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

Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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

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

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


Music

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

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

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

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

Stage and screen

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

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

Articles

Some great stuff this month!

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the blog

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere

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

Other

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

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

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God bless Pinterest.

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

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

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

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

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How do I use herbs and essential oils to improve my family’s quality of life?

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Last Autumn, Missy requested a ‘lip-balm making party’ for her 6th birthday. I’d never made a cosmetic product in my life, but a Google search provided a simple-enough recipe, and I began ordering the ingredients. Missy chose the flavours herself, opting for lavender and lemongrass.

After the party, to use up leftover ingredients, we made more lip balms and other products for Christmas presents. We needed a few more flavours, so before long our essential oil collection looked pretty comprehensive.

Now – as I guess you’ll know if you’ve ever bought oils – these don’t come cheap. And, once the purpose is served, you’re still left with quite a lot in the bottle – so what do you do?

I’m aware that it’s possible to make a whole range of skincare products using oils. I’m also aware that you can use them in homemade cleaning products. Both of these have the capacity to reduce plastic consumption as well as lowering the number of chemicals we put on ourselves, our kids, and in our home. Sounds good so far.

The question is: where to start? You can Google individual recipes, of course, but who knows if they’re going to work or not? And how long is it going to take you to build up a decent collection of stuff that really works?

Cue the Ultimate Herbs & Essential Oils Bundle: a huge, diverse and useful digital library of e-Books and online courses carefully sourced and curated to give you ideas, recipes, tips and background information galore.

Ultimate Bundles is a Canadian company which scours the Internet, looking for the best digital resources on topics requested by customers. They then collate them all into an incredible ‘bundle’ and sell it for next-to-nothing – but only for a few days.

I came across them a couple of months ago when I bought their Ultimate Homemaking Bundle. It’s revolutionised my life, and I’m only a few books in! There were sections on parenting strategies, working from home (the Blog Boss course was SO helpful!), fashion and style tips for parents, budgeting, time management, self-care, home organisation and even faith. There were over 130 titles in all – and I paid the equivalent of about two or three books.

Anyway, you don’t want to hear about that (although I could ramble on for ages, it was such a brilliant buy) – you want to hear about what you get in this Herbs & Essential Oils bundle – right?!

Firstly, there’s a ‘Beauty’ section – seven fabulous e-Books written by people who know their stuff, going into detail on how you can make all sorts of different skincare and bath products.

I’m particularly keen on the ‘The Nerdy Farm Wife’s Natural Bath Bombs’ – I think I’ll be stashing this one away as a good idea for me and the kids to make for Christmas presents. And ‘Natural Body Care: Recipes that soothe the skin’ will be really interesting, as I have eczema and very sensitive skin.

Then there’s a section on Cooking, which includes a couple of helpful guides on cooking with herbs, spices and oils. I’m a huge fan of growing herbs, and we have a good selection in our garden, but I’m not so brilliant at finding ways to use all of them.

There’s also a section on Essential Oils – a 3-month membership to The Essential Oils Club, plus six e-books on all aspects of oils including recipes, safety considerations, benefits for families, and much more.

The other sections are on Herbs, Foraging, Natural Remedies, and For Your Home. DIY Holistic Cleaning: Safe and Natural Ways to Clean Your Home and Workplace sounds particularly intriguing – I’d love to learn more about how I can clean without chemicals. (When I do clean. Ahem.)

If you bought each resource individually, it would cost you $567.48 (roughly £426) – not to mention the time it would take you to source so much fabulously helpful material – but from May 30th to June 4th only, you can get them all in this fantastic bundle for $29.97 (roughly £22.52).

That’s the cost of about three actual books – but you’re getting 34 resources. Amazing! And there are 444 recipes across the bundle – can you imagine how much it would cost to buy this amount of inspiration? At least two, if not three or four, recipe books.

I’m not planning a hard sell here – that’s not my style – but I do like to share with you resources that I’ve found useful. The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle blew me away, which is why I’ve become an affiliate, bringing these packages to lots of my UK readers who won’t yet have come across this company.

If herbs and oils aren’t your thing, not to fear – there are plenty more bundles planned for the rest of this year: healthy living, photography, genius blogger’s, and healthy meal planning. I’ll be alerting you to each one, so that you won’t miss out on something you’re interested in.

Whatever the topic, each bundle will be filled with quality resources, designed to make your life easier, more interesting and enjoyable. And, unlike ordering paper books, you’re not waiting for a chance to get to the bookshop, or for an online order to be dispatched.

The Herbs & Essential Oils bundle is available from this Wednesday (May 30th) until June 4th only. To purchase it, simply click here anytime between those dates (I’ll remind you next week, but wanted to give you a bit of time to think about it).

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

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Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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Photo credit: Joy Photography

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

Music

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

Stage and screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles

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

On the blog

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

Elsewhere

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

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

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

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

In other news…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?