What I’m Into (August 2014)

I’m back! I’m back from holiday, and I’m back from my ‘blogging sabbatical’, and it feels weird and good and slightly scary to say that. I’m very late, but do check out the library of ‘what i’m into’s over at my friend Leigh Kramer’s place.

This month was eventful. At the start, we threw the party of the century for the boy, on the theme of pirates and sharks. To see what we did, and for more ideas on how to run a pirate party, visit Jon’s Pinterest board.



Vicky Beeching, formerly a Christian singer-songwriter and worship-leader and now an academic, writer, speaker and commentator in the national media, happens to be one of my oldest and dearest friends, and on 14 August 2014 she came out as gay (in the national papers). Her story is an important one for the church to read and consider, whatever side of the debate you are on, and I found it particularly helpful to listen to the radio interviews, where she tells her story in her own words. (The Independent article was very powerful, but obviously written by someone very angry at the church, whereas in Vicky’s own speech you don’t feel that same sense of anger.)

We had a lovely holiday in Italy, staying with friends, and after a scare where I was very ill for a few days following the exertion of a car journey, friends got praying, and amazingly, I survived the flight with very few repercussions, for which I am very thankful. Jon has been on sabbatical this year, and as part of his sabbatical he has studied art history and ventured into creating art himself, so the highlight of the holiday for me was seeing Renaissance art in Florence, and going to the Brancacci chapel, where Renaissance art was birthed by a little-known artist called Masaccio. I sat in the chapel, and the frescoes were so beautiful and the chapel so prayerful that I felt teary and a great sense of privilege.

At the Brancacci chapel

At the Brancacci chapel

Florence was a short, flurried burst of activity in the wheelchair with photos and exclamations of delight, followed by bed rest, followed by meals. We hold the world record for speed round the Uffizi gallery, and despite all the guides saying you need three hours to ‘do it properly’, I can assure you that if you suffer from ME and have a four-year-old, doing it all in 45 minutes is entirely possible, and indeed enjoyable. I had read up on the art beforehand, thanks to Judith Testa’s book (reviewed below), so it was just magical to see it all.

Jon and me on the Ponte Vecchio

I fell in love with the city of Florence when I was sixteen, having recently read A Room with A View, and it was just as lovely as in my recollection.

Age 16, in Florence

Age 16, in Florence

(I’m glad my hair isn’t quite so big these days…)


Right at the end of August, I heard the news that my dear friend Lorraine had died. We had worked closely together in my previous church where I was employed as community minister, and she was diagnosed with cancer only five months ago. I have been reeling slightly from this news, and went to her funeral this week, (my second time in a church in the past 2 years), which is why this post is so late, because I have needed to recover, both emotionally, and physically, from the exertion of a trip out of the house. She was an amazing lady.


  • Thrashing About With God – Mandy Steward

This has been on my ‘to read’ list for ages, since practically every writer-friend I know has recommended it. Much like me, Mandy Steward was the Christian good girl, and then she grew up and married a minister, (which, as everyone knows, makes you a Super-Good-Christian). But burnout, doubt, and a faith crisis combined to throw her into a whirlpool of unknown, and this book is her thrashing her way through these questions, and finding a place of peace and resolution. From this general description, I feared that it would be angry and chaotic, but although it poses some difficult questions, it is not an angry book. It felt to me like a free and freeing exploration of faith, throwing everything up into the air, and not catching everything, but just catching a few things, and turning them over in her hands so that the concept of a relationship with God appears fresh and new and good again.

This is, without question, a book for the burnt-out, the weary, the good girl or guy who is weary of being good, the doubter, the poet and artist, the lost one. It is for those who are in the midst of the storm and don’t know how to get out. I loved this book. I wasn’t sure that I agreed with everything in this book, but it is one of the few Christian books where that is not only permissible, but encouraged. I loved her spirit of exploration, her astute analysis into the psyche of the good girl / Older Brother of the prodigal son, and her deft storytelling. It is a beautiful, lyrical read, and a lifeline for those drowning in doubt. Highly recommended (and the Kindle price at the moment is ridiculously cheap!) Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

  • An Art-Lover’s Guide to Florence – Judith Testa.

Judith Testa should get a commission from the Florence Tourist Board, because anyone reading this book is going to want to turn straight to the computer and book the first flight out to Florence. The idea is that she analyses some of the great art works of the Renaissance, putting them in their political, religious, and (important but much-neglected) sexual context. She doesn’t go through every art piece, so it’s not like a catalogue, more like a knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide to accompany you through each museum and gallery, and the book is ordered by the various locations, so that if you were just going to visit the Duomo and the Uffizi gallery, you could happily read those chapters as a stand-alone. What makes this book so exceptional is her story-telling ability – I was plunged into the Renaissance world of war, betrayal, sexual liberation and sexual repression, family loyalty and ambition, and each story was fascinating. Because of her, I discovered the Brancacci chapel, the little-known and little-visited birthplace of Renaissance art, with an astonishing fresco by the little-known artist, Masaccio.

For me, the best part was her analysis of the paintings themselves, and some of those were so well-written and so moving I found myself with tears in my eyes at the end of the chapters. If you are planning a visit to Florence, get this book a few weeks before, and read it in preparation for your visit: it will make all the difference between going round the Uffizi, getting dizzy from the many portraits of random unknowns, and not knowing the significance of the details, to going round the Uffizi and seeing the paintings as though you’re visiting an old friend, and tracing the stories in the details of the paintings. It’s like having an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, story-telling guide going round every museum with you – and that makes it an absolute bargain. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

  • I know why the caged bird sings – Maya Angelou.

I have so many Maya Angelou quotes on writing as my favourite quotes that I figured it was time to read one of her books, and this, her memoir, is hailed as her masterpiece, so I was excited to read it. It is very well-written, telling the story of her difficult and sometimes harrowing experiences (including sexual abuse) of growing up in a racist society in the South, and you can practically feel the dust on the road, and the sweat of the cotton-pickers. I liked and was challenged by the anger in the book, and found it to be unsettling, in a good way. Sometimes it felt a little snarky rather than angry, which I liked less.

Generally, I really enjoyed it – until I came to the end: there was no real ending. It felt like I had travelled along an arc, and then been left in mid-air. I subsequently discovered that she has written many memoirs, which continue after this one left off. I know that memoirs are not autobiography, but even so, this one ended more abruptly than felt natural, and as endings are very important to me in a book, I felt cheated. It is still worth reading for her vivid descriptions, and an unflinching portrayal of racism in the US. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.


I have always loved languages, and I wanted the boy to enter Italy knowing even a smattering of the language. Thankfully, this was easy, thanks to us going through the basics together with a language book with cartoons (though I wish it had more on ordering food and less about describing the rooms in your house), and, more significantly, downloading two albums of Italian nursery rhymes.

I did my research, and these two are by far the best of the bunch (sadly only available on MP3): Le Filastrocche della Nonna (or from Amazon.com) is excellent recording quality and is sung by a clearly-anunciating female singer with a pleasant voice, and this album, Canzoncine e Filstrocche Dell’asilo by I Sanremini (or from Amazon.com) has some really fun traditional songs (La Pecora Nell’ Bosco was a firm favourite) sung by a group of children that sounds authentic and raw, but not hopelessly flat. I translated all the Italian nursery rhymes (many of them are in Italian on the web, and Google translate is a help, but I found myself delving into an Italian online dictionary and really getting to grips with the language). From the nursery rhymes I learnt all the essential vocabulary one might need as a tourist on holiday (frogs croak, the tail of a mouse, the ox in his stable etc) and, as a former linguist, it was enormous fun. It turned out to be an excellent way of getting a small child to learn a language: I printed out the translation with pictures illustrating each nursery rhyme so he would know what it was about, and he then charmed all the waitresses by telling them how old he was in Italian and singing them nursery rhymes. I felt VERY smug as a parent, which is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? If you happen to be travelling to Italy with a small child, then buy the albums and add a comment below, and I shall email you all my translation of the nursery rhymes.

Angus and Julia Stone (chilled out wistful folk-ish music), Ed Sheeran (good on ballads, a bit crude in the up-beat songs), and (secretly, on Spotify), Demi Lovato.

I’m excited to be returning to blogging, and I am thrilled by the line-up of amazing God and Suffering writers I have for you this term, with Leanne Penny kicking off the season on Tuesday. Thank you so much for sticking around, and bearing with me – it means a lot. 🙂

Over to you: 

  • What have you been into this August?

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15 Responses to What I’m Into (August 2014)

  1. Stephanie 18th September, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    What a lovely trip! It does my heart good to see you enjoy that kind of outing. My sister loved Florence – so much beauty.

    The pirate party made me smile, as that was the theme for our oldest son’s 4th birthday. Hoisting the sail, digging for buried treasure, etc. – the possibilities are endless and fun! Loved Jon’s pinterest board – clever ideas!

    I am very sorry about the loss of your friend. We’ve had some losses and near losses this month and it’s been a reminder at the preciousness of each life.

    August was a mixed blessing for me. I attempted a trip to the aquarium with my family and it was wonderful, but it put me in bed and I’m still recovering. It was the first time to use a wheelchair, which had a bigger emotional impact than I’d expected. Still, it’s part of the process of living with this illness, I’m not going to get it right every time, am fortunate to have a family that loves me, and have happy memories of the day.

  2. Rebecka 16th September, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Tanya, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I have to admit I’m very jealous of you! 😉 I’d been studying Italian full time for almost a year and a half when I got ill. I always wanted to go to Italy, and hopefully live there for a little while like I did in England. I’m glad you had a lovely time there!

    In August I was into painting and rearranging furniture, shopping for lamps and curtains. I moved in five years ago but never got this place in order. But of course I got too eager and overexerted myself so now I’m just trying to rest and avoid a relapse!

    It’s great to see you back and I’m very much looking forward to the God and Suffering posts!

    • Tanya 17th September, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      Oh, I really want you to get better and live in Italy! Your Italian must be really good. It felt like a really fun country to be in – although I get the sense that as a relatively new country, it still operates in its little provinces, so I guess the Italian experience would differ greatly depending on which region you were in. (Sounds like an excuse to do a tour of the whole country!) I really want that for you.

      Your August sounds fun! But avoiding a relapse sounds not so fun. I know that feeling. I’ll be praying that it’s a shortlived payback, not a fullblown payback. Much love. x

      • Rebecka 18th September, 2014 at 11:26 am #

        If I ever move there, I hope you come visit! Sadly, most of the Italian I learned has gotten lost in the brain fog.

        Thank you so much for your wonderful replies to my comments. They’re always so full of love. It means a lot to me! x

  3. Mark Allman 15th September, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    I am glad you are back! You and Jon know how to throw a party! I really enjoyed seeing that picture of you when you were 16. Lovely. The pictures seem to be almost in the same spot there in Florence. The new one a little closer maybe.
    I read those stories and listened to your friend Miss Beeching. I’ve read some of her writings in the past and was impressed. While I may not agree with her I think it is horrendous the position we put people in to the point where they are afraid to be truthful for fear of being shunned or worse.
    It bothers me the way we choose to treat people we do not agree with. We treat issues more important than the person. I find that appalling. Equally I find that churches in general treat people poorly that it disagrees with. Instead of loving people we want to “fix” them. We need to love them first. We need not shame people, or make them feel unworthy of God’s love, or unworthy of ours.

    • Tanya 17th September, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      Thanks for providing the welcome party! And thanks for the compliments about the pirate and sharks party – it really was good. Not sure if we can pull off the same standard next year!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to Vicky – that’s really kind of you. “we treat issues more important than the person.” – yes. I love your heart here to love and not shame people. Thank you.

      Hope you have a good week!

    • Stephanie 18th September, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

      I found myself with similar thoughts after following the Vicky Beeching links. Thanks for sharing them with us, Tanya.

  4. Lynn Kauppi 14th September, 2014 at 8:16 pm #


    My condolences on the loss of your friends.
    As someone who suffers with ME and fibromyalgia (some American docs now think that ME and fibromyalgia are just different ends on the same spectrum), I’m deeply happy for you. My wife and I have been able to take a couple of extremely active vacations in Hawaii, but I always have to incorporate some down time while there. I also have to plan for two weeks of nothing after we return.
    May I suggest you read: Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, 2nd. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). The author is a leading Jewish art historian, and a leading Jesuit theologian wrote the forward for this edition. Profound insights into how we’ve lost the Renaissance understanding of the Incarnation in modern art. Of course many examples from Renaissance Italy.

    Grace and peace


    • Tanya 17th September, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      OO! This book sounds really good. Thanks so much for the recommendation – I shall put it on my wish list. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. Janice 14th September, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    Tanya, I completely agree with Alice’s comment above.

    Can I just say as an American I’m jealous that you can toss off, “We had a lovely holiday in Italy.” Oh if only Italy didn’t require about a gajillion hours in a plane for us! I’m so jealous! And I’m so pleased you were able to enjoy it.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your friend Lorraine. I always feel like words are so hollow after news like that, but I’m so sorry.

    Things have been going well here. Nice to have fall started and have our school life going. I love season. And I’ve managed to keep up writing a good deal this month, which I’m proud of myself for. I’m working on a novel and it’s really just for fun. I combat the urge to have to justify that to myself and other Christians. I think it’s a hangover from my adolescent years of feeling like I should always be doing Something Big For God. But I love stories and I’m having a fantastic time writing it. I’ve managed to get up early for more than 3 weeks in a row now to write before the rest of the family gets up.

    • Tanya 17th September, 2014 at 11:17 am #

      YAY for writing more! Go, Janice! Writing for fun is the purest motivation for creating art. All the great poets arrive at that conclusion – you do it for its own sake. Plus, I reckon God created us for fun. Go create a novel for fun. Plus, I always think that novels and writing is to opera and singing – if you can do it, you definitely should, because so few can. (hope that last sentence make sense). How are the early starts? I need my sleep, but I have also definitely found I’m most productive when I get up and write (without switching any type of social media on!)

      And i know! I need to be reminded how lucky I am to live in Europe. I just love the centuries of art and music and culture everywhere. Being in a city with good architecture just make me happy. When it is raining in the middle of January, i shall try and remember this! Thanks for your sympathy with Lorraine as well – it all helps, it does. much love x

  6. Alice 13th September, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    This post made me gasp for joy and weep. Tanya – I’m so thrilled for the things you’ve been able to experience and yet so heartbroken for the broken bits. You seem to cram so much beauty into your mostly home-based life. You inspire and encourage me so very much and I’m so grateful to you. xxxxxxxx

    • Tanya 17th September, 2014 at 11:08 am #

      oh Alice, you make me happy! ‘You seem to cram so much beauty into your mostly home-based life’ – this is such an encouraging truth, and I’m gonna store it up. Thanks for always cheering with me, and feeling it all with me. xx

  7. Shona 13th September, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    Lovely to see you back 🙂

    • Tanya 17th September, 2014 at 10:43 am #

      Thanks, Shona. It’s nice to be welcomed! 🙂

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