Friday, 27 July 2012

Chocolate Avalanche Cake

It's a tradition in our family for me and Andy to make the children the biggest, chocolatiest (is that a word?!), most outrageous cakes for their birthdays.  We figure, hey, you have one birthday a year, you're only a child for a short time, so what the heck - when it comes to birthday cakes - it has to be a whopper.

But Sam bowed out this year, opting for a shop bought Manchester United cake.  It was a hard journey taking that to the till and paying for it, my heart sinking with every step knowing that my 7 year old son had rejected family tradition.

But three weeks later, Eleanor rose to the challenge of requesting the family favourite.  It always starts with just me decorating it, but by the time it's finished the whole family is usually crowded around, adding a bit here and another bit there.  It's become a really fun family time and a tradition where the birthday child gets to decorate their cake before going to bed the night before their birthday - even in Eleanor's case when it was way past bedtime and the final malteser went on at 10.15pm.

It was named the avalanche cake because when you cut through to get a slice, the maltesers tumble down, so you have to position your plate right to catch them.  The slices are also too big to fit on a side plate - so totally over the top, so grotesquely indulgent, but like I said, it's only once a year.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Lonesome Riser

I've been so elated that school finished for the children on Friday that I got into a rather lovely mindset of relaxation and chilling at the weekend, knowing we didn't have to get them ready for school today.  Then it dawned on me that I was the only one who had to get up early all this week.  My elation has now deflated - and made worse in the knowledge that apparently on Saturday the weather won't be nice and sunny anymore.

Still, Andy's home with the kids this week so I'm hoping they make the most of the sun.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Spotty Birthday Beckons

Our house is a noisy house, a busy house and most of all a messy house.  A complete contrast to the house of my childhood.  The normal order of life doesn't quite make it through our front door most days and whilst it would drive the sanity of some through the window, Family Loizou have a tendency to thrive quite well on it. 

It has taken me many years to learn that most people don't visit your house to inspect it, and half the mess I see, they don't even notice.  I've always wanted my home to be a bustling, busy and happy one.  A home where people come in and feel at home flomping themselves on the sofa, chilling in the kitchen having a coffee or just coming and going.

The kids friends have mastered the art quite well.  Quite a few of our adult friends have too.

But there are days you have to put an embargo on house visits and today's eruption of chicken pox spots all over Sam's body have resulted in doorstep interrogations before anybody can enter.  I don't like it.  I don't like the odds of potentially telling somebody they can't come in.  So far we've been OK.  All who have entered have had the pox so this week, where every day we have friends over for tea, we're able to go ahead.  Sam's feeling quite chirpy, although a little itchy. He has a birthday coming up on Thursday which he'll be spending at home (this news was met with a resounding 'YES!!' when he was told).  We just need prayers that all his spots will be dried over before the start of Beaver Camp on Saturday, otherwise the little fella might have to miss out, which will be a rather sad end to an otherwise really great week for him.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Becoming tolerant of the intolerance

I've been dairy intolerant since I was a child.  I grew up knowing that if I drank a glass of milk I'd get stomach cramps and associated digestive problems.  (We won't go into detail here!)  My mother always commented to me that if I didn't get my calcium intake I'd end up with rickety bones, so I would have the odd milky coffee or cheese sandwich just to keep her worry at bay.  Over the years I became complacent about my symptoms and although I suffered I never made much of a deal about it and certainly never saw fit to share my experience and condition with those around me.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself managing a young baby with severe dairy intolerance, soya intolerance and adverse reaction to msg.  It was nothing short of a nightmare - endless trips to the doctors and endless cases of misdiagnosis.  It was a usual thing to get through a packet of nappies PER DAY.  Constant vomiting, failure to thrive and at the worst point, a test for Leukemia.  Fast forward two years and an eventual referral to a paediatric dietician confirmed my suspicions as I noticed he displayed symptoms within an hour of eating.  Seven years of a strict exclusion diet for him followed (during which child number 3 was born and displayed similar symptoms and was fortunately diagnosed and managed much earlier).  I went out of my way to make foods for them at home that were as close to the shop examples as possible.  Sourcing a health food shop miles away that stocked a safe ice-cream, making bread for sandwiches, swapping food parcels with an online friend in Texas who had things I needed in exchange for goods the UK had that her daughter needed.  It was worrying, exhausting and expensive.

Over 90% of the food stocks in shops ten years ago were not suitable for my children to eat and food manufacturers were not required, as they are today, to label allergens. It was all done by reading labels, researching the ingredients and finding out what E number to avoid.  It was alarming to find that the UK were still allowing additives to their foods that the American government and many European governments, in particular Switzerland, Sweden and Germany had banned.  Food that was rarely labelled 'dairy free', in fact wasn't - it was just lactose free - the sugar in the milk, not the protein.  I spent many a night up until the early hours either reading or cooking to make sure I protected my children as much as I could.  Invitations to parties would consisnt of me ringing the mother, not only to ask what the child wanted for a present, but also to check out the party food menu, so I could recreate a safe replica on a party plate for the children to enjoy so they didn't miss out. 

Being a hereditary condition, it is a major contributory factor to two of my children having to deal with it.  They've pretty much outgrown their intolerances, but if they overload, they know it.  So you'd think that with my own experience, that of my two children and the increase of my own symptoms over the last two years I'd have realised what was creeping back up on me again.

So, about two years of trips to the doctor to find out why I'm putting on weight and not losing it despite diet and exercise, why I'm constantly wiped out and tired, why I have digestive problem and returning dark rings under my eyes, it dawned on me that the intolerance has returned. A quick blood test to check and bingo, zero tolerance of the stuff.  My diet is now being revised - I'm fortunately able to do this without a referral to a nutritionist or dietician as I'm experienced with it, but it hasn't stopped me doing my research to make sure the chemical food names for milk proteins haven't changed.  It's a minefield - milk is in pretty much 70% or more of the food in the shops.  Lactose is obvious and labelled well, but milk protein is the hidden demon. Did you know that milk protein is added to potatoes to make them taste like smoky bacon?  Did you know that milk is injected into meat to make it easeir to slice?  Did you know that milk is added to soya alternatives to bulk out the protein as the soya itself is far too concentrated?  So, if you're dairy intolerant and turn to a soya alternative, you're likely to experience the same symptoms.  Did you know that anything labelled 'flavouring' is likely to be made from whey protein, which is milk?  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

We're so used to just picking up food and consuming it - we're not aware of the ridiculous amount of additives that are added to flavour our food and the misleading part is that they're all either scientifically named in such a way we have no clue or they're called 'natural flavouring'. Without knowing their derivative source, we really have no clue what we're pumping into our bodies.  The return of my symptoms has reawakened the call in me to seriously readdress what I'm feeding myself and my family.  50% of my family suffer and I'm responsible for the majority of what they eat.

So, for the next few weeks, the household shopping will be replacing many items and much closer attention will be paid to milk, soya and even msg (a signicant addition to food that caused my elder son as an infant to be excessively aggressive) and is now believed to be a significant contributor to primary serious liver disease.

Next time you pick up a jar of sauce from your larder or eat a bag of crisps, have a look at the label.  You'll be surprised (and maybe a bit horrified), to see what the manufacturers have added to it to make it so 'tasty'.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Drummer on the motorway

My evening plans last night were scuppered when I turned east-bound onto the M4 only to hit an enormous queue of stationary traffic.  The fact the west-bound carriageway was empty didn't bode well and considering some people had already got out of their cars and started wandering around, I realised we were in for a very long wait.  I hit the traffic at 4.30pm and after speaking with other drivers were told the carriageway would open at 5.15pm.  That didn't seem so bad - until we found out that was the other side and that they hadn't cleared the accident our side yet.  Two accidents, same motorway, both directions.  Our side was due to open at the earliest, 8.30pm.

Amidst the gloom, the concern that people were seriously hurt and general banter amongst the crowd, about four cars back I heard lots of laughing and before I knew it, some guy had got out part of his drum kit, hopped it over the crash barrier into the middle of the abandoned motorway, set up and started playing. 

Eleanor and Sam thought this was fantastic - not only were they allowed to walk on the motorway, but also cross the barrier to watch him play.  Quite a crowd formed and even a dog joined the audience too!

Before long the motorway the other side opened and traffic resumed, leaving us to sit tight for another hour.  In that time, having seen the children, two adults from different vehicles approached me and offered a Yorkie bar, Pringles, orange juice and a can of coke for the children to share as they were worried they would having nothing to eat or drink the whole while.  They really were very kind.  But before long, blue lights flashed behind us, and the police turned us around.  I've never had to do that before and it felt very wierd to drive along the hard shoulder the wrong way before being diverted off through crash barriers onto another carriageway.

So, the evening plans changed, but an experience, quite oddly, I enjoyed.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Last night, Joshua brought home the option pathway recommended by his school which will lead to the best possible outcome for GCSE success.  It took me back to 1986 when I took my GCSE options.  I still vividly recall how my academic year across the country were the first to take the transition from GCEs and CSEs to plain GCSEs. The doubts and criticisms that they would be easy, worry that coursework would be abused and undertaken by relatives and friends and that the exams would be soft.  Concern that employers would not take them seriously and that within a decade the educational establishments would realise their error and revert back to the old system, leaving me and thousands of others with seemingly useless qualifications.  How wrong they were.

Looking through Joshua's option paths I found myself longing to be back at school.  I envied him slightly that he's now starting the point in life where his choices become important.  Reading through the subject summaries I found myself excited at the content of some of the courses, and at times got rather carried away trying to convince him how interesting and exciting some subjects were, which inevitably turned out to be the subjects he's really not interested in!  Looking at the History content, he liked the course, but did not relish the idea of writing long essays, the same for the compulsory English Literature.  I was baffled. Strange boy!  How could he possibly find essay writing a chore?  I still remember walking into my A'level English Literature exam literally champing at the bit to get started on the four essays I had to write in three hours - was I mad?  Probably.

I'm thrilled he's being forced to do a language.  Seems cruel, I know, but I have the benefit of parental hindsight.  My bitterness at not being allowed to do languages because apparently getting 91% in German and 27% in French supposedly meant I didn't have a grasp of languages, so because I failed French I wasn't allowed to take the  German GCSE I so passionately wanted to do.  To this day it still baffles and angers me.  I'm glad that Joshua has to learn a second language - it's a skill he'll be grateful for one day.  To my delight he favours German.  He's getting the chance I never had.

In sciences he prefers physics and chemistry.  I was a biology fan.  He likes Maths and all things technical.  I liked all things creative.

But what I really like is that he has sat with me, talked with me and discussed his feelings about subjects, what he loves, what he hates, where his strengths are, where his weaknesses are, his doubts, his fears, his worries and his concern at getting halfway through courses and being disillusioned.  I'm finding it a privilege that he is sharing all this with me and not just ticking random boxes or picking subjects that he's comfortable with or naturally gifted at in an attempt to get the decision making done and out of the way.  He's impressed me with how mature he's being about it all.  He has a few weeks to choose, so now I'm stepping back for a few days to let him work out his own routes.  I'll be there to support him, to advise him and where necessary to push him, but ultimately, the choices are his.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Dib Dib Dib

Following last week's exciting moment where Sam became a real Beaver Scout after his investiture, which involved receiving his woggle, badges and learning to shake hands as a lefty, he proudly came home from school earlier in the week with a notification from that as it was World Thinking Day on the 22nd, he was allowed to wear his Beaver uniform to school. 

He has waited with excited anticipation for me to sew the badges onto his sweater for a few days now, but last night because I was only halfway through putting them on when it became bedtime, I had to promise him I would absolutely,without fail, ensure they were sewn on ready for the morning.  His excitement and reliance on me to carry out my promise struck me.  He's just a little dude, no real worries and no concerns about life, according to me, an adult.  Important things to him are being allowed to play on the monkey bars at school, being allowed to watch a DVD in Mum and Dad's bed before bedtime and making sure badges are sewn on a jumper in time to display them at school.  The funny thing is, none of them are achievement badges or skills badges, just the Scout logo, and the district, county and colony badge - but they were still important to him and my promise was clung to.

It's easy to get carried away with the seemingly major important things in life and to forget the little things that really matter.  To Sam it REALLY mattered that these badges were on in time, so last night, after finishing the last badge I went quietly into his room to see if he was awake and he was - just about.  Holding the jumper up to his weary eyes I whispered to him that they were all done and ready for him to wear the next day.  A huge smile appeared, the eyes opened widely and I received the most enormous hug and kiss.

It was a special moment.  There's plenty of time left yet for him to worry about the things I consider big.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Valentines Day - Romantic or Ridiculous

With the passing of Valentine's Day yesterday I was again bemused by the plethora of differing attitudes and reactions one date in our calendar can invoke.  Many years ago, when I was very young, I was firmly in the camp that the day was purely set aside for the desperate separates of society clinging fast to the hope that somebody somewhere was soppy enough and dopey enough to waste money trying to convince them they were a good catch!  The card shop windows swamped with cute teddies and giant love hearts caused a shake of the head and a small laugh as men all over the town centre were rushing around with bunches of red roses under one arm, chocolates under another and a Clinton's carrier bag hanging off their fingers.  I often wondered how they'd stop the roses wilting in their offices for the next few hours and whether they'd get home in time to make it to the restaurant with the 'special' menu for the night at the bargain price of 50% more than the usual specials of the night - because that was romantic - apparently.

Then I got married.

And for the first few years I stood firm to my belief it was all a load of nonsense and got nothing.

Then I started to get the hump.

People started saying that you didn't need a special day to declare your love to the one you love, as you should do that every day.  Yes, you should.  You should tell the one you love that you love them.  It's not necessary to do it every day (some may disagree), but it should be regularly enough for them to be in no doubt that you do love them.  In this respect Andy far outranks me in that - he's the more sentimental of the two of us.  Having recently attended The Marriage Course, it was firmly established that Andy thrives on affirmation and words of love, I thrive on practical stuff - presents.  Does that make me shallow and a prime candidate for the lure of the Clinton card shop, Thornton's selection and Interflora roses - well, yes, apparently it does! 

I never thought I'd see the day I'd back down to admit it, but I now love Valentine's Day - to an extent.

Looking into the origins of Valentine's Day it seems the most common opinion is that Emperor Claudius II decided that marriage turned men into useless wimps, unable to man up to the requirements of war and thus outlawed that all young men should be banned from the banns.  Apparently young Valentine, who is rumoured to have been one of three men in history, but commonly believed to be a priest, continued in secret to marry young people, believing the institution of marriage to be firmly part of God's plan for humankind, thus opposing the beliefs and instructions of the Emperor, who at the time had a rather strong penchant for chopping the heads off the odd Christian or two. Legend has it that the Emperor took exception to this and imprisoned the priest and from there the rumours abound.  Some believe Valentine fell in love with the jailer's daughter and before his execution wrote her a note declaring his love, signing it 'from your Valentine'. A hopeless romantic dying for the love of his love.  Others believe the Emperor actually rather liked him, until he tried to convert him to Christianity, at which point he incensed the Emperor who ordered his execution, thus martyring him - the date of death established in both cases as February 14th.  Others believe that February 14th was declared Valentine's Day as an alternative to the following day's pagan festival of Lupercalia, believed to increase the fertility of women who were flogged with the blood soaked hides of sacrificed goats - but from there I digress and leave you to your own research on that one.

So, Valentine's Day.  Romantic or Ridiculous?  A bit of both really.  But for me, the ridiculous is fast being overtaken by the romantic.  It can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be, but for one day of the year, to make an effort to do something for the one you love is surely not too much.  Which leads me to my earlier comment of loving Valentine's Day - to an extent.  Keep it fun, keep it within budget and keep it with someone truly special.

A tale of two Lukes

Do you ever get those days when you can leave something lying around for ages, then one day, somebody will make a random comment that sets you on a trail of research and discovery? 

I had that this morning.

I'm reading through the gospel of Luke and have taken to using some notes that are designed for both groups and individuals, which are entitled Luke, A New Hope.  Andy noticed them and asked if I realised that the Star Wars episode that introduces Luke Skywalker is also called A New Hope.  I had no idea, but it did make me wonder whether George Lucas had an upbringing based upon a Biblical faith and lo and behold I found out he had a strong Methodist upbringing.  Later in life he turned to heavily basing his Star Wars 'force' on  Eastern philosophies, eventually declaring himself a Buddhist Methodist.

Whether Luke, the gospel writer and Luke Skywalker were ever connected in George Lucas's mind, who knows?  But I found it rather intriguing.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Prayers From Pocket Sized People

Kids Church started up again today and I was so thrilled to be on rota for the first week.  I always find it harder coming on rota halfway through a topic as the momentum has already built up and for me it's like opening a book halfway through or flicking over to a good film an hour in.

The children at our church are a fabulous bunch.  They play well together, they listen well and they talk well - sometimes too well and it's hard to get them to be quiet.  But it's their openness, honesty and limitless spirit of exposure that impresses me each time I sit with them or have them surrounding me when I speak, hand out drinks, or whatever is needed at the time.

We have a tendency as adults to overlook children.  They are a significant part of God's church and we need to be mindful of their place, presence, giftings, encouragements and worries.  Today we introduced the topic of prayer and in particular, The Lord's Prayer.  When all the fun and games had ended we split the children into year clusters and I had an interesting conversation with three children from years 5 and 6.  Having filled in a Prayer Survey together we compared our results and I was impressed at how honest these children were and how incredibly open they were and at ease explaining why they'd answered questions a certain way.

But one comment saddened me. One boy said that often he felt God didn't answer his prayers or even at times listen to them because in his words, 'I'm just small and I think he misses me out sometimes because of that'. He seemed resigned to the fact that adults got more answers and got what they wanted from God because they stood out, they have all the right words, the terminology, can stand up longer and string a good dialogue together.  Adults had more need of answered prayer because their lives were more complicated, they needed more help with work, homes, running families and so on.  So I reminded him of David and Goliath.  How God had taken the puniest kid on the block, a shepherd who most likely had less meat on him than a scrag end of lamb, but who God saw enormous potential in.  I explained that if, like David, his heart was for God and his faith was big, the size of his body was not in the equation and that he could stand next to the biggest guy in church and still be as mighty before God.

I'm passionate about the children in our church. God willing they will be our future leaders, worship team, kids workers and evangelists. We need to build, encourage and show them that being pint sized doesn't mean being puny before God. I'm looking forward to being on rota this term and seeing them learn about how they can stand before God, bold, courageous and full of faith, knowing that He hears every little word they utter when they speak with Him.