A full week hangover

Last week was full on, and writing this took a back seat. As did running and yoga. So this morning is a reassessment of what is important in the week ahead. But I am trying to be gentle with myself rather than looking at the yoga and run records for the month so far and beating myself up. Or looking back and realising it is five days since I wrote my ‘daily’ blog.

I have got into the bad habit of noticing what I have NOT done, but last week was hugely productive. I made contact with various people in Scouts and ended up having some very productive conversations. It is good to be back in touch with some really inspiring and dedicated people.

The Birmingham Children’s Book Group were at Bournville BookFest on Saturday and I spent the day in a rather chilly marquee, chatting to interesting, lovely people about children’s books and reading in families and schools. And publicising our monthly Book Swap (second Saturday of every month at Bournville Community Hub, 9.30 to 10.30).

Sunday morning was spent at church, collecting donations to CAFOD’s Fast Day and showing the film of Mahinur’s story . I met new volunteers to our Children’s Liturgy team and started their training. I caught up with some other friends at coffee after mass. A very sociable morning which felt useful.

Sunday afternoon included cooking lunch for the extended family, who we have not seen for an age. Time was spent reading and watching TV as a family. We had an evening dog walk to the pub to catch up with good friends.

Writing it all down helps me realise that it’s not that I have done nothing, I just chose to prioritise volunteering over exercise and blogging for a couple of days. And by blogging the list I get to start this week with a tick in the blog box on this week’s to do list. Two birds with one blog. Have a good week.

A week of all the volunteering

The last few months have definitely been a work and play focus. The sheer volume of work that happens in January and February takes me by surprise every year. But this year I got through very much by keeping very focussed on work and trying to do a lot of socialising and travelling at weekends in order to make sure I relaxed somewhat.

Now though I am ready to turn back to the various volunteer roles I hold in life. All of which I enjoy and have a different purpose. The CAFOD group at church is preparing for Lent Fast Day this Friday and a Fairtrade wine tasting in May.

The Birmingham Children’s Book Group is part of the Bournville Book Fest this weekend and next and I will be on the Book Swap stall that we run. If you are near Rowheath Pavilion this Saturday or Bluecoat School next Saturday, come and swap children’s books.

My Scout role definitely needs some more attention, although as always with my Scout role, a fair amount has gone on in the background even if its not as visible as it could be. Now though I need to set my sights back on recruiting others who can share their administrative, financial and management skills for the benefit of the hundreds of children who enjoy Scouts every week in Birmingham. How to do that is still puzzling me a bit though.

I have resigned as a children’s liturgist after some years of service. I leave at the end of Lent, but meanwhile am working hard to train and support some new liturgists so that they are ready to take over once I step down.

It is good to be back in the mix, even if all the meetings happening in one week along with a weekend full of volunteering is a bit of a leap back into it all.

Choosing how to fill the hours

Obviously, I have the same 24 hours a day that everyone else has.  I make choices on how to spend those 24 hours.  We all make choices, just not the same choices.  Recently I have been doing a lot of things outside the family bubble – more work, more socialising, more Scouting, more volunteering for LiveSimply and for CAFOD and for the Birmingham Children’s Book Group.

Right now I am choosing to focus back in on the family.  This is GCSE year with all the stress that entails just in terms of keeping morale up whilst facing mocks and reports and a feeling of impending doom that official exams tend to induce.  

The offspring’s situation is made more complicated in that he is being counter-cultural and not staying on at school or college.  I say counter-cultural, because the school system does not support young people in choosing a non-academic route.  The difference between the support offered in the apprenticeship path and that we experienced in the funding-driven university route is frankly astounding. I understand why – schools are judged on how many children go into university, so have a vested interest in keeping their pupil on to sixth form.  Sixth form colleges gain funding depending on the students they attract.  Where is the motivation to explore other paths with young people?

At home.  That is where the motivation and the time must come. It is a long, complicated and, this week at least, traumatic experience.  We have so far failed the offspring enormously by offering the wrong advice, but we have also gathered all our skills in mentoring and coaching and he is learning so much and gaining a huge amount.

We are thrilled to see some of his choices in how to spend his hours having an impact.  Applying for a job is hard work, but he had practice in applying for a place on the Scout World Jamboree (he failed to get a place, so rejection will not be new).  All his skills and training as a Young Leader in Scouts and the church youth group are being mentioned in applications, as are his experiences in Scouts of working in a team and being held responsible for activities with the Cubs. His Bivouac and Duke of Edinburgh awards are interesting and influential experiences.

Importantly this week he is learning to deal with things going wrong, with trying to schedule a lot of extra time to fill out 10-page applications in a packed pre-Christmas schedule in the middle of his mock exams.  It’s a week of growing up, of stress, but also of precious time of us supporting each other, offering advice, a shoulder to cry on and a ton of tea (me) and hot chocolate (him) and the occasional mince pie.

I have been criticised this week for having a dirty house – an example of what I choose not to do – but right now, I am happy with the example I have set of building my tribe, getting out of the house and meeting people and learning new skills and gaining life skills wherever and whenever I can.  And most of all I am proud of our ability to re-focus back on each other as a family when we need to. 

Solidarity and prayer

Last Sunday my parish took part in Share the Journey, a global call to walk together in solidarity with migrants all over the world.  People have myriad reasons to flee their homes.

How could our stroll on Sunday have any comparison with those who are forced to leave their homes for fear of their lives or their livelihoods?  How could it be related in any way with those who face a hideous, dangerous journey with an uncertain end?

The link is a concept of solidarity.  A tough one to describe and to feel.  Wikipedia says it “refers to the ties in a society that bind people together as one”.   There is a part of me that thinks that that must mean that unless I walk hundreds of miles and risk my life in a rickety boat, I am not in solidarity.  A walk in the park won’t cut it.

But it does cut it.  I could have been doing other things on Sunday morning, I wasn’t, I was walking purposefully with a group of people who share a belief that having to leave your homeland is not a good thing.   We were listened to stories of refugees as we went.  And we were praying together.

Do I know it works?  Yes I do, that is my faith of course.  I believe that my prayers and my deliberate footsteps in the sunshine in a park in Birmingham will be felt by refugees the world over.  It’s what gives me hope that together we can make the world a better place.

We were joined by a photographer, James Maher, who spent some time with the Lampedusa Cross we were carrying, a simple cross, made by Francesco Tuccio on the island of Lampedusa from the wreckage of boats carrying migrants, which he finds washed up on beaches.   James’ passion for taking photographs of the cross was obvious and wiped away my feeling that we may not have done very much.  We were passionate and hopeful.  That goes a long way.

St Marys copy 8 jpm (1 of 1)
James Maher’s photo of the Lampedusa Cross, which is housed in St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham





When you get to Live Simply

I had a brilliant morning yesterday holding a book sale in our parish.  It was part of the parish’s commitment to Live Simply.  This does not in any way mean living miserably, it means living joyously, putting aside the stresses of consumerism, but enjoying what we do own and living our lives in a way that is in balance with all our fellow humans, the planet and God. Sounds a bit high fallutin’ I know.

My key is to find a simple way to make that happen.  The book sale was it.  I wanted to celebrate the books I wanted to be rid of, they have served me well, I have enjoyed them and learnt so much from them.  In some cases, that I don’t want to read them.  In a parish centre full of hundreds of people, it was great fun discussing the memories that the yellow Reklam editions evoke in anyone who grew up in Germany or studies the language.  In fact I had some great conversations about Germany, a love of mine. One of my favourite books is Zola’s Germinal and the impact on parishioners who had grown up many years ago in mining villages was clear.  One parishioner donated a book by Helen Dunmore, who she had known, the author’s death last year still obviously greatly saddening her.

I was not coordinating the selling of paper, people were donating memories, they were purchasing the promise of an interesting few hours learning something, they were buying gifts of books they felt were needed by others.  All in all, people were sharing their lives with each other and the atmosphere was tremendous.

So, my love of being a part of a community was totally fulfilled.  We were all there with a shared interest of books, but also as a worshipping community, it was powerful and many commented on how much joy and pleasure there was in the room.

We were in there in solidarity with the poorest people in the world.  Every book was being sold for CAFOD’s Lent Appeal, which finishes on 12 May and every pound we raised will be match by the UK Government.   We raised £445 in one morning.

We were also in solidarity with friends and family, some of the books had been donated by a Scouting friend from the home of a family member who recently passed away.  They were hugely popular books and I was delighted to see the conversations about them and the delight in parishioners who found a new treasure.

Of course, we kept the planet in mind, reusing and recycling the precious resource of paper and ink and appreciating, really appreciating, the value of those seemingly simple resources in our lives.

A great morning, which has fed me spiritually for the week ahead.

Not our book sale, but we had about as many books.



De-booking the house

I can hear the cries of outrage from two friends in particular as I write this (not sure they will read it, but I know they will feel so strongly, that they will sense this anyway).   I intend clearing book shelves this afternoon.

I am very much loving reading at the moment, really loving it.  I suspect one of the reasons is that I am also not buying new books.  I have a habit of heading into a bookshop and buying various books, which I have no plans to read right now, in fact sometimes I wonder why I ever bought them, as I can’t foresee ever having a plan to read them.  Amazon is even worse for this.  Someone recommends a book and it appears like magic in my home the next day.

At the moment I am borrowing lots from the library and a couple from friends.  I am listening to a few on Audible, which is even more magic than Amazon, but I share my allocation of credits with the whole family, so that gives me pause before ordering.

I have even bought a couple of Kindle books, just because they were very cheap.  And I read them immediately.

The ones on the shelf are not helping me love reading though.  I’m not sure I have that many books in total, definitely not compared to some.  But I am sure I have a higher proportion of unread books.  My brain seems to think that buying a book is the job done, I never bother to read it.

I borrowed Marie Kondo’s Magic Tidying Up Book (that is not its actual title, this is the version that has lodged itself in my brain): the book is a fascinating insight either into Japanese culture (I quizzed a friend on that) or a fantasy world; it did not really inspire me to origami my clothes, or to start talking to my handbag.  What it did do was give me the confidence to know that I really do not need to keep things that do not serve a proper purpose. That is greatly adapted as Kondo only keeps things that spark joy.   A sense of purpose is enough for me, but where I am in agreement with Kondo, a sense of “but I really ought to read that someday because…” is not.  What I did love about the book was the mindfulness of choosing what to keep, of having your home filled with stuff you have chosen and therefore treasure, not just things that we acquire.

So, book clearing it is. Hopefully it will inspire me to read more of the books in the house. And the resulting left overs will be sold to raise funds for CAFODin a couple of weeks’ time.  If you have any books to donate to the sale…