Tag Archives: holiday

An experimental week in the sun

Last week there was no blog because we were marooned on a desert island with no wifi.

This is nearly true.

We were actually not marooned, but booked in to an apartment, on a desert island. And there was wifi but you had to pay for it and we’re a bit stingy so we didn’t.

Despairing over the state of our little boy’s skin over the Christmas break, we remembered that his eczema had almost vanished one week over the summer when it was really hot. ‘Sunshine!’ we cried. ‘Sunshine is the answer!’ And then sat down to work out how to get him some sunshine (and get us all some relief) in 2017. We had an amazing British summer last year but there was no predicting how summer 2017 would pan out, and frankly, it only lasts 3 months anyway. We needed a strategy. Operation sunshine was born.

We’ve really tried to take all our holidays in the UK for the past few years, both for environmental and logistical reasons. It’s easier to drive baby-related kit in a car around the country than try to lug it on planes and trains around the world. And we’ve had lovely holidays, often with friends and family – in Cornwall (mostly), Devon, Cambridgeshire, and even over to Northern Ireland. We’ve usually stayed with friends or rented houses, because then you can relax in the evening instead of sitting in a dark room watching your children sleep. We haven’t camped yet, mostly because I can’t imagine trying to persuade small children to go to sleep in a tent in broad daylight, but we have just bought one in anticipation of this summer…

But. The sunshine called and promised to help Jesse’s skin. And so we found a super cheap deal and flew to the Canary Islands for a week, hoping like mad for an end to the scratching.

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(I should confess here my incredible geographical ignorance in relation to the Canaries. Did you know they’re off the west coast of Africa? And that Tenerife and Lanzarote are Canary Islands? Of course you probably did, but this was news to me.)

Ordinarily I’m the only one in the family who cares for sunshine. The boys are both super-fair, need factor 50 smothered all over them, and burn in no time. Jubes has yet to reveal her feelings about hot weather. But, for me at least, it was just amazing to feel the sun on my skin in January. Just indescribably amazing. (Why oh why do I live in such a cold, wet country?)

We had a self-catering apartment, in a big hotel complex with several swimming pools. And we were a stone’s throw from the town and the beach. Which was all extremely convenient and nice. So everyday we would just circulate around various play parks, the pool and the beach. Except Jubes basically just wanted to eat all the sand, all the time, so then I stopped taking her to the beach. We had ice-cream. I drank coffee. I read an excellent novel during her midday nap (when not sleeping myself). (It was Ian McEwan’s Nutshell if you are interested). We cooked a week’s worth of food on two small hobs and a microwave, using the most basic of supplies from the mini-mart (pasta, anyone?).

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The kids were very happy. They adored swimming and being outside and getting to do fun things every day with both of us. Jesse loved being in a ‘holiday house’ on our own ‘holiday island’. His personal highlight was probably the ‘real’ pirate ship he discovered and explored with daddy on our last day.

And did the sunshine save Jesse’s skin? Yes and no. The heat out there was dry rather than the humid British heat that had sorted him out in the summer. Parts of his body did really well, but then a combination of dust mite allergies and prickly heat meant his head and neck suffered. Which meant lots of broken nights of scratching, and so he and I didn’t sleep so well. Sunshine definitely served as a balm to my spirits in the day time, but there were several trips to the pharmacy for creams and medicines that we ran out of or suddenly needed. And holidays with small children really aren’t very much like grown-up holidays.

We had a lovely week, and it was great for us as a family in lots of ways. But it wasn’t the panacea we had hoped for, and I felt more than a little defeated on our return. Which was probably intensified by sleep deprivation. Now Jesse is back in his own room (with the anti-allergy bedding and humidifier and lack of soft furnishings) his skin is settling again, and we’re back in our familiar routines, with friends around to support us. I don’t think January package holidays will make an another appearance in family life. So we’ll chalk that one up to experience, and I will be grateful that I got to see some sunshine before June.

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And we’re back…

I realise I’m a bit late to the party, but happy 2017 friends! You might have noticed that I disappeared for a while there – my whole website disappeared for nearly a month! I was alerted by loyal reader Fran just before Christmas and thought, ‘oh no!’ and also ‘ah well, I’m not going to sort that out over the holiday’, and so I ignored it until I got back. And then it was a bit more complicated than I thought to get up and running again. I’m sorry if you missed me. I even wondered if maybe the fates had ordained the end of my blogging days, but here I am back again. Turns out I still want to be here after all.

So how has the year started for you?

We welcomed 2017 from the north coast of Ireland where we were happily huddled with old friends, sipping some fizz and eating some tasty homemade food. I’m pretty sure everyone’s highlight of the evening was the moment they discovered my back catalogue of raps from the early 1990s (Betty Boo’s Doin’ the Do being my personal favourite). We made it down onto the blustery beach at Portstewart on New Year’s Day, and lasted about two minutes before scurrying off to the cafe. My favourite way to mark the new year is to hole up somewhere near the sea with great friends, and walk and eat and chat…and we haven’t really done that since the kiddos arrived, so this New Year was a real treat.

New Year's Day on the blustery strand

New Year’s Day on the blustery strand

 

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Jesse was seriously impressed by the Giant’s Causeway

And then we came back to Luton and hit the ground running with our new rhythm and schedule. With more than a little trepidation we sent Jesse out to Forest School in sub zero temperatures and he had the time of his life. I started my new job (woohoo!) and feel really excited by what’s on my plate. Andy is back at work and has quite a lot of gigs coming up in the next few months (you can check here to see if the When Faith Gets Shaken Tour is coming near you). And Jubilee, our intrepid little girl, has just turned 1. Which has given me another reason to reflect back over the last year.

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I was nervous at the outset of 2016. I was desperate to meet our little girl and yet I had found the first year of Jesse’s life so hard. And here I was (we were) embarking on another year of newborn-ness, but with a toddler in tow too. I wasn’t sure how well I would cope, and what, exactly, we would do every day. But, do you know what, it was a happy year. It was tiring, and sometimes a bit boring, but mostly it was fine. And our littlest has elbowed and giggled her way further into our hearts every day.

And here we are in a new season. 2016 was a year of bedding down and inwards. We didn’t feel isolated, because an amazing community swarmed around us this past year and kept us afloat; but it was a safe community, made up of people a lot like us. They were mostly our age or our colour or our religion (or all of the above). Which isn’t at all representative of the diversity of this beautiful town. We moved here on purpose, not just for an easy life, and I feel a hunger to be more engaged with the fabric of the town, and with people who aren’t like me. And if the political landscape of the year has taught us anything, or driven anything home to me, it’s the urgent need for us to be building relationships across racial, socio-economic and religious divides. With people who aren’t like us. So I guess that’s a kind of resolution for the year – or maybe more of an intention. My new job will bring me into relationship with some of those people, and some other ideas we are brewing might do that too. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Plus, we are finally going to have the neighbours round. Why do we take so long to do the easiest things?

I realise that I’ve kind of missed the wave of blogs about resolutions and words and health blitzes, but as you can probably tell, I’m still trying to jump on the bandwagon. I have an unquenchable passion for making plans, and what’s more, I managed to squeeze a whole hour without the kiddos into our time away in Ireland (thanks to Andy) in order to think about the new year. I wrote a list of 17 goals for 2017, but really they were the not-so-serious or life-changing things like stop writing in biro in my journal (thanks mum and dad for the fountain pen), start running again (maybe when it gets warmer) and get my nose re-pierced.

I also finally decided to give up shopping on amazon because their ethical credentials are just so terrible, and they dodge so much tax. And frankly, internet shopping is sometimes just an unhealthy mood-booster for me.

But there are also some deeper themes that I want to pursue this year, things that have emerged from my reflections on the direction of my life, or challenges I want to embrace more fully. If I were to do the whole ‘one word’ challenge (where you pick one word as kind of theme for your year) it would be intention. I read Present Over Perfect back in December and it made so much sense to me, in a very timely way. It reinforced some things I’d been thinking about choosing what I do with my time, rather than just cramming too much in. I underlined this bit:

This is actually my life, and it doesn’t matter a bit if it would be lovely for someone else to live. What does matter: does it feel congruent with how God made me and called me?

The fact is that in this season of having two small children, there are limits on what both Andy and I can do with our time. Working full-time, having lots of quality time with the kids, volunteering, studying, doing stuff at church, creating, keeping a beautiful home, they just don’t all fit. So I’m focusing down, and it has taken some time to really decide what is most important. Right now, for me, there is part-time work, and there is time with the kids, and there is some creating time. And the desire for all of them to take me outside my safe and cosy places. Then there isn’t really room for much else. And I want to be more careful than I have been in my previous 36 years about other things rushing in.

So 2017 is going to be a year of activity, but thoughtful, intentional activity which will means saying some big nos (I’ve already had to say one, which I hated) so I can say some big yeses.

Anyone else trying to say some more meaningful yeses to the important things?

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And then there were 3: Cornish holiday part 2

Welcome to the second instalment of our holiday saga, featuring a reduced cast and much less sunny weather.

But first, I thought I’d reflect on holidaying in the UK vs going abroad. There are obvious arguments for staying in the UK if you’re committed to living more lightly on the planet and not contributing to the aviation industry’s disproportionately large carbon emissions (or if, like us, you’re at least trying really hard to be better). The UK is beautiful and there are so many corners of it to discover and enjoy. It can also be cheaper, although not necessarily. (We are big fans of house-swapping, house-sharing and cultivating friendships with holiday-home-owners. And of course, someday we will have to camp…).

On the flip-side, it can be expensive, the weather is wildly unpredictable (you may laugh, but it has a big effect on my happiness levels!), and there’s definitely something to be said for experiencing life in other cultures.

I grew up having a mixture of holidays in mainland Europe and some in the UK, although we always got there by car (the advantages of living near major seaports to France). I like the idea of our kids being at home in different kinds of environments, amongst different languages and cuisines, but also of them not taking that privilege for granted. When we were away I started dreaming up ideas like going abroad every fifth year, and plotting and saving as a family as to where we go. I’m not sure we can predict enough about our future to make plans like that, or that we’ll necessarily be able to afford to go abroad, especially once we have to go in school holiday season. But I like planning anyway.

Returning to our recent holiday, after a week of sociable, chaotic holiday fun in Port Isaac, we were extremely happy with our decision not to rush back to London. Instead we drove down further into Cornwall and stayed in a friend’s converted barn, in a village not far from St Ives. So far, so blissful.

We loved spending a week with friends but also really wanted some time with just the three of us. We’ve never really holidayed as a three – last year we went with my parents to France. And of course summer holidays of the future will now feature another little Flannagan. So some quality time together seemed like a good plan.

There’s nothing better than Cornwall in the sunshine. When it rains, however, I can go to a dark place. Internally I howl and curse our decision to stay in the UK, because I just find it so depressing. And my former coping mechanisms are useless when confronted with a bored toddler (‘darling, let’s just curl up and read our books, or relax in a nice pub, or go to the cinema…’). We had to develop new strategies. And here follows our top recommendations and favourite places.

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1.Paradise Park. I have a minor phobia of birds (or beaks to be specific), so an award-winning wildlife park specialising in birds wasn’t immediately appealing to me. But it was really close, and what’s more they had soft play. We set off one drizzly morning and it was a complete winner. Jesse was utterly captivated by all the amazingly coloured birds. He loved the shows. He loved the farmyard. And he loved the soft-play.  They had a deal whereby if you bought a return ticket it was only £4 (per adult – he was free), and so it became our new favourite place. he always wanted to see more birds, or go down the slides again. And even I was pretty impressed by some of the birds.

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This is a parrot trained to pick up a £1 coin from your out-stretched arm and drop it into a donation box. Sadly neither Andy nor Jesse really understood the premise.

2. Heartlands. I discovered this place on a flyer in Port Isaac, but it was only 20 minutes from our base near St Ives. And it was FREE. It’s basically a regeneration project that celebrates Cornwall’s mining history, and includes a big outdoor adventure playground, a cafe, a museum and various artisan workshops. You have to pay for parking but then you can claim the fee back inside (I got a coffee and a cookie for free). Highlights included the 270 degree film experience in the museum, the kids’ art studio (where Jesse painted a beautiful tea light holder), and the pic playground. Sadly our visit was slightly curtailed when Jesse head butted some concrete and we had to detour to the minor injuries unit…but otherwise it was an excellent outing.

Jesse the artist at work

Jesse the artist at work (with mentor)

3. DVD rental. Can you believe anyone still does it? We had no wifi for streaming, and were basically housebound in the evening once Jesse was in bed. Our solution: daily visits to a fab little rental place in the local town (Hayle), where the guy running the show made daily recommendations which generally proved excellent (or at least were based on true stories that were interesting). Hurray for human contact! It was indescribably more helpful than iTunes, where we have spent many a depressing hour scrolling through scores of films, struggling to find ANYTHING that looks vaguely appealing. (FYI viewings include Long Road to Freedom, Promised Land, Hector & the search for Happiness, Parkland, and The Theory of Everything).

Polishing off a Cornish tea

Polishing off a Cornish tea

4. The train to St Ives. It’s hard not to love St Ives with it’s beautiful cobbled streets, endless ice-cream parlous, beautiful beaches and harbour, and scores of art galleries. But we especially loved going there by train from where we were staying (St Erth), following the shoreline to central St Ives. The views are incredible, and Jesse always loves a train ride. (What’s more, with a journey time of 15 minutes, we can keep him interested enough in the views not to need to run up and down the carriage continuously).

 

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Return from Oz

I just switched off for a week.  Well done to me (and the husband).

I’m fresh back from holiday, from 7 days of blustery beach walks and lie-ins, leisurely swims and horse-rides, cream teas and Sunday roasts (well, one of each), croquet, table-tennis and a lovely yoga class with the middle-aged ladies of Woolacombe.   I have read books and gazed out of windows and slumbered and journalled.  I have cooked hearty dinners and supped red wine.  I have noticed birds singing (loudly) in the trees around me and I have stopped to look at views.  I have learnt to reverse back along narrow country lanes to the nearest passing point.

This is where we were, looking out towards Baggy Point

If you want to do the same then head straight for the gorgeous Pickwell Manor in North Devon run by some great friends of mine: two families living in community together, trying to live sustainably and generously and to create a space for you to come and unwind.

I’m a big fan of rest, of building big blocks of it into life, of taking your foot off the accelerator and remembering that there is something more to life than ceaseless forwards momentum.  Amazingly, and wonderfully, I find that it all keeps going without me.

Part of what I wanted to do this last week was wrench my attention from the future and sink it back into the now.  I hate how I’m always about the next thing, always planning, organising, keeping things on track, rather than being fully present – and alive, and grateful – in the right now.  I took with me the book Present Perfect by Greg Boyd to help.  I love the imagery he uses from the Wizard of Oz – how we’re always looking for something which we already have:

You’re dreaming about what’s over the rainbow, in some mythical land of Oz, and this is the very thing that’s keeping you from experiencing the love and joy that’s already round you in Kansas.

He’s not telling me my life is already everything I ever want it to be, but that the things that matter most are already mine, so I can stop chasing them.  Phew.

He writes about giving a talk along those lines to a youth group once, only to be challenged by a frustrated parent afraid that their child will never achieve anything unless they are driven; ambitious; feeling a lack that would need to be satisfied by attainment, success, whatever.  A hole.

I don’t want to be driven by a hole in me. I don’t want to believe that the only thing that will drive my children to contribute to the world is their own sense of incompleteness.

What if I have enough, now?  What if I am free, and loved, and worth something now?  Can I believe that, not just on special holy days, but every day?

As I write I’m staying with friends who have a four year old son – a beautiful, exuberant, chatty little man currently making brownies with his mum.  Playing cars with him yesterday uprooted me right out of my planned afternoon activities and what I was counting on accomplishing.  And it was ok.  It reminded me that real rest, and stopping, is only possible when we can let go of that drivenness, that neediness, and be ok just with who we are and where we are.  Which is hard when we’re frankly so flawed and needy. I think it must be hard to get to that place without God (but maybe you have?).

Of course it’s all easier outside of London and all my normal routines, so I’ll get back to you about how it goes when I’m back.

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