Dismantling Forts

Lola Dutch, in some ways, was made to give encouragement and give a pat on the back to the kids that are still enthusiastic and still on fire, and still curious about the world, and just say, ‘Look, here’s somebody just like you, and we love it, and we need more people like you.’
[Kenneth Wright]


Photo by Inês Pimentel on Unsplash

This week’s epiphany: “I think I’m spending too much time dismantling forts.”

This is what I do. I dismantle forts.

I say, “This is not THE TIME for fort building”.

See also: This is not the time for dressing up, This is not the time for making things, This is not the time for reading, This is not the time for hiding from a hurricane or putting out fires. (I wanted imaginative children, the joke’s on me).

I spend the evening returning tiny lego pieces to the lego box, furniture into the playmobile house, separating dentist and school sets into their cases and binning googly eyes.  There are always so many googly eyes.

Imogen wakes early and plays quietly and purposefully.  Everything is opened and mixed in 2 seconds flat.

That’s not really true.  Everything is not mixed in 2 seconds flat. What is true is that Imogen plays quietly and purposefully.  Resulting in a purposeful mess.

(“A creative bombsite”: a phrase I sometimes use to warn my husband about the living room.)

What I really wanted, it seems, is children who would keep their imaginations segregated by brand and theme.

I want creativity to be one of the values in our home and the frustrating, and slightly embarrassing, truth is that I find this hard.  Tiring.  It does not come as naturally to me as I would like.  I would like everything tidy and quiet so I can have some Sharon-time later.

I listen to an interview with Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright, the creators of Lola Dutch Is A Little Bit Much, on Readaloud Revival.  They are talking about giving kids creative courage – “if the parents just get out of the way.”

If the parents just get out of the way.

(Stop dismantling forts).

I hover and intervene when I should be giving them space.  I dismantle when I should be encouraging the build.

Making space matters, Erin Loechner says, in whatever way we can.  ‘Trading theories for wonder, criticism for curiosity. Kissing the precious plants and spotless sofa goodbye; heralding in an unpredictable mess. Swapping out a limited view of self care and allowing ourselves the surprise of something else. Giving up our cozy couch; receiving front row seats to a far greater show.’

I want to make space for creative courage, for forts and Princess Dogs and integrated play pieces.  An unpredictable mess.  A far greater show.


Sorry I’m Late. I didn’t want to come.


Sunday morning: Imogen stomps angrily into church, sits down with a glare and hisses “I hate church”.

A head turns in the pew in front, whispers back, kindly: “We’ve all been there.”


I see a hoodie online with the words “Sorry I’m Late. I didn’t want to come.”  An alternative Sunday outfit, I wonder?  For the outlier?


“I love my little church,” Addie Zierman says.  “I believe it is vital to my healing and to my becoming.  But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel fraught to me a lot of the time.

This is simply true, for some of us.


It sounds like complaining, though – the fraught feelings, the not wanting to come.

Where do you put fraught feelings?

You stuff them somewhere, usually.

You feel ashamed of them when you read motivational things from good people.


2 of my favourite people in the world don’t go to church any more.  They are wise and thoughtful and honest and brave.  Their journeys have been long and nuanced and they have involved pain.

One of them told me that, for now, she was learning from the bees who live in the hives in her garden.  The other spoke of tomato plants.

People make fun of that, don’t they? From pulpits. Online. They say it’s not ok.  They call the ex-church-goers back from their gardens.  But they call from a distance, and I don’t think that works.


I go to church and it is fraught and it is beautiful.  I am learning to show up and linger in community where I don’t fit in (but where I can belong).  Currently my journey is about choosing presence over peace and learning to let go of the crafted, curated life I want to have.  I have needed help with this, to be honest.

My friends ask me about church and how it is and how I am.  I ask about the bees and the tomato plants and the pain.  I learn from the books they read and the podcasts they love, I am changed by who they are in the world.  I count them among my blessings.


“It is hard to trust in the slow work of God”, Margaret Guenther says.

The garden can teach us, surely?


Many of us have been saved by the “me too” we hear when we share our stories, or that we feel when we hear someone else’s.

“Me too”.

“I get it”.

It’s a beautiful thing.  A healing relief.

But – currently – we are usually all in slightly different places.  It’s such a temptation to want to fast-track others along a journey that has been deep and slow and long for us.

You struggle with church? Me too! Now, here is everything I learnt, with a bow on top. (See you on Sunday morning, I’ll keep you a seat).

Or, we sweep up individuals in patronising generalisations.  We are all 5-year-olds – stamping our feet, needing to learn to behave.

Let’s give each other permission – to wear the hoodie, or tend to the garden.  I trust in the slow work of God for me, and just as importantly, I trust in it for you.




One Recipe At A Time


Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

I can only change my life one recipe at a time.

I realised this at the weekend.  I had been listening to some people talking about the Instant Pot on a podcast and I knew as I heard about it’s efficiency and it’s multiple uses that I would not be buying one.

I would have, once, not that long ago.  I would have signed up, immediately, for what works for other people.

But I have learnt this thing about myself – my soul is reset making tuna casserole – and new products and methods don’t take account of that.

On a Monday morning, or after a holiday or any busy change of routine, my soul is reset in the kitchen making the food of my childhood, with the same recipes and types of utensils that my mother used.

I am not sure how much I am enriched by multi-use.  I am not sure how much I am enriched by ‘smart’.  I am not sure if the answer to a fast-paced life is something quick.

So Instant Pot, you may be the ‘Smart Multi-Use, Programmable Pressure Cooker
designed by Canadians with the objective of being Convenient, Dependable & Safe’… but I am the slow, one-thing-at-a-time, mother of 2, raised as a Mullan on Japanese food in Ireland, with deeply engrained tastes and habits and I’m just not ready for you yet.

I have a new recipe to try this week, one that is new, but familiar, if you know what I mean?

I listen to this pitch on the Instant Pot, and I think to myself, I’d love a new saucepan.


But Mary

“The underneath. That was the first devil. It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—”

[Magdalene – The Seven Devils, Marie Howe]


I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross.  We sing it in church on Good Friday and I think of her.  Mary.  I think of her posture. I think of her longing.  I wonder what it looks like to cling to the cross, to cling to Jesus.  It looks like Mary, I imagine.

(“Do not cling to me,” Jesus says to her on Resurrection morning.  It makes me laugh out loud.)

Later my friend Libby and I talk more about Mary over cold pizza at my kitchen table.  We had both watched the beautiful and powerful Mary Magdalene film during the week and we had All The Thoughts, especially on Good Friday.  We talked about the things that resonated with us, challenged us, inspired.  I find it helpful to engage my imagination with scripture and I am grateful for how Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett engaged theirs as they wrote this film, as they wrote Mary Magdalene right under my skin.

I think of her all weekend.  I imagine her turning up in church with her wild hair, earnest and emotional, staring longer than is socially appropriate.

There is this bit in the film, before the crucifixion, where Mary just lies down on the side of the road in the dirt and the dust.  Haven’t we all been there, at some point, in our spiritual journey?

I read John 20 aloud in my kitchen when no one is about and I honour this woman that I have overlooked in the past.  This woman who came early, this woman who ran, this woman who stayed, this woman who wept, this woman who would not stop looking for his body.

“Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”

But Mary.

I read John 20 aloud in my kitchen and I honour the women I know who come early, who run, who stay, who weep, who persist – who are overlooked.

The film adaptation respectfully and helpfully imagines the deeper, wider story of this woman who is mentioned so briefly, yet significantly, in the Bible.  What is her story?  It helps us wonder.  I have soft spots for every single one of those disciples – denying Jesus, doubting, hiding in locked rooms.  But Mary courageous, vulnerable, showing up, bearing witness – “I have seen the Lord” – how did she end up there?  What was her story?

The poet Marie Howe talks about the dilemma that we all have of never really being known. “There’s something in that Mary Magdalene character”, she says, “and how she got embellished, and how it was read between the lines who she was.”

The film reads between the lines and it’s helpful.  It offers a story of a woman seen and known by Jesus – and if we can see ourselves reflected – perhaps that’s the most beautiful thing of all.

Thursdays are for being a Cowgirl



“I’m going to be shut on a Thursday”, Liv tells us through mouthfuls of Weetabix, takes a drink of water and explains: “Thursdays are for being a Cowgirl”.

She’s talking about her Engineering place which, it transpires, she plans to open where the car wash is, “I’m going to take it over when it’s old, you know.”

We make the mistake of calling it her company, which upsets her.  “It’s just going to be me, doing one thing at a time.’


Imogen is going to be a firefighter and work night-shift but I overhear them in the swimming changing room talking about an underground tunnel from ‘Liv’s place’ and weekends being mad scientists with their cousin Rose.

Oh, the places you’ll go!


It was World Book Day that triggered this chat, these plans.  Their school suggested they dress up as their ‘dream job’ – the idea being that reading can help us toward an exciting future career path.

And so today – a heart-warming collection of little doctors and dancers and pilots and princesses and vets and astronauts and footballers and rockstars – streaming in and out the school gates.

Among them were a happy little firefighter and engineer, but the truth is, initially they wanted to be a Gruffalo and a scullery maid.

tried not to say the words “YOU CANNOT BE A GRUFFALO WHEN YOU GROW UP!” to my insistent 5-year-old, but I was relieved when she finally let it drop.  Similarly, while I didn’t say out loud that a maid was not quite, eh, aspirational enough, I was rather more encouraging when I heard the word ‘engineer’.

I have been thinking, in hindsight, of this theme of reading and knowing and going places.  It can help us, of course, become engineers and firefighters (especially girl ones, fist pump).  But the places reading gives us access to include the Deep Dark Wood, the wild west and a castle kitchen.

There aren’t enough dress-up outfits for the people we get to be when we open a book, there aren’t enough days of the week for the places we can go if we’re readers.

And honestly? I like the idea of being a Cowgirl on Thursdays.

Cold Weather Comfort Reads

Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

I’d had the idea, once, that if I could get the chance before I died I would read all the good books there were. Now I began to see that I wasn’t apt to make it. This disappointed me, for I really wanted to read them all.

-Jayber Crow


They say that between the pages of a book is a lovely place to be and in this long and cold winter we are currently having, maybe you need a few extra recommendations to curl up with.



I don’t know why I consider a good mystery to be the ultimate comfort read, but this is what I reach for when I’m not in the mood for anything else!  Here are my 2 favourite series:

1. The Maisie Dobbs Series by Jaqueline Winspear

A rich historical setting and an interesting heroine – what’s not to love?!  Mystery, psychology, war stories and romance combine in these gentle but compelling whodunnits.

2. The Chief Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny

Set is Quebec these character-driven mysteries involve the uncovering of secrets, the searching of souls and the eating of good food.  You will want to move to the idyllic fictional setting of Three Pines, you will want to eat all the food, you will even want to witness an unconventional murder so that the wise and lovely Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec might arrive and add you to his long list of suspects.  This series is hard not to binge-read.


Old Favourites

I’ve been curling up these evenings with Port William’s deep-thinking, slow-moving bachelor barber Jayber Crow (don’t tell Chris).  I am always in a happy place with Wendell Berry’s gentle prose and any of his stories about the Port William Membership. If these books are new to you then Hannah Coulter is a good place to start.


New to Me!

There’s nothing like finding a new favourite author and having a back-catalogue to work through!

I recently discovered Anna Quindlen through Blessings and Still Life with Bread Crumbs… and Kent Haruf through Our Souls at Night.  I am catching up but there are still many more to read, insert the praise hands.


Quirky Reads

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a charming read about the grumpy old man next door.  (It might inspire you to host a Swedish film night which I did for my Book Group – we watched the film and ate IKEA food!)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is one of those ‘kids’ books’ that everyone should read.  I have heard it described as ‘a book that has made grown men weep’, which my husband can confirm!

In Ginny Moon, Benjamin Ludwig gives voice to a wonderful and fascinating heroine – a fostered teenager with autism.  It’s a hilarious, and deeply moving, page-turner.

The One-in-a-Million Boy (and the 104-year-old woman who saved his family) by Monica Wood is rightly described as ‘As a lovely, quirky novel about misfits across generations’.  Flawed characters, unlikely friendships, redemption… I loved this book.


What about you? What books would you recommend curling up with as we take shelter from the Beast from the East?



(All Amazon links are affiliate links which means I get a few pennies from your purchase, at no extra cost to you!)

On Quiet Stubbornness and Messy Creativity


“Ok, but your teacher would like you start your ‘a’ here”  I say for what seems like the millioneth time in the last 2 years.

You know those girls who are really prim and proper? Who are precise?  Who colour inside the lines?  That’s not Liv.

It’s not just that her handwriting’s messy.  It’s not just that handwriting is not her favourite thing.  It’s that she’s found another way to do it!  She’s found a different place to start the letter! It’s that she has noticed ‘four’ looks like this in some books: ‘4’, so she has decided to write it like that now (said ‘4’ is formed with great care, in a sea of otherwise illegible numbers).  It’s that she LIKES CAPITALS! It’s that I look away for one moment and she has ‘accidentally’ written in her right hand! (She is entirely left-handed, “Woops”).

I feel her quiet stubbornness dig in, take hold.  I feel my stress levels rise.  I do not want to be locked in a battle with my 6-year-old about handwriting, but here we are.

Later, I sit down with my yellow writing pad and inky black pen.  I form my ‘a’ like a type-written ‘a’.  My ‘g’ has no tail.  I form ‘s’ from the bottom.  Random capital letters creep in, or go missing.  I don’t write on the line.  I don’t dot every ‘i’.  My writing slopes in inconsistent, ever-changing form.  Still, “start your ‘a’ here”, I tell my daughter.


Last year Liv had one of those ‘Craft’ homeworks – build an emergency vehicle with recycled material in the course of a week.

On a few previous occasions we had built the essential parts of her ‘Craft’ homework ourselves (“My daddy made it” she said, holding up her boat in p1) so I set my determination to find something she  could make completely on her own.  And I was successful.  I found a brightly coloured fire engine online made out of egg cartons and milk lids and straws.  The necessary paint colours were already in the art cupboard.

Every afternoon I set out her materials and told her which bit to paint, or stick.

She did it, but there was a quiet, persistent mutter about how she was making an ambulance, how she wasn’t taking the fire engine into school.  I ignored her.  The fire engine was going to look great, she would love it.  I didn’t know how to make an ambulance, we didn’t have the stuff.

I ignored her until Thursday afternoon when we had a fabulous, bright fire engine that she had made herself, but that she did not want.

“Can I make my ambulance now?”

She asked for an empty Tropicana cartoon and some yellow and green paint.  I asked if she wanted me to get a photo up on my iPad?  Nope.

“I know what it looks like.”

Of course there wasn’t enough paint and there wasn’t enough time but I had learnt my lesson, I knew – the orange juice carton with splodges of running paint – was Art.


There are more stories. The same story, repeated.

As someone who is drawn to the quirky and unconventional,  it’s a strange thing when I find myself inexplicably trying to iron out these traits in my daughter.

It usually means I need to watch Sir Ken Robinson again. ‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original,’ he says.

The girl is original, let her be original, I remind myself.

‘All children are born artists,’ Picasso said, ‘the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.’

I don’t want to be part of the problem.  Let’s not be part of the problem.


Photo by Marian Trinidad on CreationSwap