Egg-hunts, trying to be holy, and the Post-Modern Jukebox (What I’m into – March 2018)

Books

I finished The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (whicher (get it?) was highly absorbing, if a little slow-moving in the middle).

And then I spent a very enjoyable time with The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum. I won’t tell you how brilliant it is, because I’ve reviewed it here (and there are TWO copies to be won…comment on the post by Wednesday to be in with a chance!).

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Food

So I know there was food this month, but I didn’t really notice any of it, as I was pining too much for my first love. February’s optimism turned into March’s struggle. I tried everything to replace it: crisps, liquorice allsorts, fresh scones with clotted cream – but there’s no denying that I felt entirely lost without chocolate.

Will someone tell me what’s so infinitely better about chocolate than other sweet treats? I can’t put my finger on it – but nothing else tastes as good. 😦

Music

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A friend and I went to see the Post-Modern Jukebox, and they were all kinds of awesome. In fact, I already think they’ll be my top gig of 2018 – they would take a lot to beat. Fabulous musicians, singers…not to mention the incredible tap-dancer, who made me regret quitting tap lessons all those years ago! Who knew tap could be so cool.

I really hope they come to the UK again soon, as I know my older two kids would love the show. The arrangements are fabulous: contemporary pop songs, re-styled in vintage 20th-century genres. One of my favourites is their Motown version of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone‘ – have a watch/listen!

Articles

One of the very best and easiest family decisions you can ever make, by Sarah Mackenzie for Ann Voskamp’s blog, was beautiful and inspiring – and I recommend it to all those with children in their lives.

I laughed out loud and nodded in agreement with this brilliantly dry piece from a Dad, on all the things he can’t do because he only has daughters.

She would be better off dead is a poignant and inspiring read, on why Christians need to move towards disability.

Last but not least, I found this blog post incredibly powerful: God is taking everything away from me, on Vicki Cottingham’s response to being diagnosed with M.E. The post is a few years old, but I recently ‘met’ Vicki online through Christian writers’ forums, and so have been made aware of her fantastic blog.

On the blog

I asked whether we should avoid Mothers’ Day just because it’s hard, and (when my husband went away for a few days) wondered if I could make it as a single parent. When my son asked a tricky question, I gave him this answer on the definition of ‘brother’.

I shared some prophetic words which I received recently, asking whether we can really trust them, and I reviewed Fiona Lloyd’s brilliant book – offering a giveaway which you can still enter!

Elsewhere

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Photo credit: Home for Good

It was a joy and a privilege to be able to write up the story of how four inspiring York families have opened their homes to Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children – you can read it on the Home for Good website.

If you’re interested, do read the stories of the individuals mentioned in the above article (I wrote these too!): Jen, Clare, Sandra and Lynn are incredibly inspiring.

In other news:

* I’ve joined the Association of Christian Writers (ACW) and attended my first Writers’ Day. It was brilliant: jam-packed full of practical, useful info about writing for magazines, led by an editor and journalist. I enjoyed meeting a few people who I’d started interacting with online, too – always good to put a 3D figure to a 2D Facebook profile pic 😉

* When I blogged about single-parentdom, what I didn’t say was that the hubs was away three times this month – very unusual, as he’s not often called out of town. I was surviving the middle of these trips when I blogged. No wonder I’ve reached the end of March exhausted!

* We’ve enjoyed the first week of our school holidays (which are different to just about everyone else’s holidays). After two years, I can finally take all four kiddoes out on a day trip without the need for a Supporting Grown-Up, and it feels amazing! They can all walk! They can help each other out in the soft play! When they’re near a road and I call ‘STOP!!!’ they sometimes listen! Yay!

* As part of the above, we may have *slightly* overdone it, with six egg hunts completed at various venues this week. And there will be more to come. I’m a sucker for an egg hunt.

* And last but not least…I’ve set up a real proper newsletter thingy! In addition to the blog emails (where you receive an email whenever I post), this is more of a summary email every few weeks, where I’ll link to blog posts and other articles I’ve written which might be of interest, as well as give you an update on how my writing is going generally. And you’ll be the first to hear of any books in the pipeline! If you haven’t already, please sign up here – I’ll be eternally grateful to have your support! I promise to keep the emails short and not to spam you!

Linking up as always with Leigh Kramer’s blog. Take a look at some of the other ‘What I’m into’ posts – maybe you’ll find a new favourite blog! (Or second favourite. Humph.)

The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum – review and GIVEAWAY!!!

When you write a blog, it’s inevitable that people start telling you to write a book. All very well, you say, but it’s a bit harder to come up with an idea that might actually sell. After all, a book has to be more than a group of disparate thoughts all fused together. (Unless you’re a celebrity, in which case people will buy this kind of book in the thousands.)

This has been my dilemma over the last year or two, and particularly in the last few months since taking the plunge to devote more time to writing. If this blog could ever be translated to a book that people might want to read, then it would probably be a sort-of diary, perhaps halfway between Bridget Jones and Adrian Plass, recounting the pressures of parenting whilst telling the funny stories and also trying to pursue discipleship through the haze of early…

…BINGO! Fiona Lloyd has written this book, and it says EXACTLY what I would want mine to say, and she has done it A BAZILLION times better than I would have done. One thing can now be crossed off the to-do list. (Which seems to grow rather than shrink. Anyone else have this experience?)

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I’ve had a wonderful March, indulging in The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum. It’s honestly been my guilty pleasure, and has had me laughing out loud at times, and moved to tears at others.

The diary follows the ups and downs of Becky Hudson, mum of three and wife of one, who struggles to keep afloat in the sea of tweenager tantrums, toddler mischief, and one little boy who’s very obsessed with Formula One – not to mention a husband who’s facing Ofsted, an overly judgemental mother-in-law, and a church leader who seems to think Becky has a gift for leading whole-church prayers.

It didn’t take me long to warm to Becky, and her group of friends, as they support each other through their various parenting struggles and joys. I saw so much of myself in her, and various other characters. If the author has resorted to a couple of stereotypes (a holier-than-thou church mum, and the aforementioned MIL), she’s quickly forgiven because of such brilliantly funny, sassy writing, and a plot which develops cleverly throughout the diary entries.

I don’t usually read Christian fiction, and I found the whole experience completely wonderful. Christian non-fiction can inspire in a radical, ‘things you hadn’t thought about before’ way – but Christian fiction, like this book, can inspire you in a much more down-to-earth, ‘getting alongside you’ way.

If you’re a Mum, you’ll love this. If you’re a Dad who likes reading Mum books, you’ll love it too. (If you don’t, then buy it for a Mum you know.) I would also go a step further to say that even if your kids are all grown-up, you have grandkids or great-grandkids – you will still love this book! I’ll bet it’ll take you back to your days as a younger mum, and have you nodding away as you chuckle into your cuppa.

If you’re keen to get to know Fiona Lloyd before investing in this book, you can read this brilliant piece she wrote for the Baptist Union on why (and how) churches should welcome parents, or listen to this wise and articulate podcast she recorded for Premier Radio. If you subscribe to Woman Alive, you may also be interested to read her article in the April issue.

But before you head off to order the book…enter this giveaway! The kind folk at Instant Apostle have offered TWO FREE BOOKS to two lucky readers! All you have to do (you’ll be getting to know the drill by now) is leave a comment below by 11pm on Wednesday 4th April. I’ll use a random number generator to pick two winners, and let you know the happy news pronto.

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO HEATHER AND REBECCA!

Like what you’ve read? Click here to sign up for my emails and never miss another post! Plus, I’ll send you ‘Ten Survival Tips for Newly Adoptive Parents’ as a thank you!

Like books? Read some of my latest reviews!

Disclaimery bit: I reviewed my own copy of the book. All views are my own. Instant Apostle are kindly supplying the giveaway copies. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t review books I think are no good. I don’t receive payment, and if I receive a free book myself I’ll always let you know.

Also, this blog contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thanks for your support.

snow, stevie wonder and nineteenth-century murders (what i’m into – february 2018)

Books3D-COVER-WITH-DEVICE-cropped-267x300 (1).pngThis month, I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful, evocative, thought-provoking and affirming Forever Loved: Eve’s Story – it’s a wonderful book, and the great news for you is that my giveaway is STILL OPEN! Click here to read the review and enter (you have till 11pm Friday night).

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For my Book Club, I’ve been enjoying – albeit rather slowly – The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. It tells the horrific true story of the murder of a young child in 1860, a case which shocked the country and inspired the crime writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. The timing was interesting: detectives had only been around for a few years, and there were high levels of fascination with the mysterious methods they used – they were treated rather like celebrities. Kate Summerscale tells the story with her own perceptive observations throughout, combining the newspaper articles, letters and other evidence of the day with modern hindsight.

I’m not finding it easy to skim, so it’s taking me a while and I haven’t finished yet, but I totally intend to complete it, especially as March’s book is one I’ve already read!

20180301_144151[1]And I’m still going with the above holy trinity of interesting books – I read the top one daily, the middle one weekly, and the bottom one monthly. More on that here.

Food

Sad news: I’ve given up chocolate for Lent. It was a necessary thing to cut out of my diet. When you can’t get past the 10am mark without reaching for Something, then that Something has to go. Quite honestly, if I were drinking as much alcohol as I was eating chocolate, my kids would be taken away from me.

Actually, it hasn’t been as hard as I imagined. I’ve even manage to make a double batch of brownies this week and not eaten so much as a crumb! I feel the ‘all or nothing’ approach works for me – I wouldn’t have been able to reduce my intake, but cutting it out altogether has actually been OK. And yes, I’ve substituted with crisps and other bits, but I’m loosening the grip chocolate has on me, ridiculous though that sounds.

And, of course, I’m fully intending to return to chocolate on Easter Sunday – although hopefully in better proportions!

Music

It was my BIRTHDAY this month! Which, even as an adult, is quite exciting. A schoolfriend and I have a tradition going back probably 20 years at least, where we always buy each other CDs for birthdays. The world has become increasingly digital around us, but we still insist on CDs. This year, he got me three fabulous Stevie Wonder albums, so I’m enjoying those in the car with the kids, who got to know Sir Duke, If and Believe through taking part in Young Voices recently.

Articles

Quite a bit of interesting stuff this month:

Rachel Held Evans has helped many voice their questions but embracing doubt is not healthy  As a follower of Held Evans and others in the same camp, I really appreciated this article, which articulated some of what I feel when I read the writings of (particularly American) progressive evangelicals. As the author, Annie Carter, writes, “It’s easy to critique, criticise and mock and put the Church to rights. It’s not easy to lead the flock, or to be a faithful follower of Christ.”

I appreciated Hadley Freeman’s thoughts on what to say (or not) when a friend loses a child.

This short poem, Good Bones, was one I’d never come across before, but in the light of the recent school shootings, found particularly moving.

My missionary friend Suzy, back in the UK for a few months, compared life here with life in rural Ethiopia – worth a read.

Fiona Lloyd, whose debut novel has just been released (and which I hope to read and review on here very soon), wrote this fabulous piece for The Baptist Times on why Every Sunday is Mothering Sunday.

And, just because he writes so well, I thought Jay Rayner’s rant on people who complain about the price of meals in restaurants was classic.

On the blog

I reviewed TWO books this month, both with giveaways. If you missed the first (Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation), have a read now. If you missed the second (Forever Loved: Eve’s Story), click on the link and enter the giveaway as it’s open till Friday 11pm!

I shared what my first month of ‘being a writer‘ had been like, and wrote some thoughts on Fasting – is it just about a flatter stomach??

 

Elsewhere, my first piece of writing was published! A promotional piece, advertising the Beer & Pizza Festival at my friend’s marvellous bistro. No credit for the title – I’m rubbish at puns.

Stage and screen

Still catching up with stuff we recorded over Christmas (aren’t we old-fashioned?). On that note, we need a new TV so if any of you wonderful readers can shed light on whether we should go for an all-singing, all-dancing model, or something basic into which we can plug everything we need, please share.

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My week with Marilyn was interesting, if it really happened like the film suggests. Having watched ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’, we were obliged to watch Whatever happened to Baby Jane, although I felt ‘endure’ might have been a better verb. I did enjoy Gone Girl, a psychological thriller depicting a man whose apathetic attitude towards his wife’s mysterious disappearance arouses suspicion.

In other news…

* We relished our second trip to William’s Den. If you’re local and have never been, do put it on your bucket list.

* After three years plus, I handed in my notice as a school governor. It’s been a great ride, but now is the right time to hand on to someone else. More coming in a future blog post…

* Over half term, we enjoyed a couple of days down in London, celebrating our eldest nephew’s baptism – as in, a proper baptism where he chose to get baptised, gave his testimony and got totally dunked! It was wonderful, totally glorifying to God and very particular to our nephew, his likes and interests – but I never expected to be blubbing all the way through. How can it have been fifteen years since we were in the same church, celebrating his dedication as a baby?

* We caught up with friends we hadn’t seen for nearly nine years, and another friend who we’re pretty sure we haven’t seen for nearly seven.

* We ate out at least six times…quite unusual for us…a combination of birthday fun and other occasions. Like London buses, you might say.

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Yo Sushi! My guilty pleasure birthday lunch.
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A non-chocolatey dessert at the All-You-Can-Eat place – a challenge, but not beyond me!
* The kids and I enjoyed making blueberry pancakes from the Gruffalo cookbook – very tasty.

 

* And, of course – SNOW!!!

 

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into‘ posts. What have you been into during February?

forever loved: eve’s story – a review and a GIVEAWAY (yes, another one!)

Yep, you read that right! No sooner after giving away a copy of the wonderful ‘Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation‘ to the equally wonderful (presumably – although I’ve never met her so I couldn’t be certain*) Su, I’m waxing lyrical about yet another brilliant book, whose author has very generously offered a signed copy to whichever Desertmum reader wins this giveaway.

(* In case it’s not obvious, this is a JOKE.)Paper and digital copies of Forever Loved: Eve's Story by Joanna May Chee

I enjoyed this book so much. For one, it is short – and, before you dismiss this as an irrelevant point from a literary lightweight, remember that many people don’t have lots of time to read. If God’s word is to go out as widely as possible – and author Joanna May Chee certainly feels that the message of God’s love for Eve is one which needs to be heard by women across the world – then length is important. Not all of us have the time for theological tomes on Genesis, thank you very much.

Secondly, it is highly thought-provoking. As I read it, I was confronted with aspects of Eve’s story I’d never noticed before. I don’t want to give spoilers, but highly recommend you get a copy and start delving into this rich narrative for yourself.

First woman. First to sin. First to experience God's mercy and grace.

Thirdly, it is different from any other Christian book I’ve read. The chapters do not contain the author’s commentary on the story of Eve, each headed with a different application point. There would be nothing wrong with this. But this book is different: the majority of words are dedicated purely to the creative retelling of Eve’s story, and so it reads like a novel, but a punchy one. There is an opening section of Joanna May Chee’s own story, and the final section applies the story to our lives, but the bulk of the book is simply the story of Eve.

And there is power in this narrative – power in the Biblical story, with nothing added except details which help you pull out even more from the tale. Honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing afresh about Eve’s life! If you always thought Eve’s story was a sad, discouraging one, this book will make you think again.

I fell: he sought me out. I fell: he loved me. I fell: he chose me.

This book would make a fabulous Mothers’ Day gift. Or maybe you can think of a friend in your church or small group who needs encouraging – why not surprise them with this? Buy a few copies and save them up to give your girlfriends on their birthdays. It’s that good.

Forever Loved: Eve’s Story is released TODAY and you can buy it from Eden, Waterstone’s, Wordery and Amazon. AND…as a special first-week offer…the book is being sold £2 cheaper this week than it will after Sunday.

But if you want to get your hands on a free, signed copy – please leave a comment (here, not on social media) before 11pm this Friday, 2nd March, at which point I’ll pick a name using one of those online number generator doo-dahs. Look out on Facebook and Twitter to see if you’ve won!

The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to BrK who won!

Like what you’ve read? Click here to sign up for my emails and never miss another post! Plus, I’ll send you ‘Ten Survival Tips for Newly Adoptive Parents’ as a thank you!

Like books? Read some of my latest reviews!

Disclaimer: I received a free eBook to review. However, writing a positive review was not a condition of the deal. I don’t write or publish reviews of things I don’t like – I simply don’t have time. And I never, EVER recommend things unless I really like them. So there.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I earn a little commission at no cost to yourself.

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!

 

what i’m into – november 2017

November can be a pretty miserable month – it’s cold, wet and dark, and it feels like we’re hanging around waiting for December to begin. To distract myself from the temptation to put the tree up on November 1st (did I mention I LOVE Christmas??), I kept myself busy with…

Books

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Having recently read ‘Me Before You’, it was only natural to want to know what had happened to Louisa, the main character, so I enjoyed ‘After You’ (JoJo Moyes) as an easy-to-read but satisfying ‘conclusion’ to the first book. I was just thinking that the story would work well as a trilogy – and then discovered that there will, in fact, be a third book coming out in the spring! Yay!

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I’ve not yet finished, but am thoroughly enjoying, ‘Why Love Matters’ (Sue Gerhardt), something I’ve been wanting to read in full since coming across it on our adoption reading list two years ago. It’s about the vital role that early love and nurture play in the development of a child’s brain, helping it to regulate emotions, retain a normal level of cortisol (stress hormone), and all sorts of other interesting things. Gerhardt shows how a baby who does not have its emotional needs met, and/or experiences separation from its primary caregiver, is much more susceptible to poor mental health and even physical health in adulthood, amongst other undesirable states.

Now I am NOT a scientist, but Gerhardt has condensed a 50-page bibliography of current psychological research about the brain into a novel-sized book that even I can understand. Brilliant and thoroughly recommended for anyone, like me, who has a passing interest in psychology but not enough to do a whole degree in it!

Oh, and I was massively excited to be part of a new book club launch in my area! We’re kicking off in January, and you’ll be the first to know what we’re delving into!

Food

For the first time, I got to experience my friend’s bistro in the evening. The daytime menu at Bistro Guy is what you’d expect from a decent, modern-British restaurant – local organic platters, decent home-cooked burgers, soups and salads – and we’ve been several times. But the evening is totally different, and I highly recommend it for any Yorkie who hasn’t yet been.

Guy provides a tantalising menu of ‘small plates’, all with a Japanese-Western fusion, and you simply order as much as you feel you can eat. Which, in my case, would probably be all of them – except for my bank balance, and the fact that we were eating before a show so were somewhat time-limited. I’d seen the menu before, but the reality was even better.

I started with Karaage chicken, Yuzu dressed fine beans and a wasabi emulsion – delicious flavours and beautifully tender – but it was so yummy that I’d necked the lot before I thought of taking any photos.

My Dad enjoyed a wild mushroom and garden pea soup: (Excuse the rubbish phone pics, they really don’t do the food justice.)

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I tried a wild mushroom and leek filo roll, squash puree and parmesan crisp (only halfway through before I remembered to take a pic):

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And then – the piece de resistance – whiskey-smoked duck, a feast for the eyes and tastebuds:

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I absolutely loved the smoke-filled bell-jar – and the aroma when it was lifted off was absolute heaven. The duck was beautifully cooked and the flavours matched perfectly.

As if I hadn’t had enough amazing flavours, I finished off with the chocolate brownie, coconut pannacotta, red bean and ice cream:

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An incredible meal.

Elsewhere, in what was probably my most stressful week of the year, our Suzuki teacher (and my boss) made me this amazing cake. Wasn’t that kind?

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And a couple of fun pre-Christmas foodie traditions at home. I made a batch of Christmas chutneys for gifts:

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And the kids (well, the younger three – the oldest has sadly opted out this year) helped to make our Christmas pud. And yes, we made it on Stir-Up Sunday!

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Music

It was a teeny bit stressful, rashly offering to step in to accompany a friend’s school choir in the middle of town at short notice this month – but, once I’d put in the practice, I absolutely LOVED being able to justifiably play Christmas music mid-November.

Did I mention I LOVE Christmas music??

Stage and screen

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My Dad is a big G&S fan, so I invited him and Mum up here to see Patience. It was pretty good (for a not-so-fan), and I even managed to stay awake through it all – something not achieved by the other not-so-fan in the party. Spotting one of Mister’s teaching assistants in the chorus was a particular highlight.

I went to see Nina Conti with a friend and she was brilliant brilliant brilliant. We laughed so hard that we hurt – and it was the kind of laughter that you couldn’t stop if you tried. Her improvisation is so quick, her puppetry is amazing, and I’ve simply never seen anything like it. I can’t understand why she’s not better known, so have vowed to make it my mission to spread the word, starting with this video, which you simply MUST watch:

On the blog

Hooray for managing another blog post this month besides these monotonous run-downs. Turns out that Five Ways my Toddlers are Different from Yours hit a chord with people, and within days it had become one of the most-read posts on this blog EVER (that’s over-five-years Ever). I also introduced my #randomadvent blog posts, and would be thrilled if you wanted to pootle along with me during Advent. The easiest way is to sign up to receive them directly into your inbox – you should find the appropriate box in the right-hand column of this blog.

In other news…

* I’ve made an effort with Twitter. I’m @DesertMumBlog if you’re interested to follow me. Sometimes I say something good and no one notices. Other times, I say something predictable and it gets lots of likes and retweets. Twitter is a strange place.

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* I attended Adoption UK’s Annual Conference – it was my first one, and it was amazing! This year’s theme was ‘Attachment and Trauma in the Classroom’ and so much of it was helpful to work through, both as a parent, and as a governor, seeking to make a positive change within our school community. Some of the speakers had really interesting experiences, like the headteacher who runs his school very differently since he’s become an adoptive parent, or the mum who started her own school because her son wasn’t catered for in the mainstream.

There was also a decent lunch, surely the mark of a good conference:

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* We had a Baker Day (anyone else still call them that?) so I took the kiddoes to William’s Den – highly worth a visit if you’re local. Brilliant for toddlers through to older primary kids – like soft play, only hard.

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* My wallet was stolen. I don’t actually mind, because the story’s a good one, and it’s always nice to build up one’s repertoire of dinner-party-worthy anecdotes (maybe I’ll share it on here one day). People were all like, “Oh what a pain, you have to cancel all your cards” – but I’m ashamed to say I had only one bank card and approximately five gazillion store loyalty cards for every single shop within a 50-mile circumference of my home. I’m a SUCKER for anyone offering me a paltry discount in return for a large chunk of my patronage. IMG_20171129_125507[1]

* We got back into doing some interactive Bible stories over breakfast. It’s been a surprisingly easy habit to fall into, and the younger three kids love them. I use Play through the Bible, sadly no longer available, so if you’re interested, you’ll have to borrow a copy 😉 I feel we’ve cracked the habit in time for starting some Christmas stories this weekend.

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* The younger boys (and I!) were very excited by this rainbow!

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* We were then very excited by the snow! NOW, Desert readers, help me out with something. After each blog post, I am indebted to all the wonderful recommendations you come up with – most recently, for a new ironing board cover (still in progress…). So, when the temperature suddenly dropped by 20 degrees last week, my face very quickly started to resemble blotchy red sandpaper. Any great recommendations of a decent facial moisturiser which protects against the cold? We live in the North, you know.

* Last but very much not least…it’s our school Christmas Fair tomorrow, so I’ve been doing lots of bits for that. It’ll probably get a mention in #randomadvent, but for now let me just tell you what a total JOY it is to compare how far our school has come since last year’s Christmas fair. We now have a proper PTA, a committee, and a good bunch of enthusiastic and reliable parents to help out. I’m expecting great things!

And, oh gosh, it’s past midnight, which means that the Fair is today. Best get some sleep.

 

what i’m into – october 2017

I’d like to say that I began October in a darkened room, wearing an eye mask, feeling my way to reach wineglass to mouth, sipping something strong and recuperating from the whirlwind of children’s birthday parties in September.

Actually, I was too tired to move, so I stayed on the sofa and the wine stayed in the fridge. #glamorous

Books

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I finally finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin! Trumpets and fanfares and party poppers and silly string please! It was SO good that I reckon I should read a novel which takes me three months every year. Whilst it’s nice to be able to tick a book or two off my reading list every month, there’s also something about not being able to skim the sentences of a novel, breathing in every nuance and turn of phrase, which is life-giving and soul-enriching. If you haven’t read CCM, I highly recommend it!

Food

You know by now that I’ll bake anything as long as it’s a Martha Collison recipe. So this month I tried her brownie ice cream sandwiches. They took a while, whisking up the ice cream and waiting for it to set, in addition to baking and cooling two layers of brownie, but the result was a hefty tray-load of goodness, which could be sliced up, eaten there and then, with the rest frozen to be a stand-by pudding or teatime treat on another day. It really did make a huge amount, and more than accounted for the time taken in making it in the first place.

For the benefit of any locals reading this, we tried Zill’s restaurant for the first time, and enjoyed the variety of tapas dishes to start with, the mixed grill main course and baklava for dessert. Hubby thought it was ‘fine’ (he’s hard to please), but I love pretty much anything that involves a pick-and-mix way of eating. I also returned to Ambiente and the good old York Tandoori, hang-out of students and locals alike, this month, with different groups of friends. (Oh my gosh, you read that right, THREE meals out this month. What can I say? Lots of birthdays. Not my kids’ though, thankfully.)

You’d have thought that October might see the back of birthday cakes but, no, Desert Dad has plonked his celebrations right in the middle of the month so, before I could recover from September’s onslaught of fondant, I was back in the kitchen crafting something which was better in my head than in reality.

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Still, I think you can tell what it’s meant to be. I have to fess up here and tell you that I tried Martha’s chocolate cake recipe and, for the first time thus far working my way through Twist, I was disappointed. It was chewy and un-cake-like in its texture. I happen to have a pretty stonking chocolate cake recipe which uses hot chocolate powder to replace some of the flour, so reckon I’ll be sticking with that in future.

My one achievement of this cake, though, was that – like all good chocolate boxes – there was a second layer of chocs underneath the layer you can see 🙂 Happy days.

Music

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The kiddoes have got hold of their Dad’s old mix CD and make me play Dolly Parton and Belinda Carlisle on loop for hours and hours – although I’ve now convinced them of the amazingness of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U, so that brings a welcome change.

We still have cello most days from Missy.

And Mister has started rehearsing for Young Voices, which he’s now old enough to take part in. I’m delighted the selection includes a Stevie Wonder medley, as well as A Whiter Shade of Pale, surely one of the most bizarre songs to have ever been a mainstream hit, as well as a good deal of songs with uplifting and affirming lyrics like “I’m powerful! I can do anything I want! Watch out, world – here I come! WA-HEY!” or “Music brings us together! It will be the repairing of the nations! It will succeed where politics has failed! Let’s sing and have peace, people!”

Still, I’m in floods whenever he opens his mouth to sing.

Stage and screen

Quite a bit this month… The three younger kiddoes and I went to see The Ugly Duckling with some friends. It was beautiful and engaging, and Missy (6) loved it, although Monkey and Meerkat (3) got a little restless.

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Then I headed out with a friend to see Son of a Preacher Man, an incredibly feel-good, toe-tapping musical, although various sections of acting, dancing and singing seemed a little stunted at times, probably due in part to the fact that pretty much all the characters are required to do all three equally well, which just isn’t the case in most musicals, where some characters do more singing, others do more dancing. However, the incredible versatility of the on-stage musicians, who also appeared to have amazing voices and act pretty well, more than made up for anything the main characters were lacking, and I spent the next few days screeching out Dusty songs at the top of my voice, with a piano if one was accessible.

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Towards the end of the month I got to see the poet Hollie McNish with a friend. Quite brilliantly wonderful – my head was nodding in agreement throughout, at the same time spinning with how eloquently she phrases the things inside my head. Well recommended if she’s coming near you, especially if you’re a 30-something Mama 😉

And The Apprentice has started, and I’m hooked as always. Some friends ask, “How can you possibly watch that? They’re so mean to each other.”

BECAUSE IT’S TELEVISION.

It’s funny and it’s gripping and it’s shouting-at-the-screen brilliant- well worth the licence fee on its own. Also, it’s not real – not really real, anyway. Everyone’s playing up to the cameras, and the editing is very clever. Those who are genuinely mean tend to get found out, and the tables turn pretty quickly. My money is on Sarah Lynn – although she seems a little too obviously good, so perhaps I’ve missed something?

Articles

Quite a few this month. The most interesting and true of them all, perhaps because it articulates things which are hard to articulate, is this article, on how – despite growing equality in parenting – it is still mothers who are the ‘keepers’ of so much information. Along a similar vein is this fantastically thought-provoking cartoon, translated from its original French here. If you only read two things this month, please read these!

Then this article in The Guardian is an interesting insight into the culture of the ‘involuntarily childless’; this piece (also from The Guardian) highlights a very interesting case of a headteacher who bravely adopted MUSIC as his approach to rescue his school from Special Measures; and this blog post on why adults need bedtimes was really thought-provoking too. (Needless to say, I don’t have a bedtime, or not a very sensible one!)

What little girls need from their fathers is outlined in this pretty challenging article, and I’m always fascinated by stories of parents who quit high-powered jobs to spend more time with their children, so here’s one of those.

Blog

New for this month: an actual paragraph dedicated to this very blog…BECAUSE I WAS ACTUALLY QUITE PROLIFIC THIS MONTH (for me) AND I’D LIKE YOU ALL TO BE EXTREMELY PROUD AND AMAZED. I finally got to share why I think the Suzuki method has been so beneficial in these first couple of years of being an adoptive parent – and I had to respond to the #metoo campaign with some thoughts on how the heck we are supposed to raise our own daughters and sons in this culture.

In other news…

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* As part of my commitment to not ignoring my son for the rest of his life, I accompanied him (and his little chums) to my first ever football match. I know nothing about football, but York City are like in the Eighth Division. We didn’t win – but we saw a few goals scored from both teams (the illustrious Tamworth on the opposing side), and it was a good first experience – made, at times, more comprehensible (and at other times more hilarious) by the commentary of the four little men sitting next to me. Gosh, they know a thing or two about red cards.

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* I sold all our (cloth) nappies and paraphernalia on eBay. That was a good feeling.

* I did some major toy clear-outs, to make room for all the new birthday Stuff, and that felt good, especially where I could give to known individuals or community groups. I still have the older kids’ bedroom to tackle, though, and am dreading it…

* I helped at our school’s first ever Film Night and it was great fun, especially dishing out the movie snacks!

* We had a few days away seeing my brothers’ families and some distant friends. Felt good to catch up, although travelling with the twinnoes is stressful.

* We visited a new-ish farm near us, and found an animal even smaller than our teeniest-tinest boy, so couldn’t resist this photo of our Meerkat bottle-feeding a micro-pig:

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* We’re trying to buy an ironing board cover that doesn’t look like it came out of a 1980s batchelor pad. If any of you have experience in this field, do share.

And that’s it. Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s blog. How was your October? And can you believe we’re already into November? Feels like the year’s just begun, right?

what i’m into – august 2017

Whilst August has been fairly whirlwind, it’s been a different kind of whirlwind to usual, and I’ve really noticed and appreciated the change in pace. Fewer meetings, deadlines and things to do outside keeping family and home happy and organised (ish). The busyness we have had has been almost entirely down to fun and relaxing things.

Besides, it’s now September, schools are back this week, and I feel the metaphorical parenting pat-on-the-back at yet another family summer survived, with relationships still intact and limbs all present and correct. High five anyone?

Books

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Only 23 years late, I’ve finally boarded the ship of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It’s fascinating, incredibly detailed about just about everything, and I’m loving the way each character and situation is meticulously described. I can’t say I’m finding it easy though – 70 odd chapters, and I’m only half way through, so I’ve decided to take my time over it and read other books on the side.

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And what better book to choose than 180 Seconds, which I was pretty sure would turn its own pages. I was right. Allison was adopted at 16. She carries with her the trauma of her past, finding it difficult to interact with others, let alone trust them. But inadvertently becoming part of a social psychology experiment in which eye contact is made with a stranger for three minutes starts to challenge her – can she break down the walls and begin to trust? I’ll say no more – never let me be accused of giving spoilers on this blog. But it’s one to read! (Side note: with all this increased reading, I’ve started to use my local library. It is BRILLIANT. I’ve ordered several books which they don’t have, and this one and another turned up within a fortnight. Hurrah for free books!)

Image result for glorious unionI mentioned here that I’d bought a few marriage books for the hubster and I to read together. We read the first this month – Glorious Union, a short book specifically for couples in ministry. As the introduction says, it’s not a book about marriage, nor about ministry, but a book looking at the specific relationship between the two. There are some practical exercises in the book, and doing these has opened up conversation beyond what the book itself says. We’re more grateful now for the privileges, and are starting to think about how to deal with the pressures, of him being a church leader. We’re not quite finished, but from what we’ve read so far, I’d really recommend this book for any couples where one or both are in full-time Christian ministry.

A Guide to AttachmentAnd I realised that, as an adoptive parent, I should probably know more about attachment than I do, so although I have some meatier books to attack when time allows, this month I read this handy little booklet, written by Mr Timpson – of Timpson Shoes! And yes, you buy it from his shops 🙂 It’s short, and therefore only skims the surface, but it’s a good introduction for anyone thinking about adoption/fostering, or supporting someone who is.

Food

IMG_20170822_172156[1]Is there a more glorious sight than this in August?! I’ve made blackberry gin and blackberry crumble, and have eaten a fair few when the kiddoes haven’t got there first.

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Blackberry gin!
Missy spontaneously decided to make blackberry milkshake too…

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The kids also decided to set up a blackberry shop…although very reasonably priced 😉

IMG_20170813_162949[1]A holiday to Jersey gave me my first experience of Jersey black butter – amazing stuff. Like jam and chutney all rolled into one. I’ve had it on toast for breakfast, and with pate for a snack – I know it would be great with cheese too. Mmmmm. We also took advantage of the fresh local seafood – oysters and lobster for me at Bistro Rosa. YUM! And enjoyed plenty of Jersey dairy products 🙂

 

Music

If you’ve ever wondered what Katy Perry’s ‘Roar‘ would sound like when being warbled at a high decibel by a 5 year old and two 2 year olds – and I know you must have done at some point – feel free to drop by our house. I have had this experience daily throughout August.

Stage and screen

The Tiger

I promise you I don’t always go to the theatre as much as I have done this year, but when we saw that The Tiger who came to tea was coming to town, we had to book some tickets! It was lovely, looked just like the book, and where the story had been extended, it fitted just perfectly. The boys loved it (aged 7, 2, 2) – interestingly the 5 year old was not as enamoured.

We took advantage of having Netflix in our holiday home to watch Philomena, every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped. You’ll need your tissues at the ready as it’s poignant and hopeful – but with humour throughout. And Judi Dench is fantastic, as always. There’s something about her that totally makes me forget Dame Judi whenever she’s in role – she’s utterly convincing, and I love her!

We’re still going with Twin Peaks – me hoping beyond hope for some kind of ‘conclusion’, but starting to realise it probably won’t come (we’re three episodes away from the end, still meeting new characters and new situations), and made a virgin voyage into The IT Crowd, which felt like all the best bits from Father Ted and Black Books rolled into one.

Articles

Lots of interesting things this month. I loved this minister’s beautiful tribute to his wife. The Rt Rev Philip North’s words about how many clergy are glued to middle-class areas was both challenging and relevant for us as we navigate a mixed parish with an awful lot of poverty. On a related topic, this older article by Grayson Perry on why taste is so intrinsically woven into what ‘class’ we are or perceive ourselves to be was fascinating and absolutely spot-on.

This article, highlighting some recent research on screen time for children, is lengthy but informative. (Of course I still use the TV as a babysitter pretty much every day, but it’s nice to know what the ideal is, should I ever wish to turn into Hyper-Organic-Super-Mum.)

And my friend Jo, as always, challenged me on letting go of anger, rather than letting it define our futures.

In other news…

We went to Jersey! I think I said that. And then we went to Shropshire! Equally wonderful.

We’ve had lovely friends to stay this month, and some wonderful catch-ups with local friends too. I love the space that the summer holidays give for more extended playdates and catch-ups.

We saw a hedgehog.

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And we started potty training! I can hardly believe this. I thought I’d be buying the boys their school shoes before their pants – but, no, it seems that choosing their own potties was the catalyst for showing me how ready they are to have a go. I’ll spare you too many of the gory details, but must share this photo – which, to me, sums it up: my new dress having been spray-weed. Only boys can get that angle right.

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Now there’s a shot you won’t see in a Boden catalogue.

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into‘ series. Do check out the other posts, and let me know what you’ve been up to in August!