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!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

A brand new bed

...of the garden variety, that is!

BEFORE...

...and AFTER!

The posts surrounding the raised bed at the back of our garden were decidedly past their best.  Some had toppled of their own accord, and some more only needed a sharp tug to come out, like a loose tooth.  I decided to flatten the whole thing, do away with metres of weedy gravel, and create a big vegetable bed where beans, carrots and cabbages could roam free.

Graham accordingly ordered a ton of topsoil from the horticultural company he works at, borrowed a rotavator and a wheelbarrow, and we set to work.  The boys enjoyed helping to tip the topsoil off the truck.

operating the tipper


Like all these jobs, there's always more to it than you first think.  The posts which weren't rotted at the base turned out to be embedded a foot deep, requiring a good deal of hammering and levering with a garden fork.  Then the hundreds of bulbs in the old raised bed had to be fished out and stored somewhere, and the two large sedums moved to a new home.


Once we'd cleared the area, Graham wrestled the rotavator across the compacted soil.  It skidded and complained and gradually dug in and carved out lumps of clayey dirt.  I helped with a fork until the whole bed was dug over.

Surveying the mangled mess that used to be a neat flowerbed, we weren't at all sure we had done the right thing.  However, a bit of edging and a few barrows of topsoil improved the look no end.  Finally it started to look like a proper vegetable patch, and I was ready to plant.


So far strawberry plants and purple sprouting broccoli have gone in.  I might add some kale for the winter, and then... wait for the spring...!


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Transforming into a 7-year-old

Well, our big boy is now seven!  Like the Transformers toy he was begging for, Toby is changing rapidly from one thing to another.  He's gone from just starting school to the top year of the Infants, from hanging onto my hand to going round the block by himself, from sounding out letters to devouring Roald Dahl books.  He can beat any of us at Mariokart racing on the Wii (due, no doubt, to far too many hours of practice), wants to be in the Guinness Book of Records (for the fastest spinning hands) and likes maths the best at school. 



You won't convince Toby to try it your way unless he's tried it his way first.  But he'll always be trying something, that's for sure: making, writing, building, experimenting.  Sometimes he'll dash through it.  Sometimes he'll storm off in frustration.  Then other times he'll persevere, and produce something amazingly intricate.
 


Toby celebrated this year by having a few friends over for a birthday tea.  Seven-year-olds, we discovered, are a lot easier to entertain than five-year-olds!  Within minutes of arriving they had all vanished upstairs, with only a few muffled giggles and thumps to give them away.  They then spent most of the rest of the time on the trampoline, with a brief break for pass-the-parcel and pizza.


The cake this year was Transformer-themed.  That's Bumblebee's vehicle mode, if you didn't recognise it, with Bumblebee in robot mode perched on top. 


He got his coveted Transformer, by the way - Optimus Prime, who turns into a truck.  But, being Toby, he just had to take a moment to read a few facts from a book before opening the big present.


Happy birthday, Toby.  We're glad we get to watch you transform.

Monday, 23 October 2017

You are Christ's letter: acting from the heart

You know how sometimes you have to do something because it pleases you, even though you know no one else will notice? 

Maybe you carefully colour-code the office stationery cupboard.  Or line up your children's games according to size.  Or keep your spice rack in alphabetical order.

Or peel your apple all in one go (Imgur)

In my case, it was matching Bible verses to the weekly theme at toddler group.  I've recently become part of the leadership team for Little Creations, and one of my responsibilities is updating the Powerpoint slides which scroll on the big screen while the group is running.  In an effort to have some slight Christian input (most attendees have no church affiliation), we have a Bible verse on one of these slides.


You see what I mean.  Most parents, on constant alert for two-year-olds misbehaving, will hardly spare a glance for words on a screen.  Of those who do, even fewer will consciously register a saying from the Bible, and practically no one will think, how clever, that relates to the craft activity today.

But it made me happy.  So why not.

Our theme for the half term was People Who Help Us.  It started off easy, with firefighters and paramedics - plenty of verses in the Bible relating to fire or healing (Proverbs 26:20 and Matthew 14:14 did the job).  Lollipop ladies were unknown, of course, in Biblical times, but I was pleased to find Psalm 138:7 - You stretch out your hand, and your right hand saves me.  The police obviously called for a verse on justice (Psalm 11:7), and dentists needed a reference to teeth (a comment on social justice from Proverbs 30:14).

Our final week's subject was postal workers.  I was expecting to use a somewhat tangential reference to deliveries (deliver us from evil, perhaps?), but I discovered an image from Paul that I had never noticed before.  Writing to the church in Corinth, he says, You show that you are Christ's letter, delivered by us.  You weren't written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.  (2 Cor 3:3 CEB)

Paul is the Bible's letterwriter-in-chief.  Half of the New Testament is his letters to various people -  arbitrating church disputes, clarifying the new Christian beliefs, and simply overflowing with amazement about who Jesus is and what he did.  So it's not surprising that he uses a letter as an illustration at least once. 

The context is a reference to the letters of recommendation which, presumably, most itinerant preachers of the time carried.  Something to say, yes, this person has preached in Jerusalem, or Ephesus, or wherever, and knows what he's talking about.  Quite a reasonable custom, you would think, when churches were far-flung and communication was limited.

But Paul says scathingly, we don't need a letter to recommend ourselves to you, do we?  You're our letter!  The changes in your lives, by the Spirit of God, are what guarantee us as genuine, not some grubby piece of paper.  God himself is writing on your hearts.

Our cautious times require lots of pieces of paper to recommend us - DBS checks, references, certificates, qualifications.  Like in Paul's day, most of these are not unreasonable.  But what we're aiming for at Little Creations goes beyond all those bits of paper.  It's that genuineness that actually makes people's lives different.  That's what will make them recommend us.  And that's what they will notice, even when they don't read a word of our Powerpoint slides or our carefully prepared literature.

So I guess it's OK to do my happy things that no one else notices.  As long as I make sure to do some things that people do notice, too.  Not, as Paul is quick to point out, that I'm at all qualified to change anyone's life.  But because by my actions, I can show how God is writing on all of our hearts.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Comments on a walk

"I love going for a walk," said Theo, "It's so beautiful."

A few minutes later, both boys' legs looked like this.



Beautiful is NOT the word.

However muddy it might have been underfoot, though, our surroundings merited Theo's description.  We wove our way between rocky walls where tufts of grass grew like floppy hair, and moss-covered trees dripped rain down our necks.  Then came a narrow path with grassy slopes rearing up on either side.



Slipping on damp limestone, we reached a cave with a square mouth narrowing down rapidly "to a miners' tunnel," said Toby excitedly, and he bounded straight in to explore.


Emerging from the darkness, we discovered that the sun had come out and Lathkill Dale was opening out before us.  It was the perfect time for a picnic.



We trekked on a little further, to the place where water quietly rose up between the grass and creeping plants, and formed the beginning of the River Lathkill.  A few metres on, it was big enough to have a footbridge over it.  It was starting to turn into a proper river.

But the pace of Theo's short legs, and the endless pauses to inspect rocks, sticks, caterpillars and cowpats, was becoming wearisome.  We decided to turn back.



The valley, which had been silent that morning, had got much busier.  We passed a group of students carrying enormous backpacks, a dog which neatly swiped Theo's cheese sandwich, and finally, a family with older children than ours.  The mum gave us an encouraging grin, and said, "Don't worry - it gets easier!"

That's undoubtedly true.  For now, we were happy to get our mud-plastered children back to the car just as the rain came pouring down again.  From a parent's point of view, the walk had had its frustrations.  But Toby leaned back contentedly in his seat and said, "That was just like Wallace and Gromit."

"What?" we said.

 "It was A Grand Day Out."


Sunday, 24 September 2017

Revenge on a marrow, and other harvest stories

"I had to buy a new mop bucket because my old one got smashed by a marrow."

That's surely not a sentence many people get to say even once in a lifetime.


The marrow in question was left, with a group of its friends, at the back of church by an anonymous donor.  It weighed 7 lb, about the same as a newborn baby, but was decidedly less cute and a lot thicker-skinned.  I adopted it and brought it home.

Presumably Theo was just curious about this giant vegetable that I'd left on the counter.  At any rate, he was reaching for that or something else, and shortly afterwards I found a sheepish 3-year-old, a wrecked mop bucket, and a remarkably unscathed marrow lying on the floor.


A few days later, I got my revenge on the marrow by turning it into chutney.  This recipe from BBC Good Food made plenty, and used up over half of the vegetable.  The rest I peeled, chunked, and stashed in the freezer for now.  I have vague ideas of making marrow and ginger jam if I collect a few more jars, or I might go savoury and make soup or something.

Apples have been the other big thing this year.  It seemed like everyone was trying to get rid of apples!  I stewed up one big batch for the freezer, and made a bagful into pie.



Blackberries arrived early but then got rained on a lot.  Our local bush gave us a steady supply for a few weeks, so Toby made these chocolate cupcakes with blackberries on top.


And once again, Graham has been collecting sloes to add to gin.  He discovered Aldi's gin this year, which apparently is excellent for the price.  One batch of sloe gin is already infusing, and another lot is coming soon.

Finally, these are my two pretty pumpkins from the mysterious pumpkin plants.  We've eaten the green one, stuffed; it was very tasty.  I'm hoping if I save the seeds, I might get some more next year!


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Write. And keep writing.

Write, they say.  And keep writing.  Every day if possible.  That's what you do if you want to be a writer.



Right, I say.  Writing.  I'll get to it as soon as I've done the shopping cleaned the bathrooms called some volunteers mowed the lawn hung up the washing got some exercise spent time with my family. 
Um.  Maybe tomorrow.

So writing has slid backwards from being a priority, when I called Cafes with Kids my job and reviewed a cafe every week, to a sideline, now that I'm the other side of the counter and, once again, calling cafe management my job.  And, as a bonus feature, actually getting paid for it.  It's exciting.  It's rewarding.  It's also all-consuming and completely exhausting, at least in these first few weeks when I'm trying to learn everything and everyone all at once.  That breathing space seems a long time ago already.

But sometimes you have to carve out space for who you want to be as well as who you need to be.  And I want to be, if not a writer, then at least someone who writes.  So here I am, writing.  And here you are, reading, and wondering if I'm going to get around to anything apart from the fact that I'm not writing.  Now, there's an interesting question.  I'm wondering the same thing myself.

Now I feel like I probably should.

OK, two quick thoughts.  Back when I was last a church cafe manager, ten years ago and more, I distinctly remember thinking:  How does anyone do this job and then go home to look after children?  But then I picked my boys up from school, and they were running down the path hand in hand ahead of me, and I thought:  That's how.  They crystallize a moment into a memory, and you tuck that memory into your heart, and it gets you through.  Cherish the moments.



And secondly, for those of you who are interested in Bible stuff.  Romans 10 was the reading at church this morning, and I had never realised that this:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”...  Romans 10:5-8 ESV
 is basically a direct quote of this, from Deuteronomy:

11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.  Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV
OK, so there was a big clue there in the "Moses writes" bit.  It's always obvious when you know it, isn't it?  Moses is talking about keeping the Jewish law, which has just been spelled out in mind-numbing detail in the rest of Deuteronomy.  Paul takes his words and applies them to having faith in Jesus, "the end of the law", as he puts it.  Neither of those things are something you can claim to have achieved all at once.  But neither of them are too difficult to start.  We don't have to wait around for someone to achieve the impossible.  If you want to get somewhere, just take the first step.  Do what's already in your mouth and in your heart.

Or in other words: Write.  And keep writing.  And one day you'll realise that you're a writer.





Image credits
(1) Writing tools By Pete O'Shea [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(2) Writing sunset By gnuckx [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 1 September 2017

A breathing space

Theo and I sat perched on a rocky step in the sunshine.  Somewhere above us, Graham and Toby climbed higher up the path, while behind us, a waterfall splashed noisily down the hillside.  In front of us the land spread out in patches of green and grey and purple, sun-bright and dappled with cloud.  I drew in a deep breath.  We were definitely on holiday.




Our usual last-minute AirBnB searching had led us to a cottage on the corner of the Yorkshire Dales.  Technically we were in Cumbria, but this area is far less popular than the more famous Lake District, with the guides tending to use words like "under-rated" and "little-known".  We certainly didn't have the place to ourselves, but then the weather that first day would have dragged the most reluctant walker out of doors.  Or just about.  You can see how enthusiastic our little walkers were!


Cows.  On an A-road.  Definitely under-rated.
The target that first day was Cautley Spout waterfall.  We had a fairly flat walk along by the stream, then a steep climb up some well-made steps beside the waterfall itself.  By that point little legs were getting tired, so we made our way back down and treated ourselves to fizzy drinks at the Cross Keys.  This is no ordinary pub, but a temperance inn; it hasn't served alcohol since 1905.  It has an impressive array of alternatives.  Graham was delighted to find root beer, while I had ginger beer and the boys went for Diet Coke.  It was a good thing no one else was in the garden - the burps that resulted were tremendous!



Next day we mooched around the pretty town of Kirkby Lonsdale.  The Devil's Bridge, just outside town, was built in the 14th century, and amazingly, carried all traffic over the River Lune until the 1930's, when the number of vehicles got too much for it.  It crosses an excitingly swirly part of the river, where we were much entertained by some novice canoeists attempting to paddle the rapids.  The boys were happy exploring the rocks for quite some time.  Finally we dragged them away and along the footpath to the Radical Steps - unfortunately less exciting than they sound; it was the landowner who was a Radical, not the steps.  Still, there's a good view from the top.  And fish and chips and ice cream and a sweet shop in the town centre.  Oh my.  No one wanted much dinner that evening.




Our cottage was well-equipped with board games which reminded me of my youth.  I'd mercifully forgotten the frustration of shoving straws through a tube to set up Kerplunk, but Theo loved it.  Toby begged for a game of Monopoly and beat me.  Oh, the long-drawn-out torture of losing Monopoly.  That takes me back.

Our holiday cottage

We were a long - but curiously precise - distance from London.

Finally, since we live in landlocked Derby, we always have to go see the sea on holiday.  Only a small amount of bickering about directions was needed to get us to Silverdale Cove.  We arrived at high tide, which meant we got to throw stones in the water for about ten minutes before it retreated, rapidly and astonishingly, across the vast mudflats of Morecambe Bay.  There was a fair breeze with occasional bucketfuls of rain, but we ate lunch in a handy cave, then sheltered under trees as we climbed Arnside Knott for some more views.




In such a crowded country, it's remarkable that there are so many places still to retreat to for some breathing space.  I'm glad we found another one of them.