Monday, 23 December 2013

Last Pause in Advent

We celebrated the last Sunday in Advent with our annual mince pies and mulled stuff open house. It was also our wedding anniversary. All quite fitting for the Sunday of Love! We thanked the friend from church who chooses the hymns for keeping "Love came down at Christmas" for this week's morning service. It was the second hymn at our wedding. I had made carrot and coriander soup only because I bought lots of carrots this week, having forgotten that we already had lots of carrots. Carrot and coriander soup was the starter at our reception.  Fifteen years of I don't quite know what. But we're still here so far!

Our children's address yesterday was all about being rescued. I'm thankful that Jesus came to rescue, because I need that a lot.

We are falling in to bed here; four pilgrims on the way to Bethlehem, and it's very close now. I hope your journey into Christmas will be calm and fun, quiet and bustling, full of magic. Merry Christmas xx

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Pause in Advent

I was born and bred in Belfast and this is well apparent to anyone who listens to me! I hope it's not as gruesome an accent as the one used by the woeful guy on the Radio 4's Ed Reardon today, but I digress. This is, in short, a city that I love.
Voici St Anne's Square- one of our newest "quarters". It is jam compote full of trendy restaurants and the MAC- our fabulous new theatre/art exhibition space/ restaurant. The square takes its name from the neighbouring cathedral where Black Santa is one of Belfast's cherished traditions. The current Dean of the cathedral wraps himself in a black cape against the frozen north, and collects money from today until Christmas Eve. The money is then distributed to chosen charities and appeals.
This was St Anne's Square on Friday night past. Restaurants and theatre had just been evacuated when the small device in someone's holdall exploded. No-one was hurt, but the estimated cost was put to £5000. Per restaurant. The next day they were open and ready for business.

Political rant over. Now to my Advent thought. I have been trying to have an active Advent. I am trying to use the time to look at this little Belfast life and ask God to incarnate more of Jesus in it. So this week I'm thinking about the family tickets we have for Hatch this Friday night. It's the Christmas show at the MAC in St Anne's Square. Our intention was to have dinner in one of the restaurants beforehand.

Do we cancel our tickets and cower at home and join those who would have us head straight back into the darkness of the 1970s? No. Our intention is still to eat probably in the Potted Hen, the restaurant to the immediate right of the explosion. Then we'll head in to see Hatch. Because maybe Christmas can be about taking a stand. Jesus certainly took a huge one.
Joining Floss and many others more articulate than me!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Pause in Advent

Advent is turning out to be one of desired action this year. Doing something. Doing something right. Living what I profess. This would be badly needed in my life just now! Lots of incarnation desired, please. Then on Thursday night we had our annual Preparing for Advent event, for about-to-be-stressed-by-Christmas women. My job is to be the jolly everyone along person- keep the activities moving and make sure everyone is happy. I also have to do the meditations. This is the harder bit!
I had come up with what I thought was a pretty nifty idea. That present above left is a pass the parcel. As it went around and the music stopped, someone would rip off a layer of Christmas wrapping that would fall discarded to the floor, and a little label would ask them a question about their experiences of Christmas. I had told them that the final box held something very precious. When we got to the little box, it was empty. At Preparing for Advent we try to offer folk an opportunity to take some still, reflective time before the mad rush really starts. This, I said, is tonight's gift.
Then, when we went into the craft room to have a go at willow stars and tie wreaths, I gave everyone boxes to make. They had to have one done by the end of the night. In our last thought for the night I passed around a tin with Hope, Peace, Joy and Love written on pieces of card. Everyone had to choose one, or even more. They could choose randomly or deliberately. The point was that they could put some peace, hope, joy or love into the empty space of their own box, and fill Advent with what was important to them, as well as all the wrapping. This was Catherine's pretty nifty idea!
I had cut out lots of extra cards, so that people could take more than one, and have a proper choice. I was the last person in the circle to choose. When the tin came back to me there were only two cards left. Both said joy.  I can tell you that I was amazed. One week into an Advent of feeling that I need to work harder, try harder, be holier, what does God give me? A double dose of joy for Advent.

So this week what I am doing is trying to smile more. Broadly.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The wise man

The strawberries have only just gone to sleep. I let them stay up late tonight to watch BBC1's documentary on Mandela. They did well. They were educated last Christmas in the politics of protest by the nightmare flag situation here in Northern Ireland. The days and nights of questions and ensuing discussion seem to have produced two boys who understand what it is to be so angry that you take to the streets, and who may have their own ideas on the line between peaceful and violent. Admittedly, they're more likely to have those of their parents. I'm hoping I wasn't the only Northern Irish parent watching, and talking, with young men.

When we finally made it upstairs to be bed we still had tonight's chapter of A Christmas Mystery to read. We all caught the perfection of the introduction of Caspar into the story on the very day when they had heard of Mandela's death. (They were in bed last night when we heard.) This is what we read,

"You see, at the moment I am the only black man in the whole of Denmark, at least the only one who is a King of the Orient besides. That sort of thing attracts attention, my friends, for people find it difficult to get used to something completely different."

Thursday, 5 December 2013

View from the Window

View from the dining room window at five to midnight. It has been stormy, stormy since this time last night. I fell asleep to the sound of howling wind and thrashing trees. I do love weather! It is dark and wet and the year is closing. Everything is ending, and everything is ablaze with lights. Everything is shutting down and shutting up, and everything is filling with great portent. And I still have a tiny, little angel costume to sew for Mattman's (Mummy) homework. Goodnight, wild world, Mandiba, and Jane in the wild woods xx

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Pause in Advent

Mattman did the last of his three big tests on Saturday morning. This was a huge blessing! An end to many months of hard work on everyone's part. He wanted to go to Pizza Express for lunch afterwards, which happily lives in Belfast's very swish and lovely Victoria Square.
Christmas Starters it said on the menu, though I only realised this after I had taken the picture. It did however strike me as nicely appropriate on the first weekend in Advent. Starting  to think about something that has been hidden from view by many other big issues in our Strawberry land lately.
So I am more than usually happy to be Pausing in Advent. I really didn't expect to be thinking positively about Christmas at all this year. Mum so stricken by challenge, Dad needing to be so brave and independent, Mattman studying so hard, life just so busy, the house so chaotic, time so squeezed.
Something wholly unexpected occurred though. Burst from the dark sky in the midst of mundane sheep guarding and illuminated the landscape. Not only, to quote the Grinch, "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store." But also maybe Christmas doesn't even mean family. If I believe that Christmas means Jesus, means God incarnated, means peace, hope, joy and love, then maybe that's what I have to try to live. Christmas standing immutable, regardless of everyone's circumstances or my feelings or how many lights we string around the tree. Every day.
These thoughts are my Christmas Starters this year. And if I'm going to quote Dr Seuss, then you'll know I have to quote  Jostein Gaarder:
"I can't see why a little lambkin should be in such a hurry."
The angel helped her to her feet and said confidentially, "It's going to Bethlehem."
Elizabet had stopped crying, "To Bethlehem?"
"Yes. To Bethlehem, to Bethlehem! For that's where Jesus was born."
Elisabet was very surprised at what the angel said...
"Then I want to go to Bethlehem," she said.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

You know me and pumpkins.  I got a bit lost in the colourful pumpkin field- it's all grey-blue Winter here now! Happy Thanksgiving, you lot! (Will you be eating some?)

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Catching up

Saintly Sandra left me, amongst many other generous gifts that she trailed round the whole of Ireland before she finally arrived here, a set of Resolution Cards. Sandra, I hereby confess that this was a new concept for me, and I opened it with no small sense of wariness!

The first card out of the little box said, "I will embrace my current season of life and live with a sense of contentment." It is now prominently stuck to the fridge door as a daily challenge. Many things are happening this week, the most important of which will be Mum's move from hospital, where she has been treated and therapied beyond anything I thought possible, to a local nursing home. This will hopefully be a short-term solution while we all work on finding an appropriate apartment for both Mum and Dad. I don't think I've been able to tell you hitherto about her very terrible stroke in August.

Other news includes Dad's selling their house, on the market less than two weeks, and my special boy approaching the last of his three transfer tests with the same level of happy trust as he did the first two.

The verse on the back of Sandra's card is 1 Timothy 6:6, "True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth." I'm still working on it. Pretty ineffectually actually. I'm also still working on catching up with all you fabulous daily November bloggers. Thank you for the rich insights into your worlds!

Come Sunday I'll be catching up with Floss's Pause in Advent participants. That will help with missing Pom Pom, MK, Kezzie, Ang and Dormouse! It's time to be looking South-East now, from here anyway! Running down the roads and the centuries, under sharp winter skies. Yes, we'll be reading this again come Sunday too! See you somewhere along the path x

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Views from my Windows

Here we are, Jane - winter dusk in Strawberry Land. Mattman thought the sky was purple. I thought it was pink. You say tomato...
No view of our friendly American today, because she is flying home as I type. Too short a stay, Sandra! On the subject of language, Sandra learnt the word we use for erasers, and we laughed and laughed. Homework will never be quite the same again. There's my kitchen reflected in the back garden once more.
And here are the television and the fire reflected in the front. I fell asleep in front of both this afternoon. While darkness fell and seasons changed.
Jo's teacher says that snow is forecast for this very day next week. Like Kipper, we strawberries are very positive about snow. Not sure that we're quite prepared for it yet though! Operation Readiness begins tomorrow...

Monday, 11 November 2013

No such thing... a free ride. If you come to Strawberry Land, you may well find yourself lumbered with spellings homework!

We're welcoming Sandra from Thistle Cove Farm this week- all the way from America. This is very exciting for us. Blogging- what an adventure!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

View from my keyboard

Sorry, Jane. I could have had a spectacular view of Belfast Lough under cold, fabulous winter skies today. Or a possibly last golden views of the most resilient autumn foliage outside. And one of these days I'll charge my little camera to have a spectacular view of Cave Hill from my new place of work.  But here it is. The dining room, again! Complete with laundry, vestiges of dinner, and an aspirational monument to ironing in the corner. Installation art, I like to think of it as.

Today I:

Got up, got boys out, got out. I'm getting better at this in week two of being back at work. I've got to Thursday before crying at the cold, dark monotony of getting out of bed early EVERY day. I know. Pathetic.

Went to work. Worked. Good grief, did I work today.

Came home from work to my glorious big son.

Took him with me to collect my glorious smaller son who been eco-clubbing in the school garden. Sounds like an environmentally-friendly version of going out and having a blast. They were out. And he did have a blast.

We went to the least swish of our three four Loughside cafes and watched dusk come down over Belfast Lough with a little plane bound for the airport.

When it was time to go to the solicitor's we walked through the cold village and Jo managed not to be knocked down.

I signed a very important legal document, and came one step further to being/having Power of Attorney along with my brother.

Got home to find my brother on the doorstep, and we had a needed debrief on being/having Power of Attorney. (I did bring him in off the doorstep.)

Made dinner whilst conducting a long telephone/text/facebook exchange with my friend and mother of my children's friends who keeps me sane in the realm of homeworks, preparations, and all things needing to be done that I may not be at all aware of.

Ate dinner with Prince Charming, allowing the boys to eat in the other room because they could NOT miss this episode of Scooby Doo Something. I know. Pathetic.

Left PC struggling manfully with aforementioned homeworks, preparations and all things needing to be done.

Took Dad to hospital to see Mum. She is poorly, at the minute, despite having made some wonderful progress from a Very Bad Thing that happened way back in August.

Took Dad home and made him dinner, at 9pm. He's still working on the mealtimes thing.

Came home. Boys in bed. I packed Mattman's PE bag and PC packed his sleeping bag and pillow for a relaxation time in school tomorrow. He has three big tests this month and school brings someone in to do candles and incense and the like to de-stress the poor souls. Mattman, however, appears less stressed than hugely excited at the prospect of candles and incense and our promised Subway lunches when he comes out of the tests.

November is racing by; I can hear it as it goes. It whistles softly in the wind sometimes very late at night, like now. I am not blogging daily this year, although I do miss that opportunity to savour every cold, clear, calm moment that November holds. I have finally worked out how to link to all the fabulous bloggistes who are blogging daily though. Do call round for tea and biscuits. MK might show you how to make a hat...

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The November Challenge: they're off!

Update: The thought-full Amy has joined our November bloggistes- visit her over at Considering Lilies, and feed up on food for thought...
Under starter's orders and the November bloggistes are off to a flying with the blustery leaves start!  I have been trying for half an hour now to add a blogroll to my sidebar with no success, so here is a little post from me on the places to find those cheering us with daily wit and wisdom in November:

Pom Pom at Pom Pom's Ponderings

MK at Through a Glass, Darkly

Kezzie at KezzieAG

Ang at Tracing Rainbows

Dormouse between View from the Teapot and Fat Dormouse Getting Thinner

Obviously we will be most understanding when the pressures of real life preclude  post on absolutely every single one of thirty days, and will contain our disappointment. Another criterion for this little November Challenge is that we, the adoring public, will comment daily. And the last and most exciting criterion is that we will send prizes for the daily blogging in November, as a small token of our gratitude for the brightening of our days as winter descends! (Or for the rays of summer sunshine if you are reading this on the other side of the world!)

Now, off to catch some W&W...

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Who's up for this year's November?

In November of last year I needed to hide in the Forest Of Toon (Tellegen) with my to-do list and a daily foray into the Land of Blog to remain sane. The year before that Frances blogged every day in November and demanded prizes for the achievement. I think the sausages were a later demand, but they have become all tied up with blogathons now in my tired and increasingly warping mind.

Reasons why I have announced to at least two people (both of whom I knew) today that November is my favourite month:

1. The slate skies and the wet footpaths are beautiful.

2. The slate skies and wet footpaths mean that winter is here,ergo it's now ok to get out everyone's thermal underwear, replace outgrown thermal underwear, and wear thermal underwear. I am wearing mine right now underneath my witch's dress.

3. November is the gloriously, peacefully, greyly empty month. It sits vacuously with the colourful riot of Autumn and its conker collecting needs on one side and the colourful riot of Christmas and its activity needs on the other. November is festival-free and serenely colourless in my book, and is my time to enjoy the advent of winter with no glittery strings attached.

4. November means that it is nonetheless time to be preparing for Preparing for Advent, our now annual retreat morning for stressed women. Preparing for Preparing for Advent is not the same thing as preparing for Christmas, oh no, mightily indeed. Preparing for Preparing for Advent means a month of my sitting quietly thinking up ways to facilitate other mums thinking quietly and catching a quiet thought with which to survive the preparing for Christmas. I love Preparing for Advent, the event. I also love sitting at home preparing for Preparing for Advent.

5. November is about catching a quiet thought that will sustain.

6. There's usually someone who decides to blog daily in November and I really like that thrill of logging in to see just what they've been up to, or not as the case may be, today...

So, my question is: who will take a turn at blogging daily this November? There could be prizes! This November's blogathon bloggiste will be...

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

For Frances

Conker: noun British
  • the hard, shiny dark brown nut of a horse chestnut tree.
  • (conkers) [treated as singular] a children’s game in which each has a conker on the end of a string and takes turns in trying to break another’s with it.


mid 19th century (a dialect word denoting a snail shell, with which the game, or a form of it, was originally played): perhaps from conch, but associated with (and frequently spelled) conquer in the 19th and early 20th cents: an alternative name was conquerors

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Last year we had a Hungry Caterpillar calendar. How I loved it. Though I realise now that my attempt at drawing an eight for Jo's birthday was not entirely clear. Way back in the deep mid-last-winter I thought I could have a monthly blog on Books in Progress. Here we are ten months later...
September Book Club read was Les Miserables. Well done, Leigh and Niqi for getting to the end! I persevere, and revel in, and often laugh out loud. I console myself on my lack of progress by recalling the ambitious commitment to read it in version originale. When in fact it has more to do with my utter lack of commitment to anything requiring such discipline. The last very long book I read was The Children's Book and I loved every last word that I made myself read every day. I shall have to employ the same daily routine for this. The day it arrived it clearly inspired joy. Or maybe the mug was there for scale- to highlight the irony of this being the pocket edition...
The book that I am in fact reading most is my latest Barbara Pym. When I started reading her books in order I fell in love with the gentle satire, and the glimpse into post-war England, and the humour. But as I've read on the books have become more, dare I say, hopeless? Women in situations that they may, or may not, be making the most of; women stifled, unsatisfied. I'm not at all near the end of No Fond Return, but none of the female characters this time are triumphing over the twists and turns of their paths. (Don't tell me the end!) And what I am finding is that I may prefer these darker, sadder portraits. Although maybe I would like some warning if this trend is unremitting?
Ang, thank you for lending me your Edith Schaeffer: finally I am reading, and no longer covering in jam, Hidden Art! I will definitely have it back in your safekeeping by Christmas! The title is misleading, is it not? I put off reading it for so long because I was trying to read Les Mis convinced that I was unworthy to read a book about creating domestic bliss, and feared it would be another Jane Brockett invitation to more accomplished domesticity than I shall ever achieve! I was wrong. This is all about creative spirituality, about nurturing your gifts in however small a way, about reflecting the Creator God in whatever acts of creation you can, whether they be just slicing apples from your little tree in the garden into braised pork or apple pie, or reading stories aloud to two boys, or colouring in your to-do lists in your notebook. I'm finding it very encouraging.
We went to my favourite autumn place today. Can't say where. It has the best conker tree in Ireland and it's all mine! Anyway, because we had hid and sought the suns all through what is also the best hide and seek venue in Ireland, and then filled every pocket we had with conkers, and then gone on a long tree identifying walk (as a total townie the actual tree identifying amounted only to three...), and then played hide and seek again, finally we were able to go to the little second-hand bookshop in the courtyard. I bought this. It seems to be an unashamed re-writing of the story of Heinrich Schliemann which takes me right back to sixth form. Those were days when I devoured the legends of Troy, the archaeological ones included. Admittedly these were the days of Michael Woods' TV series "In Search of the Trojan War". I still have the book. I was going to marry Michael Woods. We were going to climb Mount Olympus together and explore Troy by sunset. I obviously knew that he wouldn't stay with Jenni Murray, though I was genuinely sorry when I heard that they had separated. I was beginning to love BBC 4's Woman's Hour at much the same time. Sigh. I'm sure I'll get back to you on Les Mis for November's BIP, but for the rest of this holiday week I'll be firmly you know where.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

View in my dining room

Sorry for the frantic splurge. I'll try that again in smaller steps! Hallowe'en disco for Jo tonight. He has been planning this costume since August, but obviously we were still right to the line with needle, thread, facepaints and last minute toast.

Minions, yes, believe me, we could all do with a cellar full of these!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Hello, kind folk! October is racing past with the rain storms this week. I do want to have beautifully golden capsules of life captured and held briefly. I do want to tell you all about the footpath, and my mum, and my new job, and the fact that I can get neither my hair cut nor my wing mirror fixed, and the two, yes TWO, things that I seem to have crocheted in a week.
But time is of the vanilla essence, which I really must put on next week's shopping list. For now I'll leave you in the capable hands of some minions. I do want to talk to you about those too...

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


The reason why Niqi was having lunch with me today fades into insignificance. Do you find ever that prosaic necessities lead to decisions that turn out just to be the means to an end which eclipses the decisions wholly?

Anyway, regardless of why she came, we had a serendipitous hour of sitting in bright October sunshine eating spicy pumpkin and butternut squash salad with me under Nanny McPhee and Niqi under her latest fairy-tale blanket, Lemony Snicket.

Some days are better than others!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Joe versus the Volcano

Except that here in Strawberry Land,

it's not so much Joe versus the Volcano,

as Jo is the volcano.

Happy Birthday, gorgeous boy. Nine years of wow!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Views from our Autumn windows

 I love Autumn, and I love all your posts in Autumn (or Spring for you New Zealand folk, and that just thrills my mind utterly...), so here I am popping my head out of the mire for a brief return to the Land of Blog!
 This very week the bottom leaves on the apple blossom tree tinged themselves with gold. Though all month here there has been a very blissful meander into Autumn. The air has been so soft that Jo Malone could have bottled it and called it something like "Mist and mellow apple tree".
 The apple tree is just beyond today's decorations. Prince Charming has counted the apples, and they are certainly groaning on the boughs. We are so unused to a harvest on our own doorstep that we haven't worked out whether to pick them, shake them, or wait for them to fall. If in doubt, do nought, as I always (always) say.
I brought this mini-pillow, now sadly water-stained and worse for wear, and there's a metaphor for life, back from the States many child-rearing seasons ago. I loved America in Autumn. You folk do seasons very well. I thought of you today in town when I saw a shop window full of Christmas jumpers.

Usually I go out now and buy the boys some pumpkin themed or at least coloured attire. Sadly my pumpkin boy, birthday next week, will no longer be persuaded into pumpkin costumes. He wouldn't even let me photograph him in his pumpkin hat this afternoon.

I do, however, have some views of a footpath coming soon. Bet you can't wait!

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...