Happy Birthday Son2!


Today marks 6 years of our lovely youngest boy in this world. There isn’t a whole lot to say that hasn’t been said before. I wrote the poem below when he was 4 and it still applies to this wonderful ball of energy, passion, love, concern, enormous emotions, overly dramatic whirlwind of a son. 

I’m sure it was just the other day

that you sped crawled into my lap
Grinning like a wally,
face snuffled into mine.

I’m sure it was only yesterday

that you
Grabbed my face
and turned my full attention to you.

All or nothing from the start

I’m sure you were smaller
Less articulate
Fitting more easily into my arms

I’m sure it was only a few moments ago that you twisted down and entered this crazy world

Perfectly formed face blissed out asleep on the bed
Whilst I rode the endorphin waves of your safe incredible arrival.

I’m sure it wasn’t long ago that all you could do was stick out your tongue

And gummy smile your sun to my heart.

I’m sure it wasn’t all that long ago when you started to smell me deep each cuddle,

since you learnt to toddle around
investigating all you could find.

You.

Over there

On the other side of the room.
Sprawled long on the beanbag
Head propped in your hands.
Unselfconscious, gazing deep at the screen.

You with all your thoughts, ideas, plans, imagination and desires.

4 years? Now 6?

I’m sure it was only yesterday.

I adore his face and his cheeky dimpled grin. I am bowled over by his enthusiasm for people. I am endlessly amused by his love of sparkly bling and always entertained by his passion for each one of his multitude of teddies. I am exhausted by the challenge to help be a safe space for his myriad of feelings and emotions and not a sponge of them all. 

I look at him, tall, full of life, articulate and funny. He no longer needs to hold my face to get back to sleep but still he orbits around me. I gaze at him and soak up the snuggles, knowing that the old adage remains annoyingly true. The days are long but the years are speeding up. 

This post is still the best I’ve written for him. It sums up the crazy wonder of his birth so well, the rare treat of a straightforward beautiful entrance into the world. And my prayer at the end of it is still one I pray, still my desire for this ever growing wonderful boy.

I pray so much your delight in people would last and grow strong, that your dogged determination would channel into powerful love for others and commitment in this life. I pray that you would come to know your Maker as your friend and more. I pray that you would be wholehearted in this life, full of compassion and love. I pray that you would draw the outsider in and I pray that you would always, whatever, truly know that you are loved and would be strong and secure in that love. I pray for your protection in this world of ours, so beautiful and so broken and that the struggles you face in this life would not shake you or destroy you but our wonderful Maker would use them to bring good to you and those around you.

I really enjoyed the extra time to hang out with him this year, one upside to this whole global pandemic year. I love the light in his eyes and in the eyes of his brother. I love this crazy journey we are on together which is exhausting but incredible right now. I freak out about the future over and over again but in the midst of that I am brought back to the present, the now we have, the chance each day to enjoy them, interact with them, learn from them, have conversations with them that I hope and pray will build a solid foundation for any storms we face ahead of us. 

I am also grateful that we do not parent these boys alone, that I know their Maker delights in them and loves them, that there is a ultimate secure homebase for them in the Everlasting Arms and I long for them to grow up secure in that love, knowing they are beloved, able to love well those around them, able to get up each time they fall, able to mess up and know grace, able to walk through this world with hope and wonder. 

Lots of the time my parenting feels a bit like the Mums in Dear Evan Hansen, desperate for a map, searching for how the hell to do this. Sometimes though in reality, and lots in intention, it feels like this Alanis Morrisette song below. Watching this video breaks my heart and I echo the beautiful line, “my mission is to see the light in your eyes ablaze”. The times my boys eyes light up are the best and I always want to nurture that light through whatever weather lies ahead. (I’ll save my other parenting song of the moment for Son1’s birthday later in the month). 

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Remembering Geraldine Cunningham

Today marks the 9th year since my mother in law died of cancer. Finally I think we are getting the hang of how to remember her well and honour her life within our family. Grief is a strange thing, it twists and turns and shows up in unexpected places. Life is similar. For the last 9 years it seems like we have either been through major change or dark stormy times around this time of year. This day has come and gone with little ceremony but with a darkening around husbandface’s world and an exhaustion in his bones. Grief has worked it’s way through his body and we have weathered the storms around this day.

Last year we realised we wanted more of a celebratory air to this day, to mark this day with the things we loved about Geraldine, to give our boys some tales of their Granny and to do some things she would have loved. So we will spoil our boys today, we will eat a lot of sugar, we will talk of the good times, the heart of generosity, compassion and care she had and the ways her wonderful children carry on that legacy of abundant generosity and outpoured love. We’ve bought sunflowers to fill our kitchen with her favourite flowers and we will remember her fullness as we walk on in this life.

Here are some words I wrote after we returned home 9 years ago, after her wake and funeral. I am still sad I didn’t get to know her better and I am still grateful for her heart and passion for her wonderful kids. I’m glad I got to marry one and be friends with the other.

We buried my mother in law on Saturday morning after a long fight with cancer. There is no other word to describe it, we use cliche’s for a reason after all. Fight is the word for Geraldine’s refusal to give in to despair and for how desperately she clung onto every opportunity for hope against the rising tide of cancer. I didn’t know her as well as I would have liked yet strangely her illness provided the opportunity for better chats, deeper relationship and the chance to hear her life story. These gave me a chance to see the deep love she had for her children and her strong desire to provide them with roots in this unstable world. She was a woman of passion, full of banter, who loved being in on the action, who loved gathering people for a party and who poured her life out into her family, both in her first and second marriage.

I’m sad that we won’t get told off for giggling on the sofa anymore, with her eager to join in on the joke. I’m sad that I won’t have the chance to tell her that I love her desire to get everyone she knew the perfect gift, reflecting how well she knew them. I’m sad that there will be no more moments when I can ask her questions about her past and the roads that brought her to the place she was in life.

I’m grateful for knowing her and I’m grateful that she welcomed me into the family, getting used to the strangely quiet English girl who had appeared to have stolen her son’s heart so quickly. I’m glad that we had the many trips to Belfast this year so I could know her better. I’m grateful for her enjoyment of our marriage and I love her son, my husbandface, and his care and concern for her over the last year. I love that she got to come and hang out in Brighton with us at Easter and see how we live.

It took us a while to understand each other, it wasn’t an easy straightforward relationship, we had a wide cultural divide to cross but I’m very glad to have had Geraldine Cunningham as my mother in law and we will miss her lots.

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Thoughts on interdependence…

Yesterday I preached on interdependence, one of our churches 5 values (conveniently they all begin with ‘I’, inclusion, integrity, intimacy and involvement are the other ones.). On a side note I love that we don’t particularly have goals or visions for the future but we have a way to live in this evolving journey we are on as a church. We long for these values to inform and shape all we do and the ways we interact together. We get it wrong a lot, but each year we remind ourselves of the ways we want to walk in, and how much they are found in the heartbeat of God.

Small advert for our church over. 

Yesterday I spoke on interdependence and mainly quoted from a brilliant book I was given for my birthday this year. ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer is exquisitely beautiful. It’s a series of essays reflecting on the natural world we live in and our interdependence with it. One of her major themes revolves around gratitude waking us up to the abundance all around us. She also talks about reciprocity lots, which I can just about say now. I quoted her extensively because of the huge amount of wisdom when it came to looking at interdependence.

My basic talk went along the lines of – interdependence isn’t a value we have to try harder to achieve but a value to wake ourselves up to. I offered three images to help us see the interdependence all around us. Firstly, we are part of an interdependent world, look at nature (see the quote below about how fungal networks help trees). Secondly we have an interdependent God, look at Jesus hanging out with his friends, Jesus needed people, his life down here was incredibly interdependent. Thirdly we are the interdependent body of Christ on earth, look at the way we are described as a body in 1 Corinthians 12. We need each other and are part of each other, just as much as our bodies have their individual parts making up a whole, unable to function without each other.

Then I wondered how we could lean into becoming more aware of our interdependence on each other?

We might start with gratitude, Robin says in her book, “appreciation begets abundance”. When I am thankful I start to see my abundance, I start to see the wonder of what I have and find that it is enough, more than enough. Gratitude helps us wake up to the wonder of our interdependence on each other. 

Next mercy and forgiveness help us keep going in our interdependence, they are the ways we can move through the pain of being hurt by each other. We are going to hurt each other, no-one can live in community with others without being hurt. Mercy and forgiveness are needed so we can stay in this interdependent state and not rush off back to island living.

Lastly ceremony or sacrament are the mechanisms we can sustain our sense of interdependence long term. Ceremonies help us by providing physical signs of invisible realities, communion is an obvious example. Ceremonies are important for us to feel connected to each other, to see the strands that hold us together. Showing up for each other each week is a ceremony, coming to church used to be a powerful ceremony and we might want to think about what ceremonies we can enact with each other to remind ourselves of our interdependence together in these more disconnected times.

Next week we have partnership Sunday, where we recommit ourselves to each other for the year ahead. We are planning to make it ceremonial, a physical act in times when it is hard to be physical together. I am hoping and praying it will be significant as we invite people throughout the day to travel through our building, praying a labyrinth and then signing up to be partners of this church for another year. Hopefully the time-lapse will be awesome.

There is much more I could have said, or maybe should have said, but forming these thoughts together this week have helped me be in awe again of the created world around us and our creator who wove interdependence into the fabric of our lives and planet because we were made in their image, all the created world reflects back the interdependent dance at the heart of God.

I’ll leave you with some of the quotes from Robin, such beautiful words to help us dwell in this world with wonder: 

“The trees in a forest are often interconnected by subterranean networks of, fungal strands that inhabit tree roots… These fungal networks appear to redistribute the wealth of carbohydrates from tree to tree. A kind of Robin Hood, they take from the rich and give to the poor so that all the trees arrive at the same carbon surplus at the same time. They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking. In this way the trees all act as one because the fungi have connected them. Through unity, survival. All flourishing is mutual. Soil, fungus, tree, all are the beneficiaries of reciprocity.” 

“Each part of creation is thanked in turn for fulfilling it’s creator given duty to the others, it reminds you every day that you have enough, more than enough Everything needed to sustain life is already here. when we do this every day it leads unto an outlook of contentment and respect for all of creation. You can’t listen to the thanksgiving address without feeling wealthy. and, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognising abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude creates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. the thanks giving address reminds you that you already have everything you need….Cultures of gratitude must also be cultures of reciprocity. Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them… appreciation begets abundance”

“Ceremony is a vehicle of belonging to a family, to a people and to the land”

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Autumn

Last night at church we sat and pondered Autumn. I remembered there are many things I quite like about this season and wrote the poem below. These are strange times we live in, in the midst of them it has done my soul good to remember the unchanging nature of the changing seasons. Some comfort in an uncertain world right now.

Autumn
feels like journeying into warmth
cold crisp mornings, wrapped up tight
frost glinting on grass, spiders webs soaked with dew.

Autumn
feels like being surrounded,
encircled, drawn into something safe
held in big woolly jumper hugs, stories around candle light
curtains closed before dinner.

Autumn
feels secure, sheltered against the rain,
fireworks, crackling flames
Mist hanging over our hills,
Endless cups of tea listening to Travis.

Autumn
feels like the slow dance,
before the death of winter barren lands,
the rest and gathering before longing for spring
the delight in the beauty of dying,

before
silence,

before
resurrection

can
begin.

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Pondering prayer

On Sunday night we talked about prayer in church with other people. It was wonderful and strange to be to be physically present with people again. It was good to take a look back at what prayer has meant in my life. I’m not sure I have any kind of coherent narrative to offer about prayer. Prayer is possibly one of those things that can’t be packaged neatly, won’t be put in a box or managed by our efforts. At most basic I think it’s the word that reflects our interaction with our Maker, the Divine, God in all their three personed wonder. As such it can’t be easily contained into words and ideas. It is too broad for that.  So I wrote down what first sprung to mind when I thought about prayer.

Here you go:

Prayer

Eternal frustration.
The nearness of breath.
The gasp of delight
at the abundance of Yew trees
on the path ahead.

Talking, crying, looking in.
Awe struck on mountain top.
Bleak empty silence down
on the valley floor.

Desperate cries in the night
All my need, desire, aching want
held out to

You

Surprising, breaking in, bringing hope,
The light shaft through the clouds
The thread holding me here
The warm blanket on a cold night
The washing waves
at sunrise
on a deserted shore.

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What happens when our ideas of God become our god?

Welcome to a meandering conversation between me and my Maker from one of my recent daily walks.

I started with a question:

What happens when our ideas of you become their own god?

And an observation:

We seem to want a system. A neat ordered space full of our rights and wrongs. Full of insiders and outsiders. We do not want complex wonder. We do not want mystery or tension or people showing up being good and kind when they hold different views to us.

We want the bits of you we agree with. We all do it. All of us pick and choose and formulate world views around the bits that seem obvious to us. The rest our brain skims over and around.

I guess if we had a god we agreed with on every point they might well be an idol we made.

Then a remembrance of a verse from Hosea 14:

“We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.”

The challenge:

No longer, says the one who formed the winds. No longer say ‘my god’ to what your hands have made, your prestige, your power, your systems, your ways. No more. No more.

The imagined response:

Sail out into the big wide sea. See me. From all angles. Find the treasure that sparkles for you. Find the rough jagged edges which smart and confuse. Go out into the sea and swim around in me. Find enough to give you hope. To lead you in love. To be your anchor in the dark nights, and then:

Don’t be afraid of the complex, the contractions, the not knowing, the misty murk.

Don’t be afraid of the dark my love.

Sail on.
Do the best with what you’ve got.
I have given you enough to be loved and to love.

If you must make up systems
Don’t be blind to love, mercy, justice and grace.
Don’t be blind to anger and rage and holy nights.
Don’t be blind to the bits you leave to one side.

Sail on.
Do the best with what you’ve got.
I have given you enough to love and be loved.

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Book’s I’ve read July-August 2020

Ok. Here we go. Another round up of books from me. I’ve made it about half way through my birthday stash and read a few quick reads on my kindle in the last couple of months. In no particular order here are the books I’ve read over July and August. 

We need to talk about Race- Ben Lindsay 

A must read for anyone in church leadership/with any kind of involvement in church. Written reflecting on the UK church scene this is a brilliant exploration of race in the church.  Ben looks at  the need to reflect deeply on how we treat each other and how we can act to challenge the structures of racism all around us. It also has really helpful application questions at the end of each chapter for white church leaders, white people and people of colour. A book which challenged my hidden assumptions and one I need to read again a few times over to fully absorb and act on the lessons learnt. 

100 essays I don’t have time to write- Sarah Ruhl

Written by a playwright this contains a fascinating collection of her thoughts on the theatre. I loved it because she’s a mother of small ones and that context shapes her writing and reflections. It’s the kind of book I want to write at some point (or possibly is written already across this blog…) 

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavour- Hank Green 

The follow up to ‘An Absolutely Remarkable Thing’ didn’t disappoint. I loved his insightful commentary on our times, the reflections on fame and social media. I loved the story and pace of this novel and the philosophical ponderings along the way. His writing feels as close to Douglas Coupland as we have got recently as he weaves a warning parable urging us to live better because soon we may not have the chance to. 

Little Disasters- Sarah Vaughan

Little Friends- Jane Shemilt 

In my head these are fairly similar family thriller by numbers/gas lighting men/awkward family relationships kind of books. Little Disasters centres around an antenatal group and grappling with whether a baby has been abused or not. Little Friends is a fairly predictable three families intermingle with grim results. Good for insomniac moments in the middle of the night. 

The Book of Queer Prophets – Ed by Ruth Hunt 

A beautiful collection of essays/stories from LGBTQI people and their faith journeys. Most made me cry at the pain caused and the hope held out as so many of these stories talked of deep profound connection with the divine. Well worth your time listening to these lovely people.

Half a World Away/The Hope Family Calendar- Mike Gayle

I quite liked both of these, novels about family life interweaving tragedy with hope. Possibly all was a little too neat and tidy in the journeys the characters made but they were pretty engaging easy reads. 

Three Hours- Rosamund Lupton

A super tense book about a school shooter in Somerset. Interesting weaving of commentary on refugees into a non traditional school environment within a fairly traditional small town community. 

The Power of Ritual- Casper Ter Kile 

I am still not sure what to make of this book. In it Casper argues for the importance of Sabbath, nature, sacred reading, eating together in community and finding transcendence in life. All things I am passionate about. My confusion lay in the absence of God throughout the book. I get what he is doing, taking the ancient rituals and routines of religion and saying they have deep value in our lives whether we are people of faith or not. I wonder if you carried out these rituals whether you might find faith. Through it all though I missed hearing more of the God I find in all these rituals. I missed the source and the maker. I missed the heartbeat which brings those rituals alive for me. I would be very interested to talk to others who have read this. It’s a brilliant book but, for me, it made me ache for more. 

Come Again- Robert Webb 

I really enjoyed his memoir, ‘How not to be a Boy’ and similarly enjoyed this, his first novel. An enjoyable meander through the changes we go through as we grow up, the impact being with another person has on our lives, being at uni in the 90s and a dose of time travel thrown into the mix. 

Losing Eden – Lucy Jones 

A wonderful book on the benefits being immersed the natural world can have on our mental health, the need for us all to get outside more and the urgency to change our ways and care more for the environment we live in. Really beautifully written and extremely good for the soul. 

Firefly Lane- Kirsten Hannah 

A page turner of a novel about how a friendship evolves and changes throughout the years. Not as good as The Great Alone which I loved last year but well written and engaging. 

The Electricity of Every Living Thing- Katherine May

I really enjoyed this memoir charting Katherine’s discovery of her autism as she walked various parts of the South West Coast Path and parts of the Kent countryside near where she lived. She writes beautifully and I really liked that this wasn’t a book fixated on completing a footpath but that her journey allowed for not finishing. I felt like her inner journey whilst undergoing these walks was far more important than whether she walked every inch of the coast path. 

Return to Roar- Jenny McLachlan

At least one of the boys books had to make it onto this list. I’ve lost count of the amount of books I’ve read to son2 over the last few weeks and months. Most mornings start with long protracted negotiations about how many chapters I am going to read before I go for my morning walk. I didn’t need to be convinced to read this one though. We loved ‘The Land of Roar’ earlier on in lockdown. It was a lovely treat to get this one from our local children’s book shop and go back to Roar with Arthur and Rose and have some more adventures with them. A very satisfying sequel and we are looking forward to the final instalment (and I am looking forward to son2 finally learning to read…) 

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The…12 weekly roundup? Or the post I always seem to write when I return to writing again…

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From one of our beautiful camping trips last week #vanlife…

I’m baby sitting at a friends tonight and happened to glance over my dusty old blog and realised it’s about 3 months since I last posted about life around here. I’ve posted about books and our outdoor 30dayswild adventures but have avoided any kind of dear diary type posts. I think life got to be the same thing week in and week out, we slogged away.  I got exhausted and like most people the waves of tiredness kept on coming and knocking me sideways each week. Husbandface’s health has wonderfully been improving steadily, but that then led to my body finally being able to give up for a bit. And, as you know, it turns out it’s fairly tiring living in an uncertain, pandemic laden, world.

Early July I disappeared to my parents on my own for a couple of nights total rest from everything. It helped enormously. Then around mid July I took about 3 weeks off work and a couple of weeks away from zoom and social media. We camped in various locations, we hung out with family and friends, we did some day trips out from home and we lived our fairly simple lockdown routine lots of the time. I’ve read a load of books and been outdoors lots. It has helped. I even occasionally feel refreshed in this post holiday world. I think I’m back to regular life with small children in the summer holidays tiredness. Even so it doesn’t feel as bad as last year because we are used to being around each other all the time.  We’ve figured out this world and our routine works for the most part (except on stupid heatwave days which are as bad as stupid rain all day days).

Looking forward there are three weeks until school supposedly starts, I have no idea if I am looking forward to this upheaval in our lives. I’m vastly looking forward to getting two days off again a week (well 6 hours off in each of those days), getting out for longer walks and having some margins in the week. I’m looking forward to me and husbandface getting our Fridays back together and I’m looking forward to being able to be a bit more intentional in my work and less in survival mode in my thinking.

I’m not so looking forward to helping the boys navigate their HUGE emotions about the return, the difficulties they have in transitioning from one routine to another from week to weekend or the game of guess what went wrong at school today to cause you to blow up quite so spectacularly.

I am going to look out for whether the spark in their eyes remains through the return to school. If it fades too fast or disappears again we are going to have to seriously rethink our lives and I’m not quite ready for that yet. I have loved seeing son1’s eyes grow wide and joyful at so many things in these last 5 months of hanging out with him. I have loved seeing son2’s wonderful imagination and vocabulary explode this year. To be honest though, I’m ready for a break from their insanities. I so want to see them continue to flourish in their lives at school. I think it’s possible and I am praying that they would settle back well and enjoy hanging out with friends again.

They are in the same mixed emotion bag that I’m in and it’s going to take all of my restraint to not talk about school much in these last few weeks but to lean into enjoying their unique crazy natures before we head to our separate places in the week once more. All this assumes they will be back for a while, who knows whether we’ll be on lockdown once more once winter comes, a couple of weeks off before that happens would be nice.

So there we are, I have officially started writing again it seems. More book review posts, love of nature and the outdoors posts and maybe even some reflective faith posts to come at some point.

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30 Days of Wild: Days 16-21

I’m not sure I managed to record every day over the last week. I know we went out everyday but I think I got tired of taking photos of the same thing. Anyway. Looking back we seem to have spent most of our time in trees or under trees or walking through woods. So here we go. Tree week.

Day 16

We enjoyed pottering around Petworth with the grandparents. SO many trees to scramble on and marvel at.

Day 17-18

I remember very little of these days apart from painting. But we made it out to local woods to sit in trees, read books on picnic blankets, run around with friends in the rain and I walked lots early in the morning noticing pretty flowers I hadn’t seen before.

Day 19

We made it out to Stanmer woods and found more trees. I went for a socially distant Spiritual Direction session and found it very helpful wandering through the woods with my Spiritual Director and pondering God whilst listening to loud bird song and feeling the ground beneath my feet. The day ended with lovely friends coming over for a firepit. A beautiful way to enter the solstice.

Day 20

I was gifted a day off. I walked for a couple of hours through woods and fields full of butterflies and sky larks. I sat outside on my bench for most of the rest of the day reading books and listening to birds sing. I enjoyed the wild grass meadow that is our front lawn and breathed deep.

Day 21

I took the boys over to Woods Mill, one of our local Wildlife Trust woods. Annoyingly it was fairly packed with people but it was lovely to potter around, see a beautiful swan family, and get hissed at by the protective mother.

 

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30 Days wild: Day 6-14

A few to fit in here, but it’s good to remember that we have been actively enjoying nature and the beauty of the world we live in over the last week or so.

Day 6

We went to the Knepp Estate which is a wonderful rewilding project near us, lots of trails, wildlife and apparently the first White Storks to nest in the UK in 600 years.

Day 7

A local day of spotting bees, new flowers in the woods near us (son2 learnt they were called foxgloves and we had fun imagining foxes wearing gloves..) and some forest bathing before church.

Day 8

A lovely walk in some woods with a friend and her dog. Obviously we had to climb a tree. I also saw a beautiful rose in our garden and finished my assignment for my Spiritual Direction course which had enabled me to read loads of books about nature.

 

Day 9 

Each day we walk and read books. On day 9 we went to the ‘Picnic Tree’, which as the name suggests is a tree you can easily have a picnic in.

Day 10

I think it rained lots on day 10. Despite that I went for a lovely socially distant walk with a friend first thing and we found the snake of rocks outside the boys school.

Day 11

We had a lovely morning playing in the woods for a couple of hours before the rain came. I always think the woods are more atmospheric in the rain. 

Day 12 

I saw uber amounts of pretty on my morning walk, I think it was more of an angry stomp at the state of the world but there was much beauty around to make up for my black cloud…

Day 13

We did our usual cycle from Brighton Marina to Rottingdean. We found loads of dead crabs all over the beach but no live ones. I also had much fun paddling around with son2.

Day 14

Today we went over to Bramber Castle and walked around the river plains near it. Lovely to do a walk we’d done last year with significantly

less moaning this time. The boys are growing and able to walk further. I am so grateful.

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