2 of my Favourite Things

If you stay over at my mum and dad’s house, like I am doing right now, the chances are my dad will appear in the kitchen at some stage, book in hand. He will read you this thing that he is enjoying and his fist will be raised in the air by the time he has finished. It will be the best thing ever. It will be changing his life.

We are all a bit like this in my family, to be honest. We use up all our superlatives on our current book, or our latest musical find.

Wait till you hear this.

Let me just find the page…

My 4-year-old has this phrase she likes to use for emphasis when she has told us something.  “Isn’t that A-MAZ-ING?”, she will ask, eyes wide, awaiting our affirmative response.

So we sit in each other’s kitchens sometimes, sharing favourite writers, best box sets, a great new place that does Japanese food.  We aren’t as demanding as Imogen in our requests for affirmation, but we are hoping someone in the family will share our new love.  Isn’t that amazing?

The internet is a bit like access to a zillion people’s kitchens.  I have had to learn that I can’t access them all.  So many recommendations and favourite things and other people’s life changing magic.

I have had to make peace with the things I don’t do including knitting, batch cooking and living in a yurt.

This all makes me reluctant to venture out of my real-life kitchen very often and add my recommendations to the mix.  Yet, there are 2 things the internet has introduced me to that are changing my life, worthy of a virtual fist pump.

1. The Enneagram


It sounds weird.  It looks occult-y.  It’s a slow burn.  It is A-MAZ-ING.

Simply put, the Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that helps people understand who they are and why they see and relate to the world the way they do.  It’s a helpful tool for spiritual formation and for developing self knowledge.  Ennea is the Greek word for 9 – the Enneagram teaches that there are nine different personality styles in the world, one of which we gravitate towards and adopt in early childhood.

The Enneagram is not magic, but it is really helpful.  It requires you to do your interior work, but it is totally worth it. Figuring out your type takes time (generally steer clear of online tests that will churn out a number at the end, it’s not that simple).

Here’s what has helped me:

The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile is the perfect place to start.  This book calls itself a primer and it does a wonderful job of introducing something so complex in a clear and easy-to-read way.  It’s wise and funny, too.

Ian and Suzanne also host a podcast which is in its second season.  I have been immersing myself in these episodes since it first aired last summer.  They are a great way to slowly widen and deepen your understanding of the Enneagram as they interview guests across the 9 numbers.  Listening in will make you more compassionate towards just about everyone you know!

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr is a great book if you are already convinced about the merits of the Enneagram and are ready to wrestle with it more deeply.  It’s not an easy read!

The Enneagram Institute gives detailed descriptions of each type here.

As Ian and Suzanne say in their book, “The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box.  It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it”.  I like it because, unlike other personality typologies, it is concerned not with your behavior (what you do) but with your motivation (why you do it).  This is a really helpful thing to know about yourself.  It is also unique in the way it takes into account the fluid nature of personality and offers great insights into where we move when feeling secure, or under stress.

Perhaps the most unique thing about the Enneagram is that it reveals to us our shadow side, the dark parts of our personality, and then helps us release our grip on our old, self-defeating ways.  That’s not much fun, initially, but as Ian Cron says: “The good news is we have a God who would know our scrawny butt anywhere.  He remembers who we are, the person he knit together in our mother’s womb, and he wants to help restore us to our authentic selves.”

2. Bullet Journaling

bullet journal

My brightly coloured Bullet Journal is never far from my side these days.  Apart from being a wonderful excuse to buy stationary, this craze is the real deal.

You can get an overview of Bullet Journaling from its creator Ryder Carroll here.  It calls itself The Analog System for the Digital Age.  It is basically a practice of using and self-curating a single notebook for all your tracking, organising and planning.

There are many, many YouTube tutorials and Pinterest posts that you can lose your mind over, if you want, but once you get a brief overview it is best just to give it a go and see what works for you.

I like it because it is flexible, handy and personal.

You can start one in any old notebook lying around or you can become a Leuchtturm 1917  junkie, like my sis-in-law and I. (The colours!) (Hers is red, above, mine is yellow, below).

So basically, if you hear Debs and I talking about future logs, signifiers, collections or migration… it’s Bullet Journal talk (BuJo to devotees like us) and if you hear something about my 9ness and her 2ness, how JM is a 5 and Chris…clearly a 1w2 … well, that’s the Enneagram.  I can’t recommend either highly enough!



The Christmas Rebels

First published December 2013

As we stamped “MADE BY OLIVIA” on the back of our home-made Christmas cards , I felt like there should be another stamp, marking those cards with the truth. Something like “OLIVIA WAS SHOUTED AT THE ENTIRE WAY THROUGH MAKING THESE CUTE CARDS. MERRY CHRISTMAS.”


I wasn’t raised with the idea of the perfect Christmas, and I don’t feel a lot of pressure when December rolls around. But still, we all have our ideas. Nostalgia we are trying to recreate, traditions we are trying to maintain, or start. The need for a certain sight, or smell or food… the need to see certain people… the need, even, for it all to be meaningful. And so, when it seemed like a such a good idea to make Christmas cards with my painting-obsessed toddler… when I imagined it would be festive and fun… when the process was intended to be as important as the outcome… and then the process was a grumpy-stress-fest… well then even I felt the depths of my festive failure. How easily we are taken down by ‘it was supposed to be like this, but instead it turned out like this.’ Sigh.


I have always been drawn to the Christmas Rebels. The ones who tell the truth, challenge the traditions, do things differently. It explains a lot about me that I have been indoctrinated my entire life by my 2 older brothers, and it was no exception when in my impressionable teenage years JM used to rant around the house that “they weren’t really wearing clean tea-towels and marks & spencer dressing gowns you know”, and that “baby Jesus did cry, actually, cried his head off, probably”, and “it wasn’t really snowing” and… and…

… and I joined the revolution there and then.

We were rebels in church during Away in a Manger, clamping our mouths shut for the line “But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”. And then later, for “Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as he”, just because ughhhhhh. And because he wasn’t mild, was he?

I attached myself to some modest Christmas rebellion every year. One year not getting any presents. One year spending the day with the Salvation Army. Several years doing a slightly patronising love the lonely/grumpy Christmas Card campaign. And in later years when I had jobs in care homes and hostels I was always quick to sign-up for a Christmas Day shift.

My teenage campaigns were probably a little dramatic and overlooked the people in my life who wanted to buy me presents, or have Christmas dinner with me. A one-off stint with a charity’s meals-on-wheels does little to change the world-at-large, I know. Yet every Christmas I remember a lady with her cardigan buttoned all wrong., completely on her own, whose home-help hadn’t arrived to get her dressed that Christmas morning. How grateful she was for her turkey dinner in a plastic tray, as she waited by the phone for her son to call from America. I remember all of the people with absent family, without home-cooked meals and with fingers that can do longer dress.

My love for  the rebels is not because I don’t love festivity…. I love our fat bushy Christmas tree, love our IKEA decorations, love mulled wine by the saucepan-full and, to the annual disappointment of my husband, still love yankee candles. And honestly, I am counting down the years until Olivia Arnold will be on stage with a tea-towel on her head, or a tinsel halo. But also, I am always listening for the voices saying it was messier than this, it was harder than this, it was wilder than this. I am listening for the ones who say Baby Jesus did cry actually, and so there is more hope, more joy because there is empathy and understanding and God with skin on. And I am trying to notice the ones who are alone, in one way or another, at Christmas, the ones whose struggles feel illuminated by the fairy-lights. And most of all I  am always wanting to honour the ones who say it out loud, who say I am sad, I am disappointed, I am scared, stop asking me to pretend I am merry.

I have always been drawn to the Christmas Rebels. The preachers and campaigners and volunteers. The ranters around our kitchen tables. And the writers. These have been my very favourite Advent and Christmas voices this year. So pour your mulled wine, light your candles, curl up by your Christmas tree and honour the ones who say it out loud, who make it all richer and deeper and truer for the rest of us:

In Which Advent is for the ones who know longing by Sarah Bessey

On Why I Need Christ during Christmas at Why Not Smile

The Music IS LOUDER Than The Crying at Momastery

Cobbled-Together Christmas by Addie Zierman

The Fall of Christmas by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary

(Also in 2013 I added Sleeping at Last to my Over the Rhine/Sufjan Stevens Christmas playlist and all December dishes were washed to the sound of ‘Snow’ and ‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day’ on repeat. )

2014 additions (so far!)

This year we have strung up Advent envelopes for the girls’ Jesse Tree  ornaments which they decorate each day and we are reading through Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Some days it seems beautiful and meaningful and other days they snatch crayons from each other and Olivia cries and Imogen hollers “CULL-OR!” drowning out my serene Ann Voskamp attempts.

When the house is quieter in the evenings I’m planning to read along with John Blase’s weekly advent posts at The Beautiful Due and Stocki’s daily Advent Reflections. No crayons or mini clothes pegs in sight.

I’m keeping the Christmas crazies at bay with sane gift perspectives (e.g.  Momastery and  The Art of Simple), wisdom (Brené Brown: The show must go on. But at what cost?) and a slight addiction to Huffington Post articles about the Elf on the Shelf, especially this one: Truth, Lies and the Elf on the Shelf.

So what about you? What is catching your eye, inspiring you or providing some comic relief this December?