Unputdownables 2014 and a year-in-blogging review!

Friday, 19 December 2014

So this is my last post of 2014! Some blog related things that have happened:

I posted 70 (that's 7-0!) times.

I finally joined Instagram and got a bit more into Twitter.

I won the IATA/Britmums Flying 100 competition with this post, which you can see on the IATA website here (side note: I actually screamed a little bit and flapped my hands around when I found out).

I was featured on the Mumsnet Bloggers' Network main page, which I took a screenshot of because I am a bit sad (mine is the middle one):


(That post had at least double the amount of views of even the most popular blog posts I've written. Shows the sheer power of Mumsnet!)

Plus I started to connect with other bloggers, which is really cool.

So yay. Fun year for blogging.

***

Anyway. It's time for my

UNPUTDOWNABLES 2014!!!



The bows on these are just for display. I'm not giving these books away. They are all mine (#greedyforbooks) I might lend them to you though. If you're lucky.

Sorry for the waffle that is about to follow, but I love reading other bloggers' book recommendations, so felt it was time to add my own to the mix :)

Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why it Shouldn't by Suzanne Barston

When I sat down to write this summary I accidentally went off on a epic rant. Which thankfully I have deleted. Let me say this: this book (and the blog that the author also writes) made me feel so, so much better about my breastfeeding journey with Jellybean. It made me realise that I am not alone; that societal pressure really sucks; that statistics can be twisted to show what you want them to show; and not just to blindly accept every study I read without checking its reliability first.

Also, it made me realise that the breast vs bottle debate is kind of a red herring. What we really should be focusing on - and fighting for - is body autonomy for women. In my mind, in terms of breastfeeding, that means a woman should be able to choose not to breastfeed, or to stop breastfeeding, without being made to feel like a) less of a woman, b) less of a mother, and c) that her children will grow up to be obese, lacking intelligence, and sickly. It also means that women should be able to breastfeed without people being so offended by the sight of breasts actually being used for their natural purpose that they want women to sit in toilets or corners out of the way, or cover them up with ridiculous napkins, or generally humiliate them.

Okay, I need to end this here before I go off on one again! The book is good. The writer is American and obviously the societal pressures are different there than here (read: more intense) but I still got wisdom and reassurance from it. And she isn't anti-breastfeeding at all. Coming from someone who is sickened by women bickering over breastmilk vs. formula, this is a welcome relief, and a level-headed view of quite an emotive topic.

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

First of all what an awesome name: Myquillyn! Love it.

Second of all, this book. I love it. It's kind of part home-interior-ideas, part life lessons. Smith speaks of how she felt going from rented house to rented house: never fully at home, never settled. She wouldn't even put pictures up on the walls. She was constantly longing for her 'forever home'.

That is me in a nutshell, really.

Or was, anyway. I read this book just after we almost had to move house when our landlord sold up, and it helped me to feel positive and excited about the future. It also made me feel more confident to make my home more, well, homely, without worrying too much.

It's a beautiful book, full of lovely (and cheap!) ideas for making your home beautiful. It also includes lots of tips for renters, which is great.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Now.

I know this was one of the biggest most famous books of the year, but I'm going to get this out first: it wasn't my favourite. I don't know whether it's because I'm too old for it (although I do read a lot of YA) or something. But I didn't *love* it. I don't want to re-read it any time soon. I didn't love the characters.

However, the characters had depth and personality and flaws, full of the bravado of the young mixed with the wisdom of those who have had a brush with death. Their love story was beautiful, and I couldn't stop reading it, and I cried and cried and cried at the end. So I guess it got under my skin :)

Something Other than God by Jennifer Fulwiler

I (obviously) love Jennifer Fulwiler's blog, Conversion Diary. An ex-atheist, now Catholic, I love how she wrestles with serious (and sometimes very sensitive) issues with intelligence, wisdom and tact. Also, her posts about scorpions make me laugh out loud.

Her book chronicles her journey from atheism (pretty much from childhood) into a full-blown conversion to Catholicism. I loved seeing how God was calling her, despite the fact that she was stubborn and not at all ready to believe in God, never mind become a Catholic.

I loved this book and will definitely re-read it next year.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I read this on the Kindle and gave up on it around 10% in.

It sat there for weeks. I just couldn't push past that first 10%. The beginning of the book - following a young girl living in Germany in the midst of World War II - felt grim and bleak, cold and grey like the landscape the author describes.

And yet, struck down with a terrible stomach bug and unable to move very much, I read the whole of the rest of it in two days. It's like my heart just gave into it.

I'm so so glad I stuck with it.

It is a beautiful, funny, heart-wrenching book, with interesting characters that felt real, characters that stuck with me for a long time after reading. And again, when I finished it, I cried. Not just because of the story - but because I knew I would miss reading it, which is crazy considering I'd read almost the whole thing in a couple of days.

So good. Please read it if you haven't already. It's definitely my favourite fiction book of the year.

David: Seeking a Heart Like His by Beth Moore

This was my favourite Bible study of the year, hands down. I've done four this year, but this one stuck with me the most. I loved reading David's story, not being that familiar with it (my Old Testament Bible reading not being exactly great). I loved seeing his ups and downs and discovering how God worked through His people. I felt like I was learning a great and important chunk of my family history, in a way.

A few honourable mentions

I have read a few more books that I thought I would mention briefly without going into too much detail:

Dare Me by Megan Abbott (dark, twisted, shocking in places tale of cheerleaders and friendship, kind of unputdownable, but left me feeling a little bit sick. Not sure if that's a good thing or not)

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (I loved this initially, but some of the scenes are stuck in my head because they were so horrific, and I felt massively let down by the ending which I felt was totally weird and out of place)

A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French (made me laugh out loud - a lot! - and I missed the characters when I finished reading it)

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver (interesting characters, slightly preachy tale about the damage we do to the environment, although admittedly it's a very important subject, but beautifully written)

The Husbands' Secret by Liane Moriarty (awesome, if you can get it at the library like I did you should - I couldn't stop reading it)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (!!! That's all I can say about this. You need to read it. I hated the ending but I know people who loved it)

The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan (got this on Kindle sale, it's a quirky, interesting tale)

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (made me laugh, made me think, made me stop and remember the awesome and interesting women in the Bible)

***

I am looking for books to read next year: please give me your recommendations! Also if anyone knows of any books written by British bloggers, that would be good - I found some really interesting writers via blogs this year, but they are all American, and I'd like to support some UK bloggers too :)

***

So that's my last post of 2014! Thank you for reading my blog, I appreciate that people take the time to do it (and always feel surprised when someone mentions it in real life: I think I forget that my words exist in people's minds, aka, outside of the internet). I am now off to have a (hopefully) chilled family Christmas, eat lots of food, and be merry.

Merry Christmas from all of us and a Happy New Year! See you in 2015 :)

Blessed is she.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

At this time of year, I find my thoughts (outside of Christmas-based to-do lists) drifting to Mary.

As in mother of Jesus Mary.

I mean, can you imagine how she must have felt after the angel visited her and dropped that bombshell? Already she had a massive change coming up in her life - she was about to marry Joseph, whom she probably didn't know particularly well. And now suddenly, her young body is about to nurture and give birth to the Saviour of the whole world.

Mary. How she must have felt as she made the journey to her relative Elizabeth's house, the angel Gabriel's words ringing in her ears: 'So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God'. 

Was she scared? Was she excited? Was she overwhelmed? The angel explained that the power of the Most High would 'overshadow' her. What did that feel like? Did she feel it at all? Did she start to feel her body shifting and changing to make room for another life?


I find the part where she meets Elizabeth and her baby, still in womb, leaps with joy at the sight of young Mary and the precious person she carried, really interesting. And we read it out loud as the advent candle burned, in between mouthfuls of dinner:

'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!'

Blessed. I've read a lot of blog posts and articles about the misuse of the word 'blessed' recently. Blessed is a funny word, but I think it's flexible. It can mean different things. In the Bible, you find that the word 'blessed' is often used in conjunction with something that you wouldn't expect - the Sermon on the Mount, for example. 'Blessed are those who mourn'.

That is quite different than 'God has blessed me with a new job/car/house', but I think the word can be used both ways.

Anyway, 'blessed are you among women', said Elizabeth. Let's consider this:

Blessed to deal with the potential scrutiny of being an unwed mother-to-be.

Blessed to deal with pregnancy and its complications, and going through the trauma of birth (yes, I said it: trauma. Not all women have births that are beautiful and zen-like and empowering, although I suppose Mary might have done. I had a fairly straightforward labour and still found it fairly traumatic. Anyway!) which would have been much more scary back then as the birth mortality rates were much higher.

Blessed to raise a child that will tip society on its head, leave the rulers of the day with their heads spinning, and totally infuriate those with higher authority than you. Blessed to see people turning against your child more and more every day, anger rising up against him. Blessed to see, on the flip side, people running after him, desperately needing him, wanting more of him.

Blessed to see your child perform miracles that you would never have imagined possible.

Blessed to hear your child speak, even at a tiny age, with such wisdom and depth that it leaves you breathless.

Blessed to see your son die a horrific and painful death.

Blessed, to bear the saviour of the world. To know that the Redeemer, for not just everyone you know, but for people in generations to come, once lived in your belly.

Blessed, yes. Joy and pain, two sides of the same coin.

Blessed.

I've been thinking back on this past year, trying to put my finger on one moment where I could say 'Aha! God was with me then.' Trying to think of a good story to round off the year, to blog about. And honestly? I can't. I could tell you some small ways in which God has shown His providence: usually this is in timing, in things aligning exactly the way they needed to. Small things like checking my email at the right time. Reading that particular verse on that day when I really needed it. That kind of stuff. But they're complicated and when you write it down it doesn't have the same impact that it had when it happened.

I am blessed in the '#blessed' sense of the word. We are all healthy. We are all well. We are happy. We have a roof over our head and food in our bellies. We have wonderful friends and family. We have a beautiful child who blossoms every day into a funny little person. We have, improbably, somehow, managed to afford Christmas this year.

But I want more. Is that greedy? I don't just want to be #blessed. I want more of Him. There is a large part of me that yearns to just sit still and hear God say something to me, clearly, like a bell ringing in the silence.

I started to worry and question myself. Where am I, exactly, with God? I'm not in a perfect place. I might blog about Him, but I still don't get all of it. I'm still working stuff out (with fear and trembling, mostly). I still sin (a lot). I make mistakes (again and again). I'm not as nice to people as I should be. I haven't done anything amazing this year - started a new ministry or done something really generous or bold.

When I start to hang my relationship with God on my own performance, it quickly crumbles apart.

Luckily, God had a plan for that. A plan that started a long time ago with a very young woman whose life was about to change forever.

Elizabeth, swollen with pregnancy, speaks on:

'As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!' (italics mine)

This really struck me. Later that night I thought about it. I thought about how God never seems to say things to me like 'Hey, Megan! I promise you XYZ'. And how sometimes I yearn for that. And how sometimes when I am feeling low I start to doubt whether He's been there at all.

But I remembered the one time I really felt, above everything else, God speak to me. It was at my baptism. Our pastor at the time read out the scripture they had prayerfully chosen for me, and it was something I would turn to again and again in times of need and of plenty:

'So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.' ~ Isaiah 41:10

I remember those words almost cutting through me. Undoing me. I trembled for ages afterwards. I felt weird for days. Like something had changed.

The first part. 'So do not fear, for I am with you.'

'Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.'

Blessed is she.

I have to remember, that's all. And it does come flooding back, like a hum of electricity in the background, low and steady under my feet. He said He is with me. My faith isn't based on feelings alone. It is based on a lot of things. Commitment. Relationship. Trust.

I'll be honest. There are a lot of things about my faith that don't make sense. I mean, the whole Christmas story doesn't make sense in my human mind: why choose a poor girl and a carpenter to be the parents of the saviour of the world? And there are deeper parts that leave my head spinning, and I realise again that I will never truly understand God, because I am human, and I am not meant to know it all.

And there are parts of my religion that I don't get. There are preachers that teach things that leave me hurt, embarrassed, even ashamed. People grab the word of God and they twist it until it suits their needs. And there are things that, I believe, have been drummed into Christians for generations and people don't question it, they don't look further into their own Bibles, they just flat-out believe whatever the fashionable teacher of the moment has said, even though they might be wrong. Even though they might be causing damage.

I'm sorry for that.

But I believe God extends grace to those who seek it.

And God sees potential in people that I don't. Including Mary and Joseph. Including those that have made colossal mistakes. Including me.

Thank God for grace, grace that overflows and overwhelms and changes every single thing.

Grace that drowns out everything else. Grace that I am 100% sure of.

Grace that has covered me this year, and will cover me again for the next.

***

I pray grace and peace for you this Christmas time.

I have one more post to come before Christmas (less deep, it's a kind of book-review-of-the-year type post, but if you like books you might enjoy it!) hope you're all having a good week, that your parcels are arriving on time, and that you don't get squished in the supermarkets ;)

Mummy Mondays - giving at Christmas

Monday, 15 December 2014

So, this is my last Mummy Mondays before a Christmas break, and I thought I'd share a few links with you. But first, a bit of waffle.

I was shopping the other day, and as I walked through the doors into the supermarket foyer, I saw a group of people collecting items for the food bank. As I passed by, basket looped over one arm and steering my buggy with the other, I watched people stopping to share their groceries.

People willing to buy a few extra tins of food for those who need it.

I find it scary that people, in our country, in this time, are in desperate need of food. That they have no money to feed their children. And although I'm sure the stereotype of parents using their benefits money to buy cigarettes or televisions instead of food might be true in some cases, I refuse to believe that's the norm. I hate that certain parts of the media (mentioning no newspaper names, but I'm pretty sure you know which one I'm talking about) jump to blame the poor for being poor. Once you're in the cycle of not having much to live on, it is very hard to escape from it. It's easy to judge when you are comfortable.

I remember how close Chris and I were, first married, to not having money for food. Having to live off of what we had in the cupboards, and thank goodness we actually had a few bits in their to keep us going.

It's humbling to be in that position. It's also scary, and lonely, and stressful, and humiliating.

For all the things we learnt from it, I don't look back on that time with rose-tinted glasses. Yes we grew closer, and we learnt how to scrape by, but goodness it was hard. And that was with family ready to back us up if necessary.

What about those that don't have anything in cupboards? Or family as a safety net?

Anyway, all this got me thinking about how Christmas is a perfect opportunity to extend grace to people. Sometimes its easy to live in a Christmas bubble. My head is a constant to-do list: must go shopping, must buy this, must wrap this, must send this card off before the post stops, must do that. And you sort of forget that for many people - in our neighbourhoods - are struggling massively to cope and Christmas just makes it worse.

It's the perfect time of year to give people gifts, and not just traditional ones. It's the perfect time of year to give people food. Or money for heating. Or even more important: compassion, understanding, empathy, company. 

Christmas really is a perfect opportunity for reaching out to people, and a perfect time to teach children that sometimes you have to step out of your own family bubble and help those who have a much harsher reality than our own.

Reaching out to people - especially face to face! - can be scary. Especially for people who lack social skills (er, me). But I've realised how important it is to do these sorts of things, not just to show Jellybean the importance of thinking of others and doing things that are sometimes difficult or involve sacrifice, but also to remove myself from my own little Christmas family bubble.

Anyway, here are a few charities either to donate to or to help out with that I have been considering. I think that, for children, its important to have something physical to 'do' - posting a donation or giving it in person, or taking part in a fundraising activity, or helping to fill a basket for a food bank. Some sort of action as well as talking about it is helpful for little ones to really understand what they're doing. And I believe it's never too early to start teaching a child this kind of stuff.

The Huffington Post have a good list of children's books that tackle the issue of poverty.

The Trussel Trust are always looking for food donations and their website has a map to find the nearest centre to you.

You can still donate a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child using their online service, Shoebox World. You give a suggested donation and drag and drop your chosen gifts into a virtual box, which then gets packed up in real life and sent off to Romania. Little ones can join in with this easily.

Age UK have some activities to get involved in as part of their Spread the Warmth campaign, aiming to help vulnerable, isolated elderly people.

If you want to start a new season of giving, Compassion UK allows you to sponsor a child and help them with their spiritual, economical, physical and social needs, for £25 per month. You can write to your sponsored child too. For older children, this is a fantastic opportunity to connect with a child living in very different circumstances.

These are the most obvious ones I can think of. Obviously, Christmas is a time for giving to and spending time with loved ones, and for some people that is a challenge in itself ;) still - praying for transformation in our house. Transformed hearts, generous minds, eyes fixed on God, and lips singing praise for all He has done for us.

Happy Monday (sorry this one was all waffle) and I hope you all have a great week!

New Friday posts! And a post about exploring outdoors (even when it's freezing)

Friday, 12 December 2014

Hi. So, just to let you know, I am finished with Seven Quick Takes on a Friday. I enjoyed doing it, but I wanted a change, and as it's moving over to a new host I thought now would be a good time. I plan to join in with Post, Comment, Love (otherwise known as PoCoLo) on a Friday instead.

Also, a great linky that I've wanted to join in with is Country Kids, hosted by the Coombe Mill blog. Essentially these are posts that celebrate and encourage people to get out into nature and enjoy being outdoors with their kids.

So my post today is about that. Clear as mud, right? I dunno, I'm still getting my head around this part of blogging myself. But I'm enjoying the blogging community a lot. Anyway, let's get on with the post!

***

So we're talking about Going Outside today.

You know, outside. Where people are. *shudder*

Joking! I totally love people mostly.

Anyway, Jellybean and I spent a lovely half an hour or so in the park last week, and I thought I'd write about it. Every season has its benefits, I think. Spring for it's gorgeous sense of awakening, of things growing and coming to life. Summer for beaches and the fact that I don't have to wear a million layers or carry a coat around with me. Autumn for its spectacle of colour and cosiness. Winter?

Winter has Christmas, I guess.

That's how I used to feel. And to be fair, those long January/February days where the sun doesn't really seem to rise and the rain is freezing on your skin and everything seems grey, those days are a bit frustrating at times. But sunny winter days? I love those. Everything seems so still and quiet.

There is beauty in the stark landscapes.

Anyway, I took my daughter out as we waited for Chris to be done at the dentist. I love going out in the morning, too: less busy, and it makes me feel quite productive (even if I've left the house in an absolute state).


A lens flare that would make JJ Abrams proud.


Obviously we had to stop at the play park. Stomping on the slide in welly boots creates a delightful noise that is, apparently, utterly hilarious.



But the best part was just stopping for a moment after crunching in the last of the leaves, hidden under a canopy of trees. We sat on a log. We looked at things. We watched squirrels jumping around feet away from us. We watched dogs chase said squirrels. We saw a plane quite close in the clear sky and waved at it. We talked about what we could hear.


And then we waited for Daddy to join us.

Honestly, sometimes I feel the cold and think 'nah', but then guilt kicks in and I think my daughter needs fresh air as well as warm and cosy homes or playgroups. But when we get outdoors, I realise how nice it is just to switch off and enjoy the winter.

Even if it is flipping cold.

So get out there! Forget shopping. Go Christmas-decoration-spotting instead! Or squeeze in one more leaf-crunching session before it all turns to mulch. Pop your thermal knickers on (other layers might be a good idea too) and I'll meet you at the park. ;)

Post Comment Love

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Traditions

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

I love a bit of tradition.

I feel like I spent the best part of my late teens and even early twenties desperately trying to establish My Own Life. I wanted to do my own thing, and do it differently, and I wanted to decide everything for myself because I was my own person, thank you very much.

Especially when I first met Chris. It was like I wanted to wipe away the (terrible) year or so that had gone before and start again. I had to figure out what was important to us. How we wanted to do things. It was a process of detachment from what had gone before. And unfortunately, I ended up detaching a little bit from good things too. From good people.

Now I've had a baby I feel like I understand the importance of, well, family. Of remembering loved ones that are no longer with us. I'm starting to understand how important it is to protect that tight bond that comes with having the same blood pumping through your veins, the same DNA.

Christmas has always softened my walls a little bit anyway.

But no other time of the year makes me stop and think as much as Christmas.

For me, the day that we get the tree up is a highlight of the year. I almost enjoy it as much as Christmas itself. This year, it became an all-afternoon event. Church in the morning, then Chris cooked a roast while Jellybean had a nap, and I put the decorations up. Then after dinner we settled down for a film. (Arthur Christmas, which as a side note totally made me cry the first time I saw it).

We've decided that will be how it goes every December from now on. Roast, tree, film.


Delicious roastyness is on the way.

Even though we, as our own family unit, have created that tradition ourselves, I am still doing some of the same things my parents do. Listening to Bing Crosby as we decorate. Nothing makes me think of my grandparents more than Bing. His voice makes me remember, like I've looked down and rediscovered my roots. I listen to Bing and I wonder how their Christmases were, them with their nine kids, barely scraping by each year but still laughing at the end of it.

I listen to Bing Crosby in tribute to them, just as my parents do.

And it makes me think of time passing. Suddenly I see my life as it actually is: a small part of history. Not forever, as I imagine my time on this Earth to be, and I hope that someone remembers me once a year at least. For a moment I feel a weird nostalgia mixed with a tinge of sadness, as well as overwhelming joy, and it hits me, and all of a sudden it is gone again.

I feel grateful to be connected. I feel grateful for family.

That is why tradition is important.

You see, its easy to get swept up in commerical stuff. Especially when you see what others are doing around you: every year going to see a panto, every year having a meal out with family, every year going ice skating, every year going to the cinema. And even the non-expensive stuff can be a stretch: activity advent calendars and Christmas books to unwrap each day and Elf on the Shelf and Christmas Eve boxes with new pyjamas and hot chocolate and movies ...

I love it all. I love seeing what other people do. But I can't do it all.

We pick the ones that matter the most to us.

And I let go of everyone else's idea of a perfect holiday. (Perfection, remember? It's a myth!)

***

The thing is, I am quite stubborn. I don't like to admit that I need help, and I don't always want guidance or advice. I think it comes from years of being treated as the cute, fragile one because I'm small. And sometimes the smallest things can trigger that feeling in me. Because I feel sometimes people think I might break.

I'm a grown woman! I'm perfectly capable! Let me do things my own way.

Sometimes, though, it's nothing to do with how people perceive me. People are just being nice. It's more to do with how I perceive myself. I rebel against tradition and advice because I feel like I want that control.

Tradition softens that part of me. It makes me feel grateful. It makes me feel connected to my parents. It's why I wrap my decorations in pages torn from the Argos catalogue every year, ready to be stored in the loft for next time.I barely ever shop at Argos. I don't need an Argos catalogue. But I like to have one around in the New Year. Because I need to wrap my decorations in it.



That's what my Mum does.

It's why I use Cooks matches. No other brand of match will do. If I have a little square box of matches I feel a bit weird using them. If I'm buying matches, I'll always choose those, even if they're higher up and I have to stand on my tiptoes, even if they're more expensive.

Because that's what my Mum uses.

It's funny isn't it, how certain parts of your childhood stay with you, permanent fixtures long after you've left home. It's like parts of your life as a kid stay imprinted in you forever.

Permanently connected with loved ones, expressed in the smallest of ways.

And that act, of getting the boxes down from the loft, of unwrapping each decoration and exclaiming over how pretty they are, remembering where we bought them or who gave them to us, that is important to me. It reminds me of being a kid and doing the same thing. Gently unwrapping. Discovering what is inside. And when you're a kid, anything sparkly looks like treasure. It's like finding box after box of treasure and you can't contain the wonder of it all.





Small things. Material things, at the end of the day. But they become something more. They symbolise something important. It's not so much the objects themselves that are important. It's what they come to represent. It's what they cause you to think about.

***

I wonder what parts of Christmas Jellybean will remember. I wonder if she will remember the lighting of the Advent candle every meal time, the extra long prayer of thanks we say before eating. I wonder if she will remember that slow unfolding of treasures, that rediscovery of wonders we had forgotten.

I wonder what parts of our life she will take into her own when she is a grown up. What things will stick with her.

In the meantime, I pray and I write and I read and I reflect and I hope that she will grow up to understand that Christmas, as a whole, represents something else. It represents something important, even more important than family. It represents hope, and rescue, and endless love that goes deeper than anything you can ever imagine.

It represents life. Birth. But also sacrifice and conquering death and bridges built and love enduring forever.

The run up to Christmas makes me remember. Makes me feel connected. Not just to loved ones. But to a family I have been adopted into. Centuries of Christians that have gone before me, stopping to remember the same thing, heads filled with thoughts of dusty stables and starry night skies.

***

Sometimes I think we place a lot of importance on independence, on personal success, on achieving goals and standing out as individuals. Sometimes, I think we want to present a version of ourselves to the world that is acceptable to everyone, a kind of 'look how well I am doing all by myself' sort of thing.

Moments, and objects, that are passed down from generation to generation soften that barrier, I think. It makes you stop and remember that we're not meant to go it alone. We're not meant to live in isolation. We are meant to connect with one another, we're meant to build each other up, we're meant to draw comfort from others, we're meant to change people and we are meant to allow others to change us.

Traditions. They are important. No matter what my stubborn heart thinks the rest of the year ;)



***

So. Next week's Mummy Mondays - last one before I take a break for the holidays! - is going to be about our traditions and what we do to celebrate the birth of Jesus. So, what are yours? I'd love to know. I'd also love to know if there are others as soppy and sentimental as I am. Comments are always welcome.

I have entered this post into a Blog Hop hosted by BritMums. You can enjoy a whole host of festive posts by brilliant bloggers by clicking on the links below!


Mummy Mondays - Pinterest fails and Christmas treasure box!

Monday, 8 December 2014

I've been pinning Christmas related things like a woman possessed, and I decided, finally, to do some snow-themed messy play with Jellybean a week or so ago.

I had it planned out: glitter, plus Sainsbury's Basics shaving foam, plus nice little snowflakes = pretty and fun to play with. I mixed it together in a bowl. It looked like snow. Snow that smelt a bit like a teenager that had neglected to shower and sprayed half a ton of cheap deodorant on instead, but still. Pretty snow!



Jellybean hated it.

As in, she was literally disgusted by it. I put a bit on her hands and she was furiously trying to wipe it off, all the time saying 'Eurrrrrrrrrrghhhh!' and poking her tongue out in utter disgust.

I said, 'But it's fun! Look! It's like snow!'

She turned her back on me and my little stinky sparkly bowl of foam.

So, there we are. If you would like to try this as a play idea, I can tell you it's cheap and it feels nice and you can pretend it's like snow, but I can also tell you that sometimes toddlers don't want to play ball.

***

Anyway, she's now obsessed with the Christmas tree (obviously) so today I put together a little treasure basket for her, which I haven't done in a long time, but here we are:


Pretty.

I've got lots of objects and plan to mix it up every now and then for her: baubles, strings of beads, tinsel, plastic decorations, wooden decorations, gold-sprayed pinecones, as well as a scoop to pick things up with and smaller containers to move things in and out. Hopefully she will enjoy this sensory activity and enjoy sorting things, putting things in and out of containers, and feeling all their textures and stuff and hopefully it will keep her away from the tree.




There we are, that's Mummy Mondays for you. Are your little ones obsessed with your Christmas tree? Have you had any baby activities that have fallen flat like I have? (I still plan to make her peppermint and cinnamon playdough before Christmas. Because I am a sucker for blimming Pinterest ideas). Comments are welcome as always :)
Play at Home Teacher

7 quick takes #24 - warm happy festive feelings

Friday, 5 December 2014

We've had a screen free day today (exception allowed for blogging) and it's been awesome. We've played with puzzles, we've read stories, we've played chasing games, we've attempted to start Christmas decorating, we've felt chilled and slow and warm and happy. A little bit chaotic at times, and not perfect, but happy.

Which is very good.

I pray that we will always have days like this - a break from busy life, just to be silly. I hope she remembers days like this, days when we play and she just stops to stare right into my make-up-free face and give me a big fat grin and a kiss.

I hope she remembers me being a fun Mum. Terrible bed hair and all.

Anyway, I was slicing oranges to dry out for Christmas decorations (I say this casually as though I do that sort of thing all the time, but I had to Google it first and I had a few moments where I almost said a bad word because the bluntness of my knives were making me angry) and Jellybean was playing with porridge oats on the floor, tipping them in and out of bowls and scattering them all over the floor and occasionally she would come begging for scraps of orange and I'd give them to her and she'd toddle off, orange juice running down her arms and a big smile on her face. And it hit me: I feel Christmassy!

My house smells of oranges, my daughter is playing with the last thing my Granddad bought me when he was in the hospice shortly before his death (an enormous, white, fluffy teddy with a Santa hat on. Bear in mind this was 1992 and I was four years old), and I feel Christmassy.

I'm celebrating the small things today. I'm in such a good mood, in fact, that I'm giving you bonus waffle before my seven points actually start. So here's an early present for you: seven small festive things to make you smile today:

1.

Wanna see some Christmas lights?


There's a few there for you.

2.

So I expect this is old news to a lot of people, but I've only just spotted it on my Facebook feed: NFL player Andre Johnson taking at-risk kids on an 80-second shopping spree in Toys R Us. As in, grab as many toys as you can in 80 seconds.

It's like Supermarket Sweep only a million times better.

3. 

Children singing Christmas songs makes me cry (in a happy way!) In fact, little children singing in general always makes me cry. I am the person that is wringing her hands and furiously blinking back tears when Sunday School comes out to sing to the whole congregation at church.

Bonus tears (and suppressed laughter) are for the one kid that is always, always out of tune. And about ten times louder than everyone else. Like this kid:


Because when you're that good, why not sing louder than everyone else?!

4.

So, Christmas seems to do something to people's brains and, for some reason, this time of year makes everyone feel a little bit like Martha Stewart. Myself included. *glances at oranges STILL drying in the oven*

99% of the time things are harder to make than they look. Fact. I have just decided

Craft fails make me feel a lot better about my own festive disasters, so here is a list of 20 of the funniest, most-dreadful-looking Christmas craft fails for you.

#6 made me laugh quite a lot. Nothing like your baby looking utterly horrified at something that you thought would be cute. Speaking of ...

5.

Meeting Santa. For some children, it's the most exciting thing in the world. For others?


Not so much. To be fair that Santa is kind of horrifying.

I don't think we'll be taking Jellybean to meet Father Christmas any time soon. I think she'd scream just at the sight of him.

Here is a whole bunch of pictures of terrified children meeting Santa Claus. It is quite a sight to behold.

6.

Bored with the traditional cardboard-and-cheap-chocolate advent calendar combo? Pop down to Harrods where you can get this lovely 24-piece advent house. And it's on sale too - down from £12,000 to just £9,600!

Bargain.

7.


And finally, this is NOT what I plan to be doing with my Christmas eve ..!

Perfectly happy, boring, and average

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The other day I wrote a long rant post about how we are always being geared up to compete against each other. A small part of me (that admittedly grows larger if I am feeling a bit glum, stressed, or lost) really gets angry at the idea of being told what a successful life looks like, and gets cross to think of myself being herded along like a sheep, reaching out to grab what everyone else wants because that's what we're told to aim for. We are given a quite specific idea of what constitutes a successful, even beautiful, life - and a lot of those things dangle out of our reach, close enough to be in our face 24/7 but far away enough that we can't ever feel satisfied with what we have.

I guess I feel frustrated at the message told to women through various forms of media (some parenting magazines are particularly bad for this) - the idea that a successful woman is physically and mentally strong, smart, able to juggle career and motherhood and her own interests and hobbies, well-travelled, and is conventionally beautiful with a conventionally beautiful home and a conventionally beautiful family. Because although for a slim minority of people all these things are perfectly attainable, a lot of us end up tearing our hair out with stress trying to get it all. Because anything less feels like a failure.

All this is a horrible mess, of course.

But it doesn't just end with the rant. To end a rant with ... just the rant, means accepting it. I don't accept it. I don't accept that I have to live the rest of my days trying to attain what a load of advertising executives tell me I need in order to be accepted.

The more I feel dissatisfied with the Perfect Life and my own determination to have it, the more I realize that the whole idea of perfection is twisted in itself. We are told that we cannot allow ourselves to have an average life, that we have to have a life that is extraordinary, different, special: and yet, we are also told that we should be aiming for what everyone else in society wants - success, recognition, fame, fortune. If everyone is either trying to grab it or already have it, doesn't success, recognition, fame and fortune become average in itself? And so the bar becomes ever-higher. The rich become richer, the beautiful become more beautiful, the successful even more wildly successful.

It really started to get to me, the relentless self-centredness of it all, how ridiculous I am that I can't accept - and be fully happy and thankful for - the life God has given me, not everyone else, but me. Without straining to add a little extra for myself. 'Thank you God, for everything, but I would prefer everything plus a driving license, a mortgage, a second car and a couple of new sofas. Also if you could arrange it so that my hair doesn't do that weird sticking-up thing that would be great.'

It's never enough, is it? When we base our happiness on titles and the recognition of others, we will never ever have enough of it.

And that scares me. It scares me to think of how fragile happiness is, when it hangs on the thin thread of our own greatness.

I am not worth less because I am not climbing up a career ladder right now, just as I am not worth more because I stay at home with my child. I am not worth less because I'm not pursuing a degree or some kind of further study, just as I am not worth more because I go to a Bible study every week. I am not worth less because I am an introvert, just as I am not worth more because I sometimes enjoy reading instead of seeing other humans going out. I am not worth less because I have a damaged nerve in my face, just as I am not worth more because I have full use of my body. Do you see what I mean?

To say that achieving a perfectly beautiful, successful life does a disservice to the average. Average people have illnesses they struggle with day to day, or goals that they feel frustrated that they can't reach, or bills that they bite their lip at the thought of paying, or an addiction that they can't quite cut loose from, or moments in their past that haunt them, or things ahead of them that they are scared of, or relationships that are difficult, or insecurities they haven't overcome yet, or social issues that they can't get to grips with, or a to-do list that never gets done. Normal people have a mixture of these things, or sometimes even all of them going on at once. Normal people have Stuff That They Have to Deal With. And that's okay, isn't it?

I'd even argue that some of this stuff - the 'bad' stuff, the stuff that threatens to unravel the perfection we try to build around ourselves - is what keeps us human. What makes us relate to each other. What helps us to build empathy, courage, and commitment. To me, there is beauty in the every day, boring imperfections. And the more I start to realize that, the more the Perfect Life starts to look a little less shiny and a little more hollow.

***

The other day, I got to bedtime and just couldn't remember what I'd done that day. 'Baby brain' is extending to 'toddler brain' in our house. I didn't feel like I had achieved anything. So I decided, the next day, to Instagram everything. Just to remind myself later. It looked a bit like this:


Playing at 6 in the morning ...


Making toddler's breakfast ...


Making myself coffee ...


Applying concealer to the huge shadows under my eyes ...


Checkin' out polar bears at the garden centre ...


Unpacking groceries ...


Making toddler lunch ...


Cuddle break ...


Washing on...


'Come away from the TV! You'll get square eyes!'


Making dinner ...


Running a bath ...


Crackin' out the steam mop ...


Gazing at my loved ones ...


Bit of Xbox time.

There we are. Perfectly average. Perfectly normal. Nothing untoward happened, nothing amazing was achieved, I just looked after my cheeky daughter, spent time with my husband, and chatted to my Mum on the phone.

I am living.

So why the angst?

I think my problem is shared with nearly every other mother around me: what happens to my identity when I have kids? And another, shared with stay at home mothers: why should I feel like I am less of a person because I don't have an income? And one more, definitely felt by every other Mum around me: why do I feel so guilty all the time?!

Guilty because we don't spend enough time with our kids. Guilty because we are not 'contributing' to the workforce. Guilty because we aren't perfect.

Perfection. It's a sham, I tell you.

We are constantly striving for what we don't have. Again, 'perfection', whether in the things we own or in ourselves, is always, always out of reach. When, as mothers, we try to live up to the myth of the Perfect Woman, we'll always fall short, whether we're working, staying at home, or some combination of both.

***

I think (I will conclude in a moment, I promise) this is why I like blogging so much. Some blogs I read are like extensions of lifestyle magazines - beautiful, glossy, immaculate homes and lives and people - and actually, that's okay, in an escapist kind of way. But the blogs I really love are those that show a bit of toughness, a bit of grit. A bit of reality. In a society where a lot of people no longer live in close-knit family communities, we reach out for each other - because it's either that, or we start lifting up celebrities as examples to follow, and frankly if I read another magazine article about a celebrity mother who manages to juggle a fabulous career, glittering social life, charitable work, motherhood, and still manages to work out seven days a week, I might (hyperbole alert!) actually vomit.

I like it when people face up to the guilt they feel. I like it when people talk about how, actually, being sleep deprived is flipping hard and some days you want to burst into tears for no reason because you're so tired. I like it when people don't paper up the cracks in their lives in order to pretend everything is always 100% awesome (within reason: privacy is key here, obviously). Because I don't think the 'cracks' detract from how wonderful life actually is! You can still be thankful and praise God for your life whilst acknowledging that sometimes it's hard work.

Sometimes, I think the 'cracks' enhance the beautiful parts.

The cracks leave space, I think, for grace. For God.

I will finish off with two quotes, one from a book I am re-reading (and harping on about constantly), 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp:

'I am woman who speaks but one language, the language of the fall - discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied.'

Er, yes, I know that feeling well.

And one from an email newsletter I get once a month, written by Priscilla Shirer:

'There is a sliver of imperfection – a shard of deficiency and inadequacy embedded into every good thing on earth. The seemingly perfect things of this world are all defective in some way...

... this was God’s answer – His deliberate response to the fall in Eden. He wove imperfection into every perfection so that all the earth contains would fall just shy of pure excellence. This way it could never be confused with or exchanged for Himself. He knew then that if we found complete wholeness in it we’d no longer have the steady, clear inner longing that is meant to point us to Him.

Frustration and dissatisfaction are our guides. They grab our hands and hearts and lead us toward God and eternity. It’s the imperfection embedded within the things we enjoy that makes us long for that which only He can give perfection, that actually is . . . well, perfect.'

In conclusion, give up on being the perfect woman. Sorry. It's just not for me.

Here's to not only accepting, but embracing imperfection ... and concentrating on where real Perfection can be found.

Mummy Mondays - present ideas for one-year-olds

Monday, 1 December 2014

So, it's DECEMBER! That means it's officially cool to get excited about Christmas!

*Dances*

*Plays awful Christmas music*

Anyway, I thought I'd share with you a few of Jellybean's favourite toys. She received a lot of nice things for her birthday in September. It can be hard to buy for this inbetween stage - not-quite-toddler, definitely-not-tiny-baby - so hopefully this will give someone out there a bit of inspiration.

1. Toybox by Early Learning Centre


Chris's auntie and uncle generously bought us lots of these little figures, plus some vehicles for them to go in. They are sturdy and chunky, easy to get in and out of their vehicles, and they make clicking sounds when you move their limbs (which Jellybean enjoys). They are so cute, we play with them a lot - they are a perfect first 'small world' toy set.

You can buy these on the Early Learning Centre website.

2. Anything by Eichhorn


Eichhorn make lovely wooden toys, and we had a bunch of them from different people for Jellybean's birthday. She loves them, and so do I, because I know they'll last for a long time. Our particular favourite is the bucket of wooden blocks. They are not only good quality and colourful, but they have longevity: when she's finished building towers, Jellybean likes putting them away through the shape-sorter lid, and carrying the bucket around like a very heavy handbag. She also likes hiding the small blocks in my shoes

The Eichhorn website is here. I have seen a lot of these toys in TK Maxx!

3. VTech Shake and Move Puppy



Now.

I could write a whole blog post on the misadventures of this dog, but let's just say this for now: he is officially part of our family. This little dog gets switched on first thing in the morning and turned off (with relief) when Jellybean goes to bed. In the meantime? He wanders around the house like, well, a little pet.

To be fair, he is quite cute, albeit very noisy. He has buttons you can press to make him sing songs. If you shake his bone, he sings songs. If you pat him on the head, he sings songs. He also stands up on his back legs and twirls around. And zooms across the floor. And sings songs.

My parents bought this for Jellybean because they knew she was (still is!) utterly obsessed with dogs, and initially she was scared of him. Now? She loves him. I'm slightly less keen

He is more than a toy. He is part of our lives. He is noisy, he never goes the direction you want him to go, and he gets under your feet. I trip over him at least three times a day. Essentially, he is as close to a real pet as we are going to get for now.

Buy him at your own risk. Your child may fall in love with it. And you will be singing 'Look at me! I can do a trick. Shake the bone, and soon you'll see. I can run and jump and plaaaaaaaaaaaay...' for the rest of your days.


***


If you are of the crafty persuasion, I've had a little nosey round Pinterest for some homemade present ideas for babies/toddlers. From And Next Comes L is a guide to making Quiet Books (which sounds like a good idea to me!). If you are feeling brave, Red Ted Art has a fingerpaint recipe, which looks like a proper present when you put them in little jars. Finally, Nurture Store has come up with a hide and seek puzzle idea, which looks both easy and pretty cute.

Have a good week, and join me next Monday when I will be telling you all about my failure of a Christmas messy play project!
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