Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sunday Thoughts


"So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us." ~ 1 John 2:24-25

Do you remember when you understood the gospel message for the first time, if you ever have?

I don't remember exactly when I became a Christian, I was three years old so it's in the pretty distant past! However, I do remember when I first fully understood that we are saved by grace. I remember the moment it clicked in my brain, that it did not matter what I did, whether I was good or bad, that whatever I had done in the past, whatever I do in the future, I was still undeservedly saved by grace!

God loves me no matter what! He does not keep a record of my wrongs! He isn't sitting on a cloud waiting to smite me the minute I slip up! He knows everything about me, even the bad bits, and He loves me and saves me anyway!

I think that this is what John's talking about here: Remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. Remember what it felt like to know Jesus, to know His grace, for the first time. Don't over complicate things. Don't over think things. Remain faithful to the simplicity of this message because if the only thing you understand is that Jesus has saved you by grace, then you'll be ok.

If you can just grasp this simple message, you will remain in relationship with God and you will enjoy the eternal life God has promised us.

Sometimes we are our own worst critics. Sometimes we stand in the way of ourselves having relationship with God. Because we know ourselves! We know how bad we can be, we know our innermost thoughts, we know that we're not worthy of love from God - none of us are! And yet, God knows all of this and loves us anyway. If we could only grasp grace, we will live in freedom and we will be able to approach this amazing God and have relationship with Him.

We are saved by grace.


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Friday, 29 May 2015

Secrets of the River, Empires and cardboard boxes #littleloves

I loved taking part in But Why Mummy Why's #littleloves linky a couple of weeks ago, I sat down this morning to write mine and found that she was on holiday! What to do? Thankfully I found out that it's being hosted over at Potty Mouthed Mummy this week - phew! I still would have written it, but the fun is linking up and meeting some other lovely blogs so I'm glad I worked it all out!

Anyway... this week I have:

Read


You might have seen that I've been enthusiastically raving about Secrets of the River on twitter. You can read an interview with the author and fellow blogger, Jess McGlynn here. Anyway, this week I really got into it. I'll do a full review later on, but we're basically following the story of Isabelle who has experienced some tragedy and is running away from a terrible, terrible secret. She finds herself in a small French village where it seems everyone is attempting to hide a secret of their own. It's an easy read (though, I'm sure it wasn't an easy write!) which is fast paced and there's enough suspense, intrigue and romance to keep you turning the pages. I'm so impressed with Jess for writing it as I'm sure it's something I could never do! You can download it to your Kindle for £1.99 on amazon.

Watched


We've not had much time for watching things this week as we have been doing things instead! BUT I have been watching my daughter grow up at an incredible rate! We've started our potty training journey, she's been talking in sentences, learning new words, trying new things and drinking from a cup. I can't get over what a difference a few days can make in her little life, I'm sure I will never stop marvelling at these small milestones and how fast time slips away when we're not looking. She's growing up to be an incredible little human being and she makes us proud every day.

Wore

We're not the height of fashion in this house, but I can say we've worn ourselves out! We spent a lot of time in the garden which is very slowly taking shape, we've seen Nana lots and we spent the day with friends yesterday. And it's not letting up either - we're seeing friends tonight, I'm off to London tomorrow for a youth and kids workers conference and then seeing family on Sunday... and then the madness starts again!

Heard

This week I've been listening to the new Hillsong United album, Empires. Having grown up with their music every year, it's always good to hear the new release. It then sends me down a road of reminiscence as I go back through their back catalogue and listen to all the songs that have defined my life thus far! Empires is studio recorded so different to their live worship stuff, but I'm sure it will become a soundtrack for our year in many ways! You can listen to it on Spotify here.




Made


I can't take credit for making this myself, but you might have seen this post about what my mum made with a cardboard box for Ruby. It's a play house. Mum has since achieved legendary status on the internet because of her creative endeavours - maybe I can make her into a YouTube star or something?!

... and lastly

Lastly, it is now the 29th May, just two days left of the Blog Every Day in May Challenge. I can't believe how quickly it's gone, I can't believe that I made it to the end, missing just four days in total (finger's crossed, we're not quite there yet!). For me, personally, it's been an amazing experience even if you've found my posts boring as hell!

The more I write, the more I want to write and this 'all or nothing' kind of spirit is soooooo me it's not even funny. I'll be writing a post next week about what I learnt from it and what the blog is going to look like from here on (hint. It probably won't involve daily posts!) but as a kick up the backside and a way of finding my passion again it has served a great purpose!

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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Getting Organised: Under the Stairs

As I mentioned in this post last week, storage is a major problem in our household. It's a great house, especially as we rent on quite a tight budget for our area, we have a good amount of living space (you should have seen our previous house!). So we're really happy here, but there isn't really anywhere to store stuff. Which is why those dead areas like under the stairs are really important - but all too often they become dumping grounds! Like this:  
I actually started clearing this space before I thought to take a photo so this is better than it was!
But my mum created a cardboard box playhouse for Ruby, which was the perfect motivation for having a clear out and turning this into a usable space. I wanted to shift some of Ruby's toys into this area so that she can actually access them (they were all just languishing in a huge toy box, never to be seen or played with), and I wanted to create a small desk area for me and my blogging stuff. 

I also wanted to make it look a bit fresher and attractive - this is part of our open plan living/dining space and so often the dining bit just becomes a dumping ground (hence the lawnmower!). I figured if I could make this a play space / desk area then we would use it better and maybe eventually even dine in there (stranger things have happened!).

So, after much sorting and moving things around, we found the perfect home for Ruby's playhouse and it started to take shape! Here's the finished result:


We had to do some disguising work when it came to a huge box of paperwork that we need to keep - but a quick play around with a white sheet and a quilt and we had a little seating area for the teddies. 


All of Ruby's imaginary play things are here and she gravitates towards it much more than she did previously.


 I'm also quite happy with my little desk space. Alright, so I haven't put a chair there just yet - the under the table area was too valuable for storing the printer and various other stationery bits, once I've invested in some new furniture that might change. But it looks nice, and it looks tidy and productive.

Now, a quick tip for you: We live in a rented house and are not allowed to put nails and picture hooks in the walls which has been really annoying because I have so many lovely pictures. I've tried pretty much every 'no more nails' type product going and nothing seems to work - if your frame is even slightly weighty (as in it's not paper), then it won't hold. UNTIL NOW!

Command Picture Hanging Strips are the best things I've ever seen. They're a bit complicated to describe, but essentially you end up with a strip on the wall and a strip on your frame and the two cleverly lock together - giving them a stronger and more supportive hold. I'm going to go and buy loads - watch out walls, you're filling up! So, that's how I fixed my notice board to the wall, in case you were wondering!

I have to say, this little exercise has inspired me to sort and transform all the different wasted corners of our house to maximise the space, de-clutter and get organised. I'm going to try and do a little bit every day...
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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Fun for toddlers with a cardboard box

My mum is the type of person who looks at a big cardboard box and thinks "That would make the perfect playhouse for Ruby!"... and then she makes one.

I'm the type of person who looks at a big cardboard box and thinks "That would make the perfect playhouse for Ruby!"... and then I will store said cardboard box under the stairs for a year before discarding it in the recycling.

Thank God for Mums (or Nanas)!

So, my mum had ordered some new light fittings and they arrived packaged in a huge cardboard box. It wasn't long before she had transformed this box into a carpeted, decorated and soft-furnished den for my very lucky two year old!

I haven't got any before pictures (it's a cardboard box, I'll leave that to your imagination), but here is the finished result:



As you can see, it is decorated inside and out with emulsion paint, has windows, carpet, laminate flooring, curtains, bunting, a clock and a picture hanging, as well as the outside possessing some rather attractive flowers - all made with things my mum had lying around the house, either languishing in her craft stash or the leftovers and offcuts of DIY projects from years gone by.

Of course, we had to perform a bit of an operation to transport the house from Mum's to mine - which mainly involved me carrying it back to ours (not gonna say that wasn't awkward and yes we raised a few smiles from passers by!). Ruby enjoyed the adventure though...


... and helped in her own way...


Upon arriving home, Ruby wasted no time climbing inside with her dollies and embarking on a picnic. She absolutely loved playing inside and slowly all the kitchen play things have made their way inside, along with cushions and blankets.


In fact, by the time bed time rolled around I thought she was going to want to camp in there! She was all snuggled up with a blanket reading a book.


So, just goes to show what fun you can have with a cardboard box and that toys don't have to be expensive. I know she'll grow out of it pretty quickly and it might suffer a bit from wear and tear, but seeing as it cost pennies to create it's all worth it to see the smile on her face! I remember as a child how magical it was to have little dens and spaces to crawl into and enjoy some private time and I hope she'll enjoy this in that way over the coming months - maybe as a little reading nook or something!

... and here's a pic of Ruby in her springtime hat that my mum had embellished for her with crochet flowers... just 'cause it's cute!


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Monday, 25 May 2015

Days Out: London Zoo

A few months ago it was my 30th birthday. Now I know most 30 year olds would be out in a posh wine bar celebrating to the early hours, but seeing as a week later it's Ruby's birthday, we decided to combine our treats and spend a few days in London - with the highlight being a trip to London Zoo!

Despite having grown up in the South East and having lived in London throughout my 20s, I had never in my memory made a trip to the zoo, so I was particularly excited! We had got the train up the previous day and were staying in a hotel in Acton. Ruby is a natural when it comes to public transport and she wasn't perturbed by the underground at all, rather she quite enjoyed charming all her fellow travellers from her buggy!


Now, before we get to the zoo part, I did just want to share a travelling hack with you. You know when you have to check out of your hotel at 11am but you're going out for the day and don't want to lug your suitcase around with you? Well head over to the Excess Baggage Company. We travel out of St. Pancras Station to get home, which is luckily quite near to the Zoo so we stopped there first, dropped off our bag before heading off on our luggage-free way. You pay about £10 for 24 hours and it is well worth it to not be lugging a suitcase round the zoo with you!

Anyway, onto the zoo! We got off at Camden tube and walked down, it's really clearly signposted and not that far - maybe 15-20 minutes. I think our other option would have been to walk from St. Pancras through Regent's Park - there's probably not much in it as we were at St. Pancras anyway.

We went on a Tuesday during term time so the zoo itself was not that busy. Aside from a few school trips and the odd tourist there weren't many people around so it made for a really pleasant day with Ruby. We got her out the buggy on arrival and she trooped around for most of the day on foot which made it so much more enjoyable because you felt like she was experiencing it all.

The weather was quite changeable so we started off sheltering from a shower in the Aquarium. I thought Ruby would enjoy all the lights and bubbles and different coloured fish floating about but she marched past every tank shouting "Fish!.... more fish!.... more fish!...." so I'm not sure she was particularly enamoured by all the different varieties, but we thought they were pretty cool to see!

We had a leaflet which told us when all the feeding times were so we planned our day around that, prioritising the tigers, penguins and giraffes. After stopping for a picnic lunch on a bench we visited the Gorilla Kingdom and then the tiger enclosure for feeding time. The staff appeared really knowledgeable and covered everything you would want to know about tigers, and those tigers specifically. It was really interesting. We got there just early enough to grab a spot by the glass so we could see, but if you're caught out and it's busy you might find that you can't see as much, despite there being plenty of different viewing spots.

The zoo is big enough for you to feel like you're getting your money's worth but not so big that it's overwhelming or exhausting, even for a two year old. It's very buggy friendly with most of it being on ground level or with ramps. Ruby walked around most of it and loved it!




A highlight for us were the penguins! (If you read my Aquarium post, you'll know we're big penguin fans!). We got there for feeding time and it didn't disappoint. We bagged ourselves front row seats. Ruby loved watching them jump and dive and swim and again, the talk was entertaining and informative. It's popular though - so get there early for a seat!


We also love giraffes so visiting them was a must! We had arrived in time for what we thought was feeding time but it didn't happen and there wasn't anyone else there so maybe we were mistaken! There's a viewing platform so you can see them at their height and they're quite inquisitive so if they do venture out of their house (the weather meant we caught them at the right time) they do come right up to the platform. I'm not quite sure Ruby knew what to make of these strange animals but she seemed to like it.

When Ruby was tired we put her in the buggy and took her to the butterfly enclosure which was a big hit! I'm not normally enamoured by nature too much but this turned out to be one of my favourite places - they're just so beautiful and delicate!

One disappointment was that you're not allowed to take buggies into the monkey enclosure because the monkeys roam free and will jump on them which can be frightening for the children. I understand the reasoning but we had literally just put Ruby in the buggy in the hope that she might sleep so we gave that part a miss (you can take your child out and leave the buggy outside, you'd just have to go back on yourself to fetch it!). We also would have liked to have seen some lions but they're on holiday until 2016 because their enclosure is being re-built.

All in all, it was a fantastic day, despite the weather being changeable and being caught in a massive hail storm (there's enough indoor stuff to make it ok, but it probably wouldn't be enjoyable if it rained constantly). We left with a toy penguin from the gift shop to remind us of our fun, it was about £6 which I think is pretty decent.

I can only apologise for the lack of photographs, however, we were just too busy having fun!

The Stats

Transport: 15 minute walk from Camden Town station (Northern Line).

Cost: Standard adult tickets are £24.30 at the gate without a donation, but you can save 10% by booking online in advance. If, however, you're travelling by National Rail on the day then be sure to take advantage of this 2for1 offer. I do, however think that it's well worth the full price. Under threes go free and children are £17.10.

Time: This is a full day trip if you want it to be. There's plenty to see and do and you can easily spend a good six hours or so walking round.

Food & Drink: We kept costs down by taking in a picnic lunch and eating it on a bench which was perfectly fine. However, there is a brilliant canteen style restaurant with lots of different types of food on offer. It's big but not huge so I can imagine it gets pretty busy during peak time, but if you're lucky to catch it on a quiet moment then it's a lovely place to sit and eat. We did buy lattes from one of the kiosks which are dotted about the place - they do serve soya milk (a must!) and they were reasonably priced (£2.80 ish?).

Afterwards:  If you want to head out for dinner after your trip then there's plenty of bars and restaurants up Camden way, including your family favourites like Nandos. Alternatively head down to the West End - a short bus or tube ride away where there's plenty of places to eat on offer. 
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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Sunday Thoughts


"The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen." ~ 2 Timothy 4:16-18
It is often said that it's in times of crisis when we find out who our true friends are, and sometimes the realisation is a surprising one. I can think of times in my life when I've needed people and the very people who I thought would have my back, suddenly and inexplicably, were not there for me in my time of need. It's a gutting realisation. Been there? Paul had.

Paul, one of the greatest men of God in the Bible, the guy who took Christianity to the wider world, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament through his letters to the growing church - he too felt that sense of abandonment. He had been arrested and in Roman times you would have a court appearance before the judge; respectable friends and family would appear as character witnesses or give supporting statements to fight your case.

No one showed up.

Paul is up against the death penalty and no one showed up to fight his case for him. Imagine how he felt in that moment when witnesses were called and no one was there to persuade the judge that his life should be spared.

We don't know why no one came. I can imagine they were scared to be seen to be supporting Paul - I mean, Christians were being persecuted, would you put your neck on the line? But still, Paul was probably feeling particularly lonely and abandoned that day.

BUT firstly, he forgave his friends. And then he put his trust in God. God saved him from certain death - for whatever reason the judge showed him mercy. And then Paul declares a promise of God that we can all cling onto during those tough times: "The Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom."

What a promise! See, Paul knew, that whatever the outcome, God would deliver him and then eventually take him safely home. And knowing that allowed him to live his life in freedom - whatever happens God will deliver you, and if the worst happens, God will take you safely home - it's a win win! (Martyrdom isn't necessarily an imminent danger for us, but it was for Paul and it is for many Christians the world over today - are we living in the freedom of this promise though?).
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Friday, 22 May 2015

Author Interview: Jess McGlynn, Secrets of the River

They say we all have a book hiding within us, but for most of us it remains a pipe dream and we never sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard...). So when I heard that my blogging friend, Jess McGlynn, had taken the leap and actually penned a novel and published it, I had to find out how she did it!
Jess McGlynn is an author and freelance writer. She lives in the North West by the seaside with her husband and two children and their rescue dog, Pepper. She loves reading, travelling and taking lots and lots of photos! She blogs at Catch A Single Thought and you can catch her on Twitter @jjmcglynn (follow her, she'll love it if you say hello!).

So Jess, tell us a bit about your book.

Secrets of the River is my first novel. It’s set in the beautiful French village of Brantome and is about Isabelle, who arrives in the village from England trying to escape a secret in her past. It has a little bit of mystery, a little bit of romance and a whole lot of escapism thrown in.

Did you always believe you had a book in you?

I have always loved to create stories since I was very small; my mum has often said I would sit on the bottom step at home, with a book in my hand reading aloud but making up an entirely different story than the one I was holding because I could obviously tell it better! Deep down my dream was to be a writer and to see my name in print so I guess I have always believed it was in there...somewhere! 

What came first, the idea or the decision to write a book?

I’m a very visual person and the characters for Secrets of the River were wandering around in my head a long time before I sat down to start writing. My inspiration really came when we went on holiday to Brantome and I started to see the story take shape in front of me. That was in June 2013 and I spent the entire holiday sitting outside our gite scribbling in a notebook. When we got home I told my husband I wanted to leave my job to pursue writing full time and madly, he agreed.

The view from Jess' writing spot in France

How long did it take?

Just short of two years, writing on and off. I would go through long periods of not writing anything at all and then have a sudden rush where I shut myself away and wrote chapter after chapter.

What was your biggest struggle or obstacle and how did you overcome?

Finishing it! I knew the ending of the story long before it ever reached paper and so I really had to push myself to sit down and actually write. Towards the end it took real dedication; I set myself a daily target of 1,000 words which worked and I actually found that once I sat down and started to write, I came up with a lot more.

Jess' writing desk, where the action happened!

How did you fit writing in around your life with two kids to manage?!

I never thought I’d say this but soft play was my best babysitter. I hand wrote large chunks of the book in various notepads whilst the children played and entertained themselves. I also wrote late into the night once they were in bed and pretty much every chance I got whilst they were occupied with something else. There were periods when life was so busy I couldn’t write a thing but I tried not to let that get me down and just picked it up as and when I could.

How did you find the self-publishing process?

Fairly straightforward. There are lots of online guides to help you through the editing and formatting process which I found were a massive help. I'm currently in the ‘promoting’ stage so I’ll have to get back to you on how easy or difficult I find this part!

What advice would you give to someone who dreams of writing a book?

Go for it. The only way you’ll ever write a book is to start and I don’t think it matters if what you start with is not what you end with as long as you begin writing. Some days I would scratch out whole portions of what I had written up the day before because it didn't make sense and my final story isn't exactly how I imagined it but I would never have got where I am if I hadn't started in the first place.

Also, if you do start writing, find one or two people you really trust to give you honest feedback. My husband (having not much experience in the genre) would tell me it always sounded great, whereas my closest friend had no qualms about telling me when things didn't make sense, or if she thought something didn't work and that was invaluable in making sure my story was the best it could be.


Secrets of the River: some secrets simply can’t remain hidden...When Isabelle moves to a sleepy riverside village in France she thinks she is being given a second chance.

Keen to leave behind the secrets of her past, she throws herself into village life where she meets cute American journalist Ed, rugged vineyard worker Matteo, and the dark and mysterious Hugo.

Life should be good, but Isabelle’s arrival acts as a catalyst in the village and she soon discovers she isn’t the only one trying to escape her past and that sometimes there are things which simply can’t remain hidden.

Isabelle must face her mistakes and rediscover herself in this wonderful romance set against an idyllic backdrop.

You can buy Secrets of the River from Amazon UK for £1.99 and at Amazon.com

Thanks to Jess for speaking to me! I've started reading the book and I can't put it down. It's also received some great reviews on Amazon - go check it out! 

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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Why self-marriage is missing the point

I came across this article in Stylist magazine yesterday: "I got married to myself this weekend".

Basically, if you haven't seen it (and I encourage you to read it), 36 year old Sophie Tanner made the decision to marry herself, saying "I will not wish away my life waiting for the one, when I in fact, am the one."

She had a full on wedding; her dad gave her away, her friend 'officiated' dressed as a cardinal, there was a big party and to all intent and purpose, she did marry herself. She vowed to face her disappointments, embrace her dreams, realise her hopes and accept her failures through understanding openness and sensitivity to others. There was a whole wedding including 20 bridesmaids, minus the groom. She married herself.

However, I can't help but think she (and the whole self-marriage movement, as there appears to be one) is missing the point.

Sophie had a wedding.

She placed value upon herself.

She celebrated herself, her life and her achievements surrounded by friends and family who love and support her.

And she did it in style!

All of which I wholeheartedly agree with!

You do not need a man (or spouse) to complete you, you are worth more than rubies, you should celebrate yourself, all that you are, all that you have achieved and if you want to throw a huge, kick-ass party to do that? Then go right ahead! Don't wait a lifetime to have such a celebration in the hope that a wedding will fulfil that purpose.

But a wedding, a celebration, self-value and worth, a commitment to always be kind to yourself and to always be the best that you can be, does not a marriage make.

Because the central point of marriage, the foundation upon which it is built is, in fact, selflessness.

It's not about you!

When you marry someone you vow for the rest of your life to put someone else first. Aside from having kids, I believe it is the most self-less commitment that you can make (and in some senses more so, I mean this person isn't your flesh and blood, after all - it's a choice!). You're choosing to love, honour, cherish that one person through the good times and the bad, forsaking all others until you die. It is impossible to, in doing this, be selfish. Self doesn't (or shouldn't) come into it.



I married my husband when I was 22 and we had the most amazing, special day you can imagine. I promised all of these things way back then, when the rest of our lives really were the entirety of our adulthood.

I loved him with all of my heart, I still do and I always will - but I had to learn to respect him, honour him and cherish him. Everything about those things goes against your own selfish wants and desires. It was a journey, and it's a journey we embark on every day.

Marriage is about placing another person above your own wants, hopes, desires, dreams and even needs. When both parties actively do that then it works. If one or both parties fail in doing that, then the hope is you support each other and work together to overcome. We're eight years in and there's been some of that! (And I'm sure there will be much more of that as we grow old together, I'm not saying we've made it!).

But the point is, marriage isn't about self. It is exactly the opposite of self. It is a union between two people who are committed to each other, each one agreeing to put the other first. You can't achieve that union without the second party.

This notion that marriage needs to be open to all - a more inclusive option, as Sophie put its - is completely missing the point of what marriage is. Marriage is open to all IF you have a second party who wants to enter into a covenant with you. If you don't, then celebrate yourself and your life anyway! But don't marry yourself!

What do you think? Should self-marriage become a thing?
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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

There's a lawnmower in my dining room...

There is a lawnmower in my dining room.

Why? Well, we have a garden and it does have a shed in it, but the shed is basically rotten and it doesn't have a lock on it. We had more of a meadow than a lawn, so the purchase of a lawnmower was pretty important. But where to put it?

We did buy a lock for the shed (lawnmower thefts are a big deal round our way), but then realised our power drill required electricity so we couldn't fix it to the shed. We're still working out how to do that - might need to borrow a battery operated drill (or reeeeaaaaallly long extension lead) for that.

Pic thanks to ShedKing via CC Flickr
In the mean time, I have a lawnmower in my dining room (grass, bugs and all), and a need to scour Pinterest for amazing shed solutions.

Sheds are a huge deal at the moment, in case you hadn't noticed. And how much tidier would my house be if I had a shed to dump all my junk in (and tools, lots of garden tools!)?

A girl can dream.

And so can you - check out this Pinterest board for all your shed inspiration.



Once the lawnmower situation is resolved, we'll move on to the rest of the ridiculous clutter that we have hanging around the place. I'm starting to think it breeds when I'm not looking. Where am I supposed to keep all this stuff? We don't have a usable loft space, we don't have much by way of cupboards, we can't put shelves up and I have very little budget to invest in storage savvy furniture.

So, if I suddenly stop blogging my way through May, please understand, it's probably because I've drowned under a pile of twelve-year-old bank statements or been killed by an avalanche of books.

Does anyone else have this problem? What's a girl to do?


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Monday, 18 May 2015

5 books that have changed my life

Books change lives. They expand our horizons, broaden our minds and challenge our thinking. They provide education, hope and escapism. It doesn't matter who you are - male, female, young, old - there are books that will capture your heart, your imagination or your intellect, it's just a matter of finding the right ones.

I sat down to write this list thinking it would be easy. But as I began, more and more books came to mind and I couldn't decide! I've settled on these five but I must stress - there is a whole host of childhood books which I will likely include in a separate post... and I may create more lists as time goes on (and as I read more books!).

So, five books that have changed my life:

1. The Bible, God et al.


In case you hadn't realised, I'm a Christian. I love Jesus. I love God and the Bible is the foundation of my faith. It is a history book, a self-help book, a manual for life, but I believe it is also the Word of God. It is living and active. It is inexhaustible. I've been reading it my whole life and yet each time I open it, even to familiar passages, there is something new, something different, something that speaks to me, my life, my situation for that moment of time. I haven't read all of it yet - that's a work in progress - but this is a book that has most definitely changed my life and it will continue to change my life and the lives of millions of other people. In fact, none of the other books on this list will compare to The Bible. If you want to read the Bible, I absolutely recommend the YouVersion Bible App - you can read all the different versions and translations of the Bible, save and annotate passages and follow various different Bible reading plans if you're not quite sure where to start. Plus, you can download it onto your phone or tablet and take it everywhere you go!

2. Heaven is in this House, Bobbie Houston

Staying on the Christian theme for now, Bobbie Houston, with her husband Brian, was my church's senior pastor for the years that I lived in London. She wrote this book to express the vision and heart that God had given her for the church. I read this book in less than a day when I was about 21. It was through this book that I realised that to passionately serve God is to passionately serve His church. I realised that the church was a living organism, a gathering of people who could show the world the love of Christ. I realised that the church could make it possible for a little piece of Heaven to come to Earth and that the church was the vehicle through which God wanted to change the world. I have served passionately in church ever since. I'm no longer a part of that church as we left London, I'm actually helping to lead my current church. But I am so grateful for that church, and particularly for Brian and Bobbie's vision, for showing me that the church is not dead, but it is alive, attractive and making a difference the world over. Check it out.

3. Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Moving from heaven to a vision of hell! Lord of the Flies was my GCSE English Literature text. It was where I was taught to read critically. To understand that books weren't just stories, but they could also be commentaries on society, they could analyse the real world in a way that wouldn't be possible. I realised that books were full of hidden meanings, I learnt what metaphors were! I recently re-read it as part of my journey into, and then out of, teaching and I loved it, I just wish I had kept my original, annotated copy. I loved that my mind could recall things that I learnt 14 years ago, all the characters, their traits and how they are referenced throughout the text within descriptions of landscape, nature, animals and the weather. There's drama, murder, coming of age, tragedy, politics - everything! Check it out.

4. Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen

I know everyone else loves a bit of Mr. Darcy and Pride & Prejudice, but for me, the story of the Dashwood sisters and their string of suitors is far more engaging. If you find Pride & Prejudice a bit slow moving at times (all that pride getting in the way of anything happening) then Sense & Sensibility might be more your bag. This was the first Austen novel I read, which then opened up the way for all the others. If I had started with Pride & Prejudice I may not have got very far in my Austen journey at all. I spend hours in bookshops stroking covers of Sense & Sensibility and one day I may cave in and just start collecting various different editions! Check it out.

5. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

This book was recommended to me by an old pastor of mine. It's not a Christian book but it illustrates how when anything huge is about to happen, it's normally a very small action or person which tips everything over the tipping point from small to big, unknown to influential, losing to winning. It's a book filled with stories about how trends take hold and small things ultimately change the course of the world forever. Why do some things become worldwide trends whilst others fade into oblivion? This book attempts to identify what factors are at play. This was the first Malcolm Gladwell book that I read, and I've gone on to read all his others. I just love the insight that he gives on the world! I know non-fiction, sociological analysis isn't everyone's cup of tea, but Gladwell is such a great story teller that his books make these quite complex concepts seem so simple and applicable to every day life. If you're interested in understanding influence and changing the world then check him out. Check it out.



What about you? What books have changed your life?
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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunday Thoughts


"But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn't make decisions the way you do. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”" ~ 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT, my emphasis)
When I was 14 I got a job in a tea room. I wanted to be a waitress, but the owner put me in the back in the kitchen washing dishes. She later made a comment that I was kept in the back because I was too short to be a waitress. I never quite found out what she meant by that. Maybe she thought I looked too young to work there, or maybe it was just because I couldn't reach the teapots, but it annoyed me for the two years that I worked there, that I wasn't allowed out front. But that was her decision.

How comforting to know that God doesn't make decisions the way we do! Can you imagine - the in-decisiveness! The lists of pros and cons, the umming and ahhing, the twisted logic that we base our decisions on.

So often, the right decisions in my life have been the ones that, on paper, to human understanding, look like madness. Like when we got pregnant, quit our jobs, moved into my in-laws attic with no jobs and no home but felt like this was what God wanted us to do and where He wanted us to be. Madness!

If God made decisions the way we do, there would be no risks, no leaps of faith - how boring!

But God knows the bigger picture. We make decisions based on the facts, on what we can see. God makes decisions based on what He can see. And He can see everything! The past, the present, the future, heart attitudes, intentions, motives.

God's decisions are way better that our decisions.

We might just have to trust Him sometimes and trust the decision making process.


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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Steinbeck, Car Share, CBeebies and Hats #littleloves

Yesterday I came across the #littleloves linky and loved the format so much that I instantly wanted to join in. I just like that it's simple and easy to write, but it gives you enough inspiration and flexibility to write what you want. So, here goes!

Read


This week I've been reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. You might have read in this previous post that I was going to do my PGCE to teach secondary English, I'm not going to do that now but I still rediscovered my passion for reading and literature through the process. I had spent all my birthday money on books from the English syllabus and Of Mice and Men was one of those. I didn't study it at school but very much enjoyed the read, as well as the introduction (about half the book) which helped me to understand the context. I know, most of you probably said goodbye to this book when you were 16, but for me this was a great discovery of the American agricultural class. Now I'm looking forward to choosing my next literary classic!

Watched


Who's been watching Peter Kay's Car Share? We can't get enough of it! If yo haven't seen it, basicaly Peter Kay plays John, a middle manager at a supermarket. His company has introduced a car sharing policy and he is paired with Kayleigh, a regular cashier. They are total strangers and each episode documents their journey to and from work with nothing in between. It's a great format to a show and is funny because it's so true - strangers forced into a regular, intimate situation and we get to watch the awkwardness as their relationship develops. We're about three episodes in and their starting to become flirtatious friends - without their relationship extending beyond the car, of course. That's the point.


Wore


I blogged recently about my love for New Look's Petite section, and this t-shirt is currently my fav. If you're after a good, monochrome slogan tee then this is the one - pair it with skinny jeans, black blazer, heels and accessories and you've got a great, smart casual look for work or the pub.

Heard

All I've had in my head this week is various theme tunes to CBeebies programmes, namely Twirlywoos, Mr. Tumble, Mr. Bloom and Let's Play (grrr... hate that one!). I really need to start listening to music or podcasts, expanding my cultural horizons and all that, but I have to confess I'm pretty set in my ways when it comes to music. I do like a good, inspirational podcast (no hippie stuff though), so if anyone has any recommendations then hook me up!

Made


I recently cast on this little toddler hat, in the hope that I could make six by Christmas. Not sure how that's going to pan out because I've done the ribbing and then lost momentum. Must try harder!

...and lastly!

Lastly, I have fallen in love with blogging again! Hurrah! Thanks to #BEDM (Blog Every Day in May) I have found inspiration, purpose, motivation and drive. 15 posts in 16 days isn't bad going for me, and I'm brimming with ideas and direction for this little space of mine, so stay tuned. I've 'met' some lovely people, read some amazing posts and become more inspired than ever. So thank you to everyone who has encouraged me so far - 15 days to go!

butwhymummywhy
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Friday, 15 May 2015

Days Out: The London Aquarium

It's funny, after living in London for nearly a decade, we've probably been to more tourist attractions since leaving London, than we ever did when we lived there (the word skint comes to mind!). But I thought I'd share our experiences with you for those attractions we have visited. Starting with the Sea Life London Aquarium!

We visited the London Aquarium on a rainy February day last year with our then not-quite-one-year-old. If you're taking babies or young toddlers it's the perfect trip - all the different lights, shapes and movements are really stimulating for young eyes (a bit like a sensory room!) but it is dark so I wouldn't be as comfortable taking a two year old who's more mobile because she would just run away and likely get lost!



If you're travelling with a buggy, then the Aquarium is very buggy friendly. The aquarium is spread over three floors but there are lifts and ramps everywhere. If you do have little ones toddling then there's quite a bit to see at their eye level but you might want to lift them up and carry them for a fair amount of it. We went on a weekday during February, so not exactly peak time, but it wasn't overly busy and meant for a nice leisurely walk around without feeling rushed by people coming up behind us. There's also plenty of space with wide corridors so you're not constantly in people's way with all your baby paraphernalia. The website does, however, warn that it's not unusual at busy times to have queues out the door to get in so if you're planning on going during peak time then take a look at their Priority Tickets to beat the queues!

This is the perfect attraction if it's a miserable day, or if you're caught on the South Bank in a downpour. We got the tube to Westminster, crossed Westminster Bridge and then you're there so we didn't get too soaked - although you wouldn't think it from some of the pictures!

In terms of the displays on offer, I'm guessing it's what you would expect for an aquarium - fish, fish, turtles, more fish.... - I can tell you there were lots of fish! If you're interested in the specifics then their website has lots of information. As well as all the tanks, there's a more experiential area where I think if you get there at the right time, staff are on hand to maybe give you a sea mouse to hold or something! (Yes, sea mice do exist, they're a bit like slugs - urgh!)



As you walk round the route there are lots of educational signs appropriate for kids, and staff do give talks at particular times. Plan your visit on the website if you want to get there for feeding times!

We were very excited to find there were penguins! I don't think I had expected the aquarium to have penguins but we are big fans and Ruby seemed to really like them. (This exhibit is rather cold - we put Ruby back in her snowsuit before we went in).


We, of course, finished our day with a little trip to the gift shop for a souvenir and I didn't find the prices overly extortionate which was nice because it meant we could treat Ruby to a soft toy (I *think* he was about £8). We have named him Terry the Terrapin - although we're not entirely sure that that's what he is! She was really taken with him and he went everywhere with us for quite a while (now languishing in the bottom of the toy box somewhere, no doubt!).



At the end of the day, back out onto the South Bank where it had thankfully stopped raining!

Here's the stats:

Transport: Five minutes walk from Westminster tube (Jubilee, Circle & District lines).

Cost: Standard tickets are £23.50 for adults and £16.95 for children. You can reduce this cost by booking online in advance (saves approx. 15%). However, if you're travelling by National Rail then make sure you print off this 2for1 voucher giving a massive saving. I have to be honest, I think it is overpriced if you do not take advantage of this deal. If you're getting two tickets for the price of one then I think it's good value.

Time: This isn't an all day activity. I'd say 2-3 hours, depending on how likely you are to stop at every single tank or listen to every talk. This is the main reason I would say it's overpriced if you pay full whack.

Food & Drink: There are no food or drink facilities on site - in fact they apparently have a strict No Food or Drink policy. However, there's plenty of great cafes and restaurants in close proximity to the aquarium.

Afterwards: Jump on a site-seeing tour bus, head down the south bank to visit the Tate Modern or cross over the Thames to see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden.... you're in the heart of London so if you plan your visit you can do pretty much anything!

***

I'm taking part in Blog Every Day in May. Check out these two challenges and join in the fun!


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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Healthy eating attitudes for toddlers

If you've been reading for a while you'll know that I live a completely dairy free life. This is due to eczema. You can read about my story here but basically, I have severe skin reactions at the slightest trace of milk, my face swells up and I look like I've been in a fight. I do eat quite a varied and 'normal' diet, just with a few adjustments and substitutions.

However, it was a real concern to us that Ruby would inherit some of my allergies - which thankfully she hasn't. But I am all the more aware that raising her to have a healthy relationship with food is more important than ever, and me and my habits have great power in determining how she feels about certain foods.


Here's some things I've realised:

1. This is a crucial age

When I was about three my sister was put on an extreme exclusion diet because she too suffered from eczema and allergies. Let's just say she couldn't eat very much. When I was referred to the growth centre at a later date (with tiny genes, I'm not sure what they hoped to achieve), a health professional did tell my mum that it is at the age of three that we form our food habits and relationship with food (they deemed me a fussy eater - what's wrong with salad cream sandwiches I don't know!). They attributed my sister's exclusion diet to my fussy eating in later life! Now, my sister went through a horrendous time and there's no hard feelings there - but in a lot of ways this theory seems to make a lot of sense. If you have a toddler, remember that this is a crucial age for forming relationships with food so encourage them in every way possible.

2. Think about what hidden messages you're sending

Whether it's your own allergies, you dieting or deeming some foods 'naughty', kids should feel free and safe to eat anything in moderation, unless of course there's a reason, like they have allergies. Ruby often likes to feed me food and share her food and I had to be really intentional about not saying things like "No thank you, Mummy can't eat that, it makes her sick." If Ruby thinks it makes Mummy sick, why is she going to want to eat it herself?! I try instead to say thank you for sharing, but that it's Ruby's and she should enjoy it. I don't label foods as 'naughty', I don't say things like "Let's go to McDonalds, but don't tell Daddy...". 

Similarly, as much as it kills me, I always share my dairy free treats with Ruby. There's no reason - other than my own selfishness - why she shouldn't eat them and I don't want her to grow up thinking that some foods are off limits, or naughty.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that we send so many messages to our children when talking about food. Of course, some foods are better than others. Some foods are treats and not for all the time. But we are giving our children these foods - so don't make them feel guilty or naughty for eating them. Either give them a healthier alternative, or don't say anything at all!

3. Eat out


There are some foods that both myself and my husband don't eat - like tomatoes (urgh!). But it was only through eating out that we discovered Ruby loves tomatoes! I was having a jacket potato with one of those 'decorative' side salads and Ruby stole the cherry tomatoes and gobbled them up! Before that outing, we never had tomatoes in our house but now they're a staple food (for Ruby). So eat out, share your food, you never know what they might take a liking to!

4. If they display a liking for food, reinforce it

After the tomato incident, we made a point of stocking up on cherry tomatoes when we next went to the supermarket. She now eats them every day. This also paved the way for cucumber, peppers and various fruits that we would never normally have in the house (we're not big fruit & veg people I'm afraid). Ruby will now eat pretty much everything you put in front of her. The only thing she's not big on is sandwiches - I think it's just too much bread!

5. If they display a disliking for food, don't traumatise them!

I'm not a great believer in force feeding children food. Meal times shouldn't be a battle ground and they shouldn't be too traumatic. If Ruby doesn't particularly like something, I encourage her to eat it, I distract her in the hope that she'll come back to it later, I give her enough time to finish and definitely decide not to eat it before we move onto dessert. I do however, continue to offer said food to her over the course of days and weeks and usually she'll end up liking what she previously didn't. The last thing I want her to do is associate certain foods with tears and tantrums.

6. Encourage healthier foods even when there's unhealthy foods on offer


I always try and encourage Ruby to eat her fruit and veg before her yoghurt or chocolate. But at the same time, she is allowed to eat everything in the order she wants. A great way of doing this is by using small pots. Shortly after Easter Ruby showed a liking for raspberries but she obviously still wanted all of her Easter eggs. I put three mini eggs in the bottom of the pot and topped up the pot with raspberries so she had to eat the fruit before getting to the chocolate - which was always a lovely surprise to her when she realised what was underneath! She now hardly ever asks for chocolate, but is asking for raspberries from the moment she wakes up!

How do you encourage healthy attitudes towards for food with your children?
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