I emptied some toy trays (which was disturbingly easy to do) and we’re using them as work trays – one for each child. It was my 6 year old’s idea. They were excited about it and it keeps things tidier. I think children really do like to know what’s what. Having their own tray seems to be very reassuring.
Being flexible. It’s good to have a plan. I did this initially for my own sake but actually the children don’t like it if there’s no plan. However, it’s also good to remember that we do actually have all day and no proper deadlines. So if something takes longer – great! Or if you got the wrong day and the Facebook Live History lesson isn’t till tomorrow – that’s also fine!
The morning shake up is definitely a keeper. Choose a few of your favourite family worship songs and kick off the day with a prayer and some praise. There may be a video of this coming soon…
We moved the furniture around so there’s now more space in the living room. You might not need to do this but the children found it exciting and it means they’re less likely to bump into each other when dancing to “Super Saviour” or doing P.E. indoors.
It’s good to remember that most toys and games for 3-5 year olds are educational. This means that my 3-year-old will learn things every day – as long as she does more than watch Peppa Pig. And by the way, let’s remember that we don’t need super duper equipment. Today I was wondering what my daughter could use as a desk and she said “I’ll just sit on my bed.” And it was fine! See below.
And finally – here’s a wonderful reminder from Galatians 4. (There is a beautiful memory verse song for this on Sing the Bible Family Christmas by Randall Goodgame. It’s on YouTube but not a high quality version. You’ll have to buy the CD!)
Remember your Heavenly Father is with you today:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
“…encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”
How do you feel about words? Do you remember things people have said to you?
I used to be able to remember the exact words people had said, and find it odd that others couldn’t. They’d be telling a story and I’d think, ‘that’s not how they said it! Why the paraphrasing?’ Now I feel increasingly frustrated that my memory isn’t what it used to be. I don’t know if it’s just natural as you get older, but I think there might be four other contributing factors living in my house, who have given me ten years of broken sleep.
But I do still remember things people have said to me, if not verbatim. I put both my husband and my brother on edge when I start a sentence with, “I remember you said once…” because it’s usually something they neither remember saying nor still agree with. On the plus side, at least they know I listen!
The other day I found a Thank You card someone had sent me in 2014 after a camp we were on together. As I read it I realised that I had remembered, 5 years on, an exact phrase from the card which had encouraged me, and treasured it in my heart. It wasn’t anything spectacular – in fact, if you’re interested, it was that she appreciated our “down-to-earthness” – but I’d hung on to it nevertheless.
This got me thinking that we underestimate how much adults need and appreciate encouragement. We know that children need to be affirmed. Teachers in school know to praise good behaviour much more than they rebuke the bad. If you’ve read any parenting books or online articles you’ll have been told to do the same with your own children. I wrote a blog post years ago about this which I still recommend!
It’s true that children love to be praised, especially for specific things. So not just “oh aren’t you clever!” which can sound a bit false, but “I’ve noticed that your handwriting is really improving, you’ve clearly been working hard on it. Well done!” And if we can affirm character traits in our children, then all the better. “You’ve been so kind at sharing your Christmas chocolate with people,” and even, “that reminds me of how God shares all the good things in our lives with us.” Children love this and it’s really effective, but when do we think we grow out of our thirst for encouragement?
I’m not convinced we ever do.
I mean, honestly, which of us would not be thrilled if tomorrow a friend gave us a sincere, specific word of affirmation and then shared how it reminded them in some way of what God is like? Or it showed them how God has been working in us?
I think this is a wonderful way to be a blessing to our church family and wider community. And it doesn’t cost a thing! Plus, the more you do it the more it will become a good habit. Here are some examples of ways you could bless people with your words:
If you have people in your church who have been serving in the same way for years, now is the time to thank them. They’re the least likely people to be thanked or encouraged for what they do. The longer someone serves, the more they’re taken for granted.
If you take one encouragement from the Sunday sermon, go up to your pastor and tell him it. Don’t assume he knows!
If you have a visiting preacher at your church, email him the following day to thank him for coming and give him a couple of things you found encouraging from his talk.
If there’s something you really like about your children’s teacher, why not tell them?
Try not to let people squirm out of your encouragements. Imagine you’re passing them a gift and they’re trying to give it back or drop it. Just keep handing it back to them. Look them in the eye and say, “I’m trying to encourage you, please don’t shrug it off.” Or something like that! “Shut up and listen to me” might also work.
You could send encouragements via text or – better still – a postcard popped in the post. This is a different way of doing it and may be a good place to start if you feel nervous about doing it face to face.
You might read this and think, “I’m not that kind of person.” The truth is that I’m not either. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else in order to encourage others. You need to do it in your own way, but the sad truth is that hardly anyone is “that kind of person.” As a result, people around us are starving for words of affirmation.
Also, I would argue that we do all know how to praise and encourage. We love to tell people how good a particular film or book is, or even the reasons why we love a certain person. But why don’t we say those things to the person directly? I know it’s not British. But godliness isn’t British, folks.
As with other gifts – hospitality, evangelism, giving – some people will be better at this than others. But that doesn’t leave the rest of us off. We should all be trying to encourage others. And you never know, you might find you’re better at it than you thought.
And you might even save someone’s life:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. Hebrews 3:12-14.
I’m a bit of a technophobe. I never used to be. Once upon a time we were getting along just fine. But then (in about the late nineties) tech overtook me and as I watched it drive beyond the horizon I developed a certain distrust of all things digital. I know that’s a bit weird for a blogger to admit. But it’s true – sorry to disappoint!
It may be this scepticism which prevented me from listening to podcasts earlier. Up until a couple of years ago I didn’t really know I could listen to anything on my phone*. I’d heard other people talk about it, but I figured my phone probably didn’t do that, plus I love CD’s too much.
Now however, I’d hate to be without podcasts. I do love the radio, but I find that listening to my favourite podcasts is really good for my soul. I don’t say that flippantly – I really mean it. So if you’ve never listened to podcasts, or you’ve not tried these ones, I just want to start 2020 by really, really, really recommending my top 3 podcasts to you.** Here’s why:
(In order of geographical distance from me…)
Faith in Kids
On this feed there are two podcast streams: Faith in Parents and Faith in Kids. The Faith in Parents ones are aimed at parents or anyone involved in or interested in teaching children and young people about Jesus. The hosts, Ed Drew and James Cary, are so down-to-earth, very encouraging, and also pretty silly (more on silliness later). Ed Drew is humble but don’t be fooled – he’s a guru. I can’t tell you how many people I know across the UK who ask him for help with the children’s stuff at their church. And he’s so keen to help, and very funny, and refreshingly ridiculous. These guys really try to encourage you without – get this – making you feel like a rubbish failure. Amazing! And they do brilliant interviews which have helped me enormously. I’ll keep going back to some of them again and again. Seriously folks, please tune in if you haven’t tried it yet. Otherwise you will quite simply miss out. Favourite episodes: #8 Talking about the Tough Stuff; #10 Talking through the Tears; #13a&b Lovewise; #15&15b with Sandy Galea.
The Faith in Kids episodes are family devotionals to listen to with your kids. My children love them. There are fun facts, a Bible passage, some questions for different age groups, and a very funny sketch written by James Cary who is actually a sitcom writer. Seriously, our kids don’t know they’re born! These are excellent – we really enjoy listening to them in the car – and there’s a book to go alongside the Easter episodes. (It turns out you can even listen to podcasts in the car. I know, I’m wringing my hands too.)
Cooper & Cary Have Words
One of the ways I got into podcasts was that my brother recommended this one to me. Thanks, bro! And it’s purely coincidence that the Cary on this podcast is the same James Cary as on the Faith in Kids one, although I think it might be because there aren’t really that many Christians and even fewer who know how to make a podcast.
The reason I love this one is that it’s two dry British men (one in Florida and one in Somerset, England) talking honestly and graciously about culture and faith. I’m very behind on culture (as you can tell from my digi-disdain), but I feel that (at least as a parent) I should try to keep up. These guys help with that because they talk with a Christian perspective about current popular stuff, like books, film, TV etc. I’m really grateful to them. And they don’t take themselves too seriously. Barry Cooper says he sounds like Eeyore, which is only a little bit true and is something Eeyore wouldn’t say about himself.+ They make me laugh, which is really an underrated quality.
They’ve introduced me to loads of books and films that I’ve really enjoyed – please do try it out! Favourite recent episodes: #70 It’s only waffer thin; #67 Do you want to change?; #63 Unlikely converts; #59 I have cancelled the Dalai Lama.
The Brant and Sherri Oddcast
When Brant Hansen appeared as a guest on Cooper & Cary Have Words, I’d never heard of him and I spent the whole time thinking, “What’s his name? Brad? Brent?” Somehow I figured out that it’s Brant, found the “Oddcast,” and within minutes of listening to the first episode I had tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks. I’ve never looked back. They are my new friends (although they don’t know me at all), and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
The Oddcast is (incredibly) an almost-daily digest of a radio programme which Brant and his producer Sherri pre-record for broadcast across the United States. (If you’re reading this from USA, do find out if you can tune in to the radio show.) Brant does two simple things: he talks about Jesus and he makes silly jokes. This combination of Christian encouragement and harmless humour is what has been so, so good for me over the last year or two. What better way could there be to occupy your mind while folding laundry than to lift your eyes to King Jesus while also have a good chuckle? As adults we really don’t laugh enough, and it’s such a good way to lift the spirits. There are too many episodes to choose from, but you can find some very funny clips from the show on the Brant Hansen Facebook page.
I know parenting can be lonely, and sometimes you only get to speak to people about nappies and baby food or tantrums and homework. Resources like these are gifts to us because they can get us thinking about wider issues and reminding us of half-forgotten truths. They’ve also helped me to talk to my husband about something other than the school run or who threw what at dinner time. Thanks be to God!
*You can listen to these podcasts through your web browser.
**Please note, I’m getting nothing in return for these recommendations, and in fact I’m a little embarrassed that these people might read them.
+I’m almost certain I’ve heard him say that. If he hasn’t, and he reads this, I’m going to be pretty embarrassed.
I recently organised a Junior Bake-Off party for my daughter’s ninth birthday, and I thought I’d tell you about it in case you might want to do something similar. If not, then at least in six year’s time I can read this blog post and do it again for my younger daughter.
I’ll say right off the bat that this was quite a tiring thing to do, and there were lots of little bits to remember. However, I actually enjoyed it and much more importantly, the children loved it. It actually felt like the real thing! Plus, a great big, huge, enormous thank you to the unsuspecting mums who came along and ended up helping with a lot of clearing up – not to mention rescuing burning bakes from the oven.
There’s a list below of everything you’ll need to prepare and buy in advance, but first I’ll tell you what actually happened. It looks more complicated than it actually was because I’ve tried to write absolutely everything down. Please don’t be put off!
What we did:
We set it up like the real Bake-Off, with a Signature Challenge, a Technical and a Show-Stopper:
Technical: Fork Biscuits
Show-Stopper: Cupcake Decorating
For the Signature, I emailed the parents in advance to ask what toppings the children would like. I bought pizza topping sauce (although I could have made some), grated cheese (lazy, I know) and whatever toppings they’d chosen. I made the dough the day before (but you could buy bases).
For the Technical, I used Mary Berry’s Fork Biscuits recipe, which is available online. I halved the recipe, so each child made eight cookies. They could choose whether to make chocolate or plain. I then needed to prepare a tray each with margarine, sugar, flour and the recipe. (The optional cocoa was a the front of the room.) This is a recipe that all the children (aged 7-9) could manage. They found it challenging, but they enjoyed it and they came out well.
For the Show-Stopper, I made cupcakes in advance (I used Nigella’s Christmas Cupcake recipe but you could use any), and bought icing and sprinkles. I provided disposable piping bags and cutters for ready-to-roll icing. You should really have trays ready with all of the stuff they need for this. I didn’t, so it became a bit chaotic at this point. (Cue helpful mums.)
At the end, we put the cupcakes onto a cupcake stand, stuck candles in it and sang happy birthday. They ate their pizzas and a cupcake each, and I gave out prizes. I’d come up with four prize categories as we went along, so that everyone got an award for something, (such as ‘most imaginative Show-Stopper’). For the prizes, I bought personalised wooden spoons from Not on the Highstreet – see pic below. If you wanted to do something cheaper, you could try getting plain aprons from Baker Ross (£5 for two), and ironing on a star or something. But since the party on the whole wasn’t expensive, I didn’t mind paying £20 for the prizes (£5 each).
To prepare in advance:
Email the parents to ask for the pizza toppings and give them an equipment list to bring. This will depend on what you have at home, e.g. I had enough rolling pins, but you might not. Also, ask them if they can stay to help their child if possible.
Find a judge or two. They need to be fun, or at least pretend to be.
Try to find some people to help with the washing up!
Make pizza dough
Make cupcakes – we gave them four each
Print out recipes for Techincal
Print out timings for yourself, otherwise you’ll get confused.
Save margarine tubs and other containers because each child will need their own margarine, sugar and flour
Enough flour, butter/margarine, sugar and cocoa for everyone in the Technical. The quantities are not huge.
Greaseproof paper (we used this for pizzas and biscuits)
Butter icing, ready to roll icing, various sprinkles, disposable piping bags. (My daughter went through three piping bags and I’m sorry but they’re a pain to clean.)
Salad and fruit for the meal, if you wish
Candles if you don’t have any
Prizes. If you’re keeping costs down, I’m sure some biscuits or pretty cupcake cases or something would be just as lovely.
To set up:
I used four long tables and put all the equipment and the pizza toppings on top, ready to use
If you have enough trays, get the trays for the Technical and the Show-Stopper ready before the party starts
Have a table at the front of the room for the judging of the Technical. I got them to write their names on little cards which went in front of their bakes, so that they knew whose were being judged, but the judge couldn’t see. (On the show they have photos for this.)
I put a big bowl of soapy water and some flannels at the back, for hand washing
Sieves (for cocoa)
Piping nozzles (if you’re using disposable bags, you probably can manage with just one set of nozzles as you won’t need the collar)
Small scissors – one pair each
Ask each child to bring a box to carry their goods home in
Cupcake stand (or just use a plate)
Write name cards
Introduce Signature – give them 10 minutes. Remember to say, “On your marks, get set, bake!”
Pizzas in the oven
Technical – they need about 20 minutes for this. You can give them longer if they need it!
Biscuits in – meanwhile, judge the Signature. Put the pizzas on the benches and the judge goes round and tries each one and gives feedback. Remember to say, “tell me about your pizza.”
(There may be a pause here while the children try their own pizzas/wash their hands/wipe down their benches)
Now judge the technical by putting the biscuits on the front table and getting the children to sit in a row while the judge makes comments about each one. They could choose a winner for this, although my judge didn’t.
Showstopper – decorate four cupcakes. I thought this would be quick but they spent ages on it. Allow as much or as little time as you wish! Tell them they will be marked purely on presentation, and that they can do them all the same or four different styles.
Judging – get them to bring up their four cupcakes on a plate and comment on them.
Now put the cupcakes into the stand and light candles, sing happy birthday etc.
Now do a lot of washing up.
If you try this, please let me know! I do hope it helps somebody else to have a happy birthday.
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):
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.
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
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.
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?
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:
In no particular order:
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.