Wednesday, 28 April 2010

It starts....

My children are 8,6 and 4 but it's amazing how quickly they seem to grow up these days. And each new age/stage of their lives brings its own challenges.

This week it has been the challenge of 'bad language'. I've put this in speech marks because the words my eldest has used and been scolded for in the last week are not in themselves bad, but it's what they are a substitute for that I object to. So, here you go - here are the expletives in question......

  1. Shoot!
  2. What the heck!
  3. 'freakin'

I know, I know, I don't think my blog is going to be cancelled/moderated for offensive language, etc etc. Maybe I am just old-fashioned or fuddy-duddy but I just can't abide 'cuss' words and I don't want my children using them - especially when they are ultimately just softened versions of hardcore swear words and in many cases (tho not the above) blasphemy.

I do think this is in part a cultural phenomenon - I notice here in the US there are many more watered-down curse words. Don't even get me started on the Christian 'cuss' substitutes (Why, oh why do Christians need to have these to fall back on?).

This may well be one of those areas in which my children raise theirs differently - I know many people have no problem with such slang at all but I just can't get out of my heads those familiar words from Psalm 19 v 14 (ok, I admit it, via BoneyM)...

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer"

OK rant over. Sorry about that - but isn't that exactly what blogs are for?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Just get on with it!

It may not appear to be the case, but I actually spend hours planning what to write on this blog. I realise the evidence is completely to the contrary but I have regular, erudite, conversations with myself about what to write. Some is informative, some comment, some spiritual insights I have gained, even some amusing anecdotes, but I realise I put far too much emphasis on how I will come across/what people will think to actually get around to writing it down.

So, I think I need to just start putting down any old rubbish to get myself back in the habit of writing. Much has happened since the last post and nothing much has happened since the last post. I may or may not get around to writing something about these amazingly planned thoughts and comments or not, but I will endeavour to start posting something more regularly. And of course, you can feel free to either continue to read or not....

One of the major things I have been reflecting on recently is my tendency to avoid living in and enjoying the present. I am the master of promising 'jam tomorrow', looking ahead to that point in time when 'things will be better' and equally I can tend to look back on the past with rose-tinted, greener-grass spectacles. So, I am now making a conscious effort to start counting my blessings from now on. That's not to say I won't still be looking for ways to improve areas of my life, or miss those things I've left behind, but I want to be grateful for what God has given me today and enjoy this present season as much as I possibly can.

So, as a little exercise in spontaneity rather than planned blog-content, off the top of my head, here are 10 things I am grateful for (in no particular order) today....

  1. That I have a hope that goes beyond the grave. Though life has many challenges, I rejoice that I know the one in charge and that he has a plan!
  2. My wonderful family who bless me, keep me humble and daily challenge me in more ways then I could ever imagine.
  3. Technology that keeps me closer and in touch with friends and family far away.
  4. A ticket to a friend's wedding in April that gives me a brief but cherished opportunity to catch up with loved ones and indulge myself all on my own with no children.
  5. My lovely husband who not only gave me afore-mentioned ticket, but has also taken time of work to look after the children while I am away. He is a complete superstar not just for this but for being my best friend and accomplice in this adventure.
  6. The great school that my children love going to.
  7. Ever-so-slightly less freezing temperatures. The snow boots have been switched for normal shoes at long last (no visible signs of spring just yet, however!)
  8. Tea. You can take the Brit out of the UK......
  9. Child-free mornings, finally giving me a bit of space to think my own thoughts and take the occasional break
  10. A good book to read

So there - a start!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Fall and all that!

So, it's Fall.... I have to confess I've been quite looking forward to experiencing Fall as, by all accounts, it is much more of a definite 'season' and distinct time of year in the US. It's the holiday season (as opposed to summer which is the vacation season) and, for us, it's our first fall and the only season we've yet to experience in Chicago.

We arrived to one of the most brutal winters in living memory (and that's only a slight exaggeration - everyone says it was the worst for ages!), Spring really never happened unless you count the week in May when the Park District plant the spring flowers in the city, and even Summer was not quite the heatwave we would have expected. To be honest, I loved this summer - it was warm and sunny without the intense humidity of last year and on no occasion was it too hot to go out with the children.

And so to Fall.... It seems that the 'holidays' are the coping mechanism to get through the last 3 months of the year. Halloween gives way to Thanksgiving and then, to a lesser extent, Christmas. By January, noone can bear to leave the house and everyone pines for warmer climes. The shops are completely full of holiday decorations and the well-to-do in Lincoln Park have their fall-colour garlands on their doors and their holiday table decorations out. I am so out of my element! Seriously, I try but finishing touches and interior design have never been my strong point. Carolyn Mahaney and her girls would be ashamed of me!!

I had anticipated that Halloween would be a bigger deal here and we've been discussing for months how to handle it as a family. I thought this would be a good place for me to explain why we won't be participating in any celebrations....

I just had a look on Wikipedia to see what their descriptions of Halloween and it's origins say so here goes....

"Halloween has origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain . The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year". Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient Celtic pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. "

"The ancient Celts believed that on October 31st, now known as Halloween, the boundary between the living and the deceased dissolved, and the dead become dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, into which the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks being worn at Halloween goes back to the Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white....

On All Hallows’ eve, the ancient Celts would place a skeleton on their window sill to represent the departed. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga. Believing that the head was the most powerful part of the body, containing the spirit and the knowledge, the Celts used the "head" of the vegetable to frighten off the embodiment of superstitions.[The name jack-o'-lantern can be traced back to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night with the only light he had: a candle inside of a hollowed turnip.

Halloween imagery tends to involve death, evil, the occult, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include the Devil, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, ghouls, demons, witches, pumpkin-men, goblins, vampires, werewolves, martians, zombies, mummies, pirates, skeletons, black cats, spiders, bats, owls, crows, and vultures"

Now lots of people have explained to me at length that, here in America, the children only wear nice costumes and it all just a bit of fun but I just can't get away from the fact that so many of the traditions and common practices are rooted in practices of warding off evil spirits and making occult figures and practices out to be just something silly to be laughed at. As Christians we believe fully in the existence of good and evil and I don't want to blur the lines, especially where my children are concerned.

This viewpoint is presenting us with a few problems. At school all the children have been talking for weeks about what they will be wearing to go Trick-or-Treating or at the school Halloween parade. The shops are full of spooky costumes, skeletons, devil costumes and the like and houses are beginning to display gravestones and cobweb decorations. Plus we've had our first invitation to a party.

I don't want to offend anyone or judge them, but we won't be joining in. We are heading away for a couple of nights at the end of the month and we are going to have a Family Day out instead of the school parade. I have encouraged the children not to make a big deal about it, we will just quietly not observe the holiday. But everyone does think we are completely crazy!!! And cruel parents to boot for denying our children all the fun!

At this point, I really do need to praise my children. We've never participated in Halloween events and they don't want to. In fact, they have in the past been terrified by people wearing the 'Scream' masks and are very happy not to be trick-or-treating or going to parties. The problem I am having is that they are trying to convert their school friends and convince them not to celebrate it either. E refused to do an (unrelated to Halloween) activity at school because it involved a picture of a pumpkin and M likes to tell me exactly where all the Halloween decorations are in our neighbourhood so we can avoid them. Bless!

I'll let you know how it all goes............

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Coffee anyone?

I know, I know - it's about time I wrote another post! I think I need to stop worrying too much about what I write and just update this more often as people want to know what we are up to...

Firstly, we are just sooooooo tired!!! It's ridiculous - especially as I now have 5 mornings a week sans children. That's 15 hours when I could be catching up on sleep, chilling out, reading, etc, etc. But it just all seems to get so manic when I try and cram in as much as possible to each 3-hour period. I am seriously considering getting M into the hot lunch program just to get myself an extra 45 minutes a day!!! It doesn't help that we have embarked on a lot more extra-curricular activities. In Blighty, Is had swimming lessons and that was it other than school. Now we have E swimming on a Monday, after school clubs (pirate & cheerleading respectively) for E and Is on a Tues and soccer practice for Is on a Wed plus a game each Saturday. Not wanting M to feel left out, I signed her up for some ridiculously cheap Tap & Ballet classes for an hour each on Tues and Thurs afternoons. Then there's homework on top of that which seems to have increased exponentially this year. It's crazy!!!!

The dance classes are incredibly amusing, not least as M insists on skipping to the lessons in full dance gear plus trainers. We park outside the zoo and walk past the tigers and lions en route to ballet so she always gets lots of endearing glances from passers-by. I doubt this will be quite as much fun in winter but for the moment it is ever so sweet. I get a whole hour to myself to read and drink tea in Starbucks though I usually sneak back a few minutes early to catch a few minutes of tap dancing. It mostly involves 10 4-year olds slipping and ending up on their bottoms then trying to help each other up and falling over again. I doubt there are any Broadway stars in the making!!

Most of my free time seems to be taken up with school meetings. For those who care, I have the dubious honour of having 2 children in 3 different Key stages which equates to triple meetings. As I am also 'class rep' for Is's class (not sure quite what I've let myself in for) I also have other meetings to attend and numerous emails to forward along with calming irate parents and negotiating with teachers and administrative staff at the school. There will no doubt be more postings to follow on those particularly joy-inspiring responsibilities...

When I am not at school meetings I am usually to be found having 'coffee' at Whole Foods with various friends and contacts. The parentheses, of course, as I am a hardened tea drinker but somehow meeting someone for a tea just doesn't run off the tongue as smoothly. I managed 3 days in a row the week before last. Last week the highlight was Friday's schedule of 'coffee' followed by a coffee morning followed by lunch with a friend.

It's a hard life here in Chi-town. No wonder I'm exhausted.........!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Come back NHS, (almost) all is forgiven...

I know I haven't written anything for absolutely ages... I keep thinking I should write a '1 year on' type update as (not counting a 3-mth trip back to the UK to pack up home) we have lived States-side for a year now. That will come. But for now I wanted to share some of my own first-hand experiences of the US healthcare vs the NHS....

As the daughter of 2 NHS professionals (a GP and a Physiotherapist), I have always been brought up to respect and appreciate the NHS. We know it has many failings but I have to say that, for me, it has always been there when I have needed it and I have many scars on my body which show testament to it's work! For the last few years since D started working in banking we were fortunate to have private healthcare - but I do say 'fortunate' with some hesitation.... Yes, that meant we could jump the queue which for D meant his gall bladder was removed swiftly without a long wait (and a wine list in the hospital - but I digress...). But I still had my appendix out at good-old Queen Mary's NHS in Sidcup. When the emergency arose I was given priority.

I also had all 3 children on the NHS and benefitted from a wonderfully supportive team of midwives who saw me through each pregnancy and birth. I know this is not every woman's experience, but it was wonderful for me to have the same midwife at the birth of my first two children and the same team throughout.

Since moving to the US, negotiating the healthcare system has been one of the things I have left near the bottom of my to-do list purely because it is so difficult to understand how it works. As it is I have gone the complete chicken's route and signed up with the same doctor as a friend as she is with the same insurance company as me and can talk me through each step of the process.

The first thing that strikes one about the healthcare here is simply how expensive it really is. We pay a large amount of money every 2 weeks for our (already highly subsidised by work) insurance. On top of that, each visit to the doctor costs us between $15-25. Prescription charges start at $25. Amazingly, the first check-up at the dentist was free. The optician costs around $50 for an eye-test. All of these costs are the same as children as for adults. So, if we had all had swine flu it would have cost us at least $40 each........

The emphasis is firmly on preventative medicine here which is good - in the UK it is very much a case of dealing with the problem presented and moving on to the next patient. Each of the children has to have an annual medical for school which proved to be a fairly traumatic experience for them - they had to undress and be thoroughly poked and prodded - and also for me as I was quizzed on their diet and exercise programs! They are given more standard vaccinations here, too - poor M had 3 on her first visit. To me, some of this seems rather OTT - especially as it is delivered with such intense sincerity. I am already anticipating a battle of wills with my doctor over whether or not to give the children flu' jabs this winter (whilst I am pro-vaccination, I don't really think this is a necessary one). She is so earnest, I don't think she really understands me at all - when she phoned to deliver my cholesterol results, I joked that since they were good I could continue eating unhealthy foods with abandon but she immediately cautioned me against it. Sense of humour failure - 100%!!

So, all-in-all we are certainly getting more attentive (I still hesitate to say 'better') care here - but at a huge cost! I have no idea how those without insurance cope - it must be terrifying to have to consider finances before seeking emergency medical help. I don't know what chance Obama has of bringing in healthcare change, but those of you who do still have the NHS, spare a thought for those who don't. With all it's strains and problems, it's something many in the world would be hugely grateful to have.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Anyone going to the Willow Creek Leadership Conference this year?

If you are, why not come and visit the Newfrontiers church plant in Chicago, Destination Church? When you are a small plant, mature (ok that may rule some out) visitors from other churches in the Newfrontiers family can be a real encouragement. You never know, you might even benefit from some free accommodation and/or a home-cooked meal!

Go on, come and visit - you know you want to!

Check out the new church plant website at or contact me via this blog, Facebook, Twitter .....

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A day in the life...

... my attempt at answering the much-levelled question, "So what do you do all day?"

5:55 am: Woken out of a deep sleep by a sharp kick from husband – turns out he was dreaming of playing football. Try unsuccessfully to fall back to sleep

7:00 am: Drag myself unwillingly out of bed, take hay fever medication and go through daily frustrations of coaching 3 children through breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth etc. etc.

7:50am Quick shower then try and get Drs appt for daughter no 1 who was sent home from school yesterday with a temperature. She is coughing, has a runny nose and a very red throat. Is this the dreaded Strep Throat or just a nasty cold?? We may never know as there were no appts available and then I got put on hold and the recorded message advised me the current hold-time was 21mins. Hung up.

8:15am Hurried family out of door. Son delivered to school; husband delivered to work. Daughter complaining that she is alternately well enough for school and feeling unwell in car after such a long journey to take dad to work. Does listening to worship music in the car count as a quiet time?

9:00 am Back home, loading dishwasher, making pancakes for daughter no 1 as she won’t eat anything else. Daughter no 2 polishes off 5 pancakes (on top of the bowl of cereal and half-bagel she’s already had for breakfast)

10:30 am Carrot cake for after-Sports day picnic tomorrow in oven. Wondering what to do about parents’ evening tonight…. The learning assistants look after the children in the classrooms, but is it fair to inflict Daughter 1’s germs on the others there? Resisting temptation to log onto Facebook as need to tidy up the basement in preparation for a visitor arriving Sat. Run upstairs to get bedding, get briefly distracted by a load of washing, only to be called back down to the basement by the familiar call, “I’ve done a poo”…

11:00 am Remove carrot cake from oven – slightly burned round edges (hopefully no one will notice). Run hoover round basement and make bed. Discipline Daughter 2 for hitting Daughter 1 over the head with a Barbie!

12:00pm Friend arrives for lunch with her 2 boys. Make salad and pretend I eat this healthily every day! Chat for 2 lovely hours while the children play (mostly) happily.

2:00pm Take Daughter 1’s temperature and she finally has a real, proper fever. She has spent the afternoon in bed reading and sleeping so hasn’t really been too much trouble but this means no parents’ eve and almost certainly no sports day tomorrow for her. Email teachers to say I won’t be coming. More tidying.

2:50pm Steal a few minutes away. Try to read a devotional book but it’s too intelligent and I find my mind wandering. Pick up my bible and read some truth, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Ja 3v17). How I long to be wise….

3:00pm Back to reality – pick up son from school and break up fights in the car. Thankfully carrot cake is well-received by 2 out of 3 children despite burned bits!

4:00pm Listen to son read, admire various craft creations by daughters and head to the kitchen to make tea (after pressure from son to get off pc asap so he can go on the Star Wars website)

5:00 pm Keep running downstairs to do some more hoovering so tea taking longer to cook than usual. Plus have to help colour in R2-D2 online and print him out

5:30 pm Teatime – so thankful I’d decided to make a safe option – pasta Bolognese all round

6:00 pm Kids running around wiggling their bottoms and getting generally more and more hyper. I hate this last hour

6:10pm Daughter no 1 to bed after hitting her brother with a large mag-lite torch.

6:25 Son goes to bathroom to perform his business – the most terrible noises fill the upstairs and am v relieved when it turns out he’s blowing raspberries into his palms. Fold washing from tumble drier while younger 2 splash in the bath

7:00 pm Kids down, tidy away toys. Open beer. Would prefer wine but hubby is out with work colleagues and it’s probably not a good idea to open a bottle just for me. Finally log in to Facebook.

8:00pm Just settling in to ironing in front of the TV when hubby arrives so feed him then selflessly head out to Borders to buy him a copy of his fave magazine … only to return and discover I’ve bought him the issue he already has. Grrr! Icecream softens the blow.

9:15pm Cup of tea, magazine, hot bath then off to bed………

So there you go.