Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Camp time

This week my family are down in a lovely wee place called Fivemiletown helping two churches with their annual outreach week. 

Each year Cavanaleck and Aughentaine Presbyterian Churches put on an outreach week where they run a holiday Bible club, a football camp, a girls afternoon and an evening event for teens and twenties. It's a great week of fun, fellowship and we are so pleased to come down and help. 

The holiday Bible club is on every morning, and has 60/70 kids hearing about 'small' heroes from the Bible - like Samuel, David and the boy who gave his lunch to Jesus. I'm helping with the 6-8 age group and they are excellent fun!!! :) 

Then we have the football camp each afternoon, run by my hubby. It's open to boys and girls but this year we only have one girl and over 30 boys!! At the same time they hold a girlie afternoon where the girls go make brooches, do manicures etc - all the girlie stuff!!! We did check but our niece prefers football so she's happy enough with all the boys!! 

So why are we helping? Well, for the last few years my husband has enjoyed working with the churches during the year coaching in schools and at local teams as part of his sports ministry work - he generally comes down here one day every 5/6 weeks - and then in the summer runs the football camp. Last year we came down with him and then this year we got involved more! 

And it is a lot of fun. As I've said, I'm helping with the holiday Bible club in the mornings, while hubby runs the football camp in the afternoons and then we get to have fellowship and even more fun in the evenings with different families in the church. 

What's even more encouraging is the fact that most of the leaders of the HBC and the football camp are the young people from the church who have come through, stood up and taken on this challenge with a faith and trust in God that is so encouraging to all of the 'oldies'!! And they are doing a fabulous job! 

Every child at all of the events heard about God and the amazing things He has done for us - including the most important part - sending Jesus to die in our place, for our sins, even though He had never sinned and didn't deserve to be punished. And He did that for us. Amazing!!!  And such wonderful news to share. 

And the kids are so excited talking about God. They were all praying today, asking God to help them trust Him as they go into their next school year and in different areas of their lives... as you can imagine - I was nearly in tears!!! Such wonderful, refreshing and genuine child-like faith. 

So it's really challenged me - am I trusting God and worshipping Him as I should - in the child-like faith that I've been reminded of this week? Definitely something to think about as I go through today. 

And what about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!! Keep shining xx 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Reality check!!!

So... you know how my posts this last week have all been joyful and happy and full of the joys of spring - oops - summer??? Well today I hit the biggest reality check ever!!! 

I had what amounts to an awful morning - complete with major meltdown, severely discipline and a mummy who longed for a beach, a book and a cocktail (non-alcoholic of course) as far away from children as she could get!!! 

It all started innocently, with my wonderful kids playing on their tablets/games console as it was raining outside. Now rain in itself usually doesn't pre-empt the row of the century, but the boys have spent most of the last week outside playing a football tournament (of their own making and not agreeing or should I say not being good sportsmen) and so they weren't exactly thrilled to be stuck inside. 

Add to this the fact that we go on down to Co. Fermanagh tomorrow to do camps with daddy, and mummy is starting to get a little stressed. Just a little... 

Chaos broke out when brother number 3 'played' a match on brother number 1's kindle... And he didn't appreciate it one bit. So fight number 1 started and escalated quickly. 

I was at the end of my tether. I herded them into the car - late - to go to my mums for lunch. And in the car I just lost it. Major meltdown. Total mental breakdown stuff. 

It wasn't pretty and I think the boys were shocked out of any arguments and bad moods. 

I was annoyed and I didn't mince my words. I let them know exactly why I was annoyed and exactly what I needed to happen. 

Then I arrived at Mum's ready to burst into tears. We had lunch, sent the boys outside to play and talked it through over coffee. 

Oh how I needed that coffee. I love chats with my Mum - she always talks sense, gives me great advice and best of all, she speaks words of godly wisdom into my life. She took the opportunity to remind me of my need of God in this situation and my need to take these 'family of boys' problems to Him because He's the one who can help. 

So often I stress, freak out and end up in tears - yep a lot more often than I'd like to admit - but don't go to God with it. I need Him - He is the one who made me and understands me far better than anyone here - even than Mum!! 

We're all happily playing, eating and relaxing at Mum's now but it was definitely a stressful day. So when you read my posts, please remember my life is just as hectic, stressful and fun as any day you have!!! We just need to keep encouraging each other, keep trusting Him and keep shining xx 

Friday, 18 July 2014

The SBL review - part 1

I realised yesterday that I haven't posted an update as to how we are getting on with our 'Summer Bucket List 2014' - mostly due to the fact that I have been jumping on and off here like a cat on a hat tin roof! So here is our first wee update. Enjoy!! 

The first five activities marked off the SBL...

7. Have a picnic - on Mablethorpe Beach, Lincolnshire. 

17. Go swimming - the beautiful pools at the Haven resort in Mablethorpe.

20. Watch a sunrise/sunset - on the way down to Dublin to get the boat to travel to... you guessed it - Mablethorpe!!

12. Do our quiet times each day - the boys all got new books - exciting! 

6. Go to an amusement park - Barry's in Portrush - an annual family day out :)

I'll be updating it again soon - we've had a busy busy summer!!! 
Keep shining xx 

Our summer bucket list

This year we decided to make a summer bucket list to help us really seize the days!! So here it is -

1. Have a bonfire
2. Go camping
3. Go bowling
4. Make ice-cream
5. Stargaze
6. Go to an amusement park 
7. Have a picnic 
8. Write someone a proper letter 
9. Read on a rainy day
10. Bake
11. Water balloon fight
12. Do our quiet times each day
13. Movie marathon all-nighter
14. Scavenger hunt
15. Build a sandcastle
16. Go cycling
17. Go swimming
18. Go to visit Nanna
19. Build a fort
20. Watch a sunrise/sunset
21. Send a care package
22. Have a BBQ
23. Go to the zoo
24. Do an act of kindness 
25. Make a summer scrapbook
26. Go to visit Granda 
27. Have 2 friends each come to play 
28. Start our new chore list
29. Family game night 
30. Get crafty

I know we have done a couple of these already in the last two weeks, but I'm still excited to start marking them off  :) We have 8 weeks - 56 days - to do these so I figure as long as we do 3/4 things each week we'll do ok!!  Tomorrow I'll show you what we've accomplished so far. 

I tried to vary the activities on this year's list - mixing physical activities (like swimming and cycling) with quieter activities (like stargazing and reading), and important family activities (like visiting Nanna and starting our new chores) with character building activities (sending a care package and doing acts of kindness). 

I want our boys to grow this summer - as I do every year - in all areas of their life - spiritually, physically, intellectually and socially. 

Keep shining xx 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Haven - part 2

Disclaimer: I wrote this post this morning planning to post it tonight, but since then the boys have been hyper, had friends over, not eaten dinner until 6:45pm and not gone to bed until their dad came in at 9:30pm!! So much as we use these tips, our life can be as fun filled and spontaneous as the next lot!  :)

As much as we want the boys to have a full summer, they need to down time, relaxing times and times they can calm right down and chill out. So this year we have a few steps in place to help them do just that. 

1. Reading time
We always encourage our boys to read - especially since I devour books - but it can get a little hectic during the summer and this can so easily be forgotten. So this year we have implemented a 15 minute reading time straight after lunch each day. Each of the boys takes their book, finds a little corner and reads in silence. It's a lovely sound!!! 

We also have a wonderful chart that shows them how they are doing, and for the little ones, encourages them when they aren't feeling in the mood for quiet reading time! They get to add their star after each reading time so it's fun! 

I love reading, not just for the educational value, but for the fact that it takes my imagination and pokes and prods it into working time and time again. It gives me ideas of things to do, new recipes to try or even people I need to reconnect with. So much can happen after you read a book... and that's what I want for my boys. To find the excitement of a new book (and oh the smell.... nothing beats it!!) and the ideas it can bring. 

2. Movie time 
I know this seems like a bit of a strange number 2 considering my first choice, but my boys love watching movies. They even set up their own cinema in my eldest son's room, complete with tickets, snacks and ushers!! There is something lovely about sitting down to relax with a good movie, surrounded by those you love. 

And my boys are all very good about which movies they see. They know that there are some movies that B can see because he's older (he's just turned 12, so can go with me to see a 12 if I deem it ok after reading all about it!!) and they all understand that even some PGs are not suitable because of the language in them. I want the cinema experience/ movie time to be fun and exciting but I also need it to be safe and for them to not be thinking about bad words or what a certain scene was about after the movie is finished. Call me a fussy-duddy if you want, but for as long as I can, I intend to keep them as innocent as I can and keep them watching Us and PGs.

3. Bedtime
We may be party-poopers but one of the things we do try to do during the summer is keep bedtimes as usual. For us that means that the three younger boys (who all share a room) go to bed between 7:30 and 8, sleeping by 8:30 at the latest (and on nights when it all goes wrong!!!), and my eldest goes to bed at about 9/9:30. 

Don't get me wrong - this isn't a hard and fast rule. On holiday we kept them up a bit longer so that they would sleep in - they are usually up between 6:30 and 6:45am - and we let them watch the World Cup semi-finals and final - even when it went to extra time. But they know their limits. They all slept I the morning after the late night and they knew that one late night means a series of early ones will follow!! 

Keeping their bedtimes constant not only helps with their energy levels now, when they want to do everything they can, but it also helps when they are getting ready to go back to school and we don't need to all-of-a-sudden get them back in routine. Most kids thrive in routine and mine are no different. They love knowing when breakfast, lunch and dinner are and when bedtime is. They even plan which films can be shown in the Nixon cinema by what time they assume these staples are at. 

4. Dinners 
During the summer, as the rest of the year, everything stops for meals on our house. They have to stop all electronic devices, put away any books or toys and come in from playing when it's time to eat. It helps us to reconnect in the midst of a busy day, getting that time to eat together, check everyone and everything is ok and just pause. 

I hesitated to include this one, as I just assume that it's a normal thing that every family does, but then I spoke to one or two people and realised that it's really not. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners are eaten in front of the tv, in separate rooms and at different times all across the globe. Families don't seem to realise how important this one little thing but for us it's a special part of the day and it is a rare thing to change it. 

We do, of course, have the odd TV dinner or nights when my hubby has to eat earlier or later because of his job, but most nights we eat together and love it :) 

5. Quiet time
This is the one thing that is most important in keeping our house a haven. Every morning, as soon as the boys get up, they come down and before they put tv on or get any toys out, they get their Bibles out and do their quiet time. For those who don't really know what on earth I'm talking about, it's a time where they quieten their minds and focus on God. They say a wee prayer to start off and then spend some time reading their Bibles and going through their age-appropriate books. It usually takes them between 10 and 15 minutes to go through and they end the time with another wee prayer. 

We don't do this with them - they do it all themselves. B does his upstairs in his room, but the others all come down to do theirs. And whoever finishes first helps the youngest M to do his. There is something so lovely about watching the boys help each other spend time with God. It is such an important time in our day and in our life and it really does help them with their attitudes and actions as we go through the days. We still have occasional problems - tiredness, a slightly gurny attitude or an argument between the boys - but on average when they have come down and spent time with God first thing, these are much much less than on the days they haven't. 

So there are the five tips that we use to keep the boys quiet and focused rather than wanting to be busy all the time, grateful and together rather than each of them giving us a list of this they want to do rather than us providing the agenda for the summer. It's a long time and it can feel even longer if they aren't happy and you are shouting or trying to maintain peace 24hrs a day! We've got a couple of great plans up our sleeves for our boys and we'll share them as we go along :)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Haven - part 1

This year we went to one of the Haven resorts in England for our family holiday. It's the first time we have left Ireland and our first time at a resort type place. So in typical holiday style, we took my Mum and Dad with us to enjoy the experience :) I wanted to share some of our memories with you.

An early start

Half asleep

Dawn on the road down to Dublin

Waiting for the boat to start loading

The beautiful Irish Sea

Sunday lunch time - we even had a proper roast dinner :)

Target shooting


Fencing for wee men :)

The beach

And again ... :)

Competitive brothers

Crazy golf

The pool :)

And finally the boys favourite...

We had such a great week. Full of memory making moments, family time and relaxing. It was one of the best holidays yet because the boys had a great mix between activities and chill time. And of course we got to watch the World Cup matches too!! 

Tomorrow I hope you'll join me for 'Haven -part 2' as I think about how I am making my home a haven for the boys this summer. I want them to seize each moment but they need relaxing chilling time too. See you then xx

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Summer memories...

So in tune with our summer thoughts I wanted to look back at some of my favourite summer memories of our life as a family. Memories that I hope will help our boys to appreciate time together. 

So here are my top five... Ok so they are just five I can actually remember!!! My memory as I get older (yeah 38 is now officially OLD according to my kids!!) is shocking and I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday!!! But they are still good ones!!!

In no particular order....

#1 - Chasing Robin Hood
While we worked as part of the UK staff of Cru we attended a summer conference every year in Nottingham. We loved these as they combined Bible teaching, fellowship with friends and most importantly, an opportunity to chase Robin Hood. 

Let me explain. Every year, as the boys grew in number and in age, we would spend our free time looking for clues that Robin Hood had visited. We'd go on searches of the local area looking for broken twigs which may signify a horse had just stepped on it, or a notch in a tree that may have been made by a stray arrow... We even made short videos of our adventures. And the final year we went, we made a visit to the all important Sherwood Forest to see exactly where he'd been! 

The boys loved this - it encouraged their imagination to run riot and it encouraged their creativity as they performed make-believe news reports about their findings. Our one problem... we never did find Robin Hood. If you see him, please let us know... the search is still on!!

#2 - Legoland
One year while at conference we decided to take an extra couple of days at the end and go down to visit Legoland. At this stage we had only the eldest two boys and they really enjoyed it. They didn't really 'get' the buildings or amazing sculptures but they enjoyed 'passing' their driving test and riding the teacups and the roller coaster - if you can call a wee dragon on a up and down circular track a roller coaster!!! :) They had fun, we had fun... But after all this time the only thing they remember was the driving!!! And they are all still mad for Lego :)

#3 - Our beach hut
Every year, at some point in the summer holidays, we head up to the North Coast of Northern Ireland and go to Whiterocks Beach, just outside Portrush. We get all our beach stuff together get our swim shorts on and hit the beach - rain, hail or shine! The. Ours are like that - it really doesn't matter if the weather is bad or good since they'll end up spending most of heir time in the water anyway. I really don't understand that since the water is FREEZING, but I have been assured that it gets warmer the longer they are in it... or perhaps their bodies just go number the more they're in it!! 

After a couple of years of running on and off the beach each time it bucketed,  we devised our own wee beach hut that we used time and time again. We would set out our wind-breaks in a C shape, put the picnic blankets on the sand, and then add a tarpaulin to the poles using elastic bands. Then, when it was sunny we'd have the top off, ready to be pulled over us at a moment's notice! And if it rained we'd all huddle in our waterproof beach hut, wrapped in towels, having a wee snack! 

I have to admit that there were times last summer when we were the only ones on the beach, and spent most of our time wrapped in our wee hut, but we loved it and it made for some great memories. Like the time someone let a wasp in before they closed the door and we all panicked trying to get it out!! Or the time we had a singsong and hadn't realised the rain had stopped!! 

We had a problem - the rain - and together we figured out a great solution and had great fun doing it!!! You can't ask for more than that! 

#4 - A little bit of help...
When we go on holiday we like to go somewhere close so that both sets of grandparents can call up and see us and enjoy our holiday too. So up until this summer we have either gone to Portrush, Ballycastle or Donegal. And in each place we'd have my hubby's mum and dad join us for one or two nights, and then my mum and dad join us for a couple of nights. 

The boys love being around both of our families and the love having people come to visit them on holiday. And again great memories are made. 

Like the time when Nanny and Granda K came to visit them in Ballycastle and we went on a boat trip to Rathlin Island. After we'd spent a lovely afternoon wandering around the island and playing at the park, we headed back onto the boat where son number 3 caught his finger in the seat of the boat and took his nail completely off!! Talk about screams.... You probably could hear him in the States he cried that much!! And there was A LOT of gorgeous red blood. Not good for the faint-hearted. But when we talk about that holiday it's "Is that the time I hurt my finger when we went on the boat with Nanny and Granda?"

Or the time when Granny A and Granda H came to visit us when we were up in Portstewart for the day, and during that one day I managed to get everything packed for the beach wrong (like packing food that needed heated up in a microwave but not bringing the picnic blanket or a knife for the baps!), burn dinner (it was chilli and I was talking too much to Granny that I forgot to stir it) and then totally beaten in Uno and monopoly - and no, for once Granny wasn't cheating!!  It was an hilarious day of mishaps, but perhaps one of he funniest days for the boys - they spent most of it in fits of giggles as I continued to lose my brain entirely!!! 

Or the time when Nanny and Granda K came to visit us in Donegal and on a particularly wet day we decided to head into Letterkenny to the cinema. Now, my dad is my youngest son's hero. He follows him around like a puppy and does everything with him. So when he said that he wanted to take Kanga (as he called him) into the cinema to see 'Cars 2', Kanga had to say yes. My dad is in his 60s and is a very fit man who cycles miles every day, but... is also in his 60s and has a tendency to doze off in odd places. So, as you can probably guess, Cars 2 is now known as "that film we went to see on holiday that Kanga fell asleep in" :) 

There are of course hundreds of wonderful memories from when the grandparents come to visit us on holiday, but none as funny or memorable as these!!  

#5 - Games time 
My boys are competitive. Their dad was a footballer and is now a footballer coach and a coach-educator all around the world, so being competitive is in their blood. They have been taught from an early age to win well - no gloating allowed... or at least not too much :) - and to lose well - we have never 'let' our kids win anything - they just usually figure out how to beat me quite easily! 

And because of this, some of our best times on holiday involve playing games. From football in the park... to races in the sand... to flying toy aeroplanes... to playing Uno... to games of chess (yep they all beat me in that one!!)... to the seven DIFFERENT types of Monopoly that we own... they play to win - or at least be happy if they manage to beat me!! 

These games nights (and days) are some of the best craic that we have ever had and they are such a big part of our holidays that they are the first thing packed when the boys pack their bags. They are great for rainy days, for quiet days and for relaxing evenings. And they are a great way of getting everyone in the family doing the same thing. 

So there are a few of our holiday memories. Holiday time to us is family time, making lots of great memories I pray will stay with the boys. And with a family of 6, finding activities to suit everyone is hard. But we try to do everything together and make sure they know how important these years of family time are. 

What do you do in the summer? Tomorrow I'll post a bit about the holiday we had last week and some lessons I learned, before talking through some plans for the summer weeks we have left on Tuesday. 

Keep shining xx 

Friday, 11 July 2014


I've been away a little from this blog recently because of the hecticness of getting everyone off for summer... and going on holiday... and of course the inevitable laundry that has to be dealt with AFTER the holiday!!! 

So I have been thinking a lot about the summer and about our plans for it. Here in Nothern Ireland we get off at the end of June and go back to school during the last week in August. So this year we have 8 weeks off to do 'whatever we do in summer'. (Sorry I've been watching Frozen this week!!!) 

I recently read a couple of great blog posts where the writers talked about thinking about how many summers you have left with your children before they start to go away on their own and don't really want to do things with you. 

My family were slightly different. As I grew up we went on lots of fantastic holidays to the Republic of Ireland - firstly with our tent and then with the trailer-tent (a tent that packs into a trailer so you can tow it easier and you don't have to sleep on the ground!). I have lots of great memories of these holidays - lots and lots - but the biggest way out family was different was what happened when we grew up. 

Our first BIG holiday happened the summer before I was about to go into my final year at school. That year we all went to Australia to visit my dad's three sisters and all my cousins. It was fantastic! I loved every second - including the first flight when one of my sisters (who shall remain nameless) cried her eyes out because of her sore ears, or another flight were my sister (who may or may not be the same one) punched me in the face for something I may or may not have said!! Ahem... Sisterly love :))

The next year, we had another camping trip. I'm not sure Mum and Dad had planned to take everyone - but everyone wanted to go!!! We travelled to England, then across to France - into Disneyland and into Paris to see everywhere at night because Dad didn't want to drive in all the traffic!!! - then into Luxenborg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, before back up through France and back to the UK. It was amazing. And fostered my love of all things Italian!! It was after this trip that I decided to take Italian with my chemistry degree at uni!! A weird combination but one I thoroughly enjoyed!! 

Then our final big holiday, a couple of years later, was a transatlantic one. Mum and Dad decided they were going to visit some friends in the States. My sister K and I - both of whom Mum and Dad had assumed would rather stay at home... Eh?? Seriously?? No way!!!! - were very excited and immediately planned what we would take and what we'd do etc... So Mum and Dad now had to plan a trip to Canada and the States for a family of 6 instead of 4!!! Again it was fantastic - lots of lovely places visited, lots of memories made and lots more sisterly love shown!!!! 

I could bore you with countless stories of getting our photo taken on a glacier (above)... or driving up a mountain in the boiling sun with the heat on full blast and all the windows open because of a faulty car... or the mornings Dad brought us back freshly baked croissants from his morning bike ride... Delicious!!! But I won't!! The point I'm trying to make is that up until we always wanted to go with Mum and Dad - and sometimes they had to say no rather than us say no. We had a close family bond, and thankfully still do - my parents have two of sisters living right beside them but that's another story!!! - and that is what I'd love for my own family. 

As I seek to try to make their summers the most enjoyable ever, I also want to help them to see family time, and family holidays, as something very special, something not to be missed, and something to continue long after they leave home. I want them to learn that our family traditions are worth saving - that they help keep us together in a world where brother is fighting brother and where dysfunctional families are the norm.

And I want to remind them of the God of love who unites us even when we are badgering each other, arguing over whose turn on the Xbox it is or over whose cool new baseball cap is whose! 

Family time to me is so important and I want it to be important to my children. Sorry for the long post. More thoughts tomorrow!!

Keep shining xx