Thoughts on Lent

Throughout Lent, I tried to commit to reading two chapters of the Bible each night. I mused on this decision at the beginning of Lent. Now that we have reached Easter Sunday, it’s a good point to reflect on how much I committed to this decision.

I didn’t read every night, but I did read on most nights. I did read the whole of the book of Matthew. (I have to confess, I may not have read every word. When I was flicking through Ben’s children’s Bible the other day, I came across the story of the coin in the fish’s mouth, as told in Matthew 17:24-27. I had completely skipped this story in my reading.) I moved on to the book of Mark.

I really enjoyed spending some time reading the Gospels, and felt challenged by some of the things I had read, as I usually do when I’m reading the Bible. I was struck once again by the nature and number of the miracles that Jesus performed. I was struck by the constant sniping and complaints from the Pharisees as they plotted to trick him. And, of course, I was struck by His mercy and grace. Sometimes, I get so tangled up in issues and a sense of obligation that I lose sight of exactly who Jesus is: the almighty Son of God.

Reading two chapters of the Bible each night helped me focus my prayers too, as my prayers were inspired by what I had read. Practically, it also helped me to wind down at the end of each day, and it brought a sense of calm and completion to each day as it ended.

I’m planning to continue reading two chapters of the Bible each night. It’s a good discipline to get into, and I learn more and more each day about God.

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Keep running…

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I ran 3.5km today in 28 minutes. To most people, this wouldn’t be a big deal. To people who have run marathons, like my husband, this is like walking down the street. To me, it was quite a big deal.

3.5km in 28 minutes means I’m on track to complete 5km in three weeks time, with a time of around 40 minutes. I’ve built this up from 2.5km in a few weeks, despite having been ill and other things having to take priority. I’m making progress towards my goal.

I’m starting to think that running is a bit of ‘mind over matter.’ With the right soundtrack, and the right programme on the TV screen in front of me, the distance passes fairly quickly. If I think too much about each individual step, about my heart rate, my pace, my breathing, and exactly how far I’ve got to go, every single step is painful. So distraction is the key to it for me.

I saw a poster today inviting people to go for a 5km trail run on a Saturday morning around one of the parks in Greater Manchester. Rather than thinking, “Why would anyone want to do that,” my first thought was that I will be able to do things like that.  That would mean a real change of mindset for me. The challenge for me will firstly be getting to (and through) the 5km run; the greater challenge will be to maintain and improve upon that level of fitness.

A new baby: 3-6 months

Ben gym

Before Ben was 12 weeks old, I really looked forward to him meeting that milestone. Everything I read seemed to suggest that at 12 weeks, things would click. He would be ready for a bit of a routine. He would feed less, and more efficiently. He wouldn’t need to be held close all day every day. He would start to nap somewhere other than on me or in his pram.

Looking back, I can pinpoint two points in those early weeks when things suddenly seemed to get easier. The first was at 5 weeks. All of a sudden, Ben didn’t always cry when I put him down for short periods of time. He could sit in his bouncy chair for five minutes while I made a sandwich. This was a revelation. He also started to take a dummy and a bottle at this time.

The second point was at 11 weeks. This was when Ben caught his first cold. It might sound silly, but this cold went on for what seemed like ages. In the first week, I was quite blase about it and took him to baby massage and to meet friends and things. In the second week, I was fed up of having a snotty baby. To avoid him catching anything else, we spent the week at home.

This was actually one of the most helpful things I could have done, as it allowed me to really observe his routine. I had not done anything to encourage a routine except to create a bedtime routine of bath, feed, bed. I loosely thought about following The Baby Whisperer plan of Eat – Activity – Sleep, but Ben was more like Eat – Activity – Eat – Activity – Eat until he falls asleep – Eat… and so on. However, when our day wasn’t structured around outings when he would inevitably fall asleep in the car or the pram, I realised he did have tired signals, and that I could follow them and put him to bed when he needed it.

At around 12 weeks, Ben could stay awake for a maximum of 2 hours. Some babies can do more, some do less. He would then sleep for exactly 45 minutes. Then he would feed and play for another 2 hours, when he would need to sleep again.

It was as simple as that. However, all the books I had read seemed to suggest either that my baby could stay awake for ages, would go 4 hours or more between feeds at 12 weeks, or would sleep in 2-3 hour stretches during the day. I didn’t want to force him into a routine; instead I found that he had a natural routine.

After speaking to lots of other mums, I found that most babies sleep in 45 minute stretches. I don’t know the theory behind sleep cycles, but that seems to be one sleep cycle. When Ben had slept for this long, he would be refreshed and hungry. He was ready to start again.

I didn’t mind the 45 minute stretches at all – he would generally nap 3 or 4 times a day. Observing this helped me to stretch his feeds out to every 3 hours, so he did start to eat more efficiently at each feed, and I wasn’t feeding him constantly. In the ‘Activity’ times he would spend time playing with his baby gym, doing tummy time, observing and generally discovering the world. He discovered his hands, and then learned to hold objects. Then he learned to put everything in his mouth.

Usually, I timed walks or journeys to coincide with his naps, which was fine. I knew that I wanted him eventually to be able to nap in his cot at home, so I tried to make sure that at least one nap a day was at home. Sometimes he cried a bit as he went to sleep, but never for more than 5 minutes. If he didn’t seem to be able to settle, I would get him up and try again a bit later.

As he moved closer to 6 months, his nap times gradually lengthened, and he was able to stay awake for longer stretches. I think introducing solids probably had a lot to do with this.

I really loved the age from 3 months to 6 months. Your baby’s personality starts to appear, and they become much less of a mystery. Some days are really hard, and you wonder if it will get easier, but most days are brilliant.

 

Easter Biscuits

This is probably the only Easter tradition in our home: every year, I make my mum’s Easter biscuits. My mum makes them every year – I believe she invented the recipe. When I left home, I started making them at Easter, and I think they are one of the reasons Tim married me.

The unusual ingredient is Oil of Cassia, which gives a slightly exotic flavour to the biscuits. They also include the rather more prosaic custard powder.

Ingredients

  • 6oz Butter
  • 6oz Castor Sugar
  • 10 drops of Oil of Cassia
  • 1 Egg
  • 10oz Self Raising Flour
  • 2 oz Custard Powder
  • 4oz Currants

Method

  • Preheat oven to 160C and line at least two baking trays with baking parchment.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar with the Oil of Cassia. Work in the egg, then fold in the sieved flour and custard powder. The mixture will become very stiff and you may need to bring it together with your hands.
  • Add the currants and knead together.
  • Roll out to 5mm thick. Using a round cutter, cut out 8cm rounds.
  • Bake in oven for about 10 minutes – you barely want them to colour, so keep an eye on them!
  • Sprinkle with more caster sugar when you take them out of the oven. Leave for 3-5 minutes for them to firm up, then transfer to a wire rack. 
  • You will probably get about 25 biscuits from this mixture. 

Easter Biscuits

Chocolate Pudding (in the microwave)

Microwave Pudding

I have never made a pudding in a microwave. In fact, I barely use the microwave apart from re-heating food.

However, I’m trying to make the most out of our kitchen appliances (more on that later), so when I wanted to whip up a quick pudding for after dinner, I had a look on the BBC Good Food website. I adapted their Fastest-ever Lemon pudding to a chocolate variety, and I have to say, it was dangerously quick and dangerously easy!

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 25g cocoa
  • 50g chopped dark chocolate

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Place into a microwave-safe bowl. I used a 2 pint pudding basin.
  3. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Leave to stand for 1 minute.
  4. Serve with ice cream.

 

A weekend bake-off

 

 

This past weekend was cold. Snow flurries and a bitter Easterly wind kept us inside. Neither Tim nor I made any plans to leave the house.

On Saturday morning, I mentioned that I fancied making some buttermilk scones. Baby Ben went down for his nap, and Tim announced,

“I’m going to make some bread.”

I pointed out (gently of course) that although we had yeast, we didn’t have any strong flour, and that it did take a long time. He could pop to the shop and get some strong flour, and he could use the breadmaker.

“No, I don’t need to do that. I’m going to make bread my own way.”

So I left him to it, and avoided the kitchen for a while.

Later that day, I did make some buttermilk scones. I used Mary Berry’s recipe, which I found here, omitting the sultanas. I had to add quite a bit of flour to make the dough workable, but the resulting scone was amazingly light and had a beautiful flavour. Although they looked quite dark, they didn’t taste overbaked. The only issue I had was the shape – they didn’t hold their shape while cooking at all, so I will experiment with cutters and sizes the next time I make them.

Tim was very proud of his bread, and asked that I blog about it. Although he vaguely followed River Cottage instructions, his mixture of flour included plain flour, chapati flour and gram flour, and his bread only had one proving. That said, all in all, it wasn’t bad. The addition of fried onions on top of the bread was delicious.

Bread Scones

My sister, who visited that weekend, was invited to judge. She was very complimentary about both, but I think she was most impressed by the bread. Oh well.

 

Daily Prompt: Bedtime Stories

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Without a doubt, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was my favourite book as a child. The idea of finding a magical world in a wardrobe was entrancing; a world of talking animals and dryads, of magic and dwarves, and, of course, of Aslan. I was obsessed with Narnia, and would imagine myself finding a door like that of the wardrobe to take me to this land. 

Like many other children of the early 1980s, I first discovered Narnia through the BBC serialisation on a Sunday afternoon. Although it looks dated today, I thought it was magical at the age of 6. My parents, having incredible foresight, taped every single one of those episodes. When I left home at 18, they were still in the video drawer. Now, none of us own a video player, but I expect the videos themselves are still there. 

The idea of escaping, and finding a magical world, has always fascinated me. A few years ago, I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and found a similar, more adult, escapism. Harry Potter and the His Dark Materials novels have a similar pull. I don’t know whether this is through disappointment with my own life or just a sense of wanting to explore something. I suppose because it is fantasy, it is safe. In all honesty, I’m more of a homebody than an intrepid explorer. But perhaps in Narnia, I could be so. 

Magic is a theme running through The Chronicles of Narnia. Not spells, like in Harry Potter, but more enchantments, like the White Witch’s everlasting winter, or her power to turn people into stone. The restoration that Aslan brings in returning spring to Narnia, and bringing the stone statues back to life is a deeper magic.

The true ‘deep magic’ though lies in Aslan’s sacrifice of his own life to atone for Edmund’s betrayal. Herein lies the true magic of Narnia. In Aslan’s story,we recognise Jesus and His sacrifice for our own sin. It is Aslan that the children truly love, and in Aslan I have come to understand more about the nature of God.

A phrase repeated through the series is, “He’s not a tame lion.” Aslan can be fierce, dangerous, unpredictable. As can God. Yet often I allow myself to think of God as a comfortable, familiar presence. Yet God is to be feared. He can be dangerous, fierce and unpredictable. Yet He is love itself.

Reading The Chronicles of Narnia now, they can seem very dated. We discussed The Last Battle, the final book in the series, in book group last year, and we were shocked at how racist it seemed in its depiction of the Calormenes. Yet, in reading the novel as adults, we could examine the complexity of it in ways that we could not as children. 

A good novel should stay with you and be re-read when you choose. I really hope Ben likes Narnia even a little bit as much as I did.