Sunday, 21 May 2017

Spring into summer, and then just back to Spring

 In terms of blog posts written since then, it wasn't very long ago at all that I was wondering about "autumn" as a verb, and you cleverly pointed out that "fall" and "spring" were indeed verbs.
 It is nonetheless two whole seasons ago. Must do better! And here are some photos from the last few weeks in Northern Ireland, the few weeks in the year when we wake up one unexpected morning to vast blue skies, temperatures warm enough to merit dragging out the suitcase with the barely worn summer clothes, and the firm belief that it could never rain again.
 You see, Spring in Northern Ireland springs straight into summer for a few weeks in May. Every year. Just at exactly the time when you need outdoor-craving boys to be indoor-revising boys. Not sure if Jo is smiling or begging in this shot. Five minutes more, and you oblige, because you don't really want to be an indoor-boy-curtailing-mother.
 So you wander round marvelling at all the colour, and all the heat, and all the sun. Rejoicing in the fact that the people who built the house were gardeners! Real gardeners, with a scheme and a plan and everything. We don't really have a plan. We just try to weed it all out as best we can, which doesn't admittedly amount to much effort on my part at all...
 Look at that sky. Blue. Ireland is mostly green, because of all the rain. But when it's not green, and therefore grey, it is very, very blue.
 So here we all are at the table. Inside. Books and files and pens and mind-maps. And tea. Door wide open for air! My sanity lies in the basket of small ends of things. Crocheting lots of little flowers to join lots of other people's little flowers to be joined into a little flower thing for our Knit in Public day at the start of June.
 Lots to look forward to- boys' exams start tomorrow, so obviously it has rained again, as revision season draws to an end, but at least the revision pain will end! A morning at Mossley Mill with Hookery for KIP, where we'll sit outside if the sun shines, and inside in the coffee shop if it doesn't! And maybe we'll still get glimpses of vast blue skies before the traditional downpours of July. The speck in this picture was a para-glider who had thrown himself from Knockagh Hill, just behind the tree. He served as a needed reminder that day that the feeling of falling off a hill can possibly be followed by the feeling of actually surviving and landing safe on the other side!

ps Thank you to everyone who did leave comments re Outside Tea in Lent. I have a little sachet of tea wending its way to  you all x

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Outside Tea in Lent

 Well, there's the end of another Lent. I hope yours was full of insight, and warmer than ours here in the Frozen North! I think I did learn a few things along the way...

  If you drink tea outside every most days in Lent, you may catch cold. This cold could last forty days and forty nights plus their associated Sundays. You may well end up on a very strong antibiotic! Falling asleep outside, see below, will not bode well! If you do all this in the Frozen North, be not deceived by short moments of sunshine. And most of all, climbing Northern Ireland's third highest mountain with said levels of congestion will not be a happy experience, at least on the way up!

 Secondly, there is a distinct contrast between the earlier and the later days. At the start it was all about taking time out, literally, to be more disciplined about listening to God. Then the idea took over, to the exclusion of the reflection. This has happened to me before, and is for me, I think, quite linked to the whole social media thing. So in the days before Pentecost I am going to be much less on farcebook, and much more locked in the metaphorical upper room, before the invention of WiFi! Waiting for the Spirit, rather than the likes. This is a shameful admission for a woman of nearly fifty! I do have a greater desire to seek God now than I did forty pictures ago.

What strikes me very much about the pictures is that the vast majority of them are taken in our garden. The meadowplace is predominantly where I live and move and have my being, but there needs to be a bit of an effort now to have open doors, an open life as our sermon encouraged today. There are a few opportunities that I have ignored for weeks, but I am saying yes to them now. Very scary in all three instances, but small steps!

 And lastly the Cross. My main intention was to appreciate, not just understand, the importance of the cross. This has been a very humbling journey. Right through the denial of Judas, and predicted denials of Peter, in John 13. It was my sin, my daily denial, that held him there. And yet, immediately after John 13, in 14:1-4, Jesus promises a room for me, prepared, with safe passage guaranteed.You know the way to the place where I am going!

 It does tickle me that I ended up with forty pictures- admittedly they are not all outside! I thought I would be able to pick a favourite, but now I'm not so sure. My top four might be mountain tea, soon-moving-to-Glasgow-Catherine tea and the silly black and white ones: there's a trend among the wittiest of folk-from-church-on-farcebook to be witty in grayscale. I don't quite cut it, but it was fun to have a go!

So, cheers! A kind, and incidentally hilarious, colleague of Prince Charming's sent me at one point an envelope full of delicious tea sachets to help me along the way, and I have two left. Leave a comment and I'll pull a name out of the hat, and send them on. But if you're going to be drinking outside tea- do wrap up well!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Outside Tea

 I laughed painfully when I read this quote about the narrator's ineffective mother at the start of "The Third Policeman". This sums up perfectly what I do now, with only two days teaching in the week and the whole house crying out for attention! It was also an unwittingly ironic precursor to the routine into which my Lent has fallen.
It started when I told the Wondrous Catherine that I was going to sit outside every day in March and drink a cup of tea, zealously intending to escape the domestic madness within and spend a few precious moments listening to the birds, now returned from warmer winter climes. Which sort of became a notion that it could be a Lent thing, and maybe the listening could be to God as well. Tea and Lent- they are, after all, two of my favourite things!
And thus was Outside Tea in Lent born! A farcebook friend decided she would do something different with chocolate (apart from giving it up) every day in Lent, and this is why you maybe see lots of pictures of mugs and dessert dishes on my daily feed! After that people started asking questions- what was it for, what was the idea, could they drink Outside Tea with me?
Today I did meet someone for Outside Tea. Today the wind is groaning down the chimney and the rain is lashing the daffodils into horizontal submission. Today we didn't even sit in the semi-al fresco shelter of the doggy porch- we sat inside wallowing in the central heating and watching the puddles rise up to meet the misty lough!

Last week, also on farcebook, which I might add I find mostly very useful, Our Daily Bread posted this picture:

And this is what Outside Tea in Lent is about. I might get to a late point in the day and think- oh good, I haven't had my Outside Tea today. I wrap myself up and sally forth. Sometimes I do read and pray and think. Sometimes I just listen to the soundtrack of my life: the birds, the husband, the boys, the friend. I'm hoping that by the end of Lent it will have forged a habit that gets to a late point in the day and thinks- oh good, I haven't had my great big dose of God's love and voice today. I'll wrap myself up and sally forth. I'd recommend it! And if you're within Outside Tea distance, pm me on farcebook!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

And this was half-term!

We started in the wilds of County Down for two days. Jo has reached that part of Year 8 History where he learns about the Norman conquest of Ireland, and then looks at Norman castles. Well, we are not short of Norman castles here in Ulster, or indeed of the clear remains of original motte and bailey structures, so there was lots of mound scrambling! Then we had swimming, and climbing, and more hill-walking, and friends sleeping over, and going off to friends' houses, and walking down to church tonight with friends- by themselves, in the dark! I am reeling from it all. Although there was shelter for me in mounds of my own, of the laundry variety!

After church this morning I laughed in horror at the words of the father of two of our boys' friends. A colleague of his is, like us, the parent of a teenage boy. His take on the whole experience is that teenage boys are like dogs. You need to feed them regularly, exercise them with sticks and balls, and clean them out every now and then. I did laugh at the sticks bit. My two are obsessed with sticks and still have not forgiven me for not bringing their long-won and much prized collection from our last house. (We moved nearly exactly three years ago...) So this week they have remedied this lamentable situation. Prince Charming drew the line only at sticks that were clearly not going to fit in the boot of the car. The rest of the colleague's philosophy does also ring true for me at this stage of strawberry development!

And so back to routine tomorrow for another blast of school term. The boys' routine is well-established. Mine is not at all! I have done two weeks in my new spot, and am decided after a week's reflection to be very disciplined about how I use my time for the next few months. I'm teaching on Thursdays and Fridays until the end of May, and need to use lots of time revising my Latin, and sorting lessons that I want to teach! That and housework should keep me far, far away from on-line time-wasting, surely?

I do also need too to be more disciplined spiritually. I'm thinking of starting Lent early. Tomorrow, in fact! Have a great week, Blogland. Expect a timorous knock on the porch for a cup of tea and a quick moment between Concentrated Efforts!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Stormont (a rant)

 I really did not think that my first post of the new year would be about politics. Yuck. I apologise in advance. So, to soften the blow, here is me, looking unusually less than loathsome and somehow quite skinny. That's my currently favourite navy, wool dress. So far, so not entirely yuck.
 And this is a beautiful, incredible sky sometime over the holidays. Breath-taking evening, that was, with no trace of yuck. Not a filter used at all- not least because that would be well beyond my ken, like Northern Ireland politics.
And here is photographic proof that the figures of wisdom and creativity have been seen at Stormont. They may be only thirteen and twelve years old, but there's more potential in those boys on their way in to our Parliament building  than I would vouch for in the whole "Assembly" of what we call politicians who made their ineffective way out of it this week.

I think I only talk about politics when I hear us mentioned on Radio 4, feeling I must apologise for my nation. A wonderful English journalist was talking yesterday about how he had lived here for three years and loved the place, but felt that everything he wrote about us needed to be prefaced by a brief introduction to the whole gammut of Northern Irish history before he could try to explain any current issue. We may not have become a people of inept political choice if all our own news bulletins were prefaced in much the same way.

So, good luck, America, for tomorrow and beyond- here is my situation, for anyone still reading:

My devolved government is not going to govern anymore as the republican second minister has resigned and his party is not nominating a replacement because, under our peace terms, this forces a new election for the whole Assembly.

He has resigned in protest, reflecting the whole little country's feeling, republican or not, of disgust that the First Minister's loyalist party has covered up money made by many, family members included, through loopholes in a previously exciting renewable energy heating scheme. The First minister refused to resign, see above.

There was also annoyance that the loyalist minister in charge of cultural things had withdrawn funding from an Irish language school but given lots and lots and lots to flute etc bands, which may sound innocent to you, but try walking through Belfast on 12th July, and then we'll talk.

All my democratically elected representatives, mostly polarised green and orange because of the way my country insists on voting, then went home, on full pay of £70,000 per annum. They are currently in nice hotels up and across my little country re-nominating themselves to stand in March's election, and posting self-congratulatory photos on farcebook.

Before they left to go home and get changed for their nice hotel dinners, they neglected to put a budget in place for the next financial year, thereby stalling all negotiations with our GPs, many of whom are now dating their resignation letters from the NHS and preparing to go private.

Welcome to the Frozen North. Yuck.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016: an Alphabet of Authors

You know, sitting here with a streaming cold that takes rapid, arbitrary dashes into 'flu, and able to do not much else other than read, certainly not walk in the Mourne Mountains, travel down to Dublin Zoo for the day and stay over at the Red Cow so we can go to the National Gallery the next morning, stroll round the new C S Lewis Sculpture Park with one of today's free guided tours, or even just mooch about my favourite go-to of the Ulster Museum bribing boys with cupcakes and the shop, if they would just brave the dinosaur bones and ensconce themselves in the bird hide...

Sitting here with an ocean of nose and a thumping head, I'm very glad that I got through 26 authors in alphabetical order- as I can't for the life of me think what else I did this year! So here are my twenty-six books of 2016. For my own records and reward. It's definitely good to have something to show for another twelve months on the round! (Forgive the gaps in memory- I'll plug them as they offer themselves back from the mire...)

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Saul Bellow: Him With His Foot in His Mouth
Chris Cleave: The Other Hand
Vanessa Diffenbaugh: The Language of Flowers
Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery
Helen Fielding: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Nina George: The Little Paris Bookshop
Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Eva Ibbotson: The Secret Countess (or A Countess Below Stairs?)
Henry James: What Maisie Knew
Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
David Nicholls: Us
Maggie O'Farrell: After You'd Gone
Barbara Pym: Quartet in Autumn
Matthew Quick: The Silver Linings Playbook
Ali Smith: How To Be Both
Colm Toibin: Nora Webster
Rachel Urquhart: The Visionist
Voltaire: Candide
Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway
Xintan: Sky Burial
Yeats: New Poems, 1938
Markus Zusak: The Book Thief

Best: Bellow, Lee and Hemingway- For Whom The Bell Tolls is now my touchstone of the perfect novel, and that surprised me: Hemingway not being all about bulls and testosterone. An all American top three!

Worst: do not read The Prague Cemetery

Authors I'll read more of now: Bellow and Xintan, possibly starting with Xintan, though first I'm going to find out just what has happened in Tibet...

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Advent Ending

My Advent began with a huge sense of expectation. What did I want God to do for me? Do for me this Advent? That turned into a greater sense of chastising challenge when the nothing transpired within the usual time-frame from an application that I had made. Was God my Father Christmas to deliver a list? I could only offer myself, like Mary, as a servant. Still believing that nothing is impossible for God, but thinking not this time. Then mid-week mid-Advent, an email came, followed by an interview, following by an offer.So, my Advent ending is a happy one, full of wonder that actually God heard the deepest desire of my heart, and blessed me.

This is Prince Charming's favourite Christmas song to sing, and he does sing it beautifully. There is a short burst of him on farcebook! (His band is called North.) I have been crocheting a snowflake for every day in December: some I give away, some I use on present wrapping, the rest are yarnbombing my Jacob's ladder- shall try to get it looking respectable enough to post! Snow is a bit of a theme- all wishful thinking thus far, with crisp frost giving way to cold rain this afternoon!

Meanwhile- may your Advent ending be a happy one, full of wonder and blessing.