tim keller, feminism, disney and a whole lotta chocolate… (what i’m into – jan 2018)

Books

Totally by chance, I’ve fallen into a little pattern with some of my reading this year.

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Daily…I am reading The Way of Wisdom (Tim and Kathy Keller). It was a no-brainer, really, having enjoyed their My Rock, My Refuge devotional last year. Honestly, I can’t recommend these two books enough – a great-value devotional (£10 will last you all year!) which packs a punch and yet is short enough to fit in to even the busiest parent’s routine.

Weekly…I am reading The Hole in our Holiness (Kevin de Young) with my housegroup. The premise is that we evangelicals love to prioritise grace – but what about holiness? Why is it important? Surely we’re saved by faith, not by works? And yet isn’t holiness all about obedience which is about…works? There are study questions for each chapter which are helping our weekly discussion. I won’t say we’ve agreed with all his emphases or his style in places, but it’s certainly stimulated a really helpful and lively discussion.

Monthly…I am reading Hands-free Mama – a book recommended in my Year of Books (from 2015 – oh yes, I’m still working through that wonderful list!). There are twelve chapters, and the author recommends taking it slow, one per month over a year, in order to reflect and change habits. Chapter one was all about spotting the moments in our kids’ lives that we might be missing because we’re on our phones or devices, or ‘just’ doing this last bit of laundry or clearing up – the chapter has been in my head since I read it – it’s so practical!

AND our Book Club started this month! I’m so excited! Our first venture was a piece of classic chick-lit – The Chocolate Lovers Club (Carole Matthews) – shallow characters, underdeveloped plots, lots of sex – you get the idea. It wasn’t a totally unenjoyable way to spend a week, but several of our members couldn’t finish it. I guess I’m more shallow than they are.

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Last but not least (from the ridiculous to the sublime), I read Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (Stephen Elmes). This book is just a little bit wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I’ll let you look it up for yourselves, and write a full review of it sometime soon.

Food

Mainly eating up Christmas chocolates. And I remembered why these are my hands-down favourite biscuits in the whole entire world (by eating most of a whole box myself). Not a dud in the whole pack. Genius.

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Music

Nothing. Too busy reading and eating chocolate.

Articles

Ditto. Maybe I should just start deleting some of these headings?

On the blog

Actually, a bit of action here. So it turns out that I’ve been spending January reading, eating chocolate AND writing. I kicked off with my round-up of 2017, then pondered the traps we can fall into when making New Year’s resolutions.

I shared with you my exciting news for 2018, wrote about how being a SAHM isn’t mutually exclusive to being a feminist, and suggested five fun things to do with your family during Lent.

Go on…make yourself a brew, put your feet up, whack cbeebies on and have a read! You know my blog stats want you to!

Stage and Screen

I didn’t get my backside in gear to book any stage shows for January, BUT I made up for it with ridiculous amounts of telly. January is the month I catch up on all the stuff I didn’t get time to watch over Christmas. Praise God for catch-up TV.

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Films-wise, I enjoyed The Hundred-Foot Journey (although it got a little less believable towards the end), The Red Shoes (pretty dark, late 40s psychological/emotional thriller), The Hangover (better than it sounds, but nothing to write home about) and Big Hero 6. This last one was my son’s choice on a sick day, and I’d never watched it all the way through before (parents rarely get this privilege), so I didn’t realise just what an incredible movie it is. Kudos to Disney for doing something very unlike their usual offering. (Which, of course, is also incredible – just in different ways.)

I indoctrinated my lovely friend with the ways of Pitch Perfect by going on a mate-date to watch the third installment at the cinema. It worked – she’s now seen the earlier two films and has converted to fan status! I still reckon the first film is the best – but the humour certainly doesn’t fail in the later two films.

TV-wise, the hubby and I really enjoyed Feud: Bette and Joan – about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s ongoing dislike of each other. In addition to the gripping storyline (which I realise will have fictional elements), and fabulous cast, I’m interested in what it says about Hollywood’s attitudes to women in film (both on and behind camera) in the early 1960s. It’s still available, but only for a few days, and has eight episodes, so hurry if this kind of stuff interests you!

Lastly (phew!) anyone interested in adoption, fostering and the effect of trauma on kids in the classroom, should watch a fantastic clip on The One Show, shown Wednesday 17 January. It’s just a few minutes long (starts around 11 or 12 minutes in), but offers a real insight into the struggles adopted and fostered kids have in school. I’ll say no more except these kids are far more likely to get excluded than kids who aren’t in care. Have a watch.

In other news…

I’m a writer! Kind of. Still struggling to believe it a bit. But there has certainly been work (and will even be a paycheque at some point in the next couple of months), and I’m enjoying pushing doors and seeing opportunities I never knew were there. Already I’ve learnt loads.

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…I went on a fabulous Women’s Day organised by a local church – it’s an annual event, and this was my fourth year. Great teaching from Nadine Parkinson, food, worship – and, of course, several hours away from my darling kiddoes. Not to be sniffed at.

What have you been up to in January?

Disclosure: Affiliate links not included in this post because I hate Amazon.  If you click throughany purchase you make doesn’t result in a penny for me. But you’re welcome to buy me chocolate next time you see me as an act of left-wing solidarity OR as a thank you for recommending some totally awesome resources which have, obviously, changed your life.

Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s What I’m into series.

five fabulous things you can do with your family this lent

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Image credit: Pixabay

After the long Autumn term – which feels like it’ll never end – this term, by comparison, goes in a flash. Linger in January for a moment too long, and suddenly it’s Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and BANG! We’re into Lent.

I love using the seasons and festivals to make some family traditions and – more importantly, for me – draw my family closer to Jesus. But our family life right now is so manic that I live day-to-day, with little forward planning. I’ll get to Shrove Tuesday evening with nothing prepared to get my littlies through Lent, and think “Dammit! I wanted to make MEMORIES!” In protest, I will give up Pinterest and every other vehicle designed to make parents feel rubbish, and bury my head in the sand, pulling out the odd tradition whenever it fits or I remember.

So – this year will be different. Yes it will! Lent starts in three weeks, and I’m determined to make the most of it. If you fancy finding something family-oriented to teach your kiddoes about Lent, Easter and the Christian tradition, I’ve pulled together a few tried-and-tested ideas for you here:

Use ‘Follow Me’ for stories and creative activities. Check out my review for more detail, but allow me to give the bare facts here: it’s fun, it’s flexible and Amy’s done the hard work for you, so all you need is this book and (occasionally) a few basic props or materials – nothing you can’t find around the house. You can pick and choose what works best for your kids – everything’s designed to make you consider a Bible story from different perspectives and angles, and you simply choose what appeals. Whether you want something to use every day, or just once a week, this resource works well. I reckon it’s best for primary-aged kids, and probably slightly younger too – we used this two years ago for our then 4- and 6-year olds, and are planning to use it this year for our 3-3-6-8 combo.

Make a Lent prayer tree. You can do this any way you want! Click here if you’re interested in how we did it for a few years. Basically you pray for a different friend or family member each day – it can be as simple as mentioning them by name, or you can print out some photos to keep things visual and stimulating for your little ones. We used this when our kids were very young – babies and toddlers, but obviously as your kids grow, this idea becomes more about them verbalising their own prayers.

Sign up for 40acts. This is a wonderful and practical way of developing kindness, generosity and selflessness through Lent, and is a great fit for creative/industrious children who prefer to be doing rather than listening. You don’t have to follow a particular faith to enjoy and get lots out of 40acts! Last year Missy did it, and she raised £80 for charity through selling cakes and cookies she’d baked herself. With our help, she researched which charities to donate to. The best part is that the actual poster containing the 40acts is FREE – you just download and print it. (If you want to buy ‘Exploring Generosity’, a pack with more resources and stickers to go along with 40acts, you can do so here.)

Start a gift-giving tradition. Yes, I know our privileged Western kids have way too much as it is, but hear me out on this one. If Lent is supposed to be a time of focussing on, and drawing closer to, Jesus, then perhaps one of the most wonderful, yet simplest, traditions we can start for our children is to give ‘Lent presents’: something to help them in their faith journey. Last year, on Ash Wednesday morning, my children woke up to an unexpected gift at the breakfast table. Mister, then 7, received his first unabridged Bible (we went for this one, which is a very clear translation for early readers), and Missy received the Exploring Generosity kit mentioned above. We, affluent Christian parents, spend so much on our kids each year in clothes, toys, hobbies and interests – how much more, then, should we be prioritising generous investment in good-quality resources to help them develop their faith?

Use this Lent Family Creative Journal from Engage Worship. This is a simpler (and cheaper!) resource to take you through Lent than Follow Me. There’s not as much material to work with, but that takes the pressure off having to do something every day. It’s just as creative, with lots of different activity suggestions, but you may need to put in more effort to actually do them – think of it as the scaffolding for what could be a really explorative, creative Lent if you’re prepared to add the bricks.

Of course the random picking of odd traditions here or there as you remember is a fun way to go as well! None of the above ideas are necessary in order to cultivate a prayerful, God-centred family life – but I hope they’re helpful to those of you who have the time and desire to try something different this year.

Over to you…which great Lent resources or traditions can you recommend? Have you used any of the above? I’d love to know what you end up trying out!

teaching, stay-at-home parenting, and the attempt at a return to work

Before I had kids, my life-plan seemed very simple. I would spend my 20s getting as far in my career as possible and my 30s at home raising kids. Once they were all in school, I would return to full-time work, and resume the ladder-climbing.

The early career plan worked – I was Head of Department at 25, and by 26 was teaching at post-grad level – and the stay-at-home-mum thing has suited me well too.

But it wasn’t very long into parenting when I realised that full-time work would probably not be my bag for quite some time. What would be the good in making myself available to my kids during their preschool years, then subsequently preoccupying myself with a stressful job during their primary years? Who would be there when they finished school? The shoulder to cry on if their day hadn’t gone as planned?

Of course it is possible to do both – I know people who hold down full-time work and have great relationships with their kids. But I guess it is not without sacrifice, fatigue and stress – and it is rarely out of choice. And, importantly, much as others are great at making it work, I know that I couldn’t do it.

So, for a while now, part-time teaching has been what I’ve been aiming for. Although my youngest boys don’t start school till next year, I’ve spent the last year gaining work experience, making contacts, exploring my options. When you’ve had nearly a decade’s maternity leave, you can’t really take anything for granted.

And this is what I’ve found: I can’t pick up where I left off. Career-wise, your late 20s/early 30s seem to be the point where you specialise in something, become a bit of an expert, take on some management. I spent my late 20s/early 30s taking my kids along to toddler groups, weaning them, potty-training, playing with them, socialising them. So, unless I want a career in childcare – which, by the way, I don’t, despite having what feels like a childcare institution here at home – I don’t quite know where I fit in anymore. What once read as an excellent CV for a 28-year-old, now seems unremarkable for a 36-year-old.

I’m a strong believer that we don’t need to plan too far ahead in our lives as long as we know we’re where God wants us right now. In fact, in my experience, the road ahead often seems a bit foggy and unclear – and I think God uses this to build our trust in Him. I’ve felt His pleasure as I’ve devoted these last few years to being at home for our children, and actually I couldn’t care less about the financial sacrifices, reduced pension, or career suicide I may have committed. I would never, ever make a different decision. Professionally, I may not have any specialised knowledge of an area of teaching which would make me more employable – but I’ve widened my knowledge and skills through a large amount of volunteering over the last few years which I’d never have been able to do had I been working in a paid job.

Leaving this in God’s hands, I received an unexpected bit of paid writing work at the end of last year, for an organisation I have a lot of time for. I hadn’t given up hopes of ever returning to teaching, but there were precious few jobs going, so this offer made me wonder: If these guys are willing to pay me for writing, maybe other organisations would be willing to pay me, too?

With the twins doing a few more hours at preschool this term, now seems like a good time to push open a few doors and see where God wants to take my writing. I’ve registered myself as self-employed, gained a few useful contacts, seen some potential writing opportunities and even started to collect some deadlines (YES! Like a real writer!).

I’m not really sure what else to say, except I really owe this to you, my lovely and far-too-kind readers. I’ve never considered myself a writer. I enjoy it, but then I enjoy a lot of things. I don’t identify, for example, as a ‘TV-watcher’, or a ‘strategy-game-player’, or a ‘chocolate-lover’. (Actually, I do identify as the latter. Frequently. But not the others.) So now I’m having to force myself to believe that I can do this. I’m having to push myself forward (which is never fun – who enjoys self-promotion?). But you, with your wonderful encouragement and kind comments, have given me the boost I’ve needed to make this first step.

It may all fall flat on its face. And that is FINE. It actually is. I haven’t had to make a financial investment to start this ‘business’ – it’s just me and a computer. So if it goes pear-shaped, that’s fine, I’ll just pick myself up and try something new. But it feels daft not to try. Like I said, the road ahead is often foggy and unclear – but God knows the future, and as long as we’re following His footsteps in the present, I believe He will uncover the future when we need to know it.

And probably not a moment before.

three things to consider when making new year’s resolutions

For every single ounce of me that loves Christmas, I sometimes wonder whether I love New Year a little more.

I’ve been writing this blog for over five years, during which my output has gone up and down like a yo-yo – so it’s telling that, regardless of how much or little I’m writing generally, I’ve always felt compelled to write something in January to do with the new year stretched out before us.

Last year, I wrote with optimism that 2017 would be a year for more writing (it was – certainly more than 2016 – but 2018 will be even more prolific…). In 2016, I spoke of the guilt and failure that can surround New Year’s resolutions. In 2015, I vowed to spend more time reading and more time cooking. In 2014, I wrote about shedding the guilt, and, in 2013, about living a more celebratory life.

I think what does it for me about New Year is the fresh sense of perspective and optimism. I feel the same in September, at the start of the new school year. I wonder if it’s no coincidence that September and January fall right after August and December, which is when I get my proper breaks – an August summer holiday, and a December longer-than-usual stay with my hospitable in-laws. Both these times perk me up, give me a chance to reflect and think (as much as is possible with tiny people around), and get me excited to return to normal life with a bit more vigour.

It’s not hard to derive from this that I love making New Year’s resolutions. I love finding ways to become more organised, efficient, spiritual, healthy or whatever. But, this year, it struck me how easy it is to let our good intentions block our relationship with our Father God. Here are a few easy pitfalls I know I can fall into:

1. Resolutions can make us feel like we’re in control. Of course we love to feel like we have a handle on things, don’t we? It’s entirely natural to want to feel like we’re prepared for whatever life throws at us. But, sadly, life throws all sorts of things at us that no amount of January weight loss, healthy eating, housework regimes or devotional times can handle. I could name you four things that four of my friends suffered in the last couple of months of 2017 which could not have been predicted, or prevented through better planning or organisation. We don’t know what’s round the corner, and neither do our resolutions or the improved lives we might have as a result of them. Only God knows, and He is the one we need to allow to steer our lives.

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we hand over control to God. For example, a common resolution might be to lose weight, exercise more or eat more healthily. This is godly, insofar as there is a Biblical imperative to look after the bodies God has given us. But new diets and regimes can easily start to control us, competing for the throne that should belong to God. So perhaps we can alter our resolution:

Old resolution: “I will lose weight by joining [insert name of preferred slimming group!]

New resolution: “I will honour God with my body. This year I will pray for Him to help me love and accept my body, and to help me get it into good condition. I will join [slimming group/gym/whatever] but, however well or badly this goes, my priority will be to commit my body to God.”

2. Resolutions can make us feel superior.

One of my resolutions this year is to exercise more patience with my kids, particularly in the area of helping them to regulate their emotions by staying the calm, sensible one (trust me, this is not something which comes easily to this impatient, oft-tempestuous Desertmum). However ‘well’ I do at this, I will still never be a perfect parent, but I might go a couple of weeks, or – let’s push the boat out here – months, with increased patience, and that might in turn make me feel superior to a parent I witness yelling at their kid in the supermarket. A BIG FAT ‘NO’ TO THIS! We are called to humble ourselves and serve others. Does this sound like the definition of ‘superiority’ to you?

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we prioritise humility.

Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and of course we see bags of it in Jesus himself. It is clearly a good and godly thing for me to desire this gift, particularly in the area of parenting. But patience without love is useless! So I could adjust my resolution as follows:

Old resolution: “I will be more patient with my kids.”

New resolution: “I will ask God for His patience as I interact with my kids. I want to grow in His love – for my kids and for other people. I will remember how hard it is to be a parent, and will pray that God uses me to be a blessing, not a curse, to other parents. And when I fail at patience, I will take comfort in God’s forgiveness.”

3. Resolutions can make us feel more holy.

Many Christians like to start the New Year with a resolution linked to their Christian journey. Last year I resolved to read My Rock My Refuge, committing to daily Bible reading. Others might resolve to join a lively church, get involved with the church they’ve recently joined, start attending a house group, develop a structure of personal prayer, or read a discipleship book. The problem is that, if we focus too much on these ‘external’ habits of faith, we can forget the God who is our motivating factor.

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we acknowledge God’s love and acceptance of us, just as we are. 

These are all good and godly resolutions – God wants to draw even closer to us, and always has so much more to teach us, show us, and astound us with! So hats-off to you if you’ve made a resolution like this for 2018, and may God bless you as you draw closer to Him and seek to hear His voice more clearly in your life. But let’s keep, at the very forefront of our minds, the truth that God loves us just as we are. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us any more (or less). If we spend 2018 not going to church, reading the Bible or praying, He won’t love us any less, come New Year 2019.

Old resolution: “I will pray daily for the members of my house group by name.” (This is one of mine for 2018 – think I’ve managed it once so far!)

New resolution: “I will praise God for His love for me and for every one of my house group friends. I know that He has their backs, and sustains them from day to day. In the light of this, I will bring their names to Him daily, knowing how much He wants to do in all of our lives.”

God bless you as you consider the year ahead, and what He might be calling you to.

(I have one very exciting ‘resolution’, a sense of what God might be calling me to, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you soon!)

 

 

what i was into – 2017 special

I’m not doing a ‘what i’m into’ for December, for the simple reason that you can probably guess what I was into, seeing as I’m a total Christmas-freak, and if you still really can’t bring yourself to imagine December Chez Desert then you can read each of the 24 ADVENT BLOG POSTS I WROTE!! Still can’t believe I made it to the end.

Anyway, instead, here’s a round-up of 2017, with my top three of everything! If you’re looking for inspiration for what to read, cook or watch in 2018, look no further!

Top three books

miller_aprayinglife.jpgIt’s tremendously hard to pick three, as I read some stonking stuff this year, but purely because of the lasting impact they’ve had on me, my top three (in no particular order) are:

A Praying Life – if you’re a Christian and haven’t read it, I beg you to plonk it on your list for 2018.

My Rock, My Refuge – had to make the list because it’s the only devotional I’ve stuck to for an entire year. Some days weren’t all that noteworthy, and others were hugely relevant and challenging – but I know that the cumulative effect of me absorbing each and every Psalm across the year is a positive one.

Image result for wonder bookWonder – one of the simplest, yet most powerful novels I’ve read. Wonder-ful.

 

 

 

Top three meals out

Bistro Guy (November)

Zill’s (October)

Bistro Rosa (August)

Top three new recipes

Brownie Ice Cream sandwiches (Twist, Martha Collison – get it now while it’s cheap!)

Millionnaire’s Shortbread (Twist, Martha Collison)

Veggie fajitas (I make it up! But based on various recipes easily sourced from t’Internet)

Top three TV programmes

I actually only watched about three things this year. They were good though.

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The Apprentice (obviously this would always make my list), Twin Peaks, and that amazing Rio Ferdinand documentary on bereavement, which made me cry quite a lot.

Top three films

Philomena, Lion and The Lady in the Van – all powerful, but in very different ways. Amazing performances by all the lead characters, and gripping plots too.

Top three live theatre shows

Very, very hard to choose, but I’m going to go with: Nina Conti, Everything is Possible (locally produced play about the Suffragette movement) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

(I’d also like to add Jane Eyre in brackets, because I’m not supposed to be allowing myself a fourth, but it was so good that I’m hoping no one will mind.)

Top three blog posts

Statistically, they were:

* Five Ways my Toddlers are Different from Yours

* The Silent Anniversary: Celebrating Marriage in a Culture of Relationship Breakdown

* Am I OK with my daughter aspiring to ‘mummy’?

But because I’m always interested by the variation between what I think is an interesting blog post and what you do, here’s a post which I rather liked but didn’t do as well as I thought it might: What we want for our Kids: Status (why not have a read and boost its stats!).

Three things I never thought I’d do in 2017

  • Go for a job interview (May)
  • Go to a football match (October)
  • Spot a house intruder (November) – ah! I never told you about this one, did I?!

Three things I’m very proud of doing in 2017

  • Setting up the school PTA (February ish)
  • Giving a talk to a reasonably-sized audience (April)
  • Fixing a lawnmower (June)

 

Thank you all for being a marvellous audience in 2017. There are some exciting things afoot for 2018 which I can’t wait to share with you – watch this space, I’ll be blogging again very soon!