Sunday, 19 December 2010

Pausing on the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Since Elisabet was standing in front of a real Christmas nisse, she ran right up to him and felt his red cloak. Then he bent down and lifted her up on his arm. She tried to pull his beard to find out whether it was real, and it was.

'Why are you so kind?' she asked.

Ho, ho!' laughed the man in red again. 'The more we give away, the richer we become, and the more we keep for ourselves, the poorer we become. That's the mystery of generosity, neither more nor less. But it's the mystery of poverty too.'

The angel Impuriel clapped his hands. 'Well spoken, Bishop!'

-If you haven't already put The Christmas Mystery on your Amazon Wishlist, you'll not have the chance to be delighted by the pilgrims' arrival in Myra in 322AD on December 19th! Suns on edge of bunk beds and Dad creeping in from Carol Service to have an update in excited stereo. Very clever meeting of Bishop Nicholas and the Wise Men!

Schools still closed due to snow here, so the holidays appear to be starting! A Merry Wonder-filled Deep Down Tummy Love Christmas to you all, dear, inspiring, encouraging bloggistes! I have loved this year in Blogdom and look forward to the next! More Friday Cake Bakes, the rest of Alphabe-Thursday, and lots and lots of Pom Pom, Angela, Left-Handed, oh the wealth of it all! The mysterious generosity of you!

Love from all at the Land of the (sometimes tearful) Strawberries xxxxx

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

No, they're not weeping angels! But they do appear to want in...

As one of my all time favourite quotes would have it: "Kipper was very positive about snow!"

Last day of uniforms and nearly of macarons

I remember last year feeling a very distinct line between Advent and Christmas and being indeed quite reluctant to cross it! This year it is all steaming along with its own momentum and I am cheerfully powerless to have so much as an opinion thereon!

We have had Jo's school play, finally, after snow disruption necessitated a daily performance for most of a month! We have attended our first senior school Carol Service and been moved by the passion of still enthusiastic P4 singers.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the round of parties and non-uniform days, so my L for Alphabe-Thursday is a resounding last day of uniforms and a less resounding last three macarons from Paris! I plan to ration them strictly; hopefully their demise will coincide with Sunday's mince pies and mulled stuff and the sharing of muchly festive fayre! Ready, steady, ....

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Pause in Advent- Sundays Two and Three!

Bonsoir, companion bloggistes! I have had more than a week off now, and feel ready to offer humble adventures in Advent! Last Sunday I lit my candle here:

It was a whole weekend of abundant peace- much more than Mrs Large's three minutes and forty-five seconds! With lots of opportunites to kneel with all the santon figures of French nativity, a little teacher beside the little millers and shepherds and holy family waiting for the empty crib to be filled.

From the very beginning, reading a whole newspaper and supplements start to finish on the outward trip, I felt released, especially wandering the markets with a vin chaud in hand!

And less like a woman made up entirely of small toys and other flotsam and jetsam of family life, strung out for all to see her weaknesses and helplessness. The morning of sharing His peace with all languages and nations in Notre Dame led to an afternoon of un-peace, being challenged at Beaubourg. Yet both were invigorating! It was good to think as well as breathe!

So now I am home. Where the rhythm of my daily millimetre is less monotonous, with the undercurrent of Immanuel's joy welling up and breaking through! May joy be yours this week and next week and always!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Jis for Joachim and Jesus

I'm now one day late for Alphabe-Thursday again. Oh dear! But this week's J will have to be for Joachim's Advent calendar (see The Christmas Mystery). Elisabet has met the angel Ephiriel and now knows that her race across countries is also taking her back through time.

Elisabet had stopped crying. 'To Bethlehem?'

'Yes. To Bethlehem, to Bethlehem! For that's where Jesus was born.'

Elisabet was very surprised by what the angel had said. In an attempt to hide her astonishment she began to brush soil and grass off her trousers. There were some nasty stains on her red jacket too.

'Then I want to go to Bethlehem,' she said.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Christmas Mystery

This is my advent calendar- one chapter for every day until The Day. I've just read it with the boys for the first time. Jo fell asleep half-way through, but Mattman most fascinated.

Do you know it? I'm already wary of the consequences of a sub-story about a girl who runs away from her mother in a shop! And how much of John's tale will they grasp? But then I grasp something new from this book every year. From the first year it gave me my image of wisdom- more of that when its day comes! The outstanding quote for today was most apt given my quick and fruitless dash to the local shopping cente tonight!

Perhaps the reason the lamb had come to life and run away from the big store was that it could no longer bear to listen to the cash registers and the talk about buying and selling. And perhaps that was why Elisabet was following it. She had never enjoyed shopping....

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Why I have fallen in love with The Cosy Chair

The green tea is organic, delicious and comes with an outrageously decadent teapot, which must surely have been missed by now chez mad Hatter.

The dresser is black as black can be and would surely have pleased Morris in both look and functionality.

It is uber-stylish, but tiny. And dark in colour, yet warm in tone. And very, very new!

And when you ask hesitantly about nut content for suns, a wide, sweeping arm takes in the whole counter and smiles!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

You know you're approaching a major Christian festival...

... when you can neither walk around the house nor hear yourself think. Nor get anything done because you keep getting distracted by songs you like!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Preparing for Advent 2010

I have no words! Thanks, Angela, for praying for us- I told the team about you! I feel I could just skip right through the next 34 sleeps right now!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Preparing for Preparing for Advent

Preparing for Advent is tomorrow. Still a little list of things to bake and assemble and print off. But I am excited, full of expectation. Usually before something like this I would be panicked and grumpy. But this is special!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

I is for....Ideas anyone?

Six year old Jo: Innocent. (Don't you find this impressive? I most certainly did, right up until I woke up in the night wondering why he was protesting innocence. Free the Strawberry One.)

Seven year Mattman: Interesting. Is. It. In. "Is it in? That makes a sentence, you know, Mummy."

42 year old Mags: Insects.

Disproportionately not what I was expecting... Aphabe-Thursday is here!

ps Frances, I always think you're funny!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

In praise of stripes, sponge and Folly

So here are the stripes. I couldn't take a photo that didn't look dark and unimpressive. Not even of the reading chair that now sits at the heart of the home and where we all spend some portion of our day! We love the stripes.

Really couldn't say the same of tonight's first attempt to make a real sponge cake. Oh my. We had even invited very good friends for tea and the cake. Flat as omelettes and tasted as eggy. Cranks cookbook said to use 4 eggs and vanilla essence and only one ounce each of sugar and flour. Can this be right? I didn't think my whisking was effective though. Salvaged by making mini sandwiches with cream inside and jam on top. Politely eaten. Comestible as Nedboy would say!

Took refuge in Erasmus. Only because Prince Charming has driven down into the slow marshes of academia for his latest Local Preachers unit. "Have you heard of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Mags?" he foolishly asked from the reading chair last night. I am still living with the consequences of my proud and patronising response!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Hopeless homework

My homework for this week's alphabe-Thursday is hopeless. It might be taken as a tribute to all the exam pupils I have known and loved who write their name at the top and spend the next hour and a half doodling.

I was going to be Happy because November is my favourite month, I have decided. But then I logged on and read all the fabulously sensitive and moving Remembrance posts and Happy seemed inappropriately jolly.

Mattman has been working on Remembrance for two weeks in school now and told me proudly that he had stood quietly behind his chair for a minute and remembered. I didn't. Hopeless.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Ou est le marche de Noel le plus proche, s'il vous plait?

I was doing so well in my quiet resolve to keep Christmas until Christmas; I really was! 'Twas the month before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was coveting, not even the strawberry mice, but then....

The mother of a singing friend who studies in Paris proudly emailed the brochure for Beatrice's first public performance. On the evening of Sunday 5th December. A little seed was sown. A big present from PC was the fruit!

Hence a very excited friend and an extremely excited I will be flying to Paris on the Saturday- well, a lunchtime flight on Sunday wouldn't make the travelling worthwhile?- and coming home on the Monday. The third Sunday in Advent represents Peace- peace and beauty and beaucoup de chocolat or indeed vin chaud.

For this is where we plan to spend lots of time!

ps If anyone knows how to do accents in bloggais, I would obviously need a crash course!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Greatitudes 325 - 330

I know that I am far too late for Multitude Monday and a whole day late for Alpabe-Thursday but in the excitement of new carpet coming yesterday, for which the computer and the rest of the family room had to be dismantled, and also in the rush of having to collect Mattman from his friend's and then get to the Library, well, Jenny, therein lies my excuse note! G is for my greatitudes, a personal fusion of gratitude and beatitude.

So the stripey colours came, not only replacing the eleven year old once pristine carpet, but also inspiring us to bring just some of the original furniture back in. So now there is the most uplifting feeling of space. We all love it- the boys have discovered that below the now totally exposed shelves, behind the new chair position is a perfect cosy den.

There will be, however, no photos. This week Mise and her white heaven haven have been in a magazine. I am reeling from the fact that such a celebrity might sometimes come to call in the Land of the Humble Strawberries! And indeed we have been busy with friends and visits these last few days, which reminds me of not so long ago, before the lachrymose times, when our philosophy here practised hospitality as a sign of the Kingdom. That has been nice!

Yesterday's caller came for a trial run of the craft session for this year's Preparing for Advent, and that was most exciting! So I leave you with a sneak preview. It may be 50 sleeps to Christmas, but it's only fifteen until our second half day of coffee, cookery, craft and Jesus calm for busy women before the full on-slaught begins.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Visiting bishops

It was an anglican church warden, Mise, and he drank his coffee from a little coffee mug thrown by the potter in the courtyard behind the Kilkenny Design Centre! The holy pumpkin was donated by our rector this morning!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Thursday, 28 October 2010

fraise's favourite films of the fortnight

Prince Charming and I actually left strawberries at home (with a responsible adult) last week and went to have our (my) addiction to facebook challenged by The Social Network. Yes indeed! I had been bowled over by Claudia Winkleman's debut on Film 2010, and still had her resounding praise for the script resounding in my head. What a script! I loved the movie. Intelligent, imagery-packed, very challenging time well-spent. I would have to suggest, however, scepticism over closing scene?

This week obviously called for The Family Holiday Film, and the choice was made by Cooking Catherine who wanted to see Despicable Me 3D "with us". I suppose accompanying a family of small boys is the perfect excuse for a family of very quite nearly totally grown-up boys to be there! Fine choice. I worried that it was slightly subtle for the strawberries but they said that they had liked it all- especially the bit where he loses his trousers. We're very much at the toilet humour stage here!

I loved, loved, loved Margo. I want her glasses and her jacket. I did also love Edith's attachment to her hat. I imagine she would feel without it as I do in this trying-to-cut-down-on-facebook stage. Which, in fact, mirrors Mattman's struggle this week to stop sucking his fingers, which in turn necessitates going to sleep without Duckie, but I digress...

I thought one opportunity was lost in the film- Gru should have turned out to be a children's author. I was absolutely convinced that this would be the denouement. Alas no. But it does leave me wondering how many arch villains turn to more constructively creative jobs at times of amoral crisis. Left-handed Housewife- any thoughts?

(This was my now weekly Alphabe-Thursday panic. There being no thought in my head other than surviving half-term and working out what on earth to do about our annual Pumpkin Party being on a busy Sunday...)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

E is for exploring while expecting emails

I realised with horror this evening that it was Thursday again. Why does life fly past so much more quickly when you are able for a brief respite to revel in the crisis-free bliss of the ordinary?!

So, having no photos of mine own from Tuesday's Bean Birthday and hence none of my wondrous crochet creation, expecting at every moment to receive an email with a friend's photos, I shall have to extend the word explore for this week's Alphabe-Thursday!

Explore the Argory, County Armagh. National Trust property. Choose a spot underneath this chestnut tree at this time of the year and wait for the wind to blow. Stand clear!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Chains of Clown- Patons Fab DK

Oh I have been working with this tonight and it is a cheerful joy! Just the thing after Thursday's post! It is the season of another Bean Birthday, so I can say no more...., until Tuesday!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

A Danger Down

Turn back all ye from Alphabe-Thursday who want a jolly D. It's a post like this that puts the lachrymose in the fraise! I am very down about danger this week. In our very local news: meningitis, fatal car accident, bomb alerts and homes evacuated across the province.

Is there no stage of life at which the worry stops?

I am challenged by the stoicism, courage and faith of the Chilean miners. They really did find danger deep down. How fabulous is their resurrection. Angela's post, as always, says it all...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Onion Marmalade

This recipe came to me at the weekend from the repertoire of the Amazing Cooking Catherine who has it from the Julia Child of Ireland- Darina Allen.

2oz butter
1 1/2 lb onions- thinly sliced
5 oz caster sugar (I used light brown, because I try not to do refined until it's white)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
7 tbsp sherry vinegar (I only had cider vinegar)
9 fl oz red wine
2 tbsp creme de cassis (great supermarket helpful lovely man very late at night!)

Melt the butter until it is nut brown, toss in the onions and the sugar; add salt and pepper; stir well. Cover and cook for 30 minutes over a gentle heat, stirring from time to time with a wooden spatula. Just time to do some ironing! Add vinegar, red wine and creme de cassis. Cook for 30 minutes uncovered, stirring regularly. Time to do slightly less ironing!

I am now looking out for little jars and thinking that this could have Christmas gift potential. At least, that is what I would be thinking if it was November. Official Strawberry Land point of thinking about Christmas. Not before! Unless it's Darina Allen...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Greatitudes 314-324

I sat in blazing autumnal sunshine at lunchtime today, eating left-over chicken and squash risotto with fresh-from-the-saucepan onion marmalade. The recipe will follow tomorrow, so impressed am I at how easy it is to be impressive with lots of onions and a saucepan. And creme de cassis. A helpful supermarket man comes in handy on that one!

This is a glorious autumn! Not only are bunches of grapes hanging off the vine we planted in a former pre-child life, but mellow fruitfulness is coming in even more life-enriching ways. Our special sun is, say his teachers, showing himself to be much less special indeed. And I am revelling in the fabulous grace of the ordinary. He read two books in quick succession this afternoon, having flown through a comprehension. A small blog that struggles to be faithful, let alone grateful , consumed by sinning worry, has not words enough to say thank-you. But its soul sings.

And pumpkin boy, distraught at having outgrown his small sized pumpkin suit, is now fully clothed. The same helpful supermarket supplied a very grow-with-pumpkin-boy pumpkin suit and the next shop gave us this:

No doubt all will make an appearance at the Not So Scary Party we now have tickets for over the holidays- Mr Hullaballoo and his puppets never fail to charm! Oh sunny bloggistes, o frabjous day, I'm thanking Him for you too!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

C is for the contemplation of conkers

Every day now they come home from a trip down the street to the chestnut trees of the Bowling Green with pocketfuls of conkers. The Autumn plate has been upgraded to an Autumn basket, and since this picture of early morning was taken the candle has been practically submerged below the latest harvest!

However, C should also be for clutter. I thought my Autumnal meditation was the last photo on the camera, but obviously Jo has been snapping in my absence... Hence the full story of life in the Land of the (sometimes tearful) Strawberries- collections of clutter!

Another week, another Alphabe-Thursday!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Greatitudes 301- 313

The Sunday School class I help with made gratitude crosses yesterday, so I thought, Great, my list is done! But after church, and after communion, a little thing happened that was over so quickly I don't think many would have noticed, but it has haunted me ever since.

The basket of communion bread was still sitting on the table, and everyone was standing around talking and clearing up and there was that nice buzz that you get when people have worshipped together and are communing on a less formal level.

So the basket of bread was there, waiting to be cleared away. I was sitting in the front row waiting for PC to tidy up his guitar and tie up with the sound guys, and the suns were on either side of me playing, and then I noticed that some of the other children were up at the table at the bread basket.

And they were gorging on the pieces of bread, absolutely falling on them and devouring them in handfuls. Their mouths were not big enough for the fistfuls of bread that they were eating with surreptitious side glances at the women who were pottering around.

And I can't get that out of my head! That falling on the body of Christ, and devouring that grace as if your very life and essence depended on it. The exhileration of something that shouldn't belong to you, but you will have it, and have in all abundance.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Friday Cake Bake for a boy who is now 6!

I can bake but I cannot decorate to save myself! Happily Queen of Craft Niqi makes me customised cupcake boxes for when one needs a little lift!

Linden Grove has mouthwatering scones today- we had 42 buns in the oven (!) last night for Joshua's birthday break in school, and if I could summon up any energy at all after school today and then his family party I would embark on the pirate cake for his friends' party tomorrow.

Happy Birthday, Jo. One of the two best things I ever cooked!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Belated Books- beware: this is lengthy! Get some tea!

I had promised to talk about brilliant books I read this summer and so once again Alphabe-Thursday prompts me to do what I wanted to do but never did- and at least it's still September! And Left-Handed Housewife might still talk to me if I do!

I actually started with The Outcast by Sadie Jones. C lent it to me one Friday night. I put the boys to bed and started reading at 9.30pm. I rang her at 10.30pm to discuss. I read until it was finished- 2.30am Saturday. I rang her 10am to discuss again! Family and society fail a traumatised child in post-War middle-class England. Harrowing, challenging, obviously influenced by Camus's Outsider but all her own tapestry of pain. With lovely hope as the weft!

Then I got into the car and drove to France. On passenger stints I devoured Family Album by Penelope Lively. C had been totally disturbed to find herself, she thought, a character in Outcast; well I was destroyed by the mother in Album! It's one of a very few books since university that I annotated as I went along!

"This is all she ever wanted: children and a house in which to stow them- a capacious, expansive house... And Denby ovenware and a Moulinex and a fish-kettle and a set of Sabatier knives. She has all of these things and knows that she is lucky. Oh, so lucky." And so obtuse, and so so wonderfully, brilliantly terrifying!

This one I got at a service station somewhere in England, and it sounded interesting. I read it in Brittany,and it was. It articulated much of what I had tenuously formulated from studying French, working in France, teaching French. It explores the differences between cultures, between women, between "natives" and immigrants, between bling bling Sarkozy and what has gone before. I did test out many theories on a French family who came to dinner here in August, and they did concur!

I discovered Barbara Pym one dusty night shelving in the Library last year, and read Excellent Women. I had found this gorgeous reprint last Spring and put it aside for holiday reading- perfect for this: it's entertaining and blithe, but cutting too. Pym makes me think of Cranford with its petty quotidien lives of single women of a certain age who are nonetheless heroines of stoicism and hope. I loved Tame Gazelle, partly because so much of its satire revolves around church life! But it did make me wonder where the feminist literature is now- who celebrates single women? That got me thinking about Margaret Drabble's Millstone, which is obviously a generation ago. But is Lisbeth Salander really the champion of strong, single women today?

And so to Jasper Fforde. I want to like him. I do. It's just such a wade to get through! He took up most of the rest of the holidays! I find myself thinking that these would be good books for the boys when they're older! But you know when you just want to read something that makes you laugh? Still clever and scintillating and all P. G. Wodehouse or Georgette Heyer or Bill Bryson or who?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Julie and Julia

Nedboy confesses himself most "chuffed" at all the wonderful comments, and he promises to make further guest appearances. Me, I haven't dared raise my head since! Instead I have been discovering, light years after the rest of the bloggiste community, the joys of Meryl Streep and Julia Child and the wonderful Julie who makes me weep and laugh and smile at her romantic relationship with her husband!

And the food! And the feel of Paris! And the blogging! I'm loving it in small doses as I curl under a blanket at lunchtime, just before walking down the increasingly leaf-wet hill for Jo. It's a nice way to end September!

Time stands still

 Hello! Sending you all lots of love from Northern Ireland, where nothing much changes just as everything changes, as usual. Time has stood ...