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. 

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…