Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New here we go again xx

 So we have squeezed the juice from 2014- and moved house and moved school and settled more in to a new church and a new job. It must be time for our traditional tarte au citron to go with some fizz.
 And the empty case of 2015 awaits! Another little kitchen metaphor to make you think I am at all proficient in that room. I hope all good ingredients will be whisking around in your kitchen this year, and that you'll manage to make something tasty even from the ones that at first may not seem appetising.
We have made our usual New Year gingerbread men, but I should point out that they are Janus figure men, and women, looking back into the old year and forward into the new.  Bloggy blessings to you all from all at the Meadowplace xx

Sunday, 28 December 2014

On the fourth day of Christmas fraise lachrymo gives to you more lough views and views on books

Same Belfast Lough, looking back towards Loughshore Park where we walked the other day. The stretch behind the trees is Loughshore. This is at Hazelbank, just off the motorway to the north from the city. Loughshore looks further away than it is. It's an easy stroll or cycle between the two. Gorgeous on a bright, searingly cold afternoon like today!

This morning I revised Religion in Palestine at the time of Jesus with Mattman ( ie I revised with Mattman. He wasn't actually there with Jesus at the time. Not physically.). Then I waved the men off to church and lay in a hot bath with tea and Radio 4. Then I walked down to meet them after church via my parents' appartment. Then we went to Alan's parents for lunch. Then we went for a brisk walk at Hazelbank. So, imagine my incredulity that it was still only 3.30pm when we got home. Bliss. Two hours of reading on the sofa before the next foray into the kitchen. Isn't it amazing that kitchens survive this week? Not to mention us...

Last night I finished the last of the three stories in the Aunt Sass Christmas Stories by P. L. Travers. These are very worth reading. I haven't read Mary Poppins, and will confess that the Disney film is my whole experience thereof. My brother-in-law bought us the Saving Mr Banks DVD for Christmas and I look forward to watching it now. Only then will I read MP, methinks.

Each of the stories here is not a story at all. They are introduced as autobiographical portraits and this seems to sum them up well. They are exquisite. Each one tells a whole life, right up to death. Embracing death. As a natural and integral thing. In the final tale the children sum this up beautifully when they at last enter Johnnie Delaney's cabin. It's a beautiful little tome. Full of humanity and respect and understanding. Insightful, wise understanding of people and their lives, the whole course of their lives. I think you'd like it too! Trying to catch up this week with my 52 Books in this academic year...

Saturday, 27 December 2014

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

This was last year's Christmas in last year's back garden. Not that there will be a back garden per year, you understand. Oh no. That's an end to cardboard box packing for me, thank you very much and you're welcome to it, Ang!

Last year I had told Prince Charming that all I wanted for Christmas was a partridge in a pear tree, but he didn't need to worry about the partridge because MK had sent me a very exquisite knitted chicken who would do the job rightly.

So I got a pear tree, now wrongly planted in the shade of another tree in this year's back garden and that will need rectified in 2015. Many things need rectified in 2015. For a long time I have laughed in the futile face of New Year's resolutions, but this year I think a major overhaul of some dusty life corners may be in order. I also got a partridge chicken- thank you, MK! This year PC bought me one of these. I am waiting for everyone to be out of the house before I have a go.

I thought I would have been blogging a little blog series for the Twelve Days of Christmas starting with my p in a p. But as with most things fraise this has not transpired! Two blog long-overdue promises are also on the Corrections list. I have a few days now to work on my Corrections- that's the plan. In between visits to the Museum, Zoo, Argory and sessions of revision for Mattman's post-holiday exams. Bah humbug to schools who have post-holiday exams!

Another reason why I didn't do my Twelve of C was realizing that the motivation was purely condescending. I have admittedly been annoyed in a John Humphries/Academie Francaise sort of a way at how people are using the twelve days leading up to Christmas as their Twelve. I had a lovely conversation with one of our Slovakian pupils at the end of term about Epiphany. He wanted to know why we didn't celebrate the sixth, and on we went from there. Lovely boy. When he stays out of fights.

All this to say really- hope you've had a lovely Christmas and are approaching the New Year with hope and confidence xx

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas x

The curtain is going up on another's year's Christmas! May yours be filled with mystery and magic and all glittery shades of loveliness! Who knows what the box holds? (And let's just hope we know where the boxes are...)

We were at the Mac last night for the Family Hoffman's Christmas Mystery Palace. Full, full, full of incredible magic tricks all wrapped round a poignant tale with heart-warming end. Fabulous!

Just one of many reasons to come to Belfast! And given that schools across this land are sending out letters to parents telling them of budget cuts that amount to two and a half teachers, and given that Stormont are discussing the withdrawal of street lighting and road gritting, there is no better time to come and send money in the bankrupt Frozen North!

We are about to walk down to the village to see my parents and exercise the suns. More than a mile downhill and more than a mile back up, if that answers your question, MK! A village and not quite an ocean at the bottom of the hill. Come one and come all!

And Merry Christmas x I think I'll be back tomorrow with some Twelve Days of Christmas...

Monday, 22 December 2014

Letters to PC

 Dear Prince Charming,

This afternoon you are a-venturing through the driving rain on a quest for Christmas presents, but sixteen years ago you were jollying along one hundred wedding guests who had to be kept happy in the hotel lounge until the central heating warmed up enough to let them into the function room where no-one had thought to switch the heating on, in December.

This afternoon you are braving the throng of Christmas shoppers which is exactly what our friends and family had to do sixteen years ago to brave our Debenhams wedding list because we thought it would be such a lovely thing to do to get married in December, three days before Christmas.

This afternoon you will be cold and soaked and probably frustrated, whereas sixteen years ago you were only cold. I remember toasting the camera with champagne in one hand, and devouring the heat from the bonnet of the wedding car with the other because it was so cold. That off-the-shoulder wedding dress was so perfect when I chose it, in the Spring.

Any old how, we're still here, and hopefully there will always be double-seater deck chairs at Polesden Lacey, in the Summer!

Mags x

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Pause in Advent IV

We've always talked about the Winter Solstice, and indeed the Summer one. It's just that this year I have been more than ever aware of how dark the days have been, how short. The boys and I have marvelled at it over grey breakfasts and dusk-filled school returns. Admittedly this photo has just been taken at 7pm, but it has been this dark since 4pm!

And I feel the darkness now as Advent comes to an end. I don't feel excitement as the days of Christmas approach. As the boys and I often say, Jesus wasn't born on 25th December. I am breeding Scrooges! I feel tired at the thought of all the food organisation, preparation and consumption. I feel defeated by the psychology of family. I am admittedly lying down under a rotten cold this evening in the hope that it will go away and quickly.

Maybe I should lie down in hope under the whole thing. Lie down under a blanket with some paracetamol and the annual reading of Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher! I'll count how many times she mentions Belfast sinks and be inspired by the glamour of Carrie who sprays her cold-ridden self with sophisticated perfume and opens the door to the possible love of her life. Maybe I'll spray myself with my one small bottle of sophisticated perfume and open the door to Prince Charming and our suns when they get back from the carol service!

Hope. There is my word for the next week. Hope for energy, hope for being organised, hope for celebration- as Gary's post so succintly exhorts. Thank you to Ang for this year's Pause in Advent. It is an integral part of December for me now- and I have loved reading all your wisdoms xx

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Views from around the Lough

 Last Thursday morning we were having breakfast when Jo shouted that it was snowing. One second later everything was nearly white and we watched in great excitement as the snow flowed slowly down the glass roof above our heads. It didn't last, and temperatures have hovered around 7 degrees ever since; disappointing given that we are now off school and ready for some snow fun!
 This afternoon we got around to a walk at 3pm, conscious that we had an hour of daylight left! We headed to the shore of Belfast Lough at the bottom of our hill where the beach and the park have been stalwart run-off-steam essentials for all our family life!
 The tide was far far out, and we tramped over the lough bed to the water's edge. Mattman missed the last two days of his term because he was poorly and we were trying to aerate him.
 On top of the rock just beyond the water's edge is a seal. There is very often a seal on that rock. Fancy demands that it to be the same one, but I'm not sure. It was very comfortably balanced.
 Mattman rescued a starfish. I'm fairly sure that it was beyond rescuing but he took great care that it reached deeper water.
And sure enough, one hour later it was dark. We strolled around the Norman settlement of Carrickfergus, and discussed the differences between William the Conqueror and William of Orange. The former's legacy had the castle built; the latter's had a statue built and a country divided. The castle has also been one of our very useful places to visit with boys. It's funny to think of that now that they are both nearly the same height as me and close to knowing more!

Advent is ending and Christmas is upon us. Prince Charming was in Carrick to do some Christmas shopping. I am blogging to avoid some Christmas baking. Here it comes!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Belated Pause III: Scrooge alert!

 So, Advent. Every year for six years Catherine and I have been running our Preparing for Advent event, and this year we talked about the things I've put on here for Ang's wonderful Pausing for Advent blogfest. And I'll tell you what our Preparing for Advent has done for me. Gradually. Overwhelmingly.
 It has taken away Christmas! Not put the Christ back into Christmas so much as make the whole time a nonsense. A very nice nonsense, mind you. A glittering, funny, food-soaked few days. But to focus so much effort on so few days is now something I do because that's what my family wants. It's either about Jesus or it's not. If it is about Jesus, then it's a spiritual time, and Advent has become a very spiritual journey. If it's not about Jesus, then my next-door neighbour is right and Christmas has lost all its meaning and no amount of shortbread or snow cake will give it sense.
Last Sunday was our annual Mince Pies and Mulled Stuff open house. I spent all day Saturday baking. Yes, I know that if I was organised the baking would all be done, but you know me well enough now to know that this is fraise. So, I spend all day baking, and then all Sunday afternoon we have a house full of lovely loved and loving friends, new and old. And at the end I sat down on the stool in the kitchen and looked at all the empty plates and cups.
Then I looked in the drained-dry mull pot. It was rich in everything. Colour, scent, flavour, conversations had, laughter shared. I think that Christmas is for me now the juicy remains from four weeks of listening, searching, remembering. Advent is the thing I need. The mulling pot is where I want to be! Like Mary pondering words in her heart, I want to be mulling darkening skies and bare trees and silent nights. I don't want to focus all my attention on one or two or three days (if you count a Christmas Eve brunch) and then for all it all to be over in a bin load of wrapping paper and envelopes. I want what's left over to be rich: drained dry of expectation and soaked in the glory of God. To paraphrase Scrooge himself, "I will honour Advent in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Pause in Advent II

There is a verse I came across when getting ready for my first Advent event in November. I used it briefly there and also at our own morning last week. It's from both Joel 2 and Acts 2, because Peter quotes it at Pentecost. I have always thought of "the last days" as the days just before the end of our times. In the material that I was reading, however, it talked of the last days as all time from now on, and I saw them as these last days of our old year in its last throes.

 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

When I got upstairs last night for A Christmas Mystery, Jo was deep in colouring of the Nativity and Matthew was burrowed in deep for the journey! The night before Matt had asked me what my favourite part of Christmas was. I told him it was the lights. He asked what my second favourite part of Christmas was. I said it was Christmas night after everyone had gone home and we could be cosy and quiet just the four of us. Then he asked for my third. I told him then that what I really love at this time of the year is the waiting so hard that you catch the sense of something coming, something quiet but huge in the dark, cold skies. He just sort of sneaked in, didn't he, said Matt.

 I think that with young men, you don't have to do much to let them prophesy and envisage. The imagination is all there, the desire for the magic, the thirst for the story, the openess to Spirit. What I am finding harder is the old men dreaming dreams. Maybe they have lived a hard life; maybe they carry the scars of disappointments and fears. Maybe you don't know how to give them dreams to dream.

At the Advent events I looked at the verbs in the verse, which are not inappropriate for the season! We pour lots of delicious things; our children especially make lots of predictions as to what will appear on the day; we are surrounded by visions of sugar plums as we dream of a white Christmas. The point I wanted to make was that, in these last days when all our generations are gathering, the Spirit can pour out on us His activity in the midst of ours. That's really what I'm praying for, most especially because I know that dreams are a gift I can't write on my shopping list!

Saturday, 6 December 2014


Come talk to me of Birdsong. Explain the title to me. Teach me the depths of Isabelle. Express for me the love of land and landscape and life therein. Lament with me over a generation lost, to death or despair or long years of survival. Were the long years worse? Promise me my boys will never know their limits pulled so far they disappear from view. Stretch out your arms with me to embrace and devour the beauty of what surrounds us and supports us and saves.

I stopped reading Birdsong on Thursday morning. I realised that I was in the end game. Usually what I do at this point in a book, in the best books, is race on to the climax; knowing that I will regret the haste but needing to know. For the first time in my reading life I stopped. I did text Prince Charming to tell him what I feared was about to happen, but he was obviously too deep in the present world to care for my drowning in the past! In the end I took a great big breath and read on. Slowly.

The only other book whose sub-title I remember is Life of Pi's "A book to make you believe in God". I still smile at that. I could see that it might have been. My edition of Birdsong states below the title that this is "The novel of The First World War". I see that it is.

If it weren't for this song, I would be struggling to emerge from the mud of France. It played in the background to most of my reading, as Prince Charming practised it for coming days. It helped me find a road home from the things we scarred.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Views and fun

 This was sunrise over East Antrim yesterday morning as we left for our respective schools. Glorious. Stunning. Colour-filled light that was coming into our world. The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.
 This was  lunch with a good friend today. It's exam week in our establishment which means half-days and a brief return to the halcyon days of having time to see people! That pate, folks; that pate is not the Giant's Causeway. That pate is worth tasting and it's worth coming to taste! Duck and orange, and the jelly on top is not a fat-based jelly, as Abel the French Moroccan owner-chef was at pains to tell us. Oh no, that jelly is proper fruit juice jelly. With slices of real oranges floating in its own nectar. La Table in Merville Garden Village, and here it is. Shame you can't hear the jazz or make out the legendary patisseries on the counter. That seat's yours...
And here we come to the most exciting one of all. This is Mags with her coffee buddy of Wednesday nights at Hookery. This is Darling Ricky. Retired when his Parkinson's became intrusive. Took up painting to fill his time, and donated anything he made to the Leprosy Mission with whom he and a small team from his church travel to the village of Hombolo, near Samaria, in Tanzania every Autumn.
Tonight his first city-centre exhibition opened, in the prestigious Engine Room no less. So here I am high on a night out of the house and one glass of wine and the sheer joy of seeing Richard Darling's work hung professionally on stark white walls instead of stepping over them to get to his sofa. His pictures show the rolling hills and fields of Northern Ireland; his homes and churches lean quirkily and protectively over the figures whose intricate stories he paints. His tight terrace houses display back yards of washing as if ceilings have been lifted from these private lives and we peek in. Through it all soars such a gentle love of humanity that it does take your breath away. Worth seeing, and worth coming to see!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Pause in Advent

 Ang at Tracing Rainbows is hosting this year's Pause in Advent. I thought that this time round I'd share some of the things we talked about at our Preparing for Advent event that happened yesterday. My very wondrous friends, Catherine and Niqi, and I have satisfied our own longings for Advent through this little morning jolly for six years now, and very graciously other women come along to keep us company!

 First of all we thought about the picture that is our personal Christmas. Many of the component parts are the same in every house, but we all have those little individual traditions and essentials without which Christmas just wouldn't be the same. We thought about those component parts as pieces in the jigsaw that is our picture of Christmas.

As we shared what we had written, the jigsaws were stuck onto the black screen that you might just see behind the little me whom you might just see top right! On the screen was a net of lights, and as the jigsaws were stuck on, the lights were blocked out. We read John 1:9, and considered how, in the four week busyness of getting ready for one day, we could miss the true light that gives light to everyone and that was coming into the world. We know that Jesus was more than happy with feasting and presents, but as the jigsaw pieces came back off we also knew that on the night of His birth He didn't have a new pair of Christmas pyjamas, a spotlessly clean house, nor a Country Living magazine style Christmas tree. As the jigsaws came down the lights were once again revealed...
 At the end of the morning, after much cookery and craft, we reflected on what we could write on a smaller jigsaw. Four pieces that we could add to our existing jigsaw, in expectation that, with these pieces in place, the rest of the picture could. be filled with the true light that is coming into the world.
 These are last year's lights again! What struck me as I put this together for a new farcebook profile picture was how the strings of lights looked a bit like pictures you might see of the crown of thorns. I think that Christmas is fun. I love the lighting of lights in the darkness, in the most spiritual sense, but also in that primeval need to mark the fulcrum of the old year turning back again. I agree with Dickens in Christmas Carol- if we believe in Christmas we carry it in our hearts every day. We carry birth, with death, with resurrection all tied into one. In Advent we journey towards Bethlehem bathed in that light.

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 ...