allotment · Christian · mental health · nature

New Year – keeping it simple

A few days before 2020 ended, I remembered that I had written a list of goals for the year. Despite the pandemic and forgetting that the list existed, I didn’t do too badly.

My aims for 2021 are very simple. Every day as a family, we want to:

  1. Hug
  2. Play
  3. Pray
  4. Be creative
  5. Enjoy God’s creation
  6. Laugh.

So far we have enjoyed falling snowflakes and the water flowing in our local brook again. We’ve drawn socks: stinky socks, odd socks, long socks, Christmas socks, spotty socks, holey socks, small socks and Christmas socks! We’ve hugged and prayed. We’ve pretended to be birds and rabbits. We’ve ridden imaginary invisible dragons. We have made each other laugh.


In addition, I want to grow some new produce at the allotment: I’m thinking broccoli, sweetcorn and cucumber.

Last year, my aim was to run 5km. Thanks to a friend and an amazing running coach, I managed not only 5km but also 10km! This year I want to get the 5km run down to 30 mins and for the 10km to be stronger and easier. I’m happiest exercising outside and it’s an easy activity to do when everything is shut.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

I’m also going to do something different in my lunch breaks with the help of a little book called Gone for Lunch: 52 Things to do in your Lunch Break as a way of showing myself some kindness. I’m also going to invest in my marriage with The Marriage Course and spend some time reading some parenting books.

Sadly, I never finished The Mirror and the Light last year. Reading a weighty tome about the downfall of Thomas Cromwell wasn’t what I needed during the stress and busyness of the first lockdown. It’s still sitting on my ‘to be read’ shelf and I like to think that I will finish it – maybe not this year though.

books · Christian

Hope

Last year, I was excited about Advent – a season of hope, expectation and preparation. But then something happened. One of those phone calls that you don’t want to have and never forget with news that you don’t want to hear. Advent then became a reality for me – I had to ‘live Advent’. Hope couldn’t just be a nice thought, a theology or a theory. Advent had to be more than that.

Much has happened since then and, thankfully, my worst fears weren’t realised. So, even though this year has been one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced, 2020 was better than expected! Yet, we need hope more than ever.

Until quite recently, I had no enthusiasm for marking Advent this year. But then a friend posted a link on Facebook to an Advent course, Living in Hope, and I was drawn to it. It turned out others were too and so together we will be exploring issues of living and dying well.

Once again Small Boy and Little Miss (who are not so small and little these days) will have a Lego Advent calendar from Grandma – some normality in a difficult year. We have also purchased 10 chocolate Advent calendars for the Red Trust Bushey to give to local families.

Earlier this year, I purchased four Advent candles which we shall light at our family dinner times throughout Advent.

Draw with Rob at Christmas is another Advent gift for the Mini-Ps who both have a new interest in drawing, sparked by Draw with Rob online tutorials watched while at Bubble School in the summer term. I don’t know what the long-term affects of living through a pandemic will be but I hope they remember the fun times rather than the difficult days. Among the many losses of this year, there have been some gains and seeing the children happily sitting and drawing at the kitchen table is one of them.

I’ve also picked Advent for Everyone: A Journey through Luke off the shelf. Mr P read it last year and since Luke is one of my favourite books of the Bible, I will also read this.

I learnt last year that I needed Advent in a deeply personal way, and so this year, with all that has happened and continues to happen, I need to reach into the season even when it feels hard.

Sadly, no purple (the liturgical colour for the season) hair for me this Advent which was probably one of the highlights of last year although the Christmas tree and Christmas pudding hats will be worn daily!

books · Christian · community · Ethical living · Social justice

International Book Giving Day, Lent and my ‘new’ unfair-phone

14th February is now International Book Giving Day as well as Valentine’s Day. Unsurprisingly, I love this idea and celebrated by making a donation to Give a Book, a charity which gives books to schools with high levels of deprivation, prisons and community organisations. I was also the grateful recipient of Red Sixty Seven – a book about the 67 red-listed birds published by the British Trust for Ornithology and I bought Mr P The Planets by Brian Cox.

Since seeing Venus and Saturn shining brightly in the sky on holiday in Suffolk, there has been a growing interest in astronomy in our house. Mr P and I went to a Valentine’s Day star-gazing evening run by the National Trust at Dunstable Downs but sadly due to Storm Dennis we couldn’t go outside! Instead we lay, listening to the wind and the rain, in a mobile inflatable planetarium and enjoyed learning about some of the stars and planets. I was surprised at how much I had picked up from reading children’s books about the solar system!

Image by 024-657-834 from Pixabay

He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the LORD is his name.” Amos 5:8


Last year, we saw our first butterfly on 23 February. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we see our first of 2020. In the meantime, I am re-reading The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham. Winter is almost over. There are splashes of colour in our garden and it won’t be long before we start planting in the allotment.


Sadly, I have had to replace my FairPhone with the next best thing: a second-hand iPhone from Envirofone.

I’m pleased I tried the FairPhone (I had the FairPhone 2) but the microphone kept breaking and I was unable to make or receive calls except via WhatsApp. Maybe the FairPhone 3 is better but right now I need a phone I can rely on.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Lent begins on 26 February and I will be reading the archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2020: Saying Yes to Life by Ruth Valerio. Will you be doing anything?

books · Christian · Ethical living · nature · Social justice

A List for 2020

I find having some written-down goals helps me achieve at least some of them!

  • Borrow rather than buy books – I have already reserved from the library Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the final book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, which is published in March. It’s a good exercise in patience to wait my turn and, at 864 pages long, I will be glad of my superhero speed-reading skills!
  • Home-baking – I am aware that my kitchen bin is still frequently full of single-use plastic and so I want to think again about alternatives to packaging. I’m going to start with making flapjack!
Image by Tluke from Pixabay
  • I’ve recently subscribed to Sarah Bessey’s Field Notes and will be joining her Book Club for 2020.
  • Last year, I started using Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Not every day but often. I’ve returned my borrowed copy and purchased a slimline version for myself. I received a new Bible for Christmas – a Lectio Divina Bible – which I am enjoying using in conjunction with the Common Prayer book. These books are now in a ‘book bag’ by the side of my bed so that I always know where they are and can be easily transported. I’m going to see if a similar system will help with the children’s bedtime books. (It may just be me but I keep misplacing my books!)
  • Do a 5K run – a friend and I go for a walk/run once a week and we’d like to do a Cancer Research Race for Life in the summer.
  • Finish re-reading the Swallows and Amazons series of books that I loved as a girl. I now own all of the books – thanks to some birthday presents and a serendipitous find in an Oxfam bookshop in Oxford. Reading about boats and birds is very relaxing.
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash
  • Explore some local wildlife – maybe swifts, bats or dragonflies.
Image by Derek Sewell from Pixabay

I find it easier to do rather than to be! I hope that I can also spend some time ‘being’ this year.

Christian · Social justice

A few more ideas for Advent

Advent – a time of waiting, a time of keeping watch, a time for wresting with the now and not yet of our faith. We look forward to that time when all will, finally, be well. We anticipate the day when there will be:

no injustice

no suffering

no pain

no hunger

no exploitation

no abuse

no fear

no grief

no sickness

and no death.

We long for God’s Kingdom to come and in the midst of our waiting, watching and wrestling, we – with God, with the God of Justice – can bring hope, freedom, peace, healing and love.

I have found three more Advent activities to help me have a richer and deeper experience of the God of Justice.

  1. Red Letter Christians and the Diocese of St Albans are producing a daily Advent Challenge on the theme of Jesus and Justice. You can sign up here.
  2. Tiny Advent poems – one for each day in Advent (there’s one at the end of this post). They are available from Engage Worship.
  3. Write for Rights – each December, Amnesty International organise a writing campaign so people can send messages of hope and solidarity to human rights defenders across the world. It’s much easier to participate in the era of emails and the internet! I have already sent a few messages and hope to send a few more during Advent.
Christian · me too

#Metoo 2

Reading some Bible notes recently, I was surprised to see Tamar described as an adulteress and Bathsheba as a seductress. Really?

Really? Still? Is that the label we are still giving women who were abused?

A few days later, I received an email from Red Letter Christians featuring Silenced Women of the Bible, gut-wrenchingly, powerful paintings by Jen Ford.

Take a moment to look at her paintings

Bathsheba – Victim not seductress.

Abuse labeled as sexual immorality.

Victim not seductress.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

(Maya Angelou)

Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

This is a follow up to Me Too.

books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature · Social justice

Christmas is coming

We’ve had Halloween and Bonfire Night and so thoughts now turn to Christmas. But…before Christmas, there is Advent.

Advent – a season of expectation and preparation. I think it’s one of my favourite times of year. Maybe because I am a person who loves to prepare and who loves the joy of anticipation. Advent is rich in symbolism and grounds us in God at a time when the voices of commercialism are at their loudest.

Here are my ideas for celebrating Advent this year:

Reverse Advent Calendar – the Mini-Ps are going to make a ‘reverse Advent calendar’ for our local foodbank. Together we will choose items to buy and then take them up to church each week and place them in the foodbank collection box. We will also read It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner – a beautiful, tender, heart-warming and gentle book that explains what foodbanks do.

Last year, we coloured pictures from a Jesse Tree book which worked better than expected! The children really enjoyed the colouring and this year, I plan to have an actual branch to stick the pictures onto!

I have also bought an Advent candle to light each day. Hopefully, this will be more suitable than my solar-powered fairy lights which were a feeble addition to our street’s Christmas decorations! There just wasn’t enough sun to charge them so they were very dim. However, they worked very well in the summer months when we were camping!

Mr P and I both have Advent books to read: I shall be reading Freedom is Coming by Nick Baines and Mr P, Advent for Everyone by Tom Wright (one of his favourite authors).

I also want to try some of the activities in Wild Advent, such as making jar-jar lanterns, looking at the stars, and making a nativity scene out of leaves, stick and moss.

Sometimes I think I must come across very serious, worthy and austere. Don’t worry – there is a lot of fun, joy and laughter here.

The Mini-Ps have Lego Advent calendars from Grandma and I expect I shall be helping to create Star Wars vehicles out of Lego at 6am!

From Advent Sunday, I also allow myself to wear my Christmas tree and my Christmas pudding hats. I am also planning an Advent hairstyle!

Christian · Social justice

Justice and Worship

I’ve been wanting to write about justice and worship for a while now but haven’t been able to arrange my thoughts. I’m still not ready really. I have questions but it’s time to share and maybe have some conversations.

I’ve realised earlier this year that I feel a particular closeness to God where I am singing worship songs in a social justice context, such as at The Justice Conference. I’ve noticed how I feel at home in an Anglican service where issues of justice and poverty are mentioned each week through the liturgy and prayers. Recently, we sang Tell Out My Soul which is based on the Magnificat, Mary’s prayer at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

Luke 1:51-53

(There’s a great article on the Washington Post about the significance of Mary’s prayer.)

Sunday morning worship doesn’t make sense to me anymore unless justice is incorporated.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about the intersection of  sung worship and social justice and what that could mean. I’m not a singer or a musician or a worship leader.

So far I’ve found three ways:

1) Sung worship as prophecy – when we sing we are proclaiming God’s will to be done and his kingdom to come. We are proclaiming freedom, peace and justice.

One of my favourite songs is Andy Flanagan’s We are Blessed – a song for which he gets no royalties as he doesn’t want to profit from a song about justice. Have a listen!

2) Lament – there are plenty of laments in the Bible – laments that eventually turn to praise. I want to learn more about lament and read Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah – a Korean American pastor who planted a church in a deprived area. He writes into the American context but so much of it can be applied to a UK context (and goes really well with We Need to Talk about Race by Ben Lindsey). I was moved by the death of a young homeless woman in the town where I work and wrote a short lament for her.

3) Worship as protest – I would like to go to the Faith Bridge which is currently being organised as part of the October Rebellion. But the pressures of day-to-day life mean that it wouldn’t be a wise decision. Christians are gathering there to prayer and to worship.

There’s a long history of worship as protest but protest should also inform our worship. I’ve been listening to Andy Flannagan and Thandi Gamedze’s talk from 2018’s Justice Conference called Justice and Worship, and Thandi talks about finding the protests and using that cry for justice to inform our worship songs.

I know that I am just dipping my toes into an ocean here and this is just the beginning of a journey.

allotment · books · Christian · community · Ecological concern · nature · Social justice

What’s on my shelf? (Part 4)

Once again, I find myself reading half a dozen books at the same time:

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson

I love Dave Goulson’s writing, having read A Sting in the Tale earlier this year. We made the hard choice not to go and hear him speak at a Wildlife Trust event last week; we are trying to keep September as free as possible to help with the back-to-school adjustment.

The Garden Jungle is full of ideas (some simple, some needing space) for gardening for wildlife. I have a dream of completely changing our front garden so that we have grass, plants and a pond.

The Big Six by Arthur Ransome

Reading children’s books set in the 1930s is very relaxing! I enjoyed reading Coot Club on our holiday in East Anglia (Mr Pilgrim is now half-way through it!) and I’m now reading The Big Six which is also set on the Norfolk Broads. There’s a simplicity and a joy in reading about children sailing, fishing and bird-watching.

We Need to Talk about Race by Ben Lindsay

Ben Lindsay is a church leader in London and writes about the black religious experience in the UK. As a white woman, it has opened my eyes and I hope that I am changed because of reading this book. Each chapter ends with questions to consider and I know I need to keep going back to this book. If you are part of a church, I would recommend reading this.

The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes

I spotted this at a friend’s house. She had borrowed it from our local library so I didn’t want to request it from there! I haven’t reached the sections on allotments yet but I’m enjoying looking at history through the eyes of gardeners.

Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers by Peter Marron

This beautiful book about the names of butterflies and moths was a birthday present from my gorgeous daughter. (I think she had some help from Mr Pilgrim.) I love words and names and history and butterflies and this is a book to treasure.

Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Holiday Adventures Part 2

We’ve just returned from another week’s holiday in our caravan, this time in East Anglia staying on the Suffolk coast.

Jupiter and Saturn were visible to the naked eye, delighting Small Boy who loves learning about the planets.

A kingfisher was spotted on one of our boat trips on the Norfolk Broads – my first ever! We also saw common blue butterflies (another first), grey seals, a marsh harrier and reed buntings.

The kingfisher prompted me to find the sonnet As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerald Manley Hopkins and to re-read the kingfisher acrostic poem in the beautiful Lost Words books with poems by Robert Macfarlane and illustrations by Jackie Morris.

 As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells. 

We particularly enjoyed Ross’s Wildlife Boat at Horsey Mere which had a little fore cabin so the children had a secret place to hide, play with toy birds and look out of circular windows at passing boats and birds.

Another highlight was RSPB Minsmere – we visited three times, there was so much to explore! We loved the pond-dipping activity, the woodland dens and the Wild Library.  (The cafe provided a variety of vegan dishes and was making a concerted effort to reduce plastic.)

There are so many beautiful parts of the UK with many still to discover!  

It’s now the end of (meteorological) summer and the start of the new school year. I’ve been feeling down as life returns to routine and rotas, to desks and tables, homework and uniforms.

I remembered that I love autumn (the children want to make conker caterpillars!) and that life outside doesn’t have to stop. The allotment is calling!

1 September is not only the start of autumn, it is also the start of the liturgical season of Creationtide.

Creator of Life, The Earth is full of Your creatures, and by Your wisdom you made them all. During this Season of Creation, open our eyes to see the precious diversity that is all around us. Enlighten our minds to appreciate the delicate balance maintained by each creature. Inspire us to conserve the precious habitats that nurture this web of life.

(Extract from the Season of Creation 2019 prayer)