Monday, 18 March 2019

Food: Reduce! Reduce!

This title reminds me of a story about the conductor of a choir.  While they were rehearsing a piece, the sopranos persisted in singing too loudly.  Finally he turned to them in despair and implored, "Please, ladies!  Reduce!"

For this first week of Lent I wasn't trying to reduce either my singing volume or my waistline.  Just my meat consumption and kitchen plastic waste.

Day 5


The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution is big on the idea that, while it's all fine saving our own little bits of the planet, what we really need is changes in the big picture - the governments and companies that control how we make energy and what we do with it.  This means making some noise to push them in the right direction.  So I started the week with a little bit of lobbying.

I wrote to our local council to say that I was glad they use locally sourced meat and MSC fish for their school meals, and to encourage them to use their buying power to support better farming practices.   I also wrote to the supermarket I usually go to, to ask if they could stock a wider range of Fair Trade products.  They said they would look into it.

Day 6





Ordered a wooden dish brush, a loofah sponge, and coconut fibre scourers from Boobalou.  I usually use a cotton dish cloth, but we also have a dish sponge, a green scourer and a plastic dish brush living near our sink, so when they die they can be replaced by these non-plastic alternatives.


Day 7

Vegan Day.

I tried to keep the whole week fairly vegetarian (we sneaked in a bit of smoked mackerel one day), but I wanted to try a vegan day too.  Graham and I started the day with apple and chia seed bircher muesli (recipe here).  Effectively it's cold porridge; it was nice enough, but we agreed that the hot version is better at this time of year!


For lunch I had some leftover dhal and rice, and for dinner we had Quorn bbq sliders, adapted from this Budget Bytes recipe.  This is pretty easy, and I knew everyone liked it!  I mixed some cabbage and carrot with bottled French dressing to make a vegan coleslaw, too.  Dessert was canned peaches with vanilla soy yoghurt.

I have to say, having a fridge stocked with almond milk and soy yoghurt feels almost painfully trendy.  It's great that so many people are reducing their meat consumption, but it's an awkward balance sometimes between doing good and jumping on a middle-class bandwagon.  So many people in the world simply can't afford meat, and they don't get designer-label desserts to replace it with, either.  With that in mind...

Day 8

Donated to some ladies from my church who are going a step further than being vegan!  They're just eating beans and rice for five days, to raise money for Tearfund.  Find their JustGiving page here, if you'd like to find out more.

Day 9


On my list was watching the documentary Meat the Truth, but it hasn't quite happened yet.  Hopefully I'll fit that in next week.

Day 10


Remember that we started collecting all our plastic on day 4?  Today was the day that we tipped it all out to see where it came from and what we could do about it.  The boys and I divided it into categories and weighed it. 


Our total recyclable plastic was 560g, with most of that coming from plastic bottles (267g, plus another 94g of milk bottles).  We get through quite a lot of squash - if anyone's got any tips on how to train your kids to drink water, let me know!  I've completely failed on that.

Our total non-recyclable plastic was 257g - mostly plastic wrappers of various sorts.  Cereal bags, bread bags, vegetable and fruit wrappers.  I've cut down on a lot of vegetable packaging by getting a vegetable box for the last few months, but this is full of the kind of stuff that the boys don't like - cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts - so I still buy a few extra bits, including frozen veg.  It's difficult to see how to reduce this much, unless we stop eating cereal and bread!

It was quite alarming how much plastic we got rid of in one week.  Those plastic bags and bottles don't weigh very much, but we had over 800g of them!  Still, the boys are doing "Waste Week" at school, and are supposed to be making something out of old plastic bottles.  They dived into the pile with enthusiasm and much sellotape, and are gradually constructing a castle and a rocket.

In summary, reducing our meat consumption is a lot easier than reducing our plastic waste!  We've been cutting down on meat for a while so usually only have it once or twice a week anyway.  Perhaps if I adopt the same tactic for plastic, it will have the same effect.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Lent Guide to Climate Revolution

Is it me, or is Lent a very stealthy season of the year?  I always think I have weeks to work out what I'm going to do, and then it sneaks up on me and bam! there I am cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and wondering if I actually am going to give anything up, and if so, what, when, how and why.

This year, I felt like something to help the environment would be appropriate.  The Tenants of the King Bible study that I'd done back in the autumn had increased my conviction that this was important, but there were a lot of things that I knew I could do and hadn't quite got around to yet.

I'd seen a link to Living Lent, which suggested six challenges.  All of them sounded slightly unachievable.  I didn't want to commit to something that I didn't actually think I could do.

Then, right on Ash Wednesday, The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution thumped onto my doormat.  A plan started to form.  With some of the ideas from this book, plus some of the things I'd been meaning to do for a while, I would find 40 ways to help make our family more environmentally friendly.  And, of course, blog about it.

The first step was to read the book.

Day 1 and 2

Get and read (quite a lot of) The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution by Mary DeMocker.  This book definitely met my expectations.  The author clearly cares deeply about what kind of world her kids are inheriting, and has devoted her own and her family's life to making it a better one.  But she also manages to keep a sense of humour and fun, not to mention a fair dose of common sense.  The result is a mix of some obvious ways to make your family green (Plant Trees, Used is Cool) combined with ways to inspire your children (Bring On the Awe, Amplify Kids' Voices) and some things which you wouldn't think were related to climate at all (Bury Your Neighbor's Chicken, and my favourite: Chainsaw the Fence).  On this last one: yes, real saw; yes, real fence; and yes, we are not the only people in the world to make a hole in the fence so that our kids can share their trampoline!




Also Day 2

Make a cape for Theo's World Book Day costume out of an old T-shirt.  In the interests of full disclosure, I did go shopping for yellow material, but couldn't find any.  So Graham kindly let me cut up an old yellow T-shirt, and I got to score at least some brownie points for homemade upcycling.  It's dead easy; there are instructions here, for example.



Day 3

Sign and share a Greenpeace petition to encourage the UK government to pass a strong Environment Bill.  There are always loads of these petitions floating around, and whether the government pays much attention to them, I don't know.  But it takes about 20 seconds, and it might help.  Probably a direct letter helps more, but that's also on my list for another day.

Adjust the heating programme.  It's not super-warm out there any more, but it is generally milder, and I knew we probably didn't need the heating on quite so much.  Just hadn't done anything about it yet.  So this was a good prompt to do it, and save some gas.



Day 4

Start a plastic audit.  I've recruited the rest of the family for this one.  We're putting all of the plastic that we'd normally throw away in a separate bin this week.  Next weekend, we'll look through and see where most of our plastic waste comes from, and whether we can reduce it.


Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The next stage of parenting

And just like that, we are no longer the parents of any under-fives!


Yes, Theo has had his fifth birthday, and it feels like we are on to the next stage in our parenting careers.

We survived the nappy changes and the night time feeds.  We lugged the awkward heavy car seat to restaurants and churches and supermarket trolleys and doctors surgeries.  We squeezed tiny bendy arms and legs into equally tiny clothes - only to undress and re-dress them ten minutes later.  We introduced them to the delights of solid food.  And we sat them down on the grass somewhere, took a step back, and marvelled at how tiny and utterly dependent they were.



Then we found ourselves with toddlers, who needed constant watching and entertainment.  Suddenly a lot of equipment went everywhere - pushchair, high chair, travel cot.  Wipes, nappies, spare clothes, toys.  The inevitable dummy and the inseparable soft toy.  We visited every toddler group and soft play area within a ten mile radius, and we didn't have a single uninterrupted conversation with anyone.



Gradually, milestones popped up along the way.  The first walk without a pushchair.  The move from a cot to a bed.  The moment when we realised we had all slept through for several nights in a row.  They learned to put their own shoes on, to get dressed, to use the toilet, to brush their teeth.  We took them to preschool, birthday parties, cafes and playgrounds.


And then we bought school uniform and black Clarks shoes, and they looked terrifyingly small and amazingly grown up as they went into the classroom with all the other children, and our knowledge of their day was reduced to mystifying fragments: "We made magic potion and I went really fast!"  "I didn't like my potato so I put my hand up and Mrs Hatton said I could eat my biscuit."



So now, we are no longer parents of any under-fives.

I am enjoying this stage.

I like seeing them design cars and write poems and draw pictures and make friends.  I like it that they're still small enough to snuggle on our laps, and we still know where they are all the time.  And I like it that they're big enough to play together, and enjoy having a babysitter instead of clinging to us when we go out, and take their own plates into the kitchen after dinner.  And, after eight years, I no longer have to wipe anyone else's bottom!


I'm also finding small snippets of time which didn't exist even a year ago.  Such unthinkable things as ten minutes of piano practice, or a regular prayer time, are working their way back into my schedule.  Back in the baby stage, I'd assumed that my children would have to be at least teenagers, possibly even have left home, before I had any chance of resuming my own activities.  I'm glad to be proved wrong about that.

Talking of teenagers, I know we have that looming on the horizon.  Dealing with hormones, and letting them disappear for hours at a time, and trying to monitor internet use, and supplying enough food for enormous teenage appetites.  I know.  So that's why I'm enjoying this stage.  Because soon we'll be on to the next one.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Vanish that Veg! Carrots

Half a cabbage.  Most of a bag of carrots.  Several potatoes which are starting to sprout.

However carefully I buy my vegetables, I often find myself needing to use up one or two which have been sitting in the fridge for far too long.  I need recipes that convert a large quantity of one vegetable into the main part of a meal.  And I don't mean soup.  I mean something that my kids will eat some, if not all, of.  Something that won't be lurking accusingly in the fridge five days later.

I'm gradually building up a collection of these recipes.  These are dishes that I've made several times.  They're tasty, easy, and packed with vegetables.  So have a look in your fridge, read through the recipes, and let's vanish that veg together!

Carrots


Everyone in my family actually likes carrots, so they are much easier to use than, say, brussels sprouts (which Toby recently accused me of trying to sneak into every meal).  They can go sweet, savoury, or somewhere in between.  I've been making some of these recipes for at least 15 years, so they are tested to the max - in fact, I was quite surprised they haven't made it on to the blog before now.

Martha's Famous Carrot Cake



Let's face it, cake is what you really want to make with carrots!  This is not your stodgy dry nutty kind of carrot cake.  It's light and moist and covered in far more cream cheese icing than is good for you.  And it sells well at cafes, too!

8 oz carrots
8 oz plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
10 oz sugar
3 eggs
8 oz vegetable oil (by weight)

Grease and line a 12 x 8 inch brownie tin.  Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Grate the carrot or cut into chunks and blitz in a food processor.
If using a food processor, add the rest of the ingredients to the carrot and whizz until combined.  Otherwise, put the grated carrot in a large bowl with the other ingredients and mix with an electric mixer until well mixed.
Pour into the tin and bake 45-50 minutes until the cake feels firm.  Cool in the tin, then ice.

For the cream cheese icing, beat together 3 oz softened butter, 3 oz full-fat cream cheese, 10 oz icing sugar and 1-2 tsp lemon juice until fluffy and creamy.  Spread over cake.

Roasted carrot and chickpea salad

Here's something a little bit healthier!  You can mix it with some couscous or rice to make it more substantial, sit it on some spinach, or serve with some grilled chicken on the side.

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Dressing
1 tsp tahini
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp orange juice
1 small garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp chopped parsley or coriander


Heat the oven to 180C / 350F.  Boil or microwave the carrots until they are almost tender.  Drain, then tip into a roasting dish and toss with the sesame seeds, oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 20 minutes or so until they are slightly browned.  Stir in the chickpeas and give them 5 minutes in the oven just to warm.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the tahini, olive oil, orange juice and garlic together and season to taste.  When the carrots and chickpeas are ready, tip them into the bowl, sprinkle over the parsley or coriander, and toss it all together.  Eat warm or at room temperature.  Serves 2-4 depending what you have with it.

Spicy rice supper


I can't believe I haven't told you about this dish before - but if it is on the blog, I can't find it.  This is one of those wonderful recipes that you can make from almost nothing and it tastes fantastic.  It's spicy in the sense of being not spicy at all really, but it comes from a rather elderly cookbook that obviously considered a teaspoon of paprika to be rather daring.

Long grain rice, measured to 200 ml in a jug
400ml chicken stock, made with a stock cube and boiling water
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp chilli powder (mild or hot)
1 tsp paprika
1 large carrot, grated
a few handfuls of frozen prawns, defrosted
a few handfuls of frozen peas

If possible, cook the rice in advance and leave to cool.  But if not, that's fine too.  Put the rice in a medium saucepan and pour the stock over.  Put the lid on, bring to the boil, then turn down to the lowest heat possible and set a timer for 15 minutes.  Don't touch it till the timer rings; then just turn the heat off and leave the rice to sit until you need it.

In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil and fry the onion until soft.  Add the chilli powder and paprika, give it a quick stir, then add the grated carrot and cook for a couple more minutes.  If you have raw prawns you can add them with the carrot and cook until pink.

Add the cooked rice, peas, and the prawns if they are ready-cooked.  Stir and fry for a few more minutes until everything is nice and hot.  Serve in large heaps.  This should feed 4 comfortably, but it's surprising how much of it you can get through!

Other suggestions

Carrot cornbread is good with chilli or stews.

I know I said no soup, but I have to mention our competition-winning, culture-crossing, carrot and orange soup.  I might have to give you the recipe for that another time, though.



Over to you

Any favourite carrot recipes?  Let me know!

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Catching up

I know some of you appreciate the family news I post on here, so here's a quick summary of what each of us has been up to over the last couple of months.


Toby


- went to his first Cubs meeting on a night when they were eating hot dogs and marshmallows, loved it, and was very proudly invested as a member just before Christmas.



- spends his spare time writing stories, designing vehicles, and playing Super Mario Bros.



- has a large collection of beer bottle caps (any donations welcome, as his primary provider was an ex-work-colleague of Graham's).



- plucked up courage to go on a zipwire at the playground, and discovered it was great fun.



- enjoyed Lego, lots of books, penguin pajamas and a remote control car for Christmas.



Theo


- likes playing on the bikes and in the home corner at school.



- is now right at home with phonics: "I can spell cat!  Cuh, Ah, Tuh."  He's also been telling us about digraphs, at which point Graham and I nod enthusiastically and give each other bemused looks over Theo's head.  All this was out of fashion when we were at school.

- was a very cheerful king in his nativity play.



- enjoyed a new scooter, a car racing track, a chef's hat and apron, and colouring pencils for Christmas.


- is constantly asking how many days it is till his 5th birthday (not long now...)


Graham



- started a full-time management role at a company where he's been working part time for a while.  There's a lot to do but he feels like it's going well.  (Apparently some customers have already commented on the improvements he's made!)

- spent a weekend in Scotland being support crew for a guy cycling in a mountain-bike endurance race.  18 hours driving and 2 nights in a camper van in freezing temperatures sounded like too much endurance for me!  (Read the story here)

- discovered the enormous Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield, so we went for a visit and explored one small corner of it.



Martha




- enjoyed escaping from the kitchen over Christmas - we went to visit Graham's family and then my parents, so we did all of the driving and none of the catering this year!

- thought everyone was going to be trying to slim their waistlines and fatten their wallets in January, so has been surprised that the cafe is actually quite busy.  Bacon and eggs never seem to go out of fashion.


- spent the morning of her birthday taking sons to swimming lessons, playdates and soft play parties, but then got taken out for a delicious Italian meal in the evening (another of Graham's discoveries).


- has much longer hair than she has done for a while, but no good photos of it yet.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Vanish that Veg! Cabbage

Half a cabbage.  Most of a bag of carrots.  Several potatoes which are starting to sprout.

However carefully I buy my vegetables, I often find myself needing to use up one or two which have been sitting in the fridge for far too long.  I need recipes that convert a large quantity of one vegetable into the main part of a meal.  And I don't mean soup.  I mean something that my kids will eat some, if not all, of.  Something that won't be lurking accusingly in the fridge five days later.

I'm gradually building up a collection of these recipes.  These are dishes that I've made several times.  They're tasty, easy, and packed with vegetables.  So have a look through your fridge, read through the recipes, and let's vanish that veg together!

And to start the series... it's cabbage!

Cabbage

Credit: Eitvydas, from Wikimedia Commons

Cabbage is a prime suspect for being overlooked.  For one thing, a single cabbage goes a long way.  I remember adding it to all manner of dishes - shepherds pie, stir fry, bolognaise - in a frantic attempt to use it up.

For another thing, it's not exactly everyone's favourite vegetable.  I like it.  But none of these recipes has persuaded my boys to eat any cabbage at all.  My one minor success so far was with some potato and cabbage fritters, which weren't entirely successful in other ways (such as sticking together) but the boys did actually eat one each.  Here are two old favourites and one newer addition to my repertoire.

Stir-braised cabbage with cumin

This is adapted from a recipe in Nigella Bites which uses nigella seeds (of course!)  I could happily eat a bowlful of this by itself, but it works well as a side dish for fish and mashed potatoes, too.

Savoy or green cabbage
Splash of vegetable oil
1-3 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 vegetable stock cube
100-200ml hot water

Use somewhere between half and one cabbage, depending on how much you think you'll eat.  Finely shred the cabbage.  Heat a splash of oil in a large saucepan, and put in the cumin seeds.  Use 1 tsp for half a cabbage, up to 3 tsp if you have lots of cabbage and really like cumin.  Sizzle the cumin for a few seconds, then add the cabbage.  Stir it around for a couple of minutes so it gets coated in oil and just starts to cook.

Add the stock cube and just about enough hot water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Put the lid on and leave to cook for about 4 minutes, by which time the cabbage should be fairly soft.  When it's cooked to your liking, use a slotted spoon to serve.  You'll end up with some of the liquid and cumin seeds left in the pan, but hopefully not too much.

Charred lemon and olive cabbage


My first two veg boxes both contained a pointed cabbage.  It's not a variety I'd usually buy, but I happened to have this recipe (from the Feb 2017 Waitrose magazine) which is really good.  Zaatar is a spice mix that I'd never bought before; if you don't want to, just leave it out.

8 green olives, finely chopped (mine were from a jar)
1/2 garlic clove, finely grated
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
A little chopped mint if you have it
1 large pointed cabbage
1 tsp zaatar

Put the olives, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and mint in a fairly wide bowl.  Season and whisk together.

Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthways, then cut the quarters into 3 wedges.  Heat a griddle pan or a lightly oiled frying pan over a high heat.  Cook the cabbage wedges until softened and charred, which only takes a few minutes on each side.  You'll probably need to do it in batches.

Put the cooked cabbage straight into the dressing.  Turn to coat.  Sprinkle with the zaatar to serve.  It can be eaten warm or at room temperature, and keeps well for lunch the next day too.  Nice with rice dishes.

Dhal with cabbage


Dhal is one of my favourite curries to make, partly because it tastes good and partly because it's easy.  Unlike most curries, you don't start off by frying onions and garlic; you just put the lentils on to boil and then have plenty of time to do all the chopping while they cook.  Also, chillies and ginger freeze well, and the other ingredients keep for ages, so if I have a cabbage to use, I know I'll almost always be able to make this recipe.  It comes from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery.

200g red split lentils, washed and drained
1 litre cold water
1/2 tsp turmeric
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic
75g onion
225g green cabbage
1-2 green chillies
1 tsp salt
1 medium tomato, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Put the lentils and water into a large pan and bring to the boil.  Skim off the foam from the top, then add the turmeric and give it a stir.  Leave the lid on, turn the heat right down, and leave to cook for between 30-45 minutes.  Madhur Jaffrey says 1hr 15 minutes, but they're usually done well before then if you need them to be.  Stir fairly regularly to make sure they don't stick.

While the lentils cook, get on with the chopping.  Finely chop the garlic, slice the onion thinly and shred the cabbage thinly too.  Chop the chillies - you can do this straight out of the freezer if they've been frozen.

When the lentils look fairly well cooked, add the tomato, ginger and 1/2 tsp salt.  Stir and leave to cook while you sort out the cabbage.

Heat the oil in a frying pan.  Add the cumin seeds, then the garlic.  Stir it around for a minute until it's just starting to brown, then add the onion, cabbage and chillies.  Stir and fry the cabbage mixture for about 10 minutes until it's softened and slightly browned.  Add a little salt.

Tip the cabbage mixture and any extra oil into the lentils.  Give it all a good stir and check the seasoning, adding a little more salt or some garam masala if you like.  Serve with rice or naan.

Other suggestions

The Budget Bytes website has lots of recipes for cabbage, including this one for colcannon, and this one for beef and cabbage stir fry.

And there's always coleslaw, of course!  Although I find there's a limit to how much coleslaw one family can get through unless you eat it morning, noon and night.

Over to you

Do you have any favourite recipes for cabbage?  Please share them - I'd love to know!

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Five books and their films

My first book post went down so well that I had demands for another.  So this time we've got books and films.  Some you will have definitely seen or read, but there might be a couple of surprises in there too.

Chocolat

It was a rainy Friday night in Bristol, and I was in my student room with nothing to do.  On an impulse, I biked down the hill to the small independent cinema, and immersed myself in a world of sweetness and sunshine.  Chocolat was the perfect film to warm me up on a rainy evening.


Joanne Harris' book Chocolat also wafts the smell of sweets from its pages, but with a slightly darker edge.  Vianne has spent her life running from the Black Man of her mother's fears, but hopes that she, her daughter and her chocolate shop will find a settled home in this new village.  But the troubled priest there becomes her own Black Man, that she must face down to be able to stay.  The characters, the lilt of magic and the chocolate itself provide the reason to read this book.

Bridge to Terebithia
Not a well-known book in the UK, my grandma sent me this classic American children's story.  A boy in a deprived rural community finds an unexpected friend when a girl called Leslie moves in next door.  They help each other to deal with the bullies at school and Jesse's annoying sisters, but there's one thing that Jesse has to face all by himself.


When I was studying for an Open University course, it included a weekend away.  My choices were to slog down the motorway to Slough, or... fly to Dublin.  It was worth going to Dublin for the library at Trinity College by itself - a book-lover's fantasy - but when my feet got tired of exploring the city, I sat in a cinema for a while to watch Bridge to Terebithia.  It's always nerve-wracking to watch a film of a book you've grown up with, but I thought it was done well.  I only wished they could have done the forest scenes without going cartoon-y; that's the difficulty of showing imagination on a screen.

Lord of the Rings
I'd never read the Lord of the Rings until the epic movie series came out.  I'd read The Hobbit and disliked it, but after I'd seen the first Rings film, I decided the books must be worth reading after all.  They were.  They go on and on and the language gets more and more formal and the battles get bigger and bigger, and it's a great story on a grand scale.


The films are much the same, on perhaps an even grander scale, plus you get to feast your eyes on magnificent New Zealand scenery.  And elves.  At over 3 hours each, it might take you longer to watch the three movies than to read the three books.  I'd recommend you do both, but not all on the same day!

The Sound of Music
Everyone has heard of the film, of course, but did you know there was a book?  Maria von Trapp wrote about how she joined the Trapp family, how they fled to America and started a new life in Vermont as The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.  My mom had an old paperback copy on her bookshelf, and I read it long before I ever saw the movie version.


Which meant, of course, that I found the film a severe disappointment.  I felt like it had been made to conform to a Hollywood ideal - summed up by the moment when Maria learns that she should marry Georg von Trapp.   In the movie, they fling themselves into each other's arms to suitably romantic strains.  In the book, Maria seeks wisdom from the convent that she had been intending to enter.  When she returns, she sobs out, "They s-s-s-said I have to marry you!"  How much more real is that?

I admit that Julie Andrews skipping over a mountain singing The hills are alive... is pretty special.  But if you want to know the real-life story, track down the book.

About a Boy
Nick Hornby's novels often involve slightly dysfunctional people.  This one brings a dysfunctional guy together with a dysfunctional boy and his even more dysfunctional mother, and leaves them to try and sort each other out.  Reluctantly, they actually do.  While that's going on, the boy, Marcus, becomes the friend (or possibly pet) of the hardest girl in school, who is obsessed with Kurt Cobain.  Somehow they all end up in a police station trying to explain themselves.


It stars Hugh Grant.  That tells you at least half of what you need to know about the film of About a Boy.  There's a completely different ending to the one in the book, but for once I agree with the screenwriters on that.  Cinematically, it works far better than the Kurt Cobain / police station storyline, and gets you to effectively the same place in the end.  Dysfunctional or not, people need each other.

Do you have any favourite book/film combinations?  Let me know!

Monday, 12 November 2018

Autumnal celebrations

October and November have been busy around here!  A lot of events fall in and around the half term holiday, so here's what we've been up to.

Toby's birthday

Toby celebrated his 8th birthday in Super Mario style.  He invited a bunch of friends over for the afternoon, and they all divided their time between video games, trampoline and pizza.  Graham and I pushed our ear plugs in as tightly as possible and supervised from a safe distance!

Graham's brilliant home made game

The cake request this year was a Super Mario pinball game, so I did my best to deliver:



And next on the agenda was a trip to town to spend his birthday money.  It's all about Smiggle right now, which is a trendy (read: overpriced) brand of stationery.  Fortunately they do have sales, so Toby managed to acquire a lockable notebook and a selection of pens for a not-too-eyewatering sum.  He's using the notebook to plan his own business, either in car design or selling bicycle bottle holders, so if he's a millionaire before his 18th birthday I'm sure it will have all been worth it!


Halloween

Our local summer fruit PYO, Scaddows Farm, branched out into pumpkins this year, so we went to choose a couple on a gorgeous autumn Monday just before Halloween.  The boys were desperate to carve them as soon as we got home ("Put the knives down!").  We soon had pumpkin seeds all over the kitchen, two jack o'lanterns, and no severed digits, thankfully.  After the pumpkins had been used for their initial purpose, I chopped them up and roasted them, and they've been reincarnated as soup and cake.

 

The village gets pretty busy for trick or treat, with a nice family atmosphere.  Our two went out as a skeleton and Spiderman this year, and collected a ridiculous amount of sweets!


Bonfire Night

Just a couple of days later we were into firework season.  We're never quite sure whether going to a display will result in screams of fear or cries of delight.  This year we managed both.

On Saturday we went to a local display which was pleasantly uncrowded, but the fireworks were let off barely 30m from the crowd.  Theo did not like it at all.  However, we won the prize draw to light the bonfire, so the evening was redeemed by the opportunity to turn a pile of rubbish into a blazing inferno.

On Sunday we joined several other families from school at the Mercia Marina fireworks.  Toby was up on the fence with his friends, cheering and whooping, and even Theo was persuaded to have a little look.  We marked bonfire night itself by toasting marshmallows over a fire with some friends, which was much more Theo's idea of fun!

Photo: Phil Watts

Remembrance Sunday

And finally, Toby joined Cubs just in time to participate in the Remembrance Sunday parade service.  He was very proud of his new green uniform as he marched down the aisle with the other Scouts and Guides.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Live in the light

The final study in the Tenants of the King booklet focused on a passage from Romans 13, about submitting to the governing authorities.  As I read through the study, it seemed less about submitting to authorities, and more about engaging with and challenging them.  So I found Ephesians 5:8-16 instead. For me, this passage sums up the kind of things that churches can do.

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light - for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says, 'Sleeper awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'  Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

image credit: Pixabay

Support what is good already

...for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.

Earlier this year I attended an Eco Church conference.  One of the seminars was about taking church outdoors (something I often wish for when it's a sunny Sunday!) and a quote which stuck with me was: "Don't just look for misery and how we can help.  Look for the good stuff that you want the church to be part of."

By Jeff Schuler, via Wikimedia Commons

Often as Christians we feel like we have to set up our own sanctified projects.  But, especially on a local level, there may be a lot going on already.  Does your area have a community garden?  a Friends of the Park group?  a wildlife trust?  a nature reserve?  If people from the church get involved with these things, they can gain expertise in caring for the environment, as well as building links between the church and the community around it.

Looking wider, there are many national and international charities to get involved with.  Christian ones include A Rocha, Operation Noah and Tearfund. Others include Avaaz, who campaign on many issues, including environmental ones; Greenpeace, Surfers Against Sewage, and WWF.  Supporting them can be as simple as adding your email to an online petition.

Expose the works of darkness

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly...

Go on, admit it.  You read that second sentence and thought, "oh yes, nudge nudge, wink wink, we all know what that means..."  OK, admittedly Paul was talking about fornication in the previous paragraph.  But that's a long way from being the only shameful secret.  What about pouring toxins into the water supply and covering it up?  What about ignoring environmental laws to make a bigger profit?  What about corrupt governments taking handouts from energy companies?

Many of these are issues of injustice, and the church already has a good track record on challenging injustice.  It has campaigned on issues from slavery to debt relief to fair trade.  Maybe you hadn't realised that climate change is a justice issue too - the poorest and least able to cope will bear the largest burden.  As the IPCC report said, “A key finding of the report is that these efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C can actually go hand in hand with many others intended to address issues of inequality and poverty eradication.”  The church needs to speak out and take its part in exposing environmental injustice around the world.

By KVDP, from Wikimedia Commons


Bring things into Christ's light

...everything that becomes visible is light.

Once the works of darkness are exposed, they can be changed.  It's surprising how something obvious can be invisible.  Take plastic packaging for instance.  I never used to "see" all the plastic bags that my vegetables came in.  Now, every time I turn around, there's another one!  Use an onion: bag in the bin.  Finish the peppers: bag in the bin.  Put the apples in the fruit bowl: bag in the bin.

But now I've seen them, I can change.  I got my first veg box the other day.  A whole box full of fresh produce, and not a plastic bag in sight!



All of us in the study group admitted that we'd never thought to pray about environmental issues, even if we were concerned about them.  Jesus wakes us up and shines a light in our faces, says Paul.  What blind spots is he illuminating in your life?  And what is he waking you up to do?


Be wise and make the most of the time

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

There's a book I may have to get hold of, called The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution by Mary DeMocker.  In this review of it, the reviewer suggests that the book's key message is, "it’s better to skip washing out the peanut butter jar... and then use the time to call our congressperson."

Translated from the American, that means that she's suggesting that it's more critical to lobby our MPs to pass laws about cleaner energy, than it is to cut every last piece of plastic out of our lives.  Sure, the small things are good steps in the right direction.  But right now we have 12 years or less to slash carbon emissions.  What will have the biggest effect?

Mary DeMocker points out that parents are actually well-placed to influence others, because they tend to have large social networks.  Interestingly, a similar comment was made at the Eco Church conference regarding churches - they are more influential than they might think.

Even if you don't feel you know many people, you have an MP you can write to, a supermarket you shop at, a local council you can lobby, a Facebook account you can share stuff on.

What is the most important thing for you to do now?


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light