Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Spring Cleaning the Kitchen

I Spring Cleaned the kitchen last week.

I didn't mean to - it just kind of happened.I was getting fed up with a sticky shelf where the golden syrup tins sit,the dried fruit shelf needed a bit of a sort-out,spring was in the air outside,
and it just kind of happened!You get to see the pretty side of it...... but there was plenty of the usual grime and elbow grease and embarassingly out of date spice packets, too.And now we need Post-its to tell us where the cereal and the wooden spoons have gone!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Finally - A Pause in Lent

Hello to all my blogging friends - wow, that was One of Those weekends! Nothing terrible, but so busy...
I took some time out yesterday and this morning to look at some of your Pause in Lent posts, and had a giggle with Betty and Dormouse (I should have been more serious - they were) and went back to my housework this morning to the sound of Northern Irish worship music courtesy of Fraise Lachrimose! Giggles and folk rock (plus) have been about my limits for the last few days...
But now I must take my own advice and Pause for the first Sunday in Lent! Along with lots of the others, the cardinal virtues of Valour and Diligence are the ones that hit me this week. And the virtues do kind of hit you, don't they? They are quite tough and uncompromising, and doen't seem to have many 'get-out' clauses. This is probably quite essential.

Since arriving in France, the Valour I've needed has, so far, been practical, spiritual and emotional. I had to (and still continue to) learn French. I had to learn how another country works, and, more challengingly, thinks. I had to learn, the hard way, the strength of human stubborness which allows us to believe that we have wholy given ourselves up to God whilst we are subconsciously pursuing our own agenda, which could in fact be totally counter to God's will. I had to learn that, in my desire to give up self and follow Jesus, I was actually quite ruled by my emotions - ignoring self is not the same as giving up selfishness! Quite the opposite, it turns out - as I've learned about myself (thank you Happiness Project and Simple Abundance) - I've found out what's good and to be cherished and what's harmful and to be confessed and shunned. Ouch! It all hurt but it continues to be worth it.

Diligence (am I the only person who wants to type that with two 'l's?) is now required. God has taken me on a wild ride and it has been stunning - I don't want to hop off the ride, thank him and go my own way. Now is the time, I'm sure, for the 'filling' part of the hymn I mentioned a while back:
'Break me,
Melt me,
Mould me,
Fill me'.
I sang and prayed that for years, and God answered the first three parts since I've come to France - phew! Be careful what you pray for…
Now I know I will have to be diligent to be available for God - the opportunity to learn from him and to become the real me, living and working with the real Him, is there for the taking. But will I make myself open to him? One practical resolution I have this Lent is to go to church each Sunday. That used to be so easy - a church (or several) in walking or cycling distance, all in your own language, easy to get the children to. As Dormouse has said in her post, Protestant churches in France are none of these things. Why should they be? Our Pastor's wife said to me last month: 'You are in exile here. It's normal if nothing feels easy. Don't worry about it.' That was reassuring. And perhaps her understanding is one of the reasons why I'm willing to haul myself (and often the whole family) the 40 minute drive to church in a foreign language. It doesn't have to be that easy. I don't have to leap into action the way I used to do in English churches. Just turning up is perhaps all the diligence that God requires of me at the moment.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Can I Doooooo?

It's a different era now - this 1950 book entitled, 'What Shall I Do?' is full of mask-making, tin can shoes, things to do with old magazines and rag-rug braiding. Yet at the beginning of the February 2012 holidays, I bought Son 2 Mariokart 7, as a reward for forcing him into school all week when friends skived off due to snow and his big brother recovered on the sofa... Although I post about the jolly things our boys do with clay they've excavated themselves, long dog walks etc, a part of modern life is the way that electronic games can take over. Our boys are usually fairly phlegmatic that we limit their time on the computer and DS (and the TV, too), especially on school days. Their friends have (allegedly) unlimited time on games, and not much supervision either. It seems to me that our boys, or at least Son 2, are all the more obsessed, simply because they know they aren't allowed to play all day. The beginning of the holidays was a case in point - he was tired and grumpy, playing far too much, and angry at me every time I told him to turn off.

But, blessedly, a normal pattern of things is beginning to restore itself as the limits become accepted, and other things grab his interest - this Lego Minotaurus game, for example, which allows you to adapt the maze and make up your own rules, and has given us a few fiendish games and a lot of independent architectural work over the last week.

A sort-out of books led to the rediscovery of some comical gems - Spike Milligan's Milliganimals, and a couple of Far Side cartoon books. The recovery on the sofa was much-aided by readings of these cartoons, and Son 2 is also hooked.

The new digital piano, bought at some expense yet still a very good deal to replace the crumbling 'real' piano, is another huge draw and if you look closely you'll see a 'tick list' on the piano, which the boys mark every time they run through their piano pieces. Look at those double/treble/quadruple-ticked days! And the joy of having the headphones when the boys want to experiment with machine-gun noises, or when Ben wants to play at 11pm...

... of course the whole desirability of the thing sometimes leads to scuffles!

And finally, of course, the other antidote to too much video gaming is getting out and about. Son 2 can cycle to his friends or come on dog walks, but Son 1 is still limping (or lurching, really) and our season tickets for the nearby safari park have been a God-send for giving a semi-mobile boy something to do in the sunshine. On our last visit (Wednesday I think) he actually lurched round the walk-round zoo with me too!

So I wouldn't like you to think that our boys aren't part of the modern world with their computers and their obsessions, but I was also pleased to note that there is a natural balance which can be aimed for, with a certain amount of control and a fair amount of encouragement. I wouldn't be keen on removing them completely from modern living, but I do feel the need for some kind of limits - sometimes I wonder if we're hitting the right balance, but this week's enthusiasm for board games, piano practice and cartoon books makes me feel that we're reasonably on track!

That said, the usual suspects are visiting at the moment (three brothers), and all five boys are gathered round the computer, beeping away, but at least I know that it's part of a wider life, and not the whole thing. Other parents - what are your thoughts and experiences?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A little French mince pie!

Some years ago I baked mince pies for Ben's work Christmas Do. Only the older French people eat them (don't you think young people are so conservative?) but they are generally appreciated - and on this one occasion one of Ben's colleagues was a particular fan - they reminded her of a speciality of the town where she grew up! A French mince pie? Remarkable.This week she came back from a visit to her hometown and gave Ben a little package from the Boulangerie Molière - six petits pâtés de Pézenas. They are the bobbin-shaped, sweet-sour tarts for which this Mediterranean town is known.
We knew from our discussion years back that these pies are more like the mince pies of Olde England - they have mutton and beef in them as well as dried fruit, spices and lemons. And they aren't reserved for Christmas.
We warmed them up and ate them with a raw veg salad (thinking of Serenata!)...They were great! The mutton is really strong, which is an unusual taste for a modern Brit, but the overwhelming flavour of sucrée-salée is just like that of a mince pie. I knew there had to be some English connection - perhaps from the Middle Ages, when Crusaders came back with the original dried fruit/sweet and sour recipes? It turns out that the connection is much more recent, and is Anglo-Indian, rather than Middle Eastern. Lord Clive, the Governor of India, spent some time in Pézenas, and used to give soirées where the main delicacy was these little meat tarts. On leaving the town he gave them the gift of his recipe! This all dates to 1768 - what a lovely French/British/Indian connection we have unwittingly linked in to...If you'd like to know more about this delightful cardinal bird, and, more specifically about how we're going to be thinking our way through the Cardinal Virtues in Lent, please check out the post below.

Theme - A Pause in Lent 2012

It's been generally agreed that coming up with ideas for six Sunday/Mondays in a row can be quite a struggle for the Pause in Lent, so those who have left comments have all been in favour of a loose theme to guide our thoughts.
I want us to be very relaxed about this - interpret the theme as you like, and use the inspiration words as you want - maybe you want to take one word and write about it for the whole of Lent, or maybe you'd prefer to look at many different words. And here are the words, suggested by Ang of Tracing Rainbows:
Do you recognise them? If you do, you might realise why they go, in my mind at least, with Charley Harper's Cool Cardinal, pictured above the list! (See my sidebar for more Charley Harper details.)
Yes, no doubt most of you got it quicker than I would have - Ang sent me a list of the Cardinal Virtues (or, and this gets complicated, the four cardinal virtues plus three theological virtues - I'm not got to quibble)! Here are the definitions Ang found:
Valour: Pursuit of Knowledge
Generosity: Pursuit of Charity
Liberality: Pursuit of Will
Diligence: Pursuit of Ethics
Patience: Pursuit of Peace
Kindness: Pursuit of Love
Humility: Pursuit of Modesty
As Protestants, Ang and I have never really looked much into this list before, and some of them sound kind of complicated, nay, confusing... What are we going to make of them? Well, our Catholic friends may be able to help us out - I'm sure glad you're with us, friends. But the really important thing is that they should give us some kind of prompt for spiritual exploration over the next six weeks - as Yoli, over at Apron Senorita, says: "The goal of every Christian is to leave Lent a stronger and more vital person of faith than when we entered." I'm really looking forward to sharing Lent with you, friends old and new.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Glorious vintage tins!

Son 1's leg is on the mend, and he's getting bored of being stuck in the house. When an attempted trip to the local safari park (drive-round, therefore suited to a hobbling teenager) fell through (snow damage still being repared) we headed off to the nearby Troc Shop. Oh, what a haul we found!Oh, I was so happy, and so surprised! Due to budgetary restraints, I've been avoiding the troc shops, but this was theraputic...Son 1 talked me into buying that rather impressive serpent which is now holding our oranges. We've always admired them, and buying trendy things about three years too late is par for the course for me.But the real Floss buys really old things, not just three-years-out-of-date fruit holders! I spotted this tin straight away, which has a quite remarkable image combining a 1920s/30s style couple in horse trap along with an ancient Greek horse. Really - see for yourself: http://www.etsy.com/listing/87402521/ancient-greece-bronze-horse-in-gallop
The base of the tin is pretty well-made too."Do you really need this?" asked Son 1, in some desparation...But I have to have a Scotsman in London! And the soldiers in their bearskins...I have to say, they do complete my vintage tin display rather wonderfully (for now, at least). See the bright red Chinoiserie one? That came too...It's fun with the Egyptian style one below it, which came from the same Troc Shop several years ago.
The ancient horse has found good company with another round tin too, I think.
And they all snuggle under the 'combles' near my collection of vintage fabric boxes. I am really rather pleased with all this!

A Pause in Lent 2012 - WIP!

A Pause in Lent this year will start next Sunday or Monday (this also reminds us that Tuesday is Pancake Day - not to be forgotten!). Thanks very much for the comments you've been leaving on last Wednesday's post (click on the link in the sidebar to see it). It's clear that a loose theme with a positive, 'looking forward' nature is going to be useful for us. I'm looking through all your suggestions, in comments and emails, and will come up with something for you by Ash Wednesday, which seems appropriate! The most important thing is that this 'Pause' is designed to help bloggers in their own spiritual path. Therefore I try to keep the rules to a minimum, because how on earth would I know what's right for you? If you want to dip in and out, and not post every week, please do. If you want to tie your posts in with something else you're doing, like a Lent group, readings, giving up or taking on things... please do! See you in Lent!

Friday, February 17, 2012


Blogging creates the most wonderful connections - you know that for yourselves and I've experienced it in many ways before, perhaps most surprisingly with my Californian friend Shelley, who 'bumped into' me on the internet whilst researching a French singer - it's a great story which we told here. Another one of these 'amazing' connections popped up towards the end of last year, and I'm partly writing this post to tell you about it, and partly in an attempt to re-connect with the person - I'm ashamed to say that when I changed email addresses I lost all the relevant emails and even her address!

So, this lady is Australian, and has a fantastic son called Tobias who is pictured above - along with the cute dog he has a cute little family and they are heading from Australia to Mozambique this year, to work as missionaries.

What made the connection is that Tobias draws the most incredible mazes - it's been a hobby since childhood and he's used it to explore spiritual ideas, as well as to pay homage to the very first maze - the Labyrinth of the Minotaur:

So when Tobias' mum was browsing my blog, she noticed a link to my old friend Rob's blog, and was unsurprisingly drawn to this post, where Rob writes about a worship labyrinth he created on Tynemouth beach.

Realising from my comment that I actually knew Rob in real life, she contacted me to see if I could put her in touch with him. She explained the maze connection and asked for our adresses, as she wanted to send us each a copy of Tobias' book!

How incredibly generous! And how I would like to get back in touch with her to tell her all about how Son 2 worked his way through the 'Simply Amazed' section for children and then tackled the 'Hardly Amazed' set of really, really tricky mazes, and even paid a teeny bit of attention to the spiritual content, and was genuinely interested in Tobias' call to work as a missionary...


But I can't, so, Rob, could you possibly pass on her contact details for me again please, or, if you are reading, LeAnne (have I spelt that right?) please do get back in touch again. We've been praying for you and for Tobias and his family, and I would love to get back in touch!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Thrill of What You Already Have - February

Finally! I managed to post our inspiration picture early this month, but it took me ages to get some bits and pieces together, and then even longer to put them into a blog post for you!You'll see the inspiration picture - a vintage railway poster advertising Edinburgh as a destination - to your left in my sidebar. Last time I just used the colours and shapes in the Dunfermline poster to inspire a collection of nicely-toned bits and bobs (geegaws, as Ben would put it...).This time, influenced by the destination and by the January posts of other bloggers taking part, I've collected things which actually do have an Edinburgh connection. It's probably the only time I'll do that, but Edinburgh is my Scottish base and always has been, I suppose, so it's no surprise.
I found this tin, with a scene of the Scott Monument very reminiscent of the poster itself, in my dad's larder when we were visiting at Christmas. The vintage tin is lined with blue velvet - it's really very plush and unworn. But I have no idea where and when it arrived in my dad's house - I'd never seen it before! Evidently my mum or my grandma found it in a charity shop years ago, and it's been tucked in the larder (which is nowadays a general store room) waiting for me to find it! I asked my dad if he'd like it out on display and he shuddered slightly and told me he was trying to get rid of things, not display more - so it came back to France with us! Maybe it's the first time the tin has ever left Edinburgh, but now it's in good company.Just below the tin is a little vintage enameled sewing case - just room for a thimble, pins, needle and thread. I think I found that in my Christmas stocking one year in the 1980s...

The little basket you see in several of the pictures popped in due to its colours as much as its Edinburgh connections. But as my mother gave it to me, with a real story behind it, I thought it was appropriate, as Edinburgh is so connected in my mind with my mum. The story is that when my mother's family lived in Canada for a number of years in the 1950s, my mum spotted this little hand-made basket, woven by a Canadian Indian lady who lived near their holiday home. (I've looked up the modern terms for Canadian Indian but am confused. 'First Nations lady' sounds strange, but Canadian friends, what is correct?) My mum was desperate to spend her pocket money on the basket but my grandmother told her it was a complete waste of money and not to be so silly. This caused the usual kind of rift that you get over spending on family holidays, but somehow or other my mum ended up, triumphant, with the basket. And I can't really think of anything else she could have afforded which would have stood the test of time so well, can you?After that triumph, I don't think any of my other finds seem quite so impressive! The books have some Edinburgh connections - my mum talked me into buying the three enormous leather-bound Bible commentaries in the Bethany Shop, Stockbridge, Edinburgh. I bought the Poems and Songs of Burns from my dad's church book stall more recently - isn't it a wonderful binding? The cannon balls could recall Edinburgh's military history and even the Cannonmills area of the city, if you like, but actually they came from an English battlefield and are really there to hold the books up!This is my other recent Edinburgh find - and I got it at the English Christmas Market in Toulouse! The title was vaguely familiar and it turns out that this is a reprint of books by an author which my grandma collected in the 1940s. The Silent Traveller is the pen name of a Chinese artist and writer who arrived in the west in the 1930s, and wrote charming and insightful books about what he found, illustrated with his own Chinese-style drawings. If you can find one of his books about a city or area you know, I think you would be really charmed by it!Here's the whole set-up - I always put them in a dark area, which is bad for photography but just right for seeing when you enter the house! You win some, you loose some...
I'm really enjoying the other 'Thrill' posts that are coming up. The diversity is what's impressive. If you look in my sidebar you'll see that some people are using the theme to think in terms of colour, others are looking at geography/travel, some are using at as an exercise in story-telling/nostalgia (as I've done this time, I realise) and others have done something different! I think that's great. I wonder if it has to be about household items anyway? What about an outfit based on the colours or themes? That might be fun! Please feel free to go wild with the theme and do what you like...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Questions in the run-up to a Pause in Lent

For a good few years now we've been 'Pausing' in Advent and then again in Lent. The idea is linked to journalling, perhaps - it shares the notion of making a commitment to stop, reflect and write down hopes, thoughts, experiences, questions, goals and so on.

In Advent the 'Pause' is a very accessible and straightforward one - everyone, whatever their background, can get caught up in the whirl of Christmas preparations, and lots of people appreciate taking a pause from the rush to reflect on something a bit less material. Some of the really popular Pause in Advent posts have been just that - a reflection on the things that really matter like family, home and love, rather than presents and spending.Lent is a very different matter, because we don't go crazy in the run-up to Easter. Well done us, I say! So the take-up for the Pause in Lent is smaller, and usually mainly Christian - Lent has some really obvious Christian notions and it's easier to get a handle on it if you are practising it as part of your faith. But anyone is welcome to join in - as always, what am really curious to know is: what is YOUR take on Lent? I don't care if it's not the same to other people's (in fact, dare I say it, I prefer learning about something that's different to other people!)
I have some questions for you in the run-up to Lent 2012 (the posts should start on Feb 26th or 27th), and I wonder if you have any questions for me. My question is: shall we do a Pause in Lent the way we've always done it before (click on the logo in my sidebar for some previous posts) or should we 'tweak' it a bit to prevent it from becoming stale - should we introduce a theme or a key question or something else?
I also hope you have some questions for me - particularly, there have been questions about where I got my Pause in Lent image from, so I'll answer that one in my next Pause post. But is there anything else you'd like to ask? Related to the Pause or Lent in particular, or on another subject? Go on, I'm in the mood to be grilled...