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Bleugh. I’ve had a slow start to the year. But a friend has challenged me (and some others) to do some decluttering in this dullest of months. So a group of us are chucking stuff out. One thing on 1st February, two things today, three things tomorrow, four things the day after… all the way up to 28 items on the last day of the month. Those of you with maths heads will have quickly worked out that this will lead to me having a grand total of 406 fewer bits of toot in the Vicarage. It sounds like a lot. Well, it did to me. But then I started looking round the house with different eyes. I surveyed the contents of the bathroom cabinet (saving it for a couple of weeks’ time) and had a brief peek in the Queen’s craft cupboards. I’m already starting to think I’ll need to do the same thing all over again in March.

But for now, here’s today and yesterday’s rather meagre gatherings. I am working myself up to clearing some larger items as the month progresses, but I may spare you the more gruesome details. Please don’t worry that the essential messiness of the Vicarage will be compromised. It will take way more than a month of decluttering to change that. As my husband would agree, after noting the three separate packs of butter left out in the kitchen the other day…

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Do you have a child with a smart phone or tablet? Are they reluctant to remove their eyes from the tiny screen because someone is droning nasally on YouTube about Minecraft? Do they fail to hear calls for meals or run away from table too early in order to play Angry Birds? Let me share with you an app I came across recently that has aided our parenting and helped us to ease the Queen (aged 13, now a proud possessor of a smart phone on a super cheap but strangely comprehensive contract) into learning some self control:

DinnerTime

Seriously, I cannot recommend this free app highly enough. It works by allowing you to control your child’s smartphone or tablet from your own phone. It’s available from Google Play, the Apple App Store and the Amazon App Store. We have the Queen’s set to switch off at bedtime and we can summon her to the table at the touch of a screen. She doesn’t mind, and it can be quite funny to see how quickly she appears once I’ve used the ‘Take a Break’ function.

Of course, I want her to develop self control, but I never had the challenge of having to switch off my phone at night when I was 13. It was bad enough trying not to read under the covers. So this app enables us to help her let go of the phone without having to physically remove it from her grasp. If you are buying a device for a child this Christmas, you could install DinnerTime (or DinnerTime Plus for even more functionality) before the child has it and then bedtime screen battles will not even begin. I have mentioned DinnerTime to other parents and to a headteacher recently, and there seemed to be some keen interest. Perhaps it will help you or someone you know who’s battling in this area. It’s been a blessing to us.

A great weapon in the battle of the screens

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If you have been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know we are fans of Seeds Family Worship here in the Vicarage, especially their kinetic typography videos. I just came across a couple of new videos they’ve done. Maybe not quite as fancy as the early ones, but still brilliant for teaching memory verses – at home, in Junior Church or Kids Club, in school assembly or even with the full church family on a Sunday.

The first one is John 16:33 – Take heart

 

And the latest production – just out this week- is Hebrews 4:12 – The Word of God

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It’s a busy start to the academic year here in the Vicarage. I think it may be my favourite time of year, when I’m feeling all relaxed post holiday, with the last vestiges of summer sunshine lingering and the excuse for the purchase of new stationery. And there are new beginnings – new Ministry Trainees this year, new school years for the kids (and a whole new school for the Joker as he starts secondary education), new plans for church life, a feeling of potential for growth and change.

The new Ministry Trainees moved in a couple of weeks ago. We are excited about all that God will do with and through King and the Shropshire lad. They’ve already been to church services and socials, King has been on a training conference, they have moved chairs and been to the zoo with the Vicarage family (the actual zoo, not just a meal time round the dining table). This morning they experienced their first school assembly. Within a couple of months they should be leading one. There may have to be some training in action songs first. I think we have their heads spinning a little. In a good way.

The Joker began secondary school by being so fast to get to the bus home that he missed me waiting at the main entrance to school. It was a very dull journey back for me on the later bus. But we know he knows what he’s doing. Better than his mum, anyway.

And now my stationery pile beckons. I’ve been told that it’s no good just having shiny new notebooks. I think I need to write things in them.

We didn’t just bring bottles of wine back from France this summer.

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We renewed our membership of Dudley Zoo in the last week of the holidays. Visiting the animals and the castle is a favourite family outing and membership enables us to grab a quick hour as well as going for longer expeditions. As usual, the Queen took the opportunity to grill the chatty and knowledgeable keepers on animal facts. This time, Kellie, who looks after the birds of prey, told us all about peregrine falcons. We found out that it is the fastest creature on the planet when diving to catch prey – speedier than a cheetah. Bet you didn’t know that either.

And when we climbed to the top of the castle keep, we were reminded of how beautiful our area can be, despite the industry and the urbanisation:

Zoo 2 Zoo 1

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We have our Jesse Tree up. And the Christmas tree. We’ve not quite managed to retrieve the card holder from the cellar yet. I have made my first batch of mince pies. Things are beginning to feel festive. And this weekend, the Queen has been practising her festive cookies for a competition in school. She made the cookie cutters from aluminium herself in the tech lab. In the slideshow below is a picture is of the ones she made and iced with pukka homemade royal icing as a practice run before making some more to take to school for the event today.

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Yesterday was all about bouncing, bad backs and the trimming of teeth. I don’t really want to talk about the green goo that found its way into the Queen’s hair in the middle of the night, via the cat’s hindquarters. You will be pleased to hear that shampoo removed it effectively from hair. We haven’t yet dealt with the duvet and carpet…

The Vicar needed a new desk to counter the middle aged arrival of back issues. So we loaded the kids into the car for an Ikea breakfast (guaranteed to counter a bad back, although possibly not the middle aged spread). As we loaded the car with myriad packages, pleased to have avoided tealights for once, the kids took advantage of a free bungee bouncer outside the front of the store.

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And the teeth trimming? That was a trip to the vet’s with Squeak the Rodent, whose bottom left front tooth had grown ridiculously long over the summer. So he had it it cut back to prevent it beginning to slice into the top of his jaw. A quick and fairly untraumatic procedure, both for him and for my purse.

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