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...

One

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...

Two

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...

Three

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!

Four

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.

Five

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 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/human).  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 goshenproject.blogspot.co.uk.

This is part of the Reasons to Be Cheerful link-up, hosted this month by www.ojosworld.com.  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.