Thursday, 21 May 2009

Small Gestures - Big Impact

My Mum has, after many years of groaning, finally persuaded my Dad to clear out his loft. He's not the sort of person that keeps absolutely everything, but there is a lot of stuff up there that needs to go and he's recognised this.

He called me this week to ask if I had use of some kilner jars. I haven't really if I'm totally truthful, but they evoked many happy memories. I can still picture him sitting in the kitchen surrounded by piles of pickling onions spending hours peeling them and pickling them in the giant glass jars. I think he used to get them from the local sweet shop - the proper solid glass ones with the roses chocolates lids. I couldn't bear the thought of them being dumped somewhere so I've taken them off his hands and decided to use two of them straightaway. One to fill with 5p pieces and one for coppers.

When Andy and I showed the children the jars I casually mentioned to them that I was going to try my best to fill the coppers jar up by Christmas. A kind of mini challenge. I gave myself to Christmas as the size of the jar means an awful lot of 2p and 1p pieces going in there.

So I was really touched when they all announced that they had lots of coppers in their piggy banks and that they wanted to put them in the jar. Within minutes Eleanor and Sam were both heaving their full up piggy banks down the stairs and willingly volunteering all the contents. They didn't hesitate to sort out their silver and brown coins and cheerfully enjoyed the clink clink of the coins falling in. Joshua put in the few that he had in his wallet and Maddie even put in a few she could find.

I'm now looking at a jar that is nearly three quarters full. We're going away for a week in August and while it won't hold a fortune, I've decided that whatever is in the jar when we go away will be banked up and used for a small treat, even if it's just enough for us all to have an ice-cream on the beach.

It's times like this I'm really proud of my children. Really proud that they enjoy being part of a family and working together to achieve a small goal. To be selfless in what they do, knowing it's helping somebody else complete something they've set out to do. It was a big thing for them to hand back the endless small coins I've handed them each week and it was even bigger for them to do it with absolutely no knowledge that they're going to benefit. In the great scheme of things it wasn't a huge gesture, but the sentiment behind it is my point.

It makes me hopeful about the future of this world. Not all children are selfish and insular. Sometimes we don't give our children credit for their credible actions. And sometimes, we have to admit, their attitudes put us adults to shame.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Maddie's Dreams

I don't talk a lot about Maddie on here. Probably because she's the quietest of my four children and tends to go about her business with minimal fuss. Unless she's having a monumental strop, in which case that all changes and she turns into a one woman Kevin and Perry show.

She also has the driest sense of humour and often can't understand why me and her Dad are crying with laughter at something she's said, as she's so serious when she says it. She has a wonderful knack of coming out with ripping one liners without realising just how funny she can be.

Her writing reflects this and when I'm clearing up I find numerous scraps of paper around with her thoughts written on and sometimes they make me sad because she's written about something that's upset her, but other times I have to wipe the tears from my face as I'm laughing so hard.

But lately, she's been having dreams. In her own words, 'the most wonderful dreams', and she's been writing them down. The latest one has made me smile because I just love her imagination. Her dream last night wasn't so vivid, but it was lovely what she wrote. I'm reproducing it here, exactly as it is written. HSA stands for Hamster Secret Agency. For information purposes her hamster is called Humphrey.

HSA Night 1

Humphrey my hamster is an agent! Part of the HSA. He went to his blue house and pushed a bit of his food and lots of computers appeared in the plastic wall. He entered his code name, Humper Dumper. He fell through a trap door and as he fell it washed brush and groomed his fur. He fell into a rocket can and he shot off. He arrived at HQ and got told to defeat the rats he went off to the sewers in his rocket can.

HSA Night 2

Humphrey completed the mission. I don't know how but it was to good for words.

The End


I (Humphrey) was in a prison. My freinds were in prison. I was in prison because I had powers and my freinds were in prison because their parents had lied to the police and said they had done a crime. We lived under hard manners until one night we were so fed up, that we made an escape plan in the tiny model desert Imade with sand by drawing in the sand with our fingers. as we slept I came up with an idea.

I couldn't fly but I could throw well. The next night we gathered all we needed and hid it all under my huge bed. We worked hard so we got the priviledge to sleep with our cages unlocked. So that night we got out the stuff from under my bed and snuck off to the kitchin. We put the rope into place. We got our coat hangers and hooed them onto the rope and slid down. When we were all down it was nearly morning. "Quick we've got to get to Palace Mana". I said we got to the river I used my Environmental powers to make a raft with tress. We jumped onto the raft and used a long log to push us along. When we got to the other bank I quikly put the trees back into place with my powers. We ran to the big willow tree and climbed into the hole which only me and anyone good who's with me can go into. Once inside we stood in a circle and closed our eyes. When we stepped out we were in a open feild with a single tree. I ran to the willow tree in the middle of the feild and my freinds followed. We went to the trunk and there was nothing in the trunk or on it. I closed my eyes and told my freinds to to. When I told my freinds to open their eyes along with me the willow was lined with a door shape. I pushed the door shape open and went in and my freinds followed. Inside it as like a palace. "Thats why called Palace Mana!" said Sarah. And we lived there in secret until the end of our days. The end of my dream Escape.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Folly of Expenses

Along with 99% of the population I've been less than impressed with the latest MP scandal of over-rated expense claims.

But my failing trust in our blighted leaders was replaced with hearty (and a little cruel) laughter at the list produced by The Sun of all MPs who had been caught with their little fat fingers in the sweetie tin. (I add an aside here that yes, I do read The Sun online - it makes for an entertaining five minutes!)

And where were my chortles directed? At the bold statement that John Prescott had claimed amongst other things, two broken toilet seats.

It's good to see it's not just the economy straining under the pressure.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Where Exactly Is He?

The conversation in the car this morning.

Samuel: 'God's with us ALL THE TIME isn't he Mummy?'
Karen: 'Yep, ALL THE TIME, it's like having your best friend over for breakfast, lunch, dinner and sleepover - how great is that?'
Maddie: 'He's by our side all the time isn't He Mummy?'
Karen: 'That's right Maddie'.
Eleanor: 'What side is He on?'

One day, I'm sure of it, I WILL crash the car!

Note To Self

When you have an itchy eye, remove your glasses before you rub it. Then you won't get a big finger smudge on the lens and scratch the side of your nose with the bridge support.

WW2 Fish Paste

Today I have pity for Joshua's classmates.

Last night he embarked on the WW2 cooking project he has chosen to do as part of his homework grid. I allowed him the chance to make one main meal, one dessert and one 'revolting' meal. Typical boy, he chose the latter first.

Fish Paste. The recipe is basic, some salted cod, mashed potato, margarine, pepper.... Mmmm, looked good, smelt OK. Then the worcester sauce went in. My nostrils couldn't take it anymore.

It's been refrigerated overnight and a loaf of bread has been cut into chunks. So, yum yum, cold fish paste seasoned with worcester sauce on plain bread.

My kitchen still pongs this morning.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Prayer and Fasting - The Novice's Approach

At church we are embarking on four days of prayer and fasting. Sitho asked all bloggers on Sunday to write about it and so here I am, writing about something I know pretty much nothing about. Well, the fasting bit anyway. It's a part of Christian life that was never taught to me in great depth, never encouraged and never partaken by any previous church I've attended.

So, here I sit. A total novice with limited knowledge and absolutely no authority on the subject at all.

But, in myself I don't feel inadequate. I don't feel pressure to suddenly leap into 40 days with sack-cloth on my head resisting the tempation of every jammie dodger that passes my eyes, or the nasal allure of the chippy on the way home. I'm entering this with an open mind, no expectation and a huge amount of humility and uncertainty. To the more experienced Christians it may well be a doddle to get on with it (or maybe not) and enjoy the time with God, but to me it's pastures new and I'm viewing it as another step on my journey with God. Another step towards achieving a closeness that was suppressed for many, many years.

By nature I am not an immediate 'doer'. I like to know why I'm doing something. Who said I had to do it and how do I do it right? I don't fall in with the crowd and I don't follow the leader. Well, not to start with anyway. There are times when I do, like leafletting for the church healing meeting this week. We all delivered hundreds of leaflets. It was good to do. Although I admit, it wasn't so great being allocated the road I'm certain had the most number of 'Beware Of The Dog' signs this side of Watford. I also admit to a certain amount of trepidation treading the path to the front door of one house that looked like it could well have housed the HQ for the chainsaw massacre fan club! I'm sure they were lovely people really! But I felt led to do my bit. I had a responsibility and a duty to minister this way and serve God. It was simple and needed no explanation. This probably isn't my best example of my point, but I'm presuming you're getting my drift here.

With this frame of mind came all sorts of enquiries when I first learnt of the prayer and fasting this week. Not the praying side. All Christians can pray, note I say 'can', not 'do'. There are plenty out there failing in this and while I'm in no position at all to criticise it's not something that comes easy to some people, even the most 'experienced' Christians may well admit to days where it's near impossible to come near to God because of time, wrong attitude, guilt etc. Heck, even some non-Christians pray and they don't believe in Him. It's amazing how life's extremities can lead to a momentary chat with God even when you're an unbeliever. Prayer's hard. It requires time, silence, discipline and humbleness. Sometimes I feel like I'm a flippant prayer because I talk to him all the time, but not always in great depth, just a bit of chit chat here and there. The children often ask who I'm talking to in the car on the way down the M4. To the guys driving by years ago I would have looked a loon talking to myself - now they just think I'm on hands-free. But in essence I am, on the direct line to God. Yay!!

But I'm digressing...

But fasting? The word itself caused a momentary panic. No food! Aaarrggh!! How long should I fast? What does fasting involve? No solids? No liquids? What if I fast too long? What if I don't fast long enough? How long is right for me? Do I avoid ALL food preparation? Heck, who's going to feed the children?!! Do I pray when I would ordinarily handle food? Can I fast at work but not pray during the day as I'm working and still pray later in the day and be OK skipping breakfast and lunch too? Or should I only fast when I'm praying or pray when I fast?

Questions, questions, questions. Typical me. Present me with a situation, ask me to do something and I come up with 101 questions. It's part of my processing nature. Part of me that's not happy to embark on anything until I have made investigations, sorted my doubts, sourced my answers and evaluated the results. Only then, will I be content to take part.

Maybe this seems evasive, arrogant even. I assure you, it's not meant to be. But, in reverence to God, I am not doing this if I am ignorant to the facts. I am not going to dishonour Him by starting it with the wrong attitude and mental approach. I want to be right with Him. So, yesterday, instead of fasting I continued to eat and drink and spent the day asking Him at intervals what I should do? I don't even know if that was right. Maybe I should have fasted anyway and made that my prayer. But like I say, total novice. Just as a parent doesn't yell at a toddler for stumbling when making their first steps, I know God won't view me with displeasure at my faltering steps when making a first approach to fasting. As a parent guides and encourages, I know He'll guide and encourage me and He'll teach me where my 'right' is.

So, today I know how I want to do this. I'm not sharing here. It's between me and God. Just as prayer and fasting is between each Christian and God. It's personal. That's what makes it so amazing. I've learnt there is no right or wrong way to do it and as I've said before, He'll teach me my 'right' and I'm certain He'll also point out my 'wrong' too! What I also know is that the time I spend with Him will be sincere. It will be my uniterrupted time with God and I'm really looking forward to it.

Which leads to my next question. How on earth do I find the time to be alone with God? With four young children demanding attention from the moment they wake (well, from the moment I wake - we all know that early mornings do not exist in my time clock), school run to take on, dash off to drop off Sam, day at the office with 30 minute lunch break (open plan office, so no time alone), home, chores etc, dinner. Where is my time? This is the one fundamental thing that people fail to appreciate for a working mother. There is no 'me' time. I know that stay at home Mums have the same problem. Constant desired attention from their children, chores to do, errands to run..... where can we go to be alone? If I do get time alone, I'm burst in upon and asked if I'm OK. Why are you on your own Mummy? Can I sit on your lap Mummy? It's long been known that the best way to get your child's attention is to sit down and look relaxed!! It's something I struggle with. I long for just a day sometimes where I can book a day off work and be alone, but it's not something I can plan just now. So, at the moment I'm finding it hard to find the time to pray alone. To get time to earnestly put my mind at ease, rid it of errant thoughts here and there and to purely focus.

But on a more light-hearted note, if I manage to get through the day without nibbling or snacking it will be nothing short of a minor miracle! But again, testimony, I know, that He's carrying me through this as I must be one of the planet's most prolific between-meal nibblers. For me not to snack is rare - to skip a meal - unheard of, unless I'm ill. But I'm enjoying this. Not to prove myself to anyone, not to show that I'm resilient, not to prove a point, but to spend time with the God I love, putting His needs before my own during a time when I'd ordinarily be satisfying my own needs through the solace of food.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Plot 51

There is something therapeutic about digging soil. I get a sense of achievement from seeing a barren well trodden, firm piece of scrubland suddenly become alive, look fertile and ready to receive crops.

A huge part of my allotment is yet to be cultivated and it's going to be a good two or three years before I'm finally on top of it. It's a massive task and quite daunting. The plot is 25m x 10m and it's huge. But seeing the progress made already is inspiring me to continue. Having my friend Michaela to help is fantastic. She's an avidly keen gardener and has always wanted her own allotment, but the waiting list for her area is 2-3 years. So what better arrangement than for her to have the spare key to my plot, share working the land I rent and share the harvest? We get to spend time together and spend hours just plodding away, stopping for a chat and a diet coke, then getting down to some hard graft again. We've laughed together while we've dug, we've moaned together while we've dug and we've planned days out while we've dug. It's a good place to sort your life out. When we're not together I'll go down alone and at times she'll be there by herself and it's the perfect time to spend time to yourself or praying or just pondering life itself.

I specifically like the fact that the time we spend together there costs us next to nothing. It's good fresh air, exercise and company. But, don't get me wrong. I do also like to get dressed up, whack on some 4" stilettos, bung some slap on my face and hit the town, but my love is for the more earthly things in life. I just desire more time to do them.

So last night, after Michaela had been chugging away for a couple of hours I met up with her and we managed to work some more of the ground. The area for the runner beans is ready now and I just need to dig the trench, work in the organic matter and make the supports. The tomatoes are planted and caned and the fruit bushes are flourishing, although my five donated plants are looking a bit sorry and may not survive their transplantation.

A pathway has been built in front of the compost bins using old paving slabs and the boundary fence to the entrance side is about to be constructed.

Love it, love it, love it.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Somewhere Else

It's beautiful sunny days like these that I wonder how on earth I came to be in a job where I'm shoving paperwork from one side of my desk to another. I'm 36 and I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.

But I do know that today, I don't want to be here. I want to be outside, digging my allotment and planting my spuds and other veggies. Moreso because the forecast for the weekend is heavy rain.

It would be lovely just to book the afternoon off and head down there and lose myself for a few hours. I can do that when I'm there. It's a lovely place to be. You can hear the birds singing and although the main road is not far off, you can't hear the cars zooming by. It's lovely to hear the distant whirr of rotovators and strimmers and the trundle of wheelbarrows up and down the path to the skip.

It's lovely to talk to Sid the farmer on the corner and the man opposite who gives you his leftover onion sets because he's bought too many. It's great to see that for Bob's 90th birthday the allotment holders all clubbed together and cleared the rubbish from his plot so he could plant his much loved runners and give him a new lease of life. He's marvellous. It's wonderful to see him stop every five minutes for a sit down and chat with Tony next door.

The lovely Tony who when I joked that his raspberries encroached my plot last year, said I could have the ones that had grown outside his fruit cage and promptly dug up five of them to add to my plot, so now my four have expanded to nine. The same Tony who taught Joshua how to safely use a sithe and every so often glady sharped it for him and supervised him while the rest of us dug away.

The comradeship there is warming. The friendliness overwhelming. I don't mind coming back from there looking like Worzel Gummidge and aching from head to foot because it's worth every back breaking minute. Although my friend Michaela will confess that it has been noted that I do spend an inordinate amount of time down there socialising, but that's part of it.

It's much better than being stuck in an office where the windows are locked, the air conditioning units are condemned and the accounts are rolling in. Oh well.....

Friday, 8 May 2009

When Your Cup Overfloweth

One for the ladies methinks.

I should think so too!!! Good grief.!! M&S putting £2.00 on the cost of a larger bra - well, that's nothing short of boob tax! Why should ladies pay more just because they are more endowed than others? Do we see Top Man increasing the price of men's pants just because some of them have bigger bottoms than others? Absolutely not!

And what's more alarming is the recent promise to extend a 25% discount on all bras until 25 May. But is the discount only limited to the DD and above range? No, it's not. All the ladies with the little perty racks smaller than this are going to benefit from the efforts of their melon-chested sisters.

I sympathise with both camps. During my life I have sat both sides of the fence, both pre and post surgery. I can empathise with the mammary madness of this world.

Emmeline Pankhurst would turn in her grave if she knew women were being treated like this and I'm sure had she been around in the 1960s she'd have waved her bra above the fire and set it alight along with the rest of them.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Mental Mathematician

Joshua never fails to make me smile. This is the child who two years ago was placed on the Gifted and Talented Register for his mathematical abilities. (The use and point of such register I'm still waiting for school to enlighten me on!) The child who could play banker without the use of a calculator during long games of monopoly at the age of 7.

The child who today told me he was nervous about his maths test. This maths test being the sort where the use of calculators is permitted. Is this boy so used to using his brain that a calculator is an unwelcome obstacle? Wow wee!

The child who this week brought home a form for a local secondary school's Annual Master Class for 'particularly able mathematicians'. A day being 'taught challenging mathematics that is not part of the national curriculum'. Yikes!!

The child who for over a year now has been pulled out of his maths lessons to work on papers 2-3 years ahead of him.

And he worries that he won't pass a test using a calculator.

Gotta love his modesty.

Them Things That Irk

There's not much that irks me these days. I might have a little nag and moan at the other half now and then and bug the children to clear up their mess, but other than that I'm pretty mellow.

Apart from these.

1. The proliferation of newsletters from school. I have three children in the same school. I don't need three copies of the same letter. In fact, I don't need paper copies at all. Why oh why can't they transfer to e-mail all those parents opting to be on a distrubution list and send all attachments that way too? It's not difficult to set up newsletters as .pdf docs and e-mail them to a suppressed list - is it? And permission forms can be attached as standard word docs that can be input and mailed back - can't they?

2. Permission forms. Am I just being picky or does it appear now that schools have to have parental permission for just about every single thing a child does on its premises? My latest beef - my children have to have a signed note from me saying they have permission to use their swimming goggles during lessons. WHY??!!!!!!

3. Photography and video restriction. Now I may open up a can of worms here, but I have a fairly straightforward view on this. When my child is in a school production on stage for all to see, they're in the public domain. If I want to take pictures of MY child I shall. If other parents don't want their child photographed - DON'T PUT THEM UP THERE!!!! I'm not going to zoom in on my child just because your little cherub is two feet away from them and ruining my shot!

Over and out.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

And now to work

It's not often where I work and what we do hits the news, but this is getting pretty major coverage today.

Further thoughts on 'friend'

It's actually now occurred to me that this little 'friend' of Sam's may also have an allegiance to Eleanor.

For as long as I can remember, Eleanor and Sam have been partners in crime. Where mischief follows one, the other is usually attached, either in thought or bodily presence. They are incapable of causing havoc on a solitary basis. They have a symbiotic relationship of knee-high mischievousness.

I think it's now dawning on them that it's becoming futile blaming the other as they are slowly learning that involvement of any nature means discipline for the pair of them. So, what better than to introduce a 'friend', who can take ALL the blame?

Furthermore, it isn't at all surprising that the introduction of this 'friend' to our family has come via Sam. Eleanor is the instructor in these instances, and Sam is cunningly manipulated into carrying out his sister's instructions without feeling that he is in any way being puppetteered. He's usually under the impression that her ideas are great and worthy of carrying out and defending should an offence be committed and later exposed.

I love the relationship they have. I love their commitment to each other, even if it results in them being naughty. It shows a spirit, an independence of thinking, personality and vibrancy. I never had this with my siblings so it's great to see it in my children. And to balance the scales, they have many, many days where they are great friends, have fun together, behave well, encourage one another and help each other in times of difficulty.

The 'Friend'

Sam has a new friend. He's invisible, very small and sleeps during the day. He wakes for breakfast, then goes back to bed.

I found out this morning this 'friend', advised him to climb out my bedroom window, onto the flat roof of my kitchen to pick up Joshua's shot out BB gun bullets. Had he fallen off the roof, I dread to think what would have happened.

This is the same friend that also advised him to attempt to throw the remote control out of the bedroom window.

Apparently, this friend doesn't have a name yet, because he's very 'private'.

I shall be talking tonight to Sam, to inform him that his 'friend' had better start behaving nicely or he won't be able to stay at our house anymore.


Friday, 1 May 2009

Complacent Budgeting

I have been reminded quite often lately of the good provision that is given to me and my family and I have been struck at just how easy it is to become complacent about what you've got and how simple it is to become flippant with money and how it's spent.

The past year, having probably been my most unhappy emotionally, has been steadily improving financially. But for four or so years prior to that, money was incredibly tight. Tight to the point of sometimes having to rely on my mother to buy groceries as I just couldn't seem to get through the last week of the month to put food on the table. Dire, dire times. Times that were out of mine and Andy's control and no fault of either of us.

But tight budgeting became a challenge for me. I'd meticulously look at our incomings, work out the tax credits and child benefit dates of payment, match them to Direct Debits and Standing Orders going out, to ensure that enough money was in the account at various times of the month to meet our financial obligations and then set myself a weekly budget for food and petrol.

As food and petrol prices increased, my disposal income for these decreased in real terms and I found myself becoming more and more thrifty and almost adopting the mantra of the 1950s housewife and slowly turned into the Mrs Beeton of Lower Earley.

And in a warped kind of way, I found myself actually enjoying the challenge of walking around the supermarket with my calculator being determined to get all the things on my list within my budget. I abandoned using my debit card, withdrew cash and boldly paced the aisles knowing that if I didn't get my calculations right, I was on my way to looking a complete dork at the checkout if I had to put items back.

I look back now and I see that all through these times we were carried. At times I'd be in tears wondering how on earth I was going to provide packed lunches for the children, how I was going to give them hot meals at night with barely anything in the cupboard and at times Andy would withdraw completely from the problem. I understand now that it wasn't due to uncaring, it was panic and worry. Worry that his family were suffering. But through it all, I'd constantly tell him that I believed we were being looked after, that something would always come along and get us out of the mire we were in. I knew what I was talking about, but I never had the boldness to actively say that I believed God was looking after us.

But I find myself now in a position where financially we're a little better off. Not a lot. We can afford our bills, petrol and food. That's it. We don't have money left over for luxuries. I struggle to send children on school trips, I feel guilty at buying things I don't really need and I feel totally frivolous that a new sofa has been ordered, despite the fact the one we have is uncomfortable and falling apart.

However, it's easy to fall back into the trap of complacency. It's easy to sit back and just take it for granted that you're in a secure job and the pay cheques will follow one after another. It's easy to nonchalantly put things in the shopping trolley because you've just been paid and it's easy to get carried away when you pop into town for one item and come back with three bags full of things you want, but don't really need.

So, I've realised lately I need to get back to budgeting. I need to sit in the study, pull up the accounts and set my priorities straight in the money department. Not because we're struggling, but because I've been stirred by something I heard at church. The money has been given to me to use wisely. It's not really mine and abusing it is abusing the one who has given it to me so generously. It's only right that I pay due respect and honour by responsibly allocating it.

By Her Childlike Faith She Moved a Mountain!!

Eleanor is totally stonked that her little prayers were answered. It only took two days and in my limited wisdom, I know that God decided two days was long enough for a five year old to wait for results!

The first morning we prayed together, Sam stood by the door and cheekily said, 'It won't work, I'll get up early again'. Rather annoyed at seeing the dark one at work in my three year old I positively told Eleanor it wouldn't be the case and that I was sure he would sleep in. At this point I was praying a bit harder than she was!! The next morning there was a 20 minute delay in his efforts - he slept in. But for Eleanor, it wasn't long enough, so again, as promised, we prayed he'd sleep a lot longer the next morning.

It worked!

Sam has now found out that even a determined three year old can not break through the prayers of a five year old elder sibling.

And to aid the continuation of this, we've introduced a sticker chart for Sam. Five smiley faces in a row (one for each night he stays in bed and doesn't wake his sister in the morning), he gets a small prize. Fill the whole chart up (20 sleeps), he gets a big prize.

I know the result is due to Eleanor's prayers being answered, but I don't think God minds too much that we've also enhanced His work with a little love induced bribery!