Thursday, 19 December 2013

#R2BC Snow & Christmas

Today it snowed.
It's the last day of school and the children were greeted with a garden covered with snow when they arrived home.  What better way to start the Christmas holidays?  Immediately Mr J and Miss A donned waterproof gloves, swapped shoes for wellies and headed out with the sledges for a bit of fun.  Watching Miss A persevere with a sledge that didn't exactly whizz down our gentle slope in the garden, I pulled on my own wellies and went out to help - and take photos!  Husband had said the snow was too wet, but actually it was starting to freeze as the sun went down and was almost perfectly slippery.  In fact, I was able to pull both Mr J and Miss A around the garden on the sledges at the same time.  I opted out when it came time for a snowball fight and snowman building, however.

The chickens do not seem as excited as the children.  In fact, earlier they were standing at the back door looking at me as if to say "The sky is falling!  Let us in!"

In other weather news... yesterday I survived driving in torrential - and I mean torrential - rain in the dark.  As a new driver I'm still hesitant to step out of my comfort zone when it comes to new places or conditions.  I was shaking by the time I got back from taking Miss I to town to sing in a concert, but I did it, and now I know that I can drive in pretty appalling weather!

Today was the last day of Miss C's playgroup.  Next year the English two morning playgroup is closing and the Welsh two morning playgroup is becoming a bilingual group over four mornings.  I have been worried that Miss C will not react well to the change, as she especially loves 'her' teacher from the English group.  Fortunately it was announced today that the English playgroup leader will be helping out two mornings a week at the Bilingual Playgroup, so it won't be much of a change for the children after all.  The only problem is due to funding issues they're not sure how many two year olds they can accommodate, meaning Miss C may not have a place in the new group.  However, we will cross that bridge when we come to it!

This week I finally got a wreath for our front door.  We've never had a wreath before - a combination of me thinking they are too expensive and unsuitable weather (too windy in the Falklands!) or unsuitable front door (not ours to bang nails into).  At the school fair, however, they were selling wreaths for £5.  After consulting with Miss C for about ten minutes we chose this one.

So, those are some of my reasons to be cheerful this week.  What are yours?

Ojos World
This is the Christmas one!! This one runs out next week.........on Christmas Day!!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas: 5 things I love... 5 things I loathe...

I would love to be able to write a lovely post just about all the wonderful things about Christmas, but as there are several things that wind me up too, I thought I'd do a mix and match!  Here are my five contrasting thoughts...


I love... The decorations.  The Christmas Tree covered in lights and tinsel, the branches hung with baubles of all different kinds, inexpertly placed by eager small hands.  The houses twinkling with coloured lights that brighten the dark winter evenings.  The wreaths on front doors, which seem to me to say 'Welcome'.  This is the first year we have a wreath ourselves.  I bought a beautiful one at the school Christmas Fair and put it up as soon as we got home.  As a child I loved to go up to central London to see the Christmas Lights and peer into the department store windows at the fantastic scenes set out, some telling stories that progressed from window to window.  I love the little nativity scene we have under our tree, with the wise men on their journey, the shepherds in their field waiting, Mary & Joseph headed for Bethlehem and Baby Jesus hidden in the hay in the stable waiting for Christmas morning when he can be solemnly (or rather, roughly following a squabble) brought out to remind us what the celebrations are all about.

I loathe... The tat - plastic Santas, inflatable reindeer, cheap-looking Santa displays in shops...


I love... Saint Nicholas.  I probably have a stronger affinity for him because of my name, but I do think he was a very special man.  Have you ever read the stories of Saint Nicholas?  Son of very wealthy parents (who died when he was young) he gave away almost his entire inheritance to those in need.  There are many stories about his generosity, particularly about him secretly giving money to three young women who couldn't afford a dowry - apparently the gold landed in their shoes drying by the fire.  He was a 3rd century Bishop who was imprisoned for his faith, not an overweight glutton (sorry, wrong category...), although he probably was fairly jolly and definitely very generous.  I love the cartoon Vegetales story of Saint Nicholas, which is both funny and poignant!  As Miss A put it when we watched it this week: "It's all because of the song that the lady sings ('I can love because he loves me...') that helps us to be able to give to those in need."

I loathe... Santa Claus.  Sorry, but I can't help it - now days he seems to just be a corporate marketing tool for every shop, venue or restaurant that wants a piece of Christmas (after all, the red clothed Santa Claus is a marketing construct!).  The other week we were at a Christmas Party and as soon as they said 'Father Christmas is coming' I felt really quite uncomfortable.  Why were we dragging in a man dressed up in an obviously fake beard and costume, knowing that the smallest children would be terrified - they always are - and the older children would be looking for an opportunity to point out "That's not the REAL Father Christmas!" - as they inevitably will.  Why were we as adults pretending something that our children obviously found disturbing?  And surely it is confusing for small children to see Santa Claus everywhere they go?  I don't like the 'Father Christmas will know if you're bad' concept (although I confess to threatening to cancel Christmas presents occasionally in frustration), or the idea that if you're good you'll get everything you ask for.  Who is it who ends up having to deal with the disappointment when there is no pony on Christmas morning?  We have always made sure they know that their presents are from family and friends, so that the can be properly grateful!  I don't like to disillusion my children, but I also don't want them growing up thinking that everything to do with Christmas (especially Jesus) is just a story, so I carefully navigate through all the stories and ideas that have grown up around "Santa Claus", giving them as much room to believe what they want without feeling I'm lying to them.  Of course, all that is not to say that I don't cry when I watch Miracle on 34th Street...


I love... The presents - both giving and receiving.  I love the excuse to look for fun, useful, frivolous, interesting things for the people I love.  I don't spend a lot of money on presents, but I do like to find things that I think will bring pleasure to those I'm giving to - although I know that I'm not going to always get it right.  For me it truly is the thought that counts.  This year Miss I has bought us all presents, which she has carefully wrapped and put under the tree.  She had £1.60 to spend.  I am really looking forward to getting my present from her because I know the thought she has put into getting it.  This is the first year that I will get a present from one of my children that they have bought themselves - a very precious thing.

I loathe... The cost.  It saddens me to think of people getting into debt at Christmas time.  It's so unnecessary, but it is so easy to overspend when every where you turn there is something else to buy that will "make Christmas perfect" - as if it wasn't already!


I love... The food.  I'm not a big fan of turkey, but I do love the excuse for a good roast dinner, with pigs in blankets, brussel sprouts (just this once), stuffing, roast potatoes, carrots, peas, Yorkshire puddings...  Then you have mince pies (I love mince pies), Christmas pudding and custard.  And chocolate... chocolate on the tree, in the advent calendar, boxes of chocolates, chocolate biscuits - you get the picture.

I loathe... The waste of food.  Why do people buy ten loaves of bread in panic the week before Christmas when they know they will have so much other food to get through?  Do we really need to buy the biggest Turkey we can find (well, with five children increasingly we will need to consider these things, but no more than usual!) when there is so much else to pile on to the dinner plate?  So much food will be thrown out over Christmas.  I think it may be time to rethink the catering.


I love... remembering the birth of Jesus.  Of course I do, I'm a Christian.  It's one of the most important festivals in the year for me.  Jesus, God incarnate, come into the world in vulnerability, to live among us - Emmanuel - sharing our human experience.  The Stable, the Shepherds, the Star, the Wise Men, Angels... Mary, so faithful, so strong and brave...  Joseph, trusting, gracious, loving...  The Creator of the universe limiting himself, becoming a small helpless baby.  Gloriously incomprehensible.

I loathe... the way Christmas becomes about everything BUT the CHRIST.  I don't begrudge those who don't believe in Jesus celebrating Christmas - after all the Church kind of co-opted the Midwinter Festival - I just wish people wouldn't try to pretend it isn't a religious festival.  In fact, if people don't want to acknowledge the birth of Jesus in anyway, I don't understand why they would choose to celebrate Christmas at all.  I don't like football (fortunately neither does Husband) and I have no desire to celebrate the World Cup, or any other Football related event, but I don't object to other people doing so - or doing so in a way that fills everything around me with Football for however long the season lasts.  And wouldn't it be ridiculous for me to insist that in celebrating the World Cup in our country there was to be no reference to a football?  I have been tempted to suggest the Church trademarks Christmas... but that would be petty and against everything Christmas is about!  So enjoy your Christmas celebrations, however you want to celebrate... but remember, there is a reason we celebrate: Emmanuel - God Is With Us.

Actually, there are so many things I love about Christmas -
Christmas music, carols and songs;
Christmas TV, which is slightly different when all you have is iplayer, but still lots of fun;
Special family time, building our memories and traditions together with our children;
The anticipation and excitement of the children as they perform their little rituals of preparing stockings and wrapping presents;
Writing Christmas cards to people I don't see any more, just to show them that I still think of them;
Christmas concerts, Pantomimes, Carol Services, Nativity Plays... 
My list goes on and on the more I think about it.

What do you love about Christmas?  Is there anything you loathe?

Thursday, 12 December 2013

#R2BC ...of Birds, Concerts and Hope

Yesterday I saw a real woodpecker for the first time!  I was walking back from dropping the older children at the bus stop when I heard a tap tap tap.  I looked into the trees but I couldn't see anything that could be causing the noise.  I stood for a few moments gazing around, and finally decided to move on.  As I did I heard another tap tap tap from the other side of the road a bit further ahead.  I walked slowly that way and was rewarded by the sight of a tiny little bird tapping away at a branch looking for its breakfast.  So beautiful I stood transfixed for a moment with my mouth slightly open in wonder - until I realised and quickly closed it before anyone drove past!  I wish I'd had my camera with me.

Like many other people, the Christmas season is busy busy busy!  Wednesday afternoon was the first performance of the children's school Christmas Concert (another showing tonight, which is making my evening a tad complicated, but that's life with five children!).  Last year this was a very lengthy production with an interval after an hour at which point those of us with only Infant age children could sneak off, as only the Juniors were in the second half.  This year we had children in both groups, so I was very grateful that they had made the whole performance into just an hour.  As much as I love watching School Concerts - and I really do - two hours, especially when you have younger ones to keep entertained, is a very long time!  And, of course, the children were all wonderful in their different ways - I was particularly proud of Mr J's clear voice as he spoke his lines; Miss A's cheeky grin at the beginning (although by the interval she was decidedly flagging!); and Miss I's enthusiasm in the "Rocking Robin" dance she's been practicing for weeks.

My final reason for being cheerful this week (at least, the one I'm going to write about here) is Hope.  This week I have been blessed with the power of Hope.  Things aren't always great in life, are they?  And yet, there is something very significant about hope that stops those hard times from dragging me down - the trust, the hope, the faith that there is a new day ahead, opportunities on the horizon, something better just around the corner.  I can truly say that in my experience, although there are many struggles in life and many delays to the things I need or want, my hope has never been disappointed.  I know that the trouble comes not from hope itself but from what I put my hope in.  I am so grateful that I have One who is always Faithful to put my Hope in - and Christmas reminds me of that in a very special way.

What are your reasons to be cheerful this week?

Ojos World

Sunday, 8 December 2013

My picture: His words - God is Love

God is love
"We know how much God loves us because we have felt his love and because we believe him when he tells us that he loves us dearly. God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him. And as we live with Christ, our love grows more perfect and complete; so we will not be ashamed and embarrassed at the day of judgement, but can face him with confidence and joy because he loves us and we love him too.  We need have no fear of someone who loves us perfectly; his perfect love for us eliminates all dread of what he might do to us. If we are afraid, it is for fear of what he might do to us and shows that we are not fully convinced that he really loves us.  So you see, our love for him comes as a result of his loving us first."  1 John 4v16-19 Living Bible

This is one of those concepts of Christianity that is so simple and such a hard thing to truly comprehend.  I "know how much God loves me because I have felt his love and because I believe him when he tells me that he loves me dearly" and yet I still find myself approaching him softly, fearfully, wondering if I really am accepted.  And then I find myself thinking about what love is: I look at my children and their instinctive acceptance of my love and this verse challenges me.  Challenges me to love more, but also to recognise how much more I am loved.

On Wednesday 4th December I was listening to Radio Two's "Being Human" series (  This week it was Economist Lord Robert Skidelsky talking about what makes us human.  He quoted another Economist who claimed that as love was limited it was therefore the role of the economist to find ways of reducing its use.  Lord Skidelsky disagreed with that premise, however, stating that actually it is information that is limited and by acting from the relatively unlimited resources of love and instinct we are able to conserve our limited resource of information.  It made me think about how it isn't really necessary to understand in order to love or be loved.  Love goes beyond understanding, it is instinct, it is faith.  In fact, love leads to understanding because it causes an increase in patience.  The irony of an Economist talking about love, of course, is that love is extravagant.  As human beings we do not have perfect love for one another - my love for my family is far from perfect as I have been aware through my lack of patience this morning! - but God does.  Not only is His love unlimited but God IS love.  His whole character is built on love.  I find myself thinking that if I can only know him better then I can experience his love better, and there is truth in that.  But I can see that the power of love is instinctive - both in giving and receiving - so my first step is not to understand but to believe and to stop striving to understand Why God loves me.  Just like my baby accepts my love, trusts it, expects it... that is how I need to receive Love.

I'm joining again with Michelle at Mummy from the Heart.  Why not go have a look at her thoughts on Preparation.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

#R2BC Christmas... etc.

The dreary days of November are past, December is upon us...  Strange, isn't it, how despite little change in the weather - in fact, it's blowing such a gale today I was struggling to drive the car to pick up Miss C from Playgroup - and the ever darkening days, December is a much cheerier month than November.
Thank you, Grandma!

Advent has begun and I'm pleased that the children are as excited by my traditional calendar with just pictures as they are by their chocolate ones

The Christmas Tree is up - with only a minimum of stress from the four children involved, and I haven't rearranged too many of the baubles!

Friday night I'm going out with 'the girls' - properly... with actual dressing up required.  I may even decide to put some make up on.  Soon it will be time for carol services and Christmas plays, other festive meals.  All of these things fill December with fun and activity, leading slowly but surely to Christmas Day!  It's a time of year I've always loved (I'd say who doesn't, but I know there are many!) that seems especially precious now in our lovely village, with friends close by, in a home I hope to have many years of Christmas memories in and our children to share it all with.

And today I've had an extra special moment to enjoy, despite the wind howling around the house.  Miss C, Mr M and I went out in the garden to play on the swings and I thought I'd try Mr M in the baby swing a friend gave us.  Just look at the joy on his face for his first ever swing.  These are some of the things that make motherhood so very precious.

Finally, my BIG PROJECT - subject of earlier R2BC - is off the ground and seeming to gather momentum.  I've still no real idea how things will progress, but it's been fabulous to get some really encouraging responses to our first 'mailing'.  The Goshen Project is about praying for Welsh Farming Communities.  The heart behind it is described on a blog I've created to provide a central hub for the network we hope to create.  If you're interested in finding out about it, head over to

This is part of the Reasons to Be Cheerful link-up, hosted this month by  What are your reasons this week?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

My Picture: His Words #2

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11v28-30(NIV)

I have had a very busy couple of weeks, full of activities and projects.  Some of you may consider me a pretty busy person generally - with five children to watch grow and develop - but that's simply normal chaos.  Yet, in the midst of this extra busy-ness I have been concious of an extra grace on my life.  Things that I expected to be complicated and time consuming - like manipulating the formating on a document, which has been known to take frustrating hours in the past - have come together within minutes.  I had wondered if I was crazy to take on a new major project, but this last few days I feel very much the truth of this promise Jesus made.  He has made it easy.  There has still been work to do - he doesn't promise complete rest - but it feels light on my shoulders, because I have given the weight of it all to Him.  Now, if only I can learn to do this in all areas of my life I will truly be as serene as the Swan some people have compared me to in the past!

I'm linking up with Mummy from the Heart again, go and have a look at her picture and inspiration for learning to trust. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Diving Board & A Monkey

Last night before bed, Mr J was attempting to build a diving board for his toy monkey (MutMut).  He was getting frustrated because he couldn't get the two bolster cushions to stay rigid when MutMut walked along it.  First he solved this by putting a long cardboard tube underneath them, but it couldn't support both cushions.

I tried to help, but nothing either of us did was working.  Finally I told him that unfortunately the laws of physics were against him and he would just have to be satisfied with it looking good without being actually usable by MutMut.  It was time for bed and I wasn't prepared to get embroiled in a discussion of engineering.

This morning he came downstairs at breakfast time very excited.  "Mummy, come and see my diving board!"

I was suitably impressed.  He had wedged a piece of his wooden train track between the bolster cushions and the cardboard tube, creating just the right support for MutMut to walk along before plunging into the carefully prepared swimming pool.

 I think perhaps he may be destined to follow his Grandfather into a career in Civil Engineering!

I'm linking this with Small Steps Amazing Achievements over at Ethan's Escapades.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

My picture: His words #1

"Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers.  But they delight in doing everything the Lord wants; day and night they think about his law.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail.  Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper."

Psalm One verses 1-3 (NLT)

I feel challenged at the moment to have a Godly attitude to things rather than get caught up in the seemingly 'righteous indignation' that I feel characterises so much of our social interaction.  This Psalm is one I memorised years ago and - when I remember it - I use it as a guiding principle for my life.  It is especially powerful when I remember that in the NT the law is very simple: Love God and Love other people.

This is part of a new Blog Hop hosted by Michelle at Mummy from the Heart.  Pop over and have a look at her inspiring picture too.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

#R2BC Being here...

My reasons to be cheerful this week are very different from each other, but they all come under that heading of Being Here...

The First is simply being here, in our home, in this community.  So often in our family we have been looking to the next place, the next thing, the next opportunity - enjoying the wanderlust and the adventure.  But right now I am so very content to be here.  It's not perfect - as winter draws ever closer we're fighting a constant battle against damp in our house which can take some of the joy out of owning our own home.  Yesterday we had to strip the wallpaper off the alcove wall behind our chest of drawers because it was covered in mold and the wall was dripping wet with damp / water penetration.  Yet, this is a very small thing compared to having such a lovely home that exactly matches what we need and want for our family.  Being 'out in the sticks' has its challenges too, but the community more than makes up for the lack of facilities.  And who can argue with these kind of views?

The Second reason is being in the UK.  Of course, there are many faults with the UK, many areas where there could be improvement but on the whole we are very fortunate to live here.  Last week I was thinking about the choices we have, this week I'm thinking about the care.  I believe that it is the mark of a civilised society that we can support our most vulnerable members.  The Welfare System and the NHS are not perfect, but are so much better than not having that safety net.  I know that there are many people who are not supported properly - children, the elderly and many more who do not often get our sympathy - but I am conscious that in many other societies either these people are left without any help or are solely the responsibility of their own family and friends who often don't have the skills or resources to do what is needed.  There is so much I could say on this but this is not the place or time, so I will simply say this:
I believe that care of an individual should not depend on their value to me, my ability to sympathise with their situation, their adherence to my value system or their ability to help me in the future.  I know that if it was left to me, many people would not receive the help they need or deserve as fellow human beings, and so I am grateful that the government has taken on the duty of care that should fall to me, even if it means higher taxes for my family.
Bringing this back to a more personal level, I cannot imagine having to factor the cost of medical care into my life, worrying what will happen if one of my children is ill and it wasn't covered by insurance.  Miss A had earache last week, and was in a great deal of pain.  So we took her to the doctors and were given anti-biotics.  No question, no cost.  Then you have Miss C with her Albinism.  I have asked to have her referred to a Dermatologist for advice because although we know a lot about what is happening with her eyes, I have no real understanding of how it affects her skin.  I am so grateful that I am able to do this and not worry about how much it will cost us.

On another note entirely, Husband's reason to be cheerful this week is that we haven't put the central heating on yet, meaning we have only used three inches of oil since the 1st August (for hot water).  This is due to a Herculean effort on his part to keep the wood stove burning.  As he says, better to use something Carbon-Neutral like wood for our heating than Dead Dinosaurs.  (I should also note that he disagrees with my second reason to be cheerful, being a great believer in the responsibility of family and friends rather than the state...)

What are your reasons to be cheerful this week?  Have look at some of the other blogs linked up this week too.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Autumn Walk

This week has been - and is continuing to be - a very busy week.  Normally for me my weeks consist of one or two routine activities (like Toddler Group) and then just pottering.

This week, however, is full of meetings - both formal and social, appointments and visits to friends.  In the midst of all the busy-ness, I was so pleased to have an opportunity to get out and enjoy the Autumn sunshine with Mr M.  I feel very grateful to live in this beautiful place.  These are just a few snap shots from our walk.  Enjoy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Egg Hunt

Periodically over the summer we have had less than the full compliment of eggs from our six chickens.  This has been a source of some puzzlement to us but, not being particular experts in the area of chicken rearing, we have assumed there was little we could do about it.  Occasionally we have found single eggs outside of the coop and as a result have sent the children on a egg hunt.  With our "ultimate free range" chickens this has not been the easiest of tasks.  They have checked the favourite chicken haunts - a row of fir trees with their low branches that make excellent roosting spots, the lower wilderness near the stream and the big bush at the top of the garden which provides good shade from the hot sun.  To no avail.

Finally this last month we have been having six eggs most days in the nesting boxes.  In fact, in the last week we have often been having seven eggs - which is especially peculiar since we have been told the chickens will slow down egg production in the shorter winter days.

One of the things our chickens take great delight in is escaping from our back garden.  They will have a good root around in the front and then head across the road to search the grass opposite - and eat the occasional frog.  When we discover them in their foraging, we call them back and they obediently stroll back through the car port and into the garden.

Today there have been several break outs - I think we may need to look at the fences again.  When Husband returned from picking the children up from the school bus they found three of the chickens in the front garden.  Two willingly returned to the back garden, but the third was very naughty and led the Husband on a merry chase around the shrubbery.  It was during this chase that Husband discovered this:

It would seem at least one of the chickens had been spurning the nesting box for her egg laying and instead had made her own nest just under the lounge window.  Looking at it now we're not quite sure how we'd missed it.  There must be a good twenty eggs and you can see them from the road when you know where to look.

We have no idea how long they have been there - we know there can't be any from this last week unless we've got incredibly productive chickens suddenly.

The moral of the story - never trust a chicken, unless it's in the pot...

Thursday, 14 November 2013

#R2BC Life!!

Yesterday was our Anniversary.  I wrote on Facebook:

"Nine years... seven homes... five children... oh and don't forget the six chickens..."

And that kind of sums up our marriage: lots of adventure, lots of chaos and lots of love.

I was really pleased to have some of my friends join in with their own range of significant numbers.  It made me feel part of a bigger picture some how.

We don't do very much to celebrate our anniversary - we've never wanted to put that kind of pressure on ourselves - we simply take moments during the day to enjoy each other's company.  The children, however, had prepared a series of pictures and cards as a special surprise which was very sweet of them.  I feel so blessed to have my husband and my family.

And of course, it provides me with an opportunity to share more gratuitous pictures of our wedding day.

Yesterday was also the start of a new Alpha Course I'm attending.  You might wonder why, with a degree in Theology, I would want to study the basics of Christianity - and actually I'm there mostly to help with the discussions.  But it is valuable to be reminded of the basis of my belief and I was so blessed yesterday to talk again about the simple historical facts about Jesus.  My faith is very personal, my relationship with God very real to me, but it is important to me that it is based on facts - that there was a human being called Jesus who walked the earth over two thousand years ago, something I understand there is more evidence for than any other contemporary figure.  I also enjoy the opportunity to talk with like-minded people about the nature of God, about the world, about people, about ourselves.  I am looking forward to my Wednesday mornings immensely.

Finally, I am grateful that #R2BC is continuing.  I love to read the other blogs that link up, and see how often people are looking at difficult situations with a positive eye because of this idea.  I hope you'll check some of the others out as well.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

10 questions of Social Etiquette...

The other day my neighbour and I were discussing social etiquette, and I thought I'd put our questions - and a few others - to my hundreds of readers (well, the one or two of you who glance at my mumblings).

1. When your guests bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party, are you expected to open it for consumption or put it aside in favour of the wine that your purchased yourself in the hopes they would like it?

The trouble with this for me is that sometimes I have chosen to take something like Rose, because it's what I prefer to drink.  However, sometimes I am taking a 'spare' bottle of wine, which we would never have used ourselves in the hope my host will enjoy it instead.

2. Is it appropriate to give a donation to charity in place of a gift - assuming you've not been invited to do that.

My neighbour is a retired teacher and one of her pupils would give her a card stating that a donation had been made in her name towards school dinners for children in India or something similar instead of a gift at Christmas or end of year.  She very much appreciated this idea, but not everybody would.  This is similar to the 'e-card' that people send and give money the money they would have given to charity.

3. Should you help with the washing up or generally help out when invited for dinner with a friend?

When I'm visiting friends, I often want to help them with setting up or clearing away - and I am very grateful when people offer to help.  However, there is a line between guest and friend.  The traditional response should be 'no, thanks, it's all under control', but what do you do when it isn't?

4. Is it acceptable to turn up empty handed when you visit a friend?

Even when I've just popped round for a chat with someone, I feel that I should take something with me - whether it be a cake, some biscuits or half a dozen eggs.  With some friends I don't worry so much, especially if I see them often, but then I wonder if perhaps they feel I am being rude not to.

5. If someone brings chocolates or biscuits when they visit, should they be opened while they are present or kept as a gift?

This is something I find very difficult.  Do I accept the chocolates etc. as a gift for myself, or do I consider it to be a contribution to our time together...  Sometimes it depends on the type of chocolate and how much I like them!  If they're my favourite they may well be stashed away for later.

6. If someone gives you baby equipment or books and they have no further need for it, do you have the right to sell it when you no longer need it?

This is probably particularly applicable if you have several children like we have and so many years have passed since you were given the items.  In the current fashion of selling everything on EBay instead of just passing it on to someone else, I wonder how often this happens.

7. If you borrow clothing from someone, are you obliged to return it washed?

Obviously I don't mean handing back smelly, dirty clothes but perhaps a jumper you borrowed just until you got home.  In our house it can sometimes take a while for things to resurface from the wash basket and I certainly would have no problem with someone giving something straight back to me.  This is something that occurs quite often with small children!

8. Is it acceptable to take a phone call (on mobile or otherwise) while you have a guest visiting.

This is something I really struggle with.  I always consider the person who is with me to be the priority, but equally the person phoning may not be able to contact you at another time.  I once deeply offended my husband's boss' wife by asking if we could talk later because I had someone with me at the time.  She didn't call back.

9. Is it still unacceptable to talk about "money, politics and religion" at a dinner party?

As I've mentioned previously, I'm rather prone to talking about these three subjects in what might be considered unacceptable situations.  I have very few qualms discussing the rising cost of our bills or our income with most people.  I find religion - especially mine - fascinating, so I tend to talk about faith a lot, wherever I am.  I'm also not afraid to bring up politics if I feel the occasion allows.  Am I being social obtuse?  (I don't care, to be honest, but it would be interesting to know what your opinions are!)

10. Do you have to have 10 things in any list?

So what do you think?  What would you do in these situations?  Do you have any other suggestions of Social Etiquette failure?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

#R2BC Choices

I have always been aware that I am incredibly blessed to have choices in life.  Sometimes circumstances may limit those choices, sometimes I may not like what I have to choose between, or have any idea what difference my choice will make, but I have choices.  Often those choices are the very foundation of my life.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" we ask our children.   "What do you want to study?" comes later.  As a child the world seemed full of opportunities and choices to make.  I don't think I was aware - nor will I ever be completely - just how significant some of those decisions were.  Of course, I knew my choices about what I would study at school were important - even if I never did become an architect.  I knew that my decision to choose to follow Jesus' teaching and example as a teenager would have a massive impact on my life.  There were smaller decisions as well though that I'm beginning to see as significant - will I be friends with this child or that child; should I use my spare time to study or to pray or to relax or get a Saturday job; shall I have a drink at that New Year's Eve party?  The decision to work as a volunteer for Wycliffe Bible Translators rather than get a job in a Christian Bookshop had consequences that I could never have envisioned at the time.

So many choices.  Such a huge responsibility.  Such a tremendous privilege.

I remember being given a bewildering array of choices when I was pregnant with Mr M.  Some of them I was very clear on - No, I do not want a home birth with four children at home to watch; and others I didn't see the point in - What difference does it make which hospital I'm in since I don't have the expertise to judge between them?  Despite that ambivalence about many of these choices I was still grateful to be given them - even if ultimately some things got taken out of my hands by events.  I was very aware that even when it seemed I was out of choices - Mr M's heart rate kept dropping and the Doctor was talking about a C-Section - I still had the choice to pray.  But that's another story.

This morning we posted the Voting Registration Form for our household.  We must have just missed it last year when we moved in and didn't get round to registering with everything else that was going on in our lives - new home, new school, new baby...  To be honest I don't think these are good enough reasons, but there you have it.

It may be a strange reason to be cheerful for many, but for me it is very significant.  I am so very grateful that I have the right to vote.  Since I first became 'politically aware' when I was about 12 - the Berlin Wall came down, Communism seemed to be on its last breath, Apartheid was ended, we were going to save the environment and save the world - I have been proud of the freedoms we have in this country.  Freedom is all about choice.  Choice is all about responsibility.

Miss A carried the letter to the letter box for me, and I told her to be very careful with it because it was very important.  "Why?" she asked.  "Because it means that Mummy and Daddy can be part of deciding who runs the country," was my reply.  It was a glib answer, really, but still true and that conversation has made me think about what a privilege it is to have a say about what happens in our country.  Often all I hear are complaints about politicians, people disagreeing with decisions that are made.  Often I'm part of it, lamenting the lack of wisdom or integrity that is shown by our leaders - but to be honest I am hesitant to criticise, knowing that I far too often abrogate my responsibility for our country to those very people I complain about.

I have never been a big one for party politics, but I believe passionately that everyone should be engaged in politics on some level - it affects us all.  Apparently, there are three things that you should never talk about at a dinner party (or at Mums & Tots) - money, religion and politics.  I have to confess to frequently breaking these social requirements at almost every social occasion.

We are so blessed to have choice, and if we don't like what those we choose - or those we fail to choose - do, then we need to get involved, not just carp from the sidelines.  This week we also got a request for people to join the PTA at the school.  Of course, like everybody else, I am far too busy - but you know what, I think I might just have to put myself forward this year.

Perhaps it is time to get off the fence.

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart