Posted in celebration, christmas, me, york

an idiot’s guide to ethical christmas shopping

Last month, a Facebook status from a friend, asking for ideas as to how to shop more ethically this Christmas, confirmed the desire I’d had for several weeks to blog on this issue. It’s clearly something people want to talk about!

Of course, ‘ethical’ is a sliding scale. We can be ‘more’ or ‘less’ ethical in our lifestyles – but, as a result of sin, we will never be able to live our lives with a zero carbon (or any other) footprint. And it seems that just as we’re trying to be ‘more’ ethical, we hear of yet another company whose ethics are questionable. Earlier this year, even Fair Trade food companies came under fire. I find it helpful to consider how I would justify my decisions before God – He knows of my situation, my limited finances, my knowledge of injustice, as well as my lack of knowledge. So, please, rather than feeling guilty at the word ‘ethical’, instead be encouraged by Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now, our family lives on a fairly limited budget for most of the year – but Christmas, giving gifts to others, is an excuse to spend some money, to invest in the economy! But there’s a choice here: do I invest in the large companies, the high street shops and supermarkets? Do I contribute to lining the pockets of Amazon directors? Or do I want my money to be invested in businesses where people come first? My pound can do an awful lot of damage – or an awful lot of good. Let’s be encouraged that God has prepared ‘good works’ in advance for us to do, rather than focus on things we aren’t able to be so ethical about. We can actually do some good!

There is no right or wrong approach, I merely offer some ideas from my own experience. I would love to hear yours (please do comment!). And apologies for non-York residents, when I mention local shops; I’ve tried to offer general, nationwide ideas too.

* Firstly, I start with the Fair Trade companies. They have limited gift ranges, so I prioritise their catalogues to maximise the money spent with them. I use the fantastic Fairer World shop here in York, but elsewhere Fair Trade shops can often be found in cathedrals and large churches, or there are one-off fair trade markets and stalls. Shared Earth shops can be found in Liverpool and York (and you can buy online). If you can’t get to a shop, why not look up the Created and Traidcraft catalogues online. Both companies also sell beautiful Christmas decorations which I love.

* Next, I look for other local social enterprises to support. In York, these include the fantastic Bike Rescue Project (which employs and trains ex-offenders and others struggling to get employment and experience), York Disabled Workers Cooperative (beautiful woodwork) and, my personal favourite, Mermaid and Miller – frustratingly not open at the moment, due to change in premises, but still hoping to open later this month 🙂 Mermaid and Miller employ adults with learning disabilities, and train them in a variety of crafts. What they sell is beautiful – and much of it is old second-hand pieces lovingly upcycled into something quirky and different. Very reasonable prices too. Go check them out!

* Then I widen the net to other local, independent businesses. And boy are we blessed with those in York! (Non-Yorkies, feel free to ignore the following paragraph – you’ll have your own local places to support!) I love Shine, Snow Home, Love Cheese, Look What Mum’s Made, Blossom & Walker, Collection Box and York Cocoa House to name but a few. OK, so I don’t know the working conditions of those making the products, or whether the raw materials came from sweatshops overseas (although chances are that most of these products are made in the UK, many even made locally). I do know, however, that the presence of these shops in our towns and cities makes life better. I want to support them. I want the people who make these lovely, unique items to be able to make a living from being creative. And they’re just much nicer gifts! With lots of family and friends living far away, a gift which has ‘York’ on the label, or which simply wouldn’t be found anywhere else in the country, is pretty special in my opinion.

* Finally, when I need to use large retail outlets or websites, I choose carefully. In my family, there are lots of Christmas Lists. Some of the items – specific books, games, DVDs or toys – are impossible to buy from independent businesses. So – what to do? I try to avoid Amazon at all cost. Not always possible, but I try. I like using play.com. Who knows if they’re any better? Again, we do what we can given our circumstances, and trust God’s grace for the rest. For a book I bought recently for a birthday present, I used Waterstone’s online. If I can’t make it into town, at least I can invest some money in a high street retailer by using their website – which I think is preferable to an exclusively online shop. And of course there are companies like John Lewis, known for their ethical values.

Quite often, the ethical choice is pricier than its alternative, something which often drives us to the supermarkets, with its heavily-laden aisles of cheap gifts. But, as someone who’s on a budget (yes, even for Christmas), I want to reassure you that the ethical alternative can and does work. I spend the same as I would have done – but buy less. (Who needs more rubbish at Christmas?) It’s better quality, though, and will probably last longer. There’s more value, I think, in the uniqueness of the present – a gift, after all, should say something about the giver, and the relationship between giver and recipient. This Christmas, let’s make our pounds do some good.

Posted in bible reading, book review, family, jesus, parenting

play through the bible – a review and a GIVEAWAY!!!

mortarboard[1]

Over a decade ago, as my friends and I were approaching the end of university and the start of Real Life, I remember asking one particular friend what she wanted to do in the future. “I’m not sure exactly,” she started – and then her eyes lit up: “but I’m just so excited about the Bible, and I’d love to be able to share that with people.”

Perhaps, I thought, my friend would do a PhD and teach academically, or take on a teaching position within a church or Christian organisation. However, her calling was to be greater than that: Alice Buckley has written a book which unlocks the Bible not for lofty academics, but for preschoolers – and I genuinely believe that it has a thousand times more potential for changing lives than any of the weak-by-comparison suggestions my mind played through. Why start teaching the Bible at 18 when you can teach it from birth?

20141104_121133[1]

Play through the Bible works like this: There are 20 stories from Luke’s gospel. Alice suggests that you take one story per week, the daily repetition helping kids to remember it. She has expertly rewritten each story with language simple enough for a very small child to understand, as well as plenty of opportunities for them to join in – and, of course, there are numerous suggestions for actions, signs and voices you may like to use, as well as props (all of which can be found around the home). The suggestion is that families find a few minutes each day in which to tell this story – perhaps over a meal (we do ours over breakfast). However, anyone who’s even been within five miles of a preschool family knows that there will be a plethora of reasons why this might not always happen – but Alice is so grace-filled in her approach “Let’s agree not to guilt-trip when we miss a day (or week, or month!)…Deal?” she offers, reassuringly.

20141101_144119[1]
Missy trying to ‘fix’ a ripped sheet of paper. Jesus can fix us when we’re poorly!
And then, the genius: every story comes with multiple play ideas related to the theme. Again, Alice is realistic, suggesting families concentrate on just one or two things. As a mum of three young children, she knows what fits easily into our lives, and recognises that each child learns differently. There are ideas for craft and cooking, things to spot or do when in the park or walking down the street, active games to play in the home and outdoors, and ideas for bringing Jesus naturally into the conversation.

20141015_164848[1]
Missy making her scrapbook.
In week one, when we heard about Jesus being God’s son, we used Alice’s idea of making a scrapbook to illustrate the point. Missy had been given one for her birthday, and loved filling it with pictures of her favourite Disney characters and other random colouring pages! Once made, it became an integral prequel to our telling of the Bible story: we would go through the book asking: “Is this my daughter?” with the kids responding “NO!” until we reached a photo of Missy at the very end – “YES!”. In the same way: “Is John the Baptist God’s son?”, “Is Jesus God’s son?” – you get the idea!

Week 2 was about Jesus being tempted in the desert, and how he listened to God, not the devil. My children’s favourite activity from the selection was playing ‘Simon Says’, which we played at the breakfast table each morning with no props or preparation – and yet it clearly brought home the point about listening!

20141101_135756[1]
Jesus’ healing miracles – poorly toys!
Last week, we looked at Jesus’ healing miracles. As luck would have it, I took my kids for their flu vaccinations last week: it was a great opportunity to reinforce the story through talking about how Jesus heals – that he heals through medicine, but also that he can heal just by touching people, without any need for medicine. It wasn’t a long, deep conversation – it wasn’t onerous, and it wasn’t hard to remember to do – it was very natural, because we’d been thinking about healing all week. This week, we’re onto Jesus and the fishermen – and Mister is already looking forward to a fish-and-chips dinner later on this week!

20141104_121154[1]
This week’s story…complete with sieve/’net’ and cardboard fish!
The suggested age range for this book is 2-7, but we’ve been using Alice’s ideas (from her excellent blog) since Mister was 2 and Missy was a baby. Who knows what Missy was taking in, but it certainly wasn’t harming her to start hearing God’s word played out in a fun way! The very first time I saw Missy respond to God’s word was when she was around 16 months. She had very few words, and a handful of signs – but when, sometime shortly after Christmas, I mentioned the name ‘Jesus’, she signed ‘baby’. A small gesture, but a miraculous one: Missy was demonstrating that she’d taken in something from the Christmas story – Jesus being born as a baby! There really isn’t a start age for teaching God’s word. The problem is that most ‘preschool’ resources up until now have focused primarily on the 3-5 age group, i.e. children with some amount of verbal communication. Play through the Bible is unique in reaching children with God’s word before they can verbally communicate.

I knew this book would be incredible, because Alice’s ideas have been tried and tested in our family over the last three years. What I didn’t know was how beautiful the book would end up looking. It’s fab! Bright and colourful, with lovely illustrations and photos. Whilst the words are aimed at grown-ups, the book is enticing enough to have open on the breakfast table. My kids love looking at the pictures and trying to guess all the ideas we may (or may not!) get round to doing in the week!

20141101_144220[1]
Mister trying to fix a broken toy: Jesus can fix broken people 🙂
This book has the power not just to change children’s lives, but the attitude of us parents, as we step up to the responsibility God has given us for teaching our children His ways. It’s not only a great resource in itself, it opens up a dialogue about how we can teach our children about the God who loves them. Think what priceless treasures we’re passing on to our kids if we’re able to teach them God’s word right from the start of their lives!

If you don’t believe me, why not check out SparklePetal’s review here? And, while you’re at it, you can view Alice’s promo video for the book here!

Now – who would like a free copy? Type a comment below and I’ll put all the names into a suitable receptacle on Sunday evening (Nov 9th) – the winner will receive a copy in the post at some point next week. Even if you don’t have young children – why not enter anyway? I’m sure any family you know would be totally blessed by this surprise gift! I’ll announce the winner on Facebook (as well as letting them know personally).

Disclaimer: No payment has been received for this review, even though it’s ridiculously positive, and reads like there’s been some secret commission exchanging hands. I did not receive a free copy to review – Christian book companies do not have money to burn – although perhaps if enough of you order the book, Alice may buy me a drink if we ever meet again.

Posted in book review

falling – a review

20141101_003505[1]

They say that you should write about what you know best – so it’s no surprise that a psychologist with experience in the police and military forces should choose to write a psychological crime thriller. Emma Kavanagh’s debut is gripping and enticing, drawing you into the worlds of four different characters, each with a story to tell.

The crime/detective/thriller genres are not usually my scene, but that’s the beauty of getting to review a new book: it opens you up to things you wouldn’t have touched before. And I’m very glad I touched this. It is immensely readable – and by ‘readable’, I’m thinking of it being 1am, and you’re holding your eyes wide open with your fingers, willing yourself to focus on the page before you, because you cannot physically put this book down, even though you’ll be up again in six hours and shattered is not even the word.

What makes this book so readable is that it is about people. Yes there is a plane crash, and a murder, and questions about how each of them happened, and whether they are linked. But, mainly, the book is about Cecilia, a thirty-ish-old air stewardess, pushed into marriage and motherhood too soon; Jim, a retired police officer, grieving for his murdered daughter; Freya, the eldest child within a dysfunctional family; Tom, a police office investigating a murder whilst more-or-less playing single dad to his nearly-three-year-old, as his mother struggles to cope with her role.

I particularly enjoyed Kavanagh’s distinctive writing style and use of flashback. Each chapter is headed with the character from whose point of view the words are written, followed by a specific date and time. This accurate, precise approach is highly suitable to a book set largely in police stations and crime scenes. Within the chapter, there are then flashbacks to the previous day, or week, or even earlier the same day. If you’re going to be specific about date/time, why not just write as the action is happening? Because writing about it later, even just a few hours later, gives the character time to reflect and process the events. It makes for a fascinating read, partly because often the flashback and real time are interspersed paragraph by paragraph, but also because you’re seeing how the past is affecting the present, and how the present will affect the future. I’ll be honest, this approach led to a bit of confusion in an early chapter, when I had to backtrack a few pages to check when things had happened, but I soon got into the swing of it, and loved the way past and present interacted.

It goes without saying that a book about people, about how their minds work, how their lives have been shaped, will give you sympathy for pretty much every one of the characters, as you get to know their complexities, their grey areas. Each one has been so carefully developed that there is no room for black and white judgements. There was only one person I had no sympathy for – I’ll leave you to read the book for yourself and guess which one that was…although I’ll tell you now it wasn’t the murderer!

As a relentless ‘happy-ender’, I guess I would have liked a tighter, ‘…and they all lived happily ever after’ type finish to the book. But this wouldn’t have made good literature, just a happy desertmum. The book closes with the main ends tied up, hope for a changed future for the main characters, and a sense that, really, this novel has just been a two-week snapshot into a few people’s lives, albeit an eventful two weeks.

I loved this book, and would recommend to all – but especially if you don’t think you’d like it…

(Disclaimer: this is a review for Mumsnet, on behalf of Arrow Publishing, who kindly sent me a copy of ‘Falling’ free of charge. I received no payment for the review, and all views are my own.)