Posted in bible reading, book review, family, food, me, music, prayer, recipes

what i’m into – march 2017

Books

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles

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

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

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

Music

This is just WONDERFUL!

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

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

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Screentime

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

In other news…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How has your March been?

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

Posted in prayer, school

five ways to bless your child’s school this year

Hello, long-deserted blog (that’s what the title’s about, right?). Each year I make a resolution that August won’t be a dry month for blog posts – and each year it passes so quickly, with a non-stop cycle of holidays, road trips, catch-ups, holiday clubs, and a vague feeling I ought to get organised for two special birthdays in September. So, readers, I’m sorry.

And now, of course, it’s September (only just!) – which means back-to-school for lots of us, and first-time-at-school for some of us. Whether your child is just starting, or returning after many years, here are some ways that your school will be blessed for counting you amongst its families this year:

Be actively grateful. Hopefully, you’re already grateful for what your teachers do. But – it sounds so obvious, I barely want to say it – they won’t know unless you tell them. Be someone who writes emails or cards, someone who makes a point of thanking teachers at the end of the day – whatever comes easiest. Last year, besides sending cards to Mister’s fabulous teachers at the end of term , I also wrote to them at the end of the first half term, after Parents’ Evening, Sports Day, and one of the school trips. It doesn’t take a minute, but it encourages them to keep going in the important vocation they’ve chosen. More about this here.

When you pay for a trip (or anything, really), consider paying double. However affluent your school, if it is a school which serves a particular geographical community, then it will be a school where some of the families are struggling to get by. If you can afford to, why not pay twice the amount next time your child goes on a school trip, or the next time funds are needed for an extra-curricular activity. Note, I’m not talking paying double the cost of some elaborate ski trip or safari trek – more that if £5 is required for a trip, why not consider paying £10? The school will immediately know who needs that money, and it will bless that family enormously, as well as the school’s finances. (NB I know that with the increasing use of online payment this gets a bit tricky, but there are ways and means – perhaps hand some cash into the office, or make a one-off donation once a year?)

Hand stuff in on time. It’s a small thing, but so very helpful to teachers when forms and reply slips are handed in on time. Teachers aren’t supposed to spend their working hours dealing with admin, but, realistically, it’s usually quicker for the teacher to badger parents rather than let the office staff deal with it. And this means that your taxes are paying a teacher to waste time hounding you, rather than planning the next lesson, or making the classroom an amazing learning environment.

Get involved. When an opportunity comes up to get involved in the school, do it. It doesn’t have to be a weekly commitment, something onerous or time-consuming. Perhaps it’ll mean coming in for a one-off baking session, reading a story to the class at the end of the day, or helping with the school disco. Perhaps it means contributing items for the school fair, running a stall, or buying some prizes.

Meet and pray with other Christians. I say this because we’ve been at this school a year, and I have met zero other Christians. If you know of even one other Christian amongst the parents or the staff, see if you can get together to pray for the school. Even if just once a half term, this will motivate you and encourage you to pray consistently for the school through the intervening weeks. And if, like me, you don’t know of any other Christians in the school, ask God to reveal any who exist, or to bring some to join you!

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’re blessing your school – in these or any other ways!

Posted in jesus, me, prayer, reading the Bible

desert parenting: the early years

There’s been a plethora of new babies born to my friends recently and it’s making me reflect upon my own experience of becoming a mum – in particular, how my faith has grown. The last five years of my life have been the most exciting ones faith-wise, yet this isn’t because I’ve been extra holy – in fact, the number of times I’ve sat down with my Bible for a traditional ‘quiet time’ is shockingly small. I’ve missed a lot of sermons due to being on the kids’ work rota or chasing toddlers round the church or placating an unsettled baby. On paper, my spiritual disciplines would look pretty awful to an outsider. So what’s helped?

* My tribe. I’ve been so blessed by the good Christian friends God has put in my way since, and because of, having kids. We don’t force theology, it just comes naturally. It comes when we’re chatting over tea and cake; we grapple with a tricky Biblical application over jigsaws with our kids; while we’re eating a plastic banquet, prepared by the littlies, we’re also musing over Scripture and faith and life and the grey areas. It’s not a big deal – and it comes alongside tales of the previous night’s sleeplessness, potty training anecdotes, plans for spa days and what so-and-so posted on Facebook – but it’s these snatches of God-conversation with friends which have shaped me, encouraged me, and got me thinking over the last few years. I couldn’t be more grateful for the ‘tribe’ God has put in my life. If you’re new to this parenting business, pray for your tribe to come. And if it’s already flippin’ obvious who they are: use them! Hang out more, open up to them, share your burdens and your thoughts, pray with them.

* Blogs, books and articles. Gradually, I’ve been able to read more whole books – but in times when that’s been too much, I’ve really appreciated blogs and articles sent my way by friends or posted on Facebook. Punchy, succinct thoughts on an aspect of Christian living. Friends, if you read something good: share it! It could be just the encouragement one of your tribe needs. A particularly helpful blog post I read a while back was this one, about reading the Bible as a young mum. Read it now – go on! I dare you! (It’s short and easy and encouraging – promise.)

* Serving and ministering. This is a really tough one. It requires a fair bit of planning (and sometimes childcare) to be able to serve in your church or community when you have kids. It’s never easy – but it grows faith. If I haven’t picked up my Bible in a couple of weeks, you can be sure that having to plan a kids’ work session or story for Toddlers, or preparing a Bible study for a Mums’ cell group, or planning to mentor a younger Christian will force me to open it again! I’ve grown in faith as I’ve seen others grow in faith.

* Sharing faith with my kids. There was a time when I was driving my kids somewhere and was massively challenged by a random Bible story that came on the CD player. (We were listening to the Big Bible Storybook, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected to hear a Bible story – more that it was some random part of the Old Testament which I’d forgotten about.) There have been other times when reading a children’s Bible or Christian storybook with them, or discussing faith, or praying, or playing through the Bible has kept me spiritually ‘topped up’ as well as them.

* My husband. I approach this one sensitively, knowing that several friends long for their other halves to come to know Jesus. I am so massively grateful for a husband who is unswayed in his pursuit of loving Jesus more, and I don’t take this for granted. He shares with me the things he’s thinking about, the books he’s reading, the articles he’s found – and it’s like I benefit from the time he’s put in, without committing lots of energy that I don’t have. Of course Christian wives are just as responsible for encouraging and challenging their husbands with new theological thoughts – but at this stage in life, low on time and energy, I’m thankful for a husband who keeps me on my toes. If you’re a Christian whose spouse does the bulk of the childcare, how are you supporting them in their faith? Those of you who are courageously and unreservedly pursuing Jesus without encouragement from your partner: we want to walk this journey with you. Please tell us how we can be better Christian siblings to you.

Before I had kids, my view of discipleship was very different. Perhaps I could liken it to a knitted square in one colour, row upon row of identical stitches forming a unified whole. There was one way to pursue God: through the Bible, in a daily quiet time, followed by a shopping list prayer. Nowadays, my walk is a tapestry: many different colours and stitches interacting in varied ways. There are dropped stitches too, as well as areas not yet stitched. I am an ongoing work, more aware of my imperfections than ever, but more aware of God’s grace than ever – grace which enables me to pursue discipleship in the haze of early parenthood, guilt-free and joyful.

Posted in change, parenting, prayer

pray4schoolstart: week 6

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Folks, we’re there! Well, nearly. Besides frantically labelling everything your child has ever touched, and stocking up on tissues for whichever day it is in the next fortnight that you turn into a blubbering wreck as you stare, in disbelief, at this little baby who can’t be any more than three months old but appears to be starting school, why not pray along with me?

We’ve prayed these last few weeks for our children starting school this term, gradually drawing out our focus to include their peers, teachers, school leaders and communities. Now, in the final week before school really does start, let’s draw our prayers back to our children, focussing on their first few weeks of settling in, and drawing in aspects of the last few weeks of prayer.

I’ll be praying:

* for Mister’s first day, and first few days – that he would settle into his new environment, find his way around, make friends and develop good relationships with his teachers

* for all his peers – that there would be no anxiety, just excitement – that the class would gel together, forming good friendships with each other and with their teacher

* for me, as I meet other parents, that I would form good friendships too

* for the whole school community as children transition from one year to the next and staff transition to new roles/classes

That’s it. Praying that your child settles really really well, and makes an excellent schoolstart. Don’t stop praying!

Posted in change, parenting, prayer

pray4schoolstart: 5

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Well hello there, fellow desertparents – and, if you’re reading this, a hearty CONGRATULATIONS for making it to week 5 of the summer holidays without ending up in Rehab. Hoorah, we are nearly back to schedule, structure, and a slightly easier life!

And, if you’ve been following this blog over the summer, you’ll know that I’ve been sharing what I’ve been praying for my son as he starts school – not just him, but his peers, teachers and school leaders. As we enter the final fortnight, I thought it’d be good to widen our focus even more to include the wider community surrounding our children’s schools.

This week I’ll be praying for all the families represented by the children at my son’s school.

* that they will be able to provide emotionally and financially for their children

* that they will be supportive of their child’s education, supportive of the teachers and supportive of the wider mission of the school

* that all children would flourish, and that this would have a knock-on effect within their families, particularly those who might be going through hard times

* for strong, happy marriages/partnership, and great parent-child relationships too

I’ll also be praying for the wider community:

* that strong links would be made/sustained with the local church

* that there would be a great relationship with local businesses, charities, and anything else which enriches children’s experience of life, and enriches adults’ view of the world

* that immediate neighbours to the school would only ever have a positive impression of it

That’s it! Watch out for a book review coming within the next couple of days…then I’ll see you again next Monday for the final installment of pray4schoolstart!

Posted in change, prayer

pray4school start: week 4

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Hello again! Hope you’re having a wonderful summer, whatever you’re doing and whatever the weather. (As you read this, I’m enjoying a week away…but thanks to the marvel of modern technology (i.e. scheduled blogging), this post gets published without me. One day, this blog will even write itself.)

I hope you’re also enjoying some time to pray for your kids (or those you know) starting school this term. I’m not the best pray-er, but I’ve found myself challenged by my own blogs, and have really appreciated grabbing those tiny moments in between fetching a drink for a thirsty child and playing yet another game of Go Fish to pray for all the aspects surrounding my son’s schooling.

If you recall, we started with our kids themselves, moving on to their peers, then their teachers…and this week, we pray for those who lead our children’s schools. Friends: massive decisions affecting your child and their peers will be made by Heads, their leadership teams and governing bodies on a regular basis. Let’s pray for great wisdom for them, so that our children flourish and become the people God designed them to be!

* Pray for the Head, deputy/assistant heads, and governors at your child’s school – by name if you know names

* Pray for guidance and wisdom in decision making

* Pray for discernment, and an ability to judge situations accurately

* Pray for unity, agreement and good relationships within leadership teams

* Pray for the wise appointment of new staff – the most important decision that school leaders need to make, in my opinion…

* Pray that Christian school leaders would make a positive impact on their schools, and that many would be challenged by their witness

* You could also pray specifically for any friends you may have who are school leaders or governors, even if they’re at different schools to the child you’re praying for

* Mister’s school has a new Head (been there a term), so I will especially be praying for her as she settles in, that she would quickly get the feel of the school and take it in a positive direction – if you know of any new appointments at your child’s school, you could join me in praying for a smooth transition

* Let’s also remember our Scottish friends, who start back this week. I’ll particularly be praying for Mister’s second cousin, 6 weeks his senior and starting out on this big journey at the same time. Pray for smooth settling in, good relationships with teachers and peers, and a general blossoming of all the abilities God has gifted them with!

That’s all folks! See you when I return…

Posted in change, parenting, prayer

pray4schoolstart: week 3

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Right, folks, we’ve spent week 1 praying specifically for the kids we know who are starting school in September, week 2 praying for their peers – and this week we’re praying for teachers and teaching assistants. They need a lot of prayer – believe me, I used to be one! Remembering the joys and challenges of my teaching career puts this week’s focus massively on my heart. I’m passionate that, if we uphold our kids’ teachers and TAs in prayer, it will have a positive knock-on effect for our kids – and their peers. Let’s get praying…

* that all staff would have a refreshing summer break, top up energy levels and feel motivated to begin the new school year

* that God would give them all the skills and ideas they need to do their jobs excellently

* that God would bless them with plenty of patience and energy

* that they would be freed to do their jobs well, and not succumb to unhelpful pressure for certain grades/results etc.

* that they would build brilliant relationships with all their students – for trust to quickly develop

* that they would work well in the various teams they find themselves in (teaching teams, departments, year groups etc) – for good morale amongst the staff team as a whole

* that God would provide opportunities for rest throughout the year, and that they’d take them (teachers are notorious for being workaholics…let’s pray against this for their good, and the good of our children!)

* that they would receive plenty of support from us and the other parents

We could also pray for specific teachers by name, if we know any of them already – as well as praying for any Christian staff in the school: that they would be a great witness to kids and colleagues alike.

Enjoy your week! (And tell the sun to come back.)