Friday, 29 January 2016

(This is one of those soul-baring posts that if I'm not careful I will spend weeks uhhming and ahhing about before I finally post it. Not today. Screw worrying! I'll post it! And worry about it afterwards). *please note this is not sensible life advice

So, I have this cool book that my friend Claire gave me a couple of years ago. It's a book of writing prompts. The other day, while my daughter played with her little toy people and I wasn't up to much, I remembered it, and started leafing through it.

Well, it definitely works for inspiration. One of the prompts just said 'What do you need to accept?'

Which got me thinking about what acceptance actually means.

I've explained the story before, so I won't go into it again. But a while ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition called trigeminal neuralgia.

In a nutshell, there is a huge nerve in your face called the trigeminal nerve. Somewhere, my trigeminal nerve is damaged, causing me a great deal of pain. When I started looking it up, the whole thing terrified me. Trigeminal neuralgia is nicknamed 'the suicide disease'. Not because it is a mental health condition, but because the levels of pain have been so severe for some people that they have ended their lives because of it.

For some people, TN goes away by itself over time. For some, it stays forever, but is managed by medication. For some, it gets progressively worse and worse.

I couldn't accept that last possibility for me. How could I? I'm still young (ish). I didn't - and still kind of don't - want to accept the fact that I have a chronic pain condition that is so awful that some people actually kill themselves because of it. Even now, when I typed the above paragraph, I had to take a deep breath to stop myself from crying.

I've always had the oblivious happiness of a healthy young person up until this point. I've never been ill-ill, if you know what I mean. I've always felt, if not invincible, somewhere close to it. Health hasn't really been a major issue for me.

And now this.

Thankfully for me, I live in the UK, and I have access to very effective medication that keeps my pain at bay, and so for a while I stopped reading about TN. I kind of lived in denial of it. But, gradually, I started to realise certain things trigger my pain - like cold, windy days. Or eating something particularly crunchy and biting into it too hard. Or Tuesdays. (That last one was a joke, thank God). I remembered that the doctor that diagnosed me originally told me I should push to see a neurologist if possible. But my own GP didn't seem too concerned as long as the medication was working.

And then around this time last year, it hit me:

I can't have another child while I take this medication.

As in, this medication might - though it is understandably nearly impossible to prove - cause defects in unborn children.

Suddenly, I had the fear of a) getting progressively more and more ill to the point where I can't function anymore, and b) not being able to have another child. And I was too scared to push it. Too scared to ask for a neurologist appointment. I was too scared of what they would say.

And thus began depression and anxiety and the occasional panic attack. For, I'd say, nine months? Before I finally got to see a neurologist. Who was kind, and sympathetic, and understood by my wobbly voice how important it was to me to be able to have another child, to provide a sibling for my daughter. He sent me for an MRI scan where I lay inside a big noisy machine and thought through the two possible outcomes. In rare cases, you can actually see where the damage is in the nerve, and in those cases, you can have a neurosurgeon cut into the back of your head (kind of behind your ear) and try and fix it. But in most cases, the scan comes back clear, in which case, they can't do much to help you.

It's not really a nice thing to choose between: brain surgery or possibly permanent pain. And I still didn't really know what I wanted when the letter dropped onto my doormat. I was shaking like a leaf when I opened it. And I saw the results. Clear.

That was one of those times in my life where I felt really angry with God. I felt betrayed. I was a hot mess for a good few days.

But eventually (and now I'm crying! Flipping heck) the neurologist got back to my GP explaining that I could take a different kind of tablet and it would be safe, in low doses, in pregnancy. And the last few months, I've been swapping from one kind to another. And it's been terrifying. I was, at least at first, almost constantly tense. Waiting for pain. Waiting for my body to tell me that, no, it couldn't cope.

It has mostly coped okay.

I still don't know what our future looks like (no, sorry, this isn't a pregnancy announcement post!) But I think I'm slowly coming round to the idea that my life now contains ... this. This pain thing. Even though I didn't ask for it (let's face it, no-one in their right mind would ask for it).

I don't think acceptance means that the problem or situation or whatever it is, no longer makes you feel any differently. Because now, on a pain-free day, thinking all this through, I'm still crying about it. I don't feel strong or brave or any other words that people sometimes like to use to describe people who feel ill a lot. I feel terrified sometimes. As in, gut-clenching fear. I'm so scared of this. And when I'm in pain, it makes me feel useless. I start to wonder what will happen in the future to my husband and my daughter, if my pain gets worse and I can't function properly. If I won't be able to be the wife and mother I want to be.

I'm really, really scared. When I look into the future I can't honestly tell myself it's going to be fine. Because it might not be.

BUT -  and this is the key thing, the thing that I hold onto on evenings when I have to go to bed and I just pray for God to get me to sleep so I don't have to feel it any more - life is more than just physical. Right? I am more than my body with its damaged nerve. And if we're really honest, no one can look into the future and say without a doubt that everything is going to be okay. I'm still alive. I'm not dying (any faster than anyone else is, anyway).

And if anything, this whole thing has taught me to love people even more. I mean, I loved my husband and my daughter before, obviously. But now, sometimes, the force with which I love them catches my breath, and I think 'no matter what happens to me, these two love me more than anything'. And the sheer strength of that alone makes me feel like I can fight to keep going even if the pain gets much much worse. The beauty of life feels really, you know, beautiful. In comparison to the pain. The pain days make me determined to make the most of every last bit of the pain-free days. And that doesn't necessarily mean that I want to go skydiving or do crazy things all the time: I just want to appreciate life.

I can't say for sure that everything's going to be okay, but I can pretty safely guess that I've got a fair few pain-free days left ahead. Which is something to be grateful for.

So no, maybe I haven't accepted it. Maybe I haven't accepted that now, my health holds me back from doing stuff I could do before. Maybe I'm not there yet. But I'm not chasing that acceptance. I'm not going to beat myself up because I'm not, you know, being a Cool Girl about this.

 'Yeah, I've got a damaged nerve right here that sometimes causes me crippling pain but it's cool, man, I'm fine.'

I'm just taking one day at a time.

And feeling extra grateful for the good things in my life.

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The Reading Residence

Recipe: Freezer-friendly cookie dough balls!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Hey, you know what's great?


Do you know what's even greater?

Not having to go to the shop to buy cookies.

And even greater than that?

Not having to make cookies, either.

No, I have not obtained a magic cookie-granting machine. I have, instead, discovered that you can freeze cookie dough. Lo and behold! Freshly baked cookies at any given moment.

It is worth the effort of dragging the mixing bowl from the cupboard. I promise. You will be glad you made the effort when, sometime this winter, you will find yourself recovering from a cold, sitting shivering on the sofa on a chilly evening thinking 'Oh man, I wish we had chocolate in the house.' Because BAM! You will remember the cookie dough balls, happily chillaxing in the freezer, and you will be so thankful to your past self that you will practically skip to the kitchen to warm up the oven whilst singing a song about your own genius.

Or something. I just really like these cookies.

Tiny, chocolate-chip thieving baking assistants are optional.

Added bonus: they are wholemeal AND they have oats in them. They fill you up super quick and give you the helpful illusion that they are healthy! Just don't look at the sugar content

Go ahead and read the recipe. You can thank me later.


I have adapted this recipe from the brilliant blog Money Saving Mom, making a few changes because a) I don't like peanut butter with sweet things, and so replaced it with biscuit spread as it has a similar consistency, and b) the biscuit spread is so mind-blowingly sweet that you actually need less sugar than was in the original recipe.

Delicious biscuit spread.

Makes roughly 35 cookie dough balls

125g brown sugar
225g butter
85g biscuit spread
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g wholemeal flour
280g oats
tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 packet of chocolate chips

  1. Cream together the butter, sugar, biscuit spread, eggs, and vanilla extract until there are no lumps. Add the remaining ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, and oats) and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  2. Scoop out a heaped teaspoon of the dough and roll into a ball with your hands. Place onto a lined baking tray.
  3. If baking from fresh, pop into a pre-heated oven (180c) for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden around the edges.
  4. If freezing, pop the baking tray into the freezer overnight. In the morning, tip them into a labelled bag.
  5. To bake from frozen, pre-heat the oven to 180c and bake for 20-22 minutes.
Done and dusted. Treats for another day


Click here for a printable PDF of this recipe.

I thought it might be helpful to start doing printable PDF versions of any recipes I stick up here. I usually find it easier to follow a recipe from a bit of paper rather than a screen (mostly because I am hugely messy and I end up getting food stuck down the cracks around the edge of my Kindle and I HATE that). Let me know if you give this one a try. I want to see lots of pictures of delicious cookies! :)

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Are we failing our teenagers?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

I was searching for a photo of me as a teenager to use for this post, and came across a CD in my drawer. It said 'Megz' and had about a million stars drawn around it. Jackpot.

I loaded it up, hoping to find a data disc of cringy diary entries, or attempts at fiction writing, or pictures of me and my friends. Disappointingly, I didn't find any of that. It was a early-noughties-teenage version of a mixtape. A mix CD.

(What do we have now? Mix-data-sharing? I think there's something sad about the demise of physical objects to represent music. You can't create cover art on an iTunes playlist. Or can you? As you will see by this post, I am practically an old woman now).

Anyway. My musical tastes have improved somewhat since I was a teenager. At the time, I was very much a whatever-was-in-the-top-40 girl. Or whatever-they-played-on-the-OC girl. Very occasionally I would buy a copy of NME and try to veer towards being alternative. But then I'd end up flying straight back to the comforting arms of chart music.

So, with an intense desire to express my tumultuous emotions but trapped in the confines of pop music, I made this CD. I kind of don't want to share it. It's cringingly awful.

It starts with Avril Lavigne, I'll say that much.


It even features *whispers* Evanescence.

I know. I'll see myself out.

But apparently I was feeling alright after an initial cluster of songs featuring lyrics such as 'it's nice to know that you were there, thanks for acting like you cared' and 'I'm so tired of being here, suppressed by all my childish fears' because I abruptly changed the tone by whacking Let's Get It Started by the Black Eyed Peas right in the middle.

I'm actually blushing as I type this. This is worse than sharing awkward pictures. I hope you're enjoying my humiliation, everyone, because it is real and it is making my insides feel a bit funny.

Anyway. It's kind of easy for me to make jokes about my teenage self because only I know how silly I was sometimes, and I do quite like looking back at all the silly, funny stuff that I did as a teenager before I went a bit wayward and nearly ruined my life.

(That changed the tone, didn't it? Take that, Black Eyed Peas. I am the queen of tone changing).

As I write this, I am wearing my Seriously Awkward campaign t-shirt because it is both comfortable and appropriate ;) I haven't written in a while about this, but I still keep up to date with their campaign, because as I wrote before, their core message is something that I feel passionate about: that teenagers deserve a voice and deserve protection from slipping through the cracks. They have joined with Hampstead Theatre in London to create a play, Firebird, which tells the story of a teenage girl who is exploited and then let down by the authorities that should have protected her. And they had a debate last year, called Teens in Crisis?, which I was lucky enough to be able to watch as they livestreamed it.

The debate was brilliant. They covered many topics - self-esteem, social media, education, mental health services for young people, social mobility, poverty and aspirations, communication, and how teens are portrayed in the media.

This last point came across really strongly in the debate, especially from the young people on the panel. I remember as a teenager feeling frustrated and upset at being pigeonholed as a 'troublemaker' because I wanted to go into a shop with a group of friends. I felt angry when I only ever saw teenagers in the news because they had done something bad. I felt exasperated when I watched a film and teenage girl characters were either a) vacuous or b) sullen.

At what point do adults forget what it was like to be young? Is there an age threshold that you cross and then instantly lose all empathy with teenagers? Because although I will freely admit that, as a teenager, I was moody, and a bit selfish, and rebellious, I was also a lot of other things: creative and caring and kind of funny and shy and very protective of the people I loved.

In short, I was a person. As I am now. A multifaceted person.

I dislike how we treat teenagers in this country. We give them criminal responsibility, and yet we give them much less support than younger children. We don't allow them the privilege of voting. We give them barely any support for mental health issues. We don't take their feelings or relationships seriously.

It's hard to be a young person now. I found it tough enough pre-social media: I remember the immense pressure I felt to look a certain way, act a certain way, be into certain things, and that was before I had what everyone else was doing shoved in my face 24/7. Teenagers don't just leave their problems at school anymore - they take them home with them and are confronted by them constantly. But for some reason, we aren't treating their issues as seriously as we would do if they were younger.

I am so happy to be campaign ambassador for the Seriously Awkward campaign and will be blogging more about their work. The current part of their campaign is focusing on sexual exploitation. They have made a short video, Emily's Story, giving an example of the kind of people they help, and the sort of situations young people find themselves in. It's a really sad watch, but I hope that you will watch it, and consider donating to their cause. I know this from my own experience, but it is easy for any young person to slip into the wrong crowd and not be able to escape on their own - any young person, from any background.

Warning: this video might be upsetting:

The Children's Society not only raise awareness of the problem by funding vital research into child sexual exploitation, but they also defend, safeguard and protect the childhood of children and young people throughout the UK. They are also calling on the government to make changes to our law in order to protect young people that would otherwise slip through the cracks.

I certainly didn't know that the problem was so widespread in the UK until I heard about the Children's Society. I didn't know this, for example:

If you can't donate (and believe me, I understand that!) please consider sharing this post, or sharing the Children's Society website. A retweet, or a share on Facebook, is one step closer to raising awareness of the scale of the problem and what we need to do to help.

What I'll teach my daughter about God.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

At night time, if I stay very still and very quiet, I can hear Jellybean breathing through her baby monitor. I have to hold the monitor right up to my ear, and sometimes, she's breathing so quietly I have to hold my own breath in order to hear hers.

I still myself. Utterly and completely. I hold my breath until I hear her own. In that moment of vulnerability between not-hearing her, and hearing her, I am totally still, and then when I have the relief of the knowledge that all is well, I have a little exhale-prayer of thank God.

Recently, I've been mulling over what to tell our daughter about God. She has, at the moment, a very basic knowledge. She knows you say 'amen' at the end of a prayer, and that we give thanks for our food. She knows that some of my books are about God. (Sometimes she'll pluck a random book from the shelf and tell me 'Mama, this book is about Jesus.') We end each night with a prayer of thanks for the good things that happened that day, and we ask Him to protect us as we sleep.

There is a bit of a battle going on within me. As a child, we weren't church members, but I did spend a lot of time in big, grand churches, especially on days like Remembrance Sunday. My parents did a lot of work with Canadian veterans, mostly in honour of my Granddad, who was Canadian and fought in the war. I loved the elderly people, and they made a huge fuss of me, buying me sweets and chatting to me. One of them even wrote to me sometimes, and I still have his letters. (It only occurred to me recently when my Mum gave them to me how touched I am by this. That he took the time to do that.)

My childhood church memories are tied up in that, then, that sense of duty, of giving quiet respect, and the proud feeling I had when I saw my Dad carrying the standard, all smart in his uniform. I didn't really understand it, it was just something we did.

I believed in God in some basic sense. But my parents gave me the freedom of choice. They never had me Christened. They let me find my own way.

I do respect them for that.

But at the same time, I now know God, and I see things from a different perspective. We take Jellybean to church every week. She dances during worship (sometimes, adorably, with her little friend L. They hold hands and jump and accidentally tumble into each other down the aisles). Church is a fun place for her, because our church isn't afraid of noise and mess and the general chaos that children bring. In fact, everyone embraces it. Everywhere my daughter turns, she finds a warm smile and a wave or a high-five.

It's family. And I'm so happy I get to raise her in that.

But what do I tell her about God?

It's something I could get tied up in knots about if I'm not careful. I'm wary of saying the wrong thing. And I want to protect her. I want to cushion her a kind of safe, risk-assessed way, encouraging her gently, steering her along her path until she finds God for herself.

But faith doesn't always feel safe. Or risk-free.

And everybody's path looks a bit different.


I mentioned in my last post (which was basically a really long waffle about books) that my faith hasn't been 100% steady this past year. If you were to put it in a formula, it would be depression + anxiety + terrible world events = wobble. Also - and I'm not in any way suggesting that people with children are more empathetic, just talking about myself here - when I had Jellybean I felt like a bit of my heart kind of broke off and is now walking around inside her, and as she gets older I am essentially sending part of my heart out into a fairly dangerous world, and that makes me feel really, really vulnerable. So before, when a news story would make me sad, I could switch it off, turn my brain to something else. Now, news stories have Implications. For her. And I know that makes me sound selfish, but that's how it is. When I see stories that involve children suffering, I cry and then I cry some more. Not just for those children, but for their parents, that have loved their children as much as I love mine and have had their hearts broken.

I'm aware that sounds sentimental. It is. But it hurts. Sometimes, the world feels unfathomably mean.

Also, I started to question some things that I took as 'standard for my beliefs', even if some of those things made me feel a little uncomfortable, nagging away at me, like an itch that I couldn't scratch. This year was my attempt to scratch away at them, to figure out the truth. I'm not saying I have all the answers (I don't), but that I spent many hours reading and researching and reflecting.

It wasn't comfortable, or fun. But it does feel ... right. Like a really slow process of steadying myself.

So with all that in mind: the ups and downs of faith, the questioning, the occasional doubt, the difficulty of witnessing human suffering and what that means about God ...

What do I tell her?


I will tell her this:

Sometimes, the world seems mean. When you get older, and you start to look at the world a little more, and you start to peer out of your own bubble, you notice things that make you feel afraid or uncomfortable or angry. You will notice the amount of injustice going on in the world. You will wonder why humans are the way that they are. What the point of us is, if we just hurt each other. You will see things happening - like the way, around the world, baby girls are not welcomed into families, but disregarded, or even abandoned, because they aren't as important as boys - and it will make you feel rage, but it feels like a helpless rage that just bounces around inside you, like a scream echoing endlessly in a big empty cavern. The knowledge that, no matter how much of your life you give to a Cause, you will never be able to fix the problem altogether, is painful.

Sometimes, you will ask questions that feel like they might be the undoing of you. Like, why does suffering have to exist? Why are some people born rich and others born in squalor? Why can't God just cure that disease? Why didn't He stop that accident from happening? Where was He when we had that bad news? Why is everything such a struggle for us but so easy for other people?

Sometimes, people that share the same faith as you - that profess to love the very same God - will do things that make you want to quit. I'm not talking about small doctrinal differences here, I'm talking about actual pain, physical or emotional, that Christians cause other people. Some church-going people are angry about stuff. Not just angry. They are FURIOUS. And they might think it is a good, productive, holy kind of anger, but it isn't. Or at least, it doesn't come out that way. It spreads and sucks the life out of people. Like poison. Do you know how many people have been not just hurt, but actually damaged, from people in their church? It's quite a lot. A shameful amount. And, like it or not, Christians have some very dark parts of their 'family line' that we can't wish away, no matter how hard we try.

But I will tell her this:

I believe that goodness must come from somewhere. Because the opposite is unthinkable to me. How could it be accidental? How could any of it just happen by chance? Think of those golden moments in life: the crazy, heady, butterfly, this-might-be-IT feeling of falling in love ... 

Or the moment they put the child you have carried for months into your arms and you just don't know what to do with yourself, because there is so much of that little person you want to take in, their tiny fingers and the shape of their nose and the colour of their hair, those beautiful, insane seconds between not-quite-being-a-mother and then suddenly you're a parent. And there's your kid curling up on your chest, looking kind of slimy and gross but beautiful all the same ... that parent-child love that is new and at the same time ancient, awakening in you ...

Or even just that beautiful feeling of being somewhere stunning, somewhere with the kind of view that people pay a lot of money to see in person, and you cannot wrap your head around the awesome spectacle of it, and so you stare and stare, not even wanting to blink because it would mean not seeing it for a split second ...

Or that feeling of being with friends. Wherever you happen to be. By the sea, late at night, talking. Or having an impromptu Nerf gun fight in a little apartment that starts organically and turns into A Thing. You know what I mean? Those golden moments that are unique to friends. Where you enjoy being with each other so much that you all know you'll remember it forever even if you don't say it out loud.

I don't believe it's accidental. No way could the enormous, complex, beautiful scope of human relationships be a weird mistake of nature. A happenstance that could have been different if the fates decided it.

My God is with me in suffering. Like I said before, I don't have all the answers. There are so many mysteries about the way the world works. Some things you learn over time. Other things, you will remain permanently baffled by, and part of having faith is learning to accept the things you don't know and choose to believe the good purpose of it.

But honestly? In the darkest, most desperate moments of my life, those are the moments that I have felt God nearest to me. There is something about the nature of God that understands suffering and is with you in it. He never leaves me to suffer by myself. He might not give me the magic cure I want or the answers I think I need, but He'll sit there with me as I cry and He'll understand when I can't put words to how I feel.

God is bigger than our bad behaviour. One of the most challenging things about being a Christian is the impossible-without-divine-assistance task of loving other people. My weakness - in terms of not liking people - is Christians that hurt non-Christians. That treat people like enemies they have to conquer. And yet, I know I've done silly things in the past, and no-one is perfect, and that you don't ever know what's going on with people under the surface. I'm not supposed to hate people. That is how you have to be: forgiving of people. Patient. Even when they push you right to the edge of despair. I don't think I have really considered how radical Jesus was in that respect. Hatred, and jealousy, and begrudging others, it's all kind of wrapped up in our brains. And sometimes, it's okay to feel those things - but not to cultivate them, or hang onto them, like your negative feelings towards someone else are something to be proud of.

The character of God is not the sum of Christian behaviour. We represent Him, but we are no-where near Him in terms of perfectness. That includes me. So THANK GOD FOR THAT.


Jellybean has to work out what she wants to believe herself. And I will support her in all of it, because I love her. I would never, ever put pressure on her, or make her feel ashamed, or afraid to talk to me, if she chooses a different path. I reserve the right to pray for her, because you know, I pushed her out with the bare minimum of pain relief, so she owes me that at least ;)

I can't control her life. I can just trust God with her. And hopefully show her - honestly - what it looks like to believe in God.

And try and make the world in which she lives a little bit better.

Unputdownables 2015: My Best Books of the Year

Thursday, 14 January 2016

I totally forgot how long these posts take! But I love writing them, so it's all good. It's time for my ...

1. Landline by Rainbow Rowell

I read two books by Rowell this year, one being Fangirl, which I was surprised to find I didn't like very much (considering it is essentially about a Harry Potter geek who is socially awkward and just wants to sit alone in her bedroom and write all day). But Landline? Loved it. A sweet, smart, funny love story about a couple that felt, to me, realistic. Check out my review here.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I cannot believe I didn't get round to reviewing this one!

A while back, my friend Mark recommended this book. He kept raving on about it. 'You'll love it, Meg, it's so good.' So I bought it to read in Lanzarote. I read the majority of it by the pool in two days and spent the rest of the holiday explaining the plot in great detail to Chris (which he really enjoyed, obviously).

You should have seen the look of joy on Mark's face when I saw him next and the first thing I said was 'You were right, the Night Circus is SO GOOD!'

Because it is. It really is! The story is set in a black-and-white-striped circus, that appears in the night with no warning or advertisement. Slowly, people start to gather, drawn in by the sense of mystery and the smell of caramel apples wafting through the air. At it's heart, though, there is a fierce competition underway. Celia and Marco are young illusionists, trained their whole lives for this moment, this contest with one another: a competition run by their mentors, who have very different ideas on how magic should be done.

I don't want to say much else, but my gosh. I loved everything about this book. I became attached to the characters straight away. Morgenstern writes beautifully (I was pretty sad to learn that The Night Circus is her first book and she hasn't written anything else yet). Her world is luscious and beautiful and imaginative (and fairly dark at times). The circus itself is astonishing. I wish I could tell you about it, but I kind of want you to discover it for yourselves.

I'll tell you this, though (because you'll see it coming a mile off so it's not exactly a twist) - The Night Circus is a love story at its heart, wrapped in magic and rivalry and complications. The further you progress into the story, the more danger and tension builds, and it builds to this explosive ending that had my heart racing.

I loved it. Really truly loved it. (Can you tell?) Buy it if it sounds like your kind of thing. I haven't read anything as imaginative as this for a long time.

3. Hippy Dinners by Abbie Ross

I reviewed this book here, but to briefly recap: a fond recollection of one woman's childhood in (very) rural Wales. Funny and sweet, it felt like I was walking into the memories of a golden-hazed summer. Loved it. (Best freebie of the year, too! Thanks Britmums)

4. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker and her husband Brandon were heading up a church in Austin, Texas when they suddenly felt compelled by a painful truth: despite being Christians for many years, and running a successful church, they felt they had missed the point of it all. And so began a radical life-changing journey for their whole family, which Jen writes about in her book Interrupted: When Jesus Interrupts Your Comfortable Christianity.

Which I am not writing about now, because I haven't read it. But she refers to it a few times in 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Jen feels compelled to make more big changes in her lifestyle, but has no idea where to start: thus, the '7' challenge is born. 7 challenges, each a month long, all to do with cutting down on excessive consuming.

The challenges range from the kind of silly - like 'Food' (only eating 7 kinds of food for a month), 'Clothing' (only wearing 7 items of clothing) to the cathartic ('Possessions': the family go on an belongings purge, trying to give away as much as possible to people in need), to the more difficult to pin down ('Stress'). It is funny, and sometimes very silly, and other times so poignant and challenging that it made me cry. At times I found myself cringing (the clash between her American-whole-heartedness and my British cynicism) but mostly I found myself utterly convicted as her family find out how they can live, and thrive, whilst consuming much less.

5. Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans

I'm about to write a blog post about this, but it has been a difficult, up-and-down year for me, faith-wise. I found (and still find) myself questioning all the time. Mostly this has been a positive experience, because I found that, despite some of my views changing quite radically from when I first became a Christian, my faith remains. In some ways, it is stronger than it was before. It has been a life-changing year in that respect.

But the initial questioning? Was kind of intimidating. Because despite what Rob Bell taught me very early on about how asking questions and discussing and praying about difficult things is a good thing, I also at some point absorbed the idea that certain topics were non-negotiable, when in fact, there are a variety of different viewpoints, all of which are worth considering.

Which is the journey Rachel Held Evans went on. Born and raised an Evangelical Christian, Evans was raised in the town that held the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial - about whether or not evolution should be taught in schools. She explores this, and her college education, and the journey she went on, moving beyond sudden and distressing doubts into a new, stronger kind of faith.

Her journey has really resonated with me. Although I wasn't raised a Christian in the kind of environment that she was, her feelings of doubt caused by witnessing the pain that humans inflict upon each other mirrored my own feelings this year. And the conclusion that she eventually reaches is so uplifting that it helped me see my own 'evolution' as a good journey to be on, and not a scary or wrong one.

6. Lilabean by Kate Carpenter

Lilabean describes itself as a 'storybook' for 'grown-up girls' and that kind of perfectly describes it. It is poetry and an important life message all in one hit. Lilabean finds herself up to her eyeballs in both excessive amounts of 'stuff' and a huge amount of stress. She embarks upon a journey to make her life simpler, and finds herself with more room to breathe. A short but sweet read that I have revisited a few times this year.

7. The Fever by Megan Abbott

I've read a few books by Megan Abbott - Dare Me, The End of Everything, and this year, The Fever. I wanted to read it for a while before I eventually caught it on sale on the Kindle.

A few years ago, we watched a documentary about a strange case in America of what some people believe is mass hysteria, and what others believe to be a mysterious, unknown illness. In upstate New York, in a small industrial town called Le Roy, a strange condition swept through a group of girls, leaving them suffering from tics, almost like tourettes syndrome. Despite some people blaming it on the HPV vaccine, and others on environmental causes, doctors eventually decided it was a case of mass psychogenic illness.

The Fever is loosely based on that. It follows a small group of high school girls. One of them has a fainting episode, leading her to seriously injure herself. And then, one by one, more and more girls start to exhibit the same symptoms.

The novel ramps up the tension as the media start to get involved, and before long, everybody in the town becomes almost hysterical with fear. In the meantime, the group of friends start to unravel what is really going on underneath the surface.

8. Papertowns by John Green

I preferred this to The Fault In Our Stars.

I know everyone loves TFIOS but, although I loved it, in places it felt so 'now' that it made me feel unbelievably old. (Okay, that might say more about me than it does about the book). Paper Towns was a surprise to me because I knew nothing about it, and found it to be really addictive. I finished it in two sittings (with a little bit of sleep inbetween).

It is a coming-of-age story about a guy called Q (actual name Quentin) and his encounter with a mysterious girl named Margo (as much as I love John Green I think he has Naming-People-Issues). Margo disappears, and the story follows Q's obsessive search for her. 

It became so exhilarating that I couldn't stop reading it, but what I loved was the theme of how we see people, and the sometimes too-perfect image we project onto them, and how that can be unfair to others but also to ourselves.

I'd heard about this a while back on a book podcast I sometimes listen to (yes. I know.) and wanted to read it, and was very pleased and happy when Chris surprised me with it out of the blue. Then I read it, and OHMIGOSH it's so good.

But I have trouble explaining it without making people laugh because it does sound kind of silly when you explain the premise.

It's about ... bees. 

It's a thriller. About bees.

The book starts with the protagonist, Flora 717, being born. Immediately, you are plunged into another world. Very quickly, she realises a) who she is and b) her job role (sanitation worker). Flora, like the other bees, is utterly dedicated to the Queen. However, it is discovered that she has some unusual abilities for a lowly worker bee. And so begins a thrilling adventure that manages to touch on political tensions and ambition and complex relationships and it manages to feel really strange, yet utterly readable, and at times extremely dark, and breathtaking at points ...

And it's about bees.

What more do you need?! Go and read it!

I'm not really allowed to review this because (whispers) I haven't finished it yet. Chris got me this for my birthday, and it has taken me that long to read it because it is a) quite complex and b) so beautiful that I don't dare read it whilst eating/having a bath/at the same time as cleaning like I normally do with my books, so that cuts out a big amount of reading time, and I also don't feel happy leaving it around my daughter in case she picks it up and shakes all the bits of paper out of it.

Let me tell you about it briefly though: J.J Abrams came up with the concept for this, and Doug Dorst wrote it (brilliantly). The main body of the book is called The Ship of Theseus, a story about a man who wakes up with no idea who or where he is, and gets captured and taken away on a mysterious ship. Around the margins of the book, there is a second story happening. A young woman called Jen picks up a copy of the book from a library, and finds compelling notes written by a previous reader. Tentatively, she starts to write to him, and he writes back. The pair of them try and figure out the identity of the books' author, the unknown and kind of notorious V.M Straka, whilst they get to know each other.

It is so good. And so beautiful, filled with loose bits of paper, letters and postcards and articles and photographs. It occasionally makes me feel a bit headachy as I try and figure it out - the notes Jen and Eric write to each other aren't in chronological order, which means a lot of flicking back and forth - but I love it, and I will finish it this year, and I'll write about it properly then.


Are you still with me?! If so, let me tell you quickly about my reading challenge for this year:

Unfortunately I don't know where this image comes from originally - I found it on a Facebook page called Smashed Peas and Carrots but if anyone knows where it came from, please let me know so I can link to it. Anyway, it sounds like a good idea. I'm already working on it and have plans for the books I'm going to read.

Also I'm hoping to get into graphic novels this year. I got this for Christmas from my lovely in-laws:

It is The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (i.e. the lady who wrote The Time Traveller's Wife) about a woman who finds a mobile book library, that has a copy of everything she has ever read. It's supposed to be good. I've been hunting down non-superhero graphic novels and I've managed to find some really interesting sounding ones on Amazon, so I know what I'll be asking for for my birthday this year ;)

If you are reading this and love books like I do, let me know what you've read and enjoyed in 2015! (My Amazon wishlist is bursting at the seams at this point but hey ho). Or, let me know your reading plans for 2016, especially if you are undertaking a challenge!

See you later on in the week for my first non-list-based post of the year ...

And if you fancy even more book recommendation, check out my post Unputdownables 2014.

Jera's Jamboree/Talk of the Town

Eight amazing facts about two year olds

Monday, 11 January 2016

Recently, I sat down to watch a selection of videos that my father-in-law has filmed of Jellybean over the years. Right from when she was a tiny little wriggling thing that made strange noises and cried a lot, right up to most recently, when she could be seen ripping open Christmas presents and harrassing our auntie's dog.

It surprised me how un-weepy I felt looking at the videos of her as a newborn. (The six-month-chubby-cheek-stage nearly got me though). I loved watching little clips of her, but I was surprised to find that I don't really miss the baby stage.

(I do miss my short hair though. The thought 'Man, my hair looks so much better short' popped into my head quite a lot when I caught a glimpse of myself in the background of the 'Jellybean practices using her baby walker' video).

Because as adorable as babies are, two year olds? Are amazing (despite the whole 'terrible twos' thing). They are great for many reasons, but here are some of them:

1) Two year olds find the world unbearably exciting

One of Jellybean's favourite Christmas presents this year was a flashing, glittery bouncy ball I got her from Waterstones. To be fair, it's pretty amazing. She found the bouncy ball in her stocking and was happy enough when it was just sparkly and pretty, but then she came downstairs and bounced it onto our laminate flooring, and it suddenly started flashing with lots of beautiful headache inducing colours. 

Very quietly, under her breath, she said 'wow.' And then she ran up to it, squealing 'DADDY DADDY LOOK AT MY BALL ITS GOT LIGHTS ON IT DADDY QUICK LOOK!'

Life is just infinitely more exciting with a two year old. Which brings me onto

2) Two year olds make it socially acceptable to do childish things

Like jumping in puddles or eating lunch under the table or going on slides because they obviously can't do that on their own ....

3) Two year olds accidentally mangle the English language in the most adorable ways

Sometimes you need a dictionary to understand a toddler. For example, only Chris or I would understand the sentence 'Mama, I wipe up with my eteyant monge?' 

But Jellybean says things that are accidentally hilarious. Like 'space warwick' for space rocket (which brings to my mind the image of Warwick Davis floating in space). And 'I have a little bit of more please.' Or 'I have an eat!' (she says this A LOT. See point #4) or the way she says 'clock' without the 'L'.

Which leaves me feeling embarrassed when someone compliments her pretty boots (that we got from the shopping centre which has a giant clock in it) and she confidently replies 'I got them from the clock shop.'

4) Two year olds are constantly hungry

This has a negative side to it. The phrase 'I have an eat!' becomes quite grating when it is repeated twenty times in an hour. But it does mean that I have to have a constant supply of snacks in the house. My snack game is strong nowadays. No-one goes hungry in my house. (Including me!)

5) Two year olds are bossy but so cute that it makes you laugh a bit

'Mama, you play ball with me? PUT YOUR COFFEE ON THE TABLE NOW.' 

Again, bit of a double-edged sword because I have to keep turning my back on her in order to compose myself before turning around and giving her a lecture on not bossing people around. Sometimes she is so outrageously bossy that I do an involuntary laugh. I'm aware that's terrible parenting, but you know, we'll be able to rectify her bossiness later. Right?!

6) Two year olds are pretty matter-of-fact when it comes to feelings

I like that two year olds can squabble, cry, and then be best friends again thirty seconds later. At this stage, the word 'sorry' really means something to them. All is forgiven. 

It does make me want to cry a little bit, though, when she says things like 'I woke up at Auntie Sarah's house and, I cry. But Auntie Sarah give me a cuddle and then I okay.' Because it's so innocent. And factual. For example, Jellybean woke up crying on New Years Eve at midnight, and she said:

'There are BIG BANGS in my bedroom and I scared!' (pause, tears still streaming down cheeks) 'I okay now.'

7) Two year olds have a great sense of humour



(Giggles) 'I did a pop-pop.'

8) Two year olds give you all of the love

'I do drawing for you Mama.'

As cute as a gummy dribbly baby smile is, it gets even better when they learn to give you proper hugs. And kisses. And eskimo kisses! I mean, two-year-olds make you run around all day and they never allow you to drink coffee while it's still warm and you might feel emotionally and physically shattered by eight o'clock every night, but still, sometimes they spontaneously say 'I luff you.' Just when you need to hear it. And you remember why it's worth it, and you go to bed with a smile on your face ready to do it all again the next day. *Well, sometimes. Some days I go to bed at half seven and I feel about a hundred years old but we're not talking about those days right now


If you currently have a two year old or have survived the toddler process in one piece ... come and share your funny kid stories with me! 

Ten Pathetically Small Things That Make Me Feel Unreasonably Happy

Monday, 4 January 2016

It is 2016. I am trying to shake off what is essentially a Christmas hangover. That feeling where you have overloaded on festivities (and chocolate) and you feel a bit tired and bloated and the sight of the Christmas tree is starting to drive you a bit mad but the thought of packing it all away makes you want to go and have a little lie down. The excitement is over. The house is full of extra cardboard that you can't fit into the recycling bin. The fridge is full of little nuggets of fancy cheese and a few wilted carrots, but not enough components to make a whole meal out of. The weather is either a) rainy b) windy or c) both. It's permanently dark all day long. All the things that you were worrying about before Christmas barged into your head are slowly starting to trickle back as Real Life is about to start again.

All in all, it feels a bit 'meh'.

And you probably have a cold. Or at least you do if you've visited us over Christmas. (Sorry everyone. We were the Lurg Family this year)

I get it! I'm there. What you need is to remember all the happy things. (When in doubt, write a list). In the spirit of that, here are some of mine:

My List of Ten Pathetically Small Things That Make Me Feel Unreasonably Happy
  1. When you are hungry and you remember there are crisps in the house. (JOY)
  2. When you have a book that is so huge that you have to lie on your side in bed to read it, lest your arms grow tired and you drop it onto your face
  3. The first sip of coffee in the morning
  4. The first sip of coffee in the afternoon (having some caffeine issues)
  5. Sneaking a bit of Baileys into a hot chocolate and claiming 'what the heck, it's Christmas!' even though half the street have already taken their decorations down
  6. Having no visitors, and therefore, not having to wear a bra in the daytime (not even the slightest bit sorry about admitting this)
  7. Decluttering a small part of the living room and heaving a great sigh of satisfaction, even though essentially all that you have done is move a pile of rubbish from one place to another
  8. Jellybean's singing ('Row row row your boat gently dow the meam ... mey-yiyi, mey-yiyi, mey-yiyi, mey-yiyi, life is bup a meaaaaaaaam ...')
  9. Watching Jellybean and Chris play 'dice' (essentially this involves Jellybean playing with all the bits from our board games and Chris kind of enjoying it but also trying not to feel stressed about the thought of all the pieces disappearing under the sofas)
  10. When, for a whole day, I manage not to lose any of the following: a) my phone b) my lip balm or c) my keys
  11. BONUS! The fact that you can now listen to the Beatles on Spotify. (SO much singing and dancing going on in my kitchen right now).
Okay! Let's joy-the-heck-up the start of 2016! Shake off your Back to Work/School/Other Everyday Thing right now and leave me a list of silly things that make you happy. Leave me a comment somewhere! :)

2015 round-up

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year everyone!

I've been looking through approximately one zillion photographs of 2015 and it's made me feel all smooshy inside.

Our little daughter grew from a chubby-cheeked tot ...

To the mad, funny, talkative, excitable, sweet, chubby-cheeked two year old she is now.

I was a stay at home Mum for another year and had lots of amazing adventures with Jellybean.

We did a lot of messy stuff.

And baking.

And we played with a lot of toys.

I continued to accumulate toys, wetwipes, half-eaten biscuits and little tiny hairbands in my handbag.

I witnessed new levels of mischeviousness.

I did tidying

(And more tidying, and more tidying)

I drank a lot of coffee.

We made a few dens.

I did a lot of reading

And a bit of writing

We walked. A lot. In all weathers.

We had a few picnics.

And did quite a lot of chalk drawings

In fact we spent a lot of time in the garden. (Sometimes just laying on the grass staring up at the tree. And the washing).

One of my favourite mornings was the one where we sat outside in our pyjamas, eating breakfast and listening to the world wake up around us.

I facilitated a lot of naptimes.

And, at some point, I held her in my arms and gave her a bottle for the last time before she got too big for it. *sniffles*

We successfully took a one year old to Lanzarote.

And we had an AWESOME time.

And we went on an amazing holiday to Devon.

Where I spoke to a psychic telephone

And we saw a friendly robot band

And some not-so-friendly-looking mannequins

Also dinosaurs!

And sealions!

In fact it was a really, really, really good time.

We went to two very different events on the seafront.

CBeebies live ...

And Dismaland!

Chris got a new job, and we both felt inspired to push ourselves to try new things.

I turned 27.

Jellybean turned two. (TWO!!!)

And Chris turned 30.


(We played a lot of board games.)

I continue to be amazed by my husband.

For being a wonderful father 

And for making me laugh

And for being effortlessly handsome ;)

I mean it's not been the easiest year ever. We've had ... illnesses, and issues, and you know. Stuff.

But we have amazing friends. And a wonderful family.

2015 was pretty great.

Thank you to everyone that made it so :)
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