Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Happy St Patrick's Day!

 I hope you've had a lovely 17th March! The weather was glorious here today, and legend tells us that this must be because St Patrick has turned the stone! Expect a fabulous summer therefore...

On this day last year we knew that we were about to enter something that would be called a Lockdown. The two most spoken phrases in our house were to be: "the new normal" and "we'll just do what we're told". I've just had a look back to my St Patrick's Day post from last year to see what I was thinking then. I remembered how struck I had been that Patrick had been forced to self-isolate for a whole six years as a slave on what is a very windy, very muddy little hill not so far from here. I remembered feeling inspired by his dedication to praying frequently, all day and all night, as that time brought him deeper into faith. I remembered thinking how wonderful it would be to use this time shut away from the world to do just that.

What I hadn't remembered was saying this: "I even think that these weeks will bring us closer to others as well. We can, as so many are saying now, use our multitudinous communication technologies to communicate with each other." Now, I have certainly not used this year as I could have done prayer-wise. Like the seeds that fell on rocky ground,my joy has too often fallen away when trouble and persecution came. But. I am enormously grateful for the friendships that have not only been maintained, but even deepened* by regular video calls and Zoom break-out rooms, and walks and garden cuppas when the summer restrictions allowed. 

I was reading through Patrick's story again last night, feeling all wistful about having to leave the safe pastures behind. What struck me this year was that after all that time alone and praying (and not lounging about making sour dough and reading Hilary Mantel) God told Patrick to get up and go out and his ship was ready, two hundred miles away.

So that's what I'm taking from my patron saint this year. The time for quiet reflection is coming to an end, and the ship is ready to set sail towards The Other Side. I'm going to try to be courageous like Patrick, obedient like Patrick, and faith-full like Patrick.

It's time to arise!


Monday, 15 March 2021

My sun and my moon

When I started blogging I called the sons "suns" - high octane stars burning with energy and heat! I am sitting here this morning, basking in front room sunlight and trying to say some prayers, and it strikes me that what I in fact have are a sun and a moon.

All three of us will be back to school next week. So this week feels poignant and precious. The last year has painfully illustrated the ways in which both my stars have been deeply unhappy in school, for reasons that are different but connected. Jo*, definitely a sun, has always needed to be outside, his bright blond head bobbing through surf, carving along bike trails, everything fast and furious. We refer to him here as The Force of Nature and when he asks what his gift is, I always just say, "Life". And he so wants to please and be known for himself, not just for Mattman's younger brother. 

Mattman* is, I think, my moon. Silver haired, quiet, loving late nights watching (and discussing!) deep and complex movies. Where he is in relation to the difficulties he has with horrible people in school does in fact control the tides of this house. But his gift of wisdom was very clear even when he was a very small little man. He has insight that often pulls me up short. He sees very clearly where his schools have failed to help him, and is looking forward to his gap year with all sorts of expectations.

I'm trying not to dread next week's return and what it sends them both back into - lurking in the dense forest of assessments that they have entered today, now that the external exams have been cancelled. And I'm telling you this because I suppose I want to share the encouragement that I get from this app* when I don't know how to pray and can only ask forgiveness for my lack of belief. Pray as you go is gentle and still and very Godly.

This was today's reading from Isaiah 65. I'd recommend this morning's reflection. It's very lovely, and I suppose for me it's the same encouragement as last week's Micah passage:  the challenge to hold faith in God's future. The idea that there could yet be joy and delight for my sun and my moon* is wonderful, like the wonders of Micah 7 on the other side of the forest. The Pray as you go reflection from 10th March quoted Isaiah 50: "I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame."* And maybe one day even these former things will not be remembered, like the men who came out of the fiery furnace with not even the smell of fire on them.

Can I just thank all of you who have so openly and honestly shared your family stories* here in the Land of Blog? You have been a significant encouragement to this struggling mum. It is good to see God's faithfulness in real lives*.

So there we are, this week will hopefully be a time when we can slowly accustom our minds to The Great Return. I'm hoping we can have flint faces and joyful, faith-full hearts all at the same time. And I wish you all a gentle and faith-full week, with bursts of sunshine* and daffodils* and joy* x

You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.

(*up to 894 of years' worth of 1000 things for which to give thanks!)

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Lockdown lunches


I have never really listened to lots of music. In the car and at home I like to listen to Radio 4 and I suppose if I'm at a loose end I'll crochet if I'm in the living room with anybody else or read if I'm by myself. I've always preferred words to anything else - I've enjoyed the first act of any ballets I've been to, but then I just get a bit hungry for dialogue! This time last year, however, we very quickly got into the habit of switching Radio 2 on when it was lunchtime in Home School! The first and the best online purchases I made in Lockdown were my little digital radio* and this chromebook*. The three men of the house had every device in full use, two of them with their own Google log-in for school email and Google Classroom, so I decided to spend my saved petrol money on some technology of my own!

In the first Lockdown we took lunch at 12.30 which was just after the start of the Jeremy Vine show - lots of upbeat music that would totally lift the mood. It's been a bit of a revelation to me how powerful music can be in changing the tone of the day. So at 12.45 this Lockdown I still switch the radio on and turn the volume up so that everybody knows they can step away from their keyboards and gather.

I keep thinking I should email the Jeremy Vine show and thank them all for the very real role they've had in encouraging us through all These Strange Times.* What we love about Vine is "The Rant of the Day". Maybe I've talked about this already? We tune in with glee to hear the day's topic and shout back at the radio. Interesting family perspectives come to light. I'm imagining that today will be all about Prince Harry and Meghan's interview, which aired for us last night. I am going to state categorical disagreement with the Ginge and Whinge brigade. Anyone who has watched appalled as The Crown pours contempt on the establishment's treatment of Margaret and Diana shouldn't walk into this greenhouse with stones. I think. They have said what they think. They have done what they thought best. And who out of any of us has made right decisions every time there has been a decision to make? And ultimately, who owns the truth?

Anyway, I know I'll miss these lunchtimes we've been given together as a family. This year has given me a whole year with two boys who have over the last twelve months become men. It's time for which I am very grateful*. And when my two fly this nest and make all sorts of decisions for themselves, I hope we'll always be able to gather round a table somewhere and eat together without too much bitterness or regret. That's what I hope for H&M (also a clothes shop... ) Especially given the situation with Prince Philip.

This was my reading this morning. I have been appalling at reading my Bible recently. So much for Lent. Isn't it wonderful that God still draws us near and shows us things*, even when we've been lying about all over the place, watching Netflix and eating rubbish? Obviously I'm speaking to myself here. But this passage has given me such hope today. I have been hiding myself away in the safe pasture of our meadowplace for a year, quite contentedly. So it is of great comfort to me to think that we will be shepherded out of our Lockdown, rather than herded, by a gentle God of great provision*. And wonders? Wouldn't it be a fabulous thing to see wonders On the Other Side? Even if we continue in a desert of trials.


edit: Let me apologise profusely. I see now that I blogged about our beloved Jeremy Vine on only 19th January. How repetitive. You see how small my world is now!

*879-884 out 1000 to be grateful for!

Monday, 1 March 2021

The beginning of the end

 Is there that feeling where you are? That we are still living the effects of the Pandemic, but change is coming quickly now? At the start of last week I was really quite sad. It marked one month until the boys and I will go back to school, and I imagine that this really will be the last school closure. Mattman will have left school by the autumn anyway, and I do hope that the vaccine* will preclude the awful pressures we've seen on hospitals even if there are more waves to come.

I can't pretend that we have had a difficult time with restrictions. We are all here together*, all well*, all with everything we need and more*. Caring responsibilities have kept PC and me in our respective parents' houses*, and the privilege of strong broadband* and many devices* has kept us in touch with work* and school* and friends *and church*. In fact we have been more in touch with some friends*, and able to make many new friends*.

So at the start of this week, one of only three Mondays left until we go back into the big, bad world, I am deliberately making myself savour the moments left to These Strange Times, and giving great thanks for the year that we have had here in a Meadowplace. And I suppose with the year's anniversary coming up for us around St Patrick's Day, I want to spend the remaining time reflecting on the value we found in our particular locked down lives.

While I'm here, there was no review of February books because I did not finish one single thing. That's appalling! But it was somehow like those first weeks of the first Lockdown where I couldn't settle my mind enough to concentrate on either reading or crochet, when it was so hard to sleep at night. Without being aware of anxiety during the day, there was a feeling of fragility to the days. That was before we settled into glorious days of unprecedented good weather,* with all the baking of sourdough* and the interesting dinners*, and the Lockdown birthdays that needed creative celebration*!

But over the last week I have been dipping in and out of this poetry collection. Longley is a contemporary of Heaney, and I was taught Eliot's Wasteland by his wife in my first year as an undergraduate. It's interesting to read his poetic descriptions of her when I remember a stately, bohemian, aristocratic English woman bemoaning the fact that we were studying Wasteland at the start of our literary studies (when by implication we knew nothing!) instead of as an accumulation of references at the end. She always seemed harrassed and nervous, and I think I blamed Longley when in fact she must just have been distressed at yet another lecture theatre of students who thought they already knew everything when in fact they knew naught!

Anyway, here's my current favourite Longley excerpt, from "Leaving Inishmore". It says something about what this year has been for me! (And MK, I'm claiming this as my poetry anthology!)

Summer and solstice as the seasons turn/Anchor our boat in a perfect standstill

Happy Monday, world. Happy last few weeks of Lockdown x

*Ages ago I thought I'd count Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gratitudes and two years ago I got to 860. I really thought I'd got closer to the 1000 mark, but I can't find any more recent posts than this, so that's another example of my utter and characteristic lack of consistency! But with so much to be thankful for surely I can finally put this to bed?!! (878)

Saturday, 6 February 2021

First weekend in February

This week not only could we not really remember a pre-Pandemic world but we also started to struggle with memories of antediluvian life! We are obviously more than used to rain here in the Frozen North, but five solid, torrential, stormy days? That's rough even by our standards! But today, today the clouds scattered and we had a reprieve full of big blue sky. Just what we needed, now that January seems finally to have left us for another circuit of the year. 
The hurricane tree is still very bare, and I can't even see buds, but I did find snowdrops looking very confident in their overgrown corner of the drive. The maple tree too is leafless and budless, as far as I can tell. But the air whispers portents of longer days and fuller branches. I'm happy to be here, even in this chapter of our histories, as the air also whispers portents of a slow but steady end to These Strange Times, I hope. And isn't faith being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see?
So, this month I am doing this: 

Reading - absolutely nothing at the minute. I've hit a concentration hiatus. All recommendations welcome! I did read some Michael Longley poetry last night. His wife taught me The Waste Land at Queen's. She was wonderful!

Making - Cushla's Comfort is finished, bar a great big blocking manoeuvre tomorrow followed by some pompom attachment! Then I will have to work out how to get it to Downpatrick under the current restrictions. Maybe February will be the month I finish the skirt I started making LAST February... And then I'll discover that it doesn't fit my Lockdown body any more!

Doing - Trying to keep swimming, but my goodness, it was painful this morning. I only swam twice in January what with all sorts of body things, and I am now woefully de-acclimatised! Trying too to keep the boys working well through their home-schooling. Trying to keep God somewhere in the middle of it all. Trying to remember that I am a daughter as well as a mother, and a sister as well. 

Belfast 4 Corners Festival has been on this week - digitally, like so many other resourceful events. So something I have been doing is going to 10pm Night Prayers with Jim Deeds. a wonderfully reflective character on the creative spiritual scene in and around Belfast. The Festival's theme this year has been "Breathe", and for fifteen minutes every night we have been doing just that. Breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in God, and breathing out hope. It's been lovely. Try it x 


Monday, 1 February 2021

January Reading

 Happy St Brigid's Day! I wrote about St Brigid last year, just after I had made my first ever St Brigid's cross. Here it is a year on, the green of its sap all dried up, but still a promise of Spring! February has come round again, arriving in winter, and February will roll away again, but by then we'll have our lungs full of much less wintry air. Hopefully, at least, so let's not get our lungs filled up with anything else.

I noticed in last year's post that I had reread La Peste last January. I remember pulling Camus of the shelves and his feeling interesting and topical, but still a year ago there was no real sense of what was to come to all of us. At that stage we were watching the news from China and even Italy, but pandemic implications still seemed a distant thing.

MK has an interesting reading project this year. I'm always following everyone else's reading recommendations, so I thought this might help me think of what to read next. Having said that only two out of the three books I managed to read in January can be made to fit a category. I was a bit disappointed that I only read three books in the month, which did feel like a very long month! But I notice from last year's post that I only finished three in January 2020 as well, though maybe we shouldn't ever after use 2020 as much of a yardstick...

I reread Ali Smith's Winter in the New Year. She has been publishing a book a year for four years now, following the seasons, and using one of David Hockney's Yorkshire paintings for each cover. I saw this exhibition of his ages ago at the Guggenheim Bilbao, would you believe. All the way to Spain for a day to see an English's painter's Yorkshire series! Hockney looks at exactly the same scene at different times of the year, reflecting on the influence of the seasons on our daily lives. What a wonderful metaphor for the year we've been in.

Smith is doing much the same thing, ambitiously. Assessing Britain after Brexit in four seasons, in four sets of stories, all of which intertwine with other stories, worded in layers of scintillating, metaphysical word-play that Smith conjures with such a light touch for such erudition. I love her work. I definitely don't understand it all, but she must be the only author I can read and savour without even worrying about what the tranche of landscape hovering over Art's head at the Christmas dinner table means.

And trees. She writes a lot about trees, and I do love her trees. Hockney's too.

Mattman and I both got Richard Osman's new book for Christmas. He had mentioned it shortly before online Christmas shopping crossed its threshold and I silently wrote it on the list in my head. But Prince Charming apparently overheard our conversation and silently wrote it on the list in his head! I've passed my copy on to a maternity leave colleague who had twins last August. She's now at home with three boys under the age of three. It's the perfect book for her - clever and funny, but not at all hard to read. Much less concentration, and time, needed for this one than with Ali Smith!

Osman does something very brilliant with the detective genre, I think. I hardly ever read detective books, though I do fall into glorious binges of Dorothy L. Sayers every now and then. So I'm claiming this for "A book in a genre you don't normally read", even though Osman's intrigue feels very fresh and new. It reads like comedy most of the time, maybe because it's narrated partly by one of the characters through her diary. And you are piecing together the characters as you go, then, working out who you trust or suspect or like or don't. And what a cast of characters! Mostly residents in the most atypical pensioners' community you could imagine. I'm quite sure we have nothing like it here in Northern Ireland! It's a brilliant book really. I think it would satisfy the most meticulous detective reader, while still being very engaging indeed just on a human level for someone like me. There's a wonderful wonderful wonderful relationship between the main retired characters and the two police folk. That's all I'm saying. Read it!

And then because it is quoted in Smith's Winter and because of "A Shakespeare play" I ordered Cymbeline. I'm used to watching or rereading Shakespearean plays with which I am very familiar indeed. This is the first time in more than decades that I've come completely fresh to a new story. And what an amazing story to read! I think this may be my new all time favourite Shakespeare. I couldn't actually work out if it was tragedy or comedy. It has the heroes with the tragic flaws, and is absolutely dark enough to be tragedy. It has the separated children and the disguised noblefolk and the forests of the comedies. And, one of my favourite parts, it has a literal deus ex machina. I'm not going to tell you the end so I can't say more on category, but this was a genuinely edge of my seat, well edge of my bed, experience. I loved it. 

(And on an edge of your seat note - we are currently watching the utterly gripping Designated Survivor on Netflix. Kiefer Sutherland looking the same age as us. We're about to finish series 1 - no spoilers, please!)

So, fine far friends, here we all still are. We've survived January and nearly a year of These Strange Times. I send you much love and many prayers from the frozen north! And here are some more of Hockney's glorious trees: The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, in 2011 x

Tuesday, 26 January 2021


 We finally got snow. Proper snow. Snow enough to make snowmen, throw snowballs and scrunch with satisfaction through bouncy, snowy grass. And so, there was snowswimming! I went on the first morning when the snow was still quite light, but still!

Happy St Patrick's Day!

  I hope you've had a lovely 17th March! The weather was glorious here today, and legend tells us that this must be because St Patrick h...