We have had a manic September full of satisfying if not always pleasurable activities. Saturday Live last week had an article about happiness Paul Dolan said that we needed a balance between pleasure and purpose to be happy. I feel like September has been a month encompassing both of those. However we had had a couple of weeks full of purposefulness but not so much pleasure and then in contrast we had 3 blissful nights spent at our friends’ beach hut. I have blogged a few times about this place possibly most significantly in my Bath Tub Places post and my Super Sundays post where I blogged about how it provided a light-bulb moment to change our lifestyle patterns.

So Thursday arrived; I finished my maths class, dashed to Lidl to grab some shopping, drove Ruth from college to Robin Hill for work came home and waited for Martin to arrive back from work. I shoved on my wellies jumped into the van and and headed straight for Thorness as quickly as possible. And then we stopped rushing.

We spent the time mooching on the beach,

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drinking wine.

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watching the birds,

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playing games,

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reading and doing puzzles,

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enjoying the candlelight,

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watching a very unexpected hovercraft landing.

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and taking photos, watching sunsets and sunrises, and really just generally relaxing.

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Once again we feel so lucky to live here and so grateful to generous friends.

Had our second picnic of the year today. I got out and dusted off my lovely tiffin tin (it was very dusty as last year was so wet we didn’t use it once).

  

We had a sunny afternoon in Puckpool Park – luckily I could sit in the shade and hide under my summer shawl. Had a great time with lots of Zonie friends and a great way to celebrate a couple of birthdays.

 

I think I probably have a romanticised view of the relaxed, stress-free weekends that other people have and I don’t achieve but this weekend we had an unusually relaxed Saturday.

Music Centre cancelled – which meant that even though I wasn’t going to go anyway (due to bad weather) I now didn’t need to feel guilty about it either! So I spent a good chunk of the morning in bed finishing off my book, Martin brought me tea and chocolate digestives so it was a good and relaxed start.

Then a bit of time blogging about the snow.

Lunch of last night’s leftovers – nice and easy.

A trip into town where we only shopped in small independent shops, the butchers (ironically for vegetarian haggis), The chocolatier (Montezuma chocolate buttons), the health food shop (large packet dried yeast), the newsagent (The Guardian for a photography project for Rebekah) and Ginger the greengrocers for a chat with the lovely proprietor! Even Martin enjoyed the shopping trip and he usually hates shopping.

Back home and a lovely Baileys latte – but unfortunately not the champagne truffles I had been saving for this relaxed occasion as I realised I had accidentally packaged them and sent them off to my mum for her birthday – opps – will need to send the correct ones off! However I did have some of the Montezuma chocolate to have with the latte so it was still lovely.

Then reading the papers and a game of scrabble with Martin and Jonathan.

An easy dinner of bangers and mash.

A game of Carcassone.

A hot bath with choral evensong and a murder mystery.

An episode or two of Grey’s Anatomy

And off to bed.

This is the Saturday that I always imagine other people have and don’t usually manage myself, relaxed doing just what I feel like at the time, no hassle and no outside pressures – lovely. And it fits in with my new years resolution to be more idle and to read more 🙂

No pics in this blog post so martin won’t be happy!

We had a really, really good Good Friday.

We started with an early (for us) morning and headed down to the church. Then we had an elicit exchange of dairy-free eggs and got ourselves sorted out for the Good Friday meditation we were taking.

We stole the script for the meditation based on the last words of Jesus from Kingdom Story

 

We ended with recording of the lovely Aled Jones (definitely getting middle aged, but he has such a lovely tone to his voice) singing Abide With Me (Martin’s favourite hymn) and this image that we took of the cross at St Benet’s Abbey on the Norfolk Broads.

Then we just had to hang about and prepare for being the final destination of the walk of witness, rearrange the chairs, butter some hot crossed buns, sort out the PA stuff, make some tea and coffee. But we had about 3 hours to do all this, Ruth took the little ones to the park, Rebekah and Jamie went for a coffee and we just pottled about in church, in quite an idle manner!

The walk of witness arrived, babies cried, songs were sung and lots of drinks and hot crossed buns were distributed.

Then we sat around for a long time with friends and coffee.

Next home.

Jonathan and I had cleared the area around the fire place and had made a cross from the sticks in the garden to put up.

 

I tidied up our cupboard surface with our Lent stuff on.

Jonathan updated our very behind lent lamb calendar

I put up the cross picture that I made.

I managed to find time to listen to the last instalment of the excellent Peoples Passiondrama on the iplayer. I read an article that said that religious broadcasting has almost disappeared around the Christian celebrations but I have to say that I have been very impressed with the variety, quantity and quality of the broadcasts relating to the passion on Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra during Holy Week.

 

We also have an Easter tree that Ruth went out to pilfer from the cycle path.

We had a leisurely afternoon spending some of it looking at Jonathan’s bouncing egg and making a lot of quiche for dinner (always a joint effort as Rebekah makes better pastry and I make a better filling) and rebekah also made a batch of truly delicious hot crossed buns.

We sat and ate a very very leisurely dinner, drank a yummy bottle of red wine (which we unfortunately now have to give a small share of to Rebekah) and sat and had a great lot of conversation ranging from theology, to holiday to moral dilemmas to parenting. The girls said some lovely things about us, but Martin said that Rebekah must have been under the influence of the wine!!!

We had a great day because there were lots of times to not be in a hurry, to sit and chat and take our time. It reminded me that we need to get back to being more idle and not to just rush and be busy all the time but to really slow down and appreciate the here and now, savour time with family and friends and time alone and with God.

 

Martin had been saying for a couple of weeks that he needed a holiday so at the end of November I decided that even though we didn’t have time to have an actual holiday we could manage a night away. We could do the Saturday night, we have no duties at church the next morning, there were no kids activities going on that we need to get people to and from it was just a case of finding someone to have the children and a hotel with a swimming pool that we could actually afford! Luckily we have good friends and after a couple of false starts the children were farmed out to various friends (thank you Elaine and Andrea).

So we had all day Saturday and Sunday morning to ourselves to fully relax in. We had been feeling pretty stressed again, particularly Martin and a grabbed afternoon in the pub the previous Saturday had only highlighted to us that we had moved away from the ideas of including plenty of idleness in our lives and were heading towards manic over business and ineffective activity yet again.

So when we got into the car to head out on Saturday morning and the track playing in the car was Needed A Day Like This by the lovely Paul Bell we really felt we were doing the right thing.

No alarms today
No phones to ring I’m just…
Waking up with the sun and my love
No work today
No bills to pay
It’s just you and me my love.
And today, the world just melts away

I needed a day like this
I needed a day like this

No demands
And no firm plans
We’ve got all the time in the world my love
No plots to hatch
No trains to catch
It’s just you and me my love
And today, the world just melts away
And today, the world just melts away

We had lunch at the always tasty Chale Green Stores  and then headed out towards Sandown and our hotel. We were passing the Botanic gardens and decided to stop there for an afternoon walk.

There were brilliant colours and amazing textures and we relaxed, chatted and took photos.

  

 

  

 

We headed to the hotel (Melville Hall) where there were two unexpected bonuses – a four poster bed in the room and much more impressively an outdoor hot tub. We nipped straight into the hot tub (it was closing shortly) and lay in the hot water watching the stars gradually come out and feeling very very relaxed! We didn’t feel in need of a restaurant meal and it was a nice evening so despite the time of year we headed out to eat fish and chips on the beach. Back to the bar for a drink and a couple of games of crib (only a couple we won one each and weren’t going to risk marital disharmony by playing another).

  

  

We were very impressed that the hotel room also had proper wine glasses and more importantly a tea pot!

We headed down to Quarr Abbey for morning tea and cake and after an exceptioanlly long wait got a very attractive set of drinks and a somewhat disappointing slice of shortbread. Nerissa assures me that their cakes are lovely though so we’lll have to go back and try again another day!

So we were happily relaxed when we got back to the kids and determined to make sure we had some time each month when we spent at least an afternoon to ourselves just relaxing with no agenda.

I have a playlist entitled Bath Tub Songs. This is because they are songs that I listen to and immediately give the same sense of well-being and relaxation that sinking into a hot bath tub does. Some of the songs included are Drive by The Cars, Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton and I’ll Stand By You by The Pretenders.

There are some places that have the same effect on me, just getting there gives me a rush of peace and contentment.

One of the places in the past that had that effect was Westonbirt Arboretum just because of how glorious it is.

Another place was the Pancake House we visited in the Netherlands. It was a perfect cycle distance from our holiday park and had wonderful atmosphere and we ate pancakes in the sunshine while the children played happily in the large and lovely playgroud. This makes me feel like that because it was one of those unexpected times where everything went well and right and there was no conflict at all.

But the place that does this to me most often and with the most depth is definitely Thorness Bay. Now this is relatively an inaccessible little area with mostly mud and rocks and a steep climb down to the beach which I can’t manage without either Martin’s help or my walking poles or sliding inelegantly on my bum. But there are some beach huts there and some of our friends own some of them and we have spent lovely lovely times there. And I think the reason I love it so much there is because every time we have spent there has been happy.

We have done Cardboard Boat Regattas, Shakespeare Readings, Sloe Chilli Walks, Cards, Dressing Up, Playing Games, Pizza Eating, Cooking on Fires, Sleeping Over and lots more besides. We have been so grateful that we have had friends who were willing to share what they had and so this place has taken on so much more significance than it really should. We also spent for us a significant Sunday there.

So last week when we were going to a BBQ and to meet up with some friends who had moved off the island I only had to step out of the car to experience that Bath Tub feeling. The kids ran off and arrived well before me, we BBQed and chatted – the kids headed for the beach and I sat on the sheltered veranda by myself for a while knitting and loving being there.

We stayed out too late playing cards on Saturday night, I said we would leave at 9.30 but was having far too much fun so we stayed until after 11! We played a huge game of demons in which the Gibson family took all the bottom places. We have a plan however and will play every night when we are off on our camper trip and then we will come back and slaughter the Bailey-Oliver family at demons! So we woke up late and dashed out.

Now Sunday’s are supposed to be idle days for us but this one had unavoidable things in it.

Rebekah had to go to church early as she was leading the music for the first time. Now we could have let her go on the bus but we felt that we should take her really, but this meant we couldn’t have a relaxed start to Sunday (which we aim to on the weeks we are not on a rota for something at church). So we looked for a way we could take Rebekah to church and still be idle. We decided to go out for breakfast. A trip to Wetherspoons in Newport fitted in perfectly. I even bought a Sunday paper to read over breakfast!

Then we nipped over the road to church feeling relaxed and not too full to enjoy the lovely cakes that were on offer at the start of the service this week.

Rebekah did well and I was particularly impressed to see that despite the fact that Ali has only been home educated for a little while she has one of the main items of the HE uniform sorted – odd socks – very disappointingly Rebekah was failing in this area of HE life and was wearing a matching pair!

I had been very organised and had shoved a curry in the slow cooker before going out so we came back home with only the rice needing to be cooked. I use the Delia method and so once it was going I just needed to let it simmer without interfering for about 30 mins. So I persuaded Martin to play a few songs on his guitar – unfortunately on the first song he snapped his G -string – this lead to the inevitable silly comments (well we are big fans of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue) and the inevitable shaking of head and sighing from Rebekah who thought that we were perhaps being a tad childish!

Then (again against our Sunday principles) Rebekah had to dash off to Cowes Baptist Church to get set up for the evening service that the Eternal Flame were playing at (she left at 3 and it didn’t start until 6.30 – we thought this was a bit excessive – but apparently it gave them time to eat pizza).

While she did this Ruth and Jonathan did the dishes, Martin went and did some gardening and I sat and had a relaxed cuppa with the paper.

Then Jonathan and I joined Martin in the garden – me to help and Jonathan to do some diablo practice.

The Rhubarb is springing up nicely.

I was very excited that we were going to use our own compost for the first time ever – it seemed like I shovelled it into about 100 planters but I think it was only about 10!

The compost seems a bit heavy on the eggs shells but aside from that pretty good – we found that hair doesn’t compost – there were a few wads of that and also found a spoon – that apparently didn’t compost either!

Then I went off to the Baptist Church with Ruth and Jonathan and Martin stayed home improving his Mario Cart racing!

Not a typical Sunday at all but still one where we made space to be idle and to enjoy life!

One morning this week I had a chance to just sit quietly at breakfast time and realised that the table was full of my favourite things.

The first daffodils we’ve had this year:

A lovely scone with home made jelly (apple and sloe gin flavoured).

A tea pot full of Earl Grey tea – the tea pot is very very important to just how relaxing this feels.

I loved noticing all these things and it made me think about more things that I love that I could see – my red fleece blanket from Ikea which I snuggle up with every winter night and at camps, my brown teddy bear that Jonathan gave me and a book from the library.

Really want to spend more time appreciating my favourite things this year.

…..continued

So where does Idleness come in?

Well during this busy busy year there have been a number of points when we have realised that change had to happen. that leading this busy life is not what we want for our family and not what we enjoy and not sustainable for us for any length of time with out some sort of implosion. There have been a number of times when various family members have had meltdown moments this year and while I think they are occasionally unavoidable I believe they can be reduced.

The trouble with busyness is that it creeps up on you. You start with a life you are coping with and then something else comes along that you want to do, or feel obliged to do or just have to do. So you add it into your life and you time gets squeezed a little but it’s okay because next month it’ll quieten down. Then one or two more things creep in and suddenly you are not really coping, things get missed, you keep smiling but under the surface the cracks begin to show. You keep doing things but not so well and don’t give them enough time and the important things (not the urgent ones) start to disappear – playing games with the kids (you’re too tired), reading stories (can’t one of the older children do it), having a conversation with hubby (no lets watch House instead) – and you start to resent doing even the things you previously enjoyed and wanted to do. Irritability levels rise, budgeting gets worse (no time for planning so we just rush to the local shop and buy something more expensive to eat), relationships suffer.

So in the midst of busyness we have had some revelations about our lives .

The first was about Sundays we changed them and honestly I think if we hadn’t we would never have got through this year as well as we have. If we don’t manage to get a proper Sunday now we really miss it and feel the difference – what with festival and camping etc we haven’t had a proper Sunday for a few weeks, I’m really really really looking forward to the one coming up. All we have planned is to go to church and then go for a walk with a long leisurely lunch in between but I am really looking forward to it. I find that because we don’t do any work (including housework etc.) I don’t worry about anything much and I really relax.

Relaxing at Woody Bay on a Sunday afternoon

Holidays are the next thing that has impacted our lives. Our trip on the Norfolk Broads which I haven’t blogged properly but you can have a taster here and an insight into how even a holiday isn’t straight forward for us here. Was wonderful. We really did very little for a whole week. Having said that we walked, birdwatched, cooked, played games, discussed issues, read, shopped in little villages, learned about using the boat, read maps , took photographs etc. But the pace was slow and gentle and the activities ones we wanted to do at the time.

This is how relaxing Ruth found the holiday.

It reminded me of how our home education used to be. We all learned lots from each other (Ruth was our bird expert having done some bird zoology this year) but in a completely relaxed and informal way. Martin and I knew we needed a restful holiday rather than an experience style holiday what I hadn’t realised was how much Rebekah needed it too. She loved doing nothing and as it was only a couple of weeks before her RS exam she really appreciated the break.

An Egyptian goose - we spotted lots of these.

This time of rest told us that we had really been far to busy and that we needed to incorporate more rest into our lives! Shortly after arriving home we booked another holiday on the Broads for October – so we can look forward to more complete rest then!

We also knew we had to stop rushing about so against our money-saving principles which say we have to get our money’s worth out of every mainland trip we decided that our trip to Greenbelt in August would be just that rather than going on to zigzag across the country going visiting every friend we have ever made. While at some points in our lives that would be the right and good thing to do just now we need to rest some more and do less.

Camping has had a bit of an impact too. We went to Corf camp with the LZ a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t want to go, I had to go to work twice in the week, Martin needed to get three days work in. It was going to be bitty and unsettled and I just didn’t want to go. The children did though, so off we went (if 4 days after the start). Arriving we found we were sharing our camping area with 3 good family friends and a lovely new family. I felt immediately relaxed and chilled out. Martin took a little longer but spending a whole day chatting with Dave only moving to follow the shade around the gazebo. The simplicity of being at the campsite – no email, not worries about what I needed to wear, no washing to do (OK we were storing that up but never mind). Nothing to worry about but whether the milk was still cold and had the kids had enough to drink. That break was also much needed, it seemed to be that everyone I was with needed it. I had taken the How To Be Idle book with me and was enjoying doing nothing – although I also made my first proper friendship bracelet and went for my first kayak – Martin was enjoying sitting around chatting to Dave – another bookLiving Simply by Fiona Castle was being passed around the group like the chocolate gets passed around in the twilight. So there seemed to be a bit of a theme going on. We loved the relaxing simplicity of it even if we had to come backwards and forwards for work.

The end of the jetty.

The other thing that has come up is one of the Cafe Church topics. we watched the Nooma video Shells. It’s well worth watching whatever your religious persuasions. Our theme was Too Busy Too…. Which was ironic really, talking from our experience rather than talking from a position of having got it sorted. Watching this Nooma really made me stop and think (well they all do but this one was timely). I know that just because something is a good thing to do it doesn’t make it the best thing to do for me and my family and the life we want to live. Applying that is more difficult though.

Reading How To Be Idle is just confirming much of what I have been thinking. Naps are not bad. Stopping now and then through the day for 20 mins to have tea with martin and sit in the garden is a refreshing and renewing thing to do. Spending time laughing and enjoying friends is a good way to live. Rushing about doing more and more may not actually get more things of import done. Not rocket science but nicely confirming.

More time spent napping is definitely desirable.

So where are we now – we are heading towards the summer and a break from regular activities. We’ve called a three line whip against doing any regular activities through the summer, maths is an exception I’m afraid as it won’t get completed by November otherwise and church is because that’s integral to who we are and how we lead our lives. But nothing else regular. We want to spend the time just resting and getting ourselves back together. Also having had a break we hope we will find it easier to decided which things we want to take up again (or anew) in September with clearer heads and more idea about our whole life and also how much time we want to be able to have to rest and relax in and just live in.

Just don’t ask me about how busy the next two weeks are though!

This has been a ridiculously busy year even by our standards.

We have gone from being the sort of automomous home educators who do pretty much what we want aside from on Saturdays (music centre and drama), Sundays (church) an odd after-school activity (maybe gym, maybe GB, maybe scouts) and quite a few (mostly one off) Learning Zone activities, interspersed with the odd play, art exhibition, lots of seeing friends and work.

That sounds like lots but really we had quite a few days to just do what we feel like. This was our plan when we were just starting out on official home education (i.e. when Rebekah hit 5). Having looked at lots of ways of doing things and reading lots we decided that Rebekah was learning loads as we just went about our everyday lives. We saw no reason why on her 5th birthday this should change. So we decided to just carry on like this until it stopped working and she stopped learning. this didn’t happen so now she is nearly 14 we are still educating autonomously.

However rather than spending days waking up and seeing whether we feel like making playdough, going to the beach, creating volcanoes, making sculptures, writing newsletters, listening to story tapes, cooking or playing games, our lives seem to have many more planned activities in them which have to happen at set times.

Night Hikes and Hot Chocolate - haven't had time for one of those for a while.

Chilling out with friends at Blackgang Chine

What things have added to our busyness?

Education:

As I said we’ve been used to doing mostly our own thing, pretty informal and without much structure. Last year Rebekah(age 12) thought she might like to do A levels at the college which requires 5 GCSE equivalents. So we started to look at how this might be achieved (while still , of course, doing everything we previously did). A plan was hatched and the following qualifications studied for this year.

Modular maths GCSE (starting Sept 09 ending Nov10) (Ruth is doing this too).

RS O level (starting <ahem> February(ish) 2010 ending May 2010).

ECDL (a level 2 computer course starting sometime 2010 when Martin could fit it in and ending July 2010).

Although even working at RS can be done in the garden with a cuppa.

That gets three out of the way and only two more to do over the next two years (of course now we’ve started down this track she has changed her mind and wants to the the Countryside and Management BTEC which with 5 GCSEs she can do at level 3 but she could have started with nothing at level 1 <grrrr>)

So this is (educationally – although that is a bit broad when you are autonomous and most of the stuff in other categories counts as educational too iyswim) what we have tried to fit in this year (this is only Rebekah’s list but most of the stuff Ruth has been doing too)

  • Maths sessions – 3 hours a week with 4 teenagers (well Ruth is a nearly teenager) plus extra maths ourselves.
  • RS revision
  • 12 week course working with the rangers
  • ECDL classes taken by Martin and with a couple of friends
  • Expedition club
  • Circus skills
  • Band practice
  • Music centre
  • Singing lessons
  • Drama (although partway through the year Rebekah decided to give this up as she had too much on)
  • Trip to Germany with LZ
  • LZ play
  • Walk round the island
  • Walk across the Island
  • Walk from one ferry-port on the mainland to another
  • Youth night
  • Catalyst

We've even done maths homework on the ferry.

And that’s without the ongoing one off activities – science sessions, nature walks, rocket science, trips to the mainland etc.etc.

Making volcanoes in the back garden.

This may not sound like a lot to some of you but there is still all the other important things to do in our lives -spending time with friends gives good informal learning opportunities (she learns more guitar skills from Levi Dawson and at some point she teaches them to someone else – perhaps Caleb Dawson!!!) as well as being essential for our overall well being, time spent reading (one of Rebekah’s great pleasures since she was tiny), time spent doing things just because we feel like them right now (fimo, felting, walking, playing Carcasonne) all these things are very important to us and our way of life. You may wonder if this is still autonomous, we believe it is, even though the days are more planned and structured it’s at the children’s request so that for us makes it autonomous still.

So that’s broadly education, what else has been going on in our lives making it so busy?

Politics:

Well there was a little bit of political activity going on in the home education field this year, you may have heard about it. I’m not going to go into it now but we seem to have 3 pages of blog posts that are tagged Badman so if you are interested you can have a look. So this year we have spent lots of time reading government documents, discussing the issues online, discussing the issues with local HErs, going to local protests, going to protests in London, writing to our MP, writing to other MPs, writing to Lords, meeting our MP, watching Parliament TV, explaining issues to the children etc.etc.etc. This took up quite a bit of our time and lots and lots of our emotional energy. We were fighting for our way of life that we had found to be so rich and varied and enjoyable and wouldn’t want to change. We’re out of the woods for a little while thanks to a change of government. There were a few surprising side effects. Rebekah watched hours and hours of parliament TV, even I couldn’t force myself to do this and waited for edited highlights to be delivered to me from Martin, Rebekah or internet friends. There were laughs about it all courtesy of this wonderful blog. Our MP actually listened to what we said and spoke up for us rather well in the House of Commons.

Our local Not Back to School picnic and bubble blowing protest.

The mass lobby at the Houses of Parliament.

Work:

Well between us we’ve had about 7 p/t or self employed jobs this year (cafe church, webmaster, numeracy tutor, project manager, ECDL tutor, Street Pastor something or other (structural and technological and fundraising stuff), funding bid applier). Martin’s main work has ebbed and flowed and eventually they’ve merged with another organisation. So I think that’s quite a lot of balls to juggle, not to mention childcare and car use to juggle with as well. ‘Nuff said really.

Mainland Trips:

Now to those of you who don’t live on “The Island” this may seem a strange category.

Aside – We had mainland friends visit us a while ago who thought it was really funny how the locals called the Isle of Wight “The Island” we assured them that we were fully integrated here and also referred to as this and that anything visit off the island from Portsmouth to Aberdeen could all be dismissed a a visit to “The Mainland”. Conversation goes like this “I haven’t seen you around recently have you been away?” “Yes I’ve been visiting relatives in Liverpool” “ah, the mainland”.

Anyway for an Islander, or even an overner like me, getting off the island is an exhausting (not to mention expensive) business. Some years we only manage to get away once or twice. By the time we get to September this year I think we’ll have clocked up at least 12 trips, this all eats into our time as well. Being the Scrooges that we are we generally try to fit in lots of things to every mainland visit because once you’ve paid the extortionate ferry costs you may as well make the most of it. This tends to lead to trips to the mainland being a stressful affair as you have to time everything right and fit in with the people you want to visit and make sure you manage to get back in time for the ferry you have paid for. So even a holiday can turn into a stressful round of fitting things that don’t quite fit together.

So these have been the main areas of busyness in our lives – there are also church events and duties, Learning Zone activities (to attend or to organise or to open up for). These are mostly hugely enjoyable but when you are trying to cram them into a too busy life even the things you want to do can become a burden.

continued….