Challenge 2019. Definitely not a New Year resolution.

Picture the scene. It is New Year’s Eve, far too many years ago to admit to. A group of enthusiastic – and rather tipsy – 20-somethings gather together to bring in the New Year. Resolutely, they avoid resolutions as being so last year, and instead make New Year Goals. Just one thing, one action, to commit to and achieve in the coming year.

I don’t know how many of the other people in that room did, in fact, achieve their goal. I do know that I did, and in doing so, discovered something remarkable about myself. That remarkable thing is that if I keep it simple and only focus on one thing, I actually have a chance of achieving it.

Back at the very end of 2005 (OK, I’ll admit how long ago it was, hard though it is for me to believe it now) my goal was to travel to Kenya. It had been an ambition of mine for as long as I could remember, in that way that you have dreams that you never imagine might actually come true. But by the time New Year’s Eve 2006 came around, I had not only planned and fund-raised for a trip to Kenya, I had spent 3 months there – 3 months that continue to influence my mindset and viewpoint on life today.

Children from Tumaini Timbwani playing in the Indian Ocean

Every year since, I have tried to replicate this extraordinary feat of perseverance and determination. Or at least, I have tried to stick to a New Year Goal for a whole year. I have never managed it since. Thinking about it now, I have realised the key difference between 2005 and every other year. Ever since then, I have gone back to my previous style, trying to think of behaviours that I wanted to change or improve. What I have not done is chosen one thing, one action, that is both achievable and something that is concrete enough to be ticked off on a to do list once complete.

Life these days is rather more complicated than it was in 2005. For a start, back then I did not have to work in order to afford my childcare bill, and could quit my job and volunteer on another continent for 3 months. Now it takes me about that long to plan a trip to Ikea, and twice as long to recover from it. So I am not going to set one, big, New Year Goal for myself this year. Instead, I am starting Challenge 2019. Every month, I will choose a new, smaller, inevitably duller, New Year Goal. It must be achievable within a month, on a budget, with no time and even less energy (well, hopefully it will be at least two of these things!) And finally, it must be something that will help me, or us as a whole, messy, family, live a more simple, sustainable life.

Challenge January is coming soon, and already slightly planned… Any suggestions for Challenge February will be gratefully received!

Elephants! Lifelong ambition achieved…

Wobbles and wanderings: it must be Boxing Day

Let’s go for a walk, I said. It’ll get us out of the house and wake us all up, I said. Won’t it be nice to leave behind the consumption and self-centredness of present-fuelled frenzies and get back to nature, I said. Inevitably, the family had other plans.

In my head, Boxing Day is an oasis of calm and tranquility. There are always enough leftovers in the fridge to avoid cooking for a week; no one has to get up and out of the house; there are no deadlines or alarm clocks; there are more adults than children in the house, so keeping the kids entertained is, ahem, child’s play. The house is filled with laughter and good cheer, and it gives us all the chance to recover from the full-on busyness of December.

As you will no doubt have already worked out, the things that happen in my head are not always linked that closely to reality. In today’s case, there was no connection whatsoever. Firstly, The Paleontologist kicked up a fuss. She only wanted to stop building Lego if it meant starting using her new microscope. Then The Cowgirl got involved. So many costumes, so little time, and definitely no room for leaving the house, of all the abhorrent ideas. Next Mother joined in, with questions and wonderings and “I only want to help…” (Which is true, which is a tragic irony, as in fact it does nothing of the sort.)

A decision was made. Celebration time! Oh, no, wait: the Visiting Hound needed a walk. Being a Big Dog, he needed a Big Walk, and needed it right now. Everything was put on hold for another hour.

We did eventually make it out of the house. We even made it through the cafĂ© and the gift shop, though of course we stopped at both. Eventually, we started a walk around Stowe Gardens. It was overcast, and cold, and we were all either exhausted or ill, so it was more of a meander than a hike. It was also a good way to get out of the house, wake up, and enjoy each others’ company without the exciting distraction of presents and chocolate. In short, actually, it was lovely.

Muddy boots. Shame cleaning them is really not a strong point for me!

Expectations are a killer, especially at this time of year. I have relatives in the house I haven’t seen for months. I have my husband and children in the house at the same time, which hasn’t happened since the beginning of Advent (or at least, that’s how it’s felt for most of this month). And yet, it’s Christmas time. Therefore, every moment had to be Meaningful. Every day has to be filled with Making Memories. And so the pressure mounts, and we forget that actually, what we are doing right now is already exactly what we need. We forget that what we need is to enjoy what is here, and now, and not spend our energy and focus on what we hoped to be doing, or on what other people might be doing. I, in particular, forget that Boxing Day is, in fact, a gift – an oasis of calm and tranquility after all.

The footpath at Stowe Gardens

We wish you a Merry Christmas…

Sitting in an empty choir room, listening to a distant rehearsal and waiting for Midnight Mass, seems somehow the perfect time to write my very first blog post.

Let me introduce myself. I am a teacher, a mother, a vicar’s wife, a Quaker. I wear so many hats, at times I completely forget which one I’ve got on; and I always seem to lose myself at the bottom of the hatstand. I’m not alone in this one, of course – we all know that’s the way that parenthood in the 21st century just happens.

But for now, I’ve had enough of always racing around frantically, just trying not to get further behind. That’s really the purpose of this blog. It’s my way of trying to be accountable, and recording the steps I take to live a simpler, more sustainable life.

So I’ll take you back to it being Christmas Eve. The food is under control, the children are asleep, and the presents are wrapped. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that this is something of a miracle.) The presents were my focus this year. The Cowgirl and I spent an afternoon cutting up old cards to make labels. I invested in brown paper and simple ribbons instead of plastic coated paper. But this is my family, and we do messy simplicity. So of course, in the middle, there has to be a T Rex wearing a Christmas jumper on some thoroughly unsustainable wrapping paper. Nobody’s perfect, right? And I promise, it will make The Paleontologist’s Christmas…