Outside In: Spending Time

Image result for housework

Washing clothes, doing the dishes, tidying away the toys, sweeping the balcony – just some of the many repetitive tasks that a stay-at-home mum finds herself occupied with on a daily basis. They are part of the never-ending cycle of jobs to be done. They are, by their very nature, depressing. No sooner are they completed than they need to be repeated. The image of a hamster running in its wheel comes to mind – so much effort and energy expended but no actual progress made. Another meal is consumed, another t-shirt is dirtied, and the toys have a nasty habit of never remaining in the drawer for long.

These types of job are not the sole domain of the housewife. When I was in publishing, we worked to a quarterly catalogue. Four times a year the same tasks had to be repeated – books selected, covers designed, blurbs written, catalogues proofread. But no matter how many times I repeated them, these were somehow not so mundane and tedious as the daily grind of housework.

One time I was multi-tasking whilst chatting to a young American friend who had come to dinner. She stared wide-eyed at the chore I was busying away at and asked, “What exactly are you doing?” Astonished, I replied, “Hanging up clothes to dry…” Coming from a land where everyone has a dryer, she thought that what I was doing seemed an utterly pointless task. I was quick to highlight that, in a country where clothes dried on the balcony in just a few hours, having a dryer seemed somewhat unnecessary. But lately, my mind goes back to that conversation as I hang wet clothes on the airer, and a nagging thought rubs away at me – this is such a waste of time…And once that thought is there, it is easy to imagine a whole set of tasks that would be more worthy of my energy, or even activities that I would much prefer to be doing (crocheting, reading, relaxing).

It was one such moment when I was descending rapidly down the spiral of self-pity about how much of my time gets wasted on pointless tasks when a still, small voice in my head said, ‘You’re not wasting time, you’re spending time.’

It may not be the greatest of revelations ever, but it was a profound realisation for me. It is all too easy for me to resent time that I consider wasted when actually I’m doing tasks that indicate my care for my family, my household, and my home. This is time well spent, especially when I change my attitude towards it.

There are many other moments in life when we resent wasted time – waiting at the doctor’s surgery, standing in line at the Mogamma, stationary in a traffic jam. Changing our attitude about these times can transform the way that we respond to them. Calm resignation can replace angry frustration if we allow it to. A friend and I were recently caught in bad traffic on the way to a meeting. Apologetic though we were for the lateness, we were delighted with time well spent as we had great fun chatting and catching up, something we rarely have the opportunity to do.

We’ve all seen those ‘statistics’ about how we use our time:

28.3 years sleeping

4 years eating and drinking

2.5 years shopping

1.5 years commuting

6 years doing chores etc

It’s easy to feel that this is all wasted time, what do we have to show for it? But these are the bare bones of life, they are necessities, part of human existence. Has this obsession for productivity, for achievement, for justifying everything we do always been there? Has it gradually crept up on society until it has taken over? Or is it something new? Something inherent in 21st century life? All I know is that it can’t be healthy. The guilt, the justification, the obsession cannot be good for obtaining contentment and balance. Accepting that doing the tasks set before us – including resting – is us spending time, spending it well, and as such, nothing is wasted.

There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on – Leo Christopher

Published November 2017 in the Maadi Messenger

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Outside In: Living the Dream

For those of you who missed the saga of us converting and travelling in a campervan last summer, here is the article that I wrote about it for the Maadi Messenger.


Living the dream became our family catchphrase this summer in England. Several times a day, often ironically, my husband would say, “we’re living the dream”. It all stems from the fact that we spent six weeks of our summer holiday living in a campervan. You heard me right…our family of five living in a 7x2m space.

For you Americans – that’s an awful lot smaller than an RV (our British roads are just too small). Egyptians – you may be familiar with this rather unusual concept from the film Karakoon fi el Shera (كراون فى الشارع). South Africans/Australians – it was a much tamer experience than travelling through the wilds of your countries.

There was logic behind this seemingly crazy decision. We’ve realised over past years that we all struggle with a lack of ‘home’ and stability as we stay with family and friends over the summer months. Each week would be a new house with a new set of rules, a new set of things ‘not to touch’, a new bed. We found that the children suffered from not having their own space, a lack of continuity, experiencing uncertainty about where we were going next. It also has to be said that our boisterous, noisy family were also quite an imposition on even the most hospitable of hosts!

One huge bonus in our plan was the fact that my husband is quite the handyman and, having coordinated building a house, constructing a play area in the kids’ bedroom, and teaching Design & Technology for ten years, we were confident that he could transform our van into a functional space for our family. There were some quite specific requirements – a place that the older children could call their own, privacy at night-time, space for us when the children went to bed, plenty of storage, a kitchen and fridge, emergency toilet, and travelling seats for six people. It sounds like a long-shot but with two weeks of long working days and valued assistance from willing friends, our house on wheels was kitted out and ready to roll.

Every night for six weeks we slept in the van – either on the driveways of friends, campsites, or carparks that permitted such activity. I kept my expectations low as to how successful a project it would be, but we quickly made it our own and fell in love with the whole thing. Aside from the sense of home and consistency that it gave us, it also brought some unexpected benefits. It gave us a real sense of freedom – we were often able to change our plans and stay wherever we liked. If friends invited us out for dinner we could decide to stay and put the children to bed in the van whilst we continued to enjoy the evening with our hosts. If we were in a location that we liked (such as a day at the beach), we could look out a carpark that permitted camping. For those of you who know what it is like to spend the summer living out of suitcases, we were spared the ordeal of packing and unpacking wherever we went. Everything had a home in the van, everything was where we needed it to be. And I soon realised how much brain-power that freed up for me.

As any mother knows, we spend a large portion of our lives working out what we need to take for each child whenever we go out. This is especially challenging in the UK when each day might require you to alternate raincoats and wellingtons with sunhats and sunscreen…multiple times! But I was spared this palaver. Wherever we went, all our belongings went with us: clothes, toys, medicines. And our kitchen went with us – we could make a picnic wherever we were (one day this meant breakfast in the supermarket carpark); we could pull over at service stations and make a cuppa whilst the other did runs to the toilet with the kids.

Of course there were dramas and problems and moments where we didn’t think things would work out. One night, with the kids dressed in their pyjamas and falling asleep, we drove around in the dark looking for a place to pitch up. As we weaved down tiny, coastal lanes unsure of where we were headed, it didn’t seem like we were the embodiment of good parenting. There were times when we were cold and wet and bad-tempered. There were times when the kids were complaining that they kept banging their heads or scraping the knees as they negotiated the confined spaces. But there were moments of beauty and tranquillity too – breakfasts looking out to sea, cooking fresh eggs on a campsite, and kids running around in the fresh air.

We were encouraged this summer that when you have a problem it is OK to think outside the box in order to solve it. Last year we returned to Egypt tired and frustrated – a little less unified as a family than when we had left. This year we returned with memories of adventure, fun, working together…and of living the dream.

Published October 2017 in the Maadi Messenger

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Christmas Pageant 2017

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Apologies to those of you with low bandwidth, as these photos may be a little large. But here are some amazing shots of the MCC Christmas Pageant 2017. Ben was involved in script writing as well as being one of the wise men, and the big kids were shepherds.

As well as live camels, sheep, donkey and baby, we had ‘the gifts’ ordered on the internet and delivered on a motorbike (along with a burger), and camels requested through Uber. Film and photography was an integral part of the show, and thanks to Penguin Photography we have these amazing photos. There were lots of laughs and it was a great show with a powerful message.

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What’s with this post?

For some reason, this is one of the most popular posts on our blog. I have no idea why a bath panel gets so many hits. I’ve puzzled over whether there is some hidden meaning in something written, but I can’t see anything obvious. Open to thoughts and suggestions…

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Outside In: The Rhythms of Life

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Day follows night follows day. After winter comes the spring. These are the rhythms of life. Of these things we can be certain. In these things we find comfort.

I’m a big one for routines. I know that they’re not for everyone, and I know that there is much to be said for ‘going with the flow’. But I like routines. To me routines are like the rhythm of life, and I find reassurance in their certainty. Our kids like routine too – after all, we are the ones that conditioned them. There are some things that they know will always happen – whatever else may be going on, wherever we are, whoever is visiting us, a few certainties will pretty much always happen.

Routine brings them so much reassurance that when our eldest was little and we left her and her brother for a couple of days with her grandparents, she was worried that they wouldn’t know what to do when. We solved the problem by creating a simple timetable in pictures that both she and the grandparents would understand. She even adopted her own routines. Each night before we left the room, she would have us say a special sentence that would tell her that we were done: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, bye bye, love you, see you later, stop when I shut the door.” This became a useful tool for us but a bind for any babysitter, as they had to recite the sentence as well – especially at the point we started doing it in Arabic!


Somewhat belatedly (it seemed the whole world read this shortly after it was published), I’m reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a ‘murder mystery’ told by Christopher, a 15-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome. Routine is something that is vital for him. Unable to fully comprehend the nuances of life, routine and habits mean that he can understand what is expected of him at any given time. But as soon as anything deviates from the normal pattern of life, he is unable to cope and he panics.

And this is the downside of routines. If you stick too rigidly to them, you are left unable to function outside of that framework. But sometimes, having a routine in place can give you a different kind of freedom. When our kids were little, people looked at the structure of our lives and considered it to be restrictive – but actually this rhythm gave some tangible freedoms, perhaps unseen. We could guarantee a few aspects of their behaviour meaning that we weren’t always governed by unpredictable variables. For example, we knew that they’d sleep if we put them to bed at the same times; we knew they wouldn’t need to snack if they knew that their mealtimes were guaranteed to happen. Going back to the novel, when Christopher’s world is turned upside down he is able to draw on some of his old routines and patterns to help him cope with new things that were happening around him.

This freedom within routine is what I think about with the rhythms of life. We need not fear the dark of night because we know that the sun will always rise in the morning. We need not despair about the bleakest of winters because spring will follow.

It seems to me that life in Cairo is very rhythmic. September brings with it newbies, arriving in the country for the first time. It is a time of new beginnings, new relationships, fresh starts. Autumn brings the promise of cool air after the oppression of summer heat, winter brings camels at the Christmas pageant! Spring brings beauty as flowers explode in the trees of Ma’adi, and the start of summer brings goodbyes and tears. This predictability helps us know where we are, helps us ground ourselves, and helps us have hope. Hellos follow goodbyes. Fresh air follows heat. The rhythms of life need not be strict schedules that tie us down and depress us, but something to rejoice in and feel liberated by.

Published Sept 2017 in the Maadi Messenger

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How to Care for your TCK

This was publised in the Maadi Messenger Sept 2017. It gives a little bit of an insight to what our kids experience growing up overseas and the ways that we’re trying to understand and support them.

Are you thinking what’s a TCK? Are you wondering if have one? If you’re a parent and you’re living overseas – you have at least one! And TCKs require some special care…

What is a TCK?

The term Third Culture Kid was first used in the 1950s to describe children who spend a significant period of their formative years outside of their parents’ culture. Ruth Useem and fellow researchers noticed that children raised under these conditions had distinct characteristics when it came to relationships, lifestyles, perspectives, and communication. Ruth E. Van Reken, whose ground-breaking book Third Culture KidsThe Experience of Growing Up Overseas written with Dave Pollock, says that a TCK:

builds a relationship to all the cultures [he or she participates in], while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience…


Some typical characteristics of a TCK

Mobile – used to having to move around

Flexible/adaptable – adjust to change quickly

Culture/language – bi/multi-lingual and sensitive to other cultures

Quick to relate – connect well with people of all ages, and especially with other TCKs

Broad world view – ‘global citizens’, tend to be quite observant

Rootlessness – where am I from?

Appearance and behaviour

A huge challenge for the TCK is how people perceive them. Think about your kids when they return home for the summer. They look just like their fellow patriates – but then they start running across flower beds, or riding bikes in the house, eating with their fingers, or using a second language. They have a liking for molokhia rather than beans on toast (it’s a British thing). They struggle to comprehend why their peers are in awe of the fact that they can see the pyramids from their bedroom window. The problem is the reverse overseas. They may have much in common with their local friends, acting, speaking, behaving in the same way – but they are always going to look like an outsider. My daughter is constantly frustrated by the fact that her school mates call her beautiful, tweak her cheeks, and say she’s cute. The difficulty for the TCK is that no matter where they are – they never fully fit in.

A different perspective

It is easy to think that we understand our TCKs because we are experiencing life overseas the same as they are. But because life overseas impacts the most influential years of their lives, they are not experiencing it in the same way as us.

Connection – they feel connected to their country of residence much more than we do. We always feel like visitors to the country, whereas they feel like residents. They are more likely to feel like visitors in their passport country – after all, they often only go there in the holidays. They are hidden immigrants – they look like others, but feel different.

Identity – our children’s identities are shaped by life overseas, whereas our identity is merely influenced by it. Because they are still developing, because they are still being moulded, their entire identity is impacted by their experiences. Their worldview is still being formed – and life overseas broadens that world view.

Choice – we chose to be here – our kids did not. On the other hand, no kids don’t choose much when they are still dependents. The key thing for TCK parents to remember is that when their children get older they will make choices different from the ones that we made when we were young. We have opened their eyes to the breadth of the world, and we can’t be surprise when they don’t choose to live a ‘normal’ life when they leave home.


TCKs are made up of different cultures – a bit like a platypus. A platypus has fur like a mammal, but a bill like a duck. It lays eggs and is venomous, like a reptile, but uses electroreception like a fish.

Fears of a TCK

‘Where are you from?’ TCKs typically fear being asked this question because they don’t know how to answer it simply or comprehensively (especially if they have lived in several different countries). Some work out coping mechanisms for answering briefly, or avoiding the question all together. The downside of these responses is that it can result in a feeling of not being true to oneself.

Feeling alone – Because TCKs often feel alienated from their passport culture and don’t fully belong in their country of residence, they can feel isolated and alone. One of the benefits of research into TCKs is that they no longer need to feel that they are the ‘only one’ in this situation. There is plenty of literature now to help parents, families, schools, and peers understand them better. Indeed to help them understand themselves better. One of the hardest things for older generations of TCKS is that they hit their 30s and 40s and felt at a loss because they struggled with issues of identity, belonging, and commitment without being able to identify the cause.

Dealing with difficult questions – it is often hard for the TCK to deal with ridiculous questions from people who don’t understand. Do you ride a camel to school? Are you pleased to be ‘home’? Is it dangerous where you live? Even the question of “what is life like in…” is challenging, because most people aren’t interested in hearing anything longer than a couple of minutes-worth of an answer.

Supporting your TCK

Try to understand but know that you never will – for most parents of TCKs, we don’t know what it is to be one. We can read books, attend seminars and webinars, and read blogs, but we will never fully understand life from their perspective.

Acknowledge that it is hard – give credibility to their struggles by acknowledging that it isn’t easy. Don’t let them feel alone if they are struggling with some of the issues that we’ve mentioned

Communication and preparation – so much can be achieved by listening and explaining and preparing. Prepare well for periods in your passport country, plan ahead for adjustments back to your country of residence, make sure you grieve well during the ‘goodbyes’, and address the difficulties that come with periods of transition.

Inspire confidence – TCKs may feel self-conscious about their skin colour, the things that make them stand out, the strange experiences they’ve had in their childhood. We need to make them feel proud of these things, to remind them that they are beautiful, unique, and special.

Connect them with other TCKs – TCKs do not completely fit with the culture of their parents, or with the culture of their resident country – but they do fit with the culture of other TCKs. The opportunity to connect with other TCKs, both during their time overseas and when they return to their passport country is vitally important. TCKs bond quickly, understand each another, and can help one another establish a sense of belonging and identity.

Love them – are you familiar with the phrase ‘I love you to the moon’? Well we need to love our kids to Egypt, to America, to Thailand, to Kenya, to England…and back again.

You know you’re a TCK when…

You don’t have your driver’s licence at 18, but you’re on your 3rd passport.

You take your shoes off at the door whenever you go inside.

You can travel around the world and never need to stay in a hotel.

Your parents tell you off in a foreign language.

You slip in foreign words to your mother tongue without realising it.

You flew before you could walk.

You sort your friends by continent.

Your accent changes depending on who you talk to.

You have said too many goodbyes but it never gets easier.

You know that home isn’t a place – it’s people.


Some famous TCKs

Barak Obama

Freddie Mercury (from Queen)

Colin Firth

Richard Dawkins

Kim Jong Um

Cliff Richard

Uma Thurman


Helpful resources

Tanya Cross, Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Oversees in the 21st Century. Summertime Publishing, 2016.

Marilyn Gardner, Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging. Kindle Edition, 2015.

Marion Knell, Families on the Move. Monarch, 2001.

David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken, Third Culture KidsThe Experience of Growing Up Overseas. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2010.



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Outside In: Under Pressure

I’ve recently returned from a weekend away in the UK. This is not something that I do frequently, but it was a special occasion – my sister-in-law’s hen party. For those of you with no idea what I’m talking about, Americans call it a bachelorette party. Not only was the weekend an escape from my children and the label of ‘mother’, it was also an opportunity to spend time with women who were considerably younger than me. It is always eye-opening to have discussions with people who are coming at life from a different perspective than you.

Several discussions over the weekend ended up touching on the idea of needing to achieve and the concept of contentment. The general opinion was that today’s society does not encourage contentment, it continuously asks you ‘what next?’. One of the girls I was with is about to graduate from university. This is a key time in life when people pester you with the ‘what next?’ question. Her response is that she needs some time to reflect. She would like to continue with her studies, but she would like a year out to earn some money and to take stock. Her answer is often not received well and she feels the pressure to ‘get on in life’, to embark on her career, to ‘make something’ of herself. One of the other ladies has been in a teaching job for the last six years. She is happy in her job, likes her school, and clearly does a wonderful job of inspiring her students. But she too said that she felt the pressure from society to move on, to achieve more, to do something else.

Both of them cited the role of social media in this pressure.  The constant flow of pictures from those who are travelling, or doing something adventurous, or bearing children. Posts about people’s career developments, LinkedIn updates about people’s advancements in the workplace. All too easily this leaves us with a sense of inadequacy, a pressure to perform, and a need to make continual updates to our own online resumes.


In our discussions, I assumed the role of wise sage, commiserating with them at this new world in which they were having to survive, reflecting on the fact that our grandparents were perfectly happy to remain in a job for life and dwell in a state of contentment. But for all my moralising I have returned home to my children and have already begun to give ear to the persistent voice of society asking me ‘what are you doing with your life?’ All too easily I’m happy to fall for the lie that I should be doing something more, that there should be more excitement, more adventure. Society seems to demand that we make an impact, that we achieve something noteworthy in our lifetime, that we do something for which we should be remembered.

One of the truths that I try to remember when I err towards devaluing my role, is that headstones rarely quote a person’s successes in life. People are usually commemorated on headstones in terms of their relationships – wife of…daughter of…mother of…

Bronnie Ware1, an Australian nurse working in palliative care began to take note of people’s regrets and noticed that many regretted the same things – and it wasn’t that they hadn’t made a difference in life, or wished they’d had more adventures. The top five responses were:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The challenge, as ever, with these things is putting the theory into practise. I felt I knew how to encourage the two younger women on my weekend away, to inspire them to ignore the expectations of others and pursue a life of contentment. But when I try to apply that principle to my own life, I realise I am a hypocrite. I must continue to work hard on enjoying this season, enjoying being the mother of little ones, valuing each day that I spend in this fascinating country, counting my thousands of blessings, and resting in a sense of fulfilment and contentment. I need to resist the temptations to compare my life with that of others, to believe the snapshots on Instagram and Facebook, and rejoice in the uniqueness of my life, in this place, with my friends, and my family.

  1. The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware, Hay House, 2012.

Published July 2017 in the Maadi Messenger

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