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

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Tempest on Fire

I am one of those people who loved studying Shakespeare at school but I've never really been a fan of the films that have been made - whether it's a modern adaption or in the classic style.  It makes me a bit hesitant about watching any Shakespearean Play performed at all - although I loved going to the Globe to watch something (don't ask me what it was, it was like Romeo & Juliet but a Comedy rather than a Tragedy).  So, when I heard there was a performance of the Tempest taking place at a local stately home - Penpont Estate - by the Theatr Brycheiniog (Brecon Theatre), I didn't immediately jump to buy tickets.  However, as a couple of the ladies from the Book Club were planning on going, I thought I'd give it a go - especially as it was to be performed outside by firelight: "Tempest on Fire".

It was the most amazing experience.  So atmospheric.

But let me start at the beginning.  It rained on Friday, and of course, it's November, so we went equipped with salopettes, wellies, coats, scarves, hats, gloves, torches, umbrellas - you name it between us we had it.  We were transported by coach from Brecon to Penpont, and during the journey were entertained by what my friend described as "Vaguely related random bits of verse."  This included "Love is not love when it alteration finds" and an adaptation of a shipping report using humorous comments about Welsh towns and regions - we were, after all, going to a performance of the Tempest.

We arrived at Penpont and were greeted by a man in a red cloak who ushered us forward to the first scene which was set on a spiral maze.

If you don't know the Tempest - which I didn't - it opens on a scene with Prospero and his daughter Miranda, who were shipwrecked on an Island thirteen years before as a result of treachery.  Prospero explains to his daughter that he has raised a storm (there's a magical character called Ariel who does his bidding) to wreck the ship of those responsible for his downfall, but promises her that not one of them has been harmed - he has a plan.

The Guide in the Red Cloak

We were then led along a path to witness the shipwreck - which included fireworks, dancers, and a brief view of the rest of the characters. 

  The Shipwreck

Then it was time to move on to the final stage where the main part of the play would be performed.  It was a wet walk for us, but we were soon sitting on hay bales under a canopy watching the action.

The actors were less fortunate and I felt such sympathy for them as the rain continued to fall.  I was also astounded by their professionalism in such conditions to deliver such outstanding performances.  And they truly were outstanding performers.

I have often wondered why school children studying Shakespeare are not taken to see a play at the beginning of their course.  I know with books it is best not to be influenced by a film version before you read it, but Shakespeare is different.  It was written to be performed, and you will never catch the sense and meaning of the play when it is read haltingly by those unfamiliar with its language as will almost invariably be the case in a class room.  How are children to gain a love for Shakespeare if their first experience of it feels so impenetrable?

Trinculo - Nathan Goode
The actors on Friday night delivered their lines with such clarity and confidence that it didn't seem archaic language at all.  The timing and emphasis were such that it was very easy to follow what was happening.  I am sure that if I had been fortunate to watch a performance like this before I studied my English A-Levels I would have been much more enthusiastic about delving into the details.

Shakespeare is a master of creating a comic scene to offset the more serious elements of his plays and the Tempest is no exception.  The characters of Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban offer the "comic relief" in a drunken scene on the beach and did it so brilliantly that the audience laughed and clapped - the only time except the end where there was any overt reaction.  I found it fascinating that despite so many hundreds of years since it was written the humour still carried powerfully to a modern audience. 

Miranda and Prospero
Ariel above

 We had a pretty good view of the 'stage' but unfortunately it was too dark, and I was too far away for the camera to pick up detail very well, but hopefully these pictures convey something of the amazing atmosphere.
The Shipwrecked Characters

Finale Fireworks
After the play were were invited into Penpont House to enjoy some hot drinks and delicious brownies at very reasonable prices.  It was great to get in to the warm and sit down to discuss the play.  This was also where I was able to get the picture of Trinculo thanks to the courage of my friend in approaching him.  Then it was on to the coach for the return to Brecon.

A really spectacular evening - despite the weather.  If I get the chance to go to a similar event again I will definitely take it.

 Have you ever been to an out door theatre?  What was your experience?