what i’m into – august 2017

Whilst August has been fairly whirlwind, it’s been a different kind of whirlwind to usual, and I’ve really noticed and appreciated the change in pace. Fewer meetings, deadlines and things to do outside keeping family and home happy and organised (ish). The busyness we have had has been almost entirely down to fun and relaxing things.

Besides, it’s now September, schools are back this week, and I feel the metaphorical parenting pat-on-the-back at yet another family summer survived, with relationships still intact and limbs all present and correct. High five anyone?

Books

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Only 23 years late, I’ve finally boarded the ship of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It’s fascinating, incredibly detailed about just about everything, and I’m loving the way each character and situation is meticulously described. I can’t say I’m finding it easy though – 70 odd chapters, and I’m only half way through, so I’ve decided to take my time over it and read other books on the side.

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And what better book to choose than 180 Seconds, which I was pretty sure would turn its own pages. I was right. Allison was adopted at 16. She carries with her the trauma of her past, finding it difficult to interact with others, let alone trust them. But inadvertently becoming part of a social psychology experiment in which eye contact is made with a stranger for three minutes starts to challenge her – can she break down the walls and begin to trust? I’ll say no more – never let me be accused of giving spoilers on this blog. But it’s one to read! (Side note: with all this increased reading, I’ve started to use my local library. It is BRILLIANT. I’ve ordered several books which they don’t have, and this one and another turned up within a fortnight. Hurrah for free books!)

Image result for glorious unionI mentioned here that I’d bought a few marriage books for the hubster and I to read together. We read the first this month – Glorious Union, a short book specifically for couples in ministry. As the introduction says, it’s not a book about marriage, nor about ministry, but a book looking at the specific relationship between the two. There are some practical exercises in the book, and doing these has opened up conversation beyond what the book itself says. We’re more grateful now for the privileges, and are starting to think about how to deal with the pressures, of him being a church leader. We’re not quite finished, but from what we’ve read so far, I’d really recommend this book for any couples where one or both are in full-time Christian ministry.

A Guide to AttachmentAnd I realised that, as an adoptive parent, I should probably know more about attachment than I do, so although I have some meatier books to attack when time allows, this month I read this handy little booklet, written by Mr Timpson – of Timpson Shoes! And yes, you buy it from his shops 🙂 It’s short, and therefore only skims the surface, but it’s a good introduction for anyone thinking about adoption/fostering, or supporting someone who is.

Food

IMG_20170822_172156[1]Is there a more glorious sight than this in August?! I’ve made blackberry gin and blackberry crumble, and have eaten a fair few when the kiddoes haven’t got there first.

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Blackberry gin!
Missy spontaneously decided to make blackberry milkshake too…

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The kids also decided to set up a blackberry shop…although very reasonably priced 😉

IMG_20170813_162949[1]A holiday to Jersey gave me my first experience of Jersey black butter – amazing stuff. Like jam and chutney all rolled into one. I’ve had it on toast for breakfast, and with pate for a snack – I know it would be great with cheese too. Mmmmm. We also took advantage of the fresh local seafood – oysters and lobster for me at Bistro Rosa. YUM! And enjoyed plenty of Jersey dairy products 🙂

 

Music

If you’ve ever wondered what Katy Perry’s ‘Roar‘ would sound like when being warbled at a high decibel by a 5 year old and two 2 year olds – and I know you must have done at some point – feel free to drop by our house. I have had this experience daily throughout August.

Stage and screen

The Tiger

I promise you I don’t always go to the theatre as much as I have done this year, but when we saw that The Tiger who came to tea was coming to town, we had to book some tickets! It was lovely, looked just like the book, and where the story had been extended, it fitted just perfectly. The boys loved it (aged 7, 2, 2) – interestingly the 5 year old was not as enamoured.

We took advantage of having Netflix in our holiday home to watch Philomena, every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped. You’ll need your tissues at the ready as it’s poignant and hopeful – but with humour throughout. And Judi Dench is fantastic, as always. There’s something about her that totally makes me forget Dame Judi whenever she’s in role – she’s utterly convincing, and I love her!

We’re still going with Twin Peaks – me hoping beyond hope for some kind of ‘conclusion’, but starting to realise it probably won’t come (we’re three episodes away from the end, still meeting new characters and new situations), and made a virgin voyage into The IT Crowd, which felt like all the best bits from Father Ted and Black Books rolled into one.

Articles

Lots of interesting things this month. I loved this minister’s beautiful tribute to his wife. The Rt Rev Philip North’s words about how many clergy are glued to middle-class areas was both challenging and relevant for us as we navigate a mixed parish with an awful lot of poverty. On a related topic, this older article by Grayson Perry on why taste is so intrinsically woven into what ‘class’ we are or perceive ourselves to be was fascinating and absolutely spot-on.

This article, highlighting some recent research on screen time for children, is lengthy but informative. (Of course I still use the TV as a babysitter pretty much every day, but it’s nice to know what the ideal is, should I ever wish to turn into Hyper-Organic-Super-Mum.)

And my friend Jo, as always, challenged me on letting go of anger, rather than letting it define our futures.

In other news…

We went to Jersey! I think I said that. And then we went to Shropshire! Equally wonderful.

We’ve had lovely friends to stay this month, and some wonderful catch-ups with local friends too. I love the space that the summer holidays give for more extended playdates and catch-ups.

We saw a hedgehog.

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And we started potty training! I can hardly believe this. I thought I’d be buying the boys their school shoes before their pants – but, no, it seems that choosing their own potties was the catalyst for showing me how ready they are to have a go. I’ll spare you too many of the gory details, but must share this photo – which, to me, sums it up: my new dress having been spray-weed. Only boys can get that angle right.

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Now there’s a shot you won’t see in a Boden catalogue.

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into‘ series. Do check out the other posts, and let me know what you’ve been up to in August!

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the silent anniversary: celebrating marriage in a culture of relationship breakdown

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingLast month, us Desert People celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Most of the time I feel our life just plods on, so the slightly startling fact that we’d been plodding on longer than Facebook, Netflix and (most people’s access to) digital photography seemed worth celebrating.

We had a lovely couple of days of dates, nice food and presents – but few others knew of our celebrations. I nearly posted our happy day on Facebook – but something held me back. This year one of my friends is finalising her divorce whilst another has become a single mum. Other friends have divorced years ago, but any mention of marriage still stings. Then there are those who always dreamed of marriage – but are still waiting. How could I post a shiny picture of the two of us against that backdrop?

The problem is that a happy, long-lasting marriage can so easily end up being miscommunicated as an ‘achievement’, a ‘notch on the scale’, something to wear as a badge of honour. Entirely by accident, the Happily-Marrieds can end up suggesting that they possess a greater level of emotional intelligence, a more kind and forgiving character, or simply ‘work harder’ at their marriages. But I can tell you that many of my now-divorced friends worked harder at their marriages than I’ve ever done. So there was no way I was going to risk getting the tone wrong on Facebook.

In a month’s worth of reflection over whether I was right to hold back, or whether I was being stupidly over-cautious, a few things have come to mind.

One is that, regardless of our own marital status, all of us can celebrate marriage in some way, shape or form. Almost all of us have benefited from a strong, healthy marriage – if not our own, then our parents’, grandparents’, close friends or other family members. We may have received security from our own parents’ marriage – or support and hospitality from the marriage of friends. Marriage can be celebrated as a wonderful institution, even if we ourselves are not married.

Secondly – contrary to the polarised ‘marriage=lifelong joy’ and ‘singleness=lifelong discontent’ philosophy of our culture, the reality is tinged with much more grey. Marriages can be hard, tiring, frustrating – and singleness can be enriching, freeing, empowering. Celebrating marriage should not be about pretending that life is brilliant all the time. When we celebrate our marriages publicly, we need to acknowledge the grey – sensitively, but not silently. Similarly, even the worst separations, divorces and bereavements can bring about many new positives. Recently, my friend wrote about how the painful time around her divorce gave her an insight into suffering and mental health that she would never have had otherwise.

Thirdly – and this is especially true if our marriage has been easy so far – a great way to celebrate our marriages, in addition to shouting about them, is to invest in them. I suspect that most divorces are not based on one event, an affair, a life change, or whatever, but on a gradual drifting apart over a few years. If we assume that a strong marriage will be built without any input from us, we assume wrong. When we celebrated our anniversary last month, I realised we hadn’t read any marriage books for a while, so did some research and grabbed a handful of titles which looked interesting and challenging for where we’re at right now. (And yes, you’ll be seeing mentions of these books on the blog over the next few months as we devour them!) But investing in your marriage could also mean attending some marriage counselling – and remember that you don’t need to be having marital problems in order to book an appointment. You can see it much more like an MOT, as explained in this amazing article by Marina Fogle. In short, put some deposits in your marriage bank – you never know when there’ll be a hefty outgoing.

Finally, whilst investment in our marriages is vital, we also need to recognise that a healthy marriage is not solely a result of our own hard work, stamina or ability to meet 100% of our partner’s needs 100% of the time. We must acknowledge that a greater ‘force’ is present in them. Christians might call this force ‘grace’, which forgives us and picks us up and gives us what we don’t deserve. If you’re not a Christian, you may call it ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’, that you’ve found a spouse who loves you despite your faults. The point is that the success of our marriage is not all down to us, and therefore any proclamation on social media or other public forums needs to recognise this.

I don’t regret, on this occasion, holding back from social media. I’m not sure I would have had the sensitivity, wisdom, or turn of phrase to announce our anniversary as carefully and respectfully as I’d have wanted. But I’ve enjoyed seeing the many other anniversary announcements that this season brings, my favourite being this:

“Our anniversary is a good opportunity to say thanks to everyone who celebrated with us this time 9 years ago, and to those who continue to support and journey with us. Marriage is a mini expression of community, which both serves and is fed by the wider community. Thanks to all those who are part of this”.

Marriage is something for us all to get involved with (and – dare I say – excited about?). We can all play a part in supporting those we love as they seek to keep their marriage vows.

And, more than this, it fills us with hope that one day we will enjoy the closest, most intimate relationship with God Himself. Celebrating the highs and lows of marital union – whether ours or our friends’ – reminds us that earthly marriage is not the end result, but a very faint picture of the 100% loving, 100% forgiving, 100% perfect Bridegroom – Jesus Christ, who one day will fulfil the strongest marriage vow ever made.

 

 

 

 

 

what i’m into – july

2017 seems to be whizzing by in such a whirlwind that I’m becoming very pleased for this chance to stop and reflect at the end of each month. When I can’t remember what I’ve done from one day to the next, it is encouraging to put it all down in a blog and realise that there have been lots of fun moments and memories along the way! If you write a blog, why don’t you join Leigh’s link up and share what you’ve been up to?

Books

I finally got round to reading JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You, which had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. OK, so Moyes’ stuff is basically chick-lit, and therefore not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s on the intelligent side of the genre, and this book is a perfect example, dealing with the grey area of assisted suicide. I was hooked. Moyes does her research, writes complex relationships very well, and includes wry observations about people and places. The three novels I’ve read so far by Moyes often involve characters from different classes/backgrounds who collide in unexpected circumstances – a theme which fascinates me.

Next I read A New Day, the latest by Emma Scrivener. I enjoyed – although that’s really not the right word – her first book, A New Name, which told of her battle with anorexia. A New Day moves onwards and outwards, broadening the discussion to include six ‘battle’ areas of mental health: hunger, anxiety, control, shame, anger and despair. Emma has first-hand experience of most of these, and the factual parts of the book are thorough and helpful. The spiritual guidance is excellent – neither brushing mental illness under the carpet, nor despairing of any hope whatsoever. The real test of the book is whether those suffering from a mental illness find it helpful – but certainly, as a friend of those who do, I found it a helpful and insightful guide. If someone else would like to give it a read and let me know I’d be very interested to hear your views!

Articles

I always love reading my friend Jo’s blog on MS, widowhood and single parenthood, and was over-the-moon to read her words on the Multiple Sclerosis website this month. She writes with such honesty and humour, and opens my eyes to the challenges of MS, bereavement and single parenthood.

Music

We celebrated 15 years of marriage by going to a Kate Rusby gig – our first. She was brilliant! Now we can’t stop singing Big Brave Bill, and are teaching it to our kids. If you can’t educate your Yorkshire-born kids by teaching them folk songs about superheroes who come from Barnsley, then what on earth can you do anymore? Have a listen, you’ll be hooked:

Stage and screen

Well of course, having read the book, I had to watch the film of Me Before You! It was good, with little changed from the book other than subplots which would have made the film impossibly long. The setting seemed just right. The casting – maybe not quite so great. But an enjoyable evening with a friend, and even a few tears shed at the end 🙂

I also got to watch Lion with my cousin and her daughter. What an incredible film! A young boy gets separated from his family in 1980s India, never finds them, and ends up being adopted by an Australian couple. As an adult, he vows to return to India and find his birth family. It’s a true story, one which blows your mind with how resilient, intuitive, empathetic and determined the human race can be. I managed to hold off the water works till the end but not quite sure how – as an adopter, I found the film particularly moving. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays through this Sun July 30 at the Paramount.

And I was hugely thrilled to be able to catch the stage play of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, having read the book earlier this year! What an amazing stage show, put together with a lot of careful thought and design. The set, the props, the lights – I can’t give too much away, but it is very much worth seeing. It didn’t come to our town so I travelled a couple of hours to where it was showing (for a lovely evening out with my aunt-in-law) – and it was well worth the effort.

In other news…

* It was Sports Day. By some kind of bizarre star alignment, I won the parents’ obstacle race – and even made it into my daughter’s learning journal!

* I dragged the kids to THREE Summer Fairs this month so I could do ‘research’ and they could – well, get high on sugar. This makes our total up to five for this year and now I can steal everyone else’s ideas for our fair next year – mwahahahaha!

* My wonderful cousin-in-law came to stay, and we had a visit from some old friends, our surrogate parents from the time we were newly married. Always a joy to reconnect 🙂

* I went to London, Belfast and Liverpool this month – no wonder I’m a teensy tiny bit tired!

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* A note on Belfast: it was child-free. It was awesome. Pretty much the most Grown-Up Thing I’ve ever done, as it involved taking a flight ON MY OWN, then hiring a car ON MY OWN. I stayed with my fab cousin and her family, drank far too much hot chocolate, and spent my days observing a Suzuki Early Childhood Education training course. I have been meaning to blog about this incredible method of music education for months and months now – wish me luck, and it may yet happen in the Autumn…

* The older kids and I went to Madame Tussaud’s which was so much fun!

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* We attended the christening for my newest goddaughter. Look at her cute little face. Isn’t she just wonderful?

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* The younger kids and I tried out a new-ish ceramic-painting cafe, Bish Bash Pot, with some friends. For a pair of boys who give me a total body workout every day with their running, ducking, climbing, crawling and jumping, they do have a good attention span for anything arty. They sat and painted for ages, then got to enjoy the soft play when they got bored. Their bowls turned out a treat, don’t you think? I reckon they could easily be in a modern ceramics exhibit!

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* I was part of a parent panel to interview for our new Headteacher. Whilst sad to see the old one go, we’re all buzzing about the new appointment and can’t wait for her to get started!

* In other school news, I helped with the school disco, held the FIRST EVER PTA committee meeting, and spent an afternoon barbecuing at Sports Day, gradually turning into a tomato, thanks to the lethal combination of BBQ flames and 26 degree weather. The attractive face of parent volunteering. But it’s all worth it: there was no PTA at our school until a few months ago, and setting one up remains the thing I am most proud of so far in 2017!

 

 

what i’m into – june

Image result for wonder bookBooks

Don’t pass out or anything, but in June I read three whole books. It was a doddle though, starting as I did with R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, one of the best things I’ve ever read, where the pages pretty much turn themselves. The book follows the first year at school of a 10-year-old boy with severe facial disfigurement. It is both uncomfortably thought-provoking and wonderfully feelgood at the same time. Read it!

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Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey was another page-turner. Covering infertility, loss, suffering and resurrection (d’oh – really?) in a hopeful, gentle way, I felt this book was a rare one which neither brushed suffering under the carpet, nor used it as an excuse for bitterness. That’s not to say the emotions are not real and raw – but the path that Sheridan and his wife Merryn travelled through the realisation of dreams never going to be fulfilled makes for compelling reading.

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Finally, Compared to Her (Sophie de Witt), one of the books recommended to me in 2015, my Year of Books. It’s a helpful book, which describes the problem of CCS (Compulsive Comparison Syndrome), something pretty much every woman suffers from, and guides us through carefully thought-out theology to lead more content lives. I would recommend it to other women, but….

….and here I’m going out on a limb, since all the reviews of this book seem to be 5*. I didn’t find it riveting. And, whilst I was asking myself whether a non-fiction Christian living book can be riveting, I was reminded that many of the best Christian books are exciting, inspiring and can’t be put down – even though they’re non-fiction. This was the case with both A Praying Life and Jesus Feminist which I read earlier this year. So I did feel like I was wading through this one a little. That’s not to say it’s not good, just that it didn’t light my fire. Having said that, in the few days since I finished it, I’ve found myself mulling over its subject plenty of times – so perhaps it will have a lasting impact after all.

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Not exactly in the same category of a book I’ve read from start to finish, but still deserving a mention, the kids and I have been enjoying The Artful Year by Jean Van’t Hul. June began in the middle of half-term, so I was searching for ways in which I could entertain my 7-5-2-2 brood all at once (not easy), and Jean’s process-oriented art (i.e. where the outcome isn’t specified, but the focus is on the making) really fit the bill, as each child can access the activity at their own level, producing something they’re proud of. We tried salt-and-watercolour pictures, bean art, masking-tape hopscotch, and various new homemade ice lolly combinations. And, although we didn’t follow her instructions for it, we opened a bag of air-drying clay which kept the 5-2-2 contingent happy for hours. (Well, enough time for me to make dinner anyway.)

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Making beautiful pictures with glue, salt and watercolours!
Food

June is elderflower season so, as always, I clambered out of my bathroom window, made it across the garage roof in one piece, picked as many fresh white elderflower heads as I could find, and made it back to the bathroom window without breaking a leg. The rest of the process is dead easy – in fact, the recipe’s on the blog here if you fancy having a go next June!

We had a couple of BBQs during the heatwave, and the garlic-chilli marinated prawns were a particular highlight. A visit from our London friends was a great excuse, if one is needed, to have lunch at Guy’s. I made this aromatic prawn and cashew curry from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals:

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I haven’t always got on with Jamie’s recipes, but think I’ve found my happy place in his 30 Minute Meals which are considerably less faffy than his other recipes.

And I remembered how much I loved pulled pork, so found a recipe and made it for dinner one night – it was a hit, and so super easy too. It’ll definitely become a staple on the Desert-house menu. As will gherkins. Yep, you read that right. Although I despise them, the pulled pork evening revealed that every one of my kids thinks gherkins are absolutely marvellous. Massive pot added to this week’s shopping list.

Oh, and how do you improve upon a millionaire’s shortbread? Replace the boring shortbread base with a chewy, oaty flapjack to produce MILLIONAIRE FLAPJACKS!

IMG_2482[1]These were so delish that, having made them for a school bake sale, I was ‘commissioned’ to produce them again for my friends’ wedding anniversary party! They’re from Martha Collison’s excellent book Twist, which I highly recommend, and are so good they deserve a second photo:

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Articles

This isn’t a political blog, so I’ve kept the General Election out of this round-up – suffice to say it happened, and I played my part. But I was sad, angry perhaps, at the media’s hounding of Tim Farron throughout the election campaign, and thought this blog from The Spectator summed it up rather well.

My friend Jo wrote an honest and moving post about celebrating Father’s Day with no Dad.

And this article, from the New York Times, reveals how we use language differently depending whether we’re speaking to a boy or a girl. It’s challenging and helpful.

Stage and screen

The ‘screen’ part of this can be easily summarised by saying that I’ve continued with the new Twin Peaks series, and it’s getting curiouser and curiouser each episode. Very gripping.

As for ‘stage’, two very different shows. I took Monkey and Meerkat to the theatre for the first time, to see the Very Hungry Caterpillar and other stories. Superbly done, with great colour and visuals, but not so over-the-top that it overwhelmed them.

I then went with some friends to see Everything is Possible, a community theatre project written by a local scriptwriter, based on the true story of a York-based Suffragette. There are no words to describe the power and emotion of this play. It began outside York Minster, staged as if we were all taking part in a Women’s March. I was fighting back tears within the first few minutes, as the Suffragettes of 1912 gradually took over from the 21st century feminists, and were led away, kicking and shouting, by the police. The play continued in the theatre and was totally absorbing, with lots to think about. I was struck by how much change there’s been in 100 years – and yet how little in other ways. Back then, there was huge differentiation between rich and poor. A century on, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, we’re forced to ask whether our society is really much different.

On the blog

I FINALLY managed to publish the blog I’d been drafting and re-drafting for months – What we want for our kids: Gender equality. And I published a blog I’d written on the first birthday of our twins – before we’d met them.

In other news…

IMG_2486[1]I fixed a lawnmower. By myself. I tried to stay cool about it, but now feel the need to announce it to the world. So there: I fixed a lawnmower all by myself.

I organised our first-for-a-long-time school summer fair! It ate all my time! But it was awesome. So great to see such a lot of families and teachers coming together to celebrate each other’s culture and have fun. Even the rain couldn’t stop us – but next year surely we’ve earned the right to hold it outside.

My talented friend Lucy took some snazzy photos for the blog – maybe you’ve noticed the website/Facebook/Twitter looking a bit more glam this month! I’m not great at prancing around in fields, but she did a great job of putting me at my ease, and now fortunately I can rest on my design-laurels for a few years.

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I spent a good deal of time finishing off a couple of displays for our school Music room. Here’s one of them:

IMG_2510[1]My school governor responsibilities took me into school three times, to observe my link subjects of Music, PE and Spanish. Such a joy to see such dedicated, enthusiastic professionals sharing their talent with bright-eyed, engaged kids. Another reason why I love this school so much!

AND we had our lovely London friends come and visit, en route to their amazing backpacking venture around the States. They have a 7-5-2. RESPECT.

What about you? How was your June?

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into’ series. Check hers out here!

 

 

the un-birthday: celebrating the birthday of the child you haven’t met

I wrote the following nearly two years ago, on the occasion of our twins’ first birthday.

Image result for 1st birthday candleToday, our twins turn one. I haven’t yet met them, but I love them already. We need to celebrate – and yet how does one celebrate the birthday of someone they’ve never met? Someone who is already so firmly locked inside one’s heart, but so achingly distant? Perhaps our celebrations looked a little odd from the outside. But I think that those who, each year, mark the birthday of a child they never met, a child born asleep or taken too soon – maybe they can understand our need to celebrate.

We did some of the usual traditions. There were balloons, cake and candles, and homemade cards. Missy didn’t struggle to create a card for each of her new little brothers. But, lacking the no-nonsense self-confidence of a 4-year-old, I stared at my blank card last night and I was stuck. Making a homemade card for each of my children’s birthdays is a tradition so firmly imprinted into the DNA of our family that I couldn’t do anything else – yet how do you make a card for someone you’ve never met? I settled on a generic caterpillar design, suitable for a first birthday. Twins, please forgive me – I don’t yet know your characters, your traits, your gifts and your passions. Next year will be different.

We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – to each twin, individually, marking the start of an upbringing which will firmly recognise each of them as separate, unique entities. But it was our birth kids who blew out the candles, it was they who were in the photos. Next year will be different.

There were no presents. The twins are coming into a home already bulging with entertainment and activity and, besides, there will be moving-in presents and Christmas presents. Their birthday presents were the cots, drawers, shelves, clothes and nappies I’m rapidly sourcing from eBay and Gumtree. Next year will be different.

There was no measuring on the height chart. We have a permanent record of how tall each of our birth children were on their first birthday – but, for the twins, we will have to be content to measure them two months late. Next year will be different.

There was no party – not at our house anyway – because how can you party without the guests of honour being there? Instead, they celebrated at their foster home, and their brilliant foster mum deserved every minute of this joyful day with them. She has been the one to feed them, nurture them, love them through their first year. Next year will be different.

For me, there were no nostalgic reminisces, no casting my mind back to the first twinges, the contractions, the labour, the birth, the early minutes and hours. I have no idea what I was doing one year ago today. Next year this won’t be any different. Nor will it be next year, or the year after, or the year after that. I will never have this date indelibly etched into my memory because, at the time, I had no awareness of the significance of it, no idea that our family had just changed forever.

But I think of her. And I wonder how many hours she laboured, and how she felt, and what she was thinking, and if she had anyone by her side. And I like to remember my joy when each of my birth children screamed their way into this world, and imagine her feeling this about her birth children, giddy in love with them like I was with mine.

They are our twins. But they are hers as well. Today we celebrate the three of them.

what we want for our kids: gender equality

This blog post is part of a series, considering what we want for our kids. If you haven’t read the previous posts, then please click here for the first post, which will take you to the others, as what follows will make more sense in context.

Oh, and here’s a disclaimer (I could have written a few): this is not a complete theology of gender! It is deliberately and unashamedly focused on how we as Christians raise our children to promote gender equality.

This is perhaps the most sensitive of the three ‘sub-heading’ topics I’ve written after the seemingly controversial post about whether it was OK for my daughter to aspire to being a mum. I decided it was wise to break that one down into the three areas I felt were potential sticking points: status, financial security, and now gender equality. And, let’s face it, most of us get more than a little bristly at the thought of women being expected to fulfil stereotyped roles, so it was no surprise that, at face value, my words were challenged. But as Christian parents, how should we aspire to, and encourage, gender equality in our children? What is the basis of this equality? And what does it look like in practice?

1) Gender inequality is an outcome of the Fall. Sexism can work both ways, but as the issue usually involves the dominance of men over women, it is this that I’m going to focus on. And the fact that there has been such dominance throughout history should come as no surprise to any Bible-believing Christian:

To the woman he said,

“…Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”(Genesis 3:16)

In other words, gender inequality is not ‘just because’. It is a direct consequence of our sin. God designed us to live as equals, side by side, with a joint mission to accomplish (Genesis 2) but sin brought an inequality to the relationship between the genders that will never be resolved until the new heaven and new earth. And this was not just a curse on women. The suppression of women throughout history will have undoubtedly lost the world a whole host of strong female political leaders, breakthrough female scientists, wise female strategists and inspiring female artists – it is men, as well as women, who have suffered this loss, and therefore the curse is felt by both women and men.

2) The curse of gender inequality will always be present in our world. For every win of the feminist movement, there are a handful of ‘new’ and discriminatory practices taking root in all corners of the globe. Some are old practices recently brought to the attention of the media (FGM for example) – others are new. Twenty years ago the pay gap between men and women may have been larger – but at least women didn’t have to worry about social media trolls and increased online sexism based on how they looked or what they believed in. One demon is abolished, and another is birthed. It’s because, quite simply, gender inequality is a product of the Fall, a result of our sin – so, as long as humankind remains sinful, it will remain discriminatory.

3) The belief that gender inequality is part of living in a fallen world is both sobering and hopeful. Just because discrimination will remain till the end of this life doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against it. On the contrary – because it is not of the Kingdom, therefore we do not subscribe to it. We have been saved, and life in the Kingdom starts NOW – so, just as we fight against poverty, war, racism, hatred and other results of the Fall, so we must also practise a different way when it comes to gender discrimination. We go about our lives as equals – and teach our children to do the same – challenging any discriminatory behaviour when we encounter it – not because of a secular feminist agenda, but because equality is a characteristic of God and His kingdom.

This is all well and good if it actually ‘works’ – but, of course, because we live in a gender-biased world, our children will be subject to all sorts of influences outside our control, and even we as ‘gender-aware’ parents probably imbibe some of the unhelpful gender-skewed culture around us without even realising. So how do we remove our blinkers and start to teach our children God’s way when it comes to gender? Here are two important perspectives which have been important to me while thinking through this issue:

  • Godly feminism is about who we are – i.e. children of God, rooted in Christ – not what we achieve. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Gal 3:28. Are we teaching our children that they are valuable, not because of gender or achievement or subversion of gender roles, but because they are made and loved by God? Realistically, it is highly unlikely that my daughter will ‘just’ be a mum when she hits adulthood – real life usually demands a salary of some sort, and besides, I have every belief that God has given her the most incredible gifts to contribute to wider society, as well as her own children (should she have them). But if my opinion of her is based on what she ‘achieves’ according to the world’s views, this doesn’t show her the God who loves her because of who she is. It also devalues the role of motherhood, every bit as important as fatherhood, and not something to campaign against just because there are ways in which some families and societies are ordered which do constitute a form of female suppression. Nowadays, investing in motherhood can be a true feminist option: a ‘right’, a ‘choice’ that many have the freedom to make to whatever extent they like. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – but, rather, let’s be willing to think creatively and boldly about family, work, vocation and the Kingdom of God. It may not look as we imagine.

 

  • Godly feminism is not about trying to get one over everybody else – and those of us who call ourselves Christians must resist a worldview of unhealthy competition and ladder-climbing. The Bible’s teaching on equality is radically different: it is that, rather than compete with one another, we all submit to one another. The problems come when this submission is not equal. The Biblical model is that women submit to men, men submit to women, and we all submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.) The world says we reach equality when we strive to equal the achievements or status of the opposite sex – but the Bible says we reach equality when we self-sacrificially serve each other’s needs. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” This – not aspiring to be better than everyone else, but serving each other’s needs – is how true equality is achieved, and will be achieved in the new heaven and new earth. Are we teaching our children to respect others, of all genders and backgrounds? Are we teaching them to serve sacrificially and without reward? Are we teaching them not to think less of themselves, but to think of themselves less?

Drawing these perspectives together, we see that the Biblical model of gender equality is based on healthy amounts of self-worth and humility. A distortion of the former leads to oppression of others – a distortion of the latter leads to being oppressed by others. Neither results in equality.

As Christians, we have a unique basis for these two qualities. We have self-worth through knowing that God made us, that He has entrusted us with caring for the world, that He so desperately wants a relationship with us that He sacrificed His only son in order that we could enjoy life with Him forever. We have humility because, in light of these truths, we realise that our skills and knowledge, our passion and vision, are so small in comparison to the God who gave us life. And we are aware of all the ways in which we hurt this God, this ever-loving, slow-to-anger Father – how we don’t deserve to sit in His presence, yet are able to do so through grace alone.

So, in light of this, with regards to our parenting:

1) Let’s affirm our children’s self-worth as much as possible. Christian parents, this is an easy job if you’re reading the Bible with your kids, as there’s so much packed in there about our identity being in Christ. We are so totally precious and loved by God that our gender is not even a consideration when totting up our value. When my kids do things that make me proud – winning ‘Star of the Week’ or getting full marks on a spelling test – I praise them, but always make a point of telling them that even if they were the worst behaved that week, or got 0 on their test, I would still love them just as much. It’s a little crass, and I always cringe as I say it, but I’d rather do crass than raise children who associate their value with their achievement.

There is plenty of gender discrimination in the world and, sadly, in the church – but I think much of it stems from how women are seen and treated in their families. A woman who has a secure base – parents and/or a husband/partner who believe in her – will find it easier to overcome discriminatory obstacles in everyday life and in the workplace. Raise your girls (and your boys) to be confident in the abilities God has given them. And raise your sons (and your daughters) to honour the gifts God has given to the women (men) around them. If you’re married, model a positive relationship of mutual respect and division of labour – your children will model their future households on this. Show your children how they deserve to be treated – and show them to recognise signs of ill-treatment.

2) Let’s encourage humility in our kids when relating to others – and let’s model it ourselves. We often think that we need to raise our girls up to believe they can do anything – but it’s equally important to raise our boys to understand what it might mean for them to allow girls to do anything – a stepping aside, a demotion, a position which holds little ‘status’ in the world’s eyes. Far from the arrogance and ladder-climbing we see in misogynistic cultures (and, occasionally, in some secular feminist writings too), teach your boys and your girls to follow Christ’s example, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7).

The most humble person in history was a man – Jesus Christ – and, if we look to him, we will find enough self-worth and humility to serve one another as equals. I relish the day when gender discrimination will be a thing of the past – but, for now, let’s be encouraged by the work of the Holy Spirit in us and our children, shaping us to be more like Jesus, who stood for equality right up to death.

 

For the first time in five years of writing this blog, I’ve received editorial help from another, so feel it only right that I should credit her here. Thank you, wonderful friend, for reading this through, for your gracious comments and wise alterations, and for articulating on my behalf where I was getting tangled in knots.

 

what i’m into – may 2017

Once again, I feel like a fraud writing a ‘What I’m into’, when I’ve blogged approximately zero else this month. But at least there has been movement…a post I’ve been drafting for the last couple of months (yes, really) is soon to hit this site! Watch out for it soon.

I have, however, been enjoying life away from the computer screen:

Books

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I mentioned Hunter S. Thompson’s Better than Sex last month. It did take me all month to finish, and Desert Dad thought I was crazy (“Why do you keep reading that when it’s such hard work?”) but what can I say? I’m a starter-finisher and can’t help myself. In a nutshell? Thompson created ‘Gonzo journalism’, where fiction and non-fiction are weaved seamlessly together in a haze of alcohol and, sometimes, recreational drugs. The book is about the 1992 Clinton campaign, with crazed anecdotes thrown in – some of which (I guess) were real, some of which were exaggerated, and some of which might have been totally fabricated for all I know. But his style is quite endearing really. I’m not sure I’ll be reading any more by him – the experience wasn’t unpleasant, but I’m just not that into politics. Or swearing.

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A couple of kids’ books have gone down a storm in the Desert household this month. First up, Fantastically Great Women who changed the World. I discovered this a couple of months ago in an independent bookshop, and we really got into it this month, discovering the achievements of Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Frida Kahlo, Anne Frank, and many more. Mister (7) and Missy (5) loved the way the book is written – succinct chunks of really fascinating info – and the design is beautiful too. I’d recommend it for both boys and girls – and parents! I learnt loads!

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Second, Everything a Child should know about God is a beautifully illustrated systematic theology for kids. Again, my 7yo and 5yo love it – I would say it’s perfect for the 4-8 age group, but could be enjoyed by those younger and older. It does what it says on the tin – under several headings such as All about the Bible, Who God Is, Jesus comes to help us, and Why we go to Church. Desert Dad (fussy theologian) reckons it’s too basic, and doesn’t address the deep questions kids often have – but I reckon it’s a great solid basis for any child being raised in a Christian home, and well worth a fiver. And, besides, I’ve told DD he should meet the gap in the market and develop an apologetics book for kids, so watch this space…

Food

Friends, it was May. Far too late in the year to be continuing to put in any effort whatsoever to creating exciting meal plans. And, besides, the sun shone for at least five days this month, rendering me incapable of doing anything other than throwing some leftovers together or chucking some dead animal on the barbecue. That we did, though – another item ticked off the Summer Bucket List. UK summers (especially in the North) are so short that I often feel like if I haven’t cooked a BBQ, worn shorts, got the paddling pool out, been to the beach and drunk Pimm’s all in one day, I may well have missed my chance for another year.

Actually – what am I saying? This was the month that I made my own sourdough bread, a crazily lengthy process which should really have happened in the enthusiastic days of early January, when anything is possible – not May, when I’m jaded and exhausted. Paul Hollywood claims, enthusiastically, “Once you’ve made your own bread ‘starter’ and produced a few loaves using it, there’ll be no going back to supermarket bread.” Er, yes, except supermarket bread doesn’t involve a small amount of rancid-smelling nothingness sitting on your worktop for several days, demanding as much ‘feeding’ and ‘nurturing’ as a young child, followed by a bread-making process so lengthy it requires you to book childcare and, quite possibly, a haircut – just in case you don’t make it out the other side before your roots are halfway down your head and the split-ends are numerous. OK, I exaggerate, but artistic licence is my privilege and I’m going to use it.

The bread was tasty, though. And lasted about 15 minutes in the presence of my hub’s extended family, with whom I was sharing a house for the weekend. That bit was quick at least.

Needless to say, second-time round I attempted to use the bread machine to speed things up. This picture tells you all you need to know about that idea.

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I made a moussaka which was eaten enthusiastically by ALL SIX MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY, and also the only proper meal I took a picture of this month, so am inserting it here:

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(OK maybe I lie. Perhaps it was five members. Or four. I can’t remember. A majority, anyhow.)

Oh – and one day during May, I may have eaten a lunch which consisted entirely of breadsticks meant for the kiddoes with my absolutely favourite dip. There’s nothing like discovering that a favourite food needs to be used by <today’s date> to throw out my usually maverick attitude towards food safety. Mostly, I’m all “If it smells fine and looks fine and tastes fine, it’s fine” – but on discovering an unopened Onion and Garlic dip, which is the most delicious savoury item in the whole entire universe, I suddenly turned into “Ooh, well I MUST eat that, lest the hub or the kiddoes try it and get food poisoning…what sort of mother would I be to expose them to food one second past its use-by date?”

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That was a good day, and I have no regrets.

Articles

British food explained for Americans made me giggle out loud on several occasions – particularly funny if you know both food cultures.

I’m sure I read other stuff but nothing stands out. Probably just full of crazed Hunter S. Thompson lines to really absorb anything sensible.

Music

This month has been dominated by my kids (Missy especially) discovering Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. We have reached That Stage. Because I’m so cool, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn some new chord sequences as I busked the songs the kids were bringing home, appreciating (in particular) the use of the supertonic and flattened leading note chords in ‘Roar‘ – sadly, I’m not even joking. Quote of the month was Missy announcing, “Wow, Katy Swift [sic] has done that song that’s in ‘Sing’!” I think ‘Katy’ would be thrilled to know that her hard work was being credited to a couple of animated pigs.

Stage and screen

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I’ve had to add the ‘stage’ part to this section this month, because I went to the theatre THREE TIMES!! We saw Stewart Lee, one of my favourite stand-ups. I can’t describe just how brilliant he is, so if you were expecting me to, then watch this instead – it’s total genius. We finally got to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company, after years of not getting round to it, and that was great too. I’m sure I’d have got a lot more of the references had I known more Shakespeare, but it’s so cleverly written that it’d be funny to someone who knew no Shakespeare plays whatsoever.

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Then, because sometimes you need some misery to balance out the fun, I went to see Jane Eyre with a couple of friends. Having read the book and seen various film/TV adaptations, I was interested to see how it would be staged, but it was phenomenal, with a live band on stage and original music which was neither of the period, nor jarring with it. The whole performance seemed to utilise modern theatre techniques without destroying the period and essence of the original. I loved it! It’s still got a fair few dates left on its tour, so click here if you’re interested – I highly recommend it.

Screen-wise, we’ve been glued to the new series of Twin Peaks, having devoured the original seasons a couple of years ago. I’m a girl who likes conclusions, so David Lynch’s bizarre twists and turns and subplots and sub-subplots shouldn’t really be my cup of tea, but I guess with every episode I’m holding out for an answer of some kind. And the ride is so good that I’m not even that bothered.

In other news…

I transformed our garage!

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Perhaps a small feat for many of you, but for me this has been a year-long dream. You read that right. Menial tasks have become something I can only dream of having the time to complete – so this makeover is something I’m immensely proud of. Mister and Missy helped me build the extra storage, and hopefully it means that the clutter-free space is now sustainable.

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As mentioned above, we enjoyed a gorgeous weekend away with the extended fam at a big old farmhouse with indoor pool and beautiful grounds. Clergy families rarely get a weekend away, usually having to save up Sundays-off for summer holidays, so this was a big treat for us all. The kiddoes had a wonderful time in the pool and being spoilt by their relatives, and Mister taught himself to swim in a morning!

I had a job interview – the first in 11 years! I didn’t get it – which I’m totally happy about – but, also, I didn’t make a tit of myself and, in fact, got some rather lovely feedback which made me smile and jump around a little bit. Turns out SAHMs aren’t totally de-skilled when they take a career break 🙂

I went to a bridal shower, and then the subsequent wedding, of some fab church friends. Weddings make me so happy, especially when the main players are so entirely brilliant together.

And, because it was sunny, I did All The Laundry (I have a thing about air-dried clothes), which inevitably meant not being able to keep up with the Putting Away. Piles like this started to appear all over the house.

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But we didn’t care because we were in the garden anyway 🙂

How was your May?

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series.