Still here!

It’s not that I don’t want to post – just that my blog hasn’t actually been working for what seems to have been the entirety of the summer holidays! Not sure what is up with WordPress but it just wouldn’t load, and has been having great difficulty showing me other people’s WordPress based blogs as well. Don’t know for sure if this will work but having managed to finally pin it down I thought I’d better jump up and down and shout to let any readers I have left know that I haven’t abandoned my blog – it just seems to have abandoned me!

We’ve had a fabulous summer. The weather has been pretty much perfect – after the longest, wettest, darkest bleakest feeling winter I remember for ages, and the two previous summers not really happening weather-wise at all, it’s been like an amazing gift to have actual prolonged periods of sunshine and warmth. I have not taken one single bit of it for granted! We went away, the four of us, to the New Wine North and East Summer Conference at the Newark & Notts Showground (basically thousands of Christians living and worshipping together for a week in a field), and then the younger two went off with their dad for a fortnight and I took One and my mum off down to Dartmoor for a week’s camping. Two very different holidays, both fabulous, and I’m intending to post about both of those once my blog becomes more reliable and stable again.

Back to school and work next week for us all! We have a period of uncertainty ahead as we wait to find out when Two will be leaving us for pastures new living with his dad in Manchester – it all depends on school places and a house move before he can go. This is the most difficult thing I have faced as a parent so far, and the only thing reconciling me to the whole thing at all is that Two desperately wants to go, and at 13 he is old enough to make his own decisions about where he lives. He knows how much he will be missed and that the door is always open for him to come back if it doesn’t work out. The thing that’s affecting me most at the moment is the uncertainty – once we have a date I will feel at once far worse about the whole thing, but also far better as I can begin to come to terms with it all. Meh. That’s enough about that for now. 😦

Between now and Monday I need to coordinate finding out what they all need for school and purchasing it at the cheapest price possible. Prices of everything everywhere are going up, and incomes everywhere are staying exactly the same, or going down. I’m having to be frugal with everything at the moment, and I know it’s the same for the majority. Of course going on two holidays hasn’t helped, but we’ve made some excellent memories this summer and I can put up with being extra careful for the next couple of months to make up for that. 🙂

Better post this before it all decides to refuse to work again. If you’re reading this, then it worked! I hope to be back with posts about our camping holidays before the week is out…

Advertisements

Snapshots from a short retreat

Eldest daughter and I have just come home from a three night camping holiday in Derbyshire. It was exactly what we needed. We planned virtually nothing, intending almost solely to relax, read, sleep, do crosswords and generally take time out from the relentlessness of everyday life.

We did.

Here are a few of my most memorable moments:

– Very very early on Sunday morning both of us woke at around the same time needing to visit the toilet (only a short walk across the field; I pitched wisely!) One went first and came back saying ‘the sky is absolutely lovely out there’. I peeped through the window and then settled down in front of it, putting the kettle on to make us both a hot drink, just because – so what if it was 4.30am? Once it became clear that I was looking directly at where the sun was about to rise, I took my steaming mug of tea outside, stood at the top of the sleeping campsite listening to the birds and the resident cockerel, and watched the sun peep up and then emerge over the top of the hill.

It was magical.

Then I snuggled back into my sleeping bag and slept for another three hours. Bliss.

– Later on Sunday we went into Wirksworth, the small town in Derbyshire where I spent my childhood, and visited the well dressings (Local custom). Saw a few people I haven’t seen for ages, all of whom didn’t recognise One, who has grown up a great deal since we were last there two and a half years ago! It is always lovely, and slightly weird, to be back in a town I know so well, but where I haven’t lived for twenty years.

We went to say hello to my dad, whose ashes are buried in the cemetery right next to the old family business; now empty and partly demolished. I made him a daisy chain and put it on his grave, remembering how I used to make long daisy chains as a small child, and he would lie down on the grass so I could see if they were longer than his 6 feet 4 inches. 🙂

– I finished three books on my kindle while we were there. I have barely had time for reading for ages, so it was a huge treat to be able to just read, and read, and read, guilt free. Once I’ve got everything in from the car, I’ll find the notebook in which I scribbled down my thoughts on each book, and copy them into the blog.

– Yesterday evening J and his mum came over to visit and have tea with us. It was lovely to have visitors to our tent, and they brought a big enough pan with them so that I could make bolognese for four instead of the two I’d originally planned to cook for! We all tackled a crossword together and had a good chat and a laugh. As the day turned to evening, the constant sunshine we had been blessed with turned to rain.

I now have a car full of soggy tent, plus most of our camping equipment too. I’ll sort it out tomorrow. Since we got back home (via McDonald’s for a late lunch to dry out and warm up after striking camp in the pouring rain), we’ve been resting and catching up on the TV we’ve missed while in the tent. Tomorrow is a day for sorting out house and car. For tonight, I think bed is the way forward. I’m appreciating home comforts now like our own toilet (instead of sharing only one loo with five other families), and more space, but I adore camping and am missing sleeping in a tent already! Five nights so far this year. I’m aiming to add many more to that total before the season is out!

Our Shropshire trip in pictures

Just a few pictures to supplement the words I provided you with yesterday! Yes, I could go back to that entry and add the pictures in at the appropriate places –
but this is quicker and I am a lazy blogger!

 

The view of the Shropshire hills from our tent. Glorious:

 

 

 

Swingball in the rain, nothing stops my children!:

 

 

Dressing up as the Iron Age at the Secret Hills Discovery Centre:

 

The friendly mammoth outside the Secret Hills Discovery Centre. One and Two were very excited to see it again. Three didn’t remember it at all (last time we went, she was only 2):

 

 

Dam building underway at Carding Mill Valley:

 

 

Bacon butties for breakfast – making the most of no rain by eating outside while we could!:

 

 

Sunset on the last night. Our reward for the previous two evenings of rain!:

The Prev family invade Shropshire!

We went camping. Me, One, Two, Three, our tent, some sleeping bags, a couple of gas stoves and a sense of adventure.

We stayed at an old favourite small campsite near Church Stretton, where we have stayed a few times before, but not for six years. When we arrived, one of the older two exclaimed ‘it feels like we’ve come home!’. *Big grin*

While we put up the tent, two ladies came across from the campervan opposite, offered to help and then said ‘we know your children!’ Turns out they are friends of the children’s dad’s new wife and were at their wedding! Last time they saw Three she was dressed as a dragon… Strange coincidence! Lovely to meet them. 🙂

I politely refused their help because I wanted to be absolutely sure I could put the tent up all by myself with just the children to assist, in case I need to in the future – they totally understood. Despite a bit of wind ‘helping’ us along, One and I managed to turn a big pile of material and some poles into a passable home for us for the weekend. Hurrah!

Not long after the tent was up, it began to rain. Undeterred, the children played swingball regardless.

The first night was very, very, very windy. It was very, very noisy. Everyone was scared that the tent was going to blow away. I went out to check the guy ropes twice (they were fine. I was reassured). All four of us ended up snuggled into my bedroom compartment in the early hours, lit by three little lanterns to cheer us up. Eventually I went and put the kettle on and we all had hot chocolate at three in the morning as the gale rattled the tent around us. Of such adventures are lasting family memories made. It was awesome.

In the morning we eavesdropped on various caravan owners chatting about how scary the wind was in the night, and how they were amazed ‘that tent’ was still standing. (We were the only tent at the site). I felt very smug! And very proud of my lovely tent and our satisfactory pitching skills. 🙂

On Friday it rained. A lot. And then a lot more. We went to the Secret Hills Discovery Centre in Craven Arms – a place we have fond memories of. Some of it was the same (the cuddly mammoth outside the door) and some of it has changed (the local library now occupies over half of the old cafe area; the life size mammoth skeleton no longer makes a scary mammoth noise; the hot air balloon simulation is disappointingly different) and I have a feeling the general consensus was that as a family we may well have grown out of the place a little. I’m glad we went back one time to find that out though.

Later on we had a cream tea in Church Stretton and then met up, for the first time, with someone I have known online for 7 years who also happened to be holidaying in the area! It was the lovely H from Dancing Through The Shadows and she is just as fab in real life as I expected her to be. She put up with our particular brand of family insanity very well and even braved our campsite to be fed a cup of tea and a home made biscuit!

And the rain went on. And on. Overnight the wind came back, though not quite as bad as the night before. I only ended up with one small child (Three) sleeping in my bedroom compartment for a bit of reassurance, and we all had a much better night’s sleep.

By the morning it was not raining. We decided to take ourselves off to Carding Mill Valley and spent a lovely long afternoon playing in the river, making dams, playing a complicated imaginary game I couldn’t even begin to understand (Two and Three), and sitting reading (me), playing games on phone (One) and having a fairly unhealthy picnic (all of us). I love it there, and if we lived near enough we would be there every weekend and probably a lot of weekday evenings too!

While we were there I had a phonecall with some very sad news that someone I loved very much had unexpectedly and peacefully passed away. I’m still very saddened and shocked by this and the news cast a shadow over the day a little, though it also made me even more aware of the need to make the most of every moment with our families and I was doubly determined to enjoy my children’s company and the gorgeous surroundings.

That evening, our last one at the campsite, the sky was clear and we had the chance to cross ‘star gazing’ off the list of things we all wanted to do this weekend. We sat outside the tent with our hot chocolate and watched the stars and planets emerging in the dark sky. This is a family tradition but the first time Three has joined in – on previous family camping trips she was still a baby and had a fixed bedtime! It was lovely and another memory was made.

This morning we awoke to a dry tent, to my relief, but unfortunately by the time we’d started to eat our bacon butties, the rain was starting again, and it only worsened quickly as the morning progressed! We packed everything up inside the tent and managed to pack the car in a window of time when it wasn’t flinging it down, but the tent itself went down absolutely soaked and I didn’t attempted to roll it up tightly back in the bag, just folded it loosely and stuffed it in the boot as it was!

We soggy lot had Sunday lunch at McDonald’s in Shrewsbury and then carried on home. I’ve partly unpacked the car, had a good sit down, a cup of tea, some toast, and kept smiling at the memories of the first real camping holiday I’ve taken the children on by myself since becoming a single parent.

I am very proud that:

– We put the tent up by ourselves and it stayed up despite scary wind.

– We had a good time and the activities I planned worked out well (mostly!)

– We stayed organised and reasonably tidy and had nice meals cooked on two gas rings.

And my favourite thing to be proud of:

– I stayed chilled out and hardly got stressed or shouty at all – only a tiny bit this morning when trying to pack up a tent full of stuff in a torrential downpour!

OK it was only three nights but it worked really, really well; we had a great time, I proved to myself that I can do this on my own and next summer I might be able to plan a longer trip (no time or money left this year now!)

Bonus ASD footnote:

The one disadvantage of taking a child with Asperger’s Syndrome camping: constant repetitive singing of his favourite youtube songs all the flipping time…. and no escape from it!

One of the many advantages of taking a child with Asperger’s Syndrome camping: When the people across the field come back from a night out and are a little louder than they realise they are being, chattering away happily and obliviously, only Two had the gall to get out of his sleeping bag, entirely of his own volition, walk across the field and ask them politely and firmly to please keep the noise down because he is ‘trying to get to sleep and finding it rather difficult’. They apologised to him and kept the noise down. I applauded him silently from my own scaredy cat sleeping bag…  😉

A week of refreshment, relaxation and 7,000 other people!

Yesterday the four of us arrived home from a week spent at Newark Showground, living in our tent. It was the annual New Wine North & East Summer Conference, and this was our third one. And without a doubt this was my favourite one so far.

A brief history of the last four summers:

August 2009. Greenbelt festival with Two and Three while One was at Scout camp, camping with a few friends. Newly separated, trying to get to grips with being a single parent, totally stressed, I was an utter basket case for the majority of the weekend. I had so many stamping feet tantrums that weekend I’m surprised I didn’t leave my trainers in the mud. It is fair to say that I didn’t enjoy Greenbelt much, but I think that had more to do with my state of mind and attitude at the time than the festival itself.

August 2010. New Wine with all 3 children, and some church friends. Though a year had passed, I still struggled with holidaying as a single parent, and also struggled with being fully sociable with our friends. During the week I realised just how much I was still struggling with everything, and drew an accidental picture depicting how awful I was feeling; lonely, rejected, useless, with cripplingly low self esteem. When I looked at the picture I was shocked and upset. I spent a fair proportion of the week in floods of tears, though I did enjoy it and the children said it was the best holiday they had ever had. 🙂

I started some counselling in the September, and took the picture along as a starting point, saying ‘this is where I am starting from’, basically.

August 2011. New Wine with all the children and the same group of friends. I could really tell I was in a better place this year. We all enjoyed it, I cried a lot less, still found some of it difficult but relaxed a lot more than the year before. One memorable moment was the phonecall from the Child Protection Officer to ask to meet me for a chat after Two had told his group leaders he wanted to die. Quite a tricky conversation to have, to let them know that he says it quite often, it is more of a reflex reaction and not to be taken particularly seriously, without sounding blase and as though I don’t care! The other memorable moment was managing to lock my keys and my mobile phone in my car by accident at about eleven o’clock on the last  night when all of our friends had already gone home. That took a lot of sorting out along with a very kind and helpful steward and eventually a breakdown lorry driving onto the site after midnight… oops! (It took me a whole year to confess to our friends that this had happened…)

August 2012. New Wine with 3 children plus 2 of our usual party and their respective daughters. This was without a doubt the most relaxing holiday with children I have had, possibly ever, and certainly since becoming a single parent. Here are some reasons why:

– Having recently finished 2 years of counselling and also having treatment for depression I am in a hugely better place myself. I’m learning to chill out and relax like never before.

– The children are all a year older and it is a year that has made a huge difference. One has moved up to the 14-18 activities and has really enjoyed the extra freedom and maturity levels of that. Two has moved up to the 12-13 activities which meant he could stay in bed a bit longer in the mornings and got free toast during the interactive breakfast cafe! Three being 8 now is allowed to leave her venue by herself instead of being collected by an adult, and she along with my friends’ daughters had a LOT more freedom this year to go where she wished when she wished. This meant I could attend seminars at any time of day I felt like it instead of being tied to the morning ones only.

– I filled in a form stating that Two is on the autistic spectrum and detailed his propensity for talking about death so I didn’t get phoned up by concerned people this year. This set into motion a whole process of special needs provision for him and he loved it. He now wants his own pair of ear defenders, and spent a lot of time during his group activities in the ‘Our Place’ section (for special needs) blowing bubbles and playing air hockey with another boy with Aspergers Syndrome. This all suited him far better and he can’t wait to go back to ‘Our Place’ next year; the team were fabulous with him and I really felt I could relax about him this year!

– We catered for ourselves this year instead of as part of a group. This meant I could shop as cheaply as possible and also gave us freedom about mealtimes which was more difficult when part of a cooking and washing up rota. It made an enormous difference to my relaxation levels.

– Instead of choosing as many seminars as I could fit in, this year I picked the few that really interested me and had a lot more time just chilling in the tent. I was so tired at the beginning of the week that I kept dozing off during morning and evening worship (yes listening to a sermon with your eyes shut is TOTALLY normal…) and a few afternoon naps really helped.

I got a lot out of the talks I heard, particularly ‘Raising Strong Daughters’, ‘Good Enough Parenting’ and ‘A Beginner’s Guide to the Bible’ (I’m not exactly a beginner to the Bible but I haven’t actually read it at all for a year so thought I’d like to start from scratch!). I really enjoyed spending family time with the children when we ate together, and loved the fact that their activities kept them busy so I could relax and do my own thing too.

I’ve come home feeling refreshed, revitalised and feeling very good about my ability to take my children on holiday by myself – I never felt at all confident about that until now! My friends kept teasing me for being ‘too calm and organised’ – those are NOT qualities I have ever demonstrated in their presence before!

It was all fab and I can’t wait for next year!

“You have all the coordination of a three legged badger on Valium…”

I think that was my favourite quote of the weekend – and while it is true that I am not the most coordinated person on the planet, I would like to remind the person who said it that I was coordinated enough to tie up all his guy ropes nicely in the pouring rain before we put the tent down on Monday!

I thought I was overdue a proper blog post which wasn’t a daily photo challenge. So, here in my favourite bullet point format (with occasional added photos) are the highlights of a long weekend camping with J (who, as you can see from the title, does a good line in insults…!)

 

 

– Approaching the campsite in the car and suddenly driving in between big snowdrifts either side of the road!. Enough snow that the pitch we were supposed to be camping on was still covered in the stuff, so we had to be moved to the other end of the field!

 

 

– Delicious cooked breakfasts. I tried black pudding for the first time ever, on Sunday morning. I won’t try it again in a hurry but at least now I can say I don’t like it from real experience rather than from fear of the unknown!

– Rain, rain, rain, rain and more rain. And a bit of rain for good measure. Most of the snow had been washed away by the time we packed up to come home!

– Lots of sleep. Due to the aforementioned rain, we spent a lot of time in the tent keeping warm and dry, and due to both of our ridiculously busy and chaotic lives at present, we made the most of the opportunity to get a huge amount of rest and sleep while we could! (Or to put it another way, we didn’t seem to be able to stay awake, so we just decided to go with the flow…)

– Crosswords. Cryptic and non-cryptic. Some of the cryptic ones were brain-bending but we got there in the end and felt very proud of ourselves.

 

– A walk one evening, before the rain set in fully, looking for a lake which seemed rather elusive (it would have helped if I hadn’t taken us both in entirely the wrong direction to start off with!) We found it in the end and spent lots of time taking photographs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I returned home on Monday, completely soaked from getting the tent down in the pouring rain, but relaxed, refreshed and ready to pick up the reins of life once more.