Friday, 28 December 2012


Please help me! I am trapped in a land of perpetual Christmas.
Everyone has been sick since Christmas Eve, and, despite managing to pull off two days of surprisingly great food and lovely relaxed times, we have not been able to leave this house.
It is a surreal existence. Heads have had to be physically extracted from chimneys. Sprouts have been racing down the table.
Hobbits have taken over the front room.  Sorry, I meant to say Shire. 
The hours of the day are marked by feeding sessions only.
And I am constantly being quizzed on what fairy tales I can see in playdough creations.  Is there a life outside these walls? Will I ever emerge? Is anyone out there? AGHHH......

Monday, 24 December 2012

festive fraise

From our land to yours- a most Merry Christmas! Thank you for the wide horizons that open up from this tappy keyboard, and for the ideas, thoughts, inspirations and encouragements that you all share so freely and so beautifully. You are lights shining in the hundrum domesticity at all times of the year!  I look forward to reading you more in 2013 xxxx

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Only one guarantee

We went to see Rise of the Guardians on Friday when the guys finished school for Christmas. Interesting movie. Prince Charming didn't read it as a secularisation of Easter, and I'm quite sure the suns didn't either. Anyway, on the way home Belfast Lough was so covered in mist that you wouldn't have known that there was a city at the end of it at all. So we decided, in true Rise of the Guardians philosophy, that if we couldn't see Belfast then no-one must believe in Belfast.
I was thinking about this when we all went to Ivory for lunch yesterday. We were out on the balcony that usually has fairly super views overe the city's skyline, but the same mist was shrouding all but the nearest buildings. Maybe nobody does believe in Belfast anymore, I thought. And right on cue a merry band of flag protesters appeared right beneath our feet.
On their way to the City Hall again, I suppose, at lunchtime on the last Saturday before Christmas. Nice afternoon for the riot police trailing along in their wake. No doubt they'll still mention Titanic Belfast and the Queen's handshake when they review 2012, but you can see where it will all end.
We took refuge in wine and wordsearches! Here in Strawberry Land we are shaken by recent events all around us, but also by a frightening toll of marriage breakdown with family and friends. As Advent draws to a close we are clinging to the job that the baby came to do.
We had gone to the Ivory for lunch because it was our fourteenth wedding anniversary- for which ivory is apparently the traditional gift. Not wanting to have dead elephant on a shelf, however, we all had a really lovely time in the restaurant high up in Victoria Square. We had a table between the fish tank and the screen showing Elf. The marriages in trouble around us have all clocked up more than our fourteen years. No guarantees in life, I do often say. Except one. Except one Prince of Peace.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Winter Solstice

In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, so the Willows flew to the Sun.
Snow had fallen snow on snow, snow on snow. But Toad needed a parasol to keep the sun off when out and about in his open top tractor.
In the bleak midwinter, the only thing the Willows had in common with a preceding host was the need to keep ironing so that there might be room for the roast beast feast in the dining room.
 In the New Zealand midsummer poor Mole needed both sunhat and regular snoozes.
If it's dark and drear where you are, I would highly recommend festive visits to Angel Catherine in her Garden.  The boys are soaking up a whole new way of Christmas!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A mince pie invitation

Gretchen and I would like to know about your favourite mince pie recipe. I have a traditional strawberry recipe from Good Housekeeping Magazine's December 2000 edition. My Christmas Cake recipe comes from there too and it is fabulous. But, to be honest, the freeze ahead mince pies have never been fabulous.  They look a bit like these:
 When I think I'd rather they looked a bit like these:
Now the Platonic Ideal of a mince pie recipe doesn't have to look as progressive as these next ones:
I'd be very happy with an ordinary but muchly tasty mp, just like the one I had heated with cream in my favourite Belfast coffee shop with my favourite Prince today. Mmmm. Misty week before Christmas, nice and early in the day, before the rioters are out of bed....
So. If you have a preference for Delia or Nigel or Nigella or Jamie. Or if you have a link to The Best Mince Pie in the world, Gretchen and I invite you to let us know! Maybe you'd even like to blog the archetypal pie and we could enjoy it vicariously? There are so many pies out there, and only seven sleeps left!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Pause in Advent: Light

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out.

The Life-light was the real thing: every person entering Life he brings into the Light.

He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn't even notice.

He came to his own people, but they didn't want him.

But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, he made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

(John 1 from Eugene Peterson's Message)

Saturday, 15 December 2012


Today I have:
  • Raided the dressing-up cupboard for costumes for two wise men from the East
  • Taken all strawberries round the supermarket without anyone drawing blood
  • Bought everyone lunch at the supermarket to avoid having to make it and then wash it up afterwards
  • Made Christmas cake
  • Made jammy Christmas stars
  • Totally out of the blue helped another mum organise a puppet show for P4's Got Talent next Thursday. This involved digging out the puppet theatre, the puppets, packing Jo off to his co-puppeteer's house for an hour, and writing Scene One of Christmas in the Noisy Jungle.
  • Roasted a chicken for dinner
  • Made chocolate cake
  • Made rest of dinner
  • Ate and washed up dinner
  • Made crowns for two wise men from the East and helped them decorate same
  • Dug out gold ball thing from attic and negotiated frankincenese prop. Third time lucky...
  • Made courgette and walnut bread, staving off nut allergy boys from kitchen door long after they should have been asleep
  • Made vegetable soup with chicken carcass
  • Sat down with husband and eaten toast
The question now is- what would Margaret Claus do next? Would she go to bed with Father Christmas, or would she stay up and make the shortbread for the second of tomorrow's two parties after the Sunday School Nativity? I think we all know, even if we haven't seen Arthur Christmas! I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's Pause! (It just might not happen until the last mulled pie has been eaten...)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Elf and safety

I blame their school. All week it has been frosty and therefore slippy in the playground and we couldn't risk anyone falling, so they've been straight inside in the mornings, and inside at beaktime, and inside at lunchtime. Also admittedly we haven't walked once this week for much the same reason. Although I have been late to rise...

So I have two boys bounding with energy. One of whom is particularly bounding with energy. The singing one. Lots of boundless bounding. And singing. So tonight, after homework, I did something we haven't done for years. We put on coats and hats and gloves and went out to bound in the streets. Ostensibly we were counting how many Christmas trees had gone up on the avenue and around the block (24- appropriate number for the month). But actually we were working on the bound level. On decreasing the bound level!

And now, because the baked potatoes are still baking, we are researching Christmas trees. We got as far as here and stopped. We have found a bounding project- can you guess which one? It's not the one below, although it is my personal favourite. I like the atmosphere of utter unboundlessness. Thankfully tonight I'll be at the Hookery Christmas party. By the time I return they might be in bed...

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Second Sunday in Advent: Peace

Thank you, Ang, for our wise owl who is now perched knowingly in the tree. He watches and listens and reminds me with a nod that peace may not just be what you get when the house, and the Land, is still and quiet.
He speaks voicelessly of the peace that can hold sway even when the house is busy and the Land is divided and the lords are leaping and the tempers are fraying and the friction is close.
He gently hums this morning's carol, "Oh come, thou Day-Spring, come and cheer, our spirits by thy Advent here, disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and Death's dark shadows put to flight."

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh frozen North.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A rite of strawberry passage

Dear Z,

I am sorry that I cannot marry you on Friday because I am too young. I hope that we can get married when we are 18 or up. Would you like to come to my house next Friday?


Jo x

(They're 8...)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

First Sunday in Advent: Hope

Well, we had our Preparing for Advent morning yesterday. It was wonderful!  Wonderful women who came and threw themselves wholeheartedly into all the activities- especially the pear-making! (Mine has only just reached a form of completion- you can see where it might end up if its quality were of the edible kind!)

I was so struck by all that worries us in the Advent season that I've posted it as a page above. We are buffeted by such a list of things to do and think about and accomplish. It was good to have a whole morning to set those aside and try to fill ourselves up on what Advent really means to us, what we really want to convey to our families and those around us.

Last year I put out our Advent candle holder and noticed that we had decorations that said Joy, Peace and Love so I hung them on it. Mattman came to inspect, looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "Mum, you have no hope for Christmas." How insightful that sun is!  I told some friends about this, and a few evenings before Christmas, Queen Niqi arrived with a packet of cookies for us, and chatted about this and that without my shaking the sense that there was something that she wasn't saying. Eventually "I didn't want you to be without hope this Christmas, " she said, pulling out a tiny package that held the most beautiful hand-sewn pillow of Hope you could find.

I think if I wasn't being constantly reminded that Christmas brought us hope, I wouldn't be in the slightest bit hopeful of achieving anything!  But the Life-Light is coming into our worlds, and not the darkness, the busyness or the shopping can put it out.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Farewell to the Forest of Toon

So, enough of this tramping around aimlessly in the lovely woods. 'Tis time to engage with the frenetic activity of December. I have cleared most things from the Great Muddle, and still managed to have a very relaxing month. Taking a break from the whole thinking thing is most useful.

I even managed to find, at the back of the bread bin, Angela's marbles. This nearly pleased me more than anything. A dynamo of a woman like that really needs her marbles at this time of the year. They are somewhere between here and there, Ang, and will hopefully be with you in time. In time for what?  Only you could know.

Thank you, forest followers, for bearing with me in the Forest of Toon. I'll be back in the Land of the (sometimes tearful) Strawberries on Sunday for Floss's first Pause xx

Thursday, 29 November 2012


I'm nearly glad that tomorrow will be my last day in the Forest. It's getting very cold, and strange, over-sized vegetation is appearing.
Bubbling, fizzing and fermenting. It can't be entirely wholesome.
 And there are creatures too. I thought I was made of sterner stuff.
But clearly the Forest has tired of its interloper and I must hasten back to my own world!

Thanks to Charles and Niqi for a warm house and my jar of peanut butter, crunchy. Where better to prepare for Preparing for Advent on a day besieged by freezing fog?  There's safety in numbers!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


There must be something about November that speaks to our collective unconscious. In one of my former lives I was a swotty counselling student, and I have to say that I loved Jung. To me November is that gorgeously stark time when you get to roam around the crisp streets with a hat and not feel slightly ridiculous. I do love and adore being able simply to enjoy Winter without all the noise, noise, noise, noise that the Grinch despised!

I was looking back at other November posts on fraise, and came across this one from last year. I remember being so excited at the prospect of a whole month of Frances and wishing I had the commitment to be as hardy as the Philosopher! (Sorry, Sandra- another set of obscure references!) But there must be something about November that makes us want to achieve something, enjoy something that is all about the season and not the great lurching event at at year's close. I'm wondering is it a deep down impulse that we all share. Maybe it's just a blogging collective subconscious!

I started reading through John's book a few days ago. This morning I got to the bit where Jesus clears the Temple. This struck a chord, having spent a month trying to clear a Land. He looked at all the materialistic, commercial STUFF that had been brought into a place for quiet, holy attention and shouted, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

That struck a chord too. Coming out of the Forest of Toon could mean moving into Christmas. But I'm going to move into Advent instead, I think.  I also think that fraise might just be around for the Pauses in Advent that Floss is running again this year.  If you haven't come across these before do visit Troc, Broc, Recup and think about signing up. It's not so much collective subconscious as collective trying to be very conscious indeed! (And that makes me think of my favourite Collective of all, filmed in another Forest I know...)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Dear Ang and Pom Pom,

My month in the Forest of Toon is nearing an end. I would highly recommend a month of driftng through wintry glades with a warm hat and lots of tea.  But it's time to come out now.  I am finally getting to the end of the list of all those things that I should have done many moons ago.  You were both the last entries on my Things to Post list, and I went to the post-office with your parcels this morning. Ang will know exactly what her parcel holds, as I have had to beg her countless times to email me the page numbers AGAIN! But Pom, I think you'll have completely forgotten what's in yours, so that might be a surprise!

I have learnt an incredible amount from both of you.  I am very grateful to Floss for her Pauses- I think I read you both first at her Pause in Lent one year.  Blogging is such a valuable resource, I think.  So thank you for your company in the forest! I wish you both a rich Advent time, and I will be reading your pauses with much love xx

Monday, 26 November 2012

Wardrobes in the Forest

No self-respecting forest should be without a wardrobe. How else do you find your way in and then your way out? This used to be the boys' wardrobe, and it was put out early last week for a charity to collect. They didn't come. Then someone from Freegle was interested, but after three days of unresolved emails, our kind neighbour's kind son-in-law helped PC heave it onto the roof-rack and now it is gone to another local charity. I miss it! I think we did actually start to believe that if we opened the door slightly we would hear Aslan roar. I know that the suns opened it slightly every time they went past. We had decided that if no-one could use it, we would take the back off the poor thing and install it at the bottom of the garden, with some old coats hanging inside; you never know!
This is the boys' new (to them) wardrobe. And it does now hold a bit of a surprise. Jo and I worked on it this evening when Mattman was down at BB.  Now that Little Baby Bear has this burgeoning wardrobe, he obviously needs somewhere to keep it. So we made him a...
He seems more than happy, as does Jo. The top shelf is empty, Frances, because it is for hats. And he will be getting a hat very soon. But not yet, because...
Mattman is now completely disgruntled that LBB is getting all this new attire and Ducky still doesn't have his superhero cape. This is a long story. So no hat for LBB until D has his cape, and we will be working on that tomorrow night when Jo will be down at BB. It's the wardrobe week in the Forest. I'll be more than happy to exit portal right on Saturday, I think. Not that all this wardrobing is getting me loser to a cleared To-Do List. But my head is definitely clearer, and I am feeling very ready for Advent. Especially having seen the Christingle candle that Mattman brought home from BB tonight. We'll be letting our light shine in the Forest all week.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Cycle home with Aaron

You may remember me enthusing about a young friend of ours who has been cycling from Istanbul to Belfast. Dormouse was brave and generous enough to take him in after he flew down some Alps! His blog is here, but I am copying his latest facebook itinerary- just in case any kind UK bloggistes should discover that this extraordinary person will be cycling through their land!

"So I've now cycled from Istanbul to Paris.
From here I'll be taking the ferry across the Channel from Dieppe to Brighton,
then roughly going through Guildford,
up along the Welsh border to Liverpool,
on up to Carlisle,
swinging East along Hadrian's wall to Newcastle,
then North again to Edinburgh,
and finally out to Oban,
taking the small ferry from Campbellown to Ballycastle
and down the coast to Belfast!

The question is; would you like to cycle with me for a bit, OR have me sleep on your floor/camp in your garden?

I would love to see as many people as posssible. Especially those who want to go out for a ride!"

If you're on facebook you can find him under Cycle Home with Aaron. You'll be able to contact him there, or we're happy to pass  onany comments left on fraise. Bonne route!

Four course hospitality II

Dear Ang,

When we arrived we stood and sat around the island in the enormous and raftered kitchen drinking all sorts of lovely things. The children ate spaghetti with a homemade sauce that had red peppers and more flavour than my spaghetti sauce has known ever.

When that was all done and cleared away the adults took to the dining room and had:

1. A selection of salad leaves with buffalo mozzarella, pearls of mozzarella, beetroot, and a drizzling of balsamic vinegar.

2. Potage rougemont: an apple soup named after the area in Quebec where the apples grow. A puree of apples, leek, celery, onion, with dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Served with seasoned and warmed tortillas, smeared with homemade hummous.

3. Rack of lamb served with mint sauce- fragrant as anything and freshly made with white wine vinegar- and couscous, green beans, and carrots. It was a small consolation to learn that the couscous was Ainsley Harriott's!  Every little helps...

4. Homemade cheesecake. This was a cheesecake that had been baked in a bain-marie for most of the night. At 2am Marie-Eve had discovered that it wasn't cooking, so stayed up until 5am until it did.  Served with homemade strawberry coulis. The trick in the coulis is to whisk the egg-white first.

Hoping you'll be as speechless as we were!  The thing is, we will obviously now be inviting these cheffy folks back to Strawberry Land, where somehow the standard beef and Guinness casserole might not hit the mark.  So, if you have any ideas about entertaining chic and sophisticated palates- do tell!

This being Stir-up Sunday, I will be making my Christmas Cake- since no-one eats pudding. And I will be signing up to Floss' Pause in Advent. And I will go on salivating at the thought of last night!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Four course hospitality

We're just in from chez Marie-Eve and Isaac. I can highly recommend befriending interesting people in the post office. Especially if they are Quebecers who like to cook. But don't call them French Canadians. That would appear to be a bit of a sore point. More similiarities with us Frozen North folk than I might have imagined!

As a general rule I can highly recommend hospitality in whatever form as a sign of the Kingdom.  When you're a sort of worker cum sort of stay aroundish mum cum former very involved in stuff person, it's a nice way of still feeling connected. Unlike texting, which we have all decided tonight to be too impersonal. But then that could be the gluttony talking. You don't get a four course meal in a text!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Here it comes

Hey, Forest followers. I think I can see a path out of the yellow woods. I might even be ready to take it by next week's end.  It's been nice in here. All these gorgeous wintry skies and stripped back trees.  Wrapping up and moving in the air that tastes good. I walked down to school this afternoon with Alexander (and his mum) and positively envied the way he stuck out his tongue to grasp every cold breath.

Even I can see, however, that the Christmas thing is upon us. I've been gatecrashing other people's parties all day!  This morning Jo's class walked to our area's outdoor Christmas tree for the lighting thereof.  I stopped there on my way home from the supermarket.  Carols, the local ministers, mummies and folk, and a man in red- that was the Mayor in his robes. Santa came at the end. We all stood at the edge of the Lough and cheered when the invisible lights came on. It was such a bright, stark day!

Then this afternoon I drove PC into the city to meet up with colleagues for his first Christmas "lunch" of the season. So we parked early and had a stroll around the Continental Market which is in full annual swing.  Alcohol-frei gluhwein and half an hour of a husband's hand and full attention!

At least later on Cooking Catherine and Queen Niqi came round to prepare for Preparing for Advent. We have just over a week to go!  It was very exciting. We rejigged plans completely and have lists of lists of things to do! So if you're in the greater Belfast area on Saturday 1st December, do come and carve some space for yourself before the Christmas thing takes over- and if you're not, well, all things are possible!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Happy Feasting

Dear American friends,

Who knew when they embarked on their blogging adventure what new lands and adventures and friends were there for the experiencing? Maybe the Pilgrim Fathers felt much the same. I did my best to explain the Thanksgiving story on our walk to school this morning, and tonight we have been engaged in some cultural research.  We have eaten turkey in your honour too! In our listing of things to be thankful for I said I was grateful for my American blog friends who bring such deeply interesting ideas and images, and with them such kindness, right here into Strawberry Land. Thank you, and may your Feast have been fine x

(ps I suppose those sweet potatoes with marshmallows wouldn't travel very well?)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hookery in the Forest

 Dear Queen Niqi and Lorna,

What a lovely surprise to have you both call in tonight!  I'm nearly glad that no-one had showed up at Hookery if it meant having such pleasant company while PC was at band practice.  How fascinating tomorrow morning will be, Lorna- being an extra in an as yet unspecified movie, shot right here in Belfast. I'm glad you chose the black dress; it's the one I liked.

And thanks Niqi for bringing cake. You really are the queen of Hermans!  It's always nicer in the Forest of Toon with friends. And very much nicer with friends who bring cake...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Another letter from the Queen- but this one's real!

Dear Your Majesty,
Thank you very much for your thank you note to Jo which arrived today.  We are all feeling extremely special indeed!  He very much likes the pictures, as well as the lovely words. He wanted to know if you would have put his hand-made stand-up card on your desk. I told him that I was sure that it was right at the front somewhere on a mile-long table in a more than mile-long room in Buckingham Palace with all the other beautiful cards.

Don't worry for one moment about the delay. I for one can sympathise with tardy postage.  I did try to explain to Jo at the time that many, many people would be inspired to write to you because of the Jubillee thing, and I'm sure most of them didn't wait until the day of your Thames trip to do it.  You are most gracious, and we are most impressed.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

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