Eleanor Oliphant, pulled pork and a sexuality conference (What I’m into – June 2018)

Books

Wow. Just wow. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine certainly lived up to its hype.

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This was our Book Club’s choice this month, and I was delighted as it’s been on my list for months. Eleanor Oliphant lives an isolated life, devoid of any meaningful relationship, hobby or interest – beyond drinking vodka on her own all weekend to get through the gap between her working weeks.

Without giving anything away (because you really do need to read this book for yourself!), it’s fairly apparent from the start that there’s something unusual about Eleanor – but what it is unfolds gradually throughout the book.

I loved the hopeful way the book ended (not to mention the exciting twist in the last few pages), and I found the whole thing immensely enjoyable – laugh-out-loud funny at times, as author Gail Honeyman captures Eleanor’s straightforward, literal thought processes perfectly.

Again, without giving too much away, I particularly enjoyed this book from an adoption perspective. Although adoption isn’t a theme in the book, the impact of trauma, neglect and abuse is explored, sometimes making for difficult reading, but always sensitively and wisely handled.

In short – read this book! Seriously one of my favourite books ever.

It didn’t take me long to finish, but everything else I started this month didn’t get finished, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for more books!

Food

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Of course there were plenty of BBQs, and general al fresco eating this month – BECAUSE EATING OUTDOORS IS SO MUCH MORE FUN AND LESS HASSLE. And because – look at the weather! Even in the North!

My personal favourite was the yummy pulled-pork recipe you see above. It’s a great one for a busy day, because it takes about 10 minutes to get all the bits together and whack in the oven – then when you get home from your busyness, you’ve got a fabulous meal waiting for you with very little else needed except buns and coleslaw (although we did chunky chips – also easy – and some cooked veg for fussy little eaters).

And I successfully made canneloni for the very first time! I realised the problem was in the piping bag – so, in the month where I tried to reduce plastic usage by buying a shampoo bar instead of a bottle, I offset this by buying a roll of 100 disposable plastic piping bags. Eek. Sorry, world.

It did help, though. The result was amazing (this is the recipe I used). Sadly, I don’t have a pic of the finished article, so (just for evidence, so that you believe me that I actually pulled this off) here’s a pic of the cannelloni, all neatly piped and ready for some sauce, cheese and a half-hour in the oven.


Music

Not being at all gadgety or Internet-y, I was absolutely delighted to discover that Spotify was indeed as wonderful as everyone says it is. I bought a 99p 3-month trial so that I could put together a soundtrack for our Summer Fair (see below), but within an hour or listening for my own benefit, I was totally converted that THIS IS HOW I WANT TO LIVE FOREVER, THROWING OUT ALL THE CDS AND NEVER USING ANYTHING OTHER THAN DIGITAL MUSIC EVER AGAIN.

Until the hubs reminded me that our car only plays CDs. Oh well.

Through Spotify, however, I discovered Lily Allen’s latest album – I’ve kind of lost touch with her since her first album, but this one was perfectly accessible and just brilliant. I like how her music’s grown up with her, exploring different territories lyrically (divorce, being a working mum, etc.) but musically having the same quirks and emotional sweetness of her earlier stuff.

My personal favourite on the album was ‘Three’ but, honestly, there’s not really a dud song on there.

Stage and screen

download (2).jpgWell, having read it last month, our Book Club had to watch The Light between Oceans, didn’t we?! It’s good, and well worth watching – obviously not as good as the book (did I really need to say that?), predominantly because so much detail has to be left out – detail which changes how you view the secondary characters – but it’s a powerful film none-the-less.

download (3).jpgWe finished the UK House of Cards (the old one), and, much as I’d enjoyed the three series, I was hugely disappointed by the finale, which felt like a cop-out along the lines of “…and then they woke up to discover it had all been a dream”. I really felt that, with the clever plots and dialogue thus far, the writers could have come up with something better. Anyone seen it/share my views?! Feel like I’m kind of on my own here in 1990s British drama territory.

Articles

Some great stuff this month!

I’ve started to think a bit more about transgender and sexuality issues (and no, this is not my way of announcing my impending transition).

I absolutely loved Living Out’s Identity conference (see below), and interestingly I’ve started to find a few non-religious voices speaking out against the ease of gender transition (not against it per se, but concerned particularly for under 18s, and their vulnerability when it comes to their gender, and decisions which could have an impact they’re not expecting). This article is long but well worth a read – it’s one mother’s story of her daughter’s desire to transition.

Not on my watch is Krish Kandiah at his best, using Fathers’ Day to ask men whether they’ll step up to the challenge of caring for the most vulnerable. Adoption and fostering are two ways to do this, obviously, but they’re not the only ways. Our society has one particular definition of ‘real men’, but the Bible may be calling you guys to something different…take a read!

This article, about some fiery female missionaries who were practising Christian feminism way before the #metoo movement, was fascinating.

How disability makes a church strong spoke right to my heart about how vital inclusivity and diversity are to our church communities. I’m becoming so passionate about this!

And I’m really enjoying Abby King’s blog at the moment. She’s a fellow ACW member and writes a really thought-provoking devotional each week. I’m finding it so relevant and considered. Have a read of Why it helps to know what you really want.

On the blog

I was privileged to review The Mermaid who couldn’t, a fantastic book aimed at adopted children.

For Fathers’ Day, I published two pieces: some musings on the idea of having no father, and a tribute to my husband, who’s a wonderful father to our four kids.

In response to 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave which I mentioned last month, I wrote about five valuable work lessons I’d learnt from my nearly nine-year ‘maternity leave’…

To celebrate National Writing Day last week, I took up this writing challenge (“I feel most free when…”) – and then shared a few thoughts having watched the wonderfully thought-provoking ‘Gone Fishing’, featuring Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer.

Elsewhere

Whilst I still feel like a blog novice (after six years?! How can that be?), people have started to ask my advice when thinking about starting their own blogs. So I put a few thoughts down in my ACW More than Writers blog this month: “Why and how should I start a blog?” Do have a look if you’re in this position.

Other

* I went to the beautiful wedding of a lovely new friend – it was down-to-earth, simple, and God-centred.

* We finally found a Fathers’ Day gift for DD that he liked and didn’t complain about (he doesn’t like ‘commercial festivals’ and never knows what he wants for the non-commercial ones):

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God bless Pinterest.

* I went to watch my boy play cricket for his school (having no idea whether he knew the rules or not). It was a lovely, relaxed tournament for Years 3&4, with the Years 5&6 matches clearly taking on a bit more formality (read: they had rules). Our school did really well, winning our group and progressing to the semi-final where I think we came 3rd (?). Anyway, it was a great achievement for a school which doesn’t have loads of kids paying for additional sports coaching. We were all very proud!

* We had our school Summer Fair! Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know what a big deal this is – our PTA only started last year, and this is our second Summer Fair. We were aiming to improve on last year’s £1000 profit by a couple of hundred, but I was sceptical about actually reaching it. In actual fact, we made over £1400 – smashed it!! It was also just such a lovely afternoon, with great weather, and a brilliant atmosphere amongst all the families who came.

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* The most exciting thing for me this month – and possibly this year (you can tell I don’t get out much) – was a child-free 24-hour trip to London with my good friend Izzy to hear Tim and Kathy Keller speak on Identity and Sexuality. Oh my goodness, they were superb! The first hour was like an undergraduate Sociology lecture – the second was a brilliantly packed sermon. After lunch Kathy stormed it with some practical guidance for churches, then there was a brilliant panel made up of the Kellers and a couple of LGBQTI+ Christians. I couldn’t type my notes fast enough! I hope to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this blog over the next month or two…let me know if you’d be interested.

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Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m into’ blog posts. Do check them out – you may discover a fantastic new blogger!

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Can you imagine having no father?

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I can’t imagine how it would feel to have no father.

I can imagine a remote father – detached, preoccupied, no space in his life for children. I can imagine his regret and guilt at having been talked into a family he never really wanted – or, perhaps, the absence of regret and guilt, as time starts to justify the distance that’s grown between him and his kids. I can imagine the loss, the sadness, the shut-down, the self-preservation of the children who long for his time and know they will never get it.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an absent father – living in a different town now, perhaps with a new wife, new life, new kids – remembering birthdays (or not), sharing a week together every summer, occasional weekends. I can imagine the awkwardness for a child struggling to fit into a different family every now-and-then, having to adapt behaviours and routines for different sets of parents.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine a neglectful father – leaving everything to Mum, putting his own needs first, not noticing the children who require his help to regulate their emotions, because he can’t yet regulate his own. I can imagine the children who grow up thinking this is what family life is like: Mum raises the family, Dad does what he likes.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an abusive father – letting his anger control him, free-flowing with the insults, the lies, the manipulation, the fists. I can imagine – although it pains me to write it – a father who cannot control his lust, who does the unthinkable, who abuses the trust of those who have no one else to rely on.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

No father? Obviously, at some point, there must have been.

But was that a father? Or was that a few drops of bodily fluid, moving from one body to another? Two lucky sperm which made it, which kick-started two new lives, unbeknownst to the person who ejected them from their being?

And now, somewhere, that person walks free, unaware of the lives he has created. He may pass them in the street – or he may be living on the other side of the world – and we will never know. Was he old or young? Tall or short? Does he have other kids? A wife?

I can’t imagine – because the possibilities are infinite.

What was his ethnicity? Was he unemployed, or was he a CEO? Was it a romantic liaison, or a one-night stand? Did he pay?

Okay, so maybe I am imagining. But imagination usually starts with reality – and here, there is no reality to know of. No clues, no evidence, no memories and no one to ask. With endless possibilities of what this sperm-donor may have been like, I’ll likely never guess the real him.

And the kids – how will they respond? Not just knowing little, but knowing nothing. Future Fathers’ Days, when they’re old enough to understand. “Best dad” cards taking on a new meaning. Adolescence, and wondering whether emerging character traits come from him. DNA tests when they meet their future partners.

There wasn’t really a father. What might have turned into one was actually just a couple of seeds, fertilising a couple of eggs.

But God likes seeds. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Seeds planted in good soil will produce a healthy crop.

And a seed from a man can fertilise an egg, creating a life which God dreamed up many millennia before it happened.

You see, there is a Father after all. A Father who was intentional and loving from the start. A Father who wanted these children to be born into his world, to take their place in family life, to come into relationship with Him.

Yes, it matters that there is no earthly father. But no, it’s not the end of the story.

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Log-fired pizzas, hands-free parenting and incredible acrobatics (watching, not doing) – What I’m into – April 2018

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Books

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The adjective for me reading Ian McEwan’s Solar would, I think, be ‘ploughing through’. In many ways it was an enjoyable read – he has an amazing ability to articulate such fine details in precise but creative ways, teaching me so much about working with words – but, with lots of talk about physics, plus a lead character whose infidelity and general self-centredness didn’t endear me to him, it felt a bit of a slog.

It was the book chosen for my fab Book Club this month, and I’m glad I got to read it, as I’d never have picked up this sort of novel otherwise. But I’m also glad I’m through it!

I was also disappointed by the ending…I somehow felt that if there was a spectacular showdown in the last few pages (which I really did feel the story was building up to) then I would have forgiven the slog. But the end was an anti-climax – almost as if McEwan had got distracted by something – a wasp flying into the room, maybe? – and had finished the book in a rush.

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This month I (and my housegroup) finished Kevin de Young’s The Hole in our Holiness. There were many great themes in this book of which I needed reminding – but the writing lacked nuance and sensitivity to those who might read the Bible slightly differently on issues, and the whole book seemed to sit in a frustrating no-man’s-land betweeen academic rigour and accessible discipleship. He used unnecessarily long or complicated language for the layman to understand – but also didn’t quite back up his points well enough, or make coherent enough arguments in places, for the book to be considered ‘academic’.

downloadI am still, however, really enjoying Hands-Free Mama. Its author, Rachel Macy Stafford, recommends reading one chapter per month for a year, which is what I’m doing, except that, with the length of time passing between each chapter, I was finding myself losing the train of thought.

I’ve now got a better solution: keeping the book in the loo and reading a page or two regularly! I usually hate reading books on the loo, as I can’t get into them before my bottom goes numb. But this book is written in short sections and anecdotes which add up to the same idea, so it’s really easy to dip into for short bursts.

Food

Well obviously I ate Too Much Chocolate. It was inevitable, really, after my Lenten fast. Since I have Zero Shame on this blog, you may as well know that I had the chocs lined up on my bedside table, ready to indulge first thing on Easter Sunday morning.

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Photo credit: Joy Photography

Besides that, my favourite York bistro launched its Pizza and Beer weekends, and I visited twice. If you’re a local, make sure you don’t miss out on these absolutely phenomenal log-fired pizzas, with crazy-awesome toppings. Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm, all through the summer.

Music

We got out our old Karine Polwart CD and have been enjoying her fresh, light, folksy sound – even 6-year-old Missy’s been converted to Karine’s beautiful voice and lyrical melodies. If you don’t know her, all I can say is that she’s PERFECT for summer drives. (Karine, not Missy. Missy will spend the entire journey moaning that she’s too warm, complaining about her head-rest and requesting snacks – not nearly as relaxing as Karine.)

Stage and screen

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Image credit: http://www.mettatheatre.co.uk

The older kids and I went to a stage production of The Little MermaidIt was breath-takingly beautiful: essentially a piece of musical theatre, with live ensemble integrated into the cast. But the most stunning and different aspect to it was the acrobatics – incredible circus-like feats which gave the impression of swimming through water. We were spellbound.

It’s currently on in Malvern till Saturday, then Windsor, then three weeks in London. I highly recommend getting some tickets if you’re within a stone’s throw of any of these places. The recommended age is 8+, but I took my 8yo and 6yo and they both loved it. The performance lasts just over an hour, so any child who can sit for that length of time would enjoy it I reckon. (Needless to say, you’d also enjoy it as an adult with no kids in tow!)

Films-wise, I enjoyed Kramer v. Kramer – an oldie I’d never got round to seeing. So much of the public gender debate covers discrimination against women, that it was refreshing – although painful – to watch an example of discrimination against a man. The story is fictional, but could have been real, very much reflecting the feeling at the time (and even now for some) that a man wasn’t as equipped as a women to raise a child. Needless to say, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are incredible, as is Justin Henry, who plays their child – much of the film is pure dialogue, and requires these veritable talents to pull it off. Recommended if you haven’t seen!

About Time is the kind of film you’re still thinking about (and smiling at the memory of) the day after you watch it. Such an interesting premise, the idea that you can repeat moments over and over again, to get them ‘right’ – but, as with all time travel stories, there are complications and limitations. Learning how to balance this all out results in some heartwarming lessons – and, as you would expect from a Richard Curtis film, there are some stonkingly good lines throughout. I was laughing out loud one moment, and crying the next.

Finally – I enjoyed The Notebook, a touching drama about an ill-fated love affair between two teenagers in the 1940s. It avoids cliche by taking the perspective of the lady many years later, now suffering from dementia in a nursing home – and I love the way we’re left till soooooo near the end before discovering how the love story turned out.

Articles

Love is not a Feeling is so beautifully written, so wise and thought-provoking – and deserves to be read by everyone!

On the blog

child-817369_640I asked Why adopt when you can have birth children? and explained Why my son tore up his Mothers’ Day card. I also shared the highs and lows of my writing journey so far.

Elsewhere

I launched my career as a HuffPost blogger with a plea to stop talking about ‘working mums’ as if some of us laze around all day with nothing but Loose Women and a big bag of Haribo for company.

woman-1733881_640.jpgThe Association of Christian Writers (ACW) has a fabulous blog – most days of the month are covered, and all the contributors are writers (doh!) so the quality is really high. I recommend you take a look! I’ve recently bagged the 2nd-of-the-month slot, and April was my maiden voyage.

On the Home for Good website, you can catch my article What the Church needs to know about Trauma (actually, it’s what we all need to know about trauma, church-goers or not), and read the incredibly powerful story of Fran, who spent her childhood in a disfunctional family and her adolescence in foster care. It was a privilege to be able to interview Fran, understand her story and glean her wisdom.

And I was delighted to share some ideas for when you and your partner disagree on parenting issues over at the fabulous To Love Honor and Vacuum blog.

In other news…

* thank you to what is lovingly referred to as ‘Beauty Twitter’ for advising me that coconut oil removes make up. It really does! And is cheap as chips!

* I spent an inordinate amount of time this month sorting out GDPR for my mailing list, learning how to blog properly (after six years…who knew there was actually some skill to this blogging lark?), designing a few exciting graphics for forthcoming blog posts, and signing up for affiliate programs (see below).

Did I mention my mailing list?! If you’re not on it – get on it! The form won’t even take you a minute to fill in, and I’ll send you ‘Ten Tried-and-Tested Tips for Kids’ Parties’ as a thank you. (Or, rather, Mailchimp will. Because I worked out the automation feature. Yay me.)

* And, of course, I’d love to connect with you via Facebook or Twitter!

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into’ series.

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link and make a purchase, I will earn a small amount of commission, at no extra cost to yourself. I seriously only recommend stuff I like – I never lie just to earn commission!