Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Second Pause in Lent

Last week, the boys and I began Lent by flying up to Edinburgh to stay with my parents. I was wary of travelling while I was still ill, but we were really well-supported by Ben's parents, who looked after us overnight at both ends of the journey, and by my own parents once we arrived. Thus, Lent for me has meant a lot of moving around so far, and also gradually shaking off the virus which infected my thyroid glands and sent my hormones and health reeling. But through all that, I found the first Pause in Lent posts so variously thought-provoking and moving that I felt I just had to take the time to analyse what people had reflected and written.This is my slightly rushed attempt to synthesise what your posts meant to me last week!
Over at Me and Ma, my Christmas swap friend Maria did a non-Christian Pause in Lent post, looking at the meaning of Lent to someone who isn't part of that tradition. I was really happy about that, as I think diversity and variety is the name of the game here. She got me thinking about the rhythm of the seasons and how they affect our living patterns.j
Lydia, a juggling mum who claims to be either 'Waving or Drowning' (that poem really disturbed me as a young teenager, Lydia!) got me thinking with her reflections on faith, and how her personal faith journey is moving on. She and I have had different experiences in life, and I really appreciate hearing how someone else is working things out. She then shared the song 'Make Me a Channel of your Peace', which is such a good prayer, thinking of what we can give, not recieve. Pop over and listen to it if you haven't heard it recently!
At Lúcháir, Elizabeth summed up her take on the Ash Wednesday themes with the phrase: 'What it means to me at this moment is "Remember you are of the earth"'. She described the traditional Catholic ceremony and explained how it ties in with her environmental concerns - her guest blogger Miriam McHardy then wrote a second post explaining the Carbon Fast in Lent - this is a great idea and I am getting daily emails about it from Tearfund! Thanks for the tip, Elizabeth.
Becca at BrightHaven Days is observing Lent for the first time together with her husband, and it's really interesting to hear how it's making sense to her as she goes through it. Her blog has an emphasis on simple living, and Lent seems a real focus for the kind of pared-down spirituality I think she's aiming for.
Over at Pondside I was really struck to learn how harsh Lent used to be for children in families which observed it (although it's worth reading Yoli's account to see that there could be a positive side to it too). It really made think about how little the boys and I have looked at Lent before - for me it's a tool, not an obligation, and we've just seen it as a build up to the story-telling of Holy Week. Another blogger exploring Lent with children is MummyMad at the Madhouse. If you haven't heard what she's given up for Lent, you should pop over, as I think you'll see that it's a really positive thing for her children!
Like me, Angela at Tracing Rainbows comes from a non-conformist background, which means we've been brought up to show a certain pride in NOT doing things like Lent - we don't need them, oh no, we're super-holy without them, (lol). I'm being unfair on our tradition of course, and Angela has a great example of how someone coming to Lent from the outside can find new ways of making it real. She is giving away something every day. She's not posting about each thing, but I guess she may share a few experiences with us. Giving away, not giving up...
Someone who always gets me thinking is Denise, at her abundant blog A Bun Can Dance. Like Angela, she's taken up a number of ideas this Lent, all with the aim of achieving 'balance'. She says: 'So my Lenten days are days of Being rather than days of avoiding. Lent can be, and is a life affirming and positive experience, not sack cloth and denial. It's simply a time for reflection, for taking stock of your own self and maybe doing things a little differently.'
At French Village Life, Elizabethd is also looking at how she uses her time during Lent. She has a LIST! Her idea is simple but profound, and although I have a mental list of people I want to pray for, perhaps I should join her in actually writing it down, so that it actually gets done...
Pom Pom has also been writing, with the aim of 'creating a space'. If you haven't seen her pictures of her journals and very visual expressions of faith, they are well worth a look, as they show that there are so very many creative ways to pray.
Mrs Yappy Dog shared a picture from her family Bible with what I found to be a really inspiring text on it: 'Let us walk honestly'. She wrote about being honest with God.
Now I'm worried that I've left someone out. Please forgive me if I have! Here's another Wordle that sums up what I discovered from your posts:

The list of bloggers taking part is in my sidebar on your left - please do take the chance to visit, either as a participant or as an interested onlooker!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Today is Special - Fondooooooooo!

Sometimes exciting ideas in blogland also seem like a bit of hard work - swaps etc. But I found one last week which seemed nothing but pure joy!George's Mum over at Evie George % organised a Winter Olympics après ski party during half term and invited us to join in. Well, yes, please, I think we will! After all, Today is Special - get out the fondue set!
Ben and I are personally very fond of a cheese fondue, and Son 1 had a great meat fondue with friends the other night, but sadly, I am off cheese due to the steriods so we went straight for the chocolate course. Tragic, really.Fair Trade is essential, obviously - I thought we'd try BOTH major French brands.I'm just fooling your with these archive snow photos - we did nothing to deserve our calories the other night.
We melted the chocolate with a bit of milk, and having forgotten to buy cream I stirred in a petit suisse (sweet white cheese) which worked just fine!
We served it with chopped pears (the winner), apples, bananas and quatre quarts cake, which is a bit like Madeira cake for the Brits.
Mulled wine was also on Georges's Mum's menu - I made up a recipe and Ben and I savoured the results!
A real bit of holiday fun - thanks so much for encouraging something special!
Tomorrow we'll begin the second Pause in Lent. I learnt an enormous amount from the diverse posts last week - I am still trying to think through and digest what I read, so I'd better get a move on before you all get me thinking again!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spring is in the Post

Spring is in the air here in France. The sparrows we fed through the snowy weather are repaying us now with songs (delightful) and rustling under the roof tiles (less so). The weather can be sunny one moment and pouring the next, and the coups de vent, or gusts of wind, have been violent. But in the post, it is simply sunny...Several parcels were waiting for me when we arrived home and I took my time opening them - I hate to be rushed. Elizabethd from French Village Life sent me my next installment in the lovely Father Tim series, and added in this charming string patchwork heart - my first sight of string patchwork, despite being signed up to the challenge! It's full of restful lavender - thanks so much, Elizabeth.
This sweet little Victorian Christmas card was one of those incredibly low ebay bids that you don't expect to win...
And here is something I really did want to win - and I did! It's Della Grace's Dreaming of Spring giveaway. Happy me.
Inside the luxurious wrapping was this pretty card,
and these two wonderful pieces of fabric - I'd been thinking of springtime cushions, and here is some fine inspiration!
And Martha Stewart bows: yes, folks, Martha Stewart! I don't think I've ever owned something from the great Martha before. I feel creative...
I also need to tell you that, in the spirit of Today is Special and the Winter Olympics, we joined in the Apres Ski fondue party with Evie George % a few nights ago. Very, very yummy and entertaining. Photos to follow.
My blood test results have been deemed an improvement, and I am allowed to cut down my steriods by half a tablet. Whilst this is just the beginning it's a great relief, as those things are NASTY! They have done the trick, though, and I will be slowly going back to work from Monday onwards - taking it carefully for the first week. Thanks so much for your concern, best wishes and prayers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The wanderers return, and pick a Giveaway winner!

We had a lovely holiday visiting grandparents, and were met at the airport last night, after delays due to a strike, by Ben and Raja the dog. I am feeling quite a a bit stronger than I was, and await news from my doctor on what I am allowed to do now...So on the the Giveaway Draw! There were 74 entries, and I have the numbers 1 to 74 currently plugged into Shall I press the button?It's number 70! I'll just have a check to see who that is...
It's Tonja!
Ooh, she has a very pretty blog. Go and have a look and congratulate her! I'll be in touch, Tonja.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Off on our travels...

We're heading back from Edinburgh today to spend another night with Ben's parents (where I snapped this lovely lace mat!). The lambs are still coming...
And the boys are looking forward to seeing the sheepdog again!
Then tomorrow we're heading home.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A first Pause in Lent - Psalm 139

Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts
.You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions.
Even before I speak, you already know what I will say.
You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.

Where could I go to escape from you?
Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there;
if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west, you would be there to lead me, you would be there to help me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as bright as the day.Darkness and light are the same to you.
You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother's womb.I praise you because you are to be feared; all you do is strange and wonderful.
I know it with all my heart.
When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother's womb,
when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there, you saw me before I was born.
The days allotted to me had all been recorded in your book, before any of them ever began.
O God, how difficult I find your thoughts how many of them there are!
If I counted them, they would be more than the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.
Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts.
Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way.
This is most of Psalm 139. I cut out a bit I didn't like but it would be dishonest not to let you know there's an angry bit in the middle. If you ever feel that you'd like God to 'zap' people who are getting at you, you might like it! You can find the whole thing here.
The little daisy text, above, belonged to my Grandma. I am so looking forward to reading other Pause in Lent posts. You can find the full list of bloggers taking part on the list to the left, in my sidebar.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mirror, mirror, in the charity shop....

I wish I could hear my Canadian friends reading that title - I love the Canadian pronunciation of the word 'mirror'!I have regained some of my energy, and this morning I went on a carbohydrate-fuelled trip to few charity shops in Stockbridge (the joy of having a high metabolism while my hormones continue to be weird). I am at the stage now where a bit of activity in the day does me no harm, and that's wonderful! Look at my haul - a stack of magazines, 25p each; some scone cutters, a flower candle and this lovely mirror, which will be one of the first that Ben and I put up on what we want to become a 'wall of mirrors' to lighten our dark, cool French home.

Not pictured are a whole stack of 'Roman Mysteries' - books written for the age of our own boys and most of my pupils, and a set of Anne of Green Gables for my students, plus 'Round Ireland with a Fridge', which Ben has wanted for ages!

Thank you for your continued well-wishes for both me and my mum - we find your care and concern really encouraging! You are a super bunch of bloggers...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Buttons and Pearls

Yesterday I asked my mum if she had ' just an ordinary button box, not the special ones, just with some plastic buttons we could use for craft...' and ths is what appeared! Even her ordinary box is quite special - I bet button lovers can spot something they'd like in there! I used them on a flower garland as seen on Evie George % and Temps Perdu, but simplified down, thinking that the boys might like to help me with it. However, it seems I have found their limit - they cook, they craft, they thrift, but 11 and 12 year old boys don't use recyled leaflets to make flower garlands! Should have guessed, really - today we went to see Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, which was much more up their street.
I just also wanted to show you this lovely pearl necklace, and its pretty vintage ticking bag, which my mum has passed on to me.
I'm wearing the pearls now and they really are wonderful - the glow that they give to the skin is quite lustrous.
I don't suppose you're surprised that I'm not doing much blog reading and commenting while I'm here, but I am sorry to be missing you - I'll defnitely be watching out for the Pause in Lent posts, and am planning one of my own - thanks very much for all your really helpful and interesting comments.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The boys have been cooking again...

Before we left France, Son 1 decided to try out the Chinese section of their Round the World Cookbook, in honour of the Chinese New Year. He also took recipes from one of our books, and copied them down into his Christmas present cookery folder. When I'd stopped fainting from the sight of Son 1 voluntarily writing, I helped out with some of the recipes. For the starter he made Spring Rolls (known as nems in France), because he'd enjoyed them at the school Chinese New Year meal. They were very good with the sauce he created!
To be honest I did the spare ribs, because the dough for the nems was taking him so long, but he learned from what I was doing. He also took the above photos, and then enjoyed the meal...
His brother is getting very good with chopsticks!
Shame he doesn't actually like Chinese food...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mercredi des Cendres

Mercredi des Cendres is Ash Wednesday - today! As I'm doing my jetting about the UK (we safely arrived with Bristol grandparents yesterday afternoon, in the middle of lambing season, and fly to Edinburgh grandparents today), I got thinking and photographing and scheduled most of this post in advance... Ashes are quite a significant part of life when you heat your house with a wood fire. We mainly burn oak, which is strong and slow-burning, producing a nice, pale ash. When we add in other wood, gleaned from fallen trees or ordered too late (and therefore a bit damp and 'green'), the ash is darker, I think a sign that the burning wasn't so efficient.
Whatever ash we get drops, or is brushed, through the grate into the ash pan below the fire. This needs emptying whenever it fills up, as some ventilation is essential through the grate. If the fire won't start, the first thing I do is check the ash pan. One lovely difference between the wood fire and the coal ones we had in some of our English houses is that it burns best when cleaned infrequently - the logs like an insulating layer of ash to lie on. My kind of housekeeping!
The finished ashes are thrown into our metal bin (I always think of the plastic ones which still have 'no hot ashes' printed on their lids). We use the ash over the year to mix with compost from the heap, which really improves our heavy clay soil.
Ash Wednesday is so-called because from the Middle Ages Christians used this day to begin
Lent with a day of repentance and reflection on their sins. It's true that words like 'repentance' and 'sins' have been used to control and subjugate people over time (having studied history and read books like The Name of the Rose and Chocolat I can see the terrible side of control in the name of God). But I think we throw the baby out with the bathwater if we reject words like that because they've been misused. A cross of ashes is traditionally drawn on the forehead of every person at the service. I don't think I've ever been a member of a church which did this, but I went to a Catholic school and more recently visited a Catholic Ash Wednesday service in Harrogate when we lived there. I found the symbolism very moving and effective. In the Old Testament putting ashes on the forehead was a symbol of mourning and sorrow. It certainly shows that you're not thinking of your personal style - people leave the cross on all day and get funny looks!
I can't find different traditons for mercredi des cendres in France - it seems to be a very standard ritual all round the Catholic world. For me I think the key word has got to be 'repentance', which means no more than 'turning'. It's about taking time to look at your life and the direction it's going in. Not happy with that direction? Turn!
As a Christian I feel that the direction I always need to be moving in is towards Jesus. Lots of things in blogging help me to do that - your friendships, the Challenge of the Utmost Kind, learning more about your lives and thoughts, and reflecting on our family's life and priorities as I blog about them help me to remember that there IS a purpose and there IS a direction. Knowing Jesus shows me the goal, and gives me the strength to make changes I couldn't manage on my own.
This is me thinking out loud, trying to work out what Lent, as a non-Conformist Christian in a non-Liturgical church, means to me. Stay tuned for the Pause in Lent, where I may even make some sense of it, with your help!