into this room and look closely, you would see a lot of little errors. Or maybe you wouldn't - but I do see them. It is the bane of my existence that I am both detail oriented and unable to execute a task without making some glaring, sloppy mistakes.

But! Look at this lovely room! The paint job is not perfect, but it is done. And I am incredibly happy with it. It makes the room feel more finished, and also it covers over the scuff marks that were making the white walls not-so-white anymore. The room feels cozy and calm. Even the cat seems to be enjoying it.

If I am honest, the imperfections in my paint job just fit in with the rest of our house. There are all sorts of little things going wrong, or that are a little off kilter (if not just plain broken and not fixed yet). It is a very lived in house. But my goal with my home has never been that it would be perfect; I want it to be comfortable. I want people to feel at ease when they come over. I got one of the best compliments of my life when I was told that someone who has been here, but who I don't know very well, declared my house to be beautiful and happy. Happy! I would much rather have happy than perfect or precise. I'm just going to keep on doing things the imperfect way that I do.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Home Improvements in a Rental House


I spent a good portion of the weekend painting our living room. When we moved into this house, every room was white. I know that's been the trend for a few years now, and I see the appeal in general, but for me specifically, well...I like color. I thought I could jazz things up by adding lots of colorful elements to the space, but do you know what? That didn't work. I started staring at my Farrow & Ball color card longingly. I knew exactly what color I wanted the living room to be. Stiffkey Blue is the color*, and now that it is on the walls, the room feels right. It's cozier.

I have mixed feelings about redecorating and doing other home improvements as a renter. I don't want to do a lot of work on a house that we have no guarantee of being able to live in indefinitely, but at the same time, I want our home to feel like it is ours. So when I set to work, I consider: if we had to move in nine months (which is when our current lease will end), will this have been worth it to me? In the case of these blue walls, the answer is yes. I felt similarly about the self-adhesive tiles I laid in the laundry room of our last house. These things make the space feel more like home, more like it belongs to us, as opposed to just being a place we are passing through.

Which is why I am also re-doing the flooring in the living room. I've asked permission to put down laminate, but it's a bigger job than I can do myself, so in the interim I'll be pulling up the old carpet and making the floorboards underneath presentable. If both the landlord and I like the floorboards, then I won't lay the laminate. (I'm hoping for this to be the case.) My choice to remove the carpet is both for aesthetic and practical reasons. I find that hard floors are easier to clean, and they also don't absorb strange odors. Aesthetically, they are also far more pleasing to me as well. So I'm going to go for it.

I'm also planning to replace some light fixtures. I haven't asked the landlord about this yet - I find this to be one of the most annoying things about renting, honestly - but I will. Because I already bought a dodgy chandelier that needs some TLC and new glass shades, and it will look perfect in the living room. I've also got a matching pair of ceiling lights that I scored for a song on eBay that will look fantastic in the master bedroom and the study.

But for now, while I am holding off on doing any more work before Christmas (it would be hard to have a Christmas tree in the room where I am removing flooring), I continue to stare at my Farrow & Ball color card longingly. Now that I've done one room, I know how good it feels, and I'm itching to do more - specifically, both bedrooms. For the girls I'm thinking Pink Ground (E wants pink, but we don't need it to look like cotton candy), and for J and me, I'm leaning toward Jitney. I might not paint either of those for awhile, but for now, it's fun to dream.

*We can't actually afford the Farrow & Ball paint, so I had it color matched in a cheaper alternative. So technically, it isn't Stiffkey Blue. But I'm pretending it is.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Autumn Winds Down


I've made no secret of the fact that I love autumn in London. It is my absolute favorite. And here we are nearly at the end of it. The days are growing short now. Sunrise is well after 7am, and sunset is inching steadily toward 4pm. I have learned to have patience with these short days, but this year I feel a bit disoriented. I think it's because we spent two weeks in the US, and the time change happened while we were away. It felt like a jolt into early sunsets instead of an easy slide. Still, I love autumn, and this year is no different. I love the lower light and the way everything seems softer. So I intend to truly enjoy this last bit of autumn, before we hit December and it's full steam ahead to Christmas. I've got two Saturdays to myself left in November, and I'm going to savor them.

Happy weekending, everyone.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Dressing Myself: Easier Than Ever


As mentioned yesterday, I believe in keeping the easy things easy. And if things aren't easy and they could be, I like to make them easy. For years I found it hard to dress myself. I'd try several things on and look in the mirror and be unable to decide. I had friends help me figure out things that worked well for me from an aesthetic point of view, but it still wasn't quite easy. I was shimmying into figure-shaping garments a little too often for my taste and some things that looked amazing on would not get worn because they weren't comfortable at all on their own, and were only bearable with the addition of a few layers of restrictive material between my body and the garments.

It took me awhile to realize that those body shapers were not okay with me. But they're not. It's not just that they're uncomfortable (and they certainly are), but it's not important to me to make myself into a certain shape to be able to wear clothes. In fact, it's important to me that I not alter my shape to fit some sort of body ideal for which certain garments are designed. I want to just wear the clothes. I want to wear them because I like them, they are functional for what I am doing, and because they bring me a little bit of joy. They also must be comfortable. Must.

After I got rid of the body shapers and the clothing that went with them, I began to really figure out what I wanted to wear and what made me feel good. It's taken me years, but at nearly forty-three years old I feel like dressing is truly easy. My wardrobe is next to the head of the bed on my side, and I can open it while still sitting in bed and grab what I need for the day. I know what goes together. I know what I want to add (almost always a scarf, unless it is unbearably hot), and I feel truly confident in my choices, whether what I put on is considered conventionally "flattering" or not. I don't think it gets much easier than this.

A long time ago, I wrote about my personal style, and it's largely unchanged - I mostly wear dresses and scarves, but I also will do jeans or navy trousers with a top. I've added a few fun things that I wouldn't have felt confident enough to wear before, but that make me smile quite a lot when I put them on. I now own the silver brogues shown above, as well as a rainbow space cat sweater. (Yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds.) Having what amounts to two "uniforms" that I adjust according to weather and other circumstances has made things easy. I decide if it's a dress day or a trouser day, and go from there. I've simplified footwear a lot, realizing that while I am not a capsule wardrobe kind of person, I do prefer to have fewer footwear choices which will go with most things that I own. When we went to the US, for the first time I had only one footwear choice along with me. It was fantastic, and - you probably guessed this - easy.

I'm sure that over time I will make more adjustments to my wardrobe. As life changes, what is easy changes, as does what is practical. Maybe someday I'll want to wear thing that are more complicated. For now, easy wins.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Keep the Easy Things Easy


With autumn comes less light. It seems that we are home more, though I'm not sure that's true. It just feels like we spend more time inside these walls. And suddenly all the things that we've left undone - all the little bits of stuff that have gotten left out and gotten disorganized - are driving me crazy. They are all in my way. Not only that, but I want this house to look better. Why does it have to look like such a mess all the time?

Well, it's because we haven't been cleaning it.

To be fair, we have traveled more than once since the summer ended, and it felt for a long time like we were either preparing to leave or settling back into routine once we returned. I also had that foray into creative tomato processing, not to mention the grape jam/syrup/molasses adventure. We had houseguests. There were things to do that I don't even remember anymore, but the days were used up in a hurry. There wasn't much time to get things organized, and for that stretch of time, it was easiest to just let things go.

Now it is easier if things are put away. I choose small organizational tasks when I have a pocket of time to fill, and I am gradually getting everything put away or thrown away or given away. I reorganized our kitchen countertops so that we could have the toaster out all the time, as I realized that having it tucked away out of reach of an outlet meant that sometimes it seemed too hard to both get the toaster out and drop some bread inside. I'm sure that sounds terrible, but it is what it is. As we head into the darkest days of the year, I want it to be easy to make toast, so I have made it easy.

The way I see it is that there are a lot of hard things that crop up in life, and it is best to keep the easy things easy. There is nothing wrong with making things easy if it doesn't hurt anyone - it is not laziness, though some might argue that it is. It's more about budgeting the time and energy we have available to us. I increasingly feel that we worked our way through some of the hardest bits of our girls' childhoods, so our hard isn't really that hard, but there's no guarantee for a friction free future. And there are little difficulties that crop up regularly, not to mention my desire to help bear the burdens of others, having had so many of my own and our family's burdens generously borne by others countless times. So I'm keeping the easy things easy. Starting with the possibility of making toast.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Heaviness Creeps Into the Light


I had a couple of light hearted topics to write about, and I was going to choose one of those tonight. It was a good day. My kids heard some things that I was saying to them and responded in the way I hoped they would. I got a lot done. No heavy burdens today, for me personally. But that last bit is where this all gets sticky. Just because there are no heavy burdens for me personally doesn't mean that there are no heavy burdens.

Tonight Jemel Roberson's family feels the heaviness of his loss. His baby boy will grow up without his father. And why? Because he's Black. The police officer assumed that he was the assailant because he was Black. They didn't even stop to think. They can bring in countless white assailants without hurting a hair on their precious white heads, but they see the man who has saved the day in an active shooter situation, and they assume he is the problem. It's not okay that this keeps happening. It's not okay that we have a day to remember war dead and not those who are killed in a war that has been waged against them since the founding of the United States of America, but that some people don't want to admit exists.

Today, I observe remembrance for the Black lives that have been lost due to systemic racism, especially those whose killers have not been held responsible for their crimes. May we never forget. May we work for justice, so that their families may feel peace.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Remembrance


There is always a lot going on in London. I could have something amazing to do pretty much every night of the year if I wanted to (and in some cases had the budget for it). I often have trouble deciding which things I'll go to, and I'll admit that my default is to just stay home. But I'd heard that the installation at the Tower of London to mark the centenary of the end of World War I was really amazing, and on the last possible day to do so, I decided that I'd like to see it. As a pacifist at heart, I have conflicting feelings about a lot of military action, but I do not have conflicting feelings about honoring lives lost in conflict, be they those who served in the military or civilians.

Originally the plan was that we would bring the children home from church and then I would head out on my own just to take a look at the torches once they were lit. But the church service was longer than usual due to our deacon being ordained into the priesthood, and likewise the lunch afterwards was longer, so we ended up passing Tower Hill about an hour before the first flame was going to be lit. Instead of going home, Z and I exited the train and followed the crowd through the crowd control paths set out for the event, and we managed to find a spot with only some small trees blocking our view.

We saw the person carrying the flame approach and light the first flame, and we watched as the rest of the flames were lit. It was beautiful, a fitting tribute to all those who never came home after crossing the channel to fight on the continent, or who died in their own country where the fighting took place. The numbers of lives lost is staggering. In some areas of the conflict, more than ten percent of the population lost their lives. At 100 years out from the end of this first world war, the impact of this is beginning to fade. I'm not sure we have learned the lessons that history should teach us. Or maybe we have learned lessons that were never meant to be taught. It is complicated, this idea of taking up arms to defend nations. But it is simple to understand the loss of a life.

So we all stood and watched those flames being lit, and I said a prayer for all the lives lost in conflicts around the world. I thought of all the places that innocent people are dying even now, with little hope that things will change soon. We live in this magical city where we can hop off an Underground train and see a beautiful tribute, and it is not lost on me that this is a great privilege, to be allowed to stand and watch the flames light up, on Remembrance Sunday, during which we remember all those who have lost their lives in both world wars and in all wars since. My life is terribly comfortable. May I never forget that it is not the same for everyone around the world.

Friday, November 9, 2018

TGIF and a Halloween Costume Pic


We've made it through the end of the week! I forgot to do one major thing today, but it can be done Monday. I'm going to let it go. This is something I'm learning to do more in my life - just let things go. For example, homemade Halloween costumes. My kids just don't care enough about it anymore to make it worth it. They're happy for me to throw together some stuff we have with stuff I order from Amazon and eBay and call it a day. The one exception to the non-homemade costume approach this year was E's wand, which my dad agreed to make when I discovered that ordering a Bellatrix Lestrange wand on the internet was prohibitively expensive. I used to make amazing costumes, but that time has passed. I'm going to let it go. E was quite happy to wear a simple black dress and her own boots, then have her hair done to complete her Bellatrix Lestrange look. Z happily wore my old jacket and silk shirt with her own jeans and boots to become Alexander Hamilton - all I had to order was the lace collar. And then Z's doll Edith already had an outfit that was suitable for Dolores Umbridge, so she got to participate as well. It was all easy to pack and easy to wear, and easy is our theme these days. There's plenty that is hard; let's let the easy things be easy, yes?

Yes.

Happy weekending, friends. See you Monday.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

We Don't Exactly Bounce Back


I am not the right person to write anything about helping kids get over jet lag, because I feel like we struggle every single time. So that's not what I'm here to do. I am here to say that after nearly a week at home, we might be sort of getting back to normal. In some ways. I tried to pretend I was back to normal the day after we arrived home, but I've failed to fool anyone, including myself.

This is one of the inconveniences of living far away from where we originally came from. Going back, there are a lot of people to see and things we need to do, and we end up with a pretty packed schedule. This time I tried to build in some low key days, and I was somewhat successful, but it doesn't change the fact that there was a lot to do in just two weeks, and we were doing it in an entirely different time zone. We got pretty tired, is what I'm saying. We arrived home after an overnight flight, absolutely exhausted. Have you ever hung out with kids who have been getting progressively more tired over the course of two weeks? Have you ever hung out with them when it is bedtime, but they think bedtime is for morons?

Well.

It's not an easy thing.

And then there's unpacking, and laundry, and restocking the fridge, and in general figuring out how to fit our usual necessary tasks into the short amount of time that everyone is awake and in a good humor.

It's a challenge.

So here we are, and we had some challenges today, but we really are starting to get back to normal. We had our usual Thursday dinner. I'm about to put some beans in the crock pot to cook overnight. I'm thinking it doesn't get much more normal than that. But then, bedtime isn't yet complete. Perhaps I should let you know the true status of our adjustment tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Laziest Breakfast


Do you ever do super lazy things to make your life work? I do. I've been thinking about what those things are for me. Mostly they are quite practical. I have a certain amount of energy each day. I pushed myself too hard for a lot of years, and then I couldn't do it anymore. So now I've figured out some work arounds. I think a lot of people would interpret these practices as outright laziness which must be fixed. But for me, these things are not problems - they are the ways I've solved problems. If you have solved problems in similar ways, I'm here to say that you are not alone. Here is an example of the laziest possible way I could do something - in this case, serve breakfast.

My E has always needed to eat first thing in the morning. She opens her eyes, and the first thing she says is, "I'm hungry." She has a deep need to know that there is food available, right away. So I make sure there is. It makes life easier for all of us. For a long time, I was able to put a sippy cup of water and a Tupperware container of cereal on the table downstairs, and she would happily go get it on her own and eat. I am not a morning person and really can't prepare anything right away - I need a minute (or fifteen) to be ready. So I would set things up the night before, and it was perfect.

But then we moved, and she didn't like going to the dining room by herself, as it feels a bit farther from the bedrooms than in our old house. She also got tired of cereal. So I came up with this handy plan. I put packages of breakfast type foods in my room with a little plate, and then when she wakes up and comes in to announce that she is hungry, I either point at them or hand them to her. And that's it. Breakfast is served. Well, first breakfast anyway. She usually has a second one later.

I find that some people are slightly horrified when I tell them my breakfast preparation method. These are usually morning people or high energy people (or both!). They can't conceive of a situation in which they'd allow their child to eat a doughnut in bed. There are also people who don't feel that I am sacrificing enough as a mother if I will allow this sort of situation to occur. But I don't want to participate in the mother martyrdom olympics. I want to figure out what works for us and do it. This meets both her needs and mine. So we do it.

Ideally, I'd like it to be homemade food that I set out for her first-thing-in-the-morning consumption. Sometimes it is, but not always. I am working my way there. I probably won't ever get there entirely, and I'm just going to accept that in advance. Sometimes I can do all the things myself; sometimes I need to outsource them (in this case, to either Tesco of Marks & Spencer). I feel okay about this. Doing this allows me to save my energy for things that matter. I'm not starting my day out on the extra hard setting. I'm easing in. It works for me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I'm Just Going to Keep Going on About Love


I have nothing new to say today - lately it's always the same thing that I want to tell you. Choose the way of love, choose the way of compassion, choose the way of kindness, choose the way of valuing others' needs. This is on my mind and in my heart. I am concerned about how things have been going, about how many people have been dying, about how many people are being treated so poorly. Choose the way of love, choose the way of compassion, choose the way of kindness, choose the way of valuing others' needs. It is so incredibly important.

I am re-reading The Poisonwood Bible, and I always pause at the part where Orleanna is explaining to Adah whose needs she chose to meet and when and why. Whoever had the biggest, most pressing need got taken care of first. That's it. When I read that before my children came into my life, I sort of understood it. Now that they are here, and have been for awhile, I really get it.

All of us in our family have needs. Most often, the needs of one of the children will be the biggest and most pressing, but sometimes J or I will have a need that supersedes even that of a child who cannot yet tell time. Sometimes the needs of more than one person will be about equal. The biggest needs get met first, and the equal needs get met in the order that makes the most sense. There is compromise. Many times one or more of us will have to admit that our need is just a want and sacrifice it for the good of the family unit. This is what we do. Sometimes we get a little selfish, because we are human beings, and we are not perfect just yet. But in the end, we usually get it right.

And this extends out beyond our own little family. It seems that many people think this same way. It gives me hope, knowing this. If we all have it in mind to take care of others, to prioritize those whose needs are greatest, and to compromise when many needs are equal, then everything will be okay. That's what I'm going to bed thinking about tonight. I know a lot of people who voted in a way that they might not have other years, because they believe in the value of protecting others, and that this time around protecting others looks a bit different than it might have in years past. In years past, it might not have had anything to do with voting at all. But this year, sacrifices were made. For those of you who have done this, I thank you for it. I know it isn't easy. Well done.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Voting, Authoritarianism, Etc.



Tomorrow many Americans will head to the polls to cast their votes. Some have already done so (early voting is brilliant, in my opinion) and some will not vote at all. A lot is at stake in this election, and I will simply repeat that I think it is best to vote for those who will be most kind to others in their policy making. Vote not for your own interests, but for what is best for the most people. What good can you do in the voting booth? I think the choice between self-interest and compassion is pretty clear this time around.

Z and I continue to read about and discuss World War 2. She is reading a book now about a girl who grew up in Germany during and after the war. She was in Berlin at the time of the beginning of the wall. Z was sharing with me that the schoolchildren were all confused at this time. First they were taught to follow the Nazis and that ideology, then were told to forsake the Nazis and their ideology, and then when Russia controlled part of Germany, they were told to adhere to the Russian ideology. For people who were used to doing as they were told, this was quite a lot of directives without a lot of understanding.

And this is why I cannot get behind authoritarianism at all. I have never taught my children to do as someone says merely because they are in authority, and in fact I am now actively teaching them what some may consider the opposite. It is dangerous to follow someone just because they are in charge or older or what have you. Even when it comes to me as a mother, I don't want my children to do as I say just because I say to do it, and I'm the parent and therefore the authority. I want them to do as I say because I have proved that I am trustworthy, and I would not ask them to do something without good reason. Sometimes we do need to do as someone in authority says, whether we have had a chance to judge them trustworthy or not, but we must never blindly follow anyone. We must always use the wisdom given us to determine if the person's instructions are worth following.

It would be easier, to be sure, if my children blindly followed me sometimes. The reason I am so late to sit down to write tonight is because one of my children had a question about if she could trust me or not, and it took a long time to work it out. I would've loved it if it hadn't taken so long, but trust is not an easy process, and sometimes I've got to work really hard to earn it. Sometimes I have to work really hard due to circumstances that are in no way my fault, and that can be especially hard. But I signed on to this parenting gig, and sometimes that's just part of the deal. So I put in the work.

Which brings us full circle to voting. Who is putting in the work? Who will put in the work in the long term, not just for you and people like you, but for everyone? Who will welcome the stranger and the refugee? Who can be trusted? Vote for those people. That's my advice.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Home! With a Full Lap


We arrived home yesterday around noon - I couldn't tell you if it was before or after, but I think it was before? I am not sure. I do know that our cats are very happy to see us, and that my lap has not been empty any time I've sat down since we returned. I also know that three out of four of us are very happy to be home and getting settled back into our normal space and routine. The fourth person may be happy to be home as well, but she is not ready to admit it. Home doesn't have a cousin who will entertain her every whim, so this is understandable.

We were gone two weeks and two days, but it felt like it was longer than that. I'm not sure if this is because we crammed a lot into those two weeks or if it is because there is such a big change that occurs at this time of year in London, moving from early fall into the Christmas season. Before we left, I was experiencing a bit of FOMO regarding being away from London, and I couldn't figure out exactly why. But I think I understand it now - I was missing the last two weeks of what I consider to be "just normal."

London in November is all decked out for Christmas, and people are out starting their Christmas shopping. On the whole, I like the earlier start to the Christmas season, but it turns out that missing the last two Saturdays of "just normal" is a bit of a disappointment. As a person who loves all the trappings and trimmings of Christmas, I love this time of year, but as an introvert, I don't like all the extra people that come with it. I will live. And I will mostly enjoy it! But I will also get out a bit earlier on Saturdays to avoid the crowds.

Speaking of Saturdays, today is indeed Saturday, and I don't normally post on the weekend. But I posted so infrequently while we were away that I wanted to get started again. I thought that I would post most days we were away, but the keyboard was forgotten in the early morning packing rush, I and posting from our old iPad proved to be quite a challenge. Now that I'm back at my own desk, with a keyboard to use instead of the on screen buttons, I am more than ready to be writing again and back to my usual posting schedule. See you Monday!


Saturday, October 27, 2018

This Taco Costume is Just a Distraction



We should get one thing straight before we proceed. At my core, I am a total Debbie Downer. There is a place for lightness and fun even in the worst of times, but in the best of times I don't stop thinking about things that have gone wrong and how we might change things to be better, kinder, less...deadly.

So I tried on a taco costume, and it was funny. I bought a lot of flavors of M&M's (try the mint and pretzel together, I urge you). I went to Target and Trader Joe's multiple times.

And pipe bombs were put in the mail.

And two people were shot dead at a Kroger just because they are Black.

And children continue to starve in Yemen.

And a man shot up a synagogue during a baby naming ceremony.

I cannot forget these things, no matter how many costumes I try on or M&M's I stuff into my gaping maw of a mouth. I never stop caring that these things are happening, and while I do not think it is wrong to experience joy in these silly, simple things, I always return to thinking about what I can do to help.

I know I cannot change all these things, but it is terribly important to me to do my bit to make things better. I believe in preserving the dignity of each human being, and I believe we have power in our hands to effect change. These times can feel hopeless, as if there's nothing we can do. But that's not true. There is something - more than one something.

Many of us can vote, and we can choose to vote not in our own interests, but in service of the greatest amount of good for the most people. Let's stop thinking about how policies will affect us personally, but instead how they will affect those most in need of help. November 6 is approaching quickly, US friends. Make your vote count for those who are hurting, who are marginalized, who are watching their children die in the name of faulty alliances.

We can help others directly. If someone needs something they cannot obtain themselves, we can give it to them. There are so many people who are unable to feed themselves and their families - we can give food, but we can also give money. Many people say not to give money to homeless people, but I think that it's ok sometimes. I think it is demeaning and dehumanising to assume that the money is going to feed an addiction. Use your discretion, and make the kindest possible choice. If in doubt, ask people what they want and need.

We can use our voices to speak the truth kindly but plainly. We can remind others - and in the process remind ourselves - of the importance of choosing the preservation of others' lives and wellbeing above the preservation of our own comfort. This is what I am doing now, obviously. Because even though I think of these things most of the time, I need the reminder too.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Here We Are


We arrived in the USA on Wednesday evening and began a sprint through our days here in Missouri. Today we finally slowed down a little. There were no scheduled events or visits. My grannie lives across the road from my parents, so E and I moseyed over to see her. My mom and I ran a couple of easy errands in the small town nearby, and that was it. We needed a day like this.

A few people have asked me how it feels to be in America after being away and reading the news from afar. I'm not exactly sure how to answer that. With a whirlwind of a schedule, it's hard to really observe what it's like here now and process what I think about it. I feel a tension in the air with the elections so near. But it isn't just because of the elections, and it isn't just in the air. The tension exists because things are going wrong. It exists within me when I see a confederate flag proudly displayed on someone's home and when I know that if I say what I believe is good and true and right, it would be dismissed or scorned. I am not going to waste my words on people who will not listen, so sometimes I go ahead and keep my mouth shut. (But not always.)

I will and do say my piece when I can, when it might make a sliver of a difference. I'm not sure how effective I am, but I'll keep trying. If nothing else, I hope I can be an encouragement to those who are still here every day, fighting the good fight in the service of recognizing the value of every human being and the importance of protecting the vulnerable. This is what it all comes down to for me. Are we taking care of those who have the greatest need? Are we protecting those who cannot protect themselves? If the answers to these questions are no, then what is happening is not right. I am particularly concerned for children.

I'm going to leave it at that for now. I'll have more to say about his later, I'm sure. But for now I'm typing on an iPad and starting to nod off, so it will have to wait. Maybe it will have to wait until we get back home. Maybe from now until we are home again, I'll just regale you with stories of Very American Things we do, like going through the Starbucks drive thru and trying on taco costumes (I have a photo for that second one). Stay tuned to find out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tomorrow!


After all that counting down, we're left with just one night before we leave. Tomorrow we'll arrive in the Midwest US after one long flight and one short one. Suitcases are packed and dishes are done and I've cleaned out the fridge. We are only going to be gone a little over two weeks, but somehow it feels like it's a long time. Maybe this is because it is a long way away? I'm not sure. But off we go, and then before we know it we will be heading back home. Then it will be November - my favorite! I'm looking forward to another November here in this city.

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to post to this blog while we are away. I like the discipline of writing every weekday, and if possible, I will. I'm fairly certain I won't write anything tomorrow night. But after that? Well. We shall see.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Yes, It's Another Cat Photo


Two days until we leave. The cats are not impressed with our packing efforts. They weren't born yesterday; they know what this means. No warm humans on which to nap throughout the day! It's just terrible.

I've entered the part of trip prep at which I must come to a place of acceptance about the fact that we are leaving our house dirty and a bit messy. As usual. But I always have such high hopes that this time will be the time that we get it together and leave with the house in decent condition. We used to do this. I mean, before we had kids. So. Eight years to come to a place of full acceptance of this reality, and still I struggle.  I am only human.

This is also the part of trip prep where we all get a bit snappish at one another, and at least one kid cries a lot about something small. We've got two weeks planned that will be crammed full of seeing people we love in various locations. This is good, but it's also stressful. We feel the weight of expectations which may or may not even exist. I think this is normal, all part and parcel to the whole living abroad experience. We will carry on. We will get on the flight, and our kids will fry their brains on the in flight screen experience. So will J and I, most likely. And it will be okay. There will be beds waiting for us at the other end of the journey. We can do it!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Eat or Freeze It


So now this is a trip countdown and cat photo blog. And they're not even good cat photos - I hope you can handle it. Five days until we leave for the USA, and today was the day I started making my family eat all the leftover food we have. What we can't eat, I hope to freeze. I'm trying to figure out if I can freeze double cream. The verdict is...maybe. So I'm thinking I should just whip it and we can have whipped cream on all the stale cookies that are languishing at the back of the cupboard. Dessert at every meal! Have some more whipped cream!

We are trying to waste less food overall, so this is good practice for us. We are gradually doing better, but I still feel like we let too many things go bad in our refrigerator. The key to getting this right is threefold, as I see it. First, I need to better estimate how much we will eat; sometimes I just make too much. Second, we all need to be more willing to eat leftovers, and by "we all" I mean the other three people in this house, because by virtue of wanting to eat quickly and not have to prepare anything, I eat leftovers directly from the container with a fork every single day. Third, I need to freeze things which we obviously will not eat straightaway. Even fresh fruit and veg can be made into things that can be frozen. I don't mind sending some things to the compost bin, but we can do better. We'll start now.

And then we'll go away for two weeks and start over when we get back. The goal is not only to do better about not wasting food, but to start some good new habits with our shopping as well. Tesco delivery serves us well for many things, but the plastic packaging is way over the top. We get a few things from a zero waste grocery delivery service already, and I intend to start getting a seasonal veg box delivered either weekly or semi-weekly. This is something I've meant to do since we moved here, and then life got in the way. But now we're ready.

First though - it's just five days until we leave, and I've got to run a few errands tomorrow, teach Sunday School on Sunday, and do a couple of big hairstyles on Monday and Tuesday. I'll leave the plans for after we return on the list I've already got on my desk for that purpose and proceed with what I've got to do right now.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

This is Basically a Countdown Now


I put a photo of our Teddy sleeping at the top of this post because I am tired. That's the only reason; this post is not at all about cats. It is six days until our trip to the USA. I've been preparing for it for far longer than the actual trip will last. This is what usually happens when we travel, but especially when it's a trip to see family and friends. There's a lot to coordinate; I forgot how much. But things that need to be done here in London while we are gone are all arranged (or will be once I hand over the homeschool group materials tomorrow), and I think there are just a few more things I need to attend to in terms of what must occur while we are in the USA. I don't think I've overlooked anything essential, but if you are a Kansas City friend waiting to hear from me, you may or may not have heard from me yet. Sorry about that.

Tomorrow I'll pull out the suitcases and begin that part of the packing. With a busy weekend ahead, and hair to do on Monday and Tuesday, it needs to be done well in advance for the sake of my peace of mind. On Wednesday morning I want to just wake up, put on my travel outfit (yes, I have a travel outfit), and walk downstairs to grab the suitcases we've gotten packed and placed in the hall. I am not a morning person; I do not want to leave anything to chance when we need to get to the airport on time. So tomorrow, I will pack as much as possible. Then I'll make a list of the things which need to be put in the night before, after which I'll make a second list of things which must be popped into my carryon that morning (my phone and charger, mainly, but there are always a few more things I've not thought of).

I packed my carryon already, as it's the one that holds the important things like passports, residence cards, flight itineraries, and copies of documents they may request to see at passport control. We have been asked once for adoption documents, and we didn't have them, believing the children's passports to be enough. They let us go, but we got a reprimand and were told we had to produce them in the future if we are asked. So I have a binder into which I put copies of everything. I know, tech people, I know that I could just put digital files on my phone. But once we had a situation in which a phone was relied upon for something I'd wanted to print, and that situation was very stressful for me, and now I print everything, I'm not sorry, the end.

I think that the lead up to a trip is the hardest part. Once we are on the plane, it will feel less stressful. Until then, expect me to continue my countdown and keep you up to date with my trip preparation progress. You are thrilled, I can tell. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Coming Home


It's just one week before we will be in the USA. For most of the visit, we will be staying where I grew up. My parents have a farm, and when we stay with them, our kids have a lot of freedom to roam and be outdoors. It's a nice change of pace, and a benefit to being so far away from home for a short time. (The other main benefit is Target. I mean, aside from seeing people that we love.) I look for these benefits, because this trip feels like a big undertaking. It feels somehow harder than other trips we've taken back to the USA, and I really don't know why.

Or maybe I do, and it's too complicated to type it out. The USA is just not a place I'm interested in visiting right now. I think we can leave it at that. (For now.) But I am glad to travel to celebrate my parents managing to be married for half a century. I am glad that we will see friends and family, who we love. I am glad that our kids will get to trick or treat in America and get so much candy that they will be fully stocked with treats for a month (or at least for the flights back).

I am glad that, at the end of it all, we will get to come home. When we are in Missouri, many people will ask me what it feels like to be home, and I will just smile and say it's good. They will assume I am talking about Missouri, because that is where I come from. But I'll be talking about London. This is where we've made our home. Even though we haven't left yet, I'm already looking forward to the moment walk back through our own front door.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Happy to Be in the Now


As busy as I've been lately, it's not lost on me that my life as a parent is getting increasingly easier in some key ways. The fact that both my children use the toilet independently is enough on its own to warrant a feeling of ease, but they are both self sufficient in a lot of other ways, too. I feel like I get the best part of the caring work, but I don't have to do the most inconvenient and messy things anymore. I am really happy about this. My children at ages six and eleven are amazing. They are doing well in a lot of ways, and I don't miss those early days one bit.

This has surprised me. I know a lot of people who aren't fans of young childhood, but I am. I love babies and young kids. And I loved my kids as babies and young kids. I didn't wish they were older, ever. I mean, they were both so amazing in their first days and years with us - how could I wish those days away? E was the cutest baby imaginable, and she made friends with absolutely everyone. She was messy and spunky and hilarious. Her baby and toddler years were filled with joy in a lot of ways. Z was at the end of her toddler years when we met her, and she was the most beautiful child I had ever seen, with the cutest accent and the best funny faces. Getting to know her was incredible - she showed up as her own person, and I was amazed at her from the first moment I saw her. We had some brilliant moments with both of our kids when they were small. I treasure those memories. Of course I do.

But both my kids' early days with us were painful sometimes, both physically and emotionally. Both girls had medical procedures done, and both lived through the grief of finding themselves in a second family with no choice in the matter. It was hard. So, so hard. And I would never want either of them to live through those most painful parts again. The things we have walked through as a young family belong in the past. Now we see the payoff of the hard work that has been done, by the kids primarily, with our support and guidance as their parents, and I would not trade this time for even one moment of those early days. As I look through the photos and videos (toddler ballet - ohmygoodness!), I have realized that this is enough, to be able to look back at those times and enjoy the best parts.

Surely if we could get one day or one hour back, I would want that. I would choose the very best moments, when no one was sad or having blood drawn or unable to sleep. But that's not how it works. We can't go back in time. And they are growing into such wonderful people besides - I am thoroughly enjoying seeing who they are becoming, how their minds work, what they excel at, and what piques their interests. It is a marvelous thing, watching them grow up. I am happy to be right here, right now.

Monday, October 8, 2018

How I Know I'm Too Busy


I don't remember which day I lost the mug that you see there on the shelf of my wardrobe, but I do know it took me two days to find it. This is the kind of thing that I do when I have too many things going on at once. I start putting my phone - which I misplace at least once a day anyway - in increasingly stranger places, and then I start losing other things which I don't normally lose track of. This mug is not small. I should be able to find it fairly easily. I can usually retrace my steps and locate whatever I've set down pretty easily. But on the day I set this mug down, I did so many things that I had no clue what I had done when, so retracing my steps was impossible.

It's time to slow things down.

We leave for the USA in nine days. I wanted things at home to be in good order before we left, because it is so nice to come home to a clean and organized house. I think that unless a cleaner and an organizer show up on my doorstep, I need to accept that this will not happen and instead make sure that nothing gross develops over time. I mean, if there is cream-laced coffee curdling in a wardrobe for two weeks, that's going to be a problem. Better to have a few extra things out and a dirty kitchen floor than to find something rotting in the deepest recesses of our house in December, am I right? I'm pretty sure I'm right. If you think I'm wrong, feel free to come over and do some cleaning.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Things I Made With Green Tomatoes, a List


Every single tomato - green and otherwise - that I picked has now been made into something else. While I wouldn't call it a herculean effort, it was certainly a sustained effort, and the lack of effort for most other things* shows. But I can catch up on those things later. For now, there will be no tomatoes rotting in my kitchen because I gave up on figuring out what I could do with them. Here is what I came up with:


  • Green tomato, apple, & mango chutney (good, will be happy to use it and give it to others)
  • Green tomato, apple, and sultana chutney (amaaaaaazing - I ate some plain)
  • Green tomato pasta sauce (smelled fantastic but tasted awful, went straight to the compost bin - I might have been able to salvage it by sweetening it a bit, but I didn't have the time to mess with it)
  • Green tomato and onion chutney (the replacement for a second batch of pasta sauce, a solid effort that would be perfect for frittatas - if only my family liked frittatas)
  • Slow cooker green tomato salsa (not yet done, but there's a lot of it, so I hope it turns out okay)


And if you're wondering if I also made the banana bread I mentioned in yesterday's post, the answer is yes. I made two loaves, and we ate half of one for lunch. Then I mixed up some cookie dough, because if I'm taking things to the next level, I may as well include something into which I can dump some M&M's. (They were on sale. I couldn't help myself.) I'll bake the cookies tomorrow. For now, I'm done. 100%, without a doubt, DONE.

I think I'm going to sleep well tonight.





*We did some homeschool lessons and everyone got to eat plenty, but that's about it. Please don't show up at my house unannounced...unless you want to clean and organise and do laundry.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

I'd Rather Be Napping (But I'm Hanging Out With Tomatoes)


It appears I'll be spending my whole week with tomatoes. And with my children, naturally. Sometimes both at once. I'm beginning to feel jealous of my cat, who can slip upstairs and burrow under the covers whenever she'd like. But my cat has to eat cat food, and I am allowed to eat what it turns out is fairly good chutney, so I will keep my own life, and keep cutting tomatoes and mixing them up with various other ingredients to get things which are hopefully all edible. Round one of chutney - to which I added mango and apple - was a success, so I'm feeling good about my chances.

At this very moment, there is a slow cooker full of tomatoes and onions bubbling away on my kitchen counter. I overestimated the amount of tomatoes and other fruit that would fit in my largest stock pot, so something needed to be done with the extra tomatoes and onions which had already been cut and salted. I figured I'd try to make pasta sauce. I put in oregano, basil, rosemary, parsley, some frozen garlic cubes, and a good bit of olive oil. It smells heavenly now. We'll see how it is after it's simmered overnight.

Tomorrow will be another day of chutney making, this time with apples and sultanas. If the pasta sauce turns out well, I've got enough tomatoes and onions for another batch already washed, cut, and salted. And then there are still more tomatoes. I know. This is out of control. I should probably quit before my house descends into the kind of chaos normally observed on an episode of Hoarders. But I just can't do it. I picked those tomatoes, and I intend to use them.

My plan at the moment is to use the last couple of kilograms to make salsa. This is why I have two slow cookers, so that I can be making more than one experimental sauce type product at a time. Why make just one sauce when I could make two? Or in this case, three, if we include the chutney that will be on the stove. There's actually room for a second large stock pot on the stove, and I considered dividing out some of the tomatoes for something else exciting, but then I figured I'd better quit while I was ahead. Or, um, maybe just not terribly behind.

Because did I mention I am also making banana bread tomorrow? I am. If I'm on the avoiding-food-waste crazy train, I may as well ride it all the way to the last stop.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

An Accidental Gardener's Work is Never Done


We've just had mint grow itself in our garden. This was not really a surprise, as we've already had lilies, poppies, and an enormous tomato plant grow themselves without us lifting a finger. It seems to just be the thing our garden is doing this year, and it's doing it very well. The tomato plant got a bit of water in the beginning, and there was some small effort to support the vines, but mostly we did nothing. And it worked brilliantly. At this moment, the vines have stretched themselves so far in every direction that there remains only room for our table, the compost bin, and a medium sized drying rack. The back garden belongs to that tomato plant. It owns it.

But it's not just lying around doing nothing. For months now it has given us lovely little cherry tomatoes, too many to count. I've put them in salads. I've put them in guacamole. I've slow roasted multiple batches and stowed them in the freezer for winter soups, pastas, and other hearty meals. I thought I would be done by now. But the tomato plant keeps giving, and giving, and giving.

I'll admit I was tempted to just call it quits after the last hurried batch that I slow roasted a bit less slowly than the others. We've got a full schedule and a big trip coming up. I don't think anyone would blame me if I picked some more as they got ripe and used them in a few meals, then let the rest go. But I couldn't do it. It felt wasteful, like I was denying a gift I've been given. The vines were full of green tomatoes, and I knew that there would be something that could be done with them if I would only take the time to do it. I asked a friend. I asked the internet. The answer was the same from both: chutney. Green tomatoes make fabulous chutney.

And so I am currently wading through a sea of green tomatoes which need to be washed, quartered, salted, and left overnight. It took two days to find the time to pick them all. I got through about half of the washing and cutting today. Tomorrow, I'll make the first batch of chutney. I've gotten some mango and apples to put in it. I hope it's good. Regardless, there will be enough for a second gigantic batch, and for that there are more apples and some sultanas. By week's end, I hope to be done with these...for now.

I still have to figure out who's going to eat all this chutney.