Saturday, 31 October 2020


So apparently OWS doesn't stand for the little noises I have started making when I walk down the slipway over the last week. It stands for open-water swimming and it is a huge phenomenon here since Lockdown. I like swimming, with my feeble breast stroke, and I do prefer swimming in the sea, though I have only ever done that in summer and have usually had a wetsuit on in Irish waters.
Swimming was the only thing I started to miss a lot in Lockdown, so as soon as we were allowed to travel beyond our locality I would always take my swimming stuff. I had a few swims in the sea up on our north coast and one in the spectacular Blue Lough in our Mourne Mountains, but in August as lady from church invited me along to her swimming group, and I have been swimming with them as much as work allows ever since.

The main group is actually huge, and they swim in all sorts of places in our county, but I just swim with the local ladies who swim from an old slipway just beyond the park at the bottom of our hill. I park there and walk along with my little rucksack, my insulated mug of tea, and my very reassuring float. 
Everyone has asked from the start if it's cold. Honestly, the water has only started to feel cold this last week. Up until now, even if it wasn't a beautifully sunny day like this one at the start of the month, the water was very comfortable. This is Belfast Lough, on the east coast of Northern Ireland, at the end of a gloriously sunny Spring and Summer. I had swim shoes already, because I hate the feel of silt and plant life, but the recommended gloves help too. I suppose you're protecting the extremities. Since October folk are swimming with their hats on as well, but not wetsuits. This group swims in skins! So yes, now it's cold!

If it's not too rough, and if I know the tide is coming in, I'm confident to swim out to the big metal pole. When the tide is high the water gets deep quite quickly, but on low days we can mostly walk out to here. I'm a very careful swimmer, always needing to know I have the strength to get back!

And that's it. There is only one hard part - the getting out of bed for the early swims to catch the tide. After that, when you're all booked in to check that the number is below social distancing requirements for space available on the slipway to get changed, it becomes automatic. When people visit and we go to the beach I've always said that once you start walking towards the water you don't stop. So that's what I do, I just walk in until the water comes to my waist and then I swim. No hesitation, no thinking, just swimming. If the Lough is very calm, and again if I know the tide is coming in, I will swim back along the wall with the stronger swimmers. I've only braved it to the end and back once!

I have lived along this shoreline my whole life. I bussed along it to school. I walked this park with an aunt who lived in the area long before I moved here from the city. I ambled through it with two boyfriends, and with the one I married. I have beach-combed here with small sons, cycled here with bigger sons, and sat here often when I was getting over the very little very successful cancer procedure I had last year. It is a wonderful thing to me that at a time when the world seems so constrained and constricted I can do something new, meet people new and get a wholly new physical perspective on a landscape I thought I knew intimately. I know that these are difficult times with unprecedented challenges for our lifetimes, but I do firmly believe that we can make the most of them for ourselves and our families. This may well have the potential to be a terrible winter of our discontent, but I am thankful that God can still come in to our houses and our lives, and stay with us with no distance, no sanitising, no mask. Thus far has the Lord helped us x

(Thanks to PC for coming with me one afternoon when the sun was shining and there were no organised after-school swims! He took the photos and kept an eye on me - cold water swimming is not one of his many, many, many interests!)

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Pumpkin Pie in a Glass


My crochet (and knitting and many other things) group, Hookery, has been meeting on Zoom since just before the Lockdown in Spring. We're all of us carers or vulnerable, or both, so the opportunity to continue in virtual togetherness has worked well. There are lots of advantages: reduced driving around and burning petrol, faraway folk being able to join in, and now and not very often again you can have something more alcoholic than tea! Last night we decided to have a party night with the optional components of suitable attire and pumpkin cocktails. I found this website, obviously from the US where the Great Pumpkin has its rightful place, and decided to follow some of its ingredients to recreate pumpkin pie in a glass. So here, with all credit to Eater website, is a rare recipe from fraise:

I carved out a very little pumpkin and steamed the flesh until it was soft.

While the pumpkin was steaming I whisked the white of one egg until it was stiff, and whisked in 2 dessert spoons of caster sugar until it was all the consistency of uncooked meringues. Then I whisked in half a teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and cinnamon.

I blended the pumpkin flesh with a generous dollop of maple syrup and enough apple juice to make the mixture drinkable but still very thick. You could stop right here, but I did admittedly add 25cl of spiced rum. (Other brands are surely available, but this is Prince Charming's bottle from the special cupboard.) I'm not at all a rum drinker, but it did go perfectly with the maple syrup and spices.

I kept the egg and pumpkin mixtures separately in the fridge while I scurried off to find a black dress and red lipstick for the first time in seven months. I lit my string of pumpkin lights, lit my little pumpkin, and assembled my cocktail with the pumpkin mixture oozing first into the glass, then the egg white mixture resting deliciously on top. I did have a straw, but ended up slurping it with a silver spoon. This is an incredible treat for pumpkin times, and would be a very lovely little dessert in cups or small glasses at the weekend. It tastes just like pumpkin pie, and since we're about to carve our two Great Pumpkins I think that's what I might just make next.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Lilies for Gretchen, fearful ones for the end of October


Dear Gretchen,

This is a painful section to write about because I am extremely afraid of a great many things at the minute. I am disappointed in how cripplingly afraid I am just now. I read this week, in my Psalms book, that the fear of the Lord drives out all other fears, but while I believe that in my head, I am like the Poet who shakes his head despairingly at his inability to live it out and goes on feeling sorry for himself.

So here is Kierkegaard writing about the silence we learn from the natural world which retains silence, despite the whispering of the noises it may make. This silence is not my starting point; I work back to silence from my starting point of prayers, even fervent ones. And when I find myself in fear and trembling before God, my voice falls mute.

Now what I can understand is that Kierkegaard says that this kind of silence is the first place to seek the Kingdom of God, not in all the "shall I do this?" or "shall I do that" questions we ask ourselves about doing God's will. What I find difficult to accept is Kierkegaard's idea that human beings and God "cannot very well talk with one another". This appalled me, after years of being taught that God is always near me, hearing what I say. But I think I do know that all my prattling belittles an unbelittle-able God and that indeed "only in much fear and trembling" should I come with awe before Almighty God. Or might we at this point disagree with even Kierkegaard? Can we come with great respect, but also very well talk with one another?

However, coming back to the fear. This process of becoming silent is the beginning of the fear of God (which could drive out all my other fears), and this is the beginning of wisdom. And I could do with a whole truck-load of that right now.

This prayer, this "art in the ability to keep silent", enables us to listen. I'll admit that at this point all my warning bells are ringing because here comes another fear of mine, on top of all the other ones, that I may think I'm listening and hearing, but I'm remembering all the things I've done based on things I have thought I've heard, and look how they turned out? But, Kierkegaard says the bird keeps silent and waits. It waits for the moment, and it needs to stay really quiet because the moment comes and goes without herald or clamour, and the moment rarely comes for us because we can't keep silent to know it or make use of it.

But the bird knows that the moment will come at the right time and its silence shows that it believes this. And when it sees the moment come, it makes use of it, and "is never put to shame". "Only in silence is the moment." This is a very frightening thought. That it is so easy, and so common, for us to miss the moment. There's another fear then, for then we presumably are put to shame. But Gretchen, there's more: here's the next section, "The bird keeps silent and suffers"...

That's as far as I'm going this week. This is why I rarely finish a Christian book. I get to the end of the first chapter and think I can't seriously read on until I've put that into practice. And of course I never do. So, with all hope that I will continue, I am going to see if I can work back to the beginning now. To enter this winter of what seems to be global discontent with a working back from even fervent prayers to silence. Hoping to begin a holy fear that might chase out all other fears, and from there to listen, but to listen and hear aright. And yes, like the bird, I will be keeping silent and suffering. Until the moment comes, if I realise it.

I do actually need to read on from that!

Monday, 19 October 2020

Lilies for Gretchen

 Dear Gretchen,

How many years is it since we shared an interest in Kirkegaard? I was working two evenings a week in the library of the university close to where we live. Every now and again I would borrow books myself that jumped, not physically, off the shelves when I was doing my night's shelving. This was how I discovered Barbara Pym, and this was how I came face to face with a name I'd only ever seen quoted in devotional or theological books - Kirkegaard.

So the book that I borrowed at that stage was a biography, because I thought that I would understand his actual works better if I knew his story. I suppose, in retrospect, that was an avoidance tactic, but I certainly didn't expect to find myself still embroiled in avoidance most of ten years later! You however, with the genteel erudition that I adore in you, got straight down to the words themselves. Certainly a lot straighter than my circuitous meandering has been.

I know that we decided to read this one together, relatively recently, and I really did start off with great gusto. But as soon as I met the Poet my reading became slower and slower and that first attempt struggled to get even close to the end of the first section! So this is what I've decided:

Every Sunday (though it's technically Monday here now...) I'll tell you what I've read thus far.

This is the perfect book for Lockdowns, and right now we are into Lockdown: the Sequel in Northern Ireland. Kirkegaard promises that we will learn what we need to be human, and this will be something impossible to learn or be remembered in the throng. We need silence, obedience, and joy. All three of these have already been topics for consideration since March for me, as has the command not to worry about having what we need. So, the opening of the book has been very exciting, twice.

The Poet floored me. On my first reading I began to feel that Lockdown (or perhaps Menopause, or indeed both) had robbed me of all ability to read intelligent prose.This time I have been reading the book out loud to myself, deliberately imagining myself reading a story like a mother to a child. Taking the words slowly has helped, as has the implication to myself that this story is rich and worth following. 

And so I found myself finding myself in the Poet at exactly the same time as I found him deplorable. This self-pitying person who nonetheless took pleasure and attention from their self-pitying. This believer who believed for a glorious moment but not in any way sustainable enough for the belief to be allowed to make a change. This professed seeker who fooled the earnest, but found nothing.

I want very much to be like the child, but I want my wanting not to be the transitory wanting of the Poet. I want honestly to be like the child who wastes no time in doubt or disobedience, but who accepts what is presented to them, and can then move on having all other time "for play, for enjoyment, and the like". There are issues just now that are frightening to me, and I want my faith not to be the self-pitying, attention-seeking, short-lived faith of the Poet, but the trusting, simple faith of the child who accepts, moves on, and enjoys.

So, Gretchen, I've got as far as the urgent exhortation that I should believe this fully and act now. This is earnest. This acceptance of God's imperative to consider the lilies and the birds is earnest. This Gospel is earnest. Our "most irresistible invention does not cause it to smile". Lord, help my unbelief, and teach me to play joyfully and sustainably in your lily field.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

First weekend in October

 Hello, and Happy October to all the northern hemisphere bloggers for whom this is the happiest time of the year! The Hurricane Tree is resplendently golden (in the right light, though that was not today), and mostly bare on its north facing side. It's still quite green on the south side though. 

It's not particularly cold here yet. I did see the temperature below 10 degrees on the car display one morning last weekend. Otherwise it's still comfortable enough to be going to school in my raincoat, which I do leave in the car if I think the day will stay dry. However tights are most uncomfortably back after a blissful six month absence. 

The pears are still on the tree: please advise! We have discovered that there are in fact four of the wonderful things. One is much smaller and hides shyly above its three big siblings - I hesitated there on the gender of pears. Are all plants androgynous? Do I go out and pop them greedily from the branch, or wait for them to fall (there's a wee American pun for you) into the thick vegetation weeds below, risking never to be seen again by human eye?

I do get a thrill out of free food at this time of the year. It's like any time of the year when you can stand in the sunlight to warm up: free central heating. Our grocery delivery man brought four jars of jam this week. I should point out that he brought the rest for the order as well. 

I told him to take back three of the jars, thinking I'd ordered them by mistake. But he re-appeared at the door ten minutes later. It turned out that I had only ordered one jar, so because it was easier he told me to keep all four. That was more free food, albeit much less Godly!

I can more honestly claim the blackberries in the garden. We're not supposed to pick them after 1st October, according to folklore. A friend told me this morning that after 1st October the berries start to be eaten, from the inside, by little insects. I took the risk after lunch today.

I was at the same time able to be still picking strawberries, which seems utterly incredible in Northern Ireland in October! That mess of a broccoli bed has been cleared out and filled up with new strawberry plants that I had put in pots over the summer. They are long strawberries, with a strength about them. The flowers are pink rather than white. They must be a very hardy breed. Hopefully they'll do well in our rough environment!

There weren't as many ripe blackberries as I'd hoped for, so I just brought lots of branches inside to stick in a pot. The pumpkins are coming out too! I never quite know when it's the right time to be putting up "Hallowe'en" decorations. That only ever equates to pumpkins here anyway! Our half-term holiday is still three weeks away, so I will most definitely need the cheering up of much orange around the house before that! Our health minister is talking about a circuit breaker Lockdown when the schools would be off anyway, as seems to be the plan for the rest of the UK. The big question is will he give us more than one week off to make the circuit break more effective? You can guess which answer I'm hoping for!

And so, fine Blogland folk. blessings on your October! Here's what I'll be at:

What I'm reading: Psalms (up to 107 just now and isn't that refrain structure wonderful?); more of Lilies for Gretchen (I know, Gretchen, I'm nearly ready to talk about this!); the end of this William Morris collection (if you haven't read News from Nowhere, these Covid times are the ideal times).

What I'm making: Cushla's Comfort, and I'm back past the heartbreaking point at which I ripped it all out last month to work with a more comfortable hook; my Hookery Shawl which might get into its orange wool at some point this month, which is unbelievably exciting; two zipped pouches with gorgeous Harris Tweed remnants that a friend gave me and that are currently cut out and waiting for the Elves to come round from the Shoemakers.

What I'm doing: just about getting through the school days - I was so tired on Friday that Prince Charming made my porridge and then drove me to and fro; I signed up for that online course and now need to show up at some online tutorials, and probably even do some work; at the weekends I am still outdoor swimming in Belfast Lough with the wonderful women who have been doing it every day for years, and now that I've made it into October I find myself wondering if I can keep going to the end of the month when I too could swim every day for the week I'll be off...

Stay well, lovely bloggers, and prayers for the President; be blessed x

Happy St Patrick's Day!

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