Living the high life

When your vehicle is your home as well as your transport and that vehicle needs a new turbo…the garage forecourt becomes your resting place for the night.

Since we collected the van it has been churning out billows of blue smoke and drinking oil. Our wonderful train-driving friend (and his mate) had a look and declared it a problem with the turbo. Our friendly garage in Ilminster agreed. After a botch job to try and solve the problem we had to accept the need to buy a new one (attempts to get a reclaimed one failed). The lovely mechanic agreed to come in on Saturday to enable us to set off for our Scottish road trip, but that did mean a night stranded at the garage for us. We made ourselves at home.

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Adventures on the road

We love the combination of flexibility and control that the van gives us. We can change our plans at the last minute because we have our food, kitchen and beds with us all the time.

We can pull up for picnics…

Hang around for a swing…

And the kids even had a spontaneous afternoon in a splash park as we had our swimming costumes on hand and we had the time.

We’ve also had a lovely day with our friends on their narrow boat…

A chug on another friends’ steam train…

And a wonderful day at Legoland courtesy of Auntie Rosie…

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Back to it

It’s summer time and we’re back in the UK. Everyone was very excited to see the camper van again when it came to pick us up at the airport, courtesy of my father-in-law. They say that Egypt is a dangerous place, but it seems mild compared to the heavily-armed police at Heathrow. Asher wasn’t fazed by them though, having ridden in Egyptian police cars with armed police, and he trotted up to one and befriended him!

Before we could get on the road again, there were a few tweaks to be made – putting insulation over the bulkhead, hanging the curtain between the cab and the back and tidying up the electrics. Ben’s put a couple of neat switches in the kitchen door so that we can plug things straight in without faffing around under the sink.

Everyone’s very happy to be back in their travelling home again.

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Outside In: I Have a Toddler…     

I have a toddler…who has a tantrum when I put her socks on without letting her try by herself. I have a toddler…who won’t go to sleep without the right teddies, and hankies, and cold water, and without her baby in the bed next to her. I have a toddler…who has a meltdown in the street because I did/didn’t let her wear her hat/her coat/her cardigan/her jumper depending on her mood and the day and the weather. I have a toddler…who has no shame about crying when she’s denied crisps by her mummy at the koshk, or in accepting a lollipop from the ba’al that instantly stops the tears.

I have a toddler…who spends the entire day driving me crazy with ‘what doing?’, ‘whyyyyy?’, ‘huh?’ on loop. I have a toddler…who exhausts me with endless questions and a need to understand every tiny process in life. I have a toddler…who says, ‘I want’ so many times that she forgets what it was she originally desired. I have a toddler…who needs to be involved in everything I do – loading the washing machine, washing up, wiping the table, sweeping the floor – making everything take twice as long as it should. I have toddler…who whinges ‘muuuuuuum’ and whines ‘help me’ so many times a day that it rings in my ears when I go to bed.

And yet… I have a toddler with kissable ears, squishable cheeks, and baby-soft hair. I have a toddler who looks at me like I am the centre of her universe. I have a toddler whose nose wrinkles when she laughs, who smells like I could eat her, who feels like a wriggly ball of warmth. I have a toddler who laughs from her belly when I tickle her, who squeals with delight when her siblings chase her, who loves cuddles and kisses and rolling around on the floor. I have a toddler who stares in wonder at things that I ignore as ‘everyday’, who absorbs everything like a sponge, who learns by repetition, and who never tires of doing the same things over and over. I have a toddler who is discovering the world, who experiments with new words and sentences every day…and I get to be her guide.

I have a toddler who snuggles into my chest as we amble along in the Egyptian sun. I have a toddler who waves to at people in the street and runs to greet those that she knows with joy and delight and innocence. I have a toddler who tries to understand and speak Arabic in order to please those that she’s with. I have a toddler who calls cucumber ‘khiyaar’ who points to trikes and says ‘bakiya bakiya’, who draws triangles and calls them ‘pyramids’.

I have a toddler who does roly polies (somersaults), who spins around until she’s dizzy, who dances and sings without any sense of feeling self-conscious.

I have a toddler who is fiercely independent, who wants to put on her clothes by herself, brush her teeth, carry her food, pour her drinks. I have a toddler who is learning to do more and more things by herself such that she doesn’t need mummy to do it. I have a toddler who no-longer wears nappies and takes herself off to her potty when she needs to use it. I have a toddler who is growing up fast. I have a toddler who is only a toddler for a short time…even though each day can feel like an eternity.

I recently received a text from a friend who reminded me, in the midst of me worrying about how to plan my time, that I have to consider having a ‘toddler in the mix’. That phrase jumped out at me. I needed to remember…I have a toddler. I’m so used to the fact that I’m a mother, that I have children’s needs to consider, and that life is a crazy jumble of chaos, noise, and mess. It is so easy to think that she’s ‘just number 3’, just another child in the mix to consider. But I have a toddler…and I won’t be able to say that for very much longer. I have a toddler…and I’m making an effort to treasure that.

Published April 2018 in the Maadi Messenger

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Outside In: Spending Time

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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.

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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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