why can’t we do halloween like our american friends?

Halloween is a couple of days away, and I’m trying to reconcile several different things in my head.

As a Christian, I’m not comfortable with celebrating things that represent evil. I’m not massively keen on being disturbed at home by strangers asking for sweets. I’d rather not try and pretend I’m out so that they won’t knock. Halloween invokes just a little bit of fear in me.

But this doesn’t seem to be how Halloween gets done in the States. Yesterday I read this blog post and it made me so excited for Melissa’s family, their costumes, and the sense of fun mounting in their household right now. I would love to be a member of her family over the next few days!

Like a game of Chinese Whispers, where a message gets distorted from source to destination, something about American Halloween got lost when it was transmitted over here a couple of decades ago. Here, Halloween is (mainly) about witches, wizards, ghouls, goblins, monsters and dark, scary things. In the States, it appears to be essentially a fancy dress festival – I won’t pretend that the dark stuff isn’t present at all, but it seems to be a minority of the overall celebrations. My American friends tell me that little girls dress up as princesses or fairies – not witches. I wonder whether part of it is also celebrating the changing of the seasons – pumpkin carving is not necessarily about creating the scariest face imaginable, but a way to celebrate the coming of Autumn/Fall.

I think this sort of Halloween is one I could subscribe to with authenticity. Don’t get me wrong – I applaud all efforts made by UK churches to offer Light Parties, or similar, on October 31st – and I’m grateful that by the time my kids are old enough to be aware of trick-or-treating, there will be a positive alternative. But it’d be good to have an actual celebration, rather than what feels like an anti-celebration.

Harvest Festival, once celebrated passionately across our country, seems to be diminishing as we become more detached from the source of our food. Perhaps instead, the church should ‘reclaim’ the scary, British Halloween, by taking some ideas from our American friends, and turn it into a kind of Autumn Festival – a chance to dress up, have fun, and thank God for the short days, long nights, cold weather, good food (pumpkins!), and the fact that, by God’s grace, the earth continues to revolve around the Sun. In an age where most Brits barely know their neighbours, perhaps the church should lead the way in being generous on Halloween night where, for once, social etiquette is smashed and strangers show up on our doorsteps.

Just some thoughts. How do you celebrate Halloween? What do you emphasise?

growing basil

I’m a hopeless gardener. My horticultural efforts usually end up like this:

or this:

So I hope you’ll share my joy that recently I’ve managed to do this:

For the last MONTH (yes, that’s right – 30 whole days) I’ve managed to keep this basil plant alive. I’ve even used the leaves in recipes and the plant has grown back. Wow.

I think there are a few reasons for this unexpected success. Firstly, Basil sits right in front of the kitchen sink. I go to this sink 50, perhaps 100, times in a day. So Basil gets a lot of attention. Secondly, I’ve followed advice and watered the roots as well as the surface of the soil.

But the main reason I think Basil has survived is this. Take a closer look at his leaves:

Whilst you couldn’t deny Basil’s a healthy plant, do you see how the leaves look just a little bit sad? Slightly shrivelled? Just a bit droopy? The fact that Basil is always on the cusp of plant-heaven has motivated me to water him the right amount, to turn his leaves so he gets the most sunlight, and to move him to a larger pot when the time was right.

As I’ve looked at Basil over the past weeks, I’ve been pondering how my life is similar. Just as Basil is a little bit sad, I am (more often than not) a little bit tired, a little bit grumpy, a little bit rushed, a little bit behind on life. I’m on the cusp, not of physical death, but of spiritual death.

It’s no secret that I’m awful at any sort of spiritual discipline. Every day I have an inner battle with my lazy self. The result is an open Bible, or a closed Bible – a moment of prayer, or a moment of indulging in more practical tasks – a moment of listening, or just another Facebook check. The other day I tried to imagine what it would be like if I made the right choice each day – if I was one of those people I admire who prioritise time with God each day. BUT – and here’s the reaction I wasn’t expecting – I feared I might then become complacent. I feared that I would believe myself to have ‘made it’ as a Christian. I feared I would not notice the many other faults and failings of my week, but merely be pleased, on a legalistic level, that I’d managed all seven quiet times.

I think the apostle Paul had this sort of daily battle going on, when he wrote “there was given me a thorn in my flesh..to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7). I’m so encouraged by how he goes on to say “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But…I delight in weaknesses…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv.8-10).

So, like Basil and Paul, I pray that I might keep going. I pray that every day I might win the battle over laziness. And I pray that God’s grace, strength and fruitfulness will be displayed through my weary, distracted, havoc-ridden life.

desert mum revisited

I properly started this blog around four months ago. Recently I’ve been thinking about what it was intended to be about, and whether it’s still doing that (or if I want it to). My conclusion is that I do want it to do what I set out for it to do – but maybe I need to revisit the concept of ‘desert mum’ in order to get things straight for everyone.*

I named this blog because I was struck by how arid one’s spiritual life can become during the first stressful few years of motherhood. It’s an experience shared by many of my Christian friends as we seek to be disciples of Christ through the haze of nappies, sleepless nights and toddler tantrums. Church services are often spent entertaining our offspring, being on creche duty, or simply being too tired to focus. Evening cell groups become near impossible to attend: children won’t settle well enough to leave the house, or spouse works too many evenings to make it viable, or you’re just too tired (spot the trend?). Personal quiet times are a huge challenge because…well, you try working the words ‘quiet’ and ‘time’ into a small child’s schedule.

And I don’t wish to be exclusive: things are problematic for Christian Dads too. Often they are the ones chasing offspring round the church on a Sunday morning, giving mums a break. They struggle to get to evening groups, perhaps out of guilt that they’re having an evening ‘off’. As to quiet times: I can only imagine what it’s like to work a full-time paid job, then return home to be flung into job no.2, with little personal space.

So how do we continue discipleship during this time? How do we ensure that we become even more distinctive and Christ-like through our parenting experiences? Because this is my issue. I can see how my life, since becoming a mum, might have turned out differently. The problem would never have been a loss of faith – but more that my faith wouldn’t have gone anywhereAs if stored in a bottle, my faith would have been intact, but there would have been no growth. And, as we’re all called to be disciples of Christ, we cannot afford to have a few years ‘off’ while we rear children.

Several things are helping me through, which I hope to share here over the next few months. But I’ve also blogged on ‘regular’ aspects of parenting – of creativity, of failing, of celebration, of hum-drum-ness. This is all part of ‘desertmum’. God is in the practical and the everyday, the down-to-earth and the ugly. Through blogging about these things, I get to share some of the fullness of life with Him. These more ‘frivolous’ blog posts are not asides to the story. They are the story. My prayer is that you will be encouraged and provoked by this blog, and – ultimately – that you will join me as we journey through the desert together.

Therefore…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. 

(Philippians 2:12-13)

* You may have noticed that I’ve changed the tag-line on the blog header to something which I feel better sums up the purpose of this blog. Feedback very welcome!

the little pile of stuff

This is our little pile of stuff. It is kept by our front door, and consists of things Joel picks up when he’s out. It started just over a week ago, on a park trip with Granny and Grandpa, and is now being added to every few days. The significance of the contents I do not know. But they are significant.

The other day we had brunch with friends. Their nearly-4-year-old had a little pile of stuff. It consisted of a small number of large, and carefully chosen, branches, placed deliberately on the front lawn. Al and I smiled when we saw it.

If you have a little person in your house, then chances are you too have a little pile of stuff. Where is it? What’s in it?

drawstring bags: an idiot’s guide

I am not a seamstress. But, as described in my last post, my children continue to amass toys with component parts which need to be contained in something. (Manufacturers’ boxes are rarely tough enough for toddler usage). Drawstring bags are the answer! What follows is my easy way to make them. I gathered some ideas from the web, then simplified them to make it a no-fuss procedure. If you’re a sewing purist, read no further. You’ll be disgusted at my slovenliness. But if you need to make some bags with as little faff as possible, read on…

You will need: fabric (preferably cotton or something non-stretchy, but I’ve used an old babygrow before and it worked fine), cord (available from craft shops/haberdashers or pinch from an old gift bag), scissors, thread, needle or sewing machine.

1. Decide how big you need your bag to be. Add an inch or so round the edge for seams. Cut out a piece of fabric which is twice this size.

This is too much fabric for the contents…it made a huge bag! You can use less!

2. Place the fabric wrong side up (i.e. so the side you can see is the wrong side). Make a small cut on each side, about an inch from the top of the fabric.

3. Iron the fabric then fold in the tops of the sides, above the small cuts you just made, and iron them flat.

4. Fold the top of the fabric down so the edge of the fabric is in line with the cuts. Iron flat.

5. Place your cord inside this fold. Leave a short length coming out of each side, and cut to size if necessary. Sew the fabric to itself, so that the cord is now encased in its own little ‘envelope’. Be careful not to sew through the cord!

6. Fold your fabric in half, widthways, so that the wrong side is on the outside. Iron the fold. Sew fabric together along the side and the bottom. Make sure the stitches along the side match up with the cuts you made earlier. Tie ends of cord together. I just double knot them but some of you may know more exhibitionist knots.

7. Turn bag inside out and hey presto! Use for jigsaws, games, PJs, story bags…the list is endless!

toy storage

Not the most glamorous title, I know, but it’s something I’ve been chatting to friends about recently, and it seems we all struggle. One friend reckons toy storage should be taught in antenatal classes, it’s so tricky. I have to agree. (At this point, apologies if you don’t have kids. You will find this post immensely dull. Don’t even try. I hereby give you permission to stop reading now and go and have fun instead.)

How to store toys in a practical, space-saving and easily accessible way, without having them take over your house (life), is something which occupies my brain far more than it should. I’m not sure I’ve cracked it, but I have learned a few helpful things along the way, and I offer them now as nothing more than somewhere to start. Each family’s lifestyle and home-layout will be unique, so I’m not claiming the following tips to be generically useful to all, but maybe there’ll be one or two nuggets in there…

This is ‘tidy’ at the end of a Thursday. (Note, the definition of ‘tidy’ gets progressively more creative as the week goes on.)

Never attempt to sort through toys when your kids are around. It just doesn’t work – I’ve tried it. Always chasing a democratic household, I offer Joel a choice as to which toys will go upstairs, and which will stay downstairs. The former pile is non-existent, while the latter grows. Toys he hasn’t played with in months – or ever – suddenly become his new favourite thing. Sometimes a dictatorship is the only way to go.

Be honest about the toys your kids are actually playing with. Not the ones you’d like them to play with (because they were expensive/look nice/came from the cute toy shop on Gillygate/all three).

Make the most of ‘wasted’ space (e.g. under beds/cots, tops of wardrobes…) to store less-played-with toys. A good investment for us was some under-bed storage boxes on castors. They’re easy to get out, so the toys are still very accessible, but it frees lounge space for the ones that are played with regularly.

Charity shop unplayed-with toys. Unless you’re saving them for a next child. Even then, be selective. Does your next baby need 16 different teethers?

Group like toys together. Again, an investment in some sturdy plastic boxes, or storage baskets, will pay dividends. We have boxes and baskets for musical instruments, cars, Duplo, animals, to name a few.

Drawstring bags!!! I’m excited by these. Can you tell?! We have so many toys which consist of multiple small-ish parts – an indoor croquet set, Mr Potato Head and his various facial features, jigsaw puzzles and so on. We need a way of keeping the pieces together (as much as is reasonable to expect, in a household containing under 3s) – but boxes are bulky and take up too much space in a toy box. Bags need some way of closing, so things don’t fall out, but also need to be easily opened by your kids. Drawstring bags are the solution! I’ve made loads of these for toy storage, and they work brilliantly. Instructions to follow in a future blog post…watch this space!

Remember: toys migrate. They just do. No point scolding your kids about it – toys are just constantly on the move from one room to another, and so far I’ve found I can do absolutely nothing about it. My solution? Have a box in each room into which toys can be thrown when attempting to tidy up.

Travel bag. We have a plethora of small toys which get lost at the bottom of toy boxes: party bag gifts, free toys from cbeebies magazine, etc. Our kids LOVE these tiny things, but often can’t find them in a (relatively) huge toy box. A seemingly unrelated problem is that whenever we’re going on a long-ish journey, or to a place where we know there won’t be toys, we scramble round the house, desperately trying to find suitable small toys to take with us (whilst simultaneously changing nappies, finding lost gloves, Google-Mapping the route etc.). My solution is, when I find these toys, to pop them in a bag which we keep in the hall. The tiny toys don’t get lost – and we have a ready-made bag we can grab quickly on the way out the door when we need to. Two problems solved.

Our travel bag. Yes, that really is a Smarties tube in the top left hand corner. Don’t ask.

Dump and run. At the end of the day, we all need a ‘dump and run’ toy box – something into which all the miscellaneous items can be thrown. A box, if you like, with no agenda. This is our main toy box in our lounge. It has a lid and, although I rarely slim down the contents enough for the lid to fit, the idea was always that it would help to make the space a bit more ‘adult’ for the evenings. The thought’s there, anyway.

The ‘box of no agenda’…
…with the lid that barely gets used.

Finally – flexibility. Kids change – learn to adapt. Every few months I find myself needing to re-assess things. Younger-age toys must be put away, space needs to be found for new things my children are getting into. Don’t get comfortable.

Those are my tips – what are yours?