Category Archives: Dad

House-hunting Outside the Box

 

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My dad calls it divergent thinking, but I suspect my need to think outside the box in any and every situation has been a large part of my mental health issues these last twelve months. If I have one thought it spreads like a firework. If I have a box of thoughts, I need plenty of space to watch all the fireworks.

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When I got very ill twelve months ago the fireworks fizzled and fell. I had to accept limitations and let go.

This letting go has not come about lightly: there are a dozen areas I would like to do more in, a hundred people I would like to help, a thousand things that need thinking through.

But I am learning to let go. Let go of ideals I cannot reach. Let go of people who hurt me. Let go of wrong self-image. Let go of anger. Let go of trying to ‘achieve’ to impress. Let go of turning up the heat. The cold never bothered me anyway.

I am now at a stage where I need to harness what is good and right about my divergent thinking. The instant creativity when I’m in a good place and Joe decides we need to make an apple tree from things in the kitchen, for example. Or helping Lily remember a new times table. Or finding a recipe for ingredients we already have in. Being academically thorough because it hurts not to. Little baby steps that indicate I’m heading in a good direction.

And I’m part of a great team. My husband is single-minded and inspires me to focus rather than diverge. As a result we now have a great ‘get the house ready for viewings’ system, including keeping things in sensible places, having empty drawers at the ready for items on surfaces and not panicking when the ‘wrong’ load of washing is doing as I know it will all get straightened out soon and that I’m going to be ok whatever the outcome. Just keep swimming, Lucy.

We are convinced that God’s purposes are driving our endeavours to relocate, so the emotional energy I have can be spent focused on practical and reasonable tasks. Today Joe and I got to toddlers; a wonderful opportunity to see friends and how things have developed in great ways there. Later this afternoon I showed the fifth couple in eight days around our house. It used up all I had left emotionally. Corners have to be cut elsewhere: manageable cleaning and tidying, efficient use of time, time off alone, not counting the calories, not stressing over what I cannot control. Improvements are evident in lots of directions, for which I am utterly grateful, even when pushed to my emotional limits.

One task I love doing is house-hunting, and I go at it with a combination of God-driven purpose, single-mindedness learnt from my husband and outside-the-box problem-solving techniques I can’t help but bring to the table. One of my sustaining strengths is writing and it appears that another is researching.

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Armed with access to the internet and a couple of clever spreadsheets, I review the houses that have appeared on our search radius on a frequent basis. They are constantly changing as we are moving to an area of short supply and high demand. A house we viewed at the weekend is currently in a bidding war and already at  £43,000 above the asking price, days after appearing on the market. We did not bid on it, as we cannot buy until we sell. But I am making sure I do my outside-the-box homework. Systematically.

Rightmove is the most useful of the property search websites I use, with their various search tools, floor plans, school distance maps, and invaluable Saved Properties feature. Zoopla is better for learning about sold house prices, with interesting heat maps and information on what sold in various streets if you are prepared to work through in detail when you are serious about a property. As we are searching within a target geographical area we’ve realised it also pays to get registered with local agents who send you information ahead of homes appearing on the market and to check their own websites, which update sooner than Rightmove.

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We like to know how long a property has been marketed, and whether the sellers have changed agent at some stage. While EPC checks on the energy rating are some use if they have a date, they are valid for up to ten years so weren’t necessarily produced for the most recent sale. We downloaded a toolbar from Property Bee (which uses Firefox) with a sidebar listing price changes and number of weeks on the market. Fascinating stuff. As our own house is proving to be a niche market, we know this doesn’t prove everything, but is useful to check out whether a property has not sold for some months, so that we can check why that might be and whether the vendors are willing to consider a lower offer.

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If a house looks promising, I like to familiarise myself with the area. Nothing beats driving or walking around in person, but some useful sites for getting extra information from a distance are Google Maps (especially with Street View and to check distances and routes by car, foot, bike or public transport, which may impact upon the children as they get older), Bing Maps (for Bird’s eye views of the location from North, South, East and West) and the Environment Agency‘s pages on flood risks from rivers and elsewhere. Online regional planning information is useful to determine the scale and dates of development for a property, currency of local greenbelt, the year the street was built and an indication of whether extensions of one sort or another might be granted. Wikipedia is a surprisingly good source of information on village life if there are links to local community websites as well as history of the area.

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I have learnt a lot about school catchments (including relevant high schools) from Cambridgeshire’s education admissions website, and we applied for Joseph’s school place based on data we picked up online as well as a couple of visits. If he should not get any of our three choices, we will be able to find out quickly where there are spaces in both his and Lily’s year groups for September so that they can be together if possible in another local school. Ofsted reports and data tables tell you a certain amount, as do schools’ own websites, but going around a real school and meeting staff there, as well as learning about schools from local people where possible are much more fruitful. We have also taken a keen interest in location and websites of churches in the places we’ve been looking at, as a strong community church will have a big impact on us as a family and we’d like it to be not too far to travel to. Hakuna Matata, as they say.

So, lots of things to keep this divergent mind happy in a useful way on days when I want to crawl into my mindspace all by myself and shut the door. When we are moved I know what my next project will be, as I am preparing a book. However, I cannot write a book and move house and raise a family at the same time. I have learnt to let go and focus on what is best. Freedom within fixed constraints allows me opportunity to thrive and feel useful. I am moving from the first quadrant in the Grace Cycle (Acceptance) to the second (Sustaining Strength). I am allowed to write. I am allowed to research. I have a value and a purpose, and I feel like a room without a roof.

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The thing with the words

Can you use short words? Can you use just a few words? Does it help? Would it help the people who read the words?

Can you say a lot with a little?

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Many thanks to the rather wonderful xkcd site for this explanation of Saturn V using only the 1000 most common words in English.

I have a love-hate relationship with vocabulary. I do know many, many words. I use far fewer in writing, and a tiny subset verbally if it can be helped. Frequently I cannot remember the mot juste in the mother tongue these days. Not helpful when playing my parents at Scrabble online and the only words allowed are words none of us know. It turns out there are many, many words I do not know.

I am working on a book. I have had an idea for constraining my writing. Apparently lots of other people do this sort of thing. I am including a character with a learning disability, and it occurred to me that perhaps I should limit the words I am allowed to use, either by how common they are in English or maybe by whether it could be seen to be read neatly in the context it is set in. This exercise would actually be far from simple; I would need to be certain which words and versions of words I would be allowed, structure and plan carefully and try hard to make the prose read well. For example, I stumbled across something today which made me worry that perhaps this may result in something quite wooden:

A text for students of English:                                                                      It was a bright sunny morning the week before Christmas. Grandma Burns was knitting busily. The snow was deep and its crust shone like silver. Suddenly she heard sad sighs outside her door. She opened the door and there was Peter and Jimmy Rice, two very poor little boys. Their faces were in their hands and they were crying.

The same text written for native speakers of English:

Grandma Burns sat knitting busily in the sun one bright morning the week before Christmas. The snow lay deep, and the hard crust glistened like silver. All at once she heard little sighs of grief outside her door. When she opened it there sat Peter and Jimmy Rice, two very poor little boys, with their faces in their hands; and they were crying.

I think I am going to need to play with the idea and try out some different ways of running with it. I’d love it if the book I write could be accessed by people with a simpler range of vocabulary. Vocabulary can unlock so much emotion, nuance, connection and depth. However, it also has the capacity to act as a language barrier within a language. I have worked with many young offenders and students with low academic ability and have wanted to communicate meaningfully with them without patronising them or imitating patterns of speech I can’t use honestly. (Dja get me?)

7 years on

Today marks the seventh anniversary of dad’s heart attack. A heart attack which would have killed him if he had not had mum nearby. Or if he had lived in a different time, or a different place. In his own words ‘every day since then has been a gift. God has been good.’

Today is a gift. Each day I get to tickle my children, feed my guinea pigs, joke with my dad or learn from my mum is a gift. Each day I get to wake up next to my amazing husband is a gift. Each day I find something to smile about is a gift.

Dad’s health is good, but it is not perfect. Life is good; a good gift. I want to thank God for this precious gift.

And God has been healing me over this time too: there are new things on the horizon. A book. A relocation. New opportunities. Learning to let go of some aspects of the past, enjoy the gift of the present and trust deeply for all that the future will bring. Perhaps I will start a new blog. I’m not hurrying any decisions though. There is too much going on preparing for selling and moving and I am learning to work within my limits. I will always treasure my mum and my dad, and be grateful for all that God has done for me through them. But I am also learning to use the treasure he has given me to serve him wherever he calls us as a family, and whatever he creates through us, be it open or hidden.

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For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21

Pipwatch

 

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The piplings went on holiday to my parents’ house while we spent much of the summer away from home. Dad was good enough to keep the little trees alive and even separate out the conjoined triplets. There are still five. I am feeling the responsibility of growing these tinies as well as I can, and trying to keep the white mould which has been threatening them at bay. (There is also a sunflower in the picture, which apparently has something to do with my son.)

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For his birthday my husband went without a flame-thrower and instead received this mini-greenhouse from us. An utterly unselfish gift, honest. Anyway, the pips are trying it out. Great views, free drinks and penthouse suite. They probably think they’re still on holiday.

 

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Something entirely different

micahI like this for more than one reason.

See also the blog it comes from: http://theologygrams.wordpress.com/

And the blog I picked it up from: http://rachelheldevans.com/ (I recently read Rachel’s book on living – rather facetiously – as a biblical woman for a year and it had me in fits).

Micah 6:8, should it not come to mind immediately (!) is:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Depression Toolkit #24: Good times

I am on the upward curve, and the view is improving.

Not long ago, if I had spent more than ten minutes in public I would have been like this inside:

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This weekend, I managed two long train journeys, 8 hours in company at a fabulous wedding and the proof-reading and checking of a 10,000 word thesis for a friend. The sustained improvement in concentration and general absence of panic are hugely satisfying. I can honestly say I am feeling drained but fired up at the same time. Some elements were important in this, not least the medication, positive thinking and allowing myself not to need to be perfect. Also the presence of my husband, the kind and thoughtful university friends, games on my mobile, inspiring reading matter and the opportunity to take many many photos were a blessing in their own ways. We visited the amazing Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in Durham; I highly recommend it should you get the opportunity this summer as it ticked many boxes for me. We had the comfort of knowing that the children were being very well looked after by my parents too, despite forgetting to transfer the car seats and causing extra work for them.

There was also incredibly good news from my brother and his wife. Their fourth child arrived safely on Saturday and completes the family. They now have two boys and two girls, and it was a huge relief and joy to hear the news, despite worrying in advance that I wouldn’t be able to manage hearing about a new baby in the family. One of my concerns has been in finding identity as a mother of two when I would have loved four children. Future child-bearing is not a decision which has to be fully decided at this point however – and we will probably stop at two in all likelihood. This season of life has given me much opportunity to think and has softened my heart towards those whose nests are, for whatever reason, less full than they would like. I was overjoyed and excited at the good news of my new niece’s early arrival. Far more than I would have anticipated. I can’t wait to see her photo and in time to hold her. She is utterly special and unique and is our little princess.

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Depression Toolkit #8: Honesty

honesty-smallJust had a rough morning falling apart inside while trying to explain myself and my situation to a lady at the local NHS wellbeing service, in person this time. Their initial phone assessment left all of us confused and had me labelled in every category from post-natal depression to anxiety. Apparently this won’t do and they can’t help you if they can’t categorise you, so I had to go in and meet them. Now I am just a perfectionist with low self-esteem (i.e. I won’t tell you if you spell something wrong). I don’t think they liked the fact that I don’t fit their boxes that neatly. I am not convinced that they officially ruled the other categories out either.

In any case, because I cannot meet in groups they can’t really offer group therapy, and you need to pass that level to access CBT. I would know if I could meet in groups because I miss my friends, but am terrified of meeting up with anyone more than one at a time. To be fair, I’m not even great one at a time at present, including with the children. This may be in part due to the medication still kicking in at the higher level.

And I have a bit of an idea about CBT from skills my youth leader taught me as a teenager; since then can recognise my thoughts heading into negative territory and have a range of practised strategies for diverting them. Yesterday I caught myself wondering if the guinea pigs were sulking, and before taking that thought further changed the subject in my head and parked the idea for humour value. The self-discipline is a habit which takes years, but mindfulness and self-evaluation are already very much part of my life. I am utterly grateful to him for his time and tenacity in helping me when I was at my previous low ebb. We all need heroes at times to open up to and places where we can be honest and let the truth set us free.

The more I read, the more I think that rather than one cause for my current ill health, there was a drip-drip effect from a large number of directions over a substantial period of time. Everything from the past 18 years got bottled and I ran out of bottle.

I am so grateful for two very useful conversations yesterday. Without them I would have bought a whole lot more comfort food on the way home. The first was an honest chat with dad, who remembers what I was like before and for both of us to recognise how far I have come. The second was with a remarkable friend from church who is like a mentor – she is in the pastoral care team and is wonderful at listening and speaking truth. From her I realised that I have various options going forward, and am hoping to ask for counselling with a Christian group, who can understand better the way I can address my insatiable protestant work ethic mentality which cannot be lived up to. Or at least, how to cut myself some slack.

There is another reason I find it more helpful to chat with Christians about tough times. When I am at my lowest, I still have the capacity to experience joy and hope. It’s like being in a desert and finding shade. My mentor reminded me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit which would explain this. I remember visiting Death Valley with my husband nine years ago. It was 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. Even jumping out of the car to take a photo meant running through achingly hot air and trying not to touch metal in order to get back inside to the air conditioning.

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There were no trees in sight, and hardly any vegetation. Depression feels like that, but the deeper I go in my journey with God, the more I am able to find oases of joy, hope and calm. Going to the NHS today did not deliver, and I didn’t feel truly listened to or able to connect, but talking and praying with Christians means my honesty counts for something and is part of the healing. God’s presence is very real to me, and I find myself aching for Him as much as I am aching for healing. When I am through this valley there will be such a celebration of renewal and I know that I am on the journey there. I want to be able to talk over the hurts and come out the other side stronger and wiser.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me

Psalm 23:4

 

“…the truth will set you free…”

John 8:32

Jam tomorrow or ‘jamas today?

I am not sure I should give you this whole post today.

But in the interests of getting straight to the point, and also as I may well forget to, here it is. I’m pondering Deferred Gratification again today.

My children are increasingly keen to have their material needs and wants met, and know exactly who to ask for satisfaction. I am repeatedly amazed at my son’s confident trust in expecting a pleasing result, or his tenacity in alarming responses should less preferential alternatives be suggested. What keeps me going is knowing that his sister (who still checks in frequently with requests) is now able to accept a refusal more often than not should the request go beyond the egg/fish category. It is ok to be firm, fellow-parents. It is appropriate to say No to children at times, even when the price is right. My daughter Lily recently explained to Joe that we couldn’t get something because it was ‘too much money’ which wasn’t true, but was also happy for me to correct her. Am I a mean parent? Not at all; I recently had to forego a large proportion of my comfort Pop Tarts in the interests of making mealtimes a happy experience for all concerned. Who wants their children to grow up not knowing what things cost or where they come from? Joe asked me this evening if chocolate came from paint. Nice thinking. Perhaps we should be writing some kind of letter to Cadbury’s…

Ah, but all this talk of confectionery, and no Jam.

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I was at mum and dad’s recently, discussing the perfect state of jam. Dad and I agreed that the pleasure derived from starting a new jar of jam was far greater than the scale of the thing, especially when you consider going back to it the second time. Second day jam? Not  special. But then dad pointed out that finishing a jar, knowing you have made space in the cupboard, and also anticipating a new jar to start the next day – that really is something special. Jam indeed tomorrow. And jam today, so doubly happy. The best experience of jam could well be finishing the jar.

 

Tomorrow I don’t know if I’ll have jam.

Tomorrow I would ordinarily be running a toddler group and racing around with my control-freak head on. We usually get around 40 children a week, and there is a lot that happens to make the group work. Tomorrow marks the first session I won’t be there for a while, ‘signed off’ for a sabbatical half-term. I will have to make other plans to keep Joe amused. We can’t stay in pyjamas all day. Actually, we could, but it would not befit the school run or hanging out the washing.

Tomorrow I’ll miss the people, the activity and the joy of seeing my little boy running around in church playing and having fun. But I am not sure that tomorrow or any tomorrows in the near future I would be capable of what is required of me: meeting people and not panicking, staying in a room full of noise, remembering the details, watching a number of activities, training, leading, guiding, opening up ideas. I will post more about what is happening to me soon – maybe tomorrow. For now, this jam jar is right out of jam. But finishing the jar is sometimes really the better part of the whole experience.

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Who knows what’s in the cupboard for tomorrow?

Game boys and girls

The kids are sick. This is not modern youth speak indicating their coefficient of cool; they are actually sick. Joe is ‘nose runny again’ and taking out shares in his parents’ bedroom by night and Lily has been off school for a week and working on her amateur dramatics skills at every opportunity with her parents. In my opinion she still has a long way to go. Nothing big, exciting or clever in the illness department. They will recover and all will be well again. And in the meantime I am grateful for being able to grab a few hours today to make progress in a number of important areas as my parents have bravely stepped in.

I have not been able to interest the children in crafts or other messy activities and would not want to while both have the attention span of a goldfish in a forgettery. Parking children in front of a TV (short programmes only) or allowing them to play educational games on the CBeebies website has been particularly successful, but not the ideal situation. They are not in a useful state for helping with chores, sadly.

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So I raided my brain and realised that there were some other ideas. Back to Old School play.

My sister – the one who makes films – recently let me have her old Game Boy. Wow – that brought back a few 90s memories. I was so jealous of the kids who had these when I was younger. It was a very long ferry trip for the German exchange as one of the few 13 year olds not to have one. But they are good for heuristic technological play, as it turns out. My son can now play ‘Stack the Shapes into a Really Interesting Tower’ which – at Level Zero – buys me enough time to put a load of washing on. And his sister can practice her Being A Teacher and Telling Him All She Knows about technology from a previous generation. Because she loves history so much. And also how to make it start again.

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I expect it won’t be long before he is better than me, but I will not be publishing evidence of that, clearly. Then there’s the game of What Ancient Objects Can We Find In The House Which Can Be Used For Creating Music?

This is what Joe came up with when I found him amusing himself the other morning:

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He doesn’t really have an invisible left hand, that’s just his rhythm-copying. Educational? I should think so: international drums, music and history lessons all without trying too hard. I guess it goes to show you can always benefit from having a few things in the house that you don’t mind being hit by a two-year-old. Especially if they are not people.

And then I was feeling so nostalgic, and excited that Joe may be tall enough to visit Legoland this year, and enthralled to have discovered letsbuilditagain.com that I invited him to help me rebuild my Best Christmas Present Ever. Released in 1984, Lego Castle model 6080 is quite something. By this point Lily was back on the computer games, and I don’t blame her. What used to take an afternoon of sorting and building took three or four sessions with Joseph, much of which was spent explaining how to place things symmetrically and not to hurt your fingers or mix the wrong lego trousers and tops. Fashion, history, technology, maths… who needs school? I even had to get out two pairs of tweezers to rescue the lego string and had to substitute half a dozen pieces of highly hooverable shape from other sets of more interesting colour. This is proper lego. This lego actually weighs a serious amount. It smells of the mid 1980s. It makes me happy deep inside. All this was lost on Joe, who thinks it is a glorified drawbridge (it is a wonderfully glorified drawbridge in fact). It turns out several other female friends had the same set when they were younger. So perhaps I should shift the Lego Friends and pursue a more historical and adventurous agenda with Lily. When she gets off the computer, that is.

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Changes of seed

My mini-orchard is growing! I am so excited I have upgraded them to Premium seating and am even remembering to offer them a drink several times a week.

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The middle pot is still winning. However, I am loathe to prick them out in case I kill them all in the process; their roots may prove to be too close so we’ll have to wait and see whether they survive in the long run. If you know anything about this, do leave me a message. I am already aware we are unlikely to get edible apples, but as a green experiment it is fascinating for me and occasionally the rest of the family too.

Joseph enjoys helping me find new things for the guinea pigs (hay in this weather, particularly) and I’m sure it was my dad’s influence on him that led to this happening today:

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Apologies for the poor photo quality (especially to my cousin Pete, whose blog here explains how to do it much better). I will need to keep it clean and well seeded, but after some very fat pigeons took all the seed I left out on the ground this morning while numerous smaller wild birds skittered around fruitlessly I decided enough was enough. I’m not even sure what the pink thing is, but Joe found it and hopefully our local passarines will like it. Berry and bug flavour. Yum.

Just in time too, for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on 26-27th January. By then I intend to have learnt a few more names of birds. Perhaps I should use twitter to update you as I go. I do have a twitter account which now feeds here, but don’t tweet that often yet. Here is the sheet to use if you are interested (it links to the actual one):

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Birds not shown actual size