A Farewell – Part Two The Early days

So the coffee morning was my first contact with Sure Start.  The number of services and activities available to families grew in the next few months / years.  Drop in groups – Pop in & Play, Music Groups, Messy Play.  Training courses with creches running alongside – Parenting, First Aid, Back to work, Story Sacks.  There were groups for Dads often held on Saturday mornings.  Grandparent groups… So many activities for families.  There were services for those with more specific problems – Family Outreach Service (FOS later to become the Keywork Service).  A Dietician, Midwife, Dentist and assistant, Librarian (sorry Deborah, I cannot remember your title!).  So many excellent services provided by dedicated staff.  I attended as many as I possibly could (sorry, not sorry).  These services became my lifeline.  I made so many friends and learned so much.  I made story sacks – one of which included a knitted giant, pink Stegasaurus.  Callie benefited enormously making friends (children and adults), developing her social skills.  She just had fun.  My back slowly got better but in the days when it was playing up, there was always someone to help.

One of the most valuable aspects of those early days was that services were founded and adapted to ft the needs of the local community.  Local organisations were involved in the decision making as were parents.  I spent many an happy hour in Parents Forum  and Local Programme meetings.  This all meant that the services in Eastbourne were different to those in Hastings or Lewes – because the needs were, and still are, different.  The services in Eastbourne Town Centre were different from those in Willingdon Trees.  The whole context of the local community was taken into account – transport, deprivation, existing services, employment….

Eventually, before the days of the 12 week volunteer training course, I became a volunteer.  I worked with a lovely friend running a fruit and veg store at the Pop in and Play session on a Friday morning at Willingdon Trees.  Hence the lead picture.  Clare would meet a fruit and veg supplier early on a Friday morning and would buy a pile of fruit and vegetables – whatever he had.  We would then make up mixed bags and sell them to the families attending the session.  We supplied cooking directions and recipes.  Great fun 🙂

So that was my life until December 2004 when I applied for a job at Eastbourne Sure Start as Researcher / Evaluator….

A farewell – Part 1 My first contact with Sure Start


Two weeks today is a big day for me. It is my last day working for East Sussex Health Visiting and Children’s Centres.  I have been immersed in Children’s Centres for over 15 years.  A long time.  On my first encounter, my eldest daughter Callie was a few months old and Lexie wasn’t yet thought of!  My last day will be the same day as Callie’s prom.  A long time indeed.  So I thought that I would take a look back at my time there. I will break it down into small sections – as usual I have a lot to say!

It was Eastbourne Sure Start back in those days. The Sure Start programme was amazing. It provided much needed help and support to families with children under 5. In the early days, it only served families living in the most deprived postcode areas. I always saw this as a bit of a problem because we all know that your postcode / money situation doesn’t always equate to the number or depth of problems you experience. But that changed over the years so that any family with a child under 5 could get help and support when needed. But not only that – there were provided with top quality play groups (Often called Pop in & Plays) where families could meet up, experience excellent quality play and create much needed networks of friends. At these free, open to everyone sessions, parents had the chance to talk to highly qualified, skilled, kind, supportive practitioners; this led to problems, worries and niggles being picked up and sorted before they became deeply rooted and damaging.

So on to my story.  When my daughter, Callie, was around 6 months old I managed to get to a coffee morning put on by Eastbourne Sure Start.  It was one of their first services, the first in the area where I lived anyway.  I said “managed”.  This word does not quite convey the painful struggle I had to get my baby dressed and into the push chair to go for the short walk across to the community centre.  During Callie’s delivery I had slipped a disc (my second. The first had resulted in an operation to remove part of a disc. The op has a fancy name which I can never remember!). I had been in all sorts of pain ever since.  For months I could barely pick up my little girl.  I had been taken into hospital, had the doctor out giving me morphine injections etc etc.  I was very good at fooling the Health Visitor into thinking that I was coping ok and I was actually as ok as I could be.  I did get through it but thank goodness for Callie’s Dad who definitely stepped up to the plate and looked after us both whilst still working full time.  But despite my natural resilience and stubbornness, Andy’s help and the support of friends, I was feeling pretty rubbish.    I can truly say that that activity with the unassuming name of “coffee morning” changed my life.

As soon as I stepped through the doors of the community centre I was greeted with warmth.  The lovely Community Development Worker (CDW), Clare, sat me down and gave me a much needed cup of coffee.  She gently took Callie out of her push chair and put her on the floor with some toys.  I was soon happy and relaxed chatting to other parents and staff.  Callie was her giggly self. (She is going to hate me if she reads this – sorry, Callie!)

Before I go on – I should say that the focus of these drop in services later changed.  First of all, before anyone runs around shrieking, I should stress that it was all handled very safely.  There was no danger of any baby or toddler being scalded by hot drinks.  Just to make that clear!  A while after, hot drinks were not served at these drop in sessions.  Secondly – I said that Callie was set on the floor whilst I sat on a chair.  In fact all of the mothers sat around on chairs whilst their babies and toddlers played on their own, together and with the practitioners.  That all changed later when the drop in sessions became Pop In & Play sessions.  The chairs were taken away and the focus became on parents playing with their children; lots of time, thought, knowledge and experience was put into making sure that these sessions were of the utmost benefit to the families.  But, in the early days they were coffee mornings.   And – I am sure that I am going to upset a few people here – I believe that they had their place.  For many stressed out mums, dads, grandparents, carers (including myself) that cup of tea, coffee was the first and probably only one we drank hot for the entire day.  At home, most of my cups of coffee were left cold and half drunk on the side.  Also -myself and many other parents needed – yes needed – some time just to chat with other parents.  Most of us spent 90% of our time playing, feeding, changing and thinking about our precious children.  We needed a little bit of time to talk with adults, to get our sanity back a little.  Well, I did anyway.

Another thing I feel the need to say (and it’s my blog so I will!) is that, on the surface, I did not look like the type of mum that needed the help of an organisation like Sure Start.  I was married.  My husband had a good job. We owned a nice house with a garden.  I had the qualifications and experience to return to a good career when Callie was older.  But I definitely needed help and support which I got.  That’s why Sure Start was amazing – even though I didn’t tick the boxes I got the support that I needed.

So that was my first contact with Sure Start.

Garden Part Three

So last year I took a long hard look at my garden / my life. People I love were suffering and I felt quite powerless to help in any real way. I was in a job that I used to love but now felt wrong. I had to carry on working to pay the mortgage on a house that had served its purpose. I fell in love only for that relationship to break down in a way that I still cannot comprehend. I took a long look at the good aspects of my life – my girls who were / are turning into beautiful young women both inside and out; some wonderful friends. Some parts of my garden were lovely. But I had no sense of direction. I had no real sense of what I wanted my garden to look like. I could just see the years stretching out – I couldn’t see a goal. I couldn’t see a path. I had no plan of any sort.

But then I was introduced to Buddhism, the three jewels. Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. And a purpose, a direction for my life became clearer. I knew that I wanted my garden to be a place where others could rest, could find comfort, could relax and rebuild their lives. I wanted to live a life in service to others – to my family, my friends, to all beings. In order to do this I had to make big changes. I had to find a way to rebuild my garden. To establish firm foundations.

So I have a general idea of how I want my garden to look. What I want to achieve with it. Some things can be started immediately ( have been started) whilst others will take some time. In his talk Subhadassi discussed the importance of not rushing things. He gave an example of wanting to lay a path. But if you just jumped in and laid it without looking at the conditions and observing the area in different seasons, an ill sited path may flood in heavy rain. The importance of observing, taking time. But there has to be a balance – taking time cannot mean procrastination. It is the delicate balance between kshanti and virya – patience and energy.

So yes the foundations of my garden are in progress. I have made use of the good things that were already in place – as I have said, some parts of my garden were pleasing to the eye. And some things in my garden cannot be eradicated – the two firmly established blossom trees that have taken time and effort but provide such pleasure. Smaller bushes. Some of my garden brought and still brings great pleasure.

Garden – Part Two


I guess that, in some ways, it doesn’t really matter if the garden is new to me or if I have always been in it.  The point is that there is a garden and I am in charge of it.  But I think that the garden is my life and how I choose to live my life is reflected in the garden in all of its aspects.  So this has always been my garden.  I like to think of this garden as a large, sprawling kind of garden with lots of different parts.   Full shade in some areas, sunny during a lot of the day in others.  Boggy, heavy, clay like soil leading to the overgrown pond but drier soil under the trees. A garden in which there is room to grow, to explore the potential.  A garden which could, if properly looked after, provide quiet spaces for contemplation and rest; spots for nature watching, vegetable plots etc etc.  A garden which shows previous attempts to tame it, to make it a beautiful place to be.  Maybe a beautiful tree that continues to flourish, or some flowers that bloom year after year.  Maybe I have put some effort (of the right kind) into some parts of  the garden ….  but not so much in others.  Overgrown flower beds, uneven and broken paths are in evidence.  Maybe an old potting shed or two.

So there came a point last year when I stopped and took a proper look at my garden.  How was it doing?  Was it full of beauty or at least functional?  And, as might be apparent, to anyone who has read at least some of this blog, I found that my garden /  my life was entirely unsatisfactory in most of its aspects.  Some parts of the garden were falling into neglect and disrepair.  Some of the garden looked quite pretty on the surface but these were small flowerbeds filled with temporary, garish annuals.  Other parts of the garden were functional – these parts “did the job” but were not pleasurable to be in or to look at.

It was time to take stock and decide what I wanted my garden to look like.  What I wanted my life to look like.

My mind map.. It started off so tidy and pretty! But I leave it on the table and add to it whenever I have another idea!

So – there we have it – part two of the garden metaphor.  I am sorry if I am boring you with it but I am quite enjoying writing it.   It is making me use my brain, to think more imaginatively – something that I have not done in a long time!


No giving up

Well that was a week! Hospital tests involving starvation, potions and cameras going where cameras are definitely not wanted! But I was looked after well in the hospital. The staff were wonderful. Thank you NHS. A few things were found – but, as expected, nothing to explain my joint pain. So more tests I expect!

This week is also the start of a restructure at work. It’s not going to affect me I admit but it will affect some dear friends, wonderful colleagues and families in East Sussex. There will be lots of changes to the lives of many people – changes that they do not want in a lot of cases.

In the midst of all this I am starting to live again. To feel like me again – even to make a little progress in becoming more Tee. I am finding ways to manage the pain, and to structure my life around it. Morning meditation, for example requires a hot water bottle! There are things I can’t do – I cannot take my little Pretzel on a lot of long walks, I cannot drive 200 miles to see my Mum. But there is a lot I can do if I just try, push myself a little and believe that things are possible.

Back to the subject of friendship which I know I talk about a lot in this blog. I am so blessed to have some lovely friends. Those who check up on me, take me to and from hospital, invite me to dinner. The friend who reminded me of Mara – the demon who attacked and tempted the Buddha with everything he had. The Buddha sat still in peace and openness. And the words, arrows, weapons and pain drifted away from him as soft petals. And during this notice period I am realising how many friends I have made during my time with Children’s Centres. I must try to keep in touch with them.

My pets – they help! Well most of the time. They can be a pain admittedly especially when they want food NOW. But my cats – JD and Smirnoff are good for cuddles and very entertaining to watch as they play. Pretzel – also very cuddly and fun to be with.

I still feel sorry for myself at times. Who doesn’t? But it’s ok. Suffering is intrinsic to human life. And things could be an awful lot worse! There are also a lot of things to be thankful for.

And – This too shall pass.

So no giving up! Acceptance of what cannot be changed; taking action where it will be helpful. Trying to attain the perfect blend of Kshanti and Virya – patience and energy.

What do we do when life is “out to get us”?

Mornings are difficult at the moment. This is sad because I am, naturally, a morning person. I am used to getting out of bed, getting dressed and taking Pretzel for a 5k walk. I would come back ready to face the day…

But now I cannot do that. For some reason – yet to be explained – my body is letting me down. During the night it seizes up and, by morning, I am in pain. Neck, shoulders, back, hands and fingers, legs, knees, feet – all locked. Getting out of bed takes a while!! During the day the pain is always there… I cannot use my hands properly, walk totally upright or turn my head… but mornings are the worst.

I try very hard not to let it get me down. I am trying to do something about it – going through loads of tests. I am about to start investigating possible food allergies. I am trying to stretch, keep moving, use painkillers. But I am getting grumpy. I feel angry that I have come through a lot of stress, done a lot to change my life – just for this to happen. It is very tempting to just be totally grumpy, to feel sorry for myself and to give up. And sometimes I do just for a little while (especially first thing in the morning).

But I’m not giving up. There are things I can do about it – find out what is wrong. See if I have some intolerances to food. Try to keep calm. Try to keep living my life. Keep using the hot water bottle on my joints. Keep meditating. Ask friends for help when I need it (I am so bad at that). And remember that “this too shall pass”.

I’m not writing this for sympathy or anything. There are a lot of people out there, reading this who are a lot worse off than me. I am writing this because it is part of my journey. And this blog was never intended to be just about the good bits. This is how it is at the moment. And I can choose how to deal with it. First thing in the morning my actions and thoughts are not skilful – but I am trying and some mornings I manage to face calmly (SOME). I am trying to keep my sense of humour.

Life always involves some element of suffering. And, sometimes, the suffering threatens to take over. I allow myself to be bad tempered. I spend a lot of time apologising to people and pets. But I have choices about how to deal with it all. And life is better when I face and live it skilfully.

This too shall pass!

Moving in..

Well I am here! After a very stressful few days of clearing my house I have moved to my caravan.

I am surrounded by boxes and bags. There is definitely too much stuff here! Because of unexpected trips to Hereford, I could not do the number of charity shop and tip runs that I had hoped for. I cannot work our how to operate the oven: my bathroom light isn’t working and I have very confused pets.

But I love my caravan. I think that I will be very happy here. And doing this has allowed me to hand in my notice at work… a start of a new life.

This couple of weeks have been so stressful and hard. My Dad. His funeral. Trips to Hereford. Packing up a house. I am so grateful to my friends who have helped me. Also those from my Sangha who have been there for me. I have been boring on the subject I am sure but people have been there ready to help me in whatever way they could. It is times like this when you learn who are truly your friends. Some could do nothing practically but contacted me most days to make sure that I was ok. This meant so much.

So a step on my journey! A giant step after such a horrible 16 months.

Nearly done …

I am sitting here in the house that I have lived in for 8 1/2 years. All the furniture has gone. There are just boxes and stuff to be taken to the caravan, me, two unhappy cats and a very disturbed Pretzel. I am a little tired. The last two weeks have been manic – trying to move but more importantly my Dad. He died. He died! How did that happen? He was meant to last for a few years yet! So a funeral to help arrange, a tribute to write … lots of 200 mile trips to Hereford. A funeral taking place in a crowded chapel in sunshine.

So now I am sitting here propped up on cushions surrounded by stuff. My heart aches. My body is in pain – my back has never been good and the rest of my body has decided to follow suit. I feel a bit lonely. I realise that I am still hurting, still in pain from a failed relationship. I feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount I have to get done by Friday morning. I am feeling a little sad about leaving this house which holds so many memories.

Reminding myself that this move is such a positive thing. I am continuing on my journey – this is a huge step. It was never going to be easy. This move will mean a new life for me and for my girls. A new life on which I can take time to meditate, help others and be a better mum.

So I have to take a deep breath and keep going!

Doing my best


These two weeks are tough. Trying to come to terms with my Dad’s death, arranging his funeral with my brother, trying to support my mum. A few 200 mile trips to Hereford. And moving house at the same time. I must admit to being beyond tired.  In among all of that have been the days I have actually got to work – look at data, answer emails and go to meetings.   Sleep isn’t really happening – well not enough of it anyway. I just want some “normal”.

I am constantly reminding myself that my house sale is a good thing!  It may be stressful at the moment but it is the doorway to a different way of living.  So I must remember that this is a new positive beginning.

In many ways I am handling it all “ok” – much better than I would have done before I found Buddhism – the three jewels have helped me tremendously.  I have been able to feel the emotion of it all more than I would have done in the past whilst still handling it. I have been a better support to Mum I think.  And to my girls who loved their Grandad.

My friends – both Buddhist and otherwise have been amazingly supportive.  One looking after Pretzel even though she can be a bit of a pain (cute but still a pain!).  Another helping me with loads of tip runs.  This practical support has made it all possible.  Hugs / emails / texts / sympathy cards all help me to feel loved and cared about.  One lovely lovely friend cooked me dinner and we just talked.  Many friends have offered practical help which may well be taken up!

So yes I am handling it.  It shows me that I have moved at least a little way in my quest to become more Tee.   I know that I could help myself more – be more skillful in my actions.  More meditation would be better than the few glasses of wine to which I have succumbed.  I could be eating more healthily.   But I have to accept that I am not perfect – far from it!

These two weeks will pass.  They are just a moment in time.  I just have to take each moment as it comes and try to act as skillfully as possible.



On my 4 hour drive to Hereford today I was listening to podcasts. I have really got into listening to podcasts rather than music when I walk or drive. I find that they keep me interested and keep me more in the present than music does. Music makes me remember thus to live in the past or to daydream / fantasise which means living in a ridiculously unobtainable future.

Today I listened to a couple of podcasts by The Minimalists. Ryan and Joshua. Two very intelligent guys who definitely think creatively about life and are not just about decluttering and getting rid of stuff. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-minimalists-podcast/id1069757084?mt=2&i=1000429698510

Towards the end of what seemed like a very long journey, I started to listen to Free Buddhist Audio. This is a tremendous resource packed full of talks by very knowledgable and spiritual Buddhists from the Triratna Community. I only heard the first part of this one but what I heard reassured me. Padmavajra talked of the need to have purpose, hope and energy. Buddhists are not meant to be passive but active. Virya paramita = the perfection of energy. I need to develop a sense of calm and peace but energy is a good thing, a positive thing. I am always struggling to reconcile living in the present with a direction, goal, purpose.

I haven’t listened to all of this podcast yet but will probably do so on the journey back tomorrow!