Friday, 11 May 2018

On the naming of things

Maria thought of plants at school - beans in jam jars... and mustard and cress on bits of flannel.  But what I like, she thought, is not all that but the names of things.  And every single kind of thing having a different name.  Holm oak and turkey oak and the sessile and pedunculate oak.  Sessile and pedunculate...
'What?' said Mrs Foster.
'Nothing.'

Holm oak - quercus ilex

I have on my bookshelf a faded paperback in a cracked plastic cover.  On the front cover, a girl with windblown hair gazes into the distance; below her, small silhouetted characters in top hats and Victorian dresses parade on a beach; and under them are grey stones with swirly ammonite fossils etched on them in white.  The title, in block capitals, is A STITCH IN TIME by PENELOPE LIVELY.

I had never given much thought to the author until I happened upon a book in the library called Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time, also by Penelope Lively.  Despite the references in the title, I was disappointed that she didn't mention "my" book in the text.  I found the first chapter, a musing on old age, rather slow going; but then she moves on to stories of her childhood (in Egypt, in the Second World War) and always having her nose in a book, and being fascinated by historical landscape, and learning the names of birds, and finding fossils in a rock.  And I could see, exactly, how a lady like that would have written a book like A Stitch in Time.

"The naming of things", writes Penelope Lively in A Life in Time.  "I have always needed that, where the physical world is concerned."  It's a strange compulsion, this need to identify and classify the things around us.  I think maybe we all have it to some extent, for some class of objects.

Before Toby was born, I was firmly in the, "It's a red one" class of naming cars.  Now, under his instruction, I have learned that this is a Volvo and that's a Peugeot.   Then he moved on to models - a Skoda Octavia, a Renault Clio - and then even to categories within that, so that he informs me that that's not the current model or the next oldest one, but the one before that.  The hatchback version, of course.

I grew up in a house where books such as The Concise Field Guide to the Animals and Plants of Britain and Europe were regularly consulted.  My dad is firmly in the group of people who need to know the names of what they see, but I dabble around the edges.  This time of year, when the spring flowers come out, I get irritated that I don't know more of them.  Then I get home and forget to look in the flower book, and spend the whole season vaguely thinking, "What's that pink one?  I really must find out what that pink one is called."  I know a few plants, a few birds, a few stars, and not much, it seems, of anything.

What I do share with Penelope Lively is that satisfaction with the language of naming.  Sessile and pedunculate.  Lesser celandine, wood anemone.  Arcturus, Andromeda, Sirius the Dog Star.  Names which are a pleasure to say, that fit well in your mouth. 

The names connect us back to the object's history, to the people who named them.  Cassiopeia, that W of stars in the sky, was a queen of Aethiopia.  Passion fruit were named by missionaries who thought they illustrated the crucifixion of Christ.  We spotted a pair of snails on the way to school, and I was trying to remember their proper name - arthropod, monopod?  Definitely something-pod.  Does that mean they lay eggs?  asked Toby.  No, I knew that pod was connected to foot, as in podiatry.  Turns out they are gastropods, from the Greek from "stomach" and "foot" - apparently a reference to their unusual anatomy.


So names help us to identify things, but the names that we know also identify us.  They root us in a time and place.  We name the things that we see every day; and if we are suddenly set down in a place where we don't know the name of anything, we feel lost.  A whole cloud of knowledge is suddenly useless, and we have to build a new web of connections to our environment.

Maybe it's not such a strange compulsion after all, this naming of things.

Holm Oak image: By Dinkum [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Snail image: By macrophile on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 20 April 2018

Family antics: Spring 2018

Well.  This has been a spring, hasn't it?  In less than two months we've gone from this:

to this:

via a LOT of rain.

It feels like a long time since I wrote a general family update, so here are a few highlights for March and April.

Easter

Toby and Theo both needed Easter bonnets this year.  I was dreading the whole thing, but to my surprise, both boys were enthusiastic about making them, and it turned into an enjoyable experience.  They didn't win any prizes, but they were very proud of their hats.


We also baked and decorated biscuits, and took them to my parents' for the Easter service at their church.

 

Car


We parted with our aging and decrepit Rover and traded it in for a shiny new vehicle.  Graham did all the hard work finding the new car, but it was well worth it.  The gears work.  The windows roll down.  The doors open without falling off.  It even has a voice control system which tells the boys to "Please speak more quietly" when they yell at it.  Such luxury.

Walks

We discovered a couple of new walks.  On one, Theo learned to play the saxophone, we followed an old Roman road, and we sat in a WWII bomb crater.



On the other, Toby built a house among the rocks, Theo kept asking where the volcano was (answer: 600 million years ago), and we visited a monastery.




World Book Day

Toby wanted to go as Willy Wonka.  I briefly considered making a costume, then bought it on Amazon.  Best decision.  Made my life about a million times easier.  And he looked fantastic.


Theo was quite happy to go as Superman.  I was quite happy about that too.

Entertainment

A Writers Day organized by the Association of Christian Writers, of which I have now become a member.  The speakers were from Premier Christianity magazine, and were both excellent; even though I wondered if it would have been more useful to spend six hours actually writing, the day was informative and entertaining.


A 2nd birthday party and a 1,000,000th birthday party (or 64th for those who don't speak binary) where we saw friends and family that we haven't seen for an embarrassingly long time.  The millionth party included karaoke, so we had a go at Shut Up and Dance as a family.  I didn't think the boys would actually do it - well, I didn't think I would actually do it - but we did.  And it was fun.

At the 2nd birthday party


The Play that Goes Wrong - absolutely hilarious.  I can't remember when I last went to the theatre, and I can't remember when I last spent an entire evening laughing.  That night I did both.

Spring!

The magnolia is in bloom for about ten minutes every year (there are petals all over the lawn already) but looks lovely while it is.  So here's a family portrait in front of it.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Super Samson Brings House Down

A book can't last several thousand years unless it contains some properly good stories, can it?  And the Bible has plenty of them, from the inspiring to the gory to the downright odd.  We meet people that we would like to be, people we wish we weren't, and people who we would like to ask a lot of questions.

But when I was asked to write a tabloid version of any Bible story for my writing group, there was only one character who really stood out.  Larger than life, always getting into trouble (and then getting into more trouble to cover it up), and with a thunderous end: Samson is prime tabloid fodder.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The original version of Samson's story is in Judges, chapters 14-16.  It is not the kind of nice improving story that you might hope to find in a sacred text.  Samson falls for a girl who is an enemy Philistine, and orders his parents to get her for him. (Nice and polite, then.)  They oblige, and on the way to meet her, he kills a lion, as you do.  When he comes back, the stinking carcase has a bees nest in it, so he scrapes some out and eats it.  (Many years later, Tate & Lyle borrowed the image for their cans of golden syrup.)

This gives him an idea for a riddle for his marriage guests.  The answer is this lion with honey in it, but no one can guess until his wife-to-be pesters him to tell her, and then tells the guests.  Samson kills 30 men to pay off his bet, then stalks off home in a huff.

Some while later, he decides that the girl wasn't as bad as all that, so he goes back to visit her.  Her father tells him that she's married to his best man.  So he catches 300 foxes (how?), ties them in pairs with a flaming torch between each one (cruel) and sets them off to burn the Philistines' entire harvest (crueller).  The Philistines retaliate by burning the girl and her father to death, so he kills the lot of them.

So it goes on, until the famous episode with Delilah.  Once again, a woman is Samson's undoing; she persuades him to tell her the secret of his great strength (his uncut hair, if you didn't know); he's captured, blinded, and forced to labour in a Philistine prison.

One day there's some kind of festival, and a few drunk officials think that Samson could provide entertainment.  He's hauled out of prison and forced to perform for the crowd.  But as his grand finale, he prays to God for the return of his strength, puts both hands on pillars of the temple, and pulls the whole thing down, killing himself and everybody else.  Revenge accomplished.

Despite the Bible telling the story with a generally positive slant, it's pretty much impossible to read it from a modern perspective without thinking words like mass murderer and suicide bomber.  If we read his story in the newspaper today, we would regard him as evil and dangerous. 

So to speak of Samson with unqualified approval, simply because the Bible says that God was with him, puts us, I think, on shaky moral ground.  But it comes from a culture and a time where characters like Samson could, at least sometimes, be heroes.  If we regard him as a complete villain, we completely undermine the story as it was written.  We have to somehow see Samson through our own lenses (suicide bomber), and through the author's lenses (supernaturally empowered) - and then try to understand what, if anything, it adds to our understanding of people and God.

Of course, all stories depend a lot on which side is telling them.  I thought the notorious bias of tabloids could be a good way to explore Samson's story from two different perspectives.  Was he a villain or a hero?  You decide.

Suicide Killer’s Final Bow

Thousands dead in terror attack

Mass murderer Samson yesterday destroyed Dagon’s Temple, killing himself and over 3000 others.
Among the dead were many senior members of the Philistine government.
The captured terrorist was on day release from prison to provide a show at the festival.
Blinded and seemingly subdued, Samson performed feats of his “supernatural” strength to a packed house.
Officials and crowds clapped and cheered as he lifted vast stones, was harnessed to a chariot, and snapped thick ropes.
However, Samson seized his chance at the end of the show.
Pretending he needed to lean on the pillars, he braced himself against them and literally brought the house down.
Screaming survivors fled the wreckage of the temple, while many were trapped in the rubble.
Zerah lost her husband and two sons in the tragedy.
“It was a scene of chaos,” she said.  “How can someone be so evil as to target families at a fun day out?”
Local terrorist groups welcomed the news, saying, “Samson has avenged himself for his capture.”


Super Samson Brings House Down

In the final act of a heroic career, a local freedom fighter has destroyed the Philistine elite – at the ultimate cost to himself.
Samson used his super strength to topple the heathen temple of Dagon, killing over 3000 Philistines, including many members of the government.
“Super Samson”, from Mahaneh-Dan, was well-known for his daring exploits in the fight against the enemy.
He claimed God gave him amazing strength and protected him from harm.
However, he was betrayed and captured by the Philistines in May.
He was held in Gaza, where he was reportedly tortured and blinded.
Samson was forced to perform at the Dagon Festival, but bravely seized the opportunity to wreak revenge on his captors.
Eyewitness reports suggest that he prayed to Yahweh moments before his death.
Samson’s brother Kezon said, “He was a larger-than-life man who died a hero.  There will never be anyone like Samson.”

Monday, 26 March 2018

6 Best Family Vegetarian Recipes

So you know that to help the planet, your health, and your wallet, it's best not to have meat for dinner every day.  But you have a family to feed.  And it just gets complicated trying to find vegetarian recipes that your kids will actually eat.

Well, I know your kids will probably have a completely different set of preferences to mine.  Occasionally I read one of those family recipe books where they will say, "This dish disappears in a flash in our house," and I read it and think, "My children wouldn't touch that!".  They don't like most beans, soup, or tomato sauces, and Toby doesn't like eggs.  They do like things with lots of toppings that they can add, baked beans, refried beans, and cheese.

So I don't present this as the complete answer to your dinnertime woes.  But here are some of the veggie dishes that work best for us.

(Most of the links are to Monthly Munch posts; scroll down to find the recipe at the end)

1. Black bean burrito bowl


This is nice and easy to make and eat.  The boys love heaping up the toppings.  We often don’t have the avocado, even though it’s nice, but we usually have cheese, yoghurt and chilli sauce in the house, and I try and remember to get the tortilla chips to add some crunch.  You can always add some extra vegetables (sweetcorn is good) or more beans to make it go further.

200ml rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 smallish onion, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 x 400g can black beans, drained and rinsed
250ml vegetable stock
1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
crumbled feta or grated Cheddar
natural yoghurt
chilli sauce
tortilla chips

Put the rice in a pan with 400ml boiling salted water.  Bring to the boil, turn the heat right down and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan.  Cook the onion and celery until softened, then add the garlic, paprika and cumin.  Stir for a minute.  Add the red pepper, black beans and vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add seasoning to taste.

Scoop the rice into bowls and ladle the bean mixture over the top.  Put all the extra bits on the table so that people can add whatever they like.  Serves 4.

2. Easiest ever vegetarian lasagna


This is the only way I make lasagna any more, because it's a doddle to put together and the only thing I need to remember to buy is a tub of cottage cheese.  When spinach is whizzed up to make the sauce, it apparently doesn't count as the normally-disdained green leafy stuff.
Vegetarian lasagna

3. Carrot cornbread

This stuff is very delicious.  I usually make it to go with vegetable chilli (which the boys won't eat, so they get baked beans and cheese or whatever useful leftovers are lying around).  Using pure cornmeal makes it very crumbly; if you're not avoiding gluten you can substitute in some plain flour to hold it together better.  This makes plenty, but it freezes well and can be eaten for breakfast (with butter and syrup, like pancakes), lunch or dinner.
Carrot cornbread

 4.  Home made pizza

Yeah, I know.  This one does require you to be around a few hours in advance of the meal.  But Theo loves helping to roll out the dough, and it fits the lots-of-toppings requirement perfectly.  Grated cheddar, tomatoes, peppers and olives are what we have to have - anything extra is a bonus.  Try dollops of pesto, mushrooms, sweetcorn, or an egg cracked on top.

Home made pizza

5. Fajitas

These are somewhere between fajitas and tacos, and would be scorned by any self-respecting Mexican.  But we love them anyway.  I make the seasoning mix up in bulk and keep it in a jar, so I don't have to mess around making it every time.  It works for the black bean burrito bowl too.  I use mild chilli powder and leave out the cayenne, but to be honest, the boys mostly just have beans, cheese and salad in their tortillas.


1 heaped tbsp Taco Potion #19 (or similar fajita seasoning)
1 large onion, chopped
2 peppers, chopped
mushrooms / sweetcorn / cooked diced squash if you like
about 200g frozen Quorn mince or chicken-type pieces
4 large flour tortillas / wraps
grated cheese
1 can refried beans
plain yoghurt or sour cream
salsa
chopped tomatoes / cucumber / lettuce / fresh coriander

In a large frying pan, heat some oil and fry the onion and peppers (and any other raw veg) until just softening.  Add the seasoning and a splash (50-100ml) of water and give it a good stir.  Add the Quorn mince along with frozen sweetcorn and any cooked veg.  Make sure there's a bit of liquid in the bottom so it doesn't all stick, but you want the finished mixture fairly dry, so don't put too much water in.  Put a lid on and leave it to cook for 15 min or so, stirring once in a while.

Meanwhile, grate the cheese, chop the salad, clear the kids' homework off the table, and all that stuff.  When you're about ready, heat up the refried beans in the microwave, and give the tortillas a few seconds in there to warm up too.

Put the frying pan on the table along with all the other bits and pieces, and let everyone make their own fajitas.

6. Pasta with roasted vegetables

This recipe comes from a 20-year-old book called the Oxo book of food and cooking.  Every single dish contains Oxo cubes of some description, most of which I've never seen in the shops.  The dressing is a kind of nutty pesto; it adds lots of flavour, but substitute bought pesto if you need to.
 Pasta with roasted vegetables

 I hope that gives you some new ideas!  If you have any favourites in your family, let me know - I'd love to hear about them.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

In which Theo turns four and has the most disorganized party ever

I don't know why, but I just did not twig that Theo's birthday was coming up and we might actually want to celebrate, until about two weeks before.  So then I hurriedly scribbled some invitations ("who are your friends at preschool?  Oh yes, I think I remember you mentioning that name at least once before.") and bought cake ingredients.

Theo, somewhat surprisingly, wanted gingerbread cake this year.  I'd seen one once with gingerbread men around the edge, which was cute, so that was easy enough for decoration.  It didn't really lend itself to a theme, though.





Flipping through the craft catalogue, the best I could come up with was a kind of "funny faces" idea, so I ordered a bunch of stuff.  When the box arrived... it was full of someone else's stuff!  They'd sent me the wrong order, and it was too late to send the right one.

So the craft consisted of some bits I found in a drawer, the party bags contained a few things from someone else's online order, and the games were the old stand-bys of pass the parcel and musical statues.

Did the birthday boy care?  No, he ran around with his friends and blew out his candles and opened his presents and ate pizza and had a good time.



Next day he went to another party.  It was Little Mermaid themed, with an Ariel entertainer and sandwiches cut into shell shapes and themed party decor and a most beautiful Little Mermaid cake.  It was lovely.  But you know what?  I don't think he had any more fun there!

So here's to the disorganized party, at least when your kids are young enough not to know the difference.  And here's to our wonderful four-year-old!  Happy birthday Theo!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Baking again

One thing I've really enjoyed about working in a cafe again is having a good reason to make cakes.  I've dusted off some of my old recipes and tried out a few new ones too.  Carrot cake and sweet-topped fairy cakes are reliable favourites; a crumble-topped apple cake (with slices of apple pushed into the cake batter) and gingerbread cupcakes have gone down well.

However, I haven't always found much time for baking at home.  This week's been an exception.  Three different bakes have gone in the oven, though you'll have to wait a little longer to hear about the third.

Firstly, I'd had my eye on a recipe for parsnip and pecan loaf for a while.  Yes, parsnip.  Same principle as carrot cake, as in you mostly taste the spices, not the root veg.  Besides, I like cakes with funny ingredients - I've got an aubergine brownie recipe tucked away to see if I ever dare to make it!

Like carrot cake, it uses oil instead of butter, so except for the bit of peeling and grating, it's pretty quick to make.  Pecans aren't cheap on this side of the Atlantic, but toasted pecans are delicious.  I toasted mine several days before I actually got around to baking the cake (so long that Graham asked if they were going to sit on the counter forever, or what) and had to stop myself nibbling at them.





Pecan and Parsnip Loaf (from Nov 2017 Waitrose magazine)

100g pecan halves
150g light brown soft sugar
150ml vegetable oil
2 eggs
170g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
200g coarsely grated parsnip

Preheat the oven to 170°C.  Put the pecans on a baking tray and toast for about 10 minutes.  Cool and chop fairly finely.

With an electric mixer, beat the sugar, oil and eggs together until creamy.  Add the dry ingredients and mix, then stir in the parsnip and most of the pecans, reserving about 2 tbsp.

Pour into a lined loaf tin and bake for 1 hour until risen and firm.  Leave in the tin for a few minutes, then tip out and let cool.

If you wish, ice with honey frosting.  Beat together 60g butter, 120g cream cheese, 100g icing sugar, 1 tbsp honey until smooth.  Sprinkle reserved pecans over the icing.

That recipe was pretty much by the book - except that it was half eaten before I had time to think about icing it, so we had the healthy, uniced, version.  This next recipe was a "what can I make quickly with what I've got in the cupboard?" type of baking.  There actually was a recipe for white chocolate cranberry cookies in my Colossal Cookie Cookbook, but it required chilling.  So I used the white chocolate pecan one instead (more pecans!) but substituted dried cranberries.  And halved it.  And converted on the fly from cups to ounces.  Who says baking has to be accurate?




White chocolate and cranberry cookies (adapted from The Colossal Cookie Cookbook)

3 oz butter, softened
3 oz light brown soft sugar
3 oz white sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
Probably 3 oz Craisins (half a packet or so)
3 oz / 75g white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 160°C.  I should line my baking sheets because my cookies always come out dark on the bottom, but I never do, so let's pretend you're better than me and actually do it.

Beat the butter and sugars together until well mixed.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy.  

Add the flour, baking powder, dried cranberries and white chocolate and stir with a spoon until combined.  

Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking sheets.  I got about 20 out of this; I think the original recipe made much larger cookies!  Give them 10 minutes in the oven and see how they look; they might need a couple more minutes to finish off.  Cool on the tray for a minute, then move to a rack to cool.

The third lot of baking was Theo's birthday cake for Saturday.  Surprisingly, he asked for ginger cake.  But you can hear about that one when it's been decorated and done its job for the celebrations!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Light and shadows: The forgotten festival of Candlemas

We're almost halfway there!

Halfway, that is, between the dark and the light.  Halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox.  Halfway through winter, and heading towards spring.

There has been a festival around this date since ancient times.  If you're in America (or remember the film) you might know February 2nd as Groundhog Day.  According to legend, if a groundhog (or bear, or badger) emerges from its burrow and can see its shadow in the sunlight, there will be six more weeks of winter weather.  If the day is cloudy, the forthcoming weather will be mild instead.

via Wikimedia Commons

On the Christian calendar, however, the 2nd of February is Candlemas.  It's a rather forgotten festival - we don't get a day off or anything - but I found out a little more about it recently.

Candlemas is forty days after Christmas and, technically, the end of the Christmas season.  The festival commemorates the baby Jesus being taken to the temple by his parents for a ceremony a little like a baptism.  Mary and Joseph, however, had to sacrifice a couple of pigeons - and I'm sure the Church of England is very glad they don't have to do that!

When Jesus was brought into the temple, a man named Simeon was there; righteous and devout, and looking forward to the consolation of Israel.  He came forward, took the month-old baby in his arms, and prayed, "Lord, let your servant now depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation... a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

That connection with the light has given Candlemas its name, and its main tradition: blessing the candles that will be used in the church for the year ahead. In my Bible study group this morning we prayed this prayer, taken from thisischurch.com:

A Prayer to Bless Candles.
God our Father, whose Son was revealed to Simeon as the light of the nations, and the glory of Israel, let these candles be to us a sign of his light and presence, that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we may live by the light of faith until we come to the light of glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let the flame of your love never be quenched in our hearts, O Lord. Waking or sleeping, living or dying, let us delight in your presence. Let the flame of your love brighten our souls and illumine our path, and let the majesty of your glory be our joy, our life and our strength now and for ever. Amen. Johann Arndt, 1555-1621

By Richard W.M. Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

But if you don't feel like blessing candles or looking for groundhogs, there are all manner of other traditions associated with Candlemas.  The Mexicans eat tamales, the French eat crepes or boat-shaped biscuits named navettes.  Catholics celebrate the purification of the Virgin Mary after Jesus' birth, which probably explains some vague references to a "Wives' Feast" on this day - a girls-only party.

Navettes by VĂ©ronique PAGNIER, via Wikimedia Commons

So, however you want to celebrate this Friday, go for it!  Light a candle, fry a crepe, and don't forget to watch out for small furry animals.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

All my writing is talking

I would not describe myself as a gifted public speaker.  Watching the 2017 Great British Bake Off, I empathised most with Steven, who went brick red at the slightest opportunity.  Me too, Steven, me too.  I prefer beavering away behind the scenes to bounding on to stage, and I have yet to master the art of the dramatic pause.

...

See?

Despite that, I somehow ended up delivering several talks during the autumn term.  Writing talks is a slightly different thing to crafting stories or blog posts, but it's all words.  So that's where my writing efforts have gone, these last few months.

The first was a cake decorating demonstration for a social group called Choices.  They have a different speaker at each meeting, and the lady who organises it had asked me months ago if I could explain the art of icing cakes.  I started off with a brief chat about the different types of icing and what you can do with them - which was a chance to show lots of photos of my creations - then got out a real live cake.


I'd never decorated a cake in front of an audience before, and wondered if my hands would be steady enough to pipe a straight line!  But the demonstration went well and was watched with keen interest, as far as I could tell.  My favourite comment afterwards was, "Your talk must have been good because S didn't go out for a smoke - and he always has a cigarette in the middle of the talk!"  It's an odd compliment, but I'll take it.

**************

The next opportunity was a Sunday morning slot at my "other church" about the cafe I am now managing there.  I'd been formally welcomed the previous month, but there hadn't been much of a chance to explain who I was and what I was doing there.  So I gave them a potted history of my catering career to date (starting with a chemistry degree, I explained, is not the recommended method!) and talked about a few changes that I'd made in the cafe so far.  I finished off with a short reflection on 1 Peter 4:
Practise hospitality ungrudgingly... that in everything God may be glorified.
It's pretty amazing to me that one of the things which glorifies God is simply this: practising hospitality.  But it's more than just inviting someone in for a cup of tea.  It's sharing all the gifts that the church has been given, not hanging on to them for ourselves.
There's that wonderful word "ungrudgingly" in there.  Ungrudgingly is hard.  Ungrudgingly means not getting upset when people make a mess of our clean building.  Or complain about something.  Or even come in just when we thought we could finally sit down for lunch ourselves!
 That's why we need God's love, to cover sins, and God's words in our mouths and God's strength which he supplies.
**************

Finally, I somehow talked myself into creating a nativity scene for the playgroup I help to run on Mondays, along with a short talk at the end of each session.  I tell you, if ever someone suggests you talk to a group of preschoolers, just don't.  Either they don't react at all to your cheerful questions and colourful pictures.  Or they have to tell you, right now and at great length, about something only vaguely relevant to what you've just said.  Meanwhile the mums are sitting there hoping you'll start Wheels on the Bus soon.


I have no idea whether anyone got anything out of my little talks about the Christmas story.  But we decorated the nativity characters every week, and they looked fantastic!  Either we have some very neat three-year-olds or the parents got more into it than the kids did.












My new career as a public speaker is seemingly not over yet: I've signed up to present a beginners' guide to blogging at the writing group I go to, in June.  That's one good incentive to actually do some blogging over the next few months, though!  And I'll keep practising my pauses.

[dramatic pause]

That's all for tonight, folks!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Blog Post

In theory it shouldn't be that hard to keep up with a weekly post on one blog.  In practice, these last few months, it just. did. not. happen.

So, new year, new resolution to do more writing.  I'm starting with Christmas.  Because it's easy.  And you're not all ready to forget about Christmas quite yet, are you?  If so, shut your eyes now, because here come lots of photos.

This Christmas....

...we had snow!  Well, not on the day itself, but in December, which is unusual enough.  And there was plenty of it - enough for a giant snowman.


Snowman and snowdog (or perhaps sheep)

...we went to the Christingle service at our local parish church (the proper dangerous kind with kids waving lighted candles at each other) and to see the lights at Calke Abbey (for the 4th year running - must count as a tradition by now).



...we had a real tree as a present from Graham's boss, which was thoroughly decorated and surrounded by gifts.



...we spent Christmas Day at home, which turned out to be a good thing when Graham woke up that morning feeling grotty.  He spent most of the day lying down trying to be enthusiastic when the boys got excited.  I called off Christmas dinner and defrosted some chicken casserole instead.  Nice and easy!

...it was the year of the board games.  Hungry Hungry Hippos, Minions Monopoly, Rebound, Kerplunk and Pieface all turned up underneath the Christmas tree.
Kerplunk

Rebound

and Pieface!


...this was Toby's big present.

It's a desk!

...and this was Theo's big present.

Yep, that really was his top request this year

...we made it to my parents' on Boxing Day, despite Graham not really being better yet. We had Christmas dinner with them a few days late, went for some cold walks, and met up with some friends to go bowling.



...I made my first ever Christmas pudding, complete with suet and hours of steaming, but no brandy butter.  I also made a chocolate Malteser Christmas pudding alternative.

Proper Christmas pudding

Chocolate Christmas pudding


...we finally ate our turkey on New Year's Eve.  Much better time to have a festive dinner, I think!


Happy 2018 to you all!