Saturday, 31 December 2011

...and a Happy Hopey Hooky New Year!


Is it a terrible sign of aging that you feel slight fear at the thought of another year, or simply cowardice? I am endeavouring to remember Hope today! May 2012 bring you lots of blanket moments to cower/comfort/rest/rejoice under as the coming life-filled months may require!

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Merry Christmas to all...

I'm having a quick and gorgeous run round all your fabulous and festive blogs. But might I also recommend Mise's post to anyone who hasn't read it yet! I've had another amazing year of you! Thank you. May your Christmas weekend be full of fun and smiles and food and flurries of nothing but joy. And for a very exciting excursion, if you find yourself at a loose end of ribbon or foil, join the Willows on the trip of lifetime- or at least of a Christmas! Merry Christmas to you all- and to you all a good night!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Crave indulgence

Sorry folks, not that sort of indulgence! I need yours for a day- I am taking a break from Christmas! Childlike will be here tomorrow (it's still Tuesday here) but just for today I need to know that normal life will resume after Sunday! SO!

Crochet. I'm on to what I am affectionately deeming Stage Two of The Ripple. Stage One was the sample, in Rico Baby Gruen- the main colour, I think.

Satge Two, tonight's project, was to chain the 199 needed after measuring Sunday night's sample. I was appalled at the thought of accurately keeping track of this, so marked every set of ten loops! Bemused arm belongs to long-suffering Jo who has ball of said Rico Baby stuffed down the front of his shirt to keep it out of the shot!

And finally, I have made a start on my Beatrix Potter reading- well, I read the first one. All I can say is that if a single parent of four children, living in a sparsely furnished cellar, can take herself off to the bakery for buns while her reprobate son runs up another bill of anti-social behaviour in a neighbour's garden, and still be sane enough to cook any sort of supper and provide medical ministrations- she's a better woman than me! (Me at BP's Lake District house in July 2008!)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Love


Not in that poor lowly stable
With the oxen standing by
We shall see Him
But in Heaven
Set at God's right hand on high

..Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart..

It's been a busy and lovely Christmas filled day today, with a busy and Christmas filled week ahead! Pausing and pondering!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Thrifty Thursday's two-in-one Childlike Christmas!

Thrifty bakes more at Christmas than usual. Only the love of the notion of the Friday Cake Bake spurs her more! She can never quite believe how much more for your money you must get from packets of everything falling about snowily in the baking cupboard. Or indeed quite how many people you can feed at Open House time!

Hopefully baking is a farily established part of my children's Christmas. Admittedly Joshua did have That Year with This Icing...

But generally all is much better managed come Christmas Eve, when special preparations must be made!

Spot the well-loved Farmer Duck, now out to pasture.

Our traditional GH gingerbread made, and spoons dutifully licked.

And even sometimes rolled out again when invited to a New Year's Eve party! (See how long it is since I've successfully managed to get to one of those!)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Third Sunday in Advent: Joy

I am pooped. I am a candle burnt down to its very wick!

Far too much joy about the Land today- much mulling, eating, laughing and apparently lots of sharing too!

I'm sure there were many moments, probably in the dark and cold of the night, when it didn't feel very joyful on that first journey down to Bethlehem. Tired and weary not conducive to joy. I remember being too preoccupied to be conscious of joy on my labour dash to have Jo, and I wasn't on the back of a donkey. Thankfully, this hope, this peace, this joy, this love doesn't depend on how I feel. Tired and happy, tired and weary, tired but looking forward to the coming time. Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus; ex Maria, virgine, gaudete!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday Cake Bake

It's a bit of a very amateur festive baking bash here today. But it's all for Sunday, so here, sit down in the blue chair and talk to me. Have some tea and a supermarket doughnut. How was your week?!


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Thrifty Thursday's Top Tips for Christmas


Well, Thrifty's Christmas shopping is done and wrapped and is sitting under her tree. It all came in well under her usual spend and this year for once doesn't sprawl out from under the branches and threaten to be trampled to fragments before distribution to relevant recipients.

The reason for this pleasing phenomenon is quite simply that she didn't buy very many presents! She knows this sounds Scrooge-like! But when she took from last year's list the presents that are really quite rubbish, because they fall within a budget that doesn't buy very much for the teenagers/distant relatives/people she doesn't see but has always bought for, suddenly the whole business was transformed. The cumulative amount for her was vastly more significant then the token sum on an individual level.

This was openly discussed with the folk/parents of folk concerned, all of whom were (mostly) in very enthusiastic support. And in some cases Thrifty has been making presents with materials from the box under the bed. And that has certainly been giving her much fun over the last two weeks.

It all stems from here, and culminates in her annual Mince Pies and Mulled Stuff bash on Sunday afternoon, when time and presence (and yummy things) will be offered to friends instead. So, that's Thrifty's confession, in lieu of an actual Top Tip!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas

Forgive me; I still haven't visited all the Pausing Posters and will be later still with all you beautifully childlike guardians of magic. But...

I want to talk about presents. Louisa's Jo knew that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without any presents. Strawberry Jo didn't at all enjoy Arthur Christmas because, "Mummy, everybody knows that isn't how Santa works". I'm afraid that for all my thinking and framing and positioning, presents are a huge factor in a truly child-like Christmas.

So with last week's tree and next week's baking, "I bring you gold!" (Mattman's first Nativity line as a king aged 3...)

Monday, 5 December 2011

Second Sunday in Advent: Peace

I went on thinking about kneeling places after last week. This time last year all was perfect peace on a weekend away from it all, literally kneeling at beautiful Nativity scenes. We love santons at Christmas and before the creches there I was struck at how I could as a little teacher kneel with the millers and the shepherds and the mothers and the angels, all bringing themselves and their lives and their roles to the child.

Every year when I set up our creche I arrange the santons to be seen by on-lookers. And every year the suns come along and turn them inward. It's one of our unspoken traditions now, and it makes me glad! However, this year what struck me was that when you might be on your knees anyway, struggling with whatever demon/worry/setback you have, then where better to be on your knees than with other kneeling folk? And there you might find some peace?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Grand Tour Itinerary: finally...


I have eventually bestirred myself from the strawberry sloth and sludge to look at the generously long list of Willowistes. It is a little incredible to note that in all their adventures hitherto, they have only been to the first four stops on their journey! It looks very much as though their tour of the States will mirror everyone's journey to Bethlehem- and to think that originally I imagined them back home with Pom by Thanksgiving!

Profound and very genuine apologies if I have you in the wrong order, or worse still, have left you off the list- please let me know!

I considered finding a soundtrack of "In the Deep Mid-winter" as an accompaniment to the Itinerary, but they seem to be having too muchly a jolly time wherever they go! It is funny though to think that by the time they get to Australia and New Zealand, we may well be coming out of winter, while the Willows will perhaps be flying towards another Autumn!

I only have links in the sidebar to blogs already visited- and the links go to just one of the posts from that place. There will be other posts before or after, so do browse around!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Thrifty Thursday's Top Tips for Christmas

Angela will be very proud of Thrifty this week. She has two Top Tips and both are very thrifty indeed!

On the first of December have a Prince Charming or equivalent who will take you on a surprise excursion to your local converted-Mill-now-Council-HQ. Stand in the cold, dark air to sing carols, admire Peter Corry, see That Man arrive in a vintage car with a sack of red hats for all, wander past all the sparkling trees through the (artificial) snow and wrap your hands round a cup of mulled wine. (Last bit not so thrifty, admittedly, but the rest was free!) Very magical!

Now this. This is superb! It comes from ...the sight of morning... The original idea is to give it as an Advent calendar, but Thrifty is going to adapt it as presents for Sunday School teachers, and theme it for the Twelve Days of Christmas. The little tags will be print-outs of the twelve gifts in the song, and she is going to pin on hot chocolate and cappuccino sachets as well as speciality tea-bags. She does need to purchase the sachets and mini-pegs, but remains muchly, muchly excited about the gorgeous simplicity and loveliness of an achievable project! If she has enough "ingredients" left over, Thrifty may even hang one up for herself, and sequester a few stolen moments every day to sit quietly and sip contentedly!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas

Pom Pom says that this was their tree last year. It really got me thinking about trees for her Christmas blog party.

This time last year I was getting ready to fly off to Paris with Cooking Catherine to stand awed beneath this beauty in Galeries Lafayette. But actually, my clearest memory from my own childhood Christmases is of sitting under our tree with my brother. I was telling him Christmas stories; I may even have been telling him The Christmas Story, such a serious little thing was I!
What I most remember is the very real awe that the lights could be so beautiful, that such a varied range of decorations, from ancient and gleaming and spinning Santa to peacock in some authentic feeling down, could become festive characters in whatever tale you wanted to invent.

So my first ingredient for a childlike Christmas is any tree, with any lights, and an assorted range of hanging things, preferably with a story, real or imagined!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

First Sunday in Advent: Hope

This Advent the strawberries are hoping for: snow, happiness, answers and inspiration, and kneeling places...


In Search of our Kneeling Places

In each heart lies a Bethlehem
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angel voices
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.

This Advent let's go to Bethlehem
And see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let's ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let's look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let's listen for the brush of angels' wings
This Advent, let's go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.

Ann Weems Kneeling in Bethlehem

Pause in Advent chez Floss

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Home from Preparing for Advent

I brought my globes home from our third annual Preparing for Advent morning for mums. I have my Advent words written in the one on the bottom left, and will therefore fear no stress!

I brought my craft home, although actually Ingrid made mine- I was having too much fun with the wire clippers.

I brought this year's Christmas recipe booklet home.

I brought my berry branches home,

and our wedding candle.

Coping with Christmas by G. R. Collins

And there were in that same country, children keeping watch over their socks by firelight. And lo, Santa Claus came upon them: and the glory of his presence shone 'round about them, and they were sore enthralled. And Santa said to them, "Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great gifts which shall be unto all people (with money to afford them). For unto you is cooked this day in the oven of your kitchen a turkey, which is surrounded by pudding and cakes and presents: and this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the gifts wrapped in sparkling paper and lying in a pile under the tree.

And suddenly there was with the children a multitude of earthly relatives, praising each other and saying, "Thank you, this is just what I wanted." And it came to pass as Santa and the relatives were gone away into their own homes, the parents said to one another, "Let us now go even unto bed to avoid this mess which the kids and guests have made known unto us." And they came with haste and found peace, quiet and rest lying in a bed until morning.

Pause in Advent starts tomorrow!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thrifty Thursday's Top Tips for Christmas

Thrifty highly recommends that you get your hands on a copy of this book before next Thursday. A certain Internet auction place has 65 copies ranging in price from 99p to £24.99, and some even have this cover, which is by far the most satisfying edition because of the embossed cover and the gorgeous pictures inside.

Thrifty bought this in December 1997, and bought copies for all her friends that year. She spent the whole of Christmas Day devouring it, and was consequently late for dinner at her fiance's family gathering. Thankfully he still married her.

Last year these two read it in installments for the first time to their children who raced to bed all month to be ready for the next chapter. Even on Christmas Eve was this the main reason for bedtime!

It is the story of a magical advent calendar told in 24 chapters so that the book itself becomes a magical advent calendar. You can read little bits here and here and here.

Another Tracing Rainbows production!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Preparing for Advent



Next Saturday morning Cooking Catherine and I will be running our now third annual Preparing for Advent, which is exciting! I can't even pretend to be nervous, though I should be, because it has become my main point of reference for the "whole Christmas season"- Grinch semi-quote there. And Angela is running her Top Tips again, thank goodness, as well as sharing a very fine cake. And Pom Pom is doing Child-Like Christmas starting this week, and Floss is wonderfully hosting Pause in Advent again. It's an exciting time to read blogs! But I also like to keep in step Advent Conspiracy, because it pretty much sums the whole thing up for us here.

Friday, 18 November 2011

This week's Sorry

Goes to Royal Mail. Last Thursday they delivered a package, but I wasn't in. Who knows why? They took it away again and left the standard note- too large for letter box; collect at Mallusk.

Well, obviously we've been busy with exciting things. I go to Mallusk on Wednesday. It's cold up on that hill! I wait and wait and wait for nice, young man to look in package room. It's not there. He looks in other package room. Not there either. I remain calm. I tell him it is a Jamie Oliver cookbook ordered as part of a wedding present. Sympathetic noises. Ring back tomorow or Friday.

I ring today. Same nice, young man. No package has turned up. Given number to ring. Automatated answer machine. Only result will be claim form sent out for compensation. Mags rings nice, young man back. Lengthy, frank and open discussion on how hard it would be to get guys further up hill to look under bench in the van. Passed on- which transpires to mean note on yellow sticky on office window for next shift. None of whom work further up hill with vans. We discuss emotive nature of missing wedding present.

Drive PC to town. PC answers Mags's mobile. Nice, young man has found missing package. Nice, young man has taken on mission of salvaging wedding present on feeling the shame of no-one being available to check under bench in van.

And if Margaret wants to come up and collect the Kelloggs free cereal bowl that her children collected vouchers for all summer then it's here at the desk for her now...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

More from Oregon


Apologies to No Spring Chicken for blatantly poaching this picture, but she has the most delightful Willows post today, so do nip over!!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Reflections on actually meeting a bloggiste


I have had a most interesting and fabulous weekend! There wasn't the slightest trace of apprehension beforehand, and not even the daunting task of making room for an esteemed guest could diminish the excitement. I think because Ang gives so much of herself in what she writes, and because she is so generous of her time with emails, meeting her was like picking up a thread of conversation that had been but momentarily on hold!

At the start all was just so deeply, deeply interesting- being able to hear more, learn more, share more, laugh more. It is blogging at its pinnacle, I think, to move from a friendship that happens in sporadic episodes into a face to face encounter that joins the dots and fills the whole with colour.

Then it struck me! I was no longer composing little vignettes from a nearly fictionalised land. These were my real boys, this was my very real house, that was my altogether real and fallible cooking! And so I felt humbled, not in a negative way, but certainly the weekend gave me a new perspective on what I put down here in fraise.

So thank you, Angela Almond, for visiting us in the Land of the (sometimes as you now know tearful) Strawberries! Thak you for all that amazing treasure pouring forth from your suitcase for us! Thank you for the just as amazing treasure of words and encouragement and wisdom that poured forth on me! Thank you for letting me see us through your kind eyes! It is good to visit the edges of your land in safe company!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Keeping Ang out of trouble

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge crossed.

Giant's Causeway admired.

Corrymeela experienced.

Crochet mastered.

But there will be a prize for the one who can most accurately guess what on earth she is doing here!!

Friday, 11 November 2011

We're tracing rainbows


The angel has landed! We have done St George's Market, City Hall, the Spinning Wheel, Avoca. We have been soaked to the skin and beyond at the school gates and taken refuge in the Cosy Chair. We have made Egyptian bowls, eaten beef and Guinness stew, because Guinness is good for you, and drunk more tea than even I thought possible. And we have been to the Lyric to see not one but two plays, one of which turned out to be a school reunion. And now we are most definitely going to bed! It has been a day fabulous beyond expressing.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sorry!

About the Advent in August thing. I have a lot on my mind! Cleaning the bathroom mostly. I shall do that now. Forthwith. Tout de suite (see Frances, French is terribly useful...)I wonder where the spare duvet is?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Greatitudes 442 - 450

There is very muchly a lot to be thankful for this week. The Willows have arrived in Minnesota. They are snuggling in front of a wood fire drinking precious tea, when not out in ancient Willows, photos of which I find thrilling! Thank you, Lisa, for taking them so much to your heart!

My North American Geography is transformed by this Extremely Grand Tour! And I will post the Itinerary soon; I'm just so afraid of getting it wrong!

Our aeronautically clever Prince Charming informed us this week that the MTV A-Listers would have paid £30,000 per day for parking their private jets at the city's airports. Just one, very big, reason among other very big recession-beating reasons to be excited that such a big show came to such a small place! But we here in the Land of the (sometimes tearful)Strawberries have another visitor reason to be thankful...

On Friday VIV arrives, the Very Important Visitor for whom I may have to resort to doing some cleaning, tomorrow! Yes, we do actually really have Angela coming to stay in the Frozen North! Expect rainbows!

Cooking Catherine was drinking coffee here this afternoon (always something to thankful for at around four in the afternoon), and we were discussing this impending treat. And we marvelled at how bloggisme creates a very real community- of stimulation, encouragement, humour, thought, and ultimately friendship that would just never have been possible in any other way. This is very special, and thank you to all who share a part of their journey here in the shifting air of Broadband.

The reason why CC was here this afternoon comes down to the joyous fact that it's that time of year again. The one we all look forward to. The morning filled with meaning and laughs and food. This year's Preparing for Advent is just 17 sleeps away! (OH!) So, if anyone will be in the Greater Belfast area on Saturady 26th August, let me know and I shall email you an invitation- and that includes you, Lovely LE from the school gates- I haven't managed to see you yet! More delicious cooking with CC, another two Christmas crafts with this year's resident expert, and fraise, doing all the little bits inbetween!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Friday Cake Bake

When I got in from work at 10.10pm on Thursday night PC had made two apple crumbles and the aroma on coming through the front door was very ood. (That's good really.) I am quite sure that they qualify as Friday Cake Bakes since it would have been breakfast time in Australia.

We're having a very quiet and mellow weekend here in the suburbs of Belfast, during which I have given in and started my Christmas shopping. One drive across the City required, and the traffic was strangely busy.

Today PC and Mattman cycled up and round and down through our local wood, while Jo and I continued the leaf raking process. It's good to keep energetic young men gainfully employed, I am discovering.

We're cosily ensconced this evening, with candles lit and a warming curry on the hob.

And no doubt we'll do the usual round of Sunday things tomorrow, with school back after the half-term break on Monday. All very homely and ordinary.

The soft voice of the radio weather lady said earlier that tonight will be cold, but with star-filled skies. Well, that will be nice for Belfast!