Sunday, 19 February 2017

And this was half-term!

We started in the wilds of County Down for two days. Jo has reached that part of Year 8 History where he learns about the Norman conquest of Ireland, and then looks at Norman castles. Well, we are not short of Norman castles here in Ulster, or indeed of the clear remains of original motte and bailey structures, so there was lots of mound scrambling! Then we had swimming, and climbing, and more hill-walking, and friends sleeping over, and going off to friends' houses, and walking down to church tonight with friends- by themselves, in the dark! I am reeling from it all. Although there was shelter for me in mounds of my own, of the laundry variety!

After church this morning I laughed in horror at the words of the father of two of our boys' friends. A colleague of his is, like us, the parent of a teenage boy. His take on the whole experience is that teenage boys are like dogs. You need to feed them regularly, exercise them with sticks and balls, and clean them out every now and then. I did laugh at the sticks bit. My two are obsessed with sticks and still have not forgiven me for not bringing their long-won and much prized collection from our last house. (We moved nearly exactly three years ago...) So this week they have remedied this lamentable situation. Prince Charming drew the line only at sticks that were clearly not going to fit in the boot of the car. The rest of the colleague's philosophy does also ring true for me at this stage of strawberry development!

And so back to routine tomorrow for another blast of school term. The boys' routine is well-established. Mine is not at all! I have done two weeks in my new spot, and am decided after a week's reflection to be very disciplined about how I use my time for the next few months. I'm teaching on Thursdays and Fridays until the end of May, and need to use lots of time revising my Latin, and sorting lessons that I want to teach! That and housework should keep me far, far away from on-line time-wasting, surely?

I do also need too to be more disciplined spiritually. I'm thinking of starting Lent early. Tomorrow, in fact! Have a great week, Blogland. Expect a timorous knock on the porch for a cup of tea and a quick moment between Concentrated Efforts!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Stormont (a rant)

 I really did not think that my first post of the new year would be about politics. Yuck. I apologise in advance. So, to soften the blow, here is me, looking unusually less than loathsome and somehow quite skinny. That's my currently favourite navy, wool dress. So far, so not entirely yuck.
 And this is a beautiful, incredible sky sometime over the holidays. Breath-taking evening, that was, with no trace of yuck. Not a filter used at all- not least because that would be well beyond my ken, like Northern Ireland politics.
And here is photographic proof that the figures of wisdom and creativity have been seen at Stormont. They may be only thirteen and twelve years old, but there's more potential in those boys on their way in to our Parliament building  than I would vouch for in the whole "Assembly" of what we call politicians who made their ineffective way out of it this week.

I think I only talk about politics when I hear us mentioned on Radio 4, feeling I must apologise for my nation. A wonderful English journalist was talking yesterday about how he had lived here for three years and loved the place, but felt that everything he wrote about us needed to be prefaced by a brief introduction to the whole gammut of Northern Irish history before he could try to explain any current issue. We may not have become a people of inept political choice if all our own news bulletins were prefaced in much the same way.

So, good luck, America, for tomorrow and beyond- here is my situation, for anyone still reading:

My devolved government is not going to govern anymore as the republican second minister has resigned and his party is not nominating a replacement because, under our peace terms, this forces a new election for the whole Assembly.

He has resigned in protest, reflecting the whole little country's feeling, republican or not, of disgust that the First Minister's loyalist party has covered up money made by many, family members included, through loopholes in a previously exciting renewable energy heating scheme. The First minister refused to resign, see above.

There was also annoyance that the loyalist minister in charge of cultural things had withdrawn funding from an Irish language school but given lots and lots and lots to flute etc bands, which may sound innocent to you, but try walking through Belfast on 12th July, and then we'll talk.

All my democratically elected representatives, mostly polarised green and orange because of the way my country insists on voting, then went home, on full pay of £70,000 per annum. They are currently in nice hotels up and across my little country re-nominating themselves to stand in March's election, and posting self-congratulatory photos on farcebook.

Before they left to go home and get changed for their nice hotel dinners, they neglected to put a budget in place for the next financial year, thereby stalling all negotiations with our GPs, many of whom are now dating their resignation letters from the NHS and preparing to go private.

Welcome to the Frozen North. Yuck.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016: an Alphabet of Authors

You know, sitting here with a streaming cold that takes rapid, arbitrary dashes into 'flu, and able to do not much else other than read, certainly not walk in the Mourne Mountains, travel down to Dublin Zoo for the day and stay over at the Red Cow so we can go to the National Gallery the next morning, stroll round the new C S Lewis Sculpture Park with one of today's free guided tours, or even just mooch about my favourite go-to of the Ulster Museum bribing boys with cupcakes and the shop, if they would just brave the dinosaur bones and ensconce themselves in the bird hide...

Sitting here with an ocean of nose and a thumping head, I'm very glad that I got through 26 authors in alphabetical order- as I can't for the life of me think what else I did this year! So here are my twenty-six books of 2016. For my own records and reward. It's definitely good to have something to show for another twelve months on the round! (Forgive the gaps in memory- I'll plug them as they offer themselves back from the mire...)

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Saul Bellow: Him With His Foot in His Mouth
Chris Cleave: The Other Hand
Vanessa Diffenbaugh: The Language of Flowers
Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery
Helen Fielding: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Nina George: The Little Paris Bookshop
Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Eva Ibbotson: The Secret Countess (or A Countess Below Stairs?)
Henry James: What Maisie Knew
Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
David Nicholls: Us
Maggie O'Farrell: After You'd Gone
Barbara Pym: Quartet in Autumn
Matthew Quick: The Silver Linings Playbook
Ali Smith: How To Be Both
Colm Toibin: Nora Webster
Rachel Urquhart: The Visionist
Voltaire: Candide
Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway
Xintan: Sky Burial
Yeats: New Poems, 1938
Markus Zusak: The Book Thief

Best: Bellow, Lee and Hemingway- For Whom The Bell Tolls is now my touchstone of the perfect novel, and that surprised me: Hemingway not being all about bulls and testosterone. An all American top three!

Worst: do not read The Prague Cemetery

Authors I'll read more of now: Bellow and Xintan, possibly starting with Xintan, though first I'm going to find out just what has happened in Tibet...

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Advent Ending

My Advent began with a huge sense of expectation. What did I want God to do for me? Do for me this Advent? That turned into a greater sense of chastising challenge when the nothing transpired within the usual time-frame from an application that I had made. Was God my Father Christmas to deliver a list? I could only offer myself, like Mary, as a servant. Still believing that nothing is impossible for God, but thinking not this time. Then mid-week mid-Advent, an email came, followed by an interview, following by an offer.So, my Advent ending is a happy one, full of wonder that actually God heard the deepest desire of my heart, and blessed me.

This is Prince Charming's favourite Christmas song to sing, and he does sing it beautifully. There is a short burst of him on farcebook! (His band is called North.) I have been crocheting a snowflake for every day in December: some I give away, some I use on present wrapping, the rest are yarnbombing my Jacob's ladder- shall try to get it looking respectable enough to post! Snow is a bit of a theme- all wishful thinking thus far, with crisp frost giving way to cold rain this afternoon!

Meanwhile- may your Advent ending be a happy one, full of wonder and blessing.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Then December begins as well

It is an odd one, isn't it? Advent starts on the first of the four Sundays before Christmas day, but we get the Advent calendars, and the chocolate, out on 1st December. We do too. We have a fabric calendar, with twenty-four pockets, which are a bit tight for this year's generously proportioned H%r&e$.

We aren't organised, or consistent, enough to sign up for the on-line Advent Challenges, but we do steal their ideas! Last year I wrote out twenty-four challenges and stowed them away with the chocolate. This year I decided that we could jolly well come up with six each. So, on Wednesday night no-one got to leave the dinner table until everyone had written out their challenges. I was impressed! If all goes to plan the gerbils will be too- their care features high on some of the directives, and I didn't even write those!

So far the said gerbils have had half an hour of conversation, everyone in the family has had a great big hug, there is an anonymous Christmas card written and ready to be deposited on a desk in a school tomorrow, and someone has yet to ring the bell to pray at dinner. (We ring a bell to say grace, inspired by the constant thankfulness of the Sandras.) The strawberries take it all in very good heart.

I am taking it all in a very perplexed heart this week. The events of the week have made me think about what I expect when I come to God with answers to his question, "What do you want me to do for you?" Am I really expecting him, like PC and me I suppose at this time of the year, to give his child everything on their Christmas list? Am I really expecting the God of all Creation to be my personal Santa?

Prince Charming is once again leading worship at the cafe church that our church runs for three weeks of Advent.This morning's speaker looked at Mary, and stopped me in my thinking tracks. "'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.'" Nothing is impossible with God.

Prince Charming was also leading carols at our Assembly Buildings at Stormont last night. The benediction was that lovely one, along the lines of wishing for us the unbridled joy of the angels, the perplexed curiosity of the shepherds, the unsettling peace of the Christ-child. PC sang this Ash song as one of his solo pieces- this is a version by Duke Special, a very distinctive Belfast musician, singer, songwriter, and man of faith. It's dedicated to MK, who saw Prince Charming's video on farcebook and wanted a bit more Norn Irish accent!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Adventure begins

You might know that every year a few of us organise a Preparing for Advent morning about now. Some craft, some cookery, some reflections- space really, to raise your altar before the madness begins.
Well, this year we are all just a bit wrecked for lots of different reasons, good and bad. The plan was to take a break completely, but the wonderful Catherine, about whom I often eulogise, decided, "Let's make Christmas wreaths. In your house."
So, we did! Just a very few of us. With very little preparation on my part. Actually no preparation on my part. Catherine brought fabulous cinnamon buns, Rosemary brought fabulous poetry, and everyone brought boughs and berries and great generosity of spirit.
It was lovely. Marking the start of the season ready to light the light as each week passes, and the road to Bethlehem winds on.
My Jo nipped in after his two hour revision session with Prince Charming in the room next door. He is my creative guru. These are our Advent wreaths.
I cannot tell you how it pleased my heart when he not only wore Catherine's wreath on demand, but also knew that he looked just like the Ghost of Christmas Present- and he is even wearing that jolly man's green! That tiny baby in the photo behind him is him, nearly exactly twelve years ago.
Jo's sweatshirt says "Adventure begins", and I thought how very appropriate. In the midst of all the stresses and strains to catch the joy in the journey that opens up now. In October I was floored by the last question on our church's retreat day:
I feel today, at the start of this Advent that I will raise Ebenezers this year, remembering all that God has done for me, all that He has done for me, and be bold enough to ask Him for what I want him to do for me again.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

For Your Tomorrow...

 Now, let me make my poppy position clear. As with all else in Northern Ireland, it becomes as divisive as the way you pronounce the letter "h" or as the way you answer the question, "Where did you go to school?" With this year being the centenary of both the Somme and the Easter Rising, you can imagine which event was claimed by each set of hard-line defenders of culture, heritage and identity. And I'm not particularly interested in belonging to either one of them, thank you very much. I find this day and these rememberings just as painfully poignant as anyone else. I have, with my army childhood rooted in The Troubles, just as many reservations about our dealing with the past as the next forty-something Northern Irish native. As a mother, I work hard at discussing all of it with as much good sense and faith perspective as I can muster.

However, when our Hookery group was asked by the council to produce two installations to mark the Somme centenary in our local Mossley Mill and the council offices in Antrim, I did crochet my little heart out. Admittedly my thirteen poppies were but a small offering towards the 282 we needed to symbolise twice the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme. It was undeniably moving to watch the huge pile of individual poppies on the table come together into a collective whole, twice! All the different patterns and shades and textures becoming on vibrant flower, twice. For me it represented more even than the 420,000 individual lives lost in one huge and bloody whole. On a much smaller, but more hopeful, scale it depicted what our Hookery group is for me. Individual women coming together with their different ages, stages, worries, joys, stories, and forming one very warm, very lovely, very supportive whole.

Heather Boss' account of the poppies is over on the Hookery blog. The two pieces are called: For Your Tomorrow and They Gave Their Today. I am so sorry to all who have and to all who do and to all who will.  That we should live in such a world as this.