the bucket explained

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that I’ve recently been ticking items off a ‘bucket list’. (You can read previous posts on this here and here.) The term ‘bucket list’ was coined by a friend a few months ago when, upon hearing we were leaving York, said, “So, do you have a bucket list?” Our brains work in the same twisted way, so I instantly knew what he meant without having to seek clarification, but perhaps I’ve been a little too hasty to assume that your mind, dear reader, is equally twisted. So I’d better explain…a ‘bucket list’ is a list of things one hopes to do before he/she ‘kicks the bucket’ – a nicer way of saying “100 things to do before I die”, I guess. I’m not intending to die particularly soon, but my bucket list consists, instead, of the things I want to do before I leave York.

(Except…we’re now not leaving York. At least, not yet. Oh dear, that’s a long story – wait for another post to explain all that, and forget I mentioned it. Breathe. Refocus. This post is about all the fun I’ve been having in York.)

I’m a little behind on bucket list updates, I’m afraid, so there’s quite a bit to come. I’ll try and be brief, but you’ll know brevity doesn’t come naturally to me, so, you know, just warning you.

First stop was the House of the Trembling Madness. I persuaded my Tuesday Tots leaders to hold our end-of-term celebration/meeting there (I’m becoming quite the expert at steering friends towards places on my list…) and it was great. Firstly, the building is VERY old. I’m no historian, but I’d say Roman. Viking. Medieval. One of those. So the place has a great atmosphere. The food was rustic and hearty – I had a mixed platter of yummy meats, cheese, chutneys and stuff. OK, I’m winging it now – this was back in March, right? So my memory’s failing me. There was duck. And stuff. I’d go back.

Next up was the York Wheel. Now I kind of knew this would be a bit rubbish before I paid good money to experience it, but went because a) it felt like something that needed to be done, and b) Mister was keen. His little friend was keen too, so our two families managed to find a time when none of us were working (work – who am I kidding?), the kids were awake and the skies were clear, and made our little excursion. It was fine. Reasonable view of York, and we got several rotations (the thing really isn’t very big) to spot new things each time. I’m actually rubbish at spotting landmarks from a distance, although I did manage to correctly identify the Minster:

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Thirdly, we took a walk on the North York Moors. My bro and his family came to stay;  he insisted that they help me tick off some more of my bucket list, and then, in a roundabout sort of way, rejected all my suggestions. It might have been a more efficient use of our first evening together for him to outline his plans first-off, rather than discuss options for two hours before landing with his – but he’s a kindly fellow, and not taken to overtly forcing his views on anyone. But he got his way. So, the following day, we set out for Dalby Forest.

Finding a walk suitable for four kids aged 10, 9, 3 and 1, with enough interesting features to keep their attention (rather than resorting to “Look! There’s the sky!” every 30 seconds) and small enough distance to piggy-back the 3-year-old if he needs it, is so tantalizingly impossible it’s pretty much laughable. But the walk we did, just a small number of miles (again, this was April, so forgive the fuzziness), and with interesting rock formations along the way, cut the mustard. (Thank the Lord for precious people who put walks on t’Internet for mere mortals who haven’t got a clue.)

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There was also an interestingly-shaped tree, which always makes life better:

Joel with Uncle "I don't mind where we go, as long as it's Dalby Forest" Colin
Mister with Uncle “I don’t mind where we go, as long as it’s Dalby Forest” Colin

The fourth bucket trip since I last wrote was to Le Langhe, an incredible Italian restaurant. We were taken by some very kind friends at the end of our first Sabbath week – the dates were coincidental, but I know you’ll never believe that. I’d been wanting to go for some time, having heard lots of recommendations from friends. At this point, I’m trying to type what I ate, but I keep deleting what I write and starting again, and deleting, and starting again. Damn! Should have made a note or at least taken some photos. I’ll have a go. Starter was perhaps fish. Main was some sort of game? And dessert was…there. (Actually, a quick look at the website has jogged my memory that it was, in fact, an utterly more-ish hazelnut tart with chocolate mousse.) But the main food item which stands out in my memory was a delicious side of courgette fries, perfectly deep fried and full of flavour: something to attempt at home some day. It was a delicious meal – but, and I feel like a broken record as I say this, it did seem pricey and the portions slightly small. There could have been more vegetables to accompany the main course (I could easily have demolished several bowls of the courgette loveliness on my lonesome). A bit like never getting over an old boyfriend, nothing in my mind quite matches up to the quality and value you get at Cafe No. 8. And now I’ll stop, because that’s definitely not the first time I’ve said that on this blog. Suffice to say that it was a lovely meal, couldn’t fault it, but shared with even lovelier friends.

It’s always a treat to do something in the daytime sans kids, and my good friend Jen and I managed that a few weeks ago when we took an afternoon to climb York Minster tower. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how deep friendships come out of quite insignificant moments. When we were preparing to move to York four years ago, a lady I hardly knew from our church handed me a scrap of paper with her daughter’s email address scrawled on it. “She’s just moved to York. She’s expecting a baby too.” Be best friends, she might as well have said. I could have lost the address, ignored it – she might never have replied. But I didn’t, and she did – and now, two children and a lot of cake later, Jen is my best friend here in York. She’s amazingly dependable, a wonderful listener to my babble, and a creative and intuitive parent. I’m so pleased we’re friends. For her birthday treat, I managed to coordinate dads-off-work to look after our kids, and we spent the most gloriously blue-skied afternoon climbing lots of steps:

2013-06-04 14.40.14to get some amazing views such as this:

2013-06-04 14.53.57The huge house in the foreground is ours, whereas where I’d love to live is a tiny speck near the top of the horizon. Except – the opposite.

Here’s what my church looks like from above:

2013-06-04 15.38.38(as well as our good selves, of course).

And, after burning all those calories, where better to replenish supplies than at Gray’s Court? (Betty’s is so 1919.)

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Finally (at long last, you say), a Chinese acquaintance had recommended that the most authentic place for Chinese food in York had to be Red Chilli, so that made it to my bucket list. I hadn’t yet planned when to go or who to go with, but was on a trip to see friends in Leeds recently, when it just so happened that the restaurant my friend had booked was…Red Chilli! Something of a Northern mini-chain of authentic Chinese restaurants, Red Chilli was filled with Chinese people, mainly eating things I couldn’t identify. The menu was full of offal – enough said. It did strike me as the sort of place where you need to know what you’re ordering – I happened to hit jackpot with both starter and main course (salt and pepper squid, followed by crispy beef – both fabulous). The dishes came as they were (my friend’s starter was cold duck – and it was just that, no salad or any accompaniments), so if I were to go again, I’d ask the staff’s recommendations of what to order, as I reckon a good meal at Red Chilli might be made up of several complementary dishes.

And now I’ve distracted you from the fact that I went to Leeds to fulfil one of my York bucket list items, right?!

sabbath week the second

Right, so we’ve just come to the end of our second Sabbath week (follow the link if you have no idea what I’m on about, then check out subsequent Sabbath week updates for more details). I kept it quiet to avoid sabotage, so here’s my all-in-one report on how it went.

Our last Sabbath week got me thinking about God’s generosity. So this time, I set myself a challenge. Not only would our family not buy any food or drink for the week, but we would aim to share our food with at least one other person every day during the week. Guess what? We managed it!

Sunday – six friends came for lunch;

Monday – I provided cake and snacks for my Belfrey group;

Tuesday – I took cake along to Tuesday Tots;

Wednesday – we contributed juice and cocktail sausages to the launch party of our church’s new youth and children’s basement;

Thursday – my friend’s little girl joined us for lunch; Desert Dad had a friend round for dinner;

Friday – Mister had a friend for tea; two of our friends came for dinner later;

Saturday – we had a picnic with friends: we shared our fruit and cookies;

Sunday – Desert Dad took cake along to a lunch meeting;

Guess what else happened? On pretty much every day, someone else shared food with us.

Monday – my friend had me and the kids round for lunch;

Tuesday – I went out for a curry…”WHAT??!!” (Before you accuse me of all sorts of hypocrisy, let me explain that it was a Tuesday Tots Mums’ Social. So, basically, it was business. I may have had fun, and the meal may have been delicious, but that is not the point. It was entirely self-sacrificial.)

Wednesday – we ate others’ food at the launch party;

Thursday – I had dinner at a friend’s house;

Sunday – Desert Dad enjoyed lunch that others had brought to the meeting.

So, essentially, I was intrigued by the number of opportunities for sharing food which are presented by a typical week. My lifestyle wasn’t always like this, and it may be that yours currently isn’t. But isn’t it interesting that when we share, we end up with more than enough? (I haven’t yet said it, but you may have already guessed that we didn’t starve during Sabbath week.)

Recently, I was thinking about the story where Jesus feeds 5,000 with just the packed lunch of a young boy. What struck me was this: presumably that boy ended up eating more than what he’d brought with him that day – five loaves and two fish. Of course we know nothing about what his appetite was doing that day – apart from a decent guess that, as a growing boy, he could probably get through a hefty amount of grub – but certainly we know for sure that there was the potential for him to have eaten more than he brought, because of the twelve baskets of leftovers. Essentially, God’s economy seems to be saying that when we share, we all end up with more. God hasn’t designed us to be people who hoard (Matthew 6:19) and think only about themselves, but people who are community-minded, consider others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4) and continually give to others as and when they have need (Acts 4:32-35).

Am I living this sort of life?


Hmmm. While I’m pondering that one, here are some other Sabbath week highlights:

* running out of garlic, and fishing out a peeled clove in a jar of roasted peppers

* not running out of eggs, which we lacked last Sabbath week, and enjoying plenty of home-made cookies, omelettes, boiled eggs and egg-fried rice:

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* finding uses for a large amount of cake left over from a party the previous Saturday

* arriving home on Tuesday to this (from our housemate – no of course it wasn’t Al, silly reader you)

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The label reads ‘Eat me’. Sorry, still haven’t figured out new camera.

* making houmus with Missy (although the associated lowlight was that neither child would touch it with a barge-pole):

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* the arrival of our fruit and veg box on Friday (since last Sabbath week, we’ve started getting a veg box – it comes on Fridays so I decided to cancel it the week before Sabbath week, resulting in this bonanza at the end of our week of no food shopping)

* having enough toppings for Mister, Missy and their friend to make pizzas for their tea on Friday night

* waking up on Saturday, realising we had no bread for our picnic and no time to put the bread machine on before we had to leave – and making soda bread (which, if you’ve never tried it, is quick (like, 10 minutes quick) and yummy)

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Sabbath week, for us, is not a gimmick or a one-off experiment. It’s becoming a lifestyle pattern – and I like it. I like what it does to our family. I like that there’s no hurrying about to the shops, trying to pick up bits and bobs on the way home, or being stuck in rush hour because we just had to have that for dinner. Yes, there’s planning involved, but this is done on the hoof, it doesn’t eat into our week…no pun intended. I like that Sabbath week makes me more creative with food, and shows me that actually we have plenty of food for a variety of different occasions. I like not taking for granted the variety available in the shops.

Most of all, I like how God is using these weeks to teach me more, not only about food, but about His generosity and provision. Slowly but surely, He’s shaping me into the sort of consumer he wants me to be: one who shares His values for this planet. It’s not easy – but it’s satisfying.

And I like that very much indeed. Now excuse me while I go and have my dinner of houmus, pitta, peas, tomatoes, pasta, soda bread and tuna mayonnaise.

elderflower cordial: an idiot’s guide

DomesticTourists.pngConsidering its popularity, I’m amazed that so few people make their own elderflower cordial. It really is incredibly easy.

My guess, though, is that there are a few things at the outset which stump people, and then the whole thing becomes too much hassle. This post is an attempt to un-stump the process of making elderflower cordial – because the homemade version really is so much better than anything you can buy.

First off, you’re going to need to recognise elderflower. It’s a white flower which can be found in hedgerows, parks, by the side of the road etc during June. It’s not this:

2013-06-15 10.58.01This is cow parsley (at least, that’s the name I know it by) and it’s around in June, like elderflower.

This isn’t elderflower either:

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Nor this:

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Don’t ask me what they are, but they’re not elderflower. I know them as white flowers which bloom around the same time as elderflower, presumably just to confuse us mere mortals into not bothering to make our own elderflower cordial.

THIS is elderflower:



And if you’re not sure, go up and give it a sniff – elderflower even smells of elderflower.

You’ll need around 20 of these white flower heads. Legend goes that you must pick them on a sunny day in order to get the best flavour. No idea whether this is true; all I can say is that I’ve always managed to pick them during a sunny few minutes squeezed into a rainy day, and the resulting flavour has always been excellent.

Anyway, once you pick them, you need to be ready to use them immediately, so now you know how to recognise them, get the other bits and bobs together first.

You’ll need some citric acid. You can get this from Lakeland, Amazon, Wilko, or some chemists – but be prepared to be looked at rather suspiciously and asked what you’re intending to use it for, as it’s (supposedly) used in the taking of heroin. For this reason (I imagine) Boots have stopped selling it. I’ve found it in Lloyds Pharmacy before.

If you want to avoid an awkward conversation, however, I’d buy it online.

It’s also helpful to have a couple of clean tea towels, one of which you don’t mind getting ruined, and a stash of plastic bottles in which to store the drink. (You can use glass, but then you won’t be able to freeze them. And elderflower freezes really well. I always make a double stash and we’re still drinking it at Christmas – although we have been known to get through a bottle in an evening before.)

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If you haven’t got any medium-sized plastic bottles (squash bottles are ideal – fizzy drink bottles are too big) then do what I usually do, and buy a multipack of bottled water. You can decant the water into something else, and then you have several bottles of perfect size for storing/freezing elderflower and you don’t even need to wash them.

The rest is plain sailing: one lemon, 1.5kg of sugar and 1.2l boiling water.

This is what you do:

Shake the elderflower leaves to get rid of any nasties. Put them in a huge saucepan/bucket/bowl, along with one sliced lemon, 1.5kg sugar and 2 tsp citric acid. Cover with 1.2l boiling water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cover with a clean tea towel, put out of the way somewhere, and stir twice a day for four days.

After four days, strain the liquid. I find the best method is to line a sieve with an old, clean tea towel. I balance this over a large bowl and pour in the elderflower. It takes a while to strain this away, so go off and do something else, and just return when you can to pour in a bit more.

BUT – it is worth it, as the resulting liquid will be clear and delicious.

Then – bottle! It will keep for up to one month in the fridge, but, like I said, freezes well too. It also makes excellent presents, if you can bear to give the stuff away.

I wouldn’t know.

This post contains affiliate links. Don’t shoot me. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. It works out far less than the minimum wage. Thanks for your support.DomesticTourists.png

happy birthday, desertmum!

OK, it’s not an exact birthday – but Father’s Day last year marked the start of me trying to take this blog seriously and write regularly. I have no pearls of wisdom to share on Father’s Day this year, so forgive me if I recycle last year’s post, which can be found here. I just re-read it for the first time in ages, and found myself welling up again – if you’re a newer friend of desertmum, do have a quick look! (Oh, and while I’m lazily re-using old posts, do check out a recent short blog I wrote for Childrenswork magazine.)

But this is also a great chance to say THANK YOU! For reading, for encouraging, for supporting. When I started writing this blog, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to write about, but that’s expanded and broadened as I’ve had so much lovely and thought-provoking feedback from all you wonderful people. I’ve discovered that the things I thought wouldn’t interest you actually do – and, likewise, some of the things I was certain would provoke comment didn’t! It’s all been a great learning curve for me, and a great way to organise the thoughts that, during the day, I don’t have much opportunity to share with other adults. (At least, I might get part way there, before a nappy explosion, toy dispute or tumble off the sofa interrupts things!)

I’m sorry the blog’s been a little quiet of late. My life’s been – well, Interesting. And when life gets Interesting, the blog goes quiet! Rest assured, however, that just as soon as I have a moment, I’ll put fingers to keyboard again and share thoughts galore. There’s so much I want to blog about in the next month – watch this space!

Oh, and for those of you who spotted that I was between cameras, I thought I’d share a (rubbish, phone-camera) pic of our new camera, which just arrived!

2013-06-16 21.11.17I have no idea how to use it, and the manual’s in Spanish, but when I find time to download the English version and figure it all out, we can all say a relieved ‘goodbye’ to the dodgy photo quality you’ve come to expect from me. It will mark a new era in desertmum’s life. Hoorah.

mister wants a tattoo

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“Monster” by Mister, drawn this morning.

At least, I think he does.

On our way home from church this evening, we passed a man with a heavily-tattooed arm. “I want my arm to look like his arm,” said Mister.

“Ah,” I replied. “You want a tattoo?”

“No,” he insisted firmly. “I want a robot.”

Puzzled, I continued, “Er…well a tattoo is just a picture on your arm. You could have a robot tattoo.”

He didn’t seem to make the connection, but was clearly impressed by having a drawing on your arm. I didn’t feel it my place to inform him of a) the pain, b) the cost, and c) the legalities (quite a few years to go until he’s allowed one) of tattooing, but found this little exchange rather amusing.

It may come as a surprise to you to hear that I want Mister to have a tattoo also. I want him to have a tattoo of God’s words fixed so firmly into his life that he longs to please Christ more than anyone else.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19

The older Mister gets, the more passionately I hope and pray for Him to know and love Jesus throughout his life. Above everything I could possibly want for him and his future, this is the prized possession, the one goal of eternal value.

Yes, I hope he does well academically – but not at the expense of craving godly wisdom and understanding.

Yes, I hope he excels at music or sport or art or something impressive – but not at the expense of understanding that God loves him even if he never ‘achieves’ anything impressive in human terms.

Yes, I hope he ends up doing a job he loves – but not at the expense of realising the perfect plan God has for him.

Yes, I hope he marries and has his own children one day – but not at the expense of forsaking his true Bridegroom (John 3:29).

Yes, I want the best for him – but I know that God’s best is the very best I could possibly pray for him.

Mister – my adored son,

The more days I spend with you, the more I so desperately want your life to reflect God’s glory. I praise God that you’ve come to know Jesus as your ‘friend’, and pray that as you grow and experience new things – good and bad – you will always know the love, protection and guidance of the One who sent His son to die for you. And I pray that, as you grow into this realisation, you will want to live more devotedly, more passionately, more distinctively as His adored son and disciple.


Mummy x