Saturday, 15 June 2013

From a Different Perspective

Yesterday my husband and I had the opportunity to baby-sit for the most adorable twenty-month-old twins. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time with children this age, since most of the kids in my Sunday school class are over the age of three. These children were so excited by everything they saw, whether it was a truck, dog, bird or simply another person their height. Each dog or truck was just as exciting as the last, making them shout “Wow!” every time a van drove past the play park. It was fascinating to see the world through the eyes of a toddler and witness their joy over everyday items or occurrences that adults barely notice.

I don’t think I’m going to start shouting “Wow!” every time a bin lorry drives down my street, but I think there’s a lot to be learnt from another person’s perspective. Today, a toddler taught me to appreciate the people who empty my bins, and I found myself pausing to look at wildlife and birds a lot more on our walk back from the park.

You don’t necessarily have to give yourself entirely over to someone’s system of belief in order to gain something from their perspective. I love reading Amish fiction because it reminds me to slow down and focus on the simpler things in life. I love the way that the Amish hold family as the highest priority (next to God) since this isn’t something we see a lot of nowadays. It’s something that speaks a lot to me, since my husband and I believe that our relationship and our future children should always be more important than our careers, even if it means sacrificing promotions or a higher salary.

However, I don’t agree with the Amish practice of “shunning” members of a community, especially when the shunning only ends when the person makes a public confession for their sins. I don’t need to hear the details of someone’s sin in order to forgive them or help them, so this just doesn’t seem right to me. Likewise, I’m not a fan of the way that labour and chores are split among the Amish, with women always doing the cooking and cleaning, and men always doing the heavy labour—not to mention male-only preaching. I might love to bake and do laundry, but where does this leave the woman whose skills lie in woodwork or giving sermons? 

But the fact that the Amish rely heavily on gender constructs to split their labour doesn’t mean that I can’t still learn something from their lifestyle. If I ever met an Amish woman, I’d hope she could overlook my jewellery and tight-fitting clothes and be able to bond over our common interests, rather than focusing on those aspects of our lives which are different.

This is something I’ve had to realise this past year, particularly with regards to my increasing involvement in feminism. I think I’ve probably always been a feminist, but I didn’t start using the label to describe myself until recently. I held back because I didn’t agree with some of the things people did in the name of feminism, particularly groups like FEMEN. It took me a while to realise that I could call myself a feminist without agreeing with every individual feminist act or organisation.

I’ve met some wonderful men and women in the Christian community who want to promote equality and make more people aware of the prevalence of issues like domestic abuse and rape, and promote ways in which to protect women from dangerous situations. But even in this community, I come across feminists who support viewpoints that I don’t agree with—whether have different views on abortion, or have a more extreme stance on modesty. Even so, I’m still grateful for the viewpoints that have introduced me to, and the ways in which they have enlightened my thinking. 

Sometimes I think that we’re under the illusion that we need to agree with everything another person believes in order to call them our friend, but this way of thinking is ultimately going to leave us rather lonely. Sometimes having one small point to connect on can be all we need to forge a new friendship, which can be especially important when we’re heading off to a new adventure—moving house, starting a new career or hobby, or entering a new university. I’ve made a lot of unexpected friendships at university, and even if I haven’t always agreed with some friends’ actions of points of view on certain subjects, I’d like to think that each person I’ve stayed friends with over these past four years has enriched my life in some way. Sometimes it takes someone from a different culture or walk of life to help us to see past the hurdles in our own life that seem impossible to get past.  

As we prepare to move to Edinburgh in a couple of weeks, I hope that we can approach new experiences and friendships with the same excitement as the toddlers we babysat—with excitement and appreciation. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Experimenting with New Recipes

Anyone who knows Simon and I will be aware that we both love to cook. And if you don't, you clearly need to wrangle your way into being invited over for dinner. I'll admit, we haven't experimented with too many new recipes in the last month or so, since we've been busy sitting exams and house-hunting, but we took the opportunity last week to try three new recipes. 

On Tuesday we adapted this Orzo, Feta & Pepper Salad by adding cucumber, radishes and cherry tomatoes. This allowed us to use up vegetables that we knew we'd bought for other meals but wouldn't need all of, and finish up the half bag of orzo that had been sitting in our cupboard for months. We actually didn't make the dressing suggested in the recipe as we discovered a bottle of Cochrane Cottage Chilli Balsamic Dressing in the cupboard that looked like it would go perfectly with this salad. I bought this dressing for Simon for his Christmas and it's a pity we haven't used it until now! This is an excellent summer meal, made even better by the fact that it was warm enough to eat outside on the patio. 

On Wednesday we decided to make Chicken Enchilada Pizza as we had chicken breasts, shredded mozzarella and dough already in our freezer. We're really trying to work our way through everything remaining in the freezer before we move house in July, so this was a great opportunity to clean out part of it. We made our own enchilada sauce using a carton of passata as the base, and we made a few small changes to the pizza. We cooked the tomatoes on the pizza instead of sticking them on at the end, stuck with one type of cheese and skipped the lettuce and sour cream. I described the pizza to my incredibly picky teenage brother over the phone and he immediately asked me to email him a link to the recipe, so it's definitely one to check out.

As Friday is typically our Date Night of the week, Simon always likes to try something unusual, and this week it was Sardines Escabeche with Baked Potato Slices. This was actually my first experience of sardines and I think it'll take a while to get used to the oily flavour. We'd definitely tone down the cider vinegar next time as it was a little overpowering, but otherwise this was an interesting blend of flavours. Asda weren't stocking thyme last week, so we subbed some leftover mint from the orzo salad and it worked fine.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

On Giving Advice

As I sit down to write this post, my white, middle class suburban neighbours are playing some pretty cheesy dance music while they cook their barbecue. It’s not the kind of music I ever pictured them listening to, but then again, I never imagined that the young family on the opposite side of the fence would be so fond of rap music, as they revealed at last week’s barbecue. But if either of these families knocked on our door and asked what style of music I preferred, would they guess that the first word out my mouth would be “metal”? Me, who hangs up my laundry with pastel pegs and sits outside in flowery dresses, reading from my pink Kindle?

No matter how well you think you know someone, you can’t always predict what their preferences are—whether we’re talking about music, career paths or parenting styles. Even if you’ve grown up next door to someone, attended the same school or university, or been part of the same family, there will still be plenty of differences.

This all sounds pretty obvious, but I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a lot of advice over the past few years. It’s inevitable when you’re attending university, getting married, choosing a career, relocating or thinking about starting a family—and I’ve done all of these things within the space of a few short years. Those around you want you succeed, and for you to avoid making the same mistakes they did. People are desperate to share tips from their own experiences. And this is where an all too common problem arises.

No matter how much you have in common with someone, your life experiences are not going to mirror theirs exactly. And even if you do have similar families, careers or interests, their preferences might be entirely different. You’re vegetarian? Perhaps they prefer to eat meat. You want to send your children to private school? Maybe they’re thinking about homeschooling. You might simply have completely different thoughts on the best type of cleaning product to use for getting mould off the bath. Having different preferences and life experiences doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends with someone. But it does mean that your advice might not be at all relevant to them.
I married young. I read romance novels. I want to be a stay-at-home-mother. I don’t buy premade pasta sauce. I like to air-dry my washing. I don’t wear make-up. I love red wine. I fail miserably at trying to keep a diary. Perhaps we have some of these things in common. Or maybe none at all.

I could link you to half a dozen articles telling you why all of the above are things that you should be doing, explaining the benefits of making your own pasta sauce and not wearing make-up. But all those articles would succeed in doing is cementing my own belief that I’m doing the right thing for me. And that’s who these things are best for: Me. If you want to buy your own pasta sauce and wait until you’ve established your career before you marry, and you’re happy with those decisions, then good for you. I’m not going to try to convince you to do things my way because I know all too well that doing something simply because it’s what others recommend often doesn’t yield the best results.

If you want advice on getting married or writing a novel or even the best laundry detergent to use, I can tell you what works best for me, but that doesn’t mean that following my example will guarantee happiness for anyone else.

This semester I’ve been endeavouring not to push my opinions on anyone or offer advice before someone asks for it. I’m still learning, so please be patient with me. But if you need someone to be a non-judgemental sounding board, I hope this is a role I can fulfil.

I’m not going to be offering advice in this blog. Just because I ramble on about why I love linseed or air-drying doesn’t mean that I think anyone else should take up my habits—unless they want to, of course. I’d just like to talk about the things that are important to me, and let people know what’s been going on in my life. And if we happen to have something in common, isn’t that fantastic? But if you offer me advice on how to do a certain activity better—whether it’s novel-writing or deciding when to start a family—please don’t be offended if I don’t follow your advice. As much as I appreciate everyone’s desire to help each other be the best that they can be, sometimes your best is very different from someone else’s. And that’s perfectly okay.