what i’m into – april 2017

It’s been a silent month on the blog, and I know many of you were wondering whether I’d passed across the Jordan due to excessive Creme Egg consumption during March. Thank you for your concern, and I’m happy to report my status as ‘alive’, although with far fewer teeth than one month ago. Here’s what I did in April, in between unwrapping (and demolishing) foiled eggs.

Books
suzuki.jpgI properly read Everything Depends on How We Raise Them, which I mentioned dipping into in January. It was good to complete as, overall, it did give me a broader idea of the Suzuki methodology for teaching Early Years – but the numerous sweeping statements, and lack of evidence to back up many of the claims left me wanting more, so I hope I can find a few more thorough Suzuki textbooks to guide me through. I’ve yet to blog about how our experience of Suzuki has benefited our adopted boys – perhaps this month, fingers crossed? (I realise this is a fairly hollow gesture, coming from the girl who has blogged approximately not-at-all since the last ‘What I’m into’, but hey.)

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I also began my first ever Hunter S. Thompson book – suggested to me in my Year of Books by an ex boyfriend. (And of course you always do what your ex tells you – that’s a thing, right?) It’s interesting – but more next month, when I’ve finished it. Suffice to say it’s not my usual read but I’m rather fascinated by it.

Food

As hinted last month, we dabbled in a bit of low-carbs eating this month: a crustless quiche went down well with half the family, and courgetti was a hit with everyone (most of the kids didn’t notice it wasn’t spaghetti), although no one told me how much courgettes shrink during cooking so next time I’ll purchase a small allotment’s worth. This is the spiralizer we have in case you’re thinking of investing in one – it works a treat and is easy to clean – even for someone allergic to washing-up like me.

I think the low-carbs interest wore off later into the month as I realised that no one actually wanted to eat like that apart from me. So I took down an old May edition of BBC Good Food magazine, and tried a few things like spinach and goat’s cheese puff (success with two-thirds of our family), black bean meatballs with stir-fried noodles (100% family approval rating – this doesn’t happen often) and a flexible leftovers tortilla, which I planned for a Monday so we could use up the veg from our Sunday roast. Although, of course, after several years of making roast dinners and never cracking the secret of how many veggies to cook, this happened to be the one Sunday where I got it so very nearly right, and therefore had precious few leftovers for the leftovers tortilla. So it was just a tortilla. And not a very authentic one. The kids’ Spanish teacher looked at me rather oddly when I said there’d be tuna and pesto involved.

In the same magazine, I also rediscovered this amazing recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese which is just SO good and I don’t even care that it’s not the right season for comfort food.

We loved being the guinea-pigs for our friend Guy’s new pizza oven over at his bistro. The sourdough pizza base is AMAZING, and the toppings all fresh and yummy. Local friends, if you haven’t been to Guy’s then hurry round as quickly as your feet will carry you – it’s pizza and a cocktail for a tenner on Wednesdays throughout the summer. Happy times.

Articles

Not a huge amount this month, but two Marathon-themed stories stood out for me. One was an old college friend, Jackie, who got married early on the morning of the London Marathon, then ran it with her new husband, dad and cousin. Why? Because she’d been diagnosed with cancer just days after her now-husband had proposed to her. She took up running as part of the recovery, and has now done several runs to raise money for cancer charities.

The second was from a friend who didn’t even run, due to unexpected ill health this year, but his perspective is refreshing and inspiring. Read Ed’s brilliant article on putting Jesus above running.

Oh yes, and this article about why women clergy lead so few large churches gave a lot of food for thought.

Music

This month has seen me enjoy the Pitch Perfect soundtracks (again), Norah Jones, The Carpenters and (always) the Postmodern Jukebox.

BUT April was dominated by the sound of my 7 year old Mister tinkling the ivories, learning to play by ear. He shows little interest in learning the pieces in his piano book, but loves playing Vindaloo, which a friend taught him last year, so I decided to give him the first three notes of Bless the Lord O My Soul to see what he could do with them. With a bit of assistance here and there, he got it sounding great! We’re now on to the Match of the Day theme tune, which he’s nearly mastered. The challenge is finding more pieces in C which can sound good with one hand – and which he knows. Any suggestions, please share!

Geeky muso moment alert: the link above is the original version, or at least closer to it than the current version of the theme. As I listened, I’d never spotted quite so many Afro-Caribbean elements to the music, and used this as an opportunity to enthusiastically educate (read: bore) Mister with details of post-war immigration to the UK and how fusion music develops. Fun!

Screentime

The Producers Poster

This month we watched a couple of Matthew Broderick films – the cult 80s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the 2005 version of The Producers. Yep, my life doesn’t really involve staying up to date with films. We enjoyed both, though, especially Ferris. Oh, and I did make it to the cinema to see Beauty and the Beast – there’s one current film for you – which was pretty good.

On TV I caught up with ‘Child of our Time’ on iPlayer, which I find intriguing and frustrating in equal measure – intriguing insights, but frustratingly short – I’d love to have heard more on each teenager. And, along with every other person in the country, I blubbed my eyes out to Rio Ferdinand’s moving documentary on becoming a single dad through bereavement.

In other news…

I did a talk! A real, live one with a mic and audience and everything!! And it took me approximately seventy thousand hours to prepare. If this is ever something I end up doing more of, I’ll need to build a time-machine. The theme was ‘Saying yes to God’, and I covered eight reasons we often say ‘no’ to God, countering each with a Biblical truth. Maybe I’ll put it into some blog posts in the future…the mythical future where I remember I have a blog, and manage to convert all the blog posts in my head to real, actual blog posts that people can read. You know the one, right?

I went to see Evita with some friends – how exciting! 2017 WILL be the year I go to more theatre productions.

I ran a successful school disco, reminding myself just how much junk food small kids can put away, and updating my knowledge of chart music in the process.

And THEN my daughter’s Reception class put on an Easter performance and it was the cutest thing and made me cry like some massively hormonal mama four days after childbirth. Honestly, those kids could do nothing but lift a single finger in the air and I’d be weeping inconsolably. Having had two kids pass through Reception, the kind teachers are used to it by now. By the time this whole sorry debacle is replayed with child no.4, I swear they’ll be handing me a box of tissues on the way in.

We enjoyed SUMMER this month too – notable by its absence for the rest of the year. It lasted approximately 2.5 days and was glorious. And by glorious, I mean 15 degrees. We packed in as many meals outdoors as we could, including a homemade cream tea. Have now packed away shorts till 2018.

I enjoyed my annual phone chat with my godmother, who I rarely see. She’s wonderful, and I basically treat our conversations like a free therapy session. We spoke for five hours, into the wee hours, and it was all totally worth the shatteredness the next day.

We were visited by a new health visitor who is also a MAN, and I got a little bit stupidly excited about this. It made me wonder whether being excited by gender stereotypes being reversed is, in itself, a form of gender inequality. Answers on a postcard?

I did a whole load of gardening this month, which (shhh, don’t tell anyone) I’m actually starting to enjoy. It started as a necessity in that we have sizeable front and back gardens, a massive border which resembled the aftermath of a hurricane due to a Giant Hedge being removed some time ago, and a husband who is more likely to learn where the sewing box is kept and proceed to make outfits for all six of us in this season’s colours and fabrics than to pick up a spade. But now I find myself wandering slowly round friends’ gardens, nodding and ‘mmm’ing as they explain what everything is, when it was planted, how well it flowers, how many slugs they had to fend off last year, and so on and so forth. I’ve found myself recognising a few plants when meandering the grounds of stately homes, and learning how to comment on them by name in a casual “Of course everyone knows this” tone of voice, when just a year ago I couldn’t tell a hydrangea from a hyacinth.

I’m a bit of a Project Madam, and tend to start things I don’t have time to finish. This month I determined to finish updating the kids’ scrapbooks (a ridiculous Project which I’d never have started if I’d known how many kids we were going to end up with). And I actually managed this – if you understand that, by ‘finish updating’, I actually mean ‘use up all the photos I’ve managed to print out’. There are still huge gaps and nothing yet for 2017 (and precious little for 2016, come to think of it), but it’s a start.

I then started on Project Two, which was to sort out our garage – a project which was started (or intended to start) a year ago, and which has taken up more hours than I care to mention. It doesn’t sound exciting, but I could just die with happiness at the beautiful amount of space it’s created. Anyway, the project ran a little bit into May, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for the Before and After photos.

Am I getting old? Yes, absolutely. I’m surprised I haven’t hit my forties yet with all this plant-recognition and garage-sorting and general fuss over keeping up with the music the young people are listening to. Next month I’ll have bought a sports car and pierced my navel.

How was your April?

Linking up, as always, with What I’m into over at http://www.leighkramer.com – check out her post, and others!

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frivolity and depth

Hello.

It’s been a while, friends, and for that I apologise. Before you accuse me of idleness (because you know you’re about to do just that), let me fill you in on how time has been spent.

We are doing awesome things with our garden. I’m allowed to boast, because for the last five years our garden has borne an uncanny resemblance to a piece of community wasteland. I swear it’s only the assortment of random, second-hand kids’ play equipment, strewn across what passes for a lawn, that has kept the re-developers away. If you don’t believe me, then this:

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So now, in that space, we have a playhouse and play garden which is all kinds of cool:

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(I’m not entirely sure that this wasn’t built purely for selfish reasons – but then again, much of parenting is just about reliving childhood, so why feel guilt? And, in case you were asking [which you probably weren’t], the playhouse was preloved, the stones for the path were from a stash we already had in our garage, the tree stumps were free, and the table was upcycled from a piece of scrap MDF and a broken kiddies’ bass drum. Enough said. Oh, and I bought the fence new. Sorry.)

Then our friend got trigger-happy with a chainsaw, and now our overbearing rosehip is no more:

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I realise the second picture looks even worse than the first – not your archetypal before/after pics – I can confirm that the bits of tree have now been carted away, but it’s currently pushing midnight and if I take a pic then all you’ll get is black, and you don’t want that now do you?

We’ve discovered the wonder that is Boj. Pure joy, from the catchy Jason Donovan theme tune (just what is the third line?) right through to the bizarre food combinations and eco undertones. As part of Mister’s ongoing musical education, I will soon be showing him on repeat as many Jason videos as YouTube can throw at us.

I visited a church-run community cafe in a local suburb, and thought about how we might make that idea work in our community.

Missy potty-trained:

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She will now no longer be able to take photos of me changing her nappy:

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Although New Year was approximately five minutes ago, it is now June – which can only mean one thing: elderflower! The sweet scent lines our every path at the moment – and we’re looking forward to making cordial pretty soon. If you’ve never made it, you must! Right now! Here’s the recipe which works for us. It’s so delicious, you’ll never return to the bought stuff ever again. This year might even be the year where we branch out and make sorbet too. Go crazy.

We helped out at our local community garden for the first time, one warm, sunny Saturday morning. The kids picked litter, watered plants, played in mud, and amused themselves jumping off a large soil pile for ages. We learnt about the amazing potential of free fruit and veg for the community.

I’ve started to volunteer for The Besom. Entering people’s homes, enjoying their accidental hospitality, has made me ask questions about need, and the cycle of poverty, and shifting cultures, and benefits, and how so many families can’t support their own kids through an education which might raise their aspirations because they’re worrying about how to give them dinner that night. And there can be no greater worry for a parent than whether you’re going to be able to feed your kids.

I thought about blogging, and whether to stop. I concluded that I would keep going, but work more on my writing style. I never started this blog because I believed I was a writer, but now I’ve become one – and, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. I feel responsible for making my blog fun and interesting to read, and sometimes, let’s face it, it’s been dross. Sorry. Will amend. Let me know if you notice any difference.

I made salad soup. Honestly. I had salad that was going to turn bad before being eaten, and I hate to throw food away. Turns out it’s one of the nicest soups in the world and I can’t believe I didn’t Google this earlier.

Craft production has gone a bit insane. I made oven gloves for my mum:

2014-04-20 21.53.33followed by a heck of a lot of (blank) greetings cards for her birthday (one per year of her life, i.e. a lot), my first ever three-tiered cake for a friend’s 21st:

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cushion covers for our lounge:

2014-06-05 22.33.02 and a present-that-shall-not-be-named-for-she-has-yet-to-receive-it for my friend. I still haven’t finished the quilt, updated Missy’s scrapbook or baked a cake for our housemate’s birthday on Saturday. I am trying to learn that it’s OK to buy things rather than spend insane hours of the night sewing, sticking or icing. Pray for me.

Al and I got chatting to CAP about how we might partner with them in our community. I realised the urgency of saving lives, marriages, families and kids’ futures being wrecked by debt – and we both felt a strong urge to set up a Debt Centre as.soon.as.

This call to the poor, if that’s what it is, has been simmering away for two or three years, bubbling up gradually until setting point, 2014, the year when Besom, CAP, community gardens and cafes all enter the mix. God knows the outcome. Dare I pray for revival amongst the poor in my lifetime?

The frivolous and the deep. That’s how life goes. But who’s to tell which is which?

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What frivolous and/or deep things have you been up to recently?

growing basil

I’m a hopeless gardener. My horticultural efforts usually end up like this:

or this:

So I hope you’ll share my joy that recently I’ve managed to do this:

For the last MONTH (yes, that’s right – 30 whole days) I’ve managed to keep this basil plant alive. I’ve even used the leaves in recipes and the plant has grown back. Wow.

I think there are a few reasons for this unexpected success. Firstly, Basil sits right in front of the kitchen sink. I go to this sink 50, perhaps 100, times in a day. So Basil gets a lot of attention. Secondly, I’ve followed advice and watered the roots as well as the surface of the soil.

But the main reason I think Basil has survived is this. Take a closer look at his leaves:

Whilst you couldn’t deny Basil’s a healthy plant, do you see how the leaves look just a little bit sad? Slightly shrivelled? Just a bit droopy? The fact that Basil is always on the cusp of plant-heaven has motivated me to water him the right amount, to turn his leaves so he gets the most sunlight, and to move him to a larger pot when the time was right.

As I’ve looked at Basil over the past weeks, I’ve been pondering how my life is similar. Just as Basil is a little bit sad, I am (more often than not) a little bit tired, a little bit grumpy, a little bit rushed, a little bit behind on life. I’m on the cusp, not of physical death, but of spiritual death.

It’s no secret that I’m awful at any sort of spiritual discipline. Every day I have an inner battle with my lazy self. The result is an open Bible, or a closed Bible – a moment of prayer, or a moment of indulging in more practical tasks – a moment of listening, or just another Facebook check. The other day I tried to imagine what it would be like if I made the right choice each day – if I was one of those people I admire who prioritise time with God each day. BUT – and here’s the reaction I wasn’t expecting – I feared I might then become complacent. I feared that I would believe myself to have ‘made it’ as a Christian. I feared I would not notice the many other faults and failings of my week, but merely be pleased, on a legalistic level, that I’d managed all seven quiet times.

I think the apostle Paul had this sort of daily battle going on, when he wrote “there was given me a thorn in my flesh..to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7). I’m so encouraged by how he goes on to say “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But…I delight in weaknesses…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv.8-10).

So, like Basil and Paul, I pray that I might keep going. I pray that every day I might win the battle over laziness. And I pray that God’s grace, strength and fruitfulness will be displayed through my weary, distracted, havoc-ridden life.