What would they like?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I do at least a double portion of Christmas shopping.  I need to think of gifts for my family and friends, as well as think of what I would like from the kind people who ask me.  (It’s also my Birthday a week before Christmas, but I’ve only myself to blame for that, I suppose.)

But I also need to answer the dreaded question, “what would the children like for Christmas?” If, like me, you find this all quite  a lot to deal with, and your relatives have already started to ask, here is a list that I hope will help.

These are all things I highly recommend.  I’ve been very selective.  If these don’t go down well, you can certainly blame me! And if you do find any of these recommendations helpful, please do comment below.  This will benefit other readers and also encourage me!

If I’ve left any gaps, do ask below as I probably have more ideas.

Pre-schoolers (and above – my older children still like them):

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Toys
For tiny ones, the Galt wooden pop up toy.  Wooden pegs; springs.  A timeless classic.

Magformers – or knock-off equivalent.  I’ve heard Magnatiles are better, but we have Magformers and Magmagic (which are cheaper) and love them.  Amazing toy.  If I had my time again, I would buy fewer toys and be willing to spend more on good quality toys like this.

Melissa and Doug wooden Birthday cake or pizza.  Last year these were cheaper in the Black Friday Amazon sale.  Also the Melissa and Doug ice cream set is popular in our house.

Books
Julia Donaldson audio collection (10 CDs) – available at thebookpeople. This is the best thing that ever happened to our car journeys.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with the actors.  Please buy it.  (It’s the one with The Gruffalo, What the Ladybird Heard etc.)

The One O’Clock Miracle – this can be a good one for non Christian families too, although you’d need to use your judgement.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr

Music
Anything by Colin Buchanan

Anything by Randall Goodgame, particularly Sing the Bible 1 & 2.  Also, “Under Where?” might work for a non Christian family as it’s a mixture of Christian and silly songs.  We love it, as we are quite silly, and quite Christian.

Primary Schoolers

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Toys/Games
Dobble kids – every family should have this.  It’s particularly handy when you have guests for lunch and your children are looking after them while you’re doing the final preparations.

Ticket to Ride, First Journey

K’Nex – good value and my son adores it.

Lego Spinjitzu spinners – I was surprised at how good these were.  I’m embarrassed to say that I spelt Spinjitzu correctly on the first attempt.

Stomp Rocket – this would work for pre-schoolers as well.  It’s an outdoor toy but as long as it’s not raining you could use it in the winter.  It’s just truly fabulous.  Simple, yet so effective.  We always gather a crowd of curious children when we use it on the beach.

For girls, anything from the shop Smiggle tends to go down well.  As far as I can tell, they always have things in the sale.  Don’t buy anything full price – what a rip-off.

Books
Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor – extremely simple doctrine book with beautiful illustrations.

The Diary of a Disciple – a Tom Gates style re-telling of Luke’s gospel, and there’s one for Acts as well.  My son loves these.

The Action Bible.  I highly recommend this for around ages 8+, and there is a junior version for younger children (my 5 year old has it), but you’d have to decide whether it’s suitable.

The Ology, Marty Machowski.  A beautiful doctrine book for 6-11 year olds.

Magazines – my son really likes the Aquila magazine.  They frequently sell back copies for £2.50 each, which is excellent value.  I’ve got a stash in the cupboard and every month or so I give him a ‘new’ one.

Music
We’ve recently discovered Jamie Grace, whose album “Ready to Fly” is excellent, particularly for pre-teen girls.  Although my boys love it too.

Also, any of the above music CDs go down well with our older children.

 

Over to you:
What would you highly recommend, please?

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Dear Santa

I’m just kidding, I don’t write to Santa.  That’s because he’s a big fat lie who drinks sherry.

At this time of year everyone asks what you want for Christmas, and for some that’s lovely and for others it’s really stressful.  If you’re in the latter group, here are some ideas from me:

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In no particular order:

  1. None Like Him  – this is a book about God, with short chapters and big truths, explained brilliantly by Jen Wilkin.  She is really good at writing, and I don’t say that about many people.  She has a gift and she’s using it to teach us how we are not like God, and that’s a good thing!  I highly recommend this – get your best friend a copy too and read it together.
  2. Prayer – Timothy Keller.  The book absolutely blew my mind.  The only trouble with it was that I wanted to read it about five times, but it took me a year to read (on and off) so there wasn’t much chance of that.  You know I love Tim Keller – he’s fantastic.  What a blessing he is to so many people.  This book will inspire you to pray and then give you practical advice for daily prayer.  Here’s some inspiration from the book about how the Lord Jesus sets us an example:
    Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer.  He prayed often and regularly with fervant cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night.  The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29).  When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer.  We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Finally, he died praying. 
  3. The Plausibility Problem – Ed Shaw.  This book isn’t hot off the press (none of these books are), but I think this should be compulsory reading for any Christian who’s serious about obeying Jesus’ command to love one another.  However, it’s not my job to set compulsory reading for Christians, so I’ll jus say it comes very highly recommended.  It’s not just a book about loving people who are same-sex attracted*, it’s about how to love people and live as church family, as we’re called to do.  It’s fascinating, it’s challenging, it’s very moving.  Thank you, Ed.
  4. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson.  Oh my goodness, I read this a couple of months ago and it’s a book I didn’t want to finish.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, which yes means I am very, very behind on life.  It’s the memoire of a mid-twentieth Century pastor in rural Iowa, and if you like good writing and a good character piece, and especially (but not necessarily) if you’re a Christian, you’ll love this.  She’s written other books too, which I should probably read…
  5. Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan.  Right, so I’ll come clean.  I haven’t actually read Pilgrim’s Progress.  If you think that’s bad, then wait till I tell you that I think it was required reading for my English degree.  It’s not on my Christmas list because I know exactly where it is on my bookshelf.  You know when you’re in a Bible study and someone says, “This reminds me of Pilgrim’s Progress when..” and then gives a really poignant and relevant example?  And you have to smile and nod because you’ve never read it?  Well I plan, by the end of 2018, to be able to smile and nod sincerely, because I will have read it.  Hey, I might even be the one with the insightful Bunyan anecdote.  Maybe we could read it together – so to speak – next year?

If you’d like other ideas, click on the “Books” category and you should see my previous posts about books I recommend.

 

*This is how Ed Shaw describes himself.  It’s all explained in the book!

What’s for Tea?

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I know what you’re thinking – yum yum!

It’s getting to that time of year when things can spin out of control – you know, more than usual.  Sometimes you go to a thing where you think the children will eat dinner, and actually all they have is a couple of cucumber sticks and a mini bag of Haribo.  Or, you’re fortunate enough to be going out for the evening and you’re so excited that you forget that your children will need dinner (or tea, as I would call it.)

Here are a few dinners that I like to have up my sleeve for this sort of occasion.  Usually the children eat these when Mike and I are on leftovers but I don’t think there’s enough for all of us.  Two of them are quite useful ideas, I think, and the others are just common sense – sorry if you’re rolling your eyes at me.  I am a little embarrassed. I hope you find these helpful, and do let me know yours if you have any.  You must have. Just to say, I’ve nothing against Fish Fingers etc. – the “Rip and Dump” option, as Lorelai Gilmore would say.  But I don’t tend to buy them much and they actually aren’t as speedy as the options below. Plus if you’re thinking “pesto is besto” in these situations, my husband is allergic to nuts so I never buy pesto. I know, it’s tough being me. (Joking!)

Prawns with Noodles (See the delightful picture above)
A Handful or two of frozen mini prawns (I use Sainsbury’s basics, which are responsibly sourced)
A block or two of dried egg noodles (These go quite a long way)
Frozen peas or sweetcorn or green beans or broccoli.  Anything really.
Put them all in a pan with boiling water for 5 mins.  I don’t add a sauce and the children have never asked for one.  This is so quick, and it’s healthy, too.  Has gotten me out of many a scrape.

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Pasta with Mackerel
Tinned mackerel is healthy, sustainable and cheap (although it’s not as cheap as it was, and Sainsbury’s yes WE HAVE NOTICED THE PRICE HIKES!).  It’s currently about 70p a tin, but it’s cheaper at Lidl – surprise, surprise. You need the tin with tomato sauce.  The genius is, the sauce is already there. Hoorah.
Pasta – I use Sainsbury’s basics every time.  The kids don’t care what shape their pasta is.
Frozen veg, as above – any will do.  I usually use peas but that’s purely lack of imagination.
This is probably my children’s favourite dinner, and it’s reassuring to know that mackerel is really good for them.  They probably don’t eat enough fish – or they didn’t until we started having this once a week.

Soup with Bread – I know it’s obvious
Mine like tomato.  No bits! This is actually very comforting on a cold evening. I sometimes give them cheese with it.

Brinner
I think I’ve written before that if in doubt, there’s always brinner (breakfast for dinner).  Sometimes my children request this.  If your cereals are healthy, I think it’s fine?  And if not, it could be worse.  There’s a chip shop over the road and I’m pretty sure Weetabix and a boiled egg are healthier than that option.  It’s all relative, hey.  And porridge is even better if you’ve got some.  Of course, you knew that.

Scrambled eggs/omelettes
Scrambled egg on toast with baked beans is marvellous, although one of my children doesn’t like beans (sigh).  They love scrambled eggs with oven chips, but oven chips are slow so you’d have to have the time.   Toast on the other hand, is fast.  Sorry this is so obvious, but I’m just thinking of my emergency dinners and this is one of them.  Eggs are a pretty cheap source of protein, too.

Pancakes
Needs no explanation.  My children like the “crepe” type (more than the American).  Plenty of fresh fruit with these if you have it.  It doesn’t have to be February.  Hopefully you have some eggs, milk and flour in.  Otherwise, defer to the brinner option perhaps?

So what are your quick, healthy kids’ teas?  I use the word “healthy” loosely…  It’s not every night after all.

 

Enjoy yourself (Just not in the same way you used to before)!

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I used to look forward to, and enjoy, weekends away with church. Now I brace myself for them, and often feel I’m the worst version of ‘me’ when I’m there. Sad, I know. But I believe that through prayer and practical wisdom this, the “time away with church family, with a family,” can be conquered!

I’m going away today, so I thought I’d offer some tips on how to get through, I mean enjoy, your time away (it’s more fun than packing). I’m in no way the expert, but I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with thus far – you’ll see I’m learning from my mistakes.

Things NOT to expect:

Sleep – Time and again I make the mistake of arriving on a conference/camp/ weekend away already tired, and hoping for some rest. Go on, point and laugh, I deserve it. You won’t get much sleep. Things will prevent you from sleeping: probably your children. But while you can do everything in your power to encourage your children to have a good night’s sleep (blackouts, familiar bedding, nightlight etc.), there are always things you can’t control. Even if your children sleep wonderfully, you are still likely to be woken up by something else, e.g. someone else’s child; a fire alarm; a 5am delivery van; a 3am Pentecostal prayer gathering (this has been my experience, anyway).

Catching up with good friends – this is unlikely, because you will be busy with your brood and also there may be other people who need you more. You don’t want to end up resenting your children or anyone else who gets in the way of your nice long chat with so-and-so. Maybe think of this as an opportunity to arrange to meet up with that friend in the next couple of weeks! Then, if you do end up having a good chat: bonus!

Taking part in everything that’s going on – it might be the teaching you look forward to, or the social aspect, or praying together. But it’s likely you’ll miss out on something you’d really like to have been at. You might get trapped in your room with a clingy baby and no phone signal to beckon help, while everyone else is having a whale of a time doing “organised fun.” You might miss all of the talks because your 3-year-old is terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings, or you might have to take someone to A&E. Hopefully none of these will happen, but I’m just saying it’s good to be emotionally prepared to miss out.

Things to DO:

Be thankful. Sorry everything above is so negative. I think that if we “manage our expectations” (fancy phrase) then we’re more likely to be thankful for any fun/teaching/sleeping/encouragements that we do receive. I need to remember to be thankful, because I just won’t be otherwise. I’m like that, me.

Forget yourself. I find that at these intense, emotionally draining times I get too focused on my own “problems” (e.g. lack of sleep/missed the seminar), which is just a recipe for disaster. If I try to focus on making sure other people are OK, I’ll actually start to forget what I was so narked off about in the first place. Get over yourself, Catherine (or, you know, something less harsh).

Research – if you haven’t been to the venue before, try to find out what you need to take with you from someone who has been or from the venue itself. You don’t want to arrive and realise you were meant to bring bedding. Almost equally you don’t want to stuff five duvets into your boot (trunk) and then discover you didn’t need them. Especially if you don’t have a driveway, so loading the car is tricky, and you bought the duvets especially. Just saying.

I’ve now noticed that (maybe apart from the final one) these are quite good tips for life in general. Maybe that’s because time away with church is really just a more intense version of normal life. And I need to remember, too, what an AMAZING privilege it is to have the resources, the community, and the freedom to be able to do this. Would my North Korean sister be grumbling about missing the Saturday night karaoke if she were here? No, I’m pretty sure she’d think she’d died and gone to heaven.

Have a good weekend, folks!

Learning to say ‘Thank You’

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One day this will be a nostalgic image for me!

I’ve been excavating this week.  When you have your second or subsequent baby, you have to unearth all of the baby paraphernalia that you’d hidden under the bed/on top of the wardrobe/at your mum’s house.  It’s quite heartwarming in a way, because it takes you back to those early days with your older child(ren) which seem so long ago. But in other ways, it’s a tiny bit disheartening.  What I mean is, I find it really satisfying to get rid of stuff I don’t need anymore because I’ve moved on to a new stage.  So going back to the earlier stages and starting all over again can bruise my organisational ego.  I’ve realised that I often look forward to the day when I won’t need an entire kitchen cupboard dedicated to plastic crockery, sippy cups, bottles and baby food.  Or when I won’t need to buy kiddie snacks or dairylea slices, because the kids will eat what we eat (this may never happen but shhhh don’t tell me).  But even as I long for this I do have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not a very godly way to think.

Growing up I was always told, ‘Don’t wish your life away.’  I think that was because I always wanted to be about three to five years older than I was (those days are gone, I can assure you).  Although this isn’t a phrase from the Bible, it is wise advice.  Always pining for the next thing is really a recipe for discontentment.  While I’m longing for the days when I can have a serious conversation with my son, I’m missing the blessings of the here and now.  While I’m pining for the time when I won’t have to cadunk my buggy up the steps because my buggy will be long gone, I’m ignoring the beauty of cute babes in a pushchair.

I’m reading a really interesting book which has encouraged me massively – One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Today I read this, as Ann recollects holding her sleeping daughter, the youngest of six children:

‘My baby is five… She is leaving me, she’s growing up and moving away from me, and she stirs and I sweep back the crop of golden ringlets.  Stay, Little One, stay.  Love’s a deep wound and what is a mother without a child and why can’t I hold on to now forever and her here and me here and why does time snatch away a heart I don’t think mine can beat without?’ (p. 160)

I felt so rebuked by this.  My eldest isn’t five yet, and I often wish she were just a bit older.  But I’m sure one day (maybe soon) I’ll turn around and mourn the loss of their early years.  That will also be discontentment of course!  So what’s the solution?  How do I enjoy the here and now; savour the moment?  Well, Voskamp’s book is all about thankfulness.  I know I should be thankful for today, but how?

One wonderful thing about being a parent of young children is that you have someone showing you how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now, every single day.   Here are a few things my tots were excited about today (and these are just the ones they shouted about):

–       steam from a chimney

–       an aeroplane (many, many times, we live under the Heathrow flight path)

–       a blue van

–       ‘Sparkles’ (Actually the sunlight reflected in raindrops on a grey, dirty pavement)

I want to be more like that.  I want to be enchanted by the mundane and thankful for the ordinary.  If I can learn to do that, then I’ll start to focus on the beautiful things in my life, great and small, and to sideline the hard things that I can’t change.

At the end of a wearying day, I want to tell my husband every detail of the battles I’ve endured.  I don’t want to focus on the lovely things, because… hmmm, if I’m honest I don’t want him thinking I’ve had an easy day.  Then he might not sympathise with me.  If I tell him all the blessings, then who gets the glory?  Not me, of course, but the Lord, the giver.  I want this, and I don’t want it.  My new, spirit-filled heart wants to praise the Lord; it’s my sinful, self-centred self who wants to wallow in self-pity, ingratitude and dissatisfaction.

I’ve heard many times before that being thankful is a way to find joy and to be content.  But it seems so hard to do.  It is hard, but I’m realising that it’s a lesson to learn, and a lesson that takes time.  We can train ourselves to be thankful.  Ann Voskamp trained herself by writing one thousand things she loves, or in other words one thousand gifts she is thankful for.  I’ve started trying to do this myself.  I’m making quite slow progress, partly because I’m out of practice (I’ve never been in practice), and partly because I don’t have my notebook lying around all day (for fear of it being splattered/snatched/accidentally recycled), so I have to remember things and write them down later.  But even so, I can tell that God is gently changing me as I discipline myself to find the beauty in my life.

So may I encourage you now to try this – you don’t have to write it down or set yourself a target of course, but if you would like to find more joy, try learning to be thankful for the ‘now’ you’re in.  Maybe you live in a beautiful location, in which case your list will probably be full of natural beauty.  However, may I refer you to the title of this blog, and remind you that I live far away from wildlife (unless you count pigeons and the odd urban fox, which I absolutely do not!) or sweeping landscapes.  But there is still beauty in my life, and I’m learning to find it.  Here are ten items from my list so far, just to encourage you to give it a go:

7. Help up the stairs

10. Soft slippers on aching feet

16.  My children stopping at the road

20. Double glazing

23. A cup of tea by the bed

26. The listening ear of a friend

44. The kitchen bin, empty

60. The radio

62. The generosity of friends

111. Anaesthetic

Nothing spectacular I know, but they’re God’s gifts to me and it’s right that I thank him for them.  You can probably think of something more joy-filling than an empty kitchen bin, and I encourage you right now to thank God for whatever that is!

So I’m hoping, by God’s grace, that by cultivating a thankful heart, I will bring glory to God with my attitude, I’ll find joy, and I won’t get to the end of my life and realise I’ve spent it wishing I were somewhere else.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.