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Introducing Advent at The North Pole

Introducing Advent at The North Pole

Way back in 2009, several months before I decided to set up The Family Patch (at that time known as Amanda’s Patch, as we were still 2 years away from having a baby!), I wrote a series of poems called Advent at The North Pole, as a way of exploring what it would be like to prepare for Christmas if you were Santa and the Elves!

It was a fun project, which brought me a lot of joy, and I originally recorded the poems as a series of YouTube videos, however as they were done on my webcam, the quality of them was absolutely shocking. So for several years I have wanted to re-record them all. And finally, this year, I have.

The poems will be shared on both YouTube and the blog, so you can choose to follow them wherever suits you best. I do so hope you you’ll enjoy spending a bit of Advent with me, finding the magic that makes Advent so exciting. And to kick things off, here’s the first video for you – an introduction to the series. Enjoy!

Free Activity Advent Calendar

Free Activity Advent Calendar

I am so excited to share today’s post with you. For several years now I’ve wanted to create resources for other families to enjoy together. And I couldn’t think of a better resource than a free, printable Activity Advent Calendar for you to use this December.

I’ve always loved Advent so much – the anticipation and build up to Christmas is such a joyful time. But I also know that it can be super busy and rather stressful as an adult, especially when you’re trying to balance work and home life and still fit in all the extra preparations and events that occur during December. So I wanted to create an Advent Calendar that helps us, as busy parents, to spend some quality time with our kids each and every day, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.

The Family Patch's Free Advent Activity Calendar Printable PDF

What’s included?

Within the Activity Advent Calendar, you will find:

  • 4 sheets, each with 6 daily activity cards to cut out and stick on the wall, hang on the tree, hide in envelopes, or however else you want to use them
  • A full A4 sheet to accompany each activity, with an explanation of why I chose it, some suggestions on ways to make it special to you, and even blog post and Pinterest board links for some of them

what kind of activities are included?

There are all kinds of activities included in the Advent Calendar, including: various crafts; donating to others; exploring the Nativity Story; celebrating the Midwinter Solstice; and generally having fun by watching films together, seeing the Christmas lights, and carol singing.

Every single activity within the Advent Calendar is easy to do with even the most limited time, resources, or energy! I know this because I planned them specifically to be this way (as a chronically ill parent, this is a real necessity for me!) To help make it even easier for you, I’ve left the activities unnumbered, so you can organise them in whichever order works best for you.

Can I adapt it to fit my own ideas?

Of course – in fact, that’s what I’m hoping you’ll do! I have tried to keep this Advent Calendar flexible enough to fit into your own family’s traditions, whatever they may be. But it’s my first attempt at doing such a large scale project as this, and so I would love to hear from you if you use the Advent Calendar – let me know what you like and what you were not so keen on. Your feedback helps me to develop further resources for the site. You can contact me via the blog, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

How Do I get my Free Copy of the activity advent calendar?

All you have to do is visit my Freebies page to download your completely free copy of our 30 page Activity Advent Calendar. It couldn’t be easier.

Advent at The North Pole Characters

Welcome to the New Look Family Patch!

Well, hello there! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have the new look Family Patch back up and running. Once I had made the decision to rebrand the site and integrate all the stuff from Spirit Kid Network into this single blog, I felt the creative flow suddenly burst open and I couldn’t wait to get writing again. But of course I had to do all the behind the scenes preparation first, and as I’m not in the best of health right now it has taken me near on two weeks to sort out the new look.

But it’s finally done and I am so happy to welcome you back to my little corner of the internet. What do you think to the new look? Do you like the logo? What about the choice of fonts and colours? And the layout? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it… I personally love it, but does it work for you? I love the clean design, the clear sections, and the fact it is all set up ready to let the content I create shine. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? I’m a writer and a creator and I want that to be the main focus here, not some fancy design that takes me forever to create and distracts me from what I love the most.

So what’s new?

Well, Tim and I are about to start recording the daily poems for my Advent at The North Pole series. This is something I created way back in 2009, but the videos I created then were terrible. They were recorded on my laptop webcam, so you can imagine the quality! I’ve wanted to redo them for years, and now I finally am. We’ve got the gorgeous characters below, a Christmassy backdrop, some festive music, and a better camera. The plan is to post a new video every day during Advent over on YouTube and we’d love to see you there.

Advent at The North Pole Daily Poem Video The Family Patchwhat else is new?

I’ve also got a free Activity Advent Calendar the whole family can enjoy. This is something I created last year for Spirit Kid Network, and we loved doing the activities within it. There are 24 colourful activity cards to print out and each one has a whole A4 page of supporting material to help you make the most of them. There are even blog posts and Pinterest boards to give you even more ideas for some of them. Oh, I am so excited about Christmas this year.

Free Activity Advent Calendar

You can download the Advent Activity Calendar over on my new and improved Freebies page. There you’ll find 5 different freebies that you can download directly from the website. There’s no need to sign up to any mailing list in order to download your copy – just click and enjoy!

it’s all about the love of blogging

All of these changes reflect the fact that I am finally rediscovering my love of blogging. I first discovered blogging way back in 2006, long before it became the big business it can be today. Back then it was all about sharing your heart, and nobody worried about social media strategies and marketing. Over the past few years I’ve allowed myself to feel like I wasn’t doing a very good job as a blogger because I wasn’t investing the same time on those things as other bloggers do.

And all of it has done nothing more than make me feel like a failure. It stifled my creativity, made me think that I had to separate my content into different sites, and even made me consider giving it all up. So to find myself back at this place where I am simply enjoying blogging for the sheer love of it is so amazing. I can feel the passion for it running through my veins as I type this, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

But for now I’m going to end this post so I can get cracking with the videos. Have a wonderful week, everyone!


I’m linking up with my Share The Joy Co-Host Christina this week, as this post has certainly brought me a lot of joy! Do check out the #sharethejoylinky for your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration.

#sharethejoylinky LadybugHome.com

Prayer Candles

Embracing Uncertainty, Grief, and Vulnerability

I was unsure what to call this post, because there are so many things that are heavy on my heart right now. But I think the title I’ve chosen sums it up rather well. For such a long time I have been desperately fighting the uncertainty over my future, the grief I feel over things beyond my grasp, and the vulnerability that comes with accepting that I am sick and that I can no longer give until I first learn to receive. Resisting all of that has taken its toll, and it’s time I learned to embrace it instead.

I hasten to add that this isn’t a new concept to me – I’ve known I’ve needed to do this for years, but knowing something and actually accepting it are two very different things. Even as my health has deteriorated over the past few years, I have refused to acknowledge just how ill I have become, because doing so felt like giving up. Even up until the very beginning of this year, I was determined to make it all work somehow – I’d go freelance and work from home, I’d schedule in time each day to focus on my well-being, I’d cook healthy meals from scratch, and I’d find a way to do all of this and continue to run two blogs, be active in social media groups, and get more involved in my local community too.

How hard could it really be? I thought. After all, I wasn’t quite as sick as I had been when first signed off work last summer. Several months of trying to rest as much as possible had made a difference, but I needed to get going again to help make ends meet financially, and I didn’t want to be held back by my illness anyway. Unfortunately, with all the determination in the world, there are some things you just cannot change. For me, this is my health. I’m not talking about small changes like eating healthier and getting exercise – of course those make a difference. What I mean is that, if you are chronically ill, sometimes you just have to accept your limitations and find a way to work within them. But that it something I am terrible at!

The past 3 months have practically broken me: I’ve been working with several clients on some pretty big projects; I’ve seen my family struggle with my Nan’s final weeks on this earth; I’ve had multiple conversations with Little Man’s teachers as he has been struggling to settle into the school environment; and I have tried to keep my home running as smoothly as possible throughout all this change, all whilst suffering from multiple viruses on top of my general ill health. And yet despite all of that happening, I still continued to try and do more…

When I look at it like this, I realise how unbalanced my thinking really is. And I understand why I live with this constant knot of anxiety at the pit of my stomach, never knowing when a full-blown panic attack may occur.  Because I haven’t given myself time to breathe, time to sit in the uncertainty of my life and grieve for all that I had once wished for but which can no longer be. And I certainly haven’t allowed myself to be vulnerable, because that fills me with absolute dread – what happens if I do that and it all falls apart?

So, of course, life enabled me to experience that which I feared the most, didn’t it? This week I was faced with “saying no and letting go” to so many things, things that I not only felt I ought to do but which I really wanted to do too. I had filled my week with fun activities – a trip to the Cathedral with a friend, and singing in the choir for the Church Panto. But a stomach bug stopped me in my tracks and made me realise I simply cannot do it anymore, I cannot continue to pretend I am coping when really I’m so close to breaking.

Prayer Candles

I toddled off to the Cathedral with my friend, feeling worse for wear but determined to make it through the week, and ended up spending half of the time in the toilets! I then sat quietly in a little chapel, knowing that I had to cancel my plans but so terrified of letting people down. Thankfully my friend was a wonderful comfort that day, encouraging me to allow myself to be vulnerable for once and not worry so much about other people, and I cancelled attending Bible Study that afternoon and Panto Rehearsal/Performances for the rest of the week. I cried so much when doing it, partly because I hated to let others down, but mostly because of what this signified. In cancelling these plans I was truly beginning to acknowledge how ill I truly am right now.

Which led me to thinking about all the areas in my life that drain the energy I simply do not have to spare. Many of them are things I love and am so passionate about, and it breaks my heart completely to have to put them aside right now. But the alternative is continuing until I break, and having been there just a year ago (and again a couple of years before that) I am desperate not to return to that place any more. This time I want to truly embrace the uncertainty of it all, to grieve for all the things I wish were different, and to allow myself to be vulnerable in this space. No more “putting on a brave face” and pretending all is well when it’s not. Wow, that is hard for me to write… and even harder to live!

Which brings me to the point of this blog post, really. I’ve had a good, long (and extremely hard) look at all the things that I have going on in my life and decided that I have to cut back on so much in order to give myself the time, space, and energy to truly begin this healing work. And here’s what I’ve decided:

1. I shall make time every single day to seek out the love of God which I know is helping me through all of this. This will take various forms – sometimes it may be reading a book, sometimes it may be walking in the park, and sometimes it may be sitting in silence.  Whatever form it takes, I want it to become a prominent part of my day, helping me to truly embrace the uncertainty of it all, trusting that I don’t have to have it all figured out!

2. Leading on from this, I shall use The Family Patch as my place to simply write what feels important to me, rather than trying to produce “useful” content. And right now that is likely to be a lot about faith. I know that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so please do feel free to unsubscribe or mute updates from me if you don’t want to read this kind of content. But for those of you who are interested, please do share with me your own thoughts and experiences in the comments, as I’d love to hear from you.

3. Even though it is faith-based, I am taking a break from Spirit Kid Network. I simply cannot devote the time needed right now to build up the kind of content it deserves. There is still content to be found over there from last year, plus my free chakra guide for kids, so I’m not shutting it down completely. I simply need to release the pressure of producing new content on a regular basis on both of my blogs.

4. I am also going to limit my use of social media, particularly Facebook Groups. To be fair I haven’t been using Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest that much lately anyway. But a large chunk of my time gets caught up in Facebook Groups. Most of these are relevant to the work I do at Shortman Media, so it feels a bit risky to step back from some of them, but I really do need to limit my time spent helping others – every short answer I give soon adds up over the length of a week.

The Faith Space

5. That being said, I do want to spend a bit more time in The Faith Space, which is a Facebook Group I set up for those of us who wanted to discuss faith in an open and religiously diverse way. I’m not promising anything in terms of how much I’ll actually do on there, but if you’d like to join us please do request to join the group over on Facebook.

All of this means that the limited time and energy I have outside of what I have to do (freelance work, housework, family life etc) is less likely to be eaten up by multiple different things and more likely to contribute to my overall well-being, by focusing on what is most important to me right now. I am a giver by nature – I want to be there for everyone, encouraging and supporting them, no matter what. But that takes a lot of time and effort, which I simply do not have right now.

So, that’s where I am right now – embracing uncertainty (and trusting in God’s plan for me), grief for all the things I have to let go of right now (including all those big, exciting plans I have), and vulnerability (so that others can offer love and support where I cannot). It’s an emotional place to be, and I have cried more over the past few days than I have in months, maybe even years. But that’s all part of the journey, isn’t it?

TravelShades Review The Family Patch

Easing Motion Sickness with TravelShades (Review)

Do you suffer from motion sickness? Do you hate how much it affects your ability to enjoy travelling (either because you feel sick or you feel drowsy thanks to anti-sickness medication)? Yeah, me too…

You might be surprised to know that I’ve suffered from motion sickness since I was a very young child. After all, I studied foreign languages at University, which involved quite a lot of international travel. But the reality is that I have struggled with motion sickness to varying degrees throughout my life, and still do.

It started when I threw up all over the back of the car as a toddler, just as we pulled up into the driveway (oh dear!) and I have many childhood memories of taking travel sickness tablets before any journey, hoping to avoid a repeat of that experience. But even with such precautionary measures, there were still many occasions when I felt sick to my stomach by the time we reached our destination.

To be fair, the more I travelled and the older I got, the more my body seemed able to cope with it. Travelling across the UK by train as a student enabled me to travel without even needing travel sickness tablets, as did commuting to work every day by bus. Believe it or not, I actually became able to read a book on the village bus that swerved around several bendy roads on its route, due to that daily commute. But still I continued to suffer from time to time.

My first clue that I was pregnant was how nauseous I got on the bus journey just after conceiving (a good couple of weeks before those two pink lines showed up on a test!) and I continue to feel sick and panicky whenever I have to set foot on a plane, because nothing I do seems to settle my stomach when flying.

And since a severe bout of labyrinthitis in 2008, I even find myself feeling nauseated simply doing the grocery shop some days (which I assume is due to the sheer amount of eye movement involved in trying to locate items I need and compare prices across shelves). And even more alarmingly, I seem to have started suffering from a form of “virtual motion sickness” over the past couple of years, where looking at my computer screen sometimes makes me feel sick to my stomach, thanks to scrolling information and scanning multiple pages at speed. This, as you can imagine, is not the best experience for a blogger and freelance online media specialist!

So imagine my interest when I heard about a new product that promised to reduce the effects of motion sickness without any kind of medication. It sounds too good to be true, right? Well, let me introduce you to TravelShades…

TravelShades Review The Family Patch

TravelShades

TravelShades are a revolutionary new form of sunglasses that aim to combat motion sickness by reducing the visual stimuli to one eye. Motion sickness is caused by conflicting messages received by the brain from the eyes (visual system) and ears (vestibular system), or put another way your eyes see movement but your body doesn’t sense that same amount of movement, and it causes confusion in the brain. By reducing the amount of visual motion picked up by one eye, TravelShades promise to reduce that conflict and therefore the unpleasant symptoms it creates.

Of course there are a lot more factors that have been considered in the creation of TravelShades than simply covering one eye. Through extensive research and product development, the design of TravelShades has been refined to become an ingenious solution where one pair of glasses can be flipped so that the wearer has the choice to cover either eye at any time. And even more fascinating, “The special lens also allows light to pass through so the occluded, covered eye may still see an image and can relay this message to the brain but with no indication of movement” How amazing is that?

TravelShades Review The Family Patch My Experience

My Experience with TravelShades

I have to say that the theory behind this really intrigued me and I was really quite eager to give them a go. If I could reduce the debilitating symptoms of dizziness and nausea by simply putting on a pair of sunglasses, it could make things so much easier for me. So I was thrilled to be offered a pair to try.

The glasses arrived within a couple of days, and it was quite an experience putting them on for the first time. With absolute honesty, I found having the vision from one eye affected was rather alarming at first. I was concerned the strain of adapting to this would create a headache and an inability to get on with TravelShades, but I needn’t have worried. The brain is a wonderful thing, and it adapted to this change relatively quickly and before too long I began to get used to this new way of seeing things.

I won’t say I was completely comfortable with it – I think it’s going to take a few more attempts before I stop feeling slightly confused by this when first putting them on. But it’s still preferable to me compared to suffering from debilitating nausea or the extreme drowsiness caused by anti-sickness medication!

Did They Work?

Yes, I have to say that I think they did. We haven’t been on any long journeys yet, but I have tried them on shorter journeys around town on days when I have already been feeling quite woozy and not really wanting to go anywhere in the car. I have certainly found those journeys easier, whereas normally I find myself facing forward and wishing the scenery wasn’t shooting past at such speed.

I’ve also tried them in the supermarket when I have found the dizziness and nausea creeping up on me. Now that one is slightly more interesting… looking around for items with one eye covered certainly makes me more aware of the fact I am wearing TravelShades and not quite seeing things as normal. But I’ll definitely take that over the nausea that usually has me rushing to finish the shop and get back to the car as quickly as possible.

The only thing I haven’t had a proper chance to try them on is the virtual motion sickness, because the few times it has happened recently it has been so severe (due to already feeling sick with a virus) that I’ve had to simply lay down and avoid the screen completely. But I have every hope that they will work just as well as they have in other circumstances when the virtual motion sickness is at a lower level.

Would I Recommend TravelShades?

Yes, I would. If you suffer from motion sickness at all, it is definitely worth giving them a go. Independent research by Leeds Beckett University Retail Institute found that 89% of participants in a trial experienced relief from motion sickness, which I’d say is an incredible success rate. Clearly it doesn’t work for everybody, so nobody is promising it will work for you, but I certainly feel they are worth trying.

Where Can I Get TravelShades?

The adult versions (for both those who wear prescription glasses and those who don’t) are available for pre-order on their crowdfunding Indigogo page, where you can also help fund the development of Junior sized glasses too!

Where Can I Find Out More?

Check out the TravelShades site, where there is a wealth of information, plus a great video with the TravelShades inventor.


Disclaimer: Please note that I was offered a complimentary pair of TravelShades in return for this review, however no further financial incentive was given and all views are my own.

 

 

Celebrating Nan (2)

Goodbye Nan

Yesterday evening my Nan passed away, after months of being very poorly. We didn’t expect her to make Christmas, so it has been a very long journey.
 
I’ve spent several weeks thinking about how cruel the end of life can be, as your body slowly and painfully shuts down. So when my mum called to tell me she had finally passed last night, my reaction was one of relief, not grief.
 
I went downstairs so I could spend a few minutes alone thinking of her, telling her how I loved her and would miss her, but that I was glad she had finally moved out of the pain and would be reunited with her husband and sister. Immediately I was overwhelmed by a sense of absolute joy, and I just knew it was from her – she faced her biggest fear (death) and is now at peace.
Celebrating Nan
With my Nan and my uncle on our wedding day.
I had been feeling guilty that I hadn’t been able to visit her since November. I’ve been so sick that it just wasn’t possible, but even knowing that I still worried that I would regret not getting to see her one last time.
But last night I knew that it didn’t matter. She is finally home and at peace. And as my mum said, it’s better to remember her as she was, rather than the battle she faced at the end.
 
So today I am remembering the feisty woman that my Nan was. Highly opinionated, and often sharp with her words, but fiercely protective of those she loved. She knew her own mind and wasn’t afraid to voice it, and you couldn’t tell her anything if she didn’t want to hear it! I guess we know where my stubborn streak comes from…
More than anything, that’s what I’ll remember about my Nan. She wasn’t the stereotypical, cuddly grandmother whose house you ran to when your parents were driving you up the wall. She certainly wasn’t the first person I thought of when I had a problem that I needed to share. But she was a strong woman, who survived many challenging times and experiences through her life, with the grit and determination that she held onto right to the bitter end.
Celebrating Nan (2)
I have no doubt this laughter was caused by something rude or rather inappropriate!

She walked on the edge sometimes, and more often than not the things she said were the least politically correct you could get! I think there have been times when we’ve all looked at each other with an expression of, “did she really just say that?” in our eyes, which makes me chuckle now.

But more than that, I’ll remember the cheeky side to her, the times when she laughed so hard she cried. Like the time my cousins told her that sex education these days involved putting a condom on a carrot, and she hadn’t quite believed them so asked me and my sister if it was true. Oh my word, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone laugh as hard as she did that day!

That is the Nan I’ll remember. The lady who was stubborn as hell, and lived life the way she wanted to. She would have been 87 tomorrow, and though I am sad to know that we’ll never see her (in this life) again, I am glad for all these memories.

Goodbye, Nan… I love you.

Courage, Dear Heart Word of the Year 2017

Courage – My Word of the Year for 2017

Today I want to share with you what I have chosen to be my focus keyword for the year ahead. Choosing a word for the year can be a lovely alternative (or accompaniment) to the more traditional New Year’s Resolution, and it’s something I have personally done for several years now. And as I look back I can see how the word I have chosen each year has helped me to focus on what is most important to me at each stage of my life.

But more than this, it has also provided me with a lens through which to understand and reflect upon the things that have happened in my life. It helps me put things into a new context, rather than simply thinking, “why me?” or “will this never end?” when things get tough. And it also helps me to set goals and focus on developing new skills and habits which help me reach those goals too. I no longer aimlessly wander through life, because my focus keyword gives me a purpose.

Which is why I am so thrilled that this year’s Word of the Year is a big one, that will challenge me to step out of my comfort zone (which isn’t always that comfortable, I might add!) and make real, lasting change in my life. Are you ready for it? Here it comes…

Courage, Dear Heart Word of the Year 2017

That’s right, COURAGE is my word for 2017. As has been the pattern over the past couple of years, this word actually just popped into my head (and my heart) rather than being something I consciously thought about whilst trying to choose a word. Which is why I love the above quote so much, because just as Lucy felt sure the voice whispering to her was Aslan’s, I also feel sure that these words are being whispered to me from the Divine.

It all started at the end of 2014, when I was in a truly awful place and I felt like I had been broken beyond measure. In a moment of prayer I heard the word “Surrender” and that became my word for 2015. It was a very apt word indeed, as I faced redundancy, relocation, and the beginning of a deterioration in my health. The latter led me to choosing the word “Healing” for 2016 and, as I wrote in my previous post, I have done so much healing in ways I could never have imagined this year, despite being very sick for most of it.

Which leads me to where I am right now, looking towards the future with hope that the uncertainty and challenges I have faced over the previous few years will finally begin to settle somewhat. Had I tried to choose a word for myself, I’d have most likely opted for something like “peace”, “stability”, or “security”. But those are only a part of the equation, I cannot even begin to get there without the courage to walk forward, one step at a time. Which is why I know this word is a message for me, guiding me into the unknown with hope and certainty that if I do so with courage, things will start to happen.

But what does this actually mean? What does walking forward with courage look like? I cannot help but hear the Cowardly Lion’s speech in the Wizard of Oz, when he lists all the different ways he sees courage in the world:

Lion:      What makes a King out of a slave? Courage.
              What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage.
              What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk?
              What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.
              What makes the Sphinx the 7th Wonder? Courage.
              What makes the dawn come up like THUNDER?! Courage.
              What makes the Hottentot so hot?
              What puts the “ape” in apricot?
              Whatta they got that I ain’t got?
Others: Courage

When I remember his speech I am always reminded that courage isn’t as simple as “being brave”. Courage is what makes us who we are, and it’s what drives us to do what feels right to us, no matter how hard that may be. It’s what keeps us going when things get tough, and it’s what allows us to admit defeat when we need to. There isn’t a one sized fits all approach to courage, and often the most courageous things we’ll ever do are those which make us feel the most scared and small.

But though we may feel afraid, it is the act of following our heart and doing what feels right that brings us the courage to change our entire life. And for me this is the aspect of courage I want to focus on this year. In 2015 I began to learn how to surrender to God and his plan for me. In 2016 I began to learn what it means to heal at the deepest, darkest level of my soul. And in 2017 I hope to learn how to step forward with courage, to embrace the unknown, trusting that I will find the path I am meant to tread, and doing things which I have fought out of fear for so very long.

17 Ways to be Courageous in 2017

For me this means following all of the above. It means saying “yes” to new opportunities that terrify me, because to do so I have to believe in myself and my abilities. It also means saying “no” to things, even things I would love to do, because I cannot do it all. And that, my friends, takes a lot of courage for someone who has long defined herself by what she can do and achieve!

It’s about making myself a priority, so that I not only carve out time for myself every single day but I actually make it a sacred promise to myself to do so, no matter how crazily busy my day may seem. And it means allowing myself to have big dreams, even when they feel a million miles away. Because by finding my tribe, asking for help, and forgiving myself, I will pave the way towards those dreams in ways I could never do alone with only my fearful inner voice pulling me down.

Yes, courage feels like the perfect word for me this year, and I know I have already placed the foundation stones on which to build my future. I’ve been blessed by some truly wonderful friendships this past year, which have helped me delve into my heart to find the courage hidden so deep inside. My tribe has helped me dream big, plan for the future, and surround myself with resources to make this my best year yet. And I wish for nothing more than the same support and encouragement to find you too.

So, here’s my invitation to you – follow me on instagram or Facebook as these both offer me the opportunity to connect with others on a much more regular basis than I can here on the blog. Let’s build a community to support each other through the coming year, one in which there is more emphasis on being kind to ourselves and following our own paths than trying to keep up with the rest of the crowd.

And, if you want some help choosing a word for your year, do check out my friend and mentor, Michelle Reeves, who has created a special coaching package specifically for making 2017 your best year yet!


I’m linking up with Share The Joy, hosted by Lizzie Somerset (on behalf of Michelle Reeves) because this post has filled me with such joy and enthusiasm for 2017!
Share the Joy linky at LizzieSomerset.com

The Family Patch Midwinter Solstice Activities

Celebrating the Midwinter Solstice with Kids

21st December marks the Midwinter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the shortest day of the year, and falls right in the crazy run up to other major holidays such as Christmas and Hannukah. As such, it is understandable that it gets overlooked and forgotten about!

But if we can take a moment to mark this point in the Wheel of the Year, we will be reminded that life continues in cycles as the seasons pass and that nothing lasts forever. During the cold and dreary months of Winter, it can be truly uplifting to realise that the hardest point (the longest night) has now passed and we are on our way to brighter, warmer days once more.

So whilst I know you’re probably super busy right now (I know I am!) I do hope that you’ll find some time to stop and reflect on the Midwinter Solstice this year.

5 Easy ways to celebrate the Midwinter Solstice with Kids

The absolutely wonderful thing about the Midwinter Solstice is that a lot of the things we traditionally do at this time of year to celebrate Christmas work just as well for Solstice Celebrations too. So you really don’t have to go out of your way to mark this occasion, nor do you need to worry about it interfering in any way with the “reason for the season”, whatever that may be for you.

Each one of the suggestions below would easily fit in with your festive plans, so I do hope you try at least one of them!

1. decorate the house

Okay, so you’ve probably already done this anyway, right? But how many of your decorations were bought in a shop and how many have you foraged for or made yourself? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with store bought decorations, they add so much colour and joy to our homes during this otherwise very dark month. But there is something very special about bringing a little bit of the outdoors inside, or using fruit and grains to make orange slices and gingerbread cookies that fill your house with such festive fragrances.

If you go for a walk, see if you can spot some holly or other greenery to bring indoors (remembering to ask permission if you need to cut it). Bringing nature indoors is such a time-honoured tradition, that connects us to nature at a time when we are usually so busy huddled up inside our houses that we rarely stop to just focus on the world around us.

And if you fancy baking cookies, why not see if you can source some locally ground flour or use a traditional recipe from your local area (ask your neighbours, church groups, schools, bakeries, and local library if they have any recipes to share). Using local ingredients or recipes passed down through the generations will help ground what you do, connecting you to the memories of all of those who have gone before you, as well as the promise of those who will come after you. You really do become a link in the chain that connects us to one another in all directions.

2. light a candle

This is an obvious one, I’m sure, but I often find the obvious things are the ones we tend to overlook, so it’s worth mentioning this activity here.

Lighting a candle is perhaps the single most symbolic way you can celebrate the light in the darkness, which is so important to us all. It is why we light candles in the Advent wreath, and it is why we string fairy lights on our tree and around our homes at this time of year.

We all like to be reminded of just how much of a difference that comforting glow makes to an otherwise dreary and miserable month, when the skies are grey and the nights so long. But why not make it extra special but choosing a specific candle (think about the colour and fragrance especially) to represent the hope and joy you wish to connect with on the Solstice. You could even say a wish or prayer, and imagine the candle flame burning brightly with the intent to make your wish come true!

3. make a manifestation collage

This is an excellent way of celebrating the hope and joy that the Winter Solstice brings with it. We have come through the increasingly darker days of Autumn and are now heading into the bitter Winter months feeling frazzled and worn. But we know we can make it, because from this point onwards the days will grow longer as the sun shines both warmer and\ brighter upon us. And that’s the perfect time to let go of the past and embrace the future.

I love making manifestation collages at this time of year, and enjoy cutting up images and words from various magazines to then stick on a large piece of card. I’ll then place it somewhere prominent so I can reflect on it throughout the coming year. It reminds me of all my hopes and dreams, and keeps me going when the going gets tough (as it inevitably does from time to time).

This is a great exercise for you to do yourself, but it’s also super easy and fun for your kids to do too (who doesn’t like cutting and sticking pictures of what they want in life?!) It also offers you a great chance to get to know what is on your children’s hearts right now, what they are hoping for in the coming year, and how you could help support them in that.

4. give food/shelter to others

We all love to celebrate with a bit of abundance at this time of year, right? But there’s no denying that it’s often a real struggle to make ends meet for so many of us, and for others it is impossible to even provide the essentials needed to survive these cold, Winter months.

As much as we’d like to think that we are no longer at the whim of the elements as our ancestors were, when a good harvest could make the difference between life and death for many, we still struggle with poverty and homelessness. The use of Food Banks is constantly on the rise, and the number of families living below the poverty line is shocking. Add to that the increasing number of people recently described as “JAMS” (just about managing), who are just one paycheck away from losing their home or having no food on the table, and we begin to see just how stark the reality is.

So, at a time when we are all splashing out on good food and drink and celebrations of friendship and family, it only takes a little bit extra to make a real difference to someone else. Donate to a Food Bank or shelter, send toys to the local children’s ward, of buy that homeless guy you pass every day a hot drink and some lunch, to help him get through another day. It’s so easy for our kids to be completely oblivious to the struggle that so many face, and yet my experience is that kids can be the most generous and loving of us all. So let them make a difference too – it is the season for giving, after all.

5. go for a moonlit walk

What better way to focus on the darkest night of the year than to go for a moonlit walk. Even if it’s cloudy and you can’t see the moon or stars, take your kids for a walk in the dark anyway. There’s something really magical about doing that as a child, as it’s something you rarely get to do when you’re young. It feels much later in the day than it is, they get to see the Christmas lights along the streets, and then you get to come home for a nice hot drink before bed. Ahhh, bliss!

want to know more about the winter solstice?

I haven’t written a huge deal about the history and traditions surrounding the Midwinter Solstice, or the modern Pagan celebration of Yule. This is because I know December is such a busy month for many of us and I wanted to keep this post super simple. However if you’d like to find out more, you may find the following sites helpful:

The White Goddess has a wonderful page explaining the origins of Yule. It also includes a recipe for Yule Wassail, and a ritual for celebrating this Sabbat.

The Goddess and the Green Man also have a great page dedicated to Yule. There is so much information on this page that it is hard to provide an overview – just check it out!

Exploring the Nativity Story with your Kids

Most of us know the Nativity Story, right? Even if you’ve not been raised in a Christian family, chances are you know the basic storyline, thanks to Nativity plays at school, Christmas carols on the radio, and cultural references to it in both literature and on tv. The same will be true for our children; even if we don’t actively seek to introduce them to the Nativity Story at home, they will come across it in other ways.

Which is why I think it’s a really lovely idea to actually sit down once in a while and explore it all in more detail. Doing so often helps us to gain new insight and a whole new perspective on things, and can be really beneficial in helping us figure out what it is we actually believe and how that impacts on our lives. Obviously how we do this will depend on our individual age and background, but I hope the following will help you begin your own journey of exploration of the Nativity Story.

Explore The Nativity Story with Kids The Family Patch

Understanding the nativity story

What would you say if someone asked you to tell them the Nativity Story? I’m guessing it would be something similar to this…

Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and, because there was no room in the inn, Jesus was born in a stable. Angels appeared on the hill-tops and proclaimed the birth to the Shepherds. And three Wise Men travelled from afar, following a bright new shining star. 

It’s no surprise that our retelling of the Nativity follows this same pattern of events, as that is what we hear about every single Christmas. But did you know that no single Gospel account of the birth of Christ includes all of the above aspects?

The vast majority of it comes from Luke, whose account of Jesus’ birth is by far the longest and most detailed. His account includes the census, the stable, and the shepherds and the angels. However it has no mention of Wise Men, who only appear in Matthew’s Gospel. However Matthew’s version of events is much shorter and less detailed, appearing to race through the birth in comparison. There is also a marked difference in who the Angel appears to during the pregnancy – in Luke’s version the Angel appears to Mary, but in Matthew’s the Angel appears to Joseph, encouraging him to support Mary.

Then, of course, there are the two other Gospel accounts of Mark and John. Neither of these even mention the Nativity! Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Christ, and John’s is entirely different, with far more spiritual leanings as he writes about “The Word made flesh”.

So what does this all mean in terms of how we understand the Nativity Story and the truth we find within it? Does it mean that the typical story we hear year after year, bringing the two accounts of Luke and Matthew together as if they are one single narrative, is false? No, I don’t think it means that at all!

We must remember that each of the Gospel writers were telling their version of events in a very specific time and culture, which means they were also writing it for a very specific audience. Just because they adapted it to express a deep truth in a way that those who read it would understand, doesn’t make it wrong. Just think about how often we ourselves adapt what we say depending on who we are talking to – you wouldn’t expect a young child to understand with the same level of experience as that of an adult, would you?

I am reminded here of the Bible Study I went to this week in which we discussed this very thing, and I wish to share two quotations from it with you…

“This is always the task of Christians and the Christian church: to find ways to speak into our particular situations. We are not called to proclaim the gospel again, but to proclaim it afresh – wherever we find ourselves.”

— Living in the Light (York Courses)

“As has been said:

’Many will never read the gospel according to Matthews, Mark, Luke, or John, but they will read the gospel according to you!’”

— found in Living in the Light (York Courses)

I found these quotations so refreshing, as they reminded me that it’s not only okay to reinterpret the Bible in a way that means something to you, you are actually encouraged to do so. And how you do that will depend entirely on your individual and family culture.

activity ideas

Obviously, such deep theological ideas are not the easiest of topics for young children to grasp (hey, I struggle with them myself!!) Which is why it is probably far more useful for you and your family to explore the Nativity Story in some other way. Here are some ideas that you could adapt to suit you and your family:

Re-enact scenes from the Nativity

Role playing is a great way to step into someone else’s shoes. Why not ask your kids how they think the various people felt, or why they think some events happened as they did. Questions could include:

  • Do you think Mary felt happy or scared?
  • What do you think Joseph thought about it all?
  • Would you like to meet an Angel?
  • Why do you think the inn-keeper offered room in the stable?
  • What gifts would you have brought if you were one of the Wise Men?

Make your own Nativity Scene

Get creative and find ways to make your very own Nativity Scene, so that it reflects your own ideas about it. How you do this will depend on whether you have a particular interest in a certain craft, and the age of your kids. Younger kids may enjoy simply drawing it on some paper, or colouring in cut-out figures. Older kids may enjoy learning a new skill such as knitting or embroidery. Make it your own and then treasure it for years to come.

Write your own Nativity Story

Older kids may enjoy looking at the various different versions there are available and then thinking about how they would retell the story to someone who didn’t know it. Would they write it like a fairytale, starting with “Once Upon a Time”, or would they want to embed it in history like those Gospel accounts that start with the ancestral lineage of Jesus? And what style would they use – prose, poetry, music? Have fun with this one and have a go yourself, it may be fun to compare stories with each other!

Resources

There are so many resources available to help you explore the Nativity Story, in whichever way you wish. A quick Google will get you started, although it may also be a bit overwhelming too! With this in mind I have collected a few of my favourite resources together over on Pinterest. You can find it at bit.ly/SKNNativity

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Please do let us know by leaving a comment, we’d love to hear from you!

telling-ouronly-child-we-wont-have-another-baby

Telling Our Only Child We Won’t Have Another Baby

So, this blog post is quite a tough one for me to write. But it’s also one I knew I would probably have to write at some point. Little Man is an Only Child, which is something I’ve written about a fair bit in the past. But we’ve never really had to talk about it with him before. I mean, he’s only just turned 5, it’s not a conversation that naturally occurs with a young child. Until today. Today we had to tell him we won’t ever have another baby. And that was unbelievably hard.

telling-ouronly-child-we-wont-have-another-baby

It all started because we were watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (of all things). A character in the episode was giving birth and Little Man showed interest in what was happening. So TJ explained to him that babies grow in their mummy’s tummy and then mummy has to push them out. We’ve mentioned this in the past when talking about friends who were expecting, and we’ve even told him he grew in my tummy, but he never really questioned it before. So we didn’t really expect him to do so this time.

But just after the baby was born, he started telling us how cute the baby was. Again, this is nothing new – he often tells us how cute babies are whenever he sees one. (He does the same with kittens, but that’s another story!) But this time he seemed to fall into thoughtful silence. So I asked him, “do you think you’d like to be a daddy one day and have a baby?” And that’s when things got interesting.

Maybe a minute or two later he started pushing down on his belly towards his bottom and grimacing. I automatically asked him if his stomach hurt (as it was less than 24 hours since he had vomited with an upset stomach). But he said, “no mummy, I’m trying to push!” For a moment or two I had no idea what he meant, and then it suddenly dawned on me. “Are you trying to push a baby out of your belly?” The answer was a firm yes.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it was one of those moments! My heart practically exploded at the adorable nature of his innocent misunderstanding of what we had told him. I explained that only ladies could grow babies in their tummies and so even when he was grown up he wouldn’t have a baby himself. But he could still be a daddy one day if he wanted to be. And I hoped that might end his confusion. Except I don’t think it was mere confusion, he really did seem to want a baby.

He started trying to pull my top undone to get to my belly, so he could push on that. So I had to explain to him that mummy doesn’t have a baby in her tummy. At which point I think my heart broke in two. As hard as it was for TJ and myself to decide never to have another baby, I always knew there might come a day when Little Man would show an interest in a brother or sister. And I knew it would be difficult to explain why we’d chosen that, not because it was the wrong choice but rather because it was a choice I desperately wish we’d never had to make.

I’d have loved nothing more than to be able to tell Little Man that mummy doesn’t have a baby in her tummy right now but one day she might. But I couldn’t. I had to explain to him that we won’t ever have another baby growing in mummy’s tummy. Only he got to grow in there when he was a baby. He turned to TJ and asked if he had a baby in his tummy, making us explain once again only ladies get to do that. She he turned back to me and said, “maybe there’s a tiny baby!” I told him I was sorry, but no there wasn’t even a tiny baby in there. “Maybe, as tiny as an ant!” he replied. Oh, my poor, broken heart!

There are many, many times when I wish things could have been different. When I see how much Little Man adores playing with other kids at the park or seeing his cousins. When he tells me how cute babies are, or says, “I hear a baby” and looks around for them when we’re out and about. And also when he takes such wonderful care of the numerous teddies and soft toys he takes to bed with him. He hates being alone, in fact his standard response when he can’t sleep or wakes in the night is “I’m lonely”. I wish, more than anything else, we could have expanded our family as I’m sure he’d have loved it.

But we can’t. It’s just not an option for us. It never was. But even in those early days I clung on to the idea that maybe one day we could still foster. I thought if Little Man showed an interest and seemed able to cope with the demands fostering puts on a family, maybe we could do it. But the reality is that I’m too sick to do that. It really is just going to be our little family of three.

And in many ways that’s alright. I love the dynamic we have and the fact that Little Man can have as much attention as he craves. Although, actually, he craves a LOT of attention – because he doesn’t like being alone, remember – so I’m not sure he’d agree he gets as much as he wants! But the point is, he has us all to himself. We’re busy parents, working and balancing our many health issues, and so we don’t have a lot of time and energy to spare. What we do have is all his. And that works for us.

So, yes, my heart feels fragile tonight. This whole thing has reminded me just how much my health has robbed from us, both in terms of not being able to have another baby and in terms of not even being able to think about fostering. But there’s nothing I can do about that. So I’m choosing to see the beauty in Little Man’s hope and interest in us having a baby as something we can cherish, even if we can’t make it come true for him. Because, if nothing else, it shows he is growing into a very loving little boy.