Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Why We SleepSo I recently read Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, a scientist who has dedicated his career to studying sleep. I love a good popular science book — which Why We Sleep definitely is. It’s pretty fabulous.

Matthew Walker is wonderfully passionate about sleep. Based on the science, he argues that sleep is equally as important for our physical, mental and emotional health as both diet and exercise, if not more important. He also argues that it is vital to learning and memory.

“Based on a rich, new scientific understanding of sleep, we no longer have to ask what sleep is good for. Instead, we are now forced to wonder whether there are any biological functions that do not benefit by a good night’s sleep. So far, the result of thousands of studies insist that no, there aren’t.” 

I was particularly struck by the societal implications. For example, he argues that it is immoral and inhumane to force teenagers to go to school early. Their inner clocks direct their bodies to sleep and wake up later than adults and so we are essentially stealing vital sleep from them at a time when their brains are developing, learning, and are at particular risk of mental health problems. Apparently in the US, some schools start as early as 7:20 am, which would be the equivalent of somewhere between 6:20 am and 4:20 am for an adult! But even in the UK, where school starts at a more sensible hour (at least for the teachers), it must be having an impact.

His discussion also prompted other questions in my mind like: ‘What are the human and societal impacts of our obsession with next-day delivery, presumably forcing lots of people to work overnight?’ ‘What is the cost (on so many levels!) of our insistence that night owls start work at 9 am?’ ‘What is the impact of all those very well-meaning suggestions to get up earlier to do more, to meditate, to run, to spend time with God, etc.?’ Challenging!

The book is genuinely wonderfully challenging and exciting and interesting. But if you are struggling with sleep for reasons outside of your control, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. Seriously, don’t. The last thing you need is a long list of ways that sleep deprivation is affecting you. That’s not going to help you sleep. Instead maybe read this guide to getting better sleep that Walker recommends. The book itself is certainly not written from a cozy, self-help perspective. He gives you science not a hug.

However, if like me, you’re interested in sleep and think you get enough, then definitely give it a read. For a long time, I’d been congratulating myself for getting eight hours every night, but this book made me realise that I’ve been experiencing a lot of the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation, and that training myself to wake up eight hours after going to sleep didn’t actually mean that my body was getting enough sleep. Eight hours is average, not a target. For example, think about that annoying moment when you wake up at 6am on a weekend and you know you need more sleep, but your body ‘knows’ it’s time to get up! So I have shifted things to give my body the opportunity for about nine hours a night (at least), and I’m not trusting my body when it wakes up and tells me it has finished sleeping. “Let’s try to sleep some more, body.”

Tired-Puppy

Looking back over the last couple of months, maybe it’s making a bit of a difference to my generally crummy energy levels. However, it’s currently summer, so my tendency towards SAD means that I’m generally more energetic at this time of year. I don’t think I’ll know the impact until we’re deep into the dark, cold misery of February. And gosh did I crash like anything after I did my recent decorating, but then I also think I recovered more quickly that I would have done otherwise. It’s hard to tell. We shall see!

Advice to my 22 year old self

I recently found myself wondering what practical advice I would give my 22 year old (soon to be graduating) self. I did get some things right over the last ten years, but other things were a steep learning curve!

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Me, chilling out on campus in 2008. And me, about six months ago, hanging out with some alpacas in the drizzle, as you do.

Here are thirteen things that popped into my mind this morning (it was going to be ten, but it grew!) In no particular order:

(1) Be expectant/patient: finding the right career is an organic journey and you’ll learn and grow so much from the missteps. Step-by-step you’ll learn what you’re good at; what you love; and what kind of life you are built for. You’ll get to see the world from lots of different angles and become more well-rounded. Crashing and burning will teach you some really useful lessons.

(2) Learn to pace yourself. You may be used to long holidays and lots of introvert-time whilst studying, but that’s not the real world. You can’t live at 100 miles an hour all the time. Learn to rest.

(3) Exercise (your body and mind will love you for it).

(4) Get out in the countryside as much as you can. It refreshes your soul like nothing else.

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(5) But look after your knees. Invest in really good trainers and don’t walk to work in shoes with hard heels. You’ll be really sad when you can’t go running anymore.

(6) Get in touch with your emotions. Learn to notice them, to work out what they are, and to understand them. Talk to people about them — it’s OK to be vulnerable. And (really importantly!) learn to feel your emotions. Tears are good. If you push your emotions aside they’ll create a hidden ocean of turmoil under the surface that steals your resilience and your joy.

(7) Do scary things as often as you can, to build your bravery muscles. If something feels too scary and you want to run away, find ways to break the scary thing up into stages, or get a friend to come with you the first time. Don’t just run away from the fear.

(8) Read! Read what you love. Read what piques your interest. Read books right to the end. Read outside of your comfort zone. Read novels. Read short stories. Read memoir. Read science. Read psychology. Join book groups. Get recommendations. Read as widely as you can! There is so much joy in reading and it expands your world. There is always time for a book.

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(9) Set up a budget and start saving. You’re not going to be earning lots of money for very long and it’ll mean that you make the most of the money you earn and you won’t feel sad that you frittered away so much money.

(10) Plan your meals and write a shopping list. You’ll spend less and enjoy your food more. Reactive food-buying on your way home from work is the worst way to buy food, you’ll spend a fortune. Don’t just buy a whole load of ingredients and hope inspiration hits. You’ll end up making the same boring stuff over and over.

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(11) Going cold turkey never works. If you think you’re eating too much sugar, purchase some healthy options you’re excited about, don’t just try to cut out sugar. (I’m still learning this one! It always feels like a good plan.) If you think you’re watching too much TV, pick up a book, don’t just try to cut out all the TV.

(12) Declutter at every opportunity, give every item you own a particular home in your room, and only keep/buy the things that genuinely bring you joy. Do not be weighed down by the stuff you own! Release the books you don’t love back into the wild, give away the clothes that don’t make you smile, get rid of the thing that ‘might come in useful’… and reap the emotional rewards of a more-easily tidied bedroom.

Konmari method clothing to discard

(13) Make room in your life for creativity: paint, draw, write, visit art galleries, spend time with creative people, get inspired. Creativity is a big part of who you are, but your work often draws most on your logical side. It’s easy for it to be pushed to one side. Give your creative self room to fly.

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So there you go. The things I didn’t necessarily know when this photo was taken.

What advice would you give to your graduating self?

Diving in

I’m excited!

Tomorrow, I get to dive into a whole new world, as I join some other university staff for a module called ‘An Introduction to Teaching in Higher Education’. It’s a mandatory module for any teaching staff without a teaching qualification, and although not everyone loves it, I’m genuinely really looking forward to getting stuck in. Mostly because I’m almost always excited about learning something new (I’m fuelled by novelty!) and because I love meeting people from across the university. Plus, it should make me a better teacher! At least, that’s the plan.

Anyway, I’ve geekily been doing a fair bit of pre-reading, listening to podcasts and watching relevant YouTube videos, and yes lots of it has been about learning theory, which can feel a little disconnected from the real world, but I have massively enjoyed being forced to step back and consider how I learn.

Learning

Reflecting on it all, my approach to learning is one of those things I’ve just taken for granted and never really thought about. Learning is just one of those things you do. In fact, the only times I can remember thinking about how I learn is in the context of the now largely debunked learning styles paradigm, which suggests that we each have a kind of learning our brains prefer (e.g. auditory, visual or kinesthetic). But that never made sense to me anyway. I’ve always liked to learn in all the ways!

Being forced to reflect on my learning is turning out to be really enlightening and fun.

One of the books I’ve been reading asks some really interesting questions in an attempt to get you thinking about your own learning process. The idea is that you slow down enough to mull the questions over properly and actually jot down the answers, but since I was sitting in the back garden, enjoying the sunshine, and didn’t want to go inside to get a pen, I did it in my head!

Daffodils

Perhaps you’ll find the questions as interesting as I did. Here are some of them in a slightly edited form:

Think of something you’re good at – something you know you do well.

How did you become good at it?

Think of something you do not do well, perhaps as a result of an unsatisfactory learning experience.

What went wrong when you tried to learn it? Whose fault was it (if anyone’s)?

Think of something you learned successfully, but at the time did not want to learn, but are glad that you did.

What kept you at it?

I love how simple the questions are, but I’ve genuinely never thought to ask them.

On the basis of my back garden musings, I constructed a kind of process map of my ideal steps to learning a new skill. Not that the steps necessarily happen in isolation — some of them definitely overlap — and I also suspect that more reflecting and reading will shift and change it, and add layers of detail, but I found it a really interesting exercise nonetheless:

    • Knowledge input.
    • Watching it being done.
    • Opportunities to try it out & make mistakes.
    • Reflection, identifying things to do differently or to investigate further.
    • Constructive (but encouraging!) feedback.
    • Opportunities to try again.
    • And then building on what’s gone before.

From the comments in the book, it sounds like other people aren’t too different from me, although the responses in the book weren’t constructed into any kind order, and some of the examples (from real people who the author has had in training sessions) weren’t entirely serious. They included things like drinking beer! A skill I have not yet mastered and probably never will.

Stage

I also realised that I can be scuppered at times by having to do things under pressure; thinking I’ve understood something when I haven’t; being afraid of making mistakes; and being scared of performing (i.e. putting myself in the position to receiving feedback). So that probably means teachers need to balance taking students out of their comfort zones with maintaining a sense that this is a ‘safe’ environment. At least for students like me. Or is everyone like me? … And how would I know if they were? … So many questions!

I am really looking forward to discussing all of this kind of stuff on the course.

Ooooh, I’ve just thought, maybe discussing ideas, asking questions, and seeing things from different perspectives is also really important for my learning process. I think it probably is. This is fun…

What’s your learning process like? I’d genuinely be fascinated to hear your answers to the questions.

The book the questions are from:

Race, P. (2001) The Lecturers’ Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Learning, Teaching and Assessment. 2nd edn. London: Kogan Page Limited

Slow-prep rustic loaf

This is the rather rustic bread recipe that I make most weeks. It’s evolved as I’ve played around with different techniques and ingredients, and it makes use of a folding (rather than kneading) technique that I learned doing sourdough baking.

It is intentionally a slow-to-prepare loaf because (for me, at least) bread is as much about slowing down and caring for my emotional well-being as it is about making something yummy! So I tend to make it on a non-work day, mid-morning, when the kitchen is at its sunniest. I’ll be pottering around the kitchen in-between the initial stages of the recipe, maybe watching something on my iPad or listening to a podcast, or I’ll just be sitting at the kitchen table reading a book and drinking a cup of tea. It’s my happy time. 😊

If you would also like to make this loaf, you’ll need to invest in a proving basket. That may seem a bit of a faff, but if you’re going to bake bread even irregularly, I really recommend investing in one. All my best loaves have been proved in a basket and it makes the process so easy! My favourite one isn’t a traditional cane one —although they make a lovely pattern on the bread — my favourite is a wood fibre ‘brotform’ from Bakery Bits. It turns out the dough really easily and I’ve never had a problem with the dough sticking to it.

There seems to be lots of steps to this recipe, now that I’ve written it up, but it’s really not difficult. Bread is so forgiving. A couple of weeks ago, I completely forgot about my bread proving away for two extra hours, and the resulting loaf was absolutely fine. Paul Hollywood might have tutted, but it was still tasty!

Equipment

  • Weighing scales
  • Jug
  • Mixing bowl
  • Metal knife or spoon
  • Proving basket
  • Heavy bottomed metal casserole dish (or a pizza stone)… if you don’t have either of these then a baking tray will do
  • Sharp knife (or bread lame, if you have one)
  • Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 400g strong flour (I use brown flour because it rises better than wholemeal, but is higher fibre and tastier than white)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt (this is fairly low salt, you could comfortably double it, if you’d like)
  • 7g dried yeast
  • Warm water (i.e. not hot; comfortable to put your hand in)
  • A little white bread flour for dusting

Method

  1. Weigh out the flour into a mixing bowl, and add the salt and yeast. Stir together.
  2. Add the water bit by bit, stirring with a metal knife or spoon to make a dough. You are aiming for a slightly sticky dough since the water will absorb into the flour over time, better to be slightly wet than too dry, but nonetheless add the water slowly.
  3. Leave the dough to rest for about five minutes to absorb some of the water.
  4. After the dough has rested, you will need to complete the first of five sets of folds of the dough. (Tip: I have found that wet hands mean that the dough sticks to my hands less.)
  5. Take hold of the dough on the side of the bowl furthest from you, lift it up and stretch it over towards you to fold the dough in half. Turn the bowl 45 degrees, and do the same again. Once you have completed four folds and turns of the bowl, leave the dough for another five minutes.
  6. After five minutes, fold the dough in the same way as above for the second set of folds. You may find it becomes easier to lift the dough out of the bowl into the air to stretch the dough further and fold it. The more the stretch, the more developed the gluten, and the better the bread as a result. Leave for 5 minutes until the next set of folds.
  7. Repeat until you have completed five sets of folds.
  8. Form the dough into a ball. The video below tells you how, and in watching it I’ve realised I’ve not been doing it very well! Never mind, there’s always next time — it’s still evolving! 😄
  1. Put the dough ball back into the bowl and leave to rise for about an hour and a half (this may be less if it’s warm in your kitchen or you are using white flour). I leave mine to rise in the microwave (off, obviously!) because it means the dough doesn’t dry out, but there is no risk that the dough will rise up to hit the plate or clingfilm that would otherwise be covering the bowl if I was letting it rise elsewhere.
  2. After an hour and a half, the dough should have roughly doubled in size and when you push a finger into the dough it shouldn’t spring back but leave an indentation.  If it needs longer to prove, just pop it back in its warm spot and come back in half an hour.
  3. Lightly dust your proving basket with white bread flour.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl and squash out any air. You could do this by folding the dough a few times on a floured surface. Remould the dough into a ball and place in the proving basket.
  5. Put the basket back in the microwave to prove for another hour and a half (again adjusting down for a hot kitchen or white flour, or up for a cold kitchen).
  6. As before, check to see if it’s ready by checking its size and springiness. If it’s good to go, put the oven on it’s highest setting (i.e. gas mark 9 / 240°C) and preheat for five minutes with the casserole dish/pizza stone inside.
  7. Take the dish/stone out, turn out the bread into/onto it and score with the knife/lame in a cross shape. A lame is the best option, but I don’t have one yet. Pop the loaf in the oven.
  8. If you want a super crusty crust, bake with the lid on the dish for 15-20 minutes to build up steam, or squirt some water into the oven to make steam. I never bother with this though. Mine seems plenty crispy.
  9. Bake for 30-40 minutes in total. Take the bread out of the oven and tap on the bottom to check if it’s done. If it sounds hollow it is baked.
  10. Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing. I know it’s hard, but resist. And then enjoy!

Some thoughts on internet dating

I am 31 and I’m single, so of course I’ve tried the internet dating thing.

Standard.

I’ve done the agonising over profile pictures and the rewriting your profile sixteen times… and that horrifying-exciting moment, when you receive your first few ‘waves’ or ‘smiles’ and you’ve actually got to review them. I’ve had the awkward get-to-know-you conversations, and the disappointment when he never gets back to you. I’ve had the sick feeling when you realise you’ve just agreed to a date and you’re actually going to have to go! And the ‘should we meet up again or not’ mental back-and-forth, which begins before you’ve even finished the first date. And the questioning of whether it was all worth it…

Do I look pretty in this one?
“Do I look pretty in this one?”

In fact, my year’s worth of eHarmony subscription runs out tomorrow, and I’m also just coming up to the end of a second proper stint on Christian Connection (the first stint was probably a couple of years ago), so it feels like a good time to stop and reflect.

Rewind to when internet dating first became a thing, and I remember thinking that to use internet dating sites was a bit embarrassing, and that joining up meant a lack of trust in God. It seemed so obvious at the time: a girl/guy who trusts God waits patiently for him to provide the right man/woman, and so to go online is to say, ‘God, you’re not working fast enough,’ or ‘I don’t trust your vision for my life.’

I now think I was being silly!

Even Abraham, who had received promises from God that his family would be like the sand on the seashore, sent a servant on a long journey to find a wife for his son Isaac. His action was in response to God’s faithfulness, not despite it (Genesis 24).

So over the last decade, I’ve realised the obvious: there’s nothing wrong with being proactive in life. In fact, being proactive is often the braver, more faith-filled thing to do. That’s how we find university courses, jobs, houses, churches, friends, a new fridge-freezer! Why should meeting someone be any different?

A proverb is just a proverb —  it only tells a general truth, so there are always a whole load of exceptions — but this one feels relevant here!

“The slacker craves, yet has nothing, but the diligent is fully satisfied. ” (Proverbs 13:4)

It seems that when we are lacking something, it is a Biblical question to ask: ‘Is it because I haven’t done anything about it?’ Sometimes the answer will be, ‘Why yes, that probably is part of the problem! Perhaps I should do something.’

“Don’t make me! I’m happy in my cozy blanket.
“Don’t make me! I’m happy in my cozy blanket.”

I love the word they originally used in English translations of the proverb: ‘sluggard’! But ‘slacker’ probably makes more sense in the 21st Century. 

Despite my mind shift on all things internet dating, so far it has proved to be terrible value for money! 😄 In all the time I’ve had subscriptions to dating sites, I’ve been on one Skype date and two normal dates. In all three cases, I don’t think there was a massive amount of enthusiasm on either side! I was the one to end things in two cases, and one guy ended it with me: I don’t think anyone was gutted. I mostly felt relief that I wouldn’t have to actually begin a relationship! Internet dating definitely makes me thankful for the simplicity of the single life.

In terms of emotional freak-outs per £ spent, well that’s much higher! 😄 I find the whole experience pretty excruciating. So much so, that I had to make myself invisible a number of times, just to recover. In fact, the first few free trials etc. I had, I felt so sick that I had to trash the whole idea. But now, I can proudly say that I have actually contacted people, had conversations, and even met a couple of people. I feel like I need a ‘bravery in persistence’ award! At the very least, I can say that I tried.

“Just keep going, just keep going…”
“Just keep going, just keep going…”

I’ve also learned some stuff. So, for example, I’ve now got a much clearer idea of what kind of person I’d fit well with. That inexplicable combination that feels like attraction, plus a dash of common sense. It’s a bit of a list!!

I think I’d need to meet:

A joyful/reflectful kind of Christian, for whom the gospel shapes their life at a deep level, but who isn’t unnecessarily intense.

Someone who feels the same age as me (rather than necessarily actually the same age); someone (probably) not too different from me at a cultural level.

Someone with a big splash of silliness; a touch of creativity (or an appreciation of creativity); a lover of the ridiculous and spontaneous adventures.

Someone with a thoughtful/nuanced perspective on stuff; someone who is compassionate… 

I’ve also decided that 1 hour by train maximum is sensible distance for me — getting to know someone via internet dating is already an ordeal, so long-distance really isn’t going to help!

So yep, quite a list!

And it feels sometimes that I shouldn’t need all of the things on the list. That maybe I’m too picky. But I’ve also realised that for me at least, these things are the difference between deep connection or not. And so they do actually matter.

“I really like you, you know.”
“I really like you, you know.”

The problem, of course, is that such a man probably doesn’t exist! 😄 Or if he does, he’s likely already been snapped up, or he lives in London (where all the young Christians are) or in the wilds of Scotland (where he hasn’t met loads of lovely girls already).

I’ve also learned that I’m very easily creeped out. Like, really easily! One creepy selfie amongst a number of very normal photos completely freaks me out. Conversely, a well-composed, colourful, well-lit, smiley photo draws me right in. So really, I’m as much drawn to someone’s ability to choose a good photo, as I am to what their face actually looks like!

I really do think that having to rely on photos is one of the biggest (and necessary) downfalls of internet dating. In the majority of cases, I’m not sure a photo provides you with a good sense of a person at all. But despite that intellectual knowledge, I simply can’t get over being creeped out — there’s this loud part of my brain that shouts, ‘Danger! Danger! Creepy man alert! Run. Run away, now!’

“Has he gone yet?”
“Has he gone yet?”

Internet dating has also reinforced the fact that I’m totally grossed out by muscles! Seriously guys, bodies are not meant to be that shape! Superhero films have a lot to answer for. 😂 And a gym selfie genuinely makes me want to run for the hills.

I’ve also discovered that although I don’t have one particular ‘type’, I am still a sucker for ginger hair, smiley eyes and chunky knitwear.

So it seems I am a bit shallow…

… and that’s genuinely an uncomfortable realisation. I really don’t like that! Surely, I should be able to see past that kind of thing. Doesn’t that make me a bad person? Or a prejudiced person? Or just a big self-defeating?

Ughh.

But when I’m not being so hard on myself, I remember that responding to how someone looks is part of what it means to be human, at least at some level. And internet dating really does unhelpfully force the issue. It is much less of a factor when there’s the opportunity to make a friend before ‘dating’ crosses anyone’s mind! By that point, generally their face is just them… someone you trust and care about, rather than a creepy selfie on a website. In fact, that creepy selfie will probably be a reason for some healthy banter.

“Seriously, what were you thinking posting that!? You look like an axe murderer.”

I’ve also learned that my desire for a relationship fluctuates massively. I’d say 5% of the time I am completely freaked out by the idea; 60% of the time it all feels completely irrelevant and I can’t work out why I’d want a relationship; 30% of the time it feels like it would be nice at some point, but I don’t feel in any hurry; and 5% of the time I feel really sad and rather despairing that there’s currently no prospect of marriage and kids. Which has meant that my perspective on using dating sites has also fluctuated massively! Sometimes it’s felt like a ridiculous waste of money, other times it’s felt like a great idea, and at other times its ineffectiveness has made me feel really sad.

And that’s OK.

“Just sitting here, happily contemplating.”
“Just sitting here, happily contemplating.”

For a long time, I felt like I should have one ‘right’ perspective on not being a relationship: that I needed to be 100% consistent. But that was me being silly again! Of course it’s OK to feel differently about it at different times. That’s normal.

So in summary, I’ve learned some stuff, I’m proud of being brave, and I’m a touch embarrassed that looks (or at least someone’s photos) can completely change my perspective on them. But I’m trying not too be too hard on myself. And let’s be honest, meeting someone in real life, and getting to know their character before you worry about anything else, remains the best, most natural way to meet someone.

“Hello, nice to meet you.”
“Hello, nice to meet you.”

In terms of the future, internet dating has been bit of a roller coaster, but a roller coaster I’m glad to have been on. I don’t think that I’ll be renewing my subscriptions, at least not for a good while. But we shall see.

How have you guys found the internet dating experience?

Roast Potatoes

Whenever I think about roast potatoes, I think of my Granny’s roast dinners. Her potatoes were always perfectly crisp and golden on the outside and fluffy white on the inside, and made all the better by her special gravy.

Inspired by my grandmother, I’ve been trying to pull off the perfect roast potato for years. The tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years, learning from my own mistakes and experts like Delia Smith, Jamie Oliver and other randoms off the internet, include:

Roast potatoes and parsnips

Tip One: Check how long your meat will take to cook. I’ve often forgotten to do this and started my potatoes too late! You will want your potatoes to be done when your meat has finished resting, so plan to start making your potatoes two hours before you’ll be carving. Although, you can par-boil them before this and keep them ready for when you’re actually going to cook them.

Tip Two: Use floury white potatoes, but don’t worry too much about being too particular. It doesn’t matter too much at all as long as they’re floury.

Tip Three: Use a handful of potato per person. I do have quite small hands, but I stretch them pretty wide to hold a fair amount of potato – I try and visualise how big a baked potato I’d do for someone. And then I do an extra medium sized potato per 4 people, so people can go back for seconds!

Tip Four: Peel and cut the potatoes into wedge shapes, using diagonal cuts, rather than just straight down the middle, that way you end up with some narrower sections which crisp up amazingly.

Tip Five: Par-boil your potatoes for 5-10 minutes – until when when you run a table knife or fork along their surface, it leaves a trail in the soft layer of cooked potato over the surface of the potato. But don’t over par-boil them otherwise they will fall apart, so keep an eye on them. When you get this right, oh my days is the crispiness amazing!

Tip Six: Drain the potatoes – you can be a bit rough, as a bashed up surface adds crispiness – and add your seasonings/flavourings. I am a mixed herb, sea salt and black pepper kind of a girl.

Tip Seven: Make sure your oil has gotten properly hot in the oven. I use whatever oil is in the cupboard, but I know people swear by duck fat.

Tip Eight: Take out your pan out of the oven and pour your potatoes in, making sure they all get covered in the fat.

Tip Nine: Pop your potatoes back into the oven and cook for an hour and a half on the heat you are using for the meat – probably Gas Mark 5 – 6. This is where it is a bit of an art. You have to learn your oven. On a number of occasions, I’ve ended up with potatoes which haven’t gone crispy. It’s much better to have to take the potatoes out early and keep them warm in the grill above the oven (with the grill off) than to have underdone potatoes!

Tip Ten: You’ll probably want to shake the pan around to mix the potatoes up, midway through their cooking time.

image

And a bonus, Number Eleven: You can also do parsnips or carrots in with your potatoes, but they take less time to roast. As you can see from my photos, the last time I did them, I forgot and put my parsnips in at the start. They ended up a bit overdone!

Happiness is a Sunday roast with some of your favourite people!

Healthy(ish) Carrot Cake

Earlier this evening, I began a quest to invent a healthy cake. I brainstormed some ideas and this was the result…

It’s based on this Nigel Slater recipe with a whole load of tweaks to make it healthier, and other tweaks to actually make it possible with the ingredients I happened to have in the house. Ironically, in the article, Nigel Slater is actually rejoicing that his recipe isn’t as healthy as it sounds.

Charissa’s Thrown Together Healthy(ish) Carrot Cake

    • Apples (175g)
    • Wholemeal plain flour (250g)
    • Baking powder (2.5 tsp)
    • Cinnamon (2 tsp)
    • Sunflower oil (100ml)
    • Light brown sugar (100g)
    • Grated carrots (150g)
    • Walnuts (50g)
    • Sultanas (100g)
    • Breakfast juice (orange/grapefruit) (50ml)

Chop the apples and simmer in a little water until soft, topping up the water as necessary.

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 4, and weigh out the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and cinnamon) into a bowl.

In a second bowl, beat the sugar and oil together. Then add the apples sauce. Blend with a stick blender until smooth.

Add the carrots, walnuts, sultanas and breakfast juice to the apple sauce mixture, mix and stir well.

Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until all incorporated.

Add to two small lined loaf tins and bake for 45 minutes.

Flipping delicious!!

Emotions in the Bible

The interplay between emotions and faith is incredibly important to me. I feel a bit embarrassed to bring it up yet again – it is definitely possible to tell a story too many times! – but the main reason for this is my own journey with emotional ill health. I know from experience just how important it is to relate well to our emotions.

A couple of weeks ago, after wrestling with some teaching I heard on emotions which I couldn’t quite pin down as either helpful or unhelpful, I found myself sitting down with an excitable plan to read the whole Bible to try to glimpse God’s big-picture on emotions.

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear I haven’t finished the ‘read and reflect on the whole Bible’ project just yet! I’ve only read Genesis so far, but I thought, ‘Why not blog as I go?’ Which has so far proved more difficult than I thought it would be. Forgive me if its not my best work!

So, here are some thoughts buzzing round my head following reading Genesis.

  • Eve delights in and desires for something that will mean death for her (i.e. the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil). 

So should we be more aware that delighting in and desiring something does not necessarily mean that that thing is good for us? That blindly following our hearts can be terrible advice?

  • The Fall ushers into the world a whole list of negative emotions – shame, fear, pain, anger, the inability to bear something, contempt, displeasure, despising, hate, bitterness, fury, envy, terror, dismay and distress. 

Does being a Christian mean we experience these negative emotions less as we grow, because we are new creations? What about the fact that we continue to live in a broken messed-up world? Does this mean that we should look forward with greater expectancy to a new creation where these emotions will be no more? 

  • God asks Cain why he’s feeling angry – ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?’. 

If God asks Cain about his emotions, should we also make it a habit to engage with our emotions, and ask ourselves why we’re feeling them?

  • God applies truth to Cain’s emotions.

Should we make a habit of asking others / God to speak truth into our view on the world?

  • Cain’s anger provides the context for his sin. Eve’s delight in and desire for the fruit provides the context for her sin.

Should we be more aware that both positive and negative emotions can make it easier for us to sin? 

  • When Cain tells God that he cannot bear it, God lifts part of a burden from Cain which he very much deserved for killing his brother.

Should God’s mercy in regard to Cain’s emotions encourage us to be merciful to ourselves when we feel we cannot bear something, and to expect mercy from God when we ask him for it too?

  • God tells Abraham, Hagar and Isaac to ‘fear not’ and gives them reasons not to: ‘I am your shield; your reward shall be very great;’ ‘God has heard the voice of the boy… I will make him into a great nation;’ and ‘I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring.’

Since these are long-term reasons not to fear, how do I allow God to speak into my fears for the long-term, rather than trying to always do emotional first-aid in the moment?

  • Abraham is commended for fearing God.

Is our perspective on God too small and too domesticated? – ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’. (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

  • In Genesis, emotions are often not spelled-out, but we often try to get inside the head of the character in order to relate to them.

Should we be more cautious about ascribing emotions to a character where it’s not spelled-out? Can assuming a particular emotion vs. another alternative emotion fundamentally change the way we read a passage? Should we be asking whether, if God doesn’t tell us the emotion being felt, he wants us to focus on something else in the story?

Just some thoughts… unstructured and unconcluded as they are. Now onto Exodus!

High Sensitivity

I am a highly sensitive person (an HSP), and you might be one too.

Research suggests that 15-20% of people are highly sensitive, so even if you’re not, then you probably know someone who is. If not a human, then maybe an animal – high sensitivity appears to be at similar percentages in other species too!

All that high sensitivity means is that all kinds of stimuli – sound, sight, social stimuli, internal life, emotions etc. – have a bigger impact on the brain. HSPs process stimuli that other people easily ignore, and we process things for longer and more deeply. The emotional part of our brains is also impacted more easily, and often more profoundly. This all has its benefits and its difficulties!

The benefits are include being good at detailed tasks; a rich inner life; an aptitude towards creativity; an awareness of subtlety in situations and ideas; a perceptiveness and intuition; empathy and ability to read others’ emotions; an ability to take on new concepts at a deep level and to make connections between ideas. Wonderful!

However, the reality is often thoroughly exhausting.

This is kind of what I imagine my brain looks like, but more so!

Scrambled brain

Or maybe it’s more like this video:

… every stimuli setting off a handful of bouncing balls in my brain, that bounce around all over the place. The more stimuli there are, the more intense the bouncing, and the larger the number of bouncing balls. And the newer the stimuli, the more true this is. It can get a bit intense in there!

There are definitely real challenges to being an HSP! Our brains may be flooded with greater joy at seeing a beautiful sunset, but the story of suffering on the other side of the world could affect us for days, or the sound of that buzzing light or the dripping tap may genuinely drain us. It’s even been found that simply the presence of another person in the room has a bigger affect on an HSP’s brain, and the awareness of someone else’s emotions can affect us really deeply.

It doesn’t help that this world of ours is inevitably set up for the 80%. Open plan offices, crowded streets, bright lights, chaotic social spaces, loud music, and so on. It is easy to feel frustrated and overwhelmed as an HSP. Simply living a modern 21st Century life can leave a HSP feeling wrung out, stressed, headachy, frazzled and exhausted.

I quite often find myself so exhausted and/or emotional that I just have to withdraw into a darkened room to recover. Sometimes for a couple of days.

D09AFBFC-B9C6-4AE4-8FCC-775F2EDA0741.jpeg

I’m on a journey with my high sensitivity. Much of the time I am able to focus on the benefits, and I have built a life that allows me to avoid being overwhelmed. Now that I know that I’m not broken, but that I’m built differently, I don’t worry that I’m ill or weird. Which I certainly did before! I’m ruthless about bedtimes, I only work part-time, and I am quick to pull back when I sense I’m overdoing it. I say no to invitations that I know I won’t have the energy for, and I’m careful to build in recovery time so my brain can calm down and rest.

But I struggle with it too. I am a people-person, but being around people puts a strain on my brain. I get frustrated with the fact that I have to so strictly limit my time socialising, and investing in friendships. I love to discover new things and experiencing new places, but my capability for this is so small! I can use all my brain space just getting from Coventry to London, before I even get to that cool event. I often find myself wishing someone would invent teleportation! I get fed up of my brain desperately trying to make sense of everything all the time. It would be nice to be able to read the news and not feel like I need a year to process everything.

My previous post about being an HSP was called ‘thriving as an HSP’ and to be honest I’m doing OK, but I’m probably not quite thriving. That’s why I took it down. It didn’t feel authentic. A couple of weeks ago when I found myself sobbing in church about it all, I realised I needed to be more honest with myself and with God. I certainly don’t want to lose the benefits of being an HSP, but I’m sometimes fed up of having to be so ruthless with myself to survive. I don’t want to live a small life, boxed in by my sensitivity. I want to go on adventures and grab life by both hands.

I realised that I need to let God into this journey, and loosen my grip a little, to recognise that it’s not the worst thing in the world to sometimes have to take some pain killers. I don’t have all the answers, but an having an honest cry about it all did really help.

I’ve come a long way on my journey as an HSP, but I’m definitely still on it!

Truth!

Truth. The Bible is full of it! And because of God’s generosity, the Bible tells us to expect to find truth outside its pages too! (Isaiah 28:23-29) Although, it might get a bit distorted along the way. (Romans 1:18; 25)

Truth is exciting!

Here’s some stuff about truth…

Truth is not dry and irrelevant. Truth is about discovering an indescribably captivating, infinite God, whose very intention is to captivate our hearts. Truth is about understanding the nature of all things! – in all their beauty and current brokenness.

Truth is not bland and insipid. Truth has poetry and beauty. Truth can be raw and vast and overwhelming. Truth is the stuff to captivate our souls. It is the stuff to write stories about! Or to have excitable conversations about in coffee shops – totally what happened to me today.

Truth is not lifeless. Truth is a lion that grabs hold of you and consumes you – in a good way! Truth shakes you out of mediocrity and gives you a mountain to climb; an endless world to explore! Truth gives big meaning to the small things, and expands our vision. It leads to the ultimate things. It lifts our eyes from our little kingdoms, and it fills us with awe and expectation.

Truth is not one dimensional or shallow. Truth is rich and deep and wide! Its implications ripple out endlessly, intersecting and interconnecting in a myriad of ways; each truth shedding light on the next, revealing one another in beautiful complexity. Truth should take our breath away.

Truth is not static. Truth is both old and new. A fixed and absolute truth – often too big for us to even begin to grasp! – takes on a life of its own, as it is contemplated by cultures and settings which are utterly foreign to one another. We see truths all the more clearly as we glimpse them through the eyes of a fourth century African philosopher, or a 21st Century drug addict.

Truth is not simply about the right answer, as if that’s a place to stop! Truth is a lifetime (or rather generations) of discovery! It blossoms with nuance, and takes on light and shade, as we interact with it. It reveals hidden dimensions with every question posed of it. It never runs out of things to say.

Truth doesn’t leave us where we are, it leads to transformation. Truth leads us to action and to worship! Truth changes us in unexpected ways.

Truth is not impersonal. It draws us in, and takes hold of our very being. It transforms relationships. It leads us to God…

To summarise, truth is flipping awesome!!