Monday, 15 October 2018

Just because

 This week I'm thankful just because it's October really! It might actually be my favourite month. It's my favourite month this year anyway! These sunny days don't require suncream, and it's been a warm enough season thus far not to require expensive hours of central heating!
 And yes, the first pumpkin has been bought! This one will be carved but won't last well until Hallowe'en, so I'll get to carve what I want, as opposed to what they will want!  It's a nice dilemma to have- soup or pie? You American folk will have a much wider repertoire than me. What about muffins? Are pumpkin muffins a thing, and do you have a recipe? (I keep typing pumpking! That makes me smile.)
  I am very grateful too for the patience of my resident pumpking who has endured long walks with me over the weekend, and tonight. I am trying to walk off bouts of menopause. Fresh air and outside and moving are three wonderful things. Especially with crunchy leaves, long blue skies (yesterday) and the sharp shining moon (this evening).
Also, school is starting to settle down into a bit of a manageable groove. It has taken its time! But today both of my teaching sessions achieved everything I needed them to, one boy's constant friendliness shouted across the playground was, as it always is, a huge encouragement, and our (English) department has nearly reached the end of all our room changes, so there could soon be an end to packing boxes and dust, dust, dust!

Most importantly, there are only two school weeks left to half-term! Hoorah! (901- less than a hundred to go...)

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Year of the Tome

So, because this has been a day, nay a week, full of lots of things that I am wholly not very good at, I'm going to tell you about something that I am wholly good at. I can read. I can read and read and read until I'm.... I'll not try a Just William pun. (The link is to a seemingly very interesting blog post on the passive aggressive in things feminist. It's there for me to come back to!) Maybe you didn't spend your childhood watching William and Violet.

This year being a very big birthday year for me, I decided that I would do some serious reading. So serious that only tomes would suffice for this weighty year. Twice hitherto had I embarked on the odyssey of Ulysses and twice had got not very far at all. Thrice now have I started it, and Reader, I am nearly there!

I bought my copy of Joyce's epic in Dublin a long, long time ago. I'd gone down with my mother for a day's shopping and sightseeing. We went by bus in those picturesque days before the motorway strode cleanly between the two cities, and you stopped in Drogheda to change buses, Northern Irish to Irish, and to race to the loo. I wasn't even married then, I think. I bought it in a bookshop in St Stephen's Green shopping centre and carried it proudly around with me and my fine literary intentions.

Years later we were all four of us on the hop on hop off tour bus round Dublin, somewhere between Dublin Zoo and the Guinness Storehouse probably, as best reflects our various interests. The garrulous tour guide was on the subject of Joyce and the tome and asked if anyone had read it. Prince Charming felt the need to tell everyone that his wife was reading it. Thankfully not that she had been reading it for nearly two decades. I can tell you that he, the husband, still tells that story. I'm sure Garrulous TG does not.

Reader, I am nearly there and you shall hear all about it. I shall be a veritable garrulous tome tour guide myself. I bet you can hardly wait.

As my pragmatic and very holy friend K recently pointed out: I've nearly finished Joyce but I'm very behind with my Bible. Back in January I also embarked on a chronological reading of the Bible. In fifty years I've read it only twice before from cover to cover- and only now do I notice that I'll have started reading both tomes in their entirety twice before this year's project.

I would highly recommend the chronological sequence. It means that you read the whole of Job shortly into Genesis. What a time that was at the start of this year. By the end I too could only put my hand over my mouth and marvel. It was a much needed read.

Let me not deflect your attention from my being very behind- maybe I'm not as good at reading as I profess. Or rather maybe I'm not as good as giving God His place as all that Outside Tea in Lent set out to achieve. But as the Message says in Matthew 11, I am trying to find the "unforced rhythms of grace", so have given myself the year of being 50 as well as 1968 2018 itself to finish this voyage. That gives me another nine months of grace!

The rule I set myself on the Joyce front was that I wasn't allowed to read any other books until Ulysses was done. There have been two short slips, but I am lining up a pile, physical and metaphorical, of books into which I intend to plunge voraciously soon, oh so tantalisingly soon. Gretchen Joanna reminded me today of Kierkegaard. He's going on the pile too. All other suggestions most gratefully, joyfully and excitedly received- but please don't let any of them be tomes!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Of mice and Mags

My best laid plans always come to naught; well, they just don't always work out as expected! So I seem to have missed yet another thankful Monday, and the much lauded child of last week has spent most of the intervening period confounding the medical profession! And us!!
So here are some autumnal moments from the weekend. A lazy ramble around the hill behind the Temple of the Winds. Very lovely, and a new-to-us play ground/grove that merges huge and fallen trees with polished tree sculptures, deliberately laid activities like see-saws and balancing bridges with mighty sprawls of branches to entangle and ensnare.
Did you know that Albert Camus told us that we could all get used to anything, even to living inside a tree trunk? I don't think he imagined the cosy, illustrated interiors talked about by MK recently: " J’ai souvent pensé alors que si l’on m’avait fait vivre dans un tronc d’arbre sec, sans autre occupation que de regarder la fleur du ciel au-dessus de ma tête, je m’y serais peu à peu habitué… on finissait par s’habituer à tout."
I've been reading l'Étranger for years now. Just over thirty, my goodness. With the Bible, let's be clear on that one, it never fails to speak to my life. Well, it reflects a lot about my life, I think. But then all literature is life, isn't it? That was my definition of literature when I was teaching. But what I think God gives us, in his literature, is more than just a reflection of how things are. There we find hope that, even if there are things we have to just get used to, like fainting in school lots or being the mother of children who always have something going on, even if there are callings that are constrictive and dry, "The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart." Psalm 19.

So if I say that I am grateful for school nurses and bean bags in school libraries, for hospitals and doctors a short drive and no wait away, for jobs that allow a certain degree of tolerance, for bright autumn glorious days amid the dark wet ones, for dark wet autumn days where you furrow deep home, for fires and candles and lights and friends, for books- secular and divine, for friends who lend DVDs and won't lend you the Arial poems until you find the DVD, for a car to get about quickly and easily, for all things orange this month, for the promise of getting the pumpkin box out soon, for husbands who clean, and for outside outside outside, if I do all that I do believe I'm up to 880 gratitudes with only 120 to go before year's end. Phew! 

Monday, 1 October 2018

This is the year

This is it. This year I am going to get to 1000 gratitudes. Years after reading Ann Voskamp I am tying up this loose end. You're getting fourteen today and they're all about the boy who is fourteen today: my baby!

847. So glad we got you, Jo!
848. Grateful for your uninhibited, undeterred, unstoppable gift for life,
849. for that energy, that high octane, morning to night, sun-hot burning go!
850. Grateful for your faith that burns hot too,
851. and for the bravery that took you two miles down the road, and light years out of your sub-culture, on your summer team.
852. Amazed that, like your Old Testament name sake, you have been strong and very courageous so many, many times, but especially when a bad thing has come your way every single time Dad had to travel far away this year.
853. Thank you, protecting Lord, that your hand is on this boy and on his life, because if it's going to happen, it happens to this boy.
854. Deeply, viscerally grateful, that as your name implies, you have redeemed me so many times in so many ways.
855. Grateful for how you stand up to me and hold me to account.
856. Grateful that you are the king of the one-liner put-down and that you can cope in the jungle that is school.
857. Grateful that you can bake.
858. Grateful that you can drum. Grateful that you can drum loudly? Hmmm.
859. Grateful that at fourteen you're not embarrassed to hug your mum, in public, in front of friends. I will totally understand when you don't!
860. Grateful that you've made nice friends, and that you know you can fill the house with them. Hospitality is a sign of the Kingdom, and all that. But after a weekend of parties, cake and noise? Let's just get through the week.

Happy birthday, big baby boys everywhere!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

September: free (and nearly free) stuff

A while ago I drove into the city, to a church that is old and beautiful and large, and took away one of their lecterns. They are closed now, closed for good, like so many other churches, large and small, across the city. Across the country, I suppose. They were giving away all sorts of things, polished with use and glowing with faith.
We did, with Kipper, go ablackberrying, across the fields at the back, and came back sticky and stuck with berries and brambles! We served them up that night to the same friends who gave us bag upon bag of apples from their garden.
 So, of course we made pie with our free apples and sprinkled over our free berries, and marvelled at this time of year, when even dedicated suburb-dwellers can smell the earth from which it all came forth.
Free pepper and chilli from the same, very horticultural, family. I am extremely grateful for the prowess and hard work of many, many kind folk around me!
One of whom brought me a bag of incredibly reduced lunch box rolls to prove that a trip past a certain food purveyor, at a certain time in the late afternoon, will produce a harvest of its own.
 And so the month would seem to be ending! So fast, so pumpkin-time surely? Over my last few years, autumn has been swamped by back-to-school issues and busyness, and maybe just bad weather sometimes means the colours and the smells and the beauty of it all do go diminished by stress and strain. So, I'm here beside our first fire of the season, thinking how beautiful it is to have friends and food and firewood from our storm-culled trees.

I'd like to talk too about free grace. That's the other thing that has poured over me this month with the orange glow of autumn. It's all by grace, isn't it? The waking, the working, the harvesting, the whole weird whoosh that is the diurnal turn. In my Year of the Tome (which I'd also like to tell you about some time) I've got to David and the relevant psalms as the narrative progresses. I can't at all grasp the scale of the Psalms! I want to hold on to all their words, but they are too many! Here are some from 86:"You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you."

And it's all (not nearly, but completely) free!

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Local: castle gardens and crochet.

I took my parents to Antrim Castle Gardens this afternoon. I'd been there on Sunday, and was hoping that all the vibrantly fabulous yarn-bombing would still be there- it was! The Whiter Shade of Pale roses were still heady with scent. The mood of the whole courtyard was still full of fun and tactile joy. Mum loved it.

The reason I'd been there on Sunday was because the facilitator of my crochet group had long ago suggested to our local council that Northern Ireland could really be doing with its own yarn festival. Thinking Yarndale and Woolfest. And lo, it was so! Spinning Yarns- spinning the wool and yarning it!

This is apparently Paula McIntyre, our local celebrity chef... More well known to me were lots and lots of local women who are wonderful craft gurus. In one of the marquees were free craft sessions. Sheep badges, rag rugs, woven pictures, all being made and smiled over and lovingly carried away for two solid days last weekend.

Now, I must confess that all this alone may not have taken me to the castle for a whole Sunday afternoon. I was there, with all my other crochet chums, in our specially made by Chloe t-shirts, to display what we feel is a perfectly stunning piece of folk art! The council had asked us to make the borough in crochet. We did our best! If you know the area at all you'll maybe spot some local attractions- Lorna, a spinner at the festival, is also a National Trust tour guide at Patterson's Spade Mill and I had the onerous task of representing that in crochet, if you can find it....

Finally, spot too the quite amazing Sammy who made it all happen in very, very practical ways. MK- here's a big dose of Northern Ireland accent just for you x

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Swallows and Russians

It is pitch dark here now by nine at night and there is a crisp, clean beauty to the air, even in the heat of a sunny day like today! September is coming! Thus, two hasty posts before Sunday on "What I did in my Summer Holidays". In preparation for Modern Language GCSEs this coming year, poor Mattman has had to be thinking the same in German and in French.

MK mentioned Swallows and Amazons a little while ago, and I promised pictures of the day we spent on Coniston in July. Gratifyingly at least one son seems to have enjoyed it! Coniston Water is where Arthur Ransome lived with his second, Russian, wife when they returned to England and the Lake District from Revolution. When you take the cruise boat they point out the house where they lived, very close to the shore. I can't believe I didn't get a picture of it- though, given the quality of the next two pictures, that's perhaps not surprising at all.

Beyond the boat the island, for it is an island, is Peel Island, and it is widely accepted as the inspiration for Wild Cat Island in Swallows and Amazons. Ransome and Evgenia were visited at Coniston by Ransome's old flame Dora and her husband Ernest Altounyan. Ransome taught the Altounyan children to sail, and the seeds of the famous literary adventure were sown. The secret harbour of the island may well have been this, and there was a little craft navigating its careful way in as we passed. You'll need to navigate my poor photographic skills just as carefully! Maybe you can just see the rocky outcrop marking the entrance to the inlet...

There's a wonderful article on Ransome's life here, but I'm disappointed firstly that I can't remember the tales of Evgenia's eccentricity that we were told on the sailing, and secondly that nowhere on the Wondrous Wide Web can I find much beyond her jewel-smuggling to fund the Comintern! Ransome was certainly much, much more than a nautical story-teller. Read the article: it's a very exciting tale full of Oscar Wilde, Trotsky, foreign correspondence, and love lost and won! (Much easier to read than S and A. I gave up when I tried to read it with younger boys.)

We had gone to Coniston, not for Swallows and Amazons, but for John Ruskin. His house is here too, higher up from the shore and kept now as a monument to his life and work. I realised when I got there that I had assumed Ruskin to be mainly an art critic whose greatest achievement was his championing of the Pre-Raphaelites; how wrong I was. That will be for another time, but here's his bedroom turret, which I loved.