Sun, sea and sand

It was lovely to get away for a few days this week, to enjoy a change of scenery and some down time with my boys. It was also lovely to come home afterwards for a rest. Holidays are fun but exhausting, does that make me sound ungrateful? I am not, I enjoyed our time away immensely. Now though I need to catch up on sleep and on thinking time.

Whilst away I did not manage to read or write, what I got instead was activity and conversation. We made the most of spending time together without our usual distractions. I need to mentally process all of this as I resume the rhythm of my everyday life. My batteries have been successfully recharged, it is now time to move forward.

Booking a few days on the coast in February was always going to be risky weather wise. After the storms and floods of recent weeks I did wonder how we would cope if we were confined to our hotel by the elements. In the event we were lucky and spent much of our time away walking and enjoying the long, sandy beaches and promenades in glorious sunshine.

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The south coast of England is a popular place for retirees as well as holidaymakers. As I do not like crowds I tend to avoid the more built up areas. On one of our walks this week we ended up in Bournemouth and I was reminded why. It was my husband who accurately noted that the irritations of walking through noisy, crowded streets filled with slow moving pedestrians left us feeling more drained than the five mile walk to get there. We were happy to return to the tranquility of the peninsula where our hotel was located.

My daughter had chosen to stay at home so I had my three boys for company. They made good use of the hotel facilities with my elder son joining my husband in the gym while my younger son braved the cold to swim outside despite the wind and evening rain.

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It was accepted that I wished to relax at times, even though I could not find sufficient time to write coherently. I have come home with a notebook filled with words which I hope I will be able to use in subsequent posts. I have so many plans and ideas swirling around in my head. I feel mentally replenished.

I also feel physically over fed. The food was delicious and plentiful, there seemed little point in not indulging while I had the opportunity. My husband and elder son were particularly appreciative of the various chefs’ skills and I will review our restaurant experiences in other posts. Suffice to say here that these were highlights of the trip.

How different this was to previous experiences of eating out when my children were younger. I wonder if my own lack of imagination and skill in the kitchen at home has resulted in a family who can value variety of taste and presentation when it is offered. Even my younger son was willing to try new dishes on this trip. Our evening’s out were enjoyed by all.

We returned home to a daughter who had made good use of having a house to herself. Friends had been round, food of choice cooked, but she had not forgotten to care for our hens or carry out the other few tasks I had left for her. I missed her company but am happy to see her cope responsibly with independence.

I now have a weekend to get the house in order, deal with laundry and indulge my own needs. We also have the third season of Game of Thrones to finish. If we have time this evening then we will watch the final two episodes. I have been warned about the Red Wedding already.

A weekend away

I am currently enjoying the cosy warmth of a small, woodland lodge with my elder two children. Outside our window is a lake where a number of ducks appear to be revelling in the rain. They are the only ones doing so. Since we set off from our home yesterday morning the weather has been utterly foul.

Thankfully we are on a site where there is plenty to do whatever the weather. Our current inactivity is the result of a need to prepare for exams rather than a lack of attractive alternatives. As I write this my children are discussing ‘A’ level physics, not a conversation I am capable of usefully contributing to. My husband and younger son have escaped to the swimming complex for the afternoon.

As well as the lake and the ducks I can admire our very wet bicycles, securely locked up outside our lodge. Early last week my husband suggested that, given the unfriendly weather forecast for the time we were planning on being away, we should leave our bicycles at home. The children were having none of it. Since they were toddlers we have been coming to Center Parcs for regular, family holidays and we have always travelled around the site on our bicycles. It is a part of the holiday that they enjoy.

Thus, yesterday morning, my husband was up bright and early attaching racks and bicycles to the roof of our car. He then faced the challenge of driving a much heightened vehicle through the increasingly wet and windy conditions to get us to our destination. On arrival we where greeted by a thunderstorm and hailstones the size of golf balls. I kid you not. I have never seen anything like it.

We beat a hasty retreat to the swimming complex and had a most enjoyable few hours making good use of the various flumes and pools. Well, the rest of the family did this. I sat and read my book with a warming cup of coffee. Much as I like to swim I am not a leisure pool person. I prefer to swim up and down, counting length after length, before relaxing in a hot jacuzzi. Such things are not possible here where the pools are filled with families having fun with floats and other water toys.

I was, however, happy with my book and my coffee; watching the rain through the glass domed roof; handing out snacks as hungry family members randomly appeared in need of nourishment. It was dark by the time we were ready to make our way to the accommodation.

While I unpacked our belongings and prepared our lodge for a few days stay my husband unloaded the sodden bikes, slipping down a hidden gully as he wrestled them off the high roof of our MPV. Of the two pairs of trousers that he brought for the weekend, one pair is now impressively coated in mud. The air was less impressively filled with his exclamations at this turn of events. I hope that no young children were within earshot at the time.

The bikes are now likely to remain locked outside our lodge until it is time to load them onto the roof of the car again at the end of our short stay. The rain is not forecast to stop. I think perhaps we should have left them at home as was suggested.

One of the down sides of bad weather on a site like this is that it drives everyone inside. The sports hall was packed this morning when we walked down to book some activities; perhaps it is as well that there is school work to complete this afternoon. Tomorrow we will enjoy an afternoon of table tennis, badminton and squash, but there are only so many of these sports that we wish to play in the short space of time available.

It is interesting to note how the demands of the family change over time. When they were little we would book the children into craft workshops. As they got older they tried the challenge activities available such as archery, climbing and abseiling. These days they are more interested in racquet sports or, if the weather would only allow, walks and cycle rides. They are just as capable as they ever were of growing bored.

Personally I do not consider boredom to be a bad thing. If entertainment is constantly provided by others then one never learns how to explore alternatives for oneself. My children are certainly old enough to be working out what they enjoy. I have so many things that I wish to do that free time is never wasted.

For me then a good holiday is one where we can spend time doing things together, where we can enjoy the camaraderie as much as the activity; and some time when we can simply relax and enjoy whatever we choose to do as individuals. It will be unfortunate if the weather restricts our options too much. It is also rather a shame that the WiFi connections available are so limited; I think that is proving to be frustrating for us all.

When they were younger I would severely restrict my children’s screen time, but these days I am much more lax. They have been offered the option to try a huge variety of sports and activities over the years. If what they now choose to do when on holiday requires electronic equipment then I feel I must, to a certain degree, accept that decision. I can hardly complain when I too choose to log on. Holidays are a time to indulge in the things which we enjoy, and I am as much an internet addict as anyone.

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New Year

Happy New Year!

There, I’ve said it. I do wish you all good health, much happiness and strength to cope with whatever life throws at you. It just takes me a little while to get to the point where I feel able to relax enough to send out the greeting. I cannot relax until I am safely out the other side of the festive season.

I coped better this year than I managed last year. Not that such a thing would be hard given the personal implosion I suffered last year. Actually that would be the year before last now wouldn’t it? You know, given that we have been through the whole turn of the year thing? Oh well.

Talking about the turn of the year, I thought it would be different this time around. Now that my children regularly stay up to beyond midnight for, well, reasons, I thought that we might see the New Year in together. It was not to be. After the champagne, the music, the party food and the film, my husband and I agreed that we were in need of bed more than anything else. Lest you fondly imagine that anything romantic may have been going down, rest assured we were asleep within seconds of heads hitting pillows. At 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. Boring? Yes. Enjoyed New Years Day more than a lot of my hungover friends? Yes.

So, having got up bright and early with a reasonably clear head, I undecked the halls. My reluctance to acknowledge Christmas until I am forced to do so meant that my children put up and decorated our two Christmas trees. Had they not done so there was a risk that I may have avoided this task altogether. I assisted by draping tinsel around various bits of furniture and innocent house plants. I found places for the themed candles and ornaments that we put out at this time of year. The bulk of the work though was done by my kids.

Not so the undecking, that I did alone and quickly. I have been known to tidy the lot away on Boxing Day so keen am I to move on. Bah humbug as they say.

Anyway, this year the decorations lasted until New Years Day. I had the house back to looking unfestive by lunchtime, and felt much better for it. Now that we have got all that out of the way I can start looking forward.

I do not really hate Christmas. What I find so hard are the expectations and obligations that have become a part of the whole thing. My natural urge to hide makes the whole bonhomie of the season a challenge. I could happily spend the two or three days in front of the television, dressed in my pyjamas, eating pizza with my loved ones. One of these years I am so going to do that.

Husband worked through all but the three shutdown days. The kids did whatever teenagers do all day when they are sequestered in their rooms. Now that we have got through and out the other side though we can enjoy what is left of the holidays. This weekend we will be getting away for some family time.

This is perfect for me. The weather may be foul but a New Year has started with all the positive energy that fresh starts bring. For a little while there will be no demands from others to fulfil any expectations. We five can run away together and have some fun.

So now I can wish you all a Happy New Year with heartfelt sincerity. I have a lot of plans for the coming months and am feeling good about what lies ahead. I hope that your year turns out to be magnificent.

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Family time

We are half way through the autumn half term break from school. My husband has taken the week off work and wanted to go away for a few days but nothing was sorted so we have spent the time at home. Given the recent weather here in the south of England I am fine with this arrangement.

The forecast storm last weekend came and went with the only casualties we saw being a littering of leaves in our garden and a missing ping pong table cover that later turned up in a side alley. Lying warm and cosy in bed, listening to the rain on the window panes and the wind whistling through the trees, was actually quite comforting. I appreciated once again the luxury of being safe and warm in my own home. Too many these days are not so lucky.

My daughter had made many plans for this holiday week so we ate out as a family on one of the few nights when we were all free. We opted for the informal, relaxed atmosphere of our local Pizza Express and were not disappointed. Sometimes the company and ambience matter more than the food, and I do still enjoy eating pizza, despite my advanced age!

The morning after the storm that never really happened, my husband set out to deliver our daughter to the first of her many appointments: a three day private gathering of her writer friends to critique, encourage and continue with their respective stories in a sociable but intensive environment. With our resident vegetarian away we decided to treat my younger son to a meal at one of his favoured eateries. He enjoys a freshly made, thick and meaty burger with ketchup and chunky chips far more than any fine dining experience. I tried one myself and it was satisfyingly tasty.

Alongside these outings, my boys and I have been working on the finishing touches to my daughter’s Loki costume. We have still to create the helmet though; it is proving particularly tricky to make. Today, both she and my younger son have arranged to attend the opening of Thor: The Dark World with friends. The rest of us will probably wait for the release of the DVD, by which time we will undoubtedly have picked up the majority of the plot from other sources.

All of this activity and it is not yet Halloween. For me, it has been a good holiday thus far. I have managed to find plenty of opportunities to read and write as well as spending time with my little family. There has been no pressure to perform and plenty of treats along the way. Had we left home for a few days it is unlikely that I would have felt so relaxed.

I would also have had to leave a poorly hen. My little flock have now completed their winter worming week and are, once again, wandering free in the wider garden by day. One of my older ladies is looking unhappy though. She is moulting, which doesn’t help, but is also moving with the slow gait of an unhappy hen. With no other outward signs of problems it may just be old age; I am glad that I am here to keep an eye on her.

I can understand why some animals hibernate. When the temperatures drop I find it comforting to wrap up warm and snuggle down indoors. I enjoy the long, dark evenings when the curtains are drawn and the lamps have been lit. I feel content to relax in my armchair, feet up with a good book.

And still we have half the holiday left. There are jobs to complete around the house and garden, but no sense of urgency. I am keen to maintain this contented atmosphere, to allow the days to flow with just the occasional highlight to draw us together.

Family time is so fleeting and precious. ‘This is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it.’    

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Sunday Read

It rained on Sunday. I could hear the pitter patter on the window as I woke up. Although we have finally succumbed to the cold and turned the heating on, the boiler had not yet fired when I first became aware that my sleep was concluded. My bedroom was cold but I was snuggly warm under my duvet. The pitter patter of the rain on the window was comforting.

When my need for coffee became greater than my need to rest I wandered downstairs. A great advantage of parenting teenagers is the peace and quiet of the early mornings at weekends. I had time to appreciate the contents of a freshly set coffee pot, and to browse the news sites, before I was required to act with any sort of coherency.

The rain looked to have set in for the day. I decided to leave the family to cope as they so often claim they can. I retreated to my library with my coffee, selected a book that I have been saving for just such an occasion, settled in my armchair and gave myself up to the pleasures of another world.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors. I admire the way that she can write historical, contemporary and futuristic fiction with such depth and believability. On Sunday I read a book that had been favourably reviewed on the sites that I turn to when considering purchasing a book. ‘Cat’s Eye’ did not disappoint.

The book tells the story of the life of a painter. From the perspective of middle age, she looks back and tries to make sense of the moments and memories. From the first chapter I was gripped: ‘Time is not a line but a dimension… like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.’

The narrator reminisces about a life that is so different to mine, yet I could empathise with many of her thoughts. From the third chapter: ‘… everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.’

The plot covers the narrator’s relationships with her childhood peers and the adults who took care of them. The author manages to convey so many thoughts and feelings that I recognised from my own nine year old or thirteen year old self. She captures the insular fear and the impotence of youth, but also the irrelevance of adults. They exist but are not understood or considered. They are an alien species to be wary of.

I gain pleasure from thinking back over my life. If I am lucky and can maintain my good health then I will now be a mere half way through the time that I can reasonably ask to spend on this earth. I hope that there are many more memories to be made, but the one’s that have gone are precious to me. My own childhood and that of my children are my treasure, that I take out and polish with some regularity.

A book such as ‘Cat’s Eye’ reminds me that these memories have a tendency to be rose tinted. I remember a happy childhood, and I consider that I had one, but there were also times when I felt belittled or sidelined by my peers. There were times of rejection and loneliness, when I did not act the part required of me. Children are, too often, power hungry and ruthless in their play. I was never a leader; never cool.

Yet still, it is the friends from my youth that I seek out at every opportunity. I enjoy and value their company for the shared life we have led, that I look back on with fondness. In this book the narrator returned to her home town a success and was preoccupied with the thought of encountering a frenemy. Despite, or perhaps because of, the damage that the early acquaintance had inflicted she was constantly distracted by this possible rencounter. She recognised her flaws and sought answers from her history.

I enjoy many different genres but feel particularly satisfied with a book when I feel that I have got inside the head of a character and gained an understanding. People fascinate me.

On Sunday I spent much of my day avoiding social interaction. I put out food, prepared dinner, but did not seek out company. I was immersed in the world that I held between the pages of my book. Such escapism can be satisfying and enlightening but, for me, should be rationed. I find books so hard to put down. I need to know what happens to the new friends I have encountered between the pages; I feel bereft when I have read their story and must consign them to memory.

‘Cat’s Eye’ is not one of the books that I will rave about to those who will listen, but I would still recommend it. I will not start another book until I have had time to digest the many thoughts and feelings that it evoked. Reading it filled a day, and it was a day well spent.

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Discovery and recovery

I learned a few things about myself this weekend. None were surprising, except perhaps the extent to which they impact my subsequent behaviour. I will endeavour to remember the lessons though. Being aware and acting to alleviate issues is important if I am to manage my life. I am responsible for my own well-being.

The first lesson was that I am not as physically capable as I once was. Having spent several days in a row carrying and shifting heavy items of furniture and their contents, cleaning up as I went along, the extra efforts put in over the weekend to complete the jobs that I had undertaken took me close to the limit of my capabilities. I had to make a concious effort not to take out my extreme tiredness on my family, who had been willingly helping me as best they could. It is not their fault that I am ageing yet am still demanding so much of myself.

When I eventually sat down to rest, late on Sunday evening, it took quite some time before the myriad of aching joints and muscles began to relax. A couple of glasses of wine helped, but I needed to consciously stretch out and think about relaxing each part of my body. I felt exhausted.

Perhaps it was because I was so very tired and achy but, when I eventually dragged myself upstairs to bed, I slept badly. The next day I made myself go through the normal tasks that are required of me before walking to my local swimming pool. I had hoped that a little gentle exercise would help, but I believe what I really needed was complete rest. Having slept better last night, that is what I am going to allow myself today. My body has given what it can and I need to allow it to recover.

As a stay at home mum I am sometimes asked what I do all day by those who hold down jobs or pursue active hobbies and social lives. It is hard not to consider and be influenced by other’s comments, often not unkindly meant, and I find that I am keenly aware of how I spend my time. For now my body is telling me that rest is needed and it is forcing me to listen. In my state of exhaustion over the weekend I was finding it hard to engage with my family. If I cannot muster the energy to involve myself in as much of their lives as they allow, to offer them my interest and support, then I must act. For now, that action is to indulge myself in a period of inaction.

The second lesson that I learned over the weekend is that my children are likely to be more accomplished than me academically. I have suspected this for some time but, as most mothers think that their children are amazing, have been reluctant to elucidate this thought, even in my own head. For me, the significance of this is that I am at risk of being considered an imbecile by my family unless I demonstrate my other capabilities. I am not so naive as to think that I will be able to impress my teenage children and sarcastic husband, but neither do I wish them to write my opinions off as unworthy of consideration just because I cannot display the in-depth knowledge of topics that interest them.

Unlike the rest of my family, I do not possess a detailed understanding of science, maths and IT. I have a grounding and an interest in these subjects but, when topics come up for discussion, I am rarely able to offer any useful contribution. More often than not, if I try I simply exhibit my ignorance. My elder son can be quite intense when he wishes to further his understanding on a topic. He can become impatient if I interject with some attempted witticism or contribution that is irrelevant to the point he is trying to debate.

I know that I have other skills. For the first time this weekend I found myself thinking that to myself and finding it a comfort. It is probably also true that the skills that I have are not those that my son will admire, but I do not require his admiration in order to gain self fulfilment. This was a light bulb moment for me; to realise that, however much I love my family, I can be satisfied that I am succeeding in something without their support. They are all so hard to impress, but I discovered that I do not need my family to admire my achievements in order to validate their worth. It feels as though a rope tethering my balloon to the ground has been cut and I have been set free to fly.

The final lesson that I learned over the weekend is how important my writing has become to my contentment. This is still a fairly new endeavour for me. Although I have been writing on and off since I was a teenager, it is only this year that I have started to give the thought and time needed to experiment with form, style and ideas. Apart from this blog, most of what I write is experimental and therefore private. However, just because I do not publish what I write does not mean that it is not worth the effort. I do not write for public acclamation but for my own satisfaction.

Over the weekend I was just too busy to sit down quietly and pour my thoughts into my electronic pensieve. It felt as though all the words that were building up in my head were fighting to get out, leaving me feeling tense and frustrated with no opportunity for release. I craved a little quiet time, yet the only moments of solitude that I could fit in were late in the day when I was too exhausted to consider coherent thought. I need energy and a clear head when I write as well as a peaceful and quiet environment.

Lessons learned are worthless if we do not then adopt better practice. After yesterday’s attempts to ease my aching body with light exercise, I have granted myself this morning to totally rest; and to write. Much of this weekend’s activity was required to complete the work that I have been doing around the house. My daughter’s bedroom is finished, new curtains have been hung in my bedroom, and our home library is stocked and in use. As I had hoped, this is a fabulous room for my favourite indulgences.

We have yet to turn the heating on in the house, despite the cooling days. Thus I am currently sitting at my desk, thick socks and slippers on my feet, wrapped in a duvet. I will write until all the words have been poured out of my head and I feel the now familiar, pleasurable release. My body and my spirit will recover, but only if I grant them the treatment needed to do so.

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The

My weekend

I believe that I may be unusual amongst my friends in liking Mondays. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy the weekends. There is just something about a new week beginning that makes me feel positive.

With September drawing to a close I realised last week that I had been procrastinating about many of the tasks that I had decided needed to be done. Over the weekend I took myself in hand and set in motion a number of things that need to happen before these can be completed. I am now likely to be kept busier than usual for a few weeks to come.

It was a fairly typical weekend in many ways. I picked up the children after school on Friday and took my younger son swimming. For a lot of the time we had the pool to ourselves, which was lovely. None of us had particular plans for the evening so we watched a daft but light hearted and funny film (Johnny English Reborn). I like it when we all sit down as a family to watch a film, not least because we can then discuss it together afterwards. On this occasion, however, my daughter could not be persuaded to join us. As she is currently swamped with school work and trying to sort out work experience placements I think she just needed some time to herself.

I didn’t sleep well so, rather than disturb my husband with my tossing and turning, got up stupidly early on Saturday morning. As is usual, my day was spent cleaning, tidying and sorting the laundry. The boys had a hockey match and my daughter went to the gym in the afternoon so I made the most of a quiet house to enjoy a couple of hours writing. This put me in an excellent mood for the evening. We had a late dinner and I then went to bed. I find that I now need at least a couple of early nights each week or I start to feel very run down.

On Sunday morning I took my daughter shopping as we are planning on redoing her bedroom. She is still sleeping on the bed we got her when she was eighteen months old. The mattress is no longer supportive and a couple of slats on the base are broken. We cobbled together a fix for these but a replacement is overdue. I had been putting this off as I had expected her to move out in a couple of years when she hopes to go up to university. However, she is going to try to get on a course that will take six years of study so will be returning home regularly for some time to come. I think we can justify spending some money to get her room as she would like it.

Most of Sunday afternoon seemed to vanish as I searched the internet for the bits and pieces we couldn’t find in the shops we visited earlier. Most of the things are now ordered so it was a successful enough day. I did manage to fit in a bit of gardening before I had to prepare food for the evening meal. I did not manage to tackle my pile of ironing so that is a job for today.

Sunday evening we had pancakes for tea which was a lot of fun; my kids love pancakes. I make up bowls of fillings and they sit round the island in our kitchen chatting and eating as my husband cooks and tosses the batter. My daughter is trying to persuade her brothers to join her in taking part in NaNoWriMo this year; I may even give it a go myself.

When all had eaten their fill I sat down with a glass of wine and some music to catch up with the on line news. The children had dispersed to their rooms and my husband was engrossed in his book; he is reading his way through George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Our weekends are now so different to the way they used to be when the children were younger. There seemed to be years when we spent day after day driving the children to: football or hockey matches; taekwondo or judo training; swimming or music lessons; drama; dance; and, of course, the ubiquitous birthday parties. These days life is calmer and we have more time to ourselves. We also spend more time together as a family rather than rushing off in different directions to take part in the next activity.

Even so, when Monday morning comes I am happy to be able to spend some quiet time on my own. Perhaps this is why we need to have our children when we are younger and still have the energy for all the running around that is required. Either that or I have just grown used to being able to take life at an easier pace. I guess we adapt as we need to.

This week my daughter and I need to empty her bedroom in readiness for it’s remodelling. With the work still ongoing in our book room downstairs it feels like a lot of change. There are items of furniture, books and pictures being stored all over the house as we wait for jobs to be finished or items to be delivered. Having set everything in motion I now need to keep on top of the necessary preparation.

For myself though, I want to sit peacefully and write. I can only indulge myself so often; there are too many other demands on my time. I am enjoying a feeling of satisfaction that I have made progress with the tasks I had been procrastinating about, but the busyness that this has generated does not suit me. I like my thinking time and my quiet creativity. Having found this good place to be it can take a force of will to leave it.

If I can make a good start to the week then the rest will generally fall into place. The days seem so short though; I guess I must be enjoying myself.

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Camping highlights and challenges

When an event or activity is planned I gain enjoyment from the anticipation, participation and reminiscence. These are just a few of the highlights from our recent camping trip that I will look back on with pleasure.

  • Sunny days, balmy nights, and the gentle lullaby of light rain on the tent as we tried to sleep.
  • A quiet and peaceful site, mercifully free of the large groups who chat and laugh into the night as others yearn for sleep.
  • Elder son wandering the dry and dusty field around our tent barefoot until his feet resembled those of a hobbit.
  • Cycling out to the neighbouring airfield to watch the model plane enthusiasts flying their crafts, then on through the forest to pick up the day’s groceries, buy cooling ice creams and watch the trains.
  • The warmth of the sun as the rays slowly darkened our skin tone as the week progressed.
  • Time to read books and magazines, practise circus skills, learn new card tricks.
  • Shopping for teddy bears in a nearby town then setting up elaborate photo shoots to post on Edward Gainsborough – Teddy Bear‘s Facebook page when we returned home.
  • Hot showers each morning, cold wine each evening.
  • Shared time together without the distractions of the plethora of electronic media that entertain us whilst at home.

Of course, not everything went to plan. These are just a few of the misadventures that we survived.

  • Our newly purchased mallet snapped as we tried to hammer tent pegs into the sun baked ground making putting up the tent securely a challenge.
  • Unable to keep anything cold through the warm and sunny days, our butter turned to liquid covering everything in our not so cool box with grease and forcing us to manage without this tasty topping for the remainder of the holiday.
  • A leaky air bed that partially deflated each night leaving the occupant tired and achy, although mercifully not grumpy.
  • A herd of New Forest ponies stampeding through the campsite as we ate our breakfast one morning – scary!
  • An attempt to brew a refreshing cup of tea became an exercise in quick reactions when our small stove caught fire (gas cylinder not correctly connected) within a couple of feet of our tent. This one could have been a disaster…

We cycled as a means of transport but had difficulty persuading younger son to walk in the beautiful countryside that surrounded our campsite and was a major reason for choosing this location. In an effort to spend a day that would please him we paid for entrance to the nearby National Motor Museum. He enjoyed the extensive collection of cars but became difficult once again when we insisted on exploring the abbey and house as well. His intransigence was all the harder to bear as normally we eschew expensive visitor attractions, making use instead of the beautiful locations that are available for free to those who will seek them out. We were not impressed by his attitude.

With the ups and downs of the trip, five days was probably just a little too long to be away. Too many requests were ignored by our teenagers, too many refusals to compromise and fit in with what others wanted from their time away.

There was, however, also a feeling of togetherness that is all but impossible to achieve at home where personal space is plentiful and distractions tailored to suit each individual. We took time out of our everyday lives to share a back to basics experience. As time passes we will remember the positives with pleasure and come to laugh ruefully at the negatives. My children are growing older; I will value all of the time that I can share with them before their inevitable moving away, that will be all too soon coming.

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Family camping

We first went camping as a family around five years ago. The children had all experienced life under canvas on weekends away with their various Scout groups where they seemed to enjoy the adventure. My husband was keen to get away from home more frequently and saw camping as an affordable way to achieve this. I had camped with friends when I was in my late teens and early twenties but not since. I was unsure if I would be able to cope with the privations.

For our first foray we purchased a small, cheap tent and portable gas stove but little else. We made do with the basic sleeping bags and ground mats that we already owned and sat where we could to eat and chat. We had booked ourselves into a campsite recommended by friends for two nights but extended this to three when we discovered that we were enjoying ourselves. Despite the crowds, inadequate facilities and dodgy weather we had fun.

After that first trip we realised that we would need to purchase more equipment if we were to cope for longer than a few days but, buoyed by our positive experience, were willing to make the investment. Airbeds, folding chairs and a larger stove were ordered; camping review sites diligently searched; bookings at locations offering hot showers and the potential for good, local walks made.

Camping worked for us because we could live as a team. Despite the lack of comfort and a decent night’s sleep we all shared the daily tasks. Cooking and washing up became enjoyable activities as did the long walks and cycle rides that filled our days. We coped with the wind, rain and amenities shared with strangers with good humour. Eventually we ordered a larger tent, travelled further afield and camped for a week at a time. The discomfort was outweighed by the enjoyment and closeness achieved by the family unit.

Last summer the weather was persistently cold and wet in the weeks when we could have gone away so we opted to make a last minute booking at a cottage rather than use our tent. This holiday was not considered to be a success. It was decided that we should return to life under canvas this year if the weather made such a prospect at all desirable. When July was forecast to be warm and sunny, and it looked as if this might actually prove to be true, a booking at one of our favourite campsites was made.

The weather last week was the best we have ever camped in, but we discovered that the dynamic of the family has changed since our last comparable trip away. My youngest son is no longer willing to go on the long walks and cycle rides that the rest of us enjoy; in the last couple of years he has become grumpy and increasingly intransigent. Neither of my boys showed any interest in cooking so this was left to my husband as I am wary of cooking on a naked flame. The washing up was shared by all, but only with much persuasion.

The holiday was enjoyable but not in the way it used to be as we no longer worked as a team for the good of all. Neither my husband nor I felt able to relax as we could before. The boys did not seem interested in amusing themselves for long yet showed little enthusiasm for the activities that we suggested. A great deal of effort was required on our part before anything could be achieved.

I cannot help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end of family holidays; it would seem that we are all looking for something different in our time away from home. We have enough happy memories and experiences from the last week to have made it worthwhile, but I am unsure if we will do it again. We went on no long walks, and days out required expenditure that had not been necessary on previous excursions.

I am not surprised that my children are developing their own preferences and interests; it is only natural that they should do so. I can see that they gain more pleasure from time spent with friends and perhaps they will opt to go away with them more often than with us. Perhaps they will be as happy to simply stay at home.

We have packed away our tent and do not expect to use it again this year; I wonder when it will next be taken out of storage. It feels like the end of an era and this makes me rather sad. My husband and I are now discussing a possible night away without the boys. If what we enjoy doing with our free time does not mesh with their desires then perhaps it will be better to allow each to pursue adventure on their own.

This trip was the first that we had made without my daughter which, perhaps, made some difference. I will not write off the possibility of a future family camping trip just yet. If one is to be attempted though, the ground rules will have to be agreed by all before we venture forth.

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A trip to the seaside

England is currently experiencing a heatwave. I love the sunshine and outdoor living so I am not going to complain about this relatively rare phenomena. I will concede though that trying to get anything done in temperatures that are hovering around the 30’C mark can be wearing.

With my daughter now safely arrived in Madagascar I have been checking the daily weather forecasts for the area that she is exploring and, if correct, then she is having to cope with daily temperatures about 10’C lower than back home. This is probably just as well given that she is required to walk a fair distance each day with a heavy pack on her back, and to work outside on projects the group will be challenged to complete. At least it does not appear to be raining and she has a good sleeping bag to keep her snug in her tent when the night time temperatures drop significantly. I do hope that she is enjoying her big adventure.

Having waved her off at the weekend I was whisked away to the seaside to take my mind off her departure. It was a very welcome and enjoyable distraction. For a couple of nights I was able to enjoy the comforts of a hotel on the beach with delicious food and a cooling, outdoor swimming pool as well as the sea. We had taken a room with a balcony that overlooked the water so morning coffee was sipped and pre dinner drinks imbibed whilst watching the yachts and expensive motor boats as they made their way in and out of the large, natural harbour. It felt wonderfully indulgent to spend time in such luxurious surroundings.

There is something about the sea and the tides that calms and relaxes my mood. The beaches were understandably busy on these hot days with young people swimming and diving off the rocks, fisherman casting their lines from the jetties, and the many birds gliding and diving in search of tasty tidbits. The surrounding roads were chaotic with traffic trying to move from one place to another along the coast, or in search of an unused parking space; I was glad that we could walk from the hotel to our desired destinations without having to move our car until it was time to head home.

Due to seasickness, I do not generally enjoy going out on boats. However, our proximity to an island that I was eager to visit and the relative calmness of the water in this weather persuaded me that we could risk the journey to spend a day enjoying the cooling shade of woodland. Thus we had a fabulous few hours wandering the paths between quiet glades in search of deer and the rare, red squirrels of Brownsea Island. We saw families of peacocks and flocks of chickens roaming free as well as the wildlife we had come to admire.

Most visitors to the island stay close to the visitors centre. We prefer to enjoy peace and quiet so chose to explore the many woodland paths as we circumnavigated the small island. In doing so we came across a small pond surrounded by trees on which interesting paint marks had been daubed. Intrigued by the apparently random nature of the strokes we moved around the pond and discovered that, with the right positioning and perspective, hearts appeared through the foliage. Created by painting a part of a heart shape on several trees at differing distances from the viewer these would only come together from one vantage point. We enjoyed the challenge of searching out the best place to view each of the four hearts.

Having enjoyed a few days of good food, a fabulous location and an air conditioned room in which to sleep, I returned home from our short break feeling rested and relaxed. I cannot put aside my natural concern for my daughter’s well being but, knowing how eager she was to take part in this expedition, I cannot wish her anywhere else.

My boys have now returned to school to complete the summer term before we head off camping next week. If this heatwave continues then it could be an interesting experience; our family camping trips are rarely taken in fine weather. We have coped with rain, wind and overnight frost in the past but never extreme heat. There will be no assisted air conditioning in our tent; neither will there be wifi. That could be the biggest challenge for my gadget addicted children.

In the meantime I have a few days of quiet reflection and preparation. With my daughter away I have the house to myself while my boys are at school; I must ensure that I make use of this time. Although she was only at home in the day with me for the few weeks around her recent exams, it quickly came to feel normal making this solitude more noticeable. How quickly we humans adapt to changing circumstances.

For today, the heat is building once again and I have much to do. Whatever the good or bad that comes our way, life goes on. I am grateful that, for now at least, the life I am living is very good.

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