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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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!

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!

 

20: how Santa draws us to Christ

One of the joys of this blog is being able to share stuff with you which is far, far better than what I’m writing, so it’s a privilege today to point you all in the direction of The Life-Changing Magic of an Untidy Christmas, which was published yesterday over on Desiring God. It has little to do with what I’m going to write about, but was too damned good not to pass on. Have a read, see what you think.

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A friend asked me yesterday whether I had any advice on speaking to small children about Santa, and since our day was also punctuated in other ways by Santa (Monkey and Meerkat had a visit from the Big Man at their preschool Christmas party – and were constantly talking about hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve), he seems a good topic for today’s reflection.

There is so much which is fun about Santa. He’s a novelty – someone who turns up just once a year, but is friendly and kind, and delivers exactly the presents you’ve asked for, all wrapped up in a stocking. How fun is that? And he doesn’t just do this for you, but – somehow, miraculously – for all the children around the world.

The real ‘Santa’, St Nicholas, was also a kind, friendly, generous man – he loved God, and from that relationship came a heart for the poor and vulnerable around him. The legend of him dropping three bags of gold into the slippers of three young women in his village whose father was too poor to afford their dowries – even if it may have been embellished down the years – shows a heart which was sacrifically generous.

During Advent, we have always taught our children that Santa was a real person, St Nicholas, and we tell them this story about his generosity. We use this book, but one which has been recommended to me by a lot of Christian parents is Just Nicholas (we don’t yet have it ourselves). Doing this, our kids have always known that Santa – as we celebrate him today – is not alive today, but that he was based on a real person. (We’ve also told them not to tell their classmates!)

This has not killed the magic for our family – on the contrary, I believe it has added a rich significance which merely believing in ‘Santa’ does not. Because Santa also has his failings. He only rewards you if you’re good. He watches what you do through the year, and keeps a list of your wrongdoings. He’s not interested in a relationship with you.

In short – Santa is only human. To base our Christmas around him would end in huge disappointment.

But celebrating ‘Santa’ as St Nicholas each Christmas is a way of pointing to Jesus in our celebrations. St Nicholas gave freely and sacrificially because he’d received freely and sacrificially from Jesus’ death and resurrection. The baby Jesus who we celebrate at Christmas grew up to be our Rescuer – the One who would put us right with God forever. He would not keep a record of our wrongdoings, but forgive us freely – and His gift would be available to all, regardless of how ‘good’ we were. As we remember St Nicholas, the gracious man who gave of his money, time and energy, we are more able to look up to the God who inspired him.

I genuinely feel that celebrating Santa can be a hugely significant part of our festivities. But elevating him to a position above Jesus is so easy to do – and, although we may not realise it, over-indulging in Santa at Christmas really muddies the waters for our young children. They don’t realise who or what they’re celebrating – nor why. Or else, the sacred and the secular celebrations (Jesus and Santa being celebrated equally, but separately) represent two parallel, but unrelated, Christmas traditions.

In Zechariah’s day, God’s people felt disappointed by their return to Israel. It wasn’t all they had expected, so they started to grumble, and turned to idols. But, through Zechariah, God made it very clear that these idols had no power whatsoever – His people needed to return to Him, who was able to do all things:

Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
    it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms.
He gives showers of rain to all people,
    and plants of the field to everyone.
The idols speak deceitfully,
    diviners see visions that lie;
they tell dreams that are false,
    they give comfort in vain.
Therefore the people wander like sheep
    oppressed for lack of a shepherd. (Zechariah 10:1-2)

In today’s terms, an ‘idol’ is anything which diverts our attention from God. Perhaps this sounds a little dramatic for something as innocent as Santa. Or perhaps it’s the innocuous parts of our culture which have the most potential to draw us away from Jesus.

* If you have children, think back over the last few weeks. How many of your activities/celebrations have been about Santa? How many about Jesus? Or do you combine the two?

* As an adult, what are the secular Christmas traditions (like Santa) which threaten to draw your attention from Jesus?

Lord God, you’ve commanded me not to make idols – and yet I do it unthinkingly in so many ways, not least at Christmas when so many festivities claim my attention and focus. Please re-orientate my gaze onto You, trusting in You for the satisfaction I can’t find elsewhere. Amen.

random advent

I am the Queen of unrealistic ambitions.

Approximately every five days I have a new business idea, or personal goal, or family-related plan which I will never – I repeat, NEVER – be able to see into action.

And so, it’s fully understandable that I began this year with the aim of writing an Advent devotional ready for this Advent.

I mean – what was I thinking??? I have four kids who each present their own set of challenges. A husband who presents more. I’m a school governor and chair of the PTA. I lead a house group, help run a toddler group, am on the Sunday kids work rota and occasionally lead worship. If I’m in bed before midnight, I count it as a minor miracle – and that’s with a pile of dirty laundry dumped by the machine, pots sitting unwashed, emails unreplied to and our bedroom still resembling the aftermath of a hurricane. (Still. After I’ve spent the whole year trying to get round to tidying it.)

So no. The Advent devotional didn’t happen. But then I realised something. I always begin Advent full of good intentions about sticking to a devotional, focusing my mind in the busy lead-up to Christmas. And it lasts for two weeks, max, before I lose the habit and drift off. Just like my over-ambitious life plans, even trying to read something for 10 minutes a day for 25 days is an unachievable goal.

Now it struck me that if I’m like this, maybe others are too. And doesn’t this, in itself, bring us back to the Christmas story? Our good intentions, our ambitions, our desire to get things right – we can’t possibly keep this up. And when it inevitably falls flat on its face – in life, or in the stresses peculiar to December – we are left with a small baby in an animal feeding trough, born as a refugee into a political unstable country. His vulnerability, at birth and at death, would become our strength.

So here’s what I’m planning to do: write a little thought here on the blog every day this Advent. I’ll share anecdotes from my day, or things I’ve been thinking about – and I’ll try and include a short Bible passage too. You’ll bump along with the Desert household as we carry out our Christmas traditions and enjoy the season – but, inevitably, you’ll be the first to know when things don’t go to plan.

If you’re looking for exegesis or coherent thought, then this probably won’t be for you. If you like the idea of ‘doing Advent’ alongside another desert wanderer, then please join me. I’m going to call it ‘Random Advent’ – I did think of joining the words together in some overly fashionable way, but #randvent just sounds like the wrong kind of hashtag. This is not that kind of blog.

I’ll be updating on Facebook and Twitter, obvs, so please like/follow me on those media if you don’t already, but the easiest, surefire way of receiving each Advent thought is to sign up to email alerts. You can do that on the right-hand column of this blog – just type your email address and click on ‘follow’.

I’m not promising it’ll be anything profound, but perhaps as we offer God our mundane and simple, He will do something extraordinary. It worked for Mary and Joseph.

what i’m into – march 2017

Books

Don’t faint or anything, but this month I managed TWO books.

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When my brother, one of the most quietly radical Christians I know, said that A Praying Life had revolutionized his prayer life, I determined to read it. I started it two years ago, got seven chapters in and lost interest. It seemed a bit predictable and repetitive. But I always vowed to take it up again – and, very quickly, it became brilliant. Paul E. Miller is so insightful, with lots of original things to say about everything from anxiety to cynicism to suffering – all whilst encouraging us to develop (or rediscover) a childlike dependence on God. Seriously, every Christian should read this book.

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Then, a little late to the party, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, something I’d been meaning to read since Gordon Brown was at no.10. (Remember him?) It was just as wonderful as I’d expected, and took no time at all to finish.

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(PS I’m still going with Tim and Kathy Keller’s My Rock My Refuge and am only a day behind – woohoo! I thoroughly recommend this if you’re anything like me with daily Bible reading, i.e. need a (dated) kick up the backside to establish a habit!)

Food

After my February ‘What I’m into’ post (which now seems to have vanished – I blame the kiddoes…), where I bemoaned my limited vegetarian vocabulary, my veggie friend Hannah pointed me to her very helpful blog, which contains recipes, meal plans and tips on cooking for vegetarians and vegans. I’ve found it helpful not only for taking recipes as written, but for reminding me what can be done without meat – for example, veggie fajitas, which are so yummy and child-friendly. I took this recipe and adapted it, adding in a few bits we needed to finish up, and baking the rolled fajitas in tomato sauce with a liberal helping of grated cheese on top. Everyone wolfed it down – this happens very rarely in a household where half of the residents change their food likes and dislikes on an hourly basis.

Marinated tofu in black bean sauce was OK, but tofu is a lot more expensive when marinated, and I didn’t think it added much to the dish (protein, obvs, but little flavour). Pretty colours though:

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This vegan jambalaya went down well, especially the Quorn sausage. Does anyone else feel like they’re cheating when they use Quorn though?

The veggie star of the month was Mushrooms Cacciatore, which I served with rigatoni. The lingering cooking time, the veg and the wine, all combined to make a really rich, flavoursome sauce for the pasta – and, most importantly for meat-eaters, we didn’t miss the meat!

I was intrigued by a GP friend going on a High Fat, Low Carbs diet experiment – you can read his blog here. I’ve been aware for a while that processed carbs are not the best, and our dependence on them could lead to some serious health issues in later life – but I was intrigued by the High Fat part. This website explains more.

The recipes looked fun, and we got round to trying the Chicken and Coconut Curry, which we served with Cauliflower Rice instead of the usual white rice, and the Hamburger Patties in a Creamy Tomato Sauce, which was served with a huge pile of buttery fried cabbage instead of a bun. I felt properly full after each of these meals – although I understand from my friend that following this diet to the letter will result in some carb-cravings. I also bought a spiralizer this month, so am looking forward to trying courgetti, squashini and all sorts of other veg-based fillers…more in the April edition of ‘What I’m into’!

Articles

Not exactly an ‘article’, but Jen Wilkin’s incredible talk on raising a child to stand out rather than fit in just blew my mind this month. So much practical guidance in here, without any sense of judgement or weariness. I strongly recommend this for any Christian parent – it’s around an hour long.

I also enjoyed this article from the Guardian on a couple who adopted out of choice rather than necessity.

And, in a month where World Book Day had many parents (me included) reaching for the wine whilst simultaneously trying to hide under a rock, you can’t beat Hurrah for Gin’s hilarious commentary.

Music

This is just WONDERFUL!

…and I’ve discovered that the chord that makes Carole King’s ‘Up on the roof’ so wonderful (a 2nd inversion major 7th, if you were asking) can also be inserted into ‘The Splendour of the King’ for a rather nice, slow-but-powerful end to a worship set! Oh my goodness, is there anything better than Carole King and James Taylor combining their wonderful musical talents? I love how Taylor looks like he’s wandered in after a spot of gardening.

Oh look, I even picked up a guitar myself this month. Pic taken by one of the minions, mid-singing, hence dodgy expression.

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Screentime

We had a rare Whole Evening Without Other Agendas at some point during March, so decided to watch Fargo – it was engaging enough, but I didn’t feel it lived up to its synopsis, with characters under-developed and plot-line not intricate enough to grip us.

In other news…

Don’t get too excited, but this month we made the switch from margarine to butter. There you go, you can exhale now. (Truth be told, I only really made the switch so I could buy a pretty butter dish.)IMG_20170404_212539

Once again, we failed to buy a sofa. (This is a saga which has lasted two years now, and counting.) We moved the old one out, moved a ‘new’ (second-hand) one in, moved the ‘new’ (second-hand) one out, and then moved the old one back in. The Hokey Cokey has nothing on us.

We had a fun weekend with the grandparents, including a visit to a safari park and a fantastic imaginative play centre. And we also had a visit from some old friends we hadn’t seen in years.

My two wonderful Japanese friends came round and prepared the most incredible sushi feast for us and our kids. Shhhh, don’t tell them….it’s the only reason I make friends with Japanese ladies!

I helped a friend move house. And spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing a talk and didn’t do any laundry or tidying for a week. Well, not much. My mind boggles as to how anyone does talks week in, week out. Guess God’s teaching me a bit of empathy for my other half then 😉

Oh, and I used my PTA perk of a Booker card to stockpile Creme Eggs, my absolute favourite chocolate!

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How has your March been?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog – go check it out!

follow me – a review and a giveaway!

Amy Robinson is a writer and storyteller. It’s a sad irony that the years when Amy and I lived in the same city never overlapped with the years of me being a parent, as I think our family would have loved her storytelling performances.

Follow Me

The next best thing to being able to watch Amy is surely to immerse ourselves in her book Follow Me! which is a creative family devotional for Lent. (I say ‘immerse’, but let’s get this out of the way from the start: our family has recently exploded from four to six, and the only things in which we’re immersing ourselves just right now are toys, shoes, poo and melodrama. Anything else – this wonderful resource included – merely gets a toe-dip.

HOWEVER.

That doesn’t stop me from raving about Follow Me! Family Bible times are such a tough one to navigate, with different ages, interests and timetables to contend with. But here is a resource which accommodates all that. For example, some of the activities were too old for my under 6s – but that simply means I can continue to use the resource for the next few years. And some of the activities needed a bit of preparation or forethought – but then again this offered flexibility, giving us license to extend, or cut short, as suited us. I love how the book is so structured, and yet offers so many open possibilities.

This is how Follow Me! works. It starts Ash Wednesday (that’s tomorrow – eek! This blog was meant to be published a week ago!), and follows a different Bible story each week throughout Lent. Each day there is an activity based on that Bible story – perhaps a creative retelling of the story, some history and context, a poem, questions for ‘wondering’, a craft or a prayer. Every Sunday (which falls on day 5 as the weeks begin on Wednesdays), there’s a ‘community day’ which encourages your kids to do something simple with others. This is designed to be done within a church community, so is perfect if you attend church on a Sunday!

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I just love the spontaneity this book initiates. This is the fishermen’s boat on Lake Galilee. My kids chose their own props to add to Amy’s beautiful words.

You can mix and match the activities as much as you like, perhaps just picking up the resource once a week, or every day if you’re keen, or just whenever you all manage to come together. Please don’t think it’s too late to order a copy! (Or attempt to win one, see below.) This resource is SO flexible you can use it at any time during Lent – and, of course, unlike Creme Eggs, it will keep for next year, and the year after, and the year after!

I find Lent a long time in which to engage my children’s interests in the run-up to Easter. Usually we do Shrove Tuesday, and then forget about anything Easter-related until Palm Sunday. I like the fact that this resource manages to sustain the interest with structured Bible readings leading up to Easter. Not that we’re there yet, but I can imagine my kids sticking with this resource for the next few weeks because it’s something different and active, and there’s plenty of variety.

Follow Me! is simply a family-friendly version of what us adults appreciate through Lent: the opportunity to pause, consider Jesus’ life and ministry, and ponder what it means for own lives. You can get your hands on a copy here but as I haven’t done a giveaway for a while, I’ll be sending a free copy to a commenter chosen at random this Saturday. So: get commenting below for your chance to win!

The giveaway is now closed.