Friday, 16 October 2015

The Duplo Train

Listening to five minutes of Jeremy's playing with his Duplo train set is like entering a surreal universe.

A train gets stuck on a country track. It has broken down. Oh no!  What will the passengers do?  They'll never get to the station!  They must find a train driver, because drivers are good at fixing trains.

Thank goodness!  A train driver has been found in one of the carriages (quite who has been driving the train up until this point remains a mystery).  He knows all about trains.  He volunteers to have a look, steps down from the carriage and approaches the engine, where he tinkers with something on the side for a bit.  He says it needs oil, and he has some in his truck, but his truck is nowhere to be seen.

He's a clever train driver, though, and he thinks outside the box and walks to a nearby farm, where he asks the farmer: "Please can I borrow one of your animals?"

"Oh, yes!" says the farmer enthusiastically, and offers a brown cow.  The train driver leads the cow back to the stranded train and walks it around the engine once.  Then he takes it back to the farmer and thanks him.

("What did he need the cow for, Jeremy?"
"To fix the train."
"Yes, but what did the cow do to fix the train?"
"It mooooed.")

All right then.  Back to the engine.  The driver returns to his carriage and waits expectantly in his passenger seat.  Oh dear, it's still not moving!  Off the driver goes to the farm again.

"Please may I borrow your goat?"

The goat is the charm, and the passengers are on their way to sounds of cheering.

There still doesn't appear to be anybody actually driving the train.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Finding Myself in Britain (Book Review)

It was so appropriate that, to read the final chapter of this particular book, I settled down in the Rectory garden with a cup of tea, escaping the noise of a workman ripping out our bathroom upstairs.  After all, in the previous chapters, Amy Boucher Pye had written entertainingly about the British obsession with tea (and giving tea to workmen), life in a vicarage, and in particular the plumbing!  I’d laughed at her description of a typical vicarage shower “like an Irish mist, in which one would need to jump around in order to get wet” and cheered her on as she confessed to leaving a trail of power showers in all her dwellings - I’m sure there are several vicars’ families who bless her daily for that.
Amy’s story of finding herself in Britain - not only transplanted from her American home and culture, but also married to an Anglican priest with all of the culture shock that can entail - is full of humour, faith and insight, not to mention facts about America I never knew, and facts about how the two nations experience each other that should be essential reading for anyone planning to cross the Atlantic.  She compares her life’s journey, her being in the right place while still longing for home, to the experience of any Christian, outlined in Hebrews*: living as foreigners on the earth and seeking the city to come. And of course, “Finding Myself in Britain” is a particularly clever title as Amy begins to work out a new way of life and a way to root the identities of herself and her children.
I loved the way that Amy structured the book on the different seasons of the church year, being an inveterate season-dweller myself: I compared notes, took tips and ideas, and raised an eyebrow at the strange order of her Advent wreath candles.  I so enjoyed being a fly on the wall for fasts and feasts and family times.
There was a 'notes' section at the back to explain Ameracinisms to the British readers and vice versa, which was often worth flipping to for the amusing definitions even if I reckoned I knew the word. The only slightly distracting thing was the constant and apparently random use of italicised phrases - I think they were meant as asides to the reader, though they would often have fitted perfectly well into the text - but perhaps that's just another cultural difference, and a way of the author's voice coming through loud and clear.
Amy was full of valuable advice, too, which was woven cunningly into her story and emerged to catch my breath when I was least expecting it.  I’ve written down some of what she had to say about identity and being a vicar’s wife and stuck it above my desk.  And there were poems and anecdotes and even a recipe section at the back.  What was this book?  A memoir?  A devotional?  A how-to-live-in-a-vicarage manual?

Whatever it was, I didn’t actually want to read the final chapter as I sat there in the garden.  Closing the book was like having to say goodbye to a friend after a week’s holiday together.  Thankfully, though, you can always turn back to page 1 of a book and start again.  And then there’s all those recipes to try.

* Hebrews 11 verses 13-14 and 13 verse 14

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Muffin Queen

TheRev: I'd quite like a muffin.
Me: Oh, we don't have any.  But we do have crumpets.  I'd quite like a crumpet.
TheRev: They're the same thing. Some people call crumpets, muffins.
Me: Nonsense.  Crumpets and muffins are completely different.
TheRev: Well, I'd still like a muffin.
Me: Sorry, we don't have any, but would you like a crumpet?
TheRev: I can call them muffins if I like.
Me: Look, there are two different things that a muffin could mean, and neither of them is a crumpet.
TheRev: Who died and made you Muffin Queen?
Me: (Gingerbread Man voice from Shrek:) The muffin queeeen?!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

A very handsome nose

Abigail draws a long line of little shapeless figures, and gives each of them a smile and one dot.  "That's you...and Aunty Madeleine...and Aunty Katy...and Aunty Lili..."
"Why do we all only have one eye?" I ask.
"The others are on the other side."
Then, just I'm marvelling that she's worked out perspective, she goes back along the line adding a second dot to each face.
"Oh, no, Abi!" - I'm cursing myself for interfering - "Don't put the other eyes in - you were quite right that they should be on the other side!"
She blinks at the drawing dispassionately.  "No, those are the noses."
Thank heaven.
"Aunty Madeleine​ has a very handsome nose," she says as she adds it.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lots of naughty

Here's a tiny drama from this morning.

The scene: It's Sunday morning.  Abigail has got up early, refused anything resembling breakfast and eventually agreed to eat her untouched school packed lunch from the fridge.  Mummy has left her with this and CBeebies, made herself a cup of tea and gone upstairs to sort things out.  Jeremy has pottered down to watch CBeebies, and TheRev is in the study, printing stuff.

Mummy comes back down the stairs to find Abi waiting at the bottom.

Abi: (With relish) Mummy! I beened lots of naughty.

Mummy: Uh oh.

Abi: But, I want to be friends.

Mummy: Okay.  Well, what did you do?

Abi: I eated my spoon.

Mummy: Sorry.  You ate your what?

Abi: My spoon.

Mummy: Your - I - I'm not sure I've understood.  You ate a spoon?

Abi: Can we be friends?

Mummy: A spoon?  Are you sure?

Abi: Yes.

Mummy: Can you show me?

Abi leads Mummy to the sitting room and points to the remains of her packed lunch.  The plastic baby spoon which was with the (unopened) yoghurt now only has half a spoon on the handle.

Mummy: You ATE a SPOON?  But how...why...I mean, the other bit must be somewhere!  Did you swallow it?

Abi: Are we friends?

Mummy: Yes but where's the SPOON?  Is it in your tummy?

Abi: I don't know.  I spitted it out.

Mummy: Then why can't I see it anywhere?

Jem: Abi putted cheese on mine train.

Mummy: Oh.  Yes, I can see that, but - Jem, did you see her eat a spoon?

Jem: *proffering train* Clean it!

Mummy: I can't, have a wipe...Daddy, come in here, I think Abi has actually eaten a spoon!

Daddy: I'm coming!  That's just printing, I can help get the kids dressed.

Mummy: They are already dressed.  The issue here is that one of them has eaten a spoon.

There follows a time of panic as we both hunt for the other bit of the spoon and consider the idea that our food phobic daughter has managed to consume a sharp bit of plastic for breakfast

Daddy: It's really gone!

Mummy: What's that in...Jeremy's hair!  It's in his hair!

Yes, that funny green thing in Jem's hair was really the top of the spoon, affixed with cream cheese.

It is a miracle every Sunday that we get to church on time.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

40 days, 40 acts, 40 bags

For Lent this year, I've signed up to two schemes: 40 Acts and 40 bags in 40 days  Hopefully, I'm going to blog abut my experiences with these, but not every day (and, if I'm honest, probably not every week, since I'm writing a book and have two small children!)

40 Acts will e-mail me a choice of three acts of generosity to perform every day.  I'm both excited and nervous about this, because I suspect that many of them will require me to step outside my comfort zone in terms of time, money and being brave enough to talk to strangers.  However, I love the idea of making Lent, not just about sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, but about practicing a generous lifestyle.

40 bags in 40 days is much more selfish: although I'm doing it partly because giving away lots of stuff and simplifying life fits in with the generous lifestyle, it's mainly because my house is a mess and I want to declutter like a crazy woman.  The website suggests listing forty areas of the house or subsets of clutter (eg 'books') and tackling one each day, so I've listed my forty areas below, just for my own reference.  The resulting 'bags' could be things to give away, bags for the trash (most likely) or things to upcycle and bring back into current use.  I'm also going to count things boxed up for storage in the attic or garage.  I won't necessarily do the areas in this order - some are bigger or smaller jobs so I can pick according to the time I have that day.  And, in proper Lenten fashion, I get Sundays off!

While I'm following 40 acts and 40 bags, I'm also going to resist the temptation to buy anything new in the way of clothes and toys (with a couple of exceptions, because Abi's obsessions and need for motivators know no Lent).  This may be the hardest part of the whole thing.

So, I'm simultaneously simplifying life and practicing generosity.  It's like poetry: somebody said (I thought it was Tom Stoppard, but Google can't agree on who it was) that poetry is the simultaneous compression of form and expansion of meaning.  Lent has always been about the compression of physical desires and the simultaneous expansion of spiritual gain, so that seems about right, really.

Forty Areas
1) Under Abi's bed and down the back of her bedside cabinet
2) Abi's desk and desk drawers (which are still mainly full of my own stuff)
3) The vegetable rack in the bathroom where we keep dead shampoo bottles
4) My bedside cabinet
5) My wardrobe
6) My chest of drawers (Oh, the socks.  All the single socks.  Sob.)
7) TheRev's clothes
8) The bathroom windowsill
9)The bath toys
10) The clean laundry pile (Ha!  This will take about a week)
11) Jeremy's toys
12) Jeremy's clothes
13) Abi's clothes
14) The cloth nappies
15) My desk
16) My study shelves
17) Kitchen windowsill
18) Kitchen cupboards (crockery and glass)
19) Kitchen cupboards (food)
20) The den/puppet theatre in the understairs cupboard
21) DVDs
22) CDs
23) Downstairs books
24) Upstairs books
25) The spare room
26) On top of the fridge
27) The ironing-board-and-junk cupboard
28) Under the sink (about a million plastic bags)
29) Abi's toys
30) Abi's windowsill
31) The downstairs educational toy and puzzle shelves
32) The play kitchen area
33) The downstairs toy box (I have no idea what's in it)
34) Craft cupboard
35) Under my desk
36) TheRev's study shelves
37) TheRev's study floor
38) The sitting room
39) Storytelling resources
40) Utility/laundry/guinea pig stuff corner

If I'm feeling especially brave, I may blog before-and-after pics of some of these, if only to banish the temptation to show off the tidy parts of life on social media while hiding the ugly ones.  If anyone wants to join me in an honest sharing of mess and celebration of finding the carpet, make your own list and let me know and we'll get through this together...