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

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Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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Photo credit: Joy Photography

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

Music

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

Stage and screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles

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

On the blog

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

Elsewhere

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

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

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

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

In other news…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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.

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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 (the birthday edit) – september 2017

With my four hooligans all deciding to have a birthday in September – three of them thoughtfully choosing to do this on consecutive days – I confess that this month’s edition of ‘what i’m into’ has been hijacked by cake, balloons and working out which party game suits which age group. Please don’t be surprised if I haven’t got up to much else this month!

Books

I’m still on Captain Corelli – enjoying it very much – but probably won’t finish till October!

Food

At the start of the month, with a busy few weeks looming, I didn’t have the energy to be creative with meals, so I did what any sensible person would have done, and bought enough chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and ready-made pies to last us through September.

Actually – nope. This is what I should have done. But cooking relaxes me, gives me a chance to breathe and to think, so I didn’t want to give it up altogether. I did the foodie version of stocking the freezer with frozen meals, which was to scour the Good Food website for easy family midweek meals, enjoying the fruits of the GF team’s labours rather than having to be creative myself. Some of the recipes were real winners, like this Three Veg Macaroni Cheese. Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese, eh? This one packs in some hidden veg that kids won’t notice (or at least ours didn’t).

And actually, I took a leaf out of my busy cousin’s book. She’s a few years down the line with her brood, so I rate her wisdom, and she’s married to a church leader, like me, so she understands the crazy pace of vicarage life. They unashamedly eat from the freezer once a week – so we’ve adopted this habit too, and it is so freeing, particularly on evenings where our extra-curricular schedule looks like it needs outsourcing to a logistics team.

And of course I can’t leave this section without mentioning the cakes, of which there were quite a few this month. A cartwheel one for my gymnastics-mad daughter:

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Two Stick Men cakes for my boys who adore the story (particularly the BBC’s magical dramatisation):

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And a football pinata cake for my footballing son:

IMG_3323[1]Friends, we have reached the stage of football parties, and I’m not quite sure when it will end. I can see us quite happily celebrating Mister’s birthdays in this fashion for a good few years yet.

Music

Image result for jojo siwaOh gosh, it was all stuff like Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa, ‘DJed’ via YouTube by my eldest for his younger siblings’ parties. But I did get Coldplay’s Parachutes out for the first time in years, and spent a happy evening remembering how good they used to be, and what a perfect album this is – as well as not a small amount of time realising how old it is, and therefore how old that makes me.

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Stage and screen

Twin Peaks finished and actually reached some kind of conclusion! Not perhaps exactly as I’d have liked, but as good as you’re going to get from David Lynch – and that made it perfect, really. We then watched a fair amount of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So, so funny – perhaps not for the faint-hearted – but clever and original.

I also got to enjoy all of Missy’s birthday DVDs – Sing (for the second time), Trolls (very surprised by how much I liked this one!) and Moana (in bits). I say I got to enjoy these films – I enjoyed them in the way one enjoys films with small kids, where you see excerpts in between toilet trips, making dinner, answering the phone, fetching snacks, applying plasters, and the like. Eventually, after about 35 viewings, you’ve filled in all the gaps and seen the whole film, piecing the order together in your head to make some kind of logical plot progression. It’s one of those parent hacks no one ever tells you you’ll need – but you master it, and feel quite damn proud of yourself when you do.

Articles

This was an interesting one on a couple learning to date again after having kids. And I appreciated this guy’s perspective on why him doing housework is not to ‘help his wife out’.

Stand-out for me this month, though, was Why Tired Mothers stay up so Late – one I can very easily resonate with!

In other news…

Did I mention we had four birthdays and three parties?? Did I????

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  • 8 year old Mister had his football party, and his guests ranged from those who eat/breathe/sleep football like he does, to those who don’t play at all. To make it accessible to everyone, we had some football-themed crafts and a few standard party games as well, and kept the football-playing sections quick-moving, with skills as well as matches. Big thanks to our wonderful friends Sam and Tom for running the football side of things!IMG_3343[1]
  • 6 year old Missy wanted to make lip balm. I took this simple recipe and got the kids working in pairs to mix and melt the ingredients, adding essential oils and cosmetic colourings near the end to see it magically transform into lip balm that was beautiful to smell and look at!
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    Stick Man play dough!
  • Monkey and Meerkat, who turned 3, had a Stick Man party. Fairly low key, given their age, but it was fun to find ‘stick food’, attempt a couple of simple party games, and play around with stick man themed play dough.
  • I also began a little job, one morning a week, as a teaching partner to our fab Suzuki Early Years teacher. I assist with her two Tuesday morning classes, where the kids range in age from 2 months to nearly 3 years. I can’t tell you what an absolute joy it is to witness such young kids responding to music with such sensitivity and awareness – and I really will blog about it soon, I promise!

As always, I’m linking up (just! within hours of the deadline!) with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series. Why not check them out? And let me know what you’ve been up to this September!

what i’m into – may 2017

Once again, I feel like a fraud writing a ‘What I’m into’, when I’ve blogged approximately zero else this month. But at least there has been movement…a post I’ve been drafting for the last couple of months (yes, really) is soon to hit this site! Watch out for it soon.

I have, however, been enjoying life away from the computer screen:

Books

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I mentioned Hunter S. Thompson’s Better than Sex last month. It did take me all month to finish, and Desert Dad thought I was crazy (“Why do you keep reading that when it’s such hard work?”) but what can I say? I’m a starter-finisher and can’t help myself. In a nutshell? Thompson created ‘Gonzo journalism’, where fiction and non-fiction are weaved seamlessly together in a haze of alcohol and, sometimes, recreational drugs. The book is about the 1992 Clinton campaign, with crazed anecdotes thrown in – some of which (I guess) were real, some of which were exaggerated, and some of which might have been totally fabricated for all I know. But his style is quite endearing really. I’m not sure I’ll be reading any more by him – the experience wasn’t unpleasant, but I’m just not that into politics. Or swearing.

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A couple of kids’ books have gone down a storm in the Desert household this month. First up, Fantastically Great Women who changed the World. I discovered this a couple of months ago in an independent bookshop, and we really got into it this month, discovering the achievements of Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Frida Kahlo, Anne Frank, and many more. Mister (7) and Missy (5) loved the way the book is written – succinct chunks of really fascinating info – and the design is beautiful too. I’d recommend it for both boys and girls – and parents! I learnt loads!

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Second, Everything a Child should know about God is a beautifully illustrated systematic theology for kids. Again, my 7yo and 5yo love it – I would say it’s perfect for the 4-8 age group, but could be enjoyed by those younger and older. It does what it says on the tin – under several headings such as All about the Bible, Who God Is, Jesus comes to help us, and Why we go to Church. Desert Dad (fussy theologian) reckons it’s too basic, and doesn’t address the deep questions kids often have – but I reckon it’s a great solid basis for any child being raised in a Christian home, and well worth a fiver. And, besides, I’ve told DD he should meet the gap in the market and develop an apologetics book for kids, so watch this space…

Food

Friends, it was May. Far too late in the year to be continuing to put in any effort whatsoever to creating exciting meal plans. And, besides, the sun shone for at least five days this month, rendering me incapable of doing anything other than throwing some leftovers together or chucking some dead animal on the barbecue. That we did, though – another item ticked off the Summer Bucket List. UK summers (especially in the North) are so short that I often feel like if I haven’t cooked a BBQ, worn shorts, got the paddling pool out, been to the beach and drunk Pimm’s all in one day, I may well have missed my chance for another year.

Actually – what am I saying? This was the month that I made my own sourdough bread, a crazily lengthy process which should really have happened in the enthusiastic days of early January, when anything is possible – not May, when I’m jaded and exhausted. Paul Hollywood claims, enthusiastically, “Once you’ve made your own bread ‘starter’ and produced a few loaves using it, there’ll be no going back to supermarket bread.” Er, yes, except supermarket bread doesn’t involve a small amount of rancid-smelling nothingness sitting on your worktop for several days, demanding as much ‘feeding’ and ‘nurturing’ as a young child, followed by a bread-making process so lengthy it requires you to book childcare and, quite possibly, a haircut – just in case you don’t make it out the other side before your roots are halfway down your head and the split-ends are numerous. OK, I exaggerate, but artistic licence is my privilege and I’m going to use it.

The bread was tasty, though. And lasted about 15 minutes in the presence of my hub’s extended family, with whom I was sharing a house for the weekend. That bit was quick at least.

Needless to say, second-time round I attempted to use the bread machine to speed things up. This picture tells you all you need to know about that idea.

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I made a moussaka which was eaten enthusiastically by ALL SIX MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY, and also the only proper meal I took a picture of this month, so am inserting it here:

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(OK maybe I lie. Perhaps it was five members. Or four. I can’t remember. A majority, anyhow.)

Oh – and one day during May, I may have eaten a lunch which consisted entirely of breadsticks meant for the kiddoes with my absolutely favourite dip. There’s nothing like discovering that a favourite food needs to be used by <today’s date> to throw out my usually maverick attitude towards food safety. Mostly, I’m all “If it smells fine and looks fine and tastes fine, it’s fine” – but on discovering an unopened Onion and Garlic dip, which is the most delicious savoury item in the whole entire universe, I suddenly turned into “Ooh, well I MUST eat that, lest the hub or the kiddoes try it and get food poisoning…what sort of mother would I be to expose them to food one second past its use-by date?”

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That was a good day, and I have no regrets.

Articles

British food explained for Americans made me giggle out loud on several occasions – particularly funny if you know both food cultures.

I’m sure I read other stuff but nothing stands out. Probably just full of crazed Hunter S. Thompson lines to really absorb anything sensible.

Music

This month has been dominated by my kids (Missy especially) discovering Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. We have reached That Stage. Because I’m so cool, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn some new chord sequences as I busked the songs the kids were bringing home, appreciating (in particular) the use of the supertonic and flattened leading note chords in ‘Roar‘ – sadly, I’m not even joking. Quote of the month was Missy announcing, “Wow, Katy Swift [sic] has done that song that’s in ‘Sing’!” I think ‘Katy’ would be thrilled to know that her hard work was being credited to a couple of animated pigs.

Stage and screen

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I’ve had to add the ‘stage’ part to this section this month, because I went to the theatre THREE TIMES!! We saw Stewart Lee, one of my favourite stand-ups. I can’t describe just how brilliant he is, so if you were expecting me to, then watch this instead – it’s total genius. We finally got to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company, after years of not getting round to it, and that was great too. I’m sure I’d have got a lot more of the references had I known more Shakespeare, but it’s so cleverly written that it’d be funny to someone who knew no Shakespeare plays whatsoever.

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Then, because sometimes you need some misery to balance out the fun, I went to see Jane Eyre with a couple of friends. Having read the book and seen various film/TV adaptations, I was interested to see how it would be staged, but it was phenomenal, with a live band on stage and original music which was neither of the period, nor jarring with it. The whole performance seemed to utilise modern theatre techniques without destroying the period and essence of the original. I loved it! It’s still got a fair few dates left on its tour, so click here if you’re interested – I highly recommend it.

Screen-wise, we’ve been glued to the new series of Twin Peaks, having devoured the original seasons a couple of years ago. I’m a girl who likes conclusions, so David Lynch’s bizarre twists and turns and subplots and sub-subplots shouldn’t really be my cup of tea, but I guess with every episode I’m holding out for an answer of some kind. And the ride is so good that I’m not even that bothered.

In other news…

I transformed our garage!

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Perhaps a small feat for many of you, but for me this has been a year-long dream. You read that right. Menial tasks have become something I can only dream of having the time to complete – so this makeover is something I’m immensely proud of. Mister and Missy helped me build the extra storage, and hopefully it means that the clutter-free space is now sustainable.

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As mentioned above, we enjoyed a gorgeous weekend away with the extended fam at a big old farmhouse with indoor pool and beautiful grounds. Clergy families rarely get a weekend away, usually having to save up Sundays-off for summer holidays, so this was a big treat for us all. The kiddoes had a wonderful time in the pool and being spoilt by their relatives, and Mister taught himself to swim in a morning!

I had a job interview – the first in 11 years! I didn’t get it – which I’m totally happy about – but, also, I didn’t make a tit of myself and, in fact, got some rather lovely feedback which made me smile and jump around a little bit. Turns out SAHMs aren’t totally de-skilled when they take a career break 🙂

I went to a bridal shower, and then the subsequent wedding, of some fab church friends. Weddings make me so happy, especially when the main players are so entirely brilliant together.

And, because it was sunny, I did All The Laundry (I have a thing about air-dried clothes), which inevitably meant not being able to keep up with the Putting Away. Piles like this started to appear all over the house.

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But we didn’t care because we were in the garden anyway 🙂

How was your May?

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series.