Things I’ve learnt Since Becoming Single Again…

1. The more times I use a garage, the worse the customer service I receive.

2. If we’re down to the last dregs of toilet roll, this will be the night that at least one family member will have a tummy bug.

3. It doesn’t matter if I do know how to change a wheel, I’m not strong enough to undo the wheel nuts anyway.

4. I’m quite untidy. 

5. All tradesmen believe I don’t know anything, and many get quite obnoxious when they realise I do know what I’m talking about.

6. Window cleaners. Just weird. Enough said.

7. £5 irons last the same length of time as £50 irons and both flatten clothes.

8. People assume I can do my own DIY.

9. Generally they’re right, I’m quite handy with a toolkit, but deadly with a drill (don’t let me loose with that).

10. Very cheap vodka is the same as any other vodka but Smartprice rum is (nearly) undrinkable.

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Break Your Legs Finance – A bad choice or hardly a choice?

Over the last week  the TV documentaries for sport relief have been shown and many have seen first hand what some of us already knew, people in this country are going hungry. I have watched cheery celebrities set off to go and live with these troubled families claiming that they’re sure that it can’t be be that bad and then, admittedly with some perverse pleasure at their comeuppance, I watch for the moment when they realise that not only are these situations dire but that the families they are staying with have very little hope of escaping from the reality in which they live. They are trapped. Then, as a final last ditch attempt to make some sense of it all and to offer some help, the celebrities ask to see the families finances. Invariably they have all borrowed money and are struggling to pay back debt at high interest rates. Over and over we hear this phrase, “They have made some bad choices.” And the nation breathes a sigh of relief again…it is all their own fault, they shouldn’t have made those bad choices!

And sometimes and in some ways that would be true. If you have watched a TV advert, noted down the telephone number, picked up and dialled and answered the questions to borrow money from a payday loan company, then yes, you have made a bad choice. It was possibly an ill-informed choice if you didn’t really understand interest rates, but a bad choice nonetheless. And do you know what? That’s OK! We all make bad choices. Think of anybody who has ever bought Tupperware (how much for a plastic box!!) or Ann Summers lingerie and you’ll see that it’s not that unusual to make a bad decision in a moment of weakness. It’s not just payday loan companies that build business based on it.

But not all money loaned comes from companies like this. There is a much more sinister money pushing business that goes on, door step money lenders. And in my experience, this isn’t just battling moments of weakness, it’s constantly avoiding the trap.

First, be aware of where these people work. I’d never lived on a housing estate before, I thought it seemed friendly, it was friendly. But it soon became apparent that I hadn’t just moved into a house, I’d moved into a community, assimilated into the club, and in a community like this…well let’s say it’s better to be in than out.

So it’s 6pm. Anyone who’s had children will tell you this is a bad time. I’ve been up since 5am and on the go all day, the children are tired, I am tired and frazzled and just tidying up before starting the bedtime battle. There’s a knock at the door. As I  open it I have a child on my hip and one having a tantrum in the background, and I am faced with two men one of whom is holding £50 cash out to me. The conversation goes something like this…

Him: Hi Jennie, we’ve just sorted a loan out for your neighbour xxxx and                          he said you’d be interested too.

Me: No thanks.

Him: So you don’t need any money?

Me: No.

Him: Oh so you have lots of money?

Me: No. But I don’t want a loan.

Him: OK. Can you recommend a neighbour?

Me: No not really.

Him: So you don’t know your neighbours?

Me: Yes I know them. I just don’t think they will be interested.

Him: Well give me a couple of names and I’ll go and knock.

And so it went on, him waving his cash around giving it the hard sell, me juggling screaming children and trying to get him to leave. And did you spot what they did? It’s not a place where you want your neighbours to think you believe you’re better than them, nor do you want the heavy mob to think you don’t know them, there’s safety in numbers. These men are clever and somewhat slippery, it’s easy to get caught out or to give in.

But this isn’t a conversation I had once, this is a conversation I had on a weekly basis and on the run up to Christmas and Summer holidays they would be knocking 5 times a week. You’re tired, hungry, desperate for money, not sure when the next paycheck will arrive, and then faced with these people pushing cash onto you.

Is it a bad choice, can we really call it that? Or is it hardly a choice, more a moment of weakness? Either way, we can all be guilty of doing both.

 

 

What makes it ‘home’?

As many of you already know, on Friday night my two teenagers and myself slept rough for the night to raise money for Framework. It was a long, cold, wet night with not a great deal of sleep for me but plenty of time to reflect on this question..what makes something ‘home’?

We hear that ‘home is where the heart is’. Well my heart was most definitely with me on Friday night. God is everywhere (including a car-park in Mansfield) and my two children whom I love immensely were asleep right next to me. But this was not home. In no way was this home. This was cold, uncomfortable and although not really unsafe, I still felt the need to keep watch. This was definitely not home. But what is?

Home is so much more than a house, it’s a kind of feeling. I’ve felt at home when I’ve walked into guest houses, or at other people’s houses, or at retreat centres. I felt at home when I walked into my church, I even described it as feeling as though I had come home. And not feeling at home isn’t always a bad thing. We camp for our summer holiday, I love the outdoors feel, cooking our meals outside, being free of time and just going to bed once it gets dark and up once it’s light, but I would never describe it as home. I love it but I’m also happy when it’s time to return home. So what is ‘home’?

Well I had quite a long time to think about it but don’t think I’ve got it completely right. However, here’s my best effort so far…

‘Home is where the heart is….and you don’t need to put your shoes on to go to the toilet’.

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I used to be amazing…

When the children were young I was an amazing parent. I didn’t know it at the time, I thought I was awful as I was grumpy and shouted at them lots, but I was wrong, I was fab.

You see I used to have a clean and sparkly house, not all the time so that they couldn’t make a mess, but I used to clean up at the end of the day. Every day. I used to cook nutritious meals, I had my menu planner so that I could ensure that my children and my child minded children would have a variety of foods that were both healthy and that they liked. Meal times were enjoyable. I used to plan activities and games to play to keep them occupied and give them different experiences. I used to check their homework diaries, monitor it to make sure they completed it and help them if necessary. And I used to talk to them. Yes in the past we had conversations. We would actually communicate with each other and I would be aware of what was happening in their lives.

But that was then…and now we live in the here and now.

Admittedly standards started to slip a bit once I gave up childminding and started other employment. I mean there really is no need to clean every day if nobody is going to see it is there? And the world didn’t come to a crashing end if I didn’t bother to vacuum. Bit by bit the homework monitoring slipped too…and eventually disappeared. You can definitely tell the stay at home mothers from working mothers simply by their reaction when you mention the word ‘homework’ to them!

But now, well now I realise I’ve slipped to a whole new level. I’m not sure we can even truthfully call it parenting! It’s become more of a house share with taxi duties. Nutritious meals are a thing of the past. Everyday my heart sinks at the question ‘What’s for tea?’ Because I don’t know and my mind is beyond making that kind of decision! I find myself saying ‘Why are you asking me?’ as though it’s the most unusual question in the world, I mean why would their mother know what was for tea?! And we end up rooting through the freezer and cooking a combination of stuff that doesn’t go together because I’m just too busy to peel potatoes.

And cleaning. What cleaning? I admit that recently I looked first at the polish and duster and then to the antihistamine tablets and actually considered which one would be the better option to stop us sneezing from the dust. And woe to the person who uses the bathroom straight after I have cleaned it! It seriously conjures up what I know to be an unreasonable level of grumpiness. However, if I’m going to take time out to bleach then I want the full benefit of clean and nice smelling bathroom.

And tonight I’ve discovered that we do have conversation but I don’t listen. I suspected as much, and apparently they have told me…but I wasn’t listening. Hmm. So tonight, over dinner at a restaurant for my daughter’s birthday, I finally caught up on their news. Even with their unsociable texting and grunting I managed to have more conversation than we’ve had for a while. We’ve bickered, we’ve laughed, we’ve teased each other and we’ve eaten until we felt sick.

And I’ve told them…You know how I used to be such an amazing parent? Well I still am, it’s just better hidden to make everyone else feel better. I think I may have gotten away with it….

Don’t just sit there! Do Something!

If I’m honest, I don’t really ‘do’ New Year’s Eve. In the past it’s been a bit depressing, then it was just another night, and now, well I can take it or leave it. My feelings about it have moved on from hating it, to tolerating it to acceptance of it. I guess it all depends on your expectations and what crazy resolutions you made last year.

As a young adult I would head out on the town already feeling a bit down as I’d realised that none of my resolutions of finding a Mr Darcy type man to whisk me off my feet to live in a huge mansion had actually happened. I would then party with my friends in a nightclub that had just charged me a week’s salary to enter until that dreaded hour. Never ever, not once, at the stroke of midnight did the people on the dance floor part for me to see the man of my dreams heading straight for me as is depicted in films. Oh no, the reality generally was one of two scenarios; either at 11.55pm I headed towards the toilets to avoid that awkward ‘Happy New Year’ shouting and hugging and kissing or rather, standing around as everyone else did that. Or, and this seemed to happen more often than I’d care to remember, at the stroke of midnight I would be sitting on the edge of a curb holding a friend’s hair back as she vomited into the gutter…or vice versa.

Once I’d had children I realised I was saved from the forced merriment and had the perfect excuse to stay in my nice warm house, drink my cheaper alcohol, eat the leftover Christmas chocolates and watch crap TV. New Year’s Eve became tolerable, it’s not great being stuck in on your own with kids while everyone else is having a good time, but there are worse things. New Year’s resolutions still had that unrealistic tone to them, you know the sort; lose 3 stone, pay the bills etc. You’re only going to feel like a failure next year if you set yourself up to fail!

But once I divorced things began to look up. I’m still no party animal on New Year’s Eve, and I would still be happy for it to finish at 11.55pm but the key, I reckon, is not to make unrealistic resolutions about myself and to think bigger. And when looking back over the year don’t focus on all the stuff you didn’t do, look for the good.

Now admittedly I’m in a great place to be able to say that. Some of you may need to dig deep to pick out some good bits in a terrible year, take heart if you’re at the bottom then the only way is up. But as I look back over my year all I can think is ‘Wow!’. It has been an amazing year! There’s been my trip to the Holy Land in February, my recommendation for ordination training in March, I finally left work in August, two great holidays at Scargill House and Greenbelt over the summer, starting college in September and, thanks to a snazzy bit of work by the NHS in November, for the first time in 2 years I feel well! I have to admit it’s been a good year, now how to make next year just as memorable. 

Well when life throws you opportunities it’s time to share. So this year, 2014, is going to be my year of action. And I have three…

1. Be fit not fat at forty

Yep 2014 is the year of that birthday. So I’ve joined the gym. I’m determined it’s not going to be about weight loss (that may involve less food and I like that too much!) but more about being fit….toned will be a bonus. 

2. Build, re-establish and retain friendships

There is an irony that my friendships are the most important thing in my life and yet I am hopeless at keeping in touch with people. So get your diaries out people, I’m booking in to see you and catch up with all your news!

3. Stand up and shout out – Be the voice for those with no voice

As I write this there are people who have no clean water to drink, refugees sleeping in shelters with no aid getting through, people being trafficked, people being forced to take zero hour contracts and then getting into unmanageable debt due to lack of work, and people living rough when all options have run out and government funding has been withdrawn. These are just a few things, there are many many more, and not being able to singlehandedly save the world is not an excuse to sit and do nothing. 

I’m not sure of exactly where I’m going with this one but I will be starting by taking part in the Mansfield Big Snore event to raise funds for Framework. The rest I will work out throughout the year.

 

Happy New Year!

When the Coffee Angel Calls

I look at the workload in front of me and want to weep. I have been sick for two weeks and there is over 200 pages of work that I have missed. I just don’t see how I can do all of this whilst continuing with the current work as well as looking after the children, getting them where they need to be at the right time, trying to feed us, keep us clean and tidy and then there’s Christmas on the way and..and ..and….it’s just all too much!

There’s a knock at the door. As I open it the Coffee Angel smiles, hands me a coffee in a cardboard cup and continues on his way. In one moment, with one action, life seems a little bit better again. Maybe I can do this after all.

Those who know me will know that I don’t talk about angels if I can help it. Mainly because it seems impossible to talk about angels without sounding like a hippy or a bit mad and often both, and to be fair neither of these are the image I’m going for when I wake up in a morning. It may be what I achieve, but trust me I’m aiming for ‘normal’ as much as possible. But I can’t escape the fact that angels do appear a lot in the Bible, all through it they are there; caring, protecting and bringing messages.

I’m lucky, I don’t just have one Coffee Angel, I have many. Not all of them shop at Costa Coffee, it’s not obligatory, some just flick the switch on their kettles because instant coffee works miracles too you know! But they all have these things in common; they appear from nowhere just when life seems unbearable, they care by getting me coffee (yes I could make my own but it’s just not the same!), they protect me from myself, from my own self-doubt and their message to me is loud and clear, “You are loved”.

I thank God for my Coffee Angels.

When the timeshare bell tolls

When the bell rings for lunchtime notices I suffer from what I can only describe as Timeshare Tourettes (apologies to any actual Tourettes sufferers – no offence meant). The ringing bell takes me straight back to my time selling timeshare where, if we made a sale, we rang the bell and yelled ‘Timeshare Sale’ and everyone in the room would stop what they were doing and clap and cheer. Corny I know, and no I wasn’t any less cynical back them, I just knew how to play the game to get my commission. But, much as Pavlov’s dogs salivate at the sound of the bell, I have this overwhelming urge to shout ‘Timeshare Sale!’ whenever I hear it. So far, I’ve resisted, well it’s not been my turn to ring it yet.

So with this in the back of my mind I start to read some of the work for my preaching module about analogy, metaphor, examples and illustrations. I find myself musing about the similarities between selling timeshare and being a Christian. The ringing of the timeshare bell was to encourage others to buy one, is this so different to the call to stand up and be counted that we see in some churches? I haven’t come to a conclusion with that thought yet, but here are some other similarities I have thought of.

1. Telling people you sell timeshare and telling people you are a Christian gains the same response, a puzzled ‘Oh’.

2. When they have recovered composure, in both instances it is almost always followed by the phrase, ‘You don’t seem the type’. I have yet to discover what ‘the type’ is for each but I think it’s meant as a compliment that I’m not it for either one.

3. People know little about and are intrigued by both, but in each case wary of getting into discussion with you in case they become indoctrinated for life.

4. Both are inherently good things but have been given a bad press by a small minority of people involved.

5. Your friends think you’re mad for being involved with either of them.

6. For each, people will have a horror story of something that happened to a friends of a friend.

I’m sure there are more. I’ll add them as I think of them.

In the meantime, watch out on Tuesday when it becomes my turn to ring the lunch(time)share bell!

Such Fun!

I have a rule in life and it goes like this…

‘Anything that needs to be described as “fun” normally isn’t.’

For example:-

Fun Days – Come and spend your money here or let us tell you about our organisation in turn for a go on our bouncy castle.

Fun and Team Games – For those of us who haven’t been psychologically damaged enough by PE lessons at school, come and join in and let’s try again.

Learn Greek for Fun – Seriously people?! Listen to yourselves!

X Factor Style Preaching Competition (for fun?) – Just no!

Now I realise that this gives you an insight into what a grumpy cynic I actually am and it is true, if they produce a television program called ‘Grumpy Middle-Aged Women’ then I will be heading up the guest list. It’s not that I’m really miserable, I love to laugh and actually my sense of humour is always landing me in trouble, I just can’t stand forced fun.

It seems to be prevalent in Christian circles and educational institutions so put them together and guess what you get? Urggh! It’s almost as though we timetable our Christian lives; time for deep and serious worship, time for serious intellectual study, time for serious prayer for all the serious trouble in the world; time for fun.

But the best fun is always unexpected. Have you ever not wanted to go to a party but when you got there you had a great time? Or the other way around, have you looked forward to an event only to find that it was a disappointment, it didn’t live up to expectations? The best fun is created in the moment, made out of the unexpected, is where it’s snuck surreptitiously into a different timetable slot.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to make time for fun, I want to have fun everyday as I go along doing what I’m doing.

Silence? Or shoes?

This week i have been introduced to the college’s obsession with silence. There’s quiet hour on a Wednesday, quiet on the chapel stairs, quiet times in morning prayer, a time for quiet reflection in the communion service and, this is my favourite, in the spirituality lecture there was a chance to practice being quiet. Does anybody else get the impression that really they just want to shout ‘Will you shut up?!!’ and are trying to find a polite way to say it?

It’s not that I’m against quiet. I live in a noisy world of saxophone, flute, piano, clarinet and guitar playing, Youtube, television, iPlayer, music and chatter, lots of chatter. To be honest I welcome the odd bit of quiet, it’s quiet’s counterpart that I object to; sitting still. Is this really necessary? Can’t I just be quiet whilst walking about? You see, sitting still and being quiet for any period of time will ultimately result in me falling asleep. And much as I like my new college friends, they are new friends, I’m not sure any of us are ready to cope with the snoring and dribbling that occurs when I sleep.

So there was only one thing for it, instead of sleeping I looked down and…studied shoes. My shoes, my neighbours’ shoes, and then a quick furtive look around at everyone’s shoes. It was interesting to see what everyone felt was suitable for a day at college, there was so much variation, one person wasn’t even wearing any.

And my mind wandered, what shoes would Jesus wear? Yeah I know, sandals, and I’m sure he’d have worn socks with them had they been available at the time. But really, here and now you have to get him some shoes, what would he wear? Walking boots perhaps? He seems to like walking. Or maybe Dr Martens? Down with the youth and they last a long time, they’re good value for money. What about some comfy trainers? But there you see, trainers are a minefield; Converse or Vans or cheap market trainers, velcro or laces? Maybe, just maybe, he’s be totally random and wear sparkly high heels? I think I’d like that. Just not Crocs! Please tell me he wouldn’t wear Crocs!

What do you think?

God’s Green Sheep

When my children were younger we used attend a play session where the (rather enthusiastic and very politically correct) play leader used to sing Baa Baa Green Sheep with them. I remember this leading to many a discussion among the parents there with their children. Hard as it is to believe that something so trivial really could cause so much dissension in the ranks, it did and the parents split into two very distinctive camps; those that thought the whole thing silly and those that approved another version.

The first camp could see no reason at all for the changing of the words and generally thought the whole thing was a wacky idea. ‘There’s no such thing as a green sheep’ they would mutter as the play leader sang.

The second camp preferred another alternative version that was prominent at the time; Baa Baa Woolly Sheep. Although I have to confess here that hearing the words ‘Baa Baa Woolly Sheep, have you any wool?’ really made me want to shout, ‘Yes of course I have otherwise how could I be a woolly sheep!’ I wanted to, but didn’t, I restrained myself.

All in all, if we have to change the words, then I think I prefer green sheep. It works when you use it in other contexts too, how much better to be be the green sheep of the family, you’re not just in the wrong family you are completely individual. Well either that or you have some dreadful disease but let’s not go there.

Two weeks ago I started ordination training at Vicar Skool and throughout those two weeks I have had this growing realisation that I am a green sheep here. It’s not just that I seem to be doing a different course to everyone else (don’t ask!), or that I’m a (Shock!Horror!)single parent and people are really struggling to know which pigeon hole to put me into, or that I seem to be the only one that believes morning caffeine is needed alongside morning prayer. It’s more a growing feeling that I am different to everyone else. I am a green sheep.

But then, perhaps everyone is feeling like this, maybe this is what it’s all about. As Christians we are called and we desire to be holy, to be ‘set-apart’. As a priest there will be no hiding from this, they tend to be easily distinguishable, and I will be perceived to be different even if the reality isn’t quite so! I am called to be one of God’s green sheep; somewhat different, a tad wacky, and easily found if I accidentally wander off!