what i’m into – january 2017

This is a first for me.

At first, I thought this sort of post was incredibly self-centred – why would anyone be interested what I’ve been into each month? But having spent a couple of years reading other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog (give it a read here), I’ve realised that I’m just a little bit nosey. I love seeing what others are reading, watching, listening to. It gives me ideas for the future, things to look into or try out. So, here’s my offering, for any similarly-nosey Desertmum readers. Who knows? You may go away with a killer book recommendation or at least a laugh at how ridiculously geeky I am. And you get to check out other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, all linked at the bottom of Leigh’s, if you so wish.

Books

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I am hopeless at reading. There is precious little time to read, and when it does turn up, I read very slowly. Remember when I did that book-a-month thing, two years ago? It lasted till about April, when my friend Kirsty lent me a wonderful but long non-fiction book in tiny font. Guess she didn’t get the memo. I finally completed it around Christmas 2016, a mere 20 months after starting it. This momentous occasion opened up all sorts of delights in my ever-growing reading pile. I settled on Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist which I’ve been enjoying more and more with each chapter. I love her gracious storyteller style, her acknowledgement of the full scope of feminism (rather than simply up-front leading), her love of Jesus, and her adherence to Scripture. I suspect her book is not meant for people like me, who have never questioned the role of women in Scripture or in modern day church life – but it’s tying various strands of theology together for me in a very helpful way.

Another thing I’m hopeless at is any sort of regular devotional time. Timothy Keller is kindly sorting me out on that one, with his excellent My Rock, My Refuge, which takes the reader through the Psalms in one year. My prayer/accountability triplet are going through this during 2017 and it’s been a blessing to all three of us. Short, encouraging, thought-provoking, and the Bible passage is written out on the page, so it couldn’t be easier. I’ll say that again: the Bible passage is written out on the page. It literally takes NO EFFORT to read this devotional guide, but the outcome makes me think, leads me to Jesus and propels me into prayer.

I’ve been getting more and more excited about the Suzuki method of learning music, and the twins’ Suzuki teacher kindly lent me Everything depends on how we raise them (by Shigeki Tanaka, trans. Kyoko Selden). I’m not too far into it just yet, but it’s proving an interesting foil to my years of secondary music education experience. I’m planning a blog post on Suzuki and adoption very soon – watch out, this is the year I’m being super-motivated on the blog (remember??) so it may actually happen.

Food

In 2016 I challenged myself to cook without recipes for an entire year. I managed it more-or-less, and taught myself how to bake cakes and brownies from scratch. (Sadly, I never mastered cookies. Sob.) This year, I’m much enjoying the stimulation of new ideas from recipe books (and although I haven’t yet baked any cookies, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them anytime soon). So what have I been cooking?

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Simply Nigella was found in a charity shop just before Christmas, when I should have been shopping for others, but who can resist a one-year-old hardback recipe book for £3, eh? During my year of recipe books, I discovered that Nigella’s recipes just really work for us. They’re tasty, most likely to get eaten by the majority of our family, and not too fussy (or, where they are, they can be easily simplified). So it was a joy to properly delve into a new (to me) book. We enjoyed her Chicken Traybake with Bitter Orange and Fennel, and Chicken and Wild Rice. The adults, not the kids (unpredictably), enjoyed the Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese, but I was the only one who enjoyed the Cauliflower and Cashew Nut Curry.

Martha Collison’s Twist has just been brilliant. A Christmas present from my Mum (technically ‘+ Dad’ but, come on, we all know who actually chose it), this has been wonderful in leading me on from last year’s recipe desert to a place where I can take a recipe as a starting point, then add my own flavours and ‘twists’. OK, so I haven’t done that yet, but that’s largely because Martha’s own flavours are so damn enticing – and, as well, there’s 7-5-2-2 to consider. I’ve made the Route 66 Rocky Road (think rocky road made with popcorn, cranberries, peanuts and marshmallows), Bollywood Bars (white chocolate rocky road with cardamom and chilli) and the rather scrummy Carrot, Orange and Blueberry layer cake.

If you were reading desertmum in 2015 you may remember how brilliant Jo Pratt’s Madhouse Cookbook was – well, it still is, and I spent January trying to find the few recipes I haven’t already tried: only Corned Beef and Sweetcorn Hash, and Vegetable and Beany Gonzales Chilli were attempted – but, predictably, the latter was eaten by ALL 6 of my family, with one (fussy) child demolishing it in seconds!

Mince was great in reminding me about meatloaf – essentially meatballs (which I cook often) but in a different shape. Genius.

Articles

Here are some online articles I found particularly wonderful this month:

How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence  was an interesting and challenging read, especially the bit about not using screens to pacify small children. Ouch. But good ouch.

Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop telling us we’re beautiful I’m very grateful that the women’s ministry I enjoy locally doesn’t patronise our intelligence or our theology, but this was still an interesting read, and a warning too.

How to live under an unqualified president Of all the things I’ve read on Trump, this was the best by far…I either see incredible Trump-bashing, or (less often) right-wing Christians being sympathetic to him. All American citizens should read this. Honestly? It’s a brutal condemnation of all the ungodly, un-Biblical behaviour of America’s new president BUT it’s written with so much love and grace, and an unshakeable faith in God to work above and beyond world leaders, that the whole thing filled me with hope and assurance.

Anger and injustice My wonderful friends moved to rural Ethiopia last year, and I just love their blog, when there is time or Internet connection to update. In particular, this article was thought-provoking – some reflections of our friend as he looks back on the first few months teaching in an African theological college.

Doing Well Another friend writes so articulately about life as a bereaved parent with MS that I feel my understanding rockets in the few short minutes I take to read her blog. Please read this, it’s important.

Screentime

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January was the month I decided I was fed up of making excuses why I never made it to the cinema, so when a friend recommended La La Land, I immediately made plans to see it with a different friend. I really enjoyed it – she wasn’t so sure. I think enjoyment involves, to some extent, lifting off any expectations based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein golden era of musicals – and also more recent offerings like Moulin Rouge and the various Disney musicals. This is definitely a musical for the 2010s. I didn’t find any of the songs memorable or catchy, but the feel of the whole thing is so glorious that it almost didn’t matter. Bizarrely, whilst I couldn’t hum any of the tunes after the film had ended, I had the general musical tempo/instrumentation/rhythms in my head for some weeks afterwards. So it does get under your skin.

I always enjoy spending January catching up with things I taped over Christmas when I was too busy to watch. One was The lady in the van, Alan Bennett’s fantastic re-telling of a rather eccentric woman in his life. Maggie Smith is so good that I forgot she was Maggie Smith until half way through. AND this film made it into the small overlap of films that both I and Desert Dad enjoy. No small feat. Saving Mr Banks didn’t quite make it into the centre of this Venn diagram, so the hubster trundled off to bed – but I found it so engaging that I watched into the wee hours, not daring to switch off.

I couldn’t get into Northern Soul, though, despite trying for the best part of an hour. One of the few films I haven’t finished.

Games

We’re big fans of games in our household, particularly strategy ones for the adults. My Christmas present from DD was Splendour, which we’ve enjoyed countless times this month. Its advantages are: you can play with just two (but we have had a few games of four with friends, and it works equally well), the games are short for this genre (half an hour or less), it’s simple to pick up – but, like the best strategy games, has a vast number of different strategies you can use to win. Also – strategy game fans will know I’m not being shallow here – the game is made so nicely! Beautiful pictures, proper, weighty coins, and the box fits everything perfectly. Nice!

jacket, Dobble

With the kids, we’ve enjoyed much Dobble, and a new one for Christmas: Blink (readily available on eBay, once that link expires). If you have primary-aged children in your home, or you buy presents for some, I highly recommend both of these.

In other news…

I managed to keep the downstairs tidy (by my standards, i.e. a little lower than average) for an entire month! Woohoo!

I think I saw the bottom of a laundry basket at some point, but the memory quickly faded.

The kiddoes, as usual, went to more parties than I did.

We caught up with American friends we hadn’t seen in 3.5 years, a British friend we hadn’t seen in over a year, a cousin we see intermittently, and made a trip to the in-laws for a special birthday.

I enjoyed an afternoon’s training in Dalcroze Eurythmics, knowing this means nothing to about 99% of my readers, but throwing it in there anyway as a proud moment.

Oh…and our school which was in Special Measures? It got a GOOD from Ofsted! Just about our proudest moment for the month, and possibly the year!

…and that’s about it for January. What have you been into?

 

he turned 6: learning to mourn the past but love the future

Last week, my boy turned 6.

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I’m looking back at the last year and, as well as a huge growth spurt evidenced by the birthday-measuring tradition we completed on Birthday Morning, there are so many ways that he has grown and flourished in this last year, his first at school.

In fact, the simple reality that I spent his birthday child-free, celebrating his birthday with a keyboard and a computer screen, drafting this blog post, while he was celebrating it at school with his friends and teachers, eating Minion cakes and getting sung to by other people, shows how much he is growing up. The independence frightens me and delights me. He doesn’t need me constantly – there is so much he can do – nay, prefers to do – by himself, whether that’s choosing what to wear, making a card for someone else, or walking into his classroom of a morning. (The exception to this is Birthday Morning, when un-cool Mummy is bringing cakes, and therefore becomes an acceptable companion into class.)

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But of course there are still so many situations in which he needs our guidance, mentoring, advice and suggestions. His dad and I are still the greatest influences on his life – for how long, I wonder? He needs us to help him learn to read, add up, and understand the world. He needs us to help him cross the road, to fill in forms, take him to the doctor, make his meals. He needs us to introduce him to different creative expressions: new music, art or literature. He needs us to validate his emotions, give him language to understand them, and help him navigate the tricky ups and downs of life.

And this is the definition of parenting, right? You work hard to bring life into the world – and then, once that life has arrived, your job is to gradually encourage their independence, their moving away from you. In other words, you’re making yourself redundant. Of course, you’re never fully redundant – even grown-ups need the love, support, childcare and financial bail-outs that their parents give – but sometimes, looking at my son, I feel the quickness of the years, and the phases which have passed, and I need to remember to parent in the moment.

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This year, Mister has developed his interest in gymnastics (and can now do some pretty clever things on the bars), learnt to write whole stories, continued with his Lego addiction, rediscovered the fun of Playmobil, and (of course) continued his love of football, now attending a Football Club at school. He’s learnt to sing more-or-less in tune, and sung a solo in his school nativity last Christmas. Just as soon as I’d written this post, about how I throw away my kids’ numerous art creations, and a friend had commented “Just be thankful they’re not in 3D yet”, Mister started to bring home 3D creations. I mean – literally the day after that post was published, we started to amass a collection of shoeboxes with a variety of recyclable items stuck to them.

This year, I need to pay tribute to the teachers who have helped shape Mister’s life these past 12 months – for their unfailing enthusiasm, energy, and professionalism – always striving to give Mister (and his classmates) the best, most personalised education experience, within a communal setting. No easy task. Up until now, it was me and my husband whose influence affected Mister’s existence most strongly – now his life is entwined with all sorts of influential strands from his teachers, and we’re so grateful for all they invest in him.

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Character-wise, while Mister has always been fairly placid, increasingly we’re seeing a steely inner determination. Sometimes this manifests in competitiveness (read: he’s a bad loser), sometimes in carrying out his own ideas, asking for little or no help from anyone else. I’m so proud of him when he makes the right choices at school, free from the Parental Stares which would otherwise communicate which path he should take.

We can’t live our children’s lives for them – we can simply teach them what we know, trusting that God will make up the difference, and then sit back and watch the people they become. This year, although I might mourn the hours we now spend apart from each other, I can’t help but watch and love my boy, delighted in the person he is and is becoming.

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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!

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