25 Dec 2013

Giving and getting

in·car·nate [in-kahr-nit]
in·car·nat·ed, in·car·nat·ing
1. embodied in flesh; given a body, especially a human
2. personified or typified, as a quality or idea
3. flesh-coloured or crimson

4. to put into or representing in a concrete form, as an idea: The building incarnates the architect's latest theories
5. to be the embodiment or type of: Her latest book incarnates the literature of our day


Synonyms:

embodied; exteriorised; externalised; manifested; materialised; personified; substantiated; typified; human; in human form; in the flesh; made flesh; physical; real; tangible

Imagine the worst Christmas present ever. Maybe something along the lines of a plastic moustache from a Christmas cracker, chewed by the family dog. Or a pair of unwashed socks formerly owned by a teenage boy.

Contrast this with the bestest most amazingly extravagant present ever- maybe a mansion in the country with acres of gardens complete with personal cleaner, cook and gardener. Or a brand new car. Or (if you are a child in our house) a wii-U.

Now I know we don't give to receive, but that's generally what happens between family and friends at Christmastime. So imagine a gift exchange thusly:
• Give a wii-U to person X
• Receive a plastic moustache from person X
That would be insane and embarrassing. Insulting even. 

It doesn't even work the other way round:
• Give a plastic moustache to person X
• Receive a wii-U from person X
(Awk.....ward...)

Unless you are God. 

The gift exchange there is:
• We give him our mess and sin which suffocates and enslaves us
• He gives us new life now, and the promise of life with him forever (Free to us, but which cost him his son).

I have believed this for a long long time, yet the more I get to know and love him, the less sense the whole arrangement makes. The more familiar I get with the nativity story the more mysterious and risky it all seems. And like moustache vs mansion, how is it even fair??

A deity of unimaginable power and creativity. Wanting nothing. Needing nothing. Omnipotent. Giving it all up. (Seriously- my brain is scrambled by this). The maker of a billion planets choosing to visit just one of them and making it his home planet for 30 or so earth years, living there in the guise of a created inhabitant in an age before Lynx grooming products, biro pens or tea bags. 

Not only that, but he first arrived there in a baby's tiny frame, dependant, incontinent and immobile. He grew up limited by the physical laws of gravity and time, subject to discomforts such as hunger, fatigue and the inconvenience of getting up in the middle of the night to pee, or to counsel people who couldn't make it during normal opening hours. 

Limited does not even begin to cover it. (And that's without even trying to factor in the torture of crucifixion). I really don't get it. I'm eternally thankful and loving Jesus more and more for choosing to go through with the whole thing, but I don't get it. 

Something happened this morning though that gave me a glimmer of how the exchange thing works. There were many, many presents under our tree at 7am. Most of them were for our 3 kids. They were revealed to be board games, books, sweets, clothes and toys. Our big family present this year was not a mansion or new car. It was a Wii-U! Yay!! The kids were made up. We are still playing on it now as I type this (NB- No Gadget Day was YESTERDAY this week, so this is allowed, Gareth Birt!).

My most significant present this morning was from our 10 year old who, inspired by the bulging rugby sock at the foot of his bed, took a pair of his own socks and put a pop up pencil and a satsuma in each one and presented them to K and me. Then apologised that his feet aren't bigger.

And so:
• Give a wii-U (Complete with Zelda's WindWaker, Pikmin3 and the promise of downloading Mario 3d as soon as the wii store is functional again)
• Receive a pop up pencil and a satsuma from your own fruit bowl

This is more than a fair exchange because I love him more than life itself and it's all he had to hand this morning.





14 Dec 2013

Technology

The place of technology in childhood is under much discussion in our town right now following a local primary school's decision to have every kid purchase and use their own iPad in lessons. I'm not sure how I feel about this really, and given that none of our kids go there, I'm not forced to consider it right now. It's a growing trend though so is something we won't escape for much longer. And like breastfeeding in public or military intervention in the Middle East, everyone seems to have passionate opinions one way or the other. 

You have the pro people over here who say In a few short years these kids will leave school and embark on careers that don't even exist yet and this is a fantastic tool that will help them adapt to a new workplace and a new world etc etc.

And then the people over here who say What about the parents who can't afford to participate in the scheme? Who's liable for damage? And look at this study here and this research here - we are spawning a generation of socially inept, obese youngsters who will constantly need entertaining and struggle to converse with anyone without using acronyms blah de blah.

This may well be true- the eldest child in our house is 13 and still speaks English (for now). But our house is full of gadgets. And people who love gadgets. And we spend more time using them than I'm comfortable with. But I also spend more time than I want to on my laptop so I would be a big fat hypocrite to ban them completely then ignore my kids while I deal with emails.

So as with every other aspect of life we aim for moderation. And once a week we have No Gadget Day when the kids are forced to play cards / Monopoly / chess / lego or help cook tea rather than participate in any screen based activity.

This has been met with some resistance, it has to be said. Which has only made me more determined to carry on. (I'm a bit stubborn that way).

Perhaps this is partly due to poor marketing? We should maybe try a re-brand...

• Lets Argue About Monopoly Day 
• Hide And Seek Until Someone Is Crying Day
• Build A Den And Defend It With Nerfs Day
• Look Sadly At DVD Boxes For The Best Part Of An Hour While Deciding What To Watch Tomorrow Day
• Nice One But No You May Not Consult Siri For A Cookie Recipe- Look One Up In A Book Day
• I Don't Know What You Can Do Now- Why Not Do Your Homework Day
• If This Is So Hard Then We'll Need To Do This On Thursdays Too Day

Whatever we end up calling it, resistance is futile. And until you realise this (Oh dear children) we shall continue to use this weekly exercise to covertly hone the essential debating skills you will need later in life.

You're welcome.

6 Dec 2013

Pets at home

E is touching cat's back, then hiding his hand when cat turns round to look. Repeatedly. If you time this correctly while he's washing himself, cat will turn round with his tongue hanging out, which is quite funny (for us).

Me: Is he annoying you Noodle? Ah don't worry, he annoys me too sometimes.

E: (Looks affronted)

Me: Don't give me that look- you try to annoy me on some of those occasions.

E: I know I do- but that's no reason to tell the cat is it?



30 Nov 2013

Lessons you don't learn in school (pt 2)

A paradigm shift has taken place in our house. I cook now. As of about 2 months ago.

Yes- I know. I was surprised too.

This change was triggered by the inheritance of a massive box of recipe cards from some friends who were moving house and asked did I want them? I most certainly did not want them but said yes automatically as I was in full clearance mode. (I have learned that one should transport as few things as possible when moving house). Never mind - the recipes would just live at our house for a few days then be passed on to someone who was likely to use them.

However, Madi discovered the box before this could happen and spent ages looking through the cards making comments like 'Ooh this looks nice' and 'I would LOVE to eat this thing here - what is it?'

Hmm. Lightbulb.

I summoned the boys and got all of them to look through all the cards and put their favourite looking meals to one side. I instructed them to pass round their favourites to get a consensus of dishes they would all be willing to try.



A few evenings later, K and me sat on the sofa with wine and maltesers and proceeded to look through the dozens of cards that had been deemed 'nice' by the children. We vetoed them and discarded all the cards involving obscure expensive ingredients and anything that gave a preparation time of more than 35 minutes. (Until they invent time travel I'm not interested).

This left 30 or so recipes.

Recipes. The word still sounds rather foreign to me.

These were arranged into a rota and a shopping list was made.

Shopping list. I know- It's a whole new vernacular. Until now we've operated with a type of inventory / roll call system. Run out of beans? Replace them. Tomato sauce needs too much shaking before anything comes out? Replace that before it runs out completely and J goes into withdrawal. Tuna?... Tuna??... TU-NAH!??... Darn it, tuna's gone awol again- source more, ASAP!

Shopping list in hand, I took the 2 youngest kids to Tesco the following evening after tea. It was a most efficient exercise- we got everything on the list, suffered minimal infiltration by non-listed items and finished off with our usual free reward of browsing in the toy aisle for 10 minutes. (Note to self: Food shop on a full stomach. Always).

The kids loved it. We each chose an item, scouted off to find it, then raced back to the trolley to score it off and choose something else. We always look out for offers and own-brand stuff, but this time a whole new world opened up. We covered £/kg, £/lb and why the marketing people are sneaky and don't standardise their labelling. The whole experience lasted an hour and a half and covered aspects of numeracy, literacy and the life skill of approaching a uniformed grown up to determine the location of coconut milk.

Over the next few days I gradually realised something which I suspect is common knowledge for many normal people: the mere awareness of what you are likely to eat later on in the day takes some of the stress out of making it. Why this is I'm not sure- the measuring / chopping / browning / simmering of things still has to be done. But the mental exertion of making certain decisions has already taken place so somehow all that stuff seems more bearable (Note: bearable- not necessarily enjoyable).

While having to actually perform the measuring / chopping / browning / simmering of things I employ the following strategies to further decrease monotony...

• Approach the whole thing like a massive science experiment. Prove the hypothesis: 5x + (3mb x CM4 - π5)2 = y

• Have someone to talk to / assist (our kitchen is open plan so there's usually another human being somewhere nearby). If not...

• Have music playing. Loudly.

• Gradually introduce variables into the known formulae: 5x + (3mL x CM4 - π5)2 = y (I used lamb instead of beef there and made my very own thing- Ha!)

Clearly we are in the very early stages of some sort of breakthrough here. If indeed it is a permanent change- this may just be the Cookiemoon or some weird mid-life blip and my real domestic rebel within will resurface any day now and force us to eat baked potatoes every other night, frozen stuff in between, and in the run up to big events when work/home boundaries are compromised allow the kids to have bowls of sugar puffs and wotsits for tea.

Maybe.

13 Nov 2013

Telling the truth (cont)

It's E's bedtime. I'm up in his room. We have been chatting about something (can't remember what) that he broached. I have talked animatedly about the subject for almost 3 minutes, uninterrupted. It was an intelligent, reasonably knowledgeable contribution, I thought.

E: Night night then mum...
Me: Ah, you want me to stop talking.
E: Yes please.
Me: Do I say ever say anything that is remotely interesting to you?
E: Um no... Not really.
Me: I see.
E: But I'm always too polite to tell you.
Me: Thanks mate.
E: I mean apart from right now when I told you. But that's only cause you asked me outright and I didn't want to lie.
Me: I appreciate the honesty. Thanks.
E: You're welcome.




4 Nov 2013

Strimming Frogs

PROLOGUE

In our house we do pets

We have a cat and a hamster and a long history of keeping small domestic animals. I catch spiders and put them outside rather than kill them. We genuinely don't set out to harm living things- unless of course they are teeny tiny bacteria that make larger organisms vomit- or wasps (these things can and should be destroyed).

In our house we don't do gardening
This is due to the lack of time, knowledge about gardening and motivation to increase knowledge about gardening. After a brief and unsuccessful flirtation with growing our own veg, we returned to soulless multinationals for all food. Grass cutting and occasional plant lopping are the only garden based activities we now indulge in. (Carrots are just too NEEDY while they are in the ground). Our garden is a place to keep the trampoline, shoo the cat towards when he's puking fur balls and occasionally sit in if it's not raining.

In our house some of us do Minecraft
Lego has always been massive for our kids, so this was only a matter of time. 

---
One Summer a few years ago I was strimming the grass in the back garden while Madi helped me with her plastic lawnmower. Suddenly, a large adult frog half flopped/half jumped by the whizzing wire and came to rest just in front of us. I stopped all activity and inspected it: 

• Bleeding from nose 
• Laceration to throat
• Hyperventilation (Hypovolemic shock?)
• Two missing digits on left hand
• Left leg at a peculiar angle
• Oops.

Madi, who came from the womb talking, immediately began interrogating me. Why had I stopped strimming? Will the frog be OK? Don't you know you strim grass and not frogs? That was a bad thing you just did. Oh ok, so you didn't mean to strim the frog. It was silly then. I'll need to tell Daddy that you did that. Silly Mummy strimmed the frog.

OK, evasive manoevers failed. Time for damage control. I found a paint roller tray in the garage and filled the deepest bit with water. Madi and I lined the shallowest part of the tray with some of the strimmed grass. We toured the inside windowsills of the house and collected all the dead flies which had buzzed themselves to death in the sunlight. We scattered them in the paint tray too, then gently transferred the injured frog to our makeshift ICU.

The frog just sat there among the bed of dying cut grass, hyperventilating.

So we placed it half-in / half-out of the water. It looked at us and continued to hyperventilate. Maybe they always breathe that fast? Respiration rates of normal healthy frogs were not covered in general nurse training. Madi tried offering it a dead fly, but it wasn't interested.

Over the next few days in between the school run, nursery run, work and playdates, I checked on the frog. It never moved from the position in the tray where I'd placed it. It got gradually more and more cyanosed, then on day 3 it died.

Ah well. I didn't mean to kill it, as Madi reassured me.


-----

We recently spent a whole day in the back garden shifting 1/2 ton of soil from one location to another to make way for a massive shed garden office.

It was actually quite fun to spend the working day doing something so active. 1/2 ton of soil takes up a lot of room, so progress was easy to chart. The sum total of my physical activity in the day usually comprises of short walks between the kettle, my desk and the bathroom, so being energetic in a work capacity felt a bit radical. The day was not so positive for the tiny inhabitants of the soil however.

With every spadeful of the excavation process, we saw small panicking creatures, scurrying frantically away from the edge of the spade. Running for their lives from the unidentified wrecker of their world. Annoyingly, they sometimes ended up right in the path of the spade, such was their panic and haste to avoid what they didn't understand. I cut at least 3 millipedes clean in half. The severed head ends writhed around for a good 30 seconds afterwards each time. It was not pleasant. 

I had flashbacks to the frog. 
-----

Minecraft is very big in our house. I have yet to make up my mind about it, having never actually played it myself (for the same reason a recovering alcoholic will not have medicinal whiskey in the bathroom cabinet).

Ethan is the authority on all things Minecraft in our family, having invested the most hours in playing it. The potential for creativity and learning simple engineering principles is huge and having unlimited resources to mould a world of your own design is most appealing. But there have also been a few moments of conflict which have led to the following code of conduct:

• Do not destroy anything you did not build
• If a structure was built jointly, always consult with collaborators before demolition / structural alteration
• Structural alteration includes anything not in the designer's original plans and always includes items placed without his/her knowledge. Waterfalls, lava, portals  etc are all considered to be structural alterations- even those placed as a 'joke'. 
• You may destroy a structure you created, however you must ensure that the resulting debris does not affect any other player
• In the event of accidental damage to another players property, an unprompted apology is appropriate
• Lack of such an apology will lead to a 24hr Minecraft embargo
• If you treat your neighbours well, then you probably don't need nuclear capability.

I don't know whether to be uncomfortable that the rules have to exist, or grateful that they do and we have agreed to stick to them.
--- 

It makes me think: What if the creator of our real live flesh and blood and water and mineral world were as violent and dictatorial as a teenager exploring the limits of his power with 3D textured cubes? 

Or what if our creator were as clumsy and uncaring as a amateur gardner shovelling earth from A to B for a greater purpose that doesn't concern a billion tiny creatures that are simply collateral to be damaged? 

The universe would be a seriously miserable place.

27 Oct 2013

Lessons you don't learn in school (pt 1)

We are at home. M is clearly upset.
Me: Hey, what's wrong?
M: It's (sob!) Jackson... He says he doesn't want to marry me... (sob!)
J: But Madi, I'm not ALLOWED to!! 
M: But why not?
Me: Well, you can't decide who to marry now anyway because it's a very grown up thing to do and, um... when you're old enough to be married, you won't WANT to marry your brother and-
M (Interrupting): Yes I will!
J: You won't Madi, and they won't let us!! (Wanders off with a nerf gun, shaking his head at me)
Me: You won't babe. He'll always be someone very special to you but the love you have for him isn't the marrying kind of love. Plus, when people get married they tend to have babies. So you know that means a little diddy cell from the mum and a little diddy cell from the dad to make a new person yeah?
M: Yes.
Me: But if the 2 people are brother and sister, the baby will be poorly and might die.
M: (Aghast) No! That's horrible, why?
Me: I don't know- it's to do with the blood of the 2 people being too similar. So babies don't turn out right.
M: Oh so brothers and sisters are incompatible then?
Me: Exactly.
M: Oh ok then.

Thank you Dragonvale.



19 Oct 2013

Being quiet



I am at a church leaders meeting where we have an hour just to be with God and have no demands or interruptions. I didn't read the email properly and am unprepared. I have no phone, Bible, nothing. And a million thoughts in my head as normal. Drat. Everyone in the room is ready for this and we're off. OK. Start somewhere. Start with the thing Martin just said. Streams. Being refreshed. Being thirsty. I am thirsty actually. Water is fantastic stuff. Without it we would all be dead in 3 days and it just falls from the sky as a gift. Thank you God. I love water. There are a ton of verses about that. I've read them. I want to read them again. I have no Bible though. Ah but K has his phone. And he's not using it. I'll wander over like this. I'll gently try to take it and raise my eyebrows when his eyes meet mine so he knows I'm asking for it and he says YES you can have my phone. Thank you, I love you. I launch the Bible app and find verse after verse after verse about water and all other kinds of stuff. It's a goldmine in here! Read. Pray. Read. Pray. Read. Pray. And scribble like a woman possessed on the prayer wall. Scriptures, illustrations and song lyrics from ages ago that probably no one but K will recognise. Pray. Scribble. Read. Scribble. Pray. Read. Pray. Pray. Pray. God is real and he's here. Yay! And now K needs his phone back. And the background music has stopped. And there is silence. And more silence. And no Bible- paper or digital. And nothing in my long term memory. How is that possible? I know there are memorised verses there somewhere. It must be a short circuit due to the panic of trying to find them. Like trying to find your keys when you're late for school. Why don't I read the Bible more? And why don't the bits I do read sink down into my brain and allow themselves to be remembered when I need to refer to them? I need the Bible. I need it need it need it. It's just too quiet now. Everyone else is praying or reading or scribbling on the wall I've just moved away from and comfortable with all of this and I'm struggling with the no music and no Bible. There must be one round here somewhere
Ah you want to read the Bible now then, do you?
Well yes, I do. 
How badly?
Really really badly.
You have one at home.
Yes I know.
More than one actually.
Yes... (I know what's coming next)
And you didn't read it this morning did you?
Yes I know. You know too- me and mornings...?
And how about after the second cup of tea that woke you up?
I kind of got busy with work.
I have work too y'know.
Yes, but-
And I have more to do than you do.
Ah of course. Good point - well made.
There's probably a Bible over there- in the youth room.
Thanks God.

10 Oct 2013

Laundry

Retrieved from the washing machine: Important bits of paper x many. And a nice clean fiver.


1 Oct 2013

On the edge

We spent an inordinate amount of time this weekend changing all the door handles in the house (so they now match) and replacing the downstairs shower as the old one kept pretending it had low pressure and randomly running cold, usually when the person standing underneath it was all sudded up in Lynx.

So now it's Monday morning and J has NO clean school trousers in his drawer. 

E's trousers are about 8 years too big for him and Madi's flair at the bottom and have little silver hearts dangling from a belt loop, so neither of these are options.

The damp back-log of washed clothes from Friday is still at the back door, peg bag positioned on top of it, because we almost hung them out 2 days ago.

I tumble-dry just a pair of trousers in 20 minutes while J eats his cereal in his boxers. He puts them on while they are still warm then we run to school.

Living on the EDGE I tell you... It's exhilarating.




23 Sep 2013

Privacy

I am aware that I talk a LOT about my kids on here and prattling on and on about them may be quite dull for some people. (If so then click right on because my next 3 neighbours along are currently talking about underground 70's music, the occult and Robert Pollard's complete works, respectively. It's quite an eclectic place here).  

Suddenly thought the other night though- what if the kids don't want aspects of their lives in the public domain? I've read a few posts to them and they laughed. I chose to interpret this as permission. However, I broached the subject of privacy with E the other night:

Me: Can I blog about you?
E: No- you most definately can't.
Me: What about if I let you read it first?
E: Maybe... that would be alright.
I pass him my phone with the last post on the screen. He reads in silence for a minute or two, then:
E: You know this bit here, 'He would most definitely fail to notice gym kit tomorrow morning because it does not have a plug, blah blah blah?'
Me: Yes?
E: I didn't even get your text until after I got my gym kit off the windowsill the next morning. So this is just wrong.
Me: And you knew your gym kit was on the windowsill how?
E: I used my EYES. Like this!! (Points two fingers at his own eyes then towards me, indicating that he is currently eyeballing me as he did his gym kit).
Me: And you just happened to notice it there?
E: Well it was right at the top of the stairs! I had to walk right by it!!
Me: Ok. I was wrong. 
E: So not only are you blogging about me without my permission but you are LYING too!
Me: No problem. I'll offer a retraction.
E: Thank you.

I recently claimed that my almost teenage son fails to notice important things in his immediate environment- like clean clothes belonging to him. This is not true and I wish to retract the statement made here. Sometimes he DOES notice his clean clothes. But not when they need to be put away in a drawer. Sorry. 

The End

16 Sep 2013

Keep on sweeping sweeping sweeping

As Street Pastors, we spend our duty nights meandering through the town centre from 11pm onwards, chatting to whoever is around and giving out lollies, flip flops, cups of water and spikies. We also pick up abandoned pint glasses and bottles and sweep up any broken glass. 

It's fun. Most people we meet love that we are out there looking out for them and we generally summarise the busyness of the shift with a breakdown of:

• bottles and glasses binned
• consumables distributed
• requests for photos 
• hugs received

Once a bloke even dropped his trousers for me to let me wobble his dodgy kneecap, the result of a rugby tackle gone bad. We also get the occasional request for sexual favours, for which we have neither insurance or training, so these are gracefully declined.

One night during the Summer just gone there was a massive amount of broken glass, far more than we've ever seen in our little town. There's usually at least one breakage per night, sometimes none at all, but on this particular night there were about 8 different areas of bottle, pint glass and ash tray debris at various points over a 1/4 mile stretch through town. 

We conclude these incidents were related. We propose the following explanations:

a) These acts were performed by a solitary individual with boy/girlfriend discord. Upon leaving the tapas bar by the river s/he walked up the hill to the bus station, stopping en-route to randomly propel nearby glass items that fell within visual range. Individual then left the area.

b) Person or persons unknown broke the glass for us and shall report back in due course with a dossier of our corporate glass sweeping ability. We shall be graded in all areas of the task including (but not limited to) allocation of duty, length of time between smash and sweep and how much debris we leave behind. Extra marks given if we flash a bit of ankle on the way down or if the designated sweepie is of retirement age. 

c) A public spirited individual who thinks we deserve more credit than we currently get wanted to boost our public relations record with the locals, many of whom stood around us as we swept and lauded our efforts at each affected area. (If this is the case- THANK YOU whoever you are. But really- it's not necessary).

Like Pavlov's dog, we Street Pastors salivate uncontrollably at the sight of broken shards of razor sharp glass. We cannot resist cleaning it up immediately lest the next barefooted carrier of beautiful but troublesome 6" heels severs a pedal artery and bleeds to death in front of us as we have run out of flip flops (we are TWENTY FIVE MINUTES away from the nearest A&E people!)

I think of us as a kind of reverse version of The Doozers in Fraggle Rock, who spend their lives constructing elaborate crystalline structures that the Fraggles consume. 

I would be the one called Daisy.








Fixing stuff

Watching man fixing stuff while drinking tea. When we share fave bits of the day later on round the dinner table this will be mine...


12 Sep 2013

Communication

A new era has begun in our house hold.

Tonight for the first time ever I have sent a meaningful informative text to my almost 13 year old rather than converse with him directly.

Of course we have texted each other for fun while sitting on opposite ends of the sofa, usually to discuss minor details like which channel to switch to next and why it's not my turn to make a cup of tea. We have also communicated via this medium from separate locations. But the text tonight was sent while both of us were at home with the purpose of conveying actual important information regarding the location of his clean gym kit (on the windowsill at the top of the stairs) which could not be communicated verbally because:

a) It's 5 to midnight and he is asleep.
b) Placing gym kit in his room would potentially disturb him, and 
c) Even if it didn't, he would most definitely fail to notice gym kit tomorrow morning because it does not have a plug, and his tunnel visioned brain is only programmed to detect the sudden appearance of electronic items.
d) I am usually shuffling round the house with my eyes half closed before 8am and any enquiry as to the location of a gym kit (or anything else) before he leaves the house will not be met with a coherent answer.

So I told him tonight instead. When I was awake.

1 Sep 2013

Recycling

Everything is recycled from our front door here in S Wales. And we recycle everything we can, especially since the litter police changed their landfill policy and now refuse to pick up black bags. Like ever. Now landfill rubbish must be disposed of in council issue grey bags, a limited supply of which is given to each household. Worry ye not. We don't use that many black bags anyway because we recycle anything the council will take.




This normally occurs with such minimal intrusion into everyday life that it's not worth a thought or a blog. But we recently missed the Monday food bin collection 3 weeks in a row and things got unpleasant. Our reasons were sound yet avoidable:


Week 1: Slept in and missed it. Usually up for school but it's the holidays. Never mind- there's only 2x little bags in there- plenty of room for more.

Week 2: Off on holiday- yipee! Fridge cleaned out (which was a mank job in itself) and contents bagged and added to the food bin. It's getting full in there now. Largely due to the whole butternut squash we all forgot about and 1/2 melon which adopted the smell of salami after being in residence next to it in the fridge. Bleugh. Food-bin left in front garden for collection in 2 days time...

Week 3: ... Ah- but bin didn't cross the sacred mono-blocked line onto the tarmaced pavement and our food recycling is there to greet us when we return. Food bin people are notoriously wary of reaching 2' into a resident's private front garden and collecting anything that may be lurking in one of their own receptacles, lest they be sued for theft.

The next food collection is still 4 days away and we have a problem. The bin is 3/4 full of decomposing foodstuffs, a small colony of maggots and several dozen adult flies (who are probably babysitting).

It is rank in there. The food bin people will never take this on Monday! Even if I position it correctly on the pavement and gift wrap it.

Keith is away at a gig. In-laws will be here on Monday. I want this sorted well before then anyway. I have to man up and deal with the bin. I clean the entire house and cook a proper meal and everything. I am working towards the domestic epicentre of foulness. Tea will be ready in maybe 10 minutes. Do I deal with this now before eating and get it out the way? Or wait until after tea and maybe see everything again?

Do it now...  Do it now...  Do it now...  I summon the children and give them jobs:

M: Hold the Dettol wipes and bleach. I'll need those in a minute.
J: Stand there and hold all this brown packing paper and extra large compostable bags. Open one of them now, ready for the skanky food.
E: Bring me basin of water with bleach and a cloth that will be binned after this is all over. 

I approach the bin with marigold gloves and a certain amount of trepidation. You know how little boys are meant to be into bugs and spiders and all things a little bit gross? Not my kids. They already want to be somewhere else. Jackson looks quite pale actually. Madi is standing 10 feet away, eyes shut and holding her nose.

I take a deep breath and open the bin. Flies buzz out. Maggots are squirming among the rancid contents. The oldest bags have bio-degraded and split apart. The oldest things that used to be food have liquified. Some of the maggots have drowned in it.

How can stuff that is essentially edible and nutritious transform into something so corrupt and poisonous in less than a month? I could add a picture of maggots and rubbish right here. But that wouldn't convey the smell- It was e v i l.

I started picking out what I could using the brown paper to reinforce the fragile bags. J couldn't open the big compostable bags so E took over, holding one open for me while trying to remain as far away as possible from what I was holding. I lowered the decomposing food into the new bag as carefully as possible. But there was a certain amount of spatter. And maggots fell onto the driveway.

M and J protested loudly and ran inside. E desperately wanted to join them but I growled 'Stay where you are and hold the bag!!' in a voice that scared both of us.

Down and down I reached into the rancid soup of disintegrating food-bin filth. And slowly transferred it bit by bit into the bag Ethan was reluctantly holding.

Eww Eww Eww...

It was the singular most disgusting thing I have ever had to do in my whole life. And I have done a fair few disgusting things. I used to be a nurse- I got paid to do some of them. I have smiled and chatted with elderly patients and not gagged while dressing necrosing leg ulcers. I've had 3 babies and been involved in more than one drunken night out which ended with someone losing a night's worth of vodka in reverse. I have inserted one of my own fingers inside the body of another human being in order to deliver a prescribed medication. I have been involved in the unblocking of portable toilets at festivals which involved handling used tampons that were not my own. 

This was worse.

Once the solid contents had been evacuated, there was 4-5 inches of putrid orange water in the bottom of the bin, with dozens of maggot carcases floating in it.

This was disposed of down the nearest drain, then the bin bleached and rinsed out three times. It is still recovering in the front garden. 

I spent a lonnnggg time in the bath and am recovering on the couch with a glass of wine. And I can still smell the bin.

26 Aug 2013

Persistence

We spent a week of the Summer holidays on various beaches with a bunch of friends and an assortment of windbreaks, towels, buckets & spades, camping chairs, cool boxes and flasks of coffee. It was ACE.

One beach in particular was just breathtaking. We ended up there on one of the warmest days of the holidays and swam and played in the sea without wetsuits. Apparently the beach, Barafundle Bay is one of the top 12 in the World and we didn't even have to leave the country to get there.



After a few hours the tide began to creep up the beach. The gradient of the sand was such that there was a steep-ish bank and a ridge of sand about 30' or so from our camp.

Wouldn't it be cool, we thought, if we could create a massive sandcastle at the top of the ridge that would withstand the waves and allow the kids to STAND on top of it? The kids were too busy playing in the waves (and failing to save a long-since abandoned sandcastle from being swallowed up by the sea). But the adults in our group got to work. 

The spot at the top of the sand ridge was chosen and digging implements assembled. I don't know if you have had first hand experience of this, but adults can quickly build an impressively huge sandcastle without children getting in the way. We had a system. We had plastic spades. A common goal. Five of us chucked the sand on, and one stood on top and compressed the sand down, flattening it layer by layer and making it strong enough to support the weight of the 8 children we collectively own.

Within half an hour it stood imposing and strong on the beach. It wasn't an ornate or decorative thing, but it was fit for purpose, topped with a large flat sandy platform to accommodate 16 feet (maybe more- if everyone huddled up like penguins). The tide was still a few feet away and we still had time to save ourselves. Yay!

I scrambled up to join the bigger children. I pulled the smaller kids up one at a time. It was a squash. But it didn't matter because no one stayed long. There were still holes in the sand to be dug. And seaweed to collect. And it's far more thrilling to climb up a massive sandcastle then immediately jump down again than to simply stand atop it and wait for Sandcastle Armageddon. 

Apparently. 

I didn't try it.

Once up there I stayed. Initially this was to pluck the smaller members of our group from the jaws of the approaching waves. But pretty soon (probably due to OCD-related reasons) it swapped and became a battle of wills in my head. If I get off of this thing before the sea washes over the top of it, then the sea will win. I don't want the sea to win. Therefore I will stay here.

When the sea is only a few feet away, but those few feet are slopey, waiting for the tide can take a lonnnnnngggg time.

Sometimes there were 5 or 6 of us up there. Sometimes I was alone. Although the sun was still shining, it was dropping in the sky and lack of movement made me shiver. The constant scrambling up and down of many small feet dislodged slabs of sand from the sides, so I patted them back in again. And waited for the end.

I was cold. And horribly sandy. If I could only get down and rinse off in the sea I could get dry and warm and maybe there was some hot water left for TEA?

But that would involve getting down, and then the sea would win.

By the time the waves reached the foot of the castle, some of the kids had got too cold to be wet and were already back in clean, dry clothes. Those left ran up the castle wall and waited for the structure to collapse.

But Armageddon was still a while off yet. We had built the sandcastle pretty high. The game of choice changed from climb up sandcastle and immediately jump down into sand, to climb up sandcastle and immediately jump back down into sea. It looked fun. But if I tried it, that would involve getting down, and then the sea would win.

So I froze a bit longer as the waves slowly eroded our fortress and (rather excitingly) flowed over the ridge and back towards our camp, leaving us stranded on our artificial island. 

After another 10 minutes or so the next wave washed over the entire sandy platform, and the game was over. The sandcastle had gone, but we had WON!!



The remaining islanders washed off in the sea and rejoined our group to a round of applause. When we turned to leave, all that was left was a flat expanse of sea and sand with only a broken spade handle suggesting anything had happened.

OK. F/Fwd to this Sunday and we are in church. Singing a song I've never heard before. Part of it went:

You are everything you've promised, 
your faithfulness is true
When we're desperate for your presence, 
All we need is you

I really struggled to sing this. Not just because it was unfamiliar, but because it wasn't true. At that point in time, if I had the chance to itemise the things I was desperate for I would have said:

1. For my in-box to be empty
2. For the rain to hold off so the 4 loads of washing I did yesterday can dry
3. For the children to be head-lice free (a process I embarked on this morning which took the best part of an hour and a half and resulted in 3 of us being half an hour late for church, and probably the reason why I'm not desperate for anything else right now).

What's wrong with me? 

Then I remembered the beach. And some other things too.

If I can:

• waste an hour and a half of my life sitting like a pixie on top of a pile of compressed sand in order to win a self-created mind game with the Atlantic Ocean

• complain to HMRC via repeated recorded delivery mail over 4 years, 2 MPs and several house moves until they finally lose interest in me and my alleged 'overpayment'

• find 90 seconds every single day to breed dragon pairs and collect fake coins

Then surely I demonstrate my capacity for stubbornness and persistence which can be channelled into something that means something. I just need to be obstinate about things that matter and not give up praying about stuff when it doesn't happen right away.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you should go to a friend's house at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine who is on a trip has just come to my house, and I don't have any food for him!’ And suppose your friend should answer from inside, ‘Don't bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.’ Well, what then? I tell you that even if he will not get up and give you the bread because you are his friend, yet he will get up and give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking. And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks. (Luke 11, 5-10)

Just say an individual wave got disheartened from crashing into a huge sandcastle then just gave up? A single wave dislodges and rearranges several hundred thousand particles of sand and nothing more. But wave after wave after wave can do this.



Ask
Seek
Knock
And Play in the Sand






14 Aug 2013

Interruptions

We are in IKEA in the restaurant. A mid-shop snack is called for. We get:
• Dime bar cake (me, K and E)
• Peach Jelly (J)
• A mini strawberry flan for Madi (that J will likely end up eating because the only bit she really loves are the strawberries on top). 
There's a fair bit of mouthful swapping going on. I am not interested.

J: Try this mum- it's lush!
Me: No thanks.
J: But you LIKE jelly (This is true- I very much do) 
Me: Yeah, but just not right now. I'm in the middle of a chocolatey thing so it doesn't really go.
J: Then have coke in between.
Me: But I'd still be going back to the chocolate thing again right after a fruity thing and that's not right. 
J: Just mix them then- see! (He nicks another bit of my Dime bar cake, then takes a spoonful of jelly. Chocolatey Dime bar cake and peachy jelly are in his mouth TOGETHER!)
Me: Ewwwh! That is just wrong.

K laughs and compares my approach to food to life in general. I never realised before that moment, but in an instant I make the connection and know he's right.

I am a linear person. Begin, plod, complete, tick, move on.

But I also do right brain stuff and any creative exciting idea that steals into my head during a repetitive boring one will be given priority. Which is why I don't do interruptions that well. 

When there are 10 things to do at once which all are pressing to urgent, I'll pick the nearest one and get on with that. A triage system would be of benefit and let me schedule stuff in order of importance, but that wastes doing time so I just jump in and tackle the nearest thing first. 

Then when that process gets interrupted by the phone / door bell / a more urgent email / the need to cook tea, I get irritated and wish we had normal boring 9-5 jobs. Unless the interruption involves typography, high resolution images or emulsion paint. Then I embrace the interruption and flag the email until later. 

But I hate leaving ANY task half done, so my left and right brains are often in conflict. I have been known to leave a crying child for a good 5 minutes if I've almost finished the washing up and there's no haemorrhaging.* I will let the answering machine take a message if I'm halfway through any task involving addition or subtraction. And I hate waking up in the middle of a dream and missing how it ends. 

* Please be reassured. I stopped washing up when confronted by THIS.





9 Aug 2013

Clutter (pt 3)

I somehow missed The Matrix at the cinema and instead watched it a few weeks after it was released on a boxy 28" TV in my living room having borrowed a really poor quality video pirate from a mate at uni. 

It completely blew my mind. 

I'm actually quite glad I didn't see it on the big screen - I fear I would have completely lost myself and wrestled even longer with the disparity between film world and real life that a good movie or book always leaves me with. As it happened this particular film hangover lasted only until the next morning.

The construct loading programme featured in the film is an incredible premise. The construct is the default appearance of the Matrix - a massive ongoing computer simulation, which has enslaved humanity. Until programmed by the controller, the construct is endless- an eternal white expanse of nothingness with the potential to become anything and everything.

But until programmed, the construct is shapeless. The characters plugged into it are present and can interact with each other, but their surroundings are bare. There is nowhere to hide and no distractions.





Is authentic worship being in that head space with God? Where nothing else matters and you see only him?

Not the person next to you.
No actual or made up interruptions.
Just Jesus.

So much STUFF gets in the way that it's almost impossible to get to that place most of the time. My head is far more Where's Wally than Neo and Morpheus.

Stuff invades our heads from all kinds of sources and lots of it rightly so deserves time and thought and effort. But then there's other things on the fringes that refuse to remain there and if unchecked, gradually crowd into our souls until we've completely lost sight of that little red and white bobble hat.

And then as if everyday distractions weren't enough, sometimes the stuff originates from within the church, or through practises and traditions that are meant to bring us closer to him. (How much of what we do is an aid to intimacy with Jesus and how much of it is just religiosity to hide behind??) 

Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God's message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!’ (Mat 7:21-23)

Whoah that's harsh...

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

I don’t want to be first on a list of values; I want to be at the centre of everything. (Jesus, The Shack)

And there it is. The antidote. Like a heavenly paracetamol+liquid brufen combo for the worst toothache ever. And a bit less daunting than confronting demons.

More of you
More of you
More of you
Amen x