"The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea." Kahlil Gibran"

Crossroads

Posted in Daughters, Motherhood, Wisdom | 2 comments

1972-Tri-X-Kids-17aI am at a crossroads.

I stand in the middle, in a place I never expected to stand, with a view I never expected to see. My life is at a crossroads, both literally and metaphorically, and I find myself making decisions I never anticipated would be mine to make.

My mother is ill. She is old before her time due to grief and a stroke and things too numerous to count. She has become the Crone and although she has much wisdom, her physical and emotional needs are so great that she cannot feel the gifts of age. She is tired, unwell and she needs me.  And so I must go. Of course, I must go. Even though she tells me not to come, I cannot stay away.

My daughter is growing old, too, but in the way of a young sapling flexing her branches and reaching for the sky. She is the Maiden with a world unfolding before her full of wonders to behold, adventures to have, and places to explore. She needs me less and less with each passing day.

And I don’t want to let go.  Even though she tells me I am uncool and naff, and she doesn’t want to stand too close to me when we are in public, I can’t let her go.  Not yet.

And yet, I must.

The truth is, my mother needs me, whether she wants to admit it or not.  And my daughter does, too, although she will

Forgiveness

My and my Best Girl

tell anyone who asks the opposite.  They are both going through transitions – one into the fullness of her life, one around the final corner of a life well-lived.

I feel pulled in two directions; to be a good daughter I must go to the one whose needs are greatest and to be a good mother I must leave the one who is not quite ready for the independence she craves.

This week has been hard. Things are moving at such a pace and I can hardly keep up with all of the changes to my world view.

I never anticipated caring for my aging parents.  They were supposed to stay young forever.  My daughter was never supposed to grow up.  Except that I always knew she would.  I just thought she’d wait until I was ready.

I never thought I’d be caught in the middle.  But together the three of us form the last three links in a long chain of mother-daughter love, care, support, ambition, fear, longing, and nurturing that stretch back to the mitochondrial Eve from whom we all descend.

My daughter is my only daughter.  I am the only surviving daughter of my mother.  My mother is an only child. It is a fragile link to the past.

I still need my mother.  My daughter still needs me.  As a mother and a daughter, I see clearly the wisdom I have not yet gained from my mother and I see the lessons I still must teach my own daughter.  I stand between the two – the Mother – willing to give and receive all that I can.

Despite all of the changes that are coming, I hope I can look back on this week – when it all changed – and see the beauty in it all.  To see what lies before me, to see from where I’ve come, to know that I have the power to shape the future by the actions I take in the present.

I pray for my own wisdom and for the ability to say and do all things in love and for the ones I love above all others. From this week forward, nothing will be the same again.

I am at a crossroads.

It is time to choose which way to go.

 

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Trial By Fire…and Mood Swings

Posted in Daughters, Motherhood, Wisdom | 0 comments

I did everything right with my daughter.

She was exclusively breastfed from birth.  She was carried in a sling, never placed in a playpen, never put in daycare, and co-slept with us from birth. She had a delayed vaccination schedule, and ate home-cooked meals because I was home with her all the time.

1901094_10152194186880516_1532148688_oShe was the perfect Attachment Parenting baby.

And now at the age of almost 11, she is detaching from me and demonstrating that no matter how good a job you think you’ve done, there will come a time that will disabuse you of that notion.

Her mood swings are like a punch in the gut.

It is brutal.

I am no longer allowed to hug her in public (or in private, for the most part).  Nor am I allowed to make goofy faces, dance, crack a bad joke, strike a ridiculous pose for the camera, or do any of the 101 other little things that used to make her laugh and bound us together through her childhood.

I have become in her eyes something to be disdained, ridiculed, and, if I am lucky, ignored.

Her tongue is waspish.  Everything I say, even if it is to someone else, is met with a condescending, “Obviously, mother” or “You can stop now, I get it”, or “You know you don’t make any sense, right?”

Sometimes she crosses the line from mildly irritating and slightly hurtful to down right disrespectful. If I am totally honest, there have been times when my hand has itched something fierce to be set free to wipe that snotty look from her face.

Deep breathing exercises and meditation helps. And sometimes I need to just drop to my knees and pray to Jesus to get through the next minute without doing something I’ll later regret.

I know it’s puberty.  I know this is natural.  I know that she needs me more today than she did yesterday.

I just didn’t know it would be this painful.

When I first became a mother, I spent a lot of time considering how I would handle the baby and toddler years.  I considered the nature of discipline, and determined that I would never spank or call a child names.  I would never withhold love, I would never shame a child, and I would not use food as a reward.  I decided that a 2-year-old didn’t have to share and that if a child was hurt I would remain calm in the face of chaos.

I knew that surviving childhood was a war of attrition, not to be won in one or two epic battles but in a slow, inexorable movement towards adulthood where my children would look back and know that above all else, they had been loved and treated with dignity and respect.

It worked when they were little.  I understood the fierce anger of a toddler.  I could look at her and analyse her behaviour in the context of her physical and emotional development.

I had a plan, and it seemed to work.

Until now.

The derision heaped upon me as a mother with the onset of my daughter’s adolescence has left me raw and exposed.  My confidence in my ability to mother these children has eroded and I find myself floundering from one blow up to the next.

It has become an effort not to react rather than a process of thoughtfully responding.

A  few days ago I had a moment of clarity.  My daughter was in all her angry, bitter and resentful glory.  She wielded her words with the precision of a ninja and had cut me to the bone.

But as I looked at her through my own wounded eyes, I saw something in her that gave me pause.  My daughter is hurting, too. She is as confused by all of this as I am but she lacks the experience and perspective to put it into context.

She feels lost, too.  She feels like she’s in free-fall and like an angry two-year old, she is lashing out at the only person she knows will never let go.

I practised attachment parenting for a reason.  I practised AP not because it would wrap me in hippie chic or help me raise a perfect child.

I did it because we are only as weak as our weakest link.  I did it in anticipation of these trying times.

I wanted the link between my daughter and me to be made of titanium.

In that moment it also occurred to me that my plan must remain the same: understand her needs, surround her with love and respect, don’t take it personally, and think about how I will respond to her moods and temper long before I need to.

The trials are just beginning.  There are many miles we must travel together and my daughter will need a loving guide who will not abandon her no matter how difficult things become.  She needs someone who can take everything she has and then some.

She needs someone to show her that forgiveness is one of the most important gifts we give and that between mothers and daughters, there will always be enough.

Picture by Einer Helland Berger

Picture by Einer Helland Berger

I know I will lose my temper and make more mistakes than I care to count. So will she. We will both need to be forgiving of each other.  But she will only learn this if I give it to her first.

This is sharp end of the stick, the business end of our relationship.  Whatever bonds I created by adopting a certain parenting style when she was little, I need to redouble my efforts so that our bond is indestructible.

Metal is made stronger by fire.

It’s time to step into the flame.

What lessons did you learn about motherhood either as a daughter or as a mother – or both?  Leave a comment….

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Dear Jago: 730 Days of You

Posted in Children, Family, Motherhood, Wisdom | 0 comments

Dear Jago

1656123_10153867287850716_625800239_nToday, in addition to being St David’s Day (and where you got your middle name), it was also the very important occasion of your 2nd birthday.

Here is what happened:

When you woke up the first thing you saw were my eyes smiling back at you.  We share a family bed and as of yet you show no inclination to find a new sleeping space.  That is ok with me because England is a cold country and the warmth of your little body pressed into mine is something I treasure.

I know that these days are numbered and one day (hopefully long, long in the future, but I fear it will seem like a millisecond) you will wake on your birthday and see the loving gaze of someone else.  I hope these early experiences of waking up to love are a solid foundation upon which your future relationships are built.

Life is too short to wake up other than to love.

We had a long car journey down from Scotland yesterday and we all ate Krispy Kreme donuts in the car.  This did not agree with your sister Nyree Skye (who, I am reliably informed, ate two), and when we got out of bed we found her hovered next to the toilet and slightly green around the gills.  She perked up a few hours after her stomach relieved itself of too much sugar and pizza and fizzy pop from the revelries of the night before.

Remember that although it may sound good at the time, there is always a price to pay for overindulgence.  Some days it will be worth it, but most of the time it isn’t.

We are in the midst of our epic Road Trip Great Britain and are staying in a lovely seaside village near Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle.  After the last two weeks of wind and rain in Argyll, we had a day of sublime weather – sunny, only a light breeze, and  warm enough to dispense with winter coats.

1959650_10153867287975716_1125442522_nWe spent much of the day on the beach, playing in the sand, dodging waves as they rolled laconically to shore, and clambering over sand dunes.  You thought it was hilarious to bury people with sand.  Jonah thought it was a grand thing to roll in it.

The fresh air and sunshine were positively medicinal and Nyree never looked better with glowing cheeks and a happy smile, and William saw two birds from his Bird Watching Bucket List and was happy as a clam, sandwiched as we were between a coastline of outstanding natural beauty and the birthplace of Christianity in England in one of the historical Meccas of this historical island.

We ate chips for lunch, had rock candy and banana chews from the cheesy souvenir shop, and watched gulls soar overhead.

Always remember that the simple pleasures in life are the ones that make your heart sing.

We could not get enough of the beach, so we went back just before sunset.  The crowds from earlier in the day had begun to disperse and by 5.30 it appeared that most people had gone home for their tea.

We were able to let Eddie, your border collie, off lead.  He ran into the waves like fish returning to the sea – he frolicked and ran and ate far too many rocks and drank way too much sea water. But I think if he could talk he would say it was a pretty perfect end to the day. We watched the sun set over the dunes and the light fade from the islands just off the coast and saw the first swishing twinkle of the lighthouse.

Sometimes it pays to show up late and stay longer – amazing things happen in uncommon hours.

We had a simple fish supper with Peppa Pig pasta just for you and as always you ate loads.  I wish we’d had brocoli to go with it because brocoli is your favourite and you will eat it until the cows come home.  Why, just the other night you ate all of yours and all of Daddy’s – I never knew a two-year old who liked vegetables as much as you!

Never loose this appreciation for food.  They say that you are what you eat and I hope you are always fresh and whole and fun.

After supper we had birthday cake – a chocolate concoction with chocolate flakes on top.  You were shy when we sang happy birthday but when it came to blowing out the candles you blew like it was your 92nd birthday rather than your second – what powerful lungs you have (as if we didn’t know from all the yelling you do)!

Jonah felt sad that it wasn’t his birthday, too, so we lit the candles again…and again…and again…and again because you both had fund blowing and Daddy wanted to get the right picture.  It was fun and silly and we couldn’t stop laughing, especially Nyree, who was sufficiently recovered from the debacle with the donuts to have a fairly decent slice of cake herself.

Always surround yourself with people you love and remember to share your experiences and your spotlight with them – happiness expands in direct proportion to the number of people who participate in it with you.

When it was time for bed, you were exhausted.  You climbed up on my lap, covered yourself with your brown snugglesaurus 1655840_10153867286070716_749823051_nblanket, and drifted off with a bottle of milk in one hand the fingers of the other twirled in my hair.  I was your anchor as you awoke and again as gentle waves of sleep at last pulled you under after an absolutely sublime day.

Despite what I say sometimes to the contrary – usually after I have discovered you running with contraband scissors, using “washable” (hah!) markers to decorate the tablecloth, squeezing all of the toothpaste out of the tube and onto the toilet seat, or some other catastrophe of monumental proportions, I do not, in fact, intend to ship you off to live with the Elves at the North Pole where your antics will be put to better use than getting on my last raw nerve.

I am grateful for every single moment of the last 730 days.  You are a blessing to us all.

Never, ever, forget it.

 

Love always

Mommy xx

 

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Six Reasons Not to Homeschool and How You Can Overcome Them

Posted in Family, Homeschooling, Unschooling, WAHM | 1 comment

Since I’ve been homeschooling, a lot of people have said to me that while they like the idea of  home education, they don’t think it is right for them. There are always reasons for this.  But I have to say, for the most part, whatever the barriers people have to becoming homeschooling families, most of them can be easily resolved.

And while I have no problem with folks saying that they have no desire to home educate and they and their kids are quite happy with their school, I do have a problem with people suffering under the false impression that they can’t homeschool even if they would like to.

All parents should have the freedom to make educational choices that are right for their kids.  We should not be railroaded into an educational system or a school that isn’t the right fit because we have fears and doubts about homeschooling, especially as most of them can be overcome.

Here are six of the most common reasons not to homeschool and suggestions for how to get past them:

1.  My kids will drive me insane – we’d end up killing each other.

CrazyFamilyinLakesMy kids pretty much drive me insane most of the time, too, but as yet there have been no charges of matricide or infanticide in our home.  So I understand this fear but I can also tell you it is unfounded.

Usually this fear is about spending all day harping at kids and trying to get them to comply, or in spending too much time together with nothing to do.

Let’s tackle the first half of this fear first.  Here’s something that a lot of people don’t know about homeschooling – you can do it anyway you want and it does not have to resemble school at all.  You do not have to hover over your kids for 6.5 hours a day, cracking your whip while they plow their way through a worksheet of fraction problems.

You can if you want, but you don’t have to.  And a lot of us don’t.

Home education is entirely flexible.  It isn’t like school because there are not thirty kids in the room who needed to be herded in the same direction.  There is no lining up, sitting quietly on the carpet with hands folded neatly, no registers to take, or assemblies to sit through.

It takes a lot less time than the regular school day. And while different jurisdictions have different monitoring and reporting requirements, I have yet to come across a country or state or province where homeschooling is legal and parents are forced to into the role of jailer.

In fact, most jurisdictions don’t have a daily time requirement at all.  What they usually have (if they have anything like this at all) is a requirement that homeschooled kids be at grade level in their attainment.  And there are lots of ways to demonstrate this, either through standardized tests or by completing a report or by having a licensed teacher review your children’s progress (the England and Wales have no such requirements but you should check with your state or province’s board of education to find out what they expect).

So if they can get by on 2 hours of structured learning a day, then everyone can enjoy themselves and have fun the rest of the day (and remember, there is no homework to mess up the evenings when you homeschool).  And if you opt for unschooling where there is no structured lessons unless your children ask for them (and believe it or not, some do), then there is no whip cracking at all.

All of which means your kids can spend loads of time outside running around, at activities, in work experience, writing plays, making music, and generally having as much fun as they can come up with all while staying out of your hair.

2. I did poorly in school and am not smart enough to teach my kids.

There are a couple of myths here that need to be busted.

JonahtheScribeFirst, brains or qualifications has nothing to do with your ability to home educate your children.  Kids need people who are willing to be supportive, point them in the right direction, and, if needs be, learn alongside them.  You do not need to be an expert at anything, and in all honesty, no matter how many degrees and qualifications you have, we all learn alongside our kids – it’s one of the joys of home education.

The other myth is that you will teach your kids anything at all.  Modern teaching is about herding kids in a classroom and being able to meet the learning needs of 30 to 120 kids a day.  You only have to meet the needs of a few and you already understand them pretty well.

Think about it like this.  When your kids were learning to walk, you didn’t really teach them how to do it.  They knew what they wanted to do, worked the muscles and bones daily and practiced, practised, practised.  And you were there beside them, letting them hold your fingers as they walked across a room, a steady pair of hands next to them if they stumbled between the couch and the rocking chair.  But you didn’t teach them how to put one foot in front of the other.  They figured that out for themselves.

Homeschooling is a lot like learning to walk – kids do the hard work of constructing knowledge and the parents offer encouragement and are there to catch them when things get wobbly.

Most parents is qualified to do that.

3.  I am so disorganized I can’t keep track of the days of the week let alone what my kids are supposed to be learning. And writing lesson plans?  Forget about it.

There are lots of ways to address this.  First, I think I wrote 5 or 6 lesson plans when we started out; as a trained teacher I had aYouDontNeedAPlan good idea how to do this.  We didn’t complete a single one.  Why?  Because my kids had other ideas and letting them pursue those ideas worked a treat.

But when my son wanted to learn Latin, I knew I needed help – I know a few Latin phrases picked up from law books and church, but I know nothing about teaching a foreign language, let alone one that is pretty much dead.

Instead of fretting about it, we bought a book from Amazon called “Getting Started With Latin” by William Linney.  This book is designed for homeschoolers, so it came complete with 120 lessons, an answer key in the back and links to a website where there were plenty of audio files for each of those lesson.  My son was set, and frankly, so was I.  Everything was nicely organized and all I had to do was make sure he had pen and paper to hand.

My point is this: you can either get organized and write your own plans if that kind of thing floats your boat (check out the homeschool boards on Pinterest for loads of ideas), you can unschool, or you can purchase a book or curriculum that imposes its own structure that you simply follow.

It does not have to be rocket science unless you want it to.

Picking up a slim volume of Latin poetry because, you know...he can....

Picking up a slim volume of Latin poetry because, you know…he can….

4. How will they get into college?

Quite easily, as a matter of fact.  And you many not realize this, but particularly in the States, there are many universities that actively recruit homeschooled kids because homeschooled kids develop the discipline and independent learning skills that are required for success in college.

In fact, research shows that (at least in the States), homeschooled kids on average have higher grade point averages, do better on college entrance exams like the SAT and the ACT, and have lower college drop out rates than their schooled counterparts.

Not convinced yet?  Here is a link to a list of colleges that have accepted homeschooled kids.

By homeschooling your kids, you could actually be doing them a favor.

5. My child has special needs and he needs to be in a school setting to get the right support.

I won’t insult you by saying that this fear is unfounded.  I’ve got a child with additional needs and it isn’t easy.  But it is doable.

Some kids with additional learning or emotional/behavioural challenges thrive in a homeschool environment.  They are freed from the pressures of being different and, for some, bullying by classmates and teachers.  Homeschooling becomes a saving grace.

You may still need to access support, but it does not necessarily have to be in a school.  It may be from seeing professionals at home or in a clinical setting.  Many insurance plans and local authorities expressly provide for this, so make sure you get proper advice from people who know what they are talking about.

And there is an active and thriving community of homeschooling parents of children with special needs. You can find them all over social media and they are a wealth of information, advice and guidance.  Before you decide homeschooling isn’t possible because of your child’s needs, join a few groups and see what hope there is to be found from people who have already walked several hundred miles in your shoes.

6. I can’t afford it because a) it is too expensive and/or b) I have to work.

It is true that you can spend a small fortune on homeschooling.  Whether it’s buying an entire curriculum in a box, paying for a correspondence or online private school complete with online tutoring and external marking of work, to just going a bit too gung how at Amazon.com (holding my hand up!), you can rack up quite a tab as a home educator.

If you can afford it, great.  But if you require extra funds to get what you want or if your income is necessary to meeting sundry little things like paying the mortgage and buying food, then there are alternatives other than working outside the home during normal business hours.

The internet is a fantastic resource for people who want to make a living online. Click the link to the right to learn more about how I do it.

There are lots of ways to earn a living while staying at home, from selling products like cosmetics and potions and selling ad space on your blog, to freelancing and  setting up your own etsy shop.  I know people who have written and self-published an eBook to help cover expenses, become an online marketer like me, and have started new careers as bakers and cupcake makers which allows them to work from home.

You are limited only by the walls of your own mind when it comes to making a living on the internet.

So yes, there are a lot of reasons not to homeschool. That said, almost anyone who wants to can successfully homeschool their kids.  It does not have to take a lot of time, effort or money.  In all honesty, the only thing it really takes is a change in your mindset.

If you and your kids want to do it,  don’t let anything stand in your way.  In my experience, the biggest barriers are not real at all, but rather they are simple fears that when exposed to the light, are suddenly exposed for what they are:

negative thoughts that can be changed.

What are your reasons not to homeschool?  Thoughts generally?  Are you a homeschooler who has heard these fears before or had them yourself?  How did you overcome them? Leave a comment :-)

 

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Of Bloody Feet and a Facebook Fan Page

Posted in Children, Family, Motherhood | 0 comments

Last night I made a huge decision.  Massive.  Life altering.

I uninstalled Facebook from phone.

I know, right?

facebookwordwebWhat will I do with all of my “free time”??

To be honest, my Facebook use was bordering on obsession and was getting out of control.  Every time the phone pinged I looked at it.  My kids were annoyed by it.  My husband – who is a keen Facebooker himself – commented on it (pot calling the kettle black, honey, but you go on ahead).

And then I saw two things that convinced me that while I don’t need to leave Facebook altogether, I certainly need to get a grip.

The first thing was a picture that almost made me hurl my chocolate Cheerios.  One of my friends graciously decided to share a picture of a human foot, devoid of skin, thanks to a motorcycle accident.  Yes, it was real, in all it’s boney, bloody glory.

Mama just doesn’t need that first thing in the a.m., you know what I mean?  And why was I even looking at it when I had my gorgeous children around, books to read, the Olympics to watch?  Totally gratuitous use of Facebook.  Save it for the laptop.

The second thing was less obvious.  A new mother shared the Facebook fan page she’s created for her 5 week old baby and invited everyone to “like it”.  In her post, the mama said something along the lines of “by the time she is 10 she’ll have 10,000 likes”….

And something in me snapped.

How many 10-year-old girls are going to think their value is based on the number of Facebook fan page likes they have, or twitter or Google+ followers, or whatever other social media platform is in vogue at the time?  How many kids will use it as a measure of their value, their self-worth?

And it scared me because I do it to myself.

My own Facebook fan page is not growing.  Nor are my blog followers.  I know I write well, and I know that there are people with much larger followings who have half the talent I do.  This is not be being boastful.  I dislike false modesty, even in myself.

And in any event, having a little bit of talent doesn’t seem to help when it comes to Facebook likes and Twitter followers.  Maybe I’m not as good as I think.  Maybe I suck.  Maybe I’m not cut out for this writing thing and I should just pack it in and go back to working in an office.  Maybe I’m just unlikable.

Maybe it’s my autism.  I was never very likable, even in real life.

My mother and a few friends tell me I’m good, but maybe I’m like those awful contestants on TV talent shows who come on and you know they are gonna be a train wreck, especially when they say that everyone they know says they are fantastic and then they open their mouths and it sounds like something crawled in there to die but thought better of it and is now engaged in a desperate attempt to keen their way back to the living…

You see how my mind works?  And I’m a mature woman in my 40’s who, one hopes, has a bit of perspective on life.  I can tell myself to snap out of it.  I can tell myself to uninstall Facebook and refocus on the things that matter – my children, my husband, my spiritual foundation.

What defence does a 10-year-old girl have against a tween and teen culture that tells her popularity is everything?  How does she protect herself from feeling like a failure because she doesn’t have enough likes from people who will never ever know her or love her, but whose approval she still craves because that’s what being a kid is all about – seeking approval.

LakeWindermereandaboatAnd if I believe that children learn what they live – and I firmly believe that they do – then it begs the question: what kind of example am I setting for my own kids?

So I let it go.

Without Facebook in the palm of my hand 24/7, I am hoping that my fixation will moderate, that I’ll make room for a few more pleasures and fewer unhealthy obsessions.

And I’ll protect my children for a little longer from the notion that your self-worth is linked in any way to your social media presence.

None of which is to say that kids should not be on social media or that a baby should not have their own fan page.  Sometimes these can be a good thing.

I remember when I was going through my last pregnancy when I thought I was likely going to have a child with Down’s syndrome I came across the Facebook page of the daughter of someone I knew in high school.  This little girl does have Down’s syndrome and her page educated and calmed me.  I was able to see that family life not only goes on, it is happy, and in those days, I desperately needed that hope.

Social media is here to stay.  The trick is to use it wisely, to make it work for you not against you.  Thanks to smart phones, tablets, and laptops, for me, it was working on me, not for me.

Did you know you can televisions from which you can now access Facebook?

Thousands of kids are bullied every day on social media.  Some kids are bullied so unmercifully that they engage in self-harming behaviours.  Far too many have committed suicide.

It used to be that if you were having a rough day at school you could come home and shut the door and shut out noise and chaos and nastiness of the world.  Not so anymore.  It’s pinging away in backpacks and pockets, tormenting from the TV, mocking us wherever we go, whatever we do.

It has to stop.  But if we as parents are placing a high value on it, how can we expect our children to act any differently?RowoutandmeetIt

So that’s it.  That’s my limit.  I don’t want to over protect my kids but I do want to protect them, especially when they are young. I don’t want them to think that Facebook is the world.

I want them to be in it – the world – with all of its crazy, amazing real people.  I want my children to interact, eye to eye, and connect heart to heart.

I want them to love and be loved by people who know them and love them back.

I’ll still be on Facebook, just not as much.  Instead, I’ll be focused on the things that really matter in my life: my family, my friends, the outdoors, a good book, writing, a sublime glass of wine.

That’s what defines me.  Not how many fans I have, or how few followers I’ve managed to attract.

So terra, people – I’m off!  There are places to go, people to see, and things to do!

And I plan on going, seeing and doing as much as I can while there is still life in me to do it.

What are your thoughts on Facebook and children?  What about your own use of social media?  Leave a comment – I still get email and I always reply ;-)

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The Most Amazing Carrot Cake Ever

Posted in Food & Drink | 0 comments

The Most Amazing Carrot Cake Ever

Carrot cake is my favourite – what’s not to love??  It’s a desert, helps you get your 5 servings of veggies a day, and, at least in my book, it is a health food – no, really, it is! Trust me, I’m a mom.

You can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner guilt free.  Best of all, it is moist and it tastes great.

If you are looking for a great birthday cake, look no further than this recipe.  I love homemade birthday cakes and this carrot cake recipe is excellent for Little Ones.  There are no raisins, no nuts, nothing but pure sweet carroty goodness.  And the cake is dairy free.  I have made it for several First Birthdays and it is always a winner.

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

1 ¼ cups vegetable oil (choose whichever one you like, but I use an organic sunflower oil)

2 Cups caster sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

4 large eggs

4 cups grated carrots (about 1 pound)

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (1 block for the UK people)

1 package full-fat cream, good quality cream cheese (it makes a difference)

1 box (about 16 oz) confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Juice of one small orange or tangerine or tangello

½ tsp grated rind of the orange, tangerine or tangello you used above

METHOD:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

For the cake: In a good sized bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate and very large bowl, combine the oil and sugar.  Next, fold half the flour mixture into the oil and sugar.  Then alternate adding in 1 egg, then ¼ of the remaining flour mixture until all the eggs and flour are mixed in well.  Now stir in the grated carrot.  Pour into greased and lined cake tins or into muffin tins lined with cupcake papers.  Bake until the cake springs back to the touch, has pulled away from the sides of the cake tin, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Times vary depending on the size of the cake pans/muffin tins used.  Once cooked, let cool 10 minutes before removing from the pan(s).  Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

For the frosting: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix at a medium high speed in a blender or using a hand-held mixer until the frosting is light and fluffy.  This should take about 3-5 minutes.

When cake(s) are completely cool, frost to your heart’s content.  There should be enough frosting for 3 dozen cupcakes or a 9 inch double layer cake.

Are you a carrot cake fan?  Leave a comment or a suggestion!

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Things I Love About Living in Britain: the Great British Road Trip hits Scotland

Posted in Expatriot, Great British Road Trip, WAHM, Work Life Balance | 0 comments

I love living in Britain.

We’ve been on the road now for 6 weeks for our Great British Road Trip and it has been…magical.  That’s the only word for it.

After leaving Maskel Beach cottage, we traveled north along the M6 to the border between England and Scotland.  Crossing the border into one of the other Home Countries is always exciting for me, but Scotland is particularly important to me because as a girl it was always my dream to live here.

For some reason, the shy, awkward girl growing up in the sunshine of California thought she’d fit in better in the cold and mists of Alba.

I’ve been to Scotland thrice before – first on a 2 week holiday to the Black Isle and Inverness and then for the Make Poverty History march in 2005 and later the MPH concert in Edinburgh.  It always charmes me.

This time, however, is different.  This time, the faeries must be sprinkling me liberally with faerie dust because amazing things keep happening.

At the border, we turned west at Gretna Green and headed into Robert Burns country: Dumfries & Galloway.

Most people are familiar with Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland.  His “Auld Lang Syne” is the most popular song at New Year, but I’ve been a fan since I was 18 and picked up a copy of his poetry at a used book shop in Capitola, California.  If you’ve not read him, before, then do so – or just enjoy his poems sung by the lovely Eddi Reader, one of my favourite folk singers.

Galloway is a county of beautiful rolling hills, farms, fishing ports and artistry.  In addition to the very interesting Burns Walk in the city of Dumfries, where you can visit many of Robbie Burns’ favourite places and his last home, there are miles and miles of countryside and seaside to explore.

Criffel Lodge

Somehow Lee hit the jack pot in finding the perfect holiday cottage.  Criffel Lodge is on a golf course in Tongland, just up the road from the charming art town of Kirkcudbright (pronounced “Kir-cu-bree”) which I later discovered has one of the best used book stores ever.

The lodge itself is owned by one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and it proves that you never know how many fascinating people you have to meet until you get out into the world and meet them.  Our host is a farmer whose family has been on his land since the 800’s – not the 1800’s, but from the time of Charlemagne.  He currently has a gorgeous herd of Galloway Belted cows which he was quite proud to share with us.  He is also a former politician, a clan chief, an advisor to emerging democracies, and in all respects, a gentleman.

We’ve stayed in several cottages and Criffel Lodge is by far our favourite in terms of warmth and comfort.  Built of strong wood, it kept us cozy during a storm with gale force winds.  The children adored it – not the least because we could visit with the cows during our daily comings and goings.

And although none of us are disabled, I appreciated that Criffel Lodge is 100% wheelchair accessible.  It is so cleverly designed that it took me more than a day to put it all together: ramp, extra wide doors, full ground floor loo, and a ground floor bedroom.

From Criffel Lodge we were able make many explorations around Gallowy:

Galloway Forest Park, which has a herd of deer, wild goats, and is a “Night Sky” park.

Kirkcudbright, an art town with the best book shop ever, an old ruin right in the middle of town, a fantastic harbour for it’s fishing fleet, and the best chippie ever.

Picture by Dumgoyach

A Red Kite centre where there are hundreds – literally – of birds of prey all over the place.

Red Kites flying low

A wonderful and accessible coast:

The Boyz

Wigtown – Scotland’s national booktown with more bookstores in one town centre than I have ever seen in my life:

It is definitely worth a couple of days, especially if you are a book lover/coffee drinker/chin wagger.  Bring a full wallet because there are so many treasures to be found.  We picked up a 1923 copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and an old collection of Latin poetry.  The tea and scones were divine, and despite the torrential rain, it was one of the best day trips ever.

Yep, they’re mine!

There are so many things to love about Galloway.  It is the kind of place you read about, hear in song, but for many people, because it is far south of Glasgow and Edinburgh, it’s off the beaten track and the main tourist routes.

But if you are looking for quiet countryside, good food, an abundance of books, and a warm welcome, there is no finer place.  We love it.  There has been something for everyone, young, old, outdoor enthusiast and book lover alike.

Can you see the learning taking place?  The kids are studying biology, literature (what better way to learn what a stanza is then by walking in the footsteps of one of the world’s great poets and seeing his verses all over town), geography, animal husbandry, ecology, and history.  We’ve seen abbey’s that were build in the time of Robert the Bruce and the birthplace of John Paul Jones, the father of the US Navy.  The road is our classroom and it is abundant, indeed!

Come – come to Galloway.  Come to Scotland.  Be enchanted.

Do you love living in Britain?  What are your favourite things?  If you don’t live here, what would you like to visit?  Leave a comment!

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