Sunday, 20 December 2009

the most wonderful time of the year....

It's been a weekend of fabulous highs and lows...
a brief list:

  • we saw Wicked on stage yesterday - amazing! We had a great day out in London with our friends Karen and Shaun. I loved the end of Act One and the fantastic staging with the dragon and wowza costumes...and enjoyed my fillet steak at Browns! mmmhmmmm!
  • we've had a great afternoon and evening today singing carols at Maldon Deli and at various church member's homes, encouraging them to invite their neighbours and friends in for us to 'serenade'!
  • This morning's service at CGC Maldon was fantastic fun - the little ones doing a Nativity, both live and on film and the older teenagers performing their own 12 Days of Christmas, with audience participation.
  • We were also 'sent out' from CGC this morning, prayed for and released to take the next step on our unknown journey into (hopefully) ordination and a life in church leadership within the Church of England...
It's been a sad and painful thing to move from a church which has put so much into us and where we have had so much fun and significant memories. But today has been so fun - to hang out with some of our favourite people, to celebrate the joy and hope of this Christmas season and to know that God is in control - whatever happens next.
So, 3rd January, we start at All Saints as our new home church - and while there is pain in the offering and at the moment it feels like we're giving a lot up - we know that in God, each and every experience is and can be used for his glory, if we just let Him do His thing. So we shall!

A couple of great blog links that I've come across today:
Here from Rachel Marszalek on the whole Santa dilemma that we have faced this year!
Marko has a brilliant post including a Christmas playlist which I shall be downloading later...He also references an organisation called Kiva which is an innovative system to allow loans to be made to alleviate poverty. They have a giftcard system which seems a brilliant alternative Christmas gift, if you still need inspiration?!

Officially, it's now the Christmas holidays - so Andy is off and he and the Bean will be undertaking various food and fun related projects over the next few days. I am working Monday and Tuesday and we've got some people for lunch and dinner through the week, catching up and celebrating.

This has been a weekend to remember, significant in many ways and the launch pad for new things while also enjoying looking back on what we (God!) has achieved in and through us and how far we've come.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Birthday pictures

Some birthday pics...
The new Peppa Pig brolly!I love this girl!!

Opening pressies in bed                                           The Smiths after a lovely dinner!!

Monday, 14 December 2009

To my daughter, on her 3rd birthday...

Today, my baby Bean, you turn 3! I can't believe how big you are!
3 years since there were just 2 of us at No63, three years since we had a choice of what to watch on TV before 7pm...three years since I lay there at St Peter's, being told I had a baby daughter and wondering whether it was all over and was someone kidding me??!! three years since I became a Mummy and Andy became a Daddy...where has that time gone?
I know you won't be able to read this little post of mine for a while yet, but I wanted to make a memory of how I feel and what I remember at this juncture...and hope you enjoy reading it when you can.

Being 3 is brilliant - we know you love being 3 and we love you at this age. You never stop talking from the minute you wake up (hearing you singing in your bed as we try and ignore our alarm clock in our bed is one of my greatest joys each day) and you ask such clever questions and never stop enquiring.

This time 3 years ago I was huge, getting very fed up and was desperate to meet you - and I was convinced, as were the midwives, that you were a boy. When you eventually arrived (12 or 9 days late depending on which scan you refer to!) you were a girl and you took us all by surprise! That first Christmas when you were only 10 days old was a bit of a blur and you have kept us on our toes ever since.
In total, we've know you a little bit longer than 3 years - from that first positive test, 6 weeks in, you have been a part of me...and there are so many things about you that I know are 'me' too, mannerisms, habits, ways of reacting...and there are so many things in you that are what I love about your are our perfect mix and a uniquely created individual at the same time.

Here are some things that I love about you:
Your independance - your insistence that you do it 'all by myself' - teeth brushing, toilet, mixing hot chocolate powder into your milk, choosing your bedtime books or clothes for name it, you can do it or will try to do it!
Your giggle - when you're being tickled or when you are just tickling yourself with your funny stories or wacky ideas!
The way you accept people - last week at your party, you made sure everyone was OK, introduced 'my grandma' to everyone who came in case they didn't know who this lady was. It made me so proud to see you making space for people in your life and your home - and you definitely see it as your home!
I love the simplicity with which you view life - everyone is your friend, whether you have known them 2 minutes or all of your life. Every new thing is something to get stuck into - no fear here!!
I love that fact that you would eat pasta for every meal because it's tasty and you can have it with peas and ketchup and everyone is happy.
I love the fact that when you play hide and seek you assume that if you can't see everyone, they can't see you...
I love the fact that although you don't always sleep when I put you down for a nap, you never attempt to leave your room - you just potter about and 'reorder' your clothes and books - you call it 'being busy'.
I love the fact that a piece of cake and a babyccino cures all ills...just like Mummy!
I love the way you take such pride in making things for people - cards and crafts, food, even making up a bed on your bedroom floor for your friend in anticipation of that long promised sleepover (I promise, it will happen!!)
I love the way you learn your favourite stories off by heart and read them along with us...keeping us in check more like!
Some of my best times in the last 3 years have been the insignificant times, the everyday things - doing your hair in french plaits for your Great Grandparents Diamond wedding party, helping you articulate your baby prayers at night, helping you make sense of sharing and playing nice...tucking you in each evening, making sure you're warm and smelling the smell of your skin which hasn't changed since your early hours, singing in the car on the way to nursery, having you help me cook and stir in the kitchen, your excitement when the phone rings or the doorbell goes....the list is endless!

You are fiesty and full of fun and opinion. You have a way of infuriating us with your dawdling when you know we want to be out the house or doing something else - you know your own pace and you know the way you like things to be done. You have your own sense of style and coordination - insisting on red tights with a pink dress, along with a spotty coat and tartan hat.

You help me to understand how deep the Father's love is for us - how wide and deep and high and strong, in a way which passes all understanding. You make me grateful for all the things that I have been blessed with and you enhance every blessing in my life by being in it. I seek to put the word of God and the love of Jesus in your heart so it becomes part of you - something that is at your surface shining out but also at the very depths of your being.
You are my miracle - the baby they said I would never have and the surprise to beat all surprises. We cherish you - and we're speechless with wonder so often when you come home having learnt something else new or having had a wonderful adventure that you are excited to tell us about. How did we get so lucky??
You are growing up fast and I wouldn't want it any other way - but when you are all growed up and getting your life settled - who knows who with or doing what? - I want to remember what it was like when you were 3 and I was 31 and we were getting ready for your birthday...if only we could bottle it...? I remember it sweetly and with thanks and with tears too, just a few.
Happy birthday MG - we love you and we know you love us.
Thank you God for this wonderful gift - help us do our job well.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


After the excitement of the birthday party last weekend, this week has been still full of preparations...for both 3rd birthday on Monday and Christmas, which is looming too - why are we always surprised by how quickly it comes round!!
I have a fair amount of work to be done before 23rd December when I finish for 10 days...including marking of portfolios, preparation for a Labyrinth in early January and possible preparations for an office move in the New Year too.  I might even attempt some filing...!
In the midst of all that, I hope to be able to take Monday off to do things for M's birthday - she will still be at Y's, her childminder's, having a party, but I want to make her birthday cake to take to her favourite restaurant for our meal that evening as well as making sure our tree is in situ so we can decorate that on our return, which has become a bit of a tradition. Christmas starts once we have properly celebrated M's birthday!

I've been doing the vast majority of our Christmas shopping online this year - made even easier by the fact that I only have 1 present to buy out of my immediate family instead of 5 as we are doing a secret Santa system this year. I'm pretty pleased with who I picked out and have managed to get them some gems of their submitted list as well as some surprises, all within the £50 budget.

Tomorrow being Friday is my day off and I'll be doing a food shop which I hope, barring necessary fresh foods, will be the last before we go away on Christmas Day morning. Also, I'll be going to St Francis School nativity play where my god daughter Megan will be playing Mary - which makes me very proud! Following that I have an evening in by myself while Andy is out on his works Christmas do - lovely!

I leave you with our virtual family greeting which we will be emailing in lieu of international Christmas cards and to save on the paper consumed doing our usual Family newsletter...most of you probably sighing with relief at that news!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

hokey cokey

We held the Bean's 3rd birthday party yesterday - for lots of reasons...
1. Because my mother in law (MIL) was down for the weekend (more of the other reason for that in another post).
2. Because it is earlier in December and so people are less busy
3. Because her birthday falls on a Monday (14th) and we're crazy busy the weekend before and after...

We had a brill time - lots of singing games (Dingle Dangle Scarecrow, Row Row Row your Boat etc.) proper party games (Musical Statues and Bumps/Cushions) and a multiple rendition of the Hokey Cokey. It was fancy dress so we had Snow White, an angel, a witch, a fairy (M) and a scuba diver, complete with flippers all in attendance!!

It was very fun and lovely to have a sense of the group of friend's our daughter has gathered - some of them family or children of our friends, but others friends she has adopted herself. She particularly enjoyed Pass the Parcel and giving out the party bags at the end!

So, we now have a quieter week - and on her birthday itself we will go out for an early tea to her favourite Italian pasta place and then come home to decorate our tree, which has been the pattern for the last 2 years. It helps to give her birthday it's proper place and then we move on to getting ready for Christmas...useful when you have a 10 day break between Big Days!!

It's hard to believe that she used to look like this: 
but she is more beautiful and more funny every day! 
We didn't imagine that she would still be our only child at the age of three, but that is the way it has worked out. As I sit writing this, I am especially grateful for my family who love her and us so much (thanks MIL for all your help this weekend!) and for the other special people in our life and in M's therefore who support, love and enjoy her as we do!
3!!! wow, thank God for those years, memories and times together and here's to many more raucous parties and fun with one another and our extended family.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Con of Christmas - hear me out!!

This post also appears on the my work blog here

This has been a post in formation for weeks and I was never sure I felt brave enough to write it in a real way for people to see...but Bishop Nick Baines has got in before and dealt with the stick over the I feel a bit like I'm jumping on the bandwagon - but hey, we all do that in the world of blogging!

So, check out Nick's post here Grumpy Bishop. He's recently published a book which I'll say now, just like all the media who have entered the scrum of interviewing him, I haven't read yet. But based on this post, he is from the same stable as me - if you'll excuse the pun! (Cos it was probably a cave!!)

My problem with Christmas (I love it really, don't get too worried!!) came with the arrival of M 3 years ago - her first Christmas didn't really matter as she was only 10 days old. But come her first birthday, followed rapidly by Christmas Day, it was very difficult not to get caught up in the assumption that Father Christmas would be visiting our house in the dead of night and delivering presents.

I love the idea and the legends of Father Christmas and the root of it's story in St Nicholas who was a 3rd century miracle worker, renowned for secret gift giving and whose feast day is this Sunday. But I have a problem with the commonly held assumption that Santa (who is a character developed by cartoonist Thomas Nash in 19th century America and then taken on by mighty Coca Cola), who in contrast to St Nicholas is a jolly, red faced, red suited old man living in the North Pole, are one and the same.

The titles Father Christmas and Santa Claus seem to be interchangeable - indeed in the North East where we used to live, Santa is often Santee (try it with a Geordie accent!!)

But the roots of these characters - fictional, historical, the stuff of legend, whatever - are very different and portray different aspects of the Gospel and the Christmas story. Whilst I am not going to go down the extreme line of saying the whole thing is a lie and Father Christmas can't possibly visit every house in the world in one night etc., I am going to make sure that the traditions we have and the story we tell is faithful whilst also being magical and not ultimately confusing to a 6/7/8 year old in years to come.

Ultimately - I want M to understand that she receives gifts, not because she has been a good girl, but because we love her and because we want to celebrate the wondrous story of Jesus' birth and his life given out for her and for us. It always has everything to do with GRACE - and giving gifts is not because we are good, but in fact the opposite - but we are LOVED, by God and by one another and so we can bless one another...that is our call as disciples.

I HATE it when people ask small children whether they have been good this year and if Santa is going to come - of course they haven't been good...they are small children!! But in our house, M will get a small stocking of presents, outside her door, from us to open in bed and Father Christmas will have visited the house overnight - drinking a bit of something, scoffing a mince pie and maybe leaving some gold coins as the original St Nicholas is said to have done. All her other presents will come from us - real people who love her and know her and want to be part of the pleasure of giving gifts as she is in the giving of gifts to others.

Ok, so that's the Santa bit done...

Now a quote from Nick Baine's blog, referenced above: Now, some commentators say that Christmas is about sentiment (feeling), nostalgia and ‘magic’. They say that simple carols are great for children to begin to learn the story. Absolutely right. But the people arguing this are not children, but adults who want to stay as children when it comes to matters of God and faith and so on. Think like a child when you are a child, but, for goodness’ sake, grow up when you are an adult.

I find it ironic that for the rest of the year, a majority of our population want nothing to do with Christian tradition in any way but suddenly at Christmas they become hugely defensive of anything being different or changing or being criticised. The depth of understanding of what Christmas and this huge celebration are really all about is missing - and I see 2 reactions as I go about my work and experience life.

Some churches and Christians do nothing to celebrate carols or Christmas services or trees or anything which is vaguely pagan or rooted in tradition - everything just carries on as normal until the BIG DAY. Missing out Advent, in my opinion is the real shame here...but that's another issue!

On the other extreme, there are many churches and Christians who do everything traditionally and don't question 'why' or whether it's helpful. I remember one of my first parish posts and the whole of December being taken up with either visiting or hosting Carol Sevices or nativity plays - by schools, Townswomen's Guild (yes seriously!), nurseries etc. You did want to tear your hair out by the end and it had slightly lost it's magic in the repetition.

My reaction is to try and do something in the middle - I love Christmas carols but hate Away in a Manger and the 'How silently' verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem. Mary was NOT silent in labour, OK!

We'll be having a tree even though it stems from pagan tradition...(!)because it forms a focal point in our home for Christmas celebrations and it is a precious family occasion to buy the tree and decorate it. We will feed people, host people, visit with people - mainly those we know or are related to, although when M is older we endeavour to be spending time with those who don't have the advantages of Christmas traditions and family that we are blessed with.

The difficulty of taking an extreme reaction to Christmas traditions and popular culture is that you get bah humbuged by everyone else...which is difficult to take, in what is supposed to be a season of goodwill after all!! But if we Christians can't communicate seriously the true meaning of Christmas, then how can we expect those who only take part in the traditions once a year to really know what we're all about??

+Nick continues: The ‘magic’ of Christmas is fine – up to a point. But ask any clergy and they will tell you about the ways in which Christmas is hard for many people and how the ‘magic’ makes it harder. It is for them that the reality of Christmas hits home: that God has not remained a million miles above contradiction, but opted in to the muck and messiness of the world and meets us where we are – in the vulnerability of the baby in Bethlehem. To tell that story is not to be miserable – but the opposite.

I am just not prepared to encourage people to live in a fantasy world, but doing my job as a Christian bishop in calling people back to the original story. Grasp it – and then celebrate hard and fully. I’ll be belting out the carols and watching the nativity plays along with the rest of them. But I will also be living in the real world and engaging my brain.

+Nick - I'm with you. I'll be doing mobile carolling on 20th December, going into London and experiencing the Christmas lights and soaking up the excitement. I'll be making mince pies and sausage rolls and wrapping presents and sneaking about on Christmas Eve, stopping Andy from squeezing presents and we'll probably be eating and drinking too much. But I hope in the midst of all that, I'll be reminded of why we get to celebrate this amazing event - because it changed the world, it changed my world and I want it to change the world of my daughter and her friends and our families and our community because we tell it how it really is - check out the Gospels - if you take the 'text' out of 'context' - what are you left with??

Comments awaited!!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

must share this with you...

I cooked lamb on Sunday...
It was very simple, tasty and I had enough left (from a 2.5kg leg, after 3 of us ate) for a shepherds pie tonight aswell!
The recipe was from Jamie's Magazine but I cannot find it here's my method
Basically you roast the lamb for 1hr 20 minutes and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

You soak cannellini beans overnight for 12 hours, then boil them for 2 hours.
Sweat off an onion, 2 heads of garlic (yes, I'm's worth it!) and the cooked bans for 20 minutes. Then  add 2 pints of chicken stock and cook for 1hr 45mins. 
Serve the lamb (well rested) on top of the beans - and we added carrots and spring greens but you could have it with salad or even on it's own?

Buy your Fair Trade Gifts....

and save lives...

pop out

Linked from which is a great website from sojourners...add it to your google reader!