Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Wishes and a Belated Pause in Advent

Merry Christmas to you all! We have had a lovely first few days of the holidays, with a flurry of tidying, cooking and dog-walking all culminating in the traditional decoration of our living Christmas tree, fresh in from the garden, to the sounds of Carols from Kings.
The poor tree, already battered from living in a pot in the south of France when it is really an inhabitant of northern climes, also has to contend with a large and adventurous kitten this year. Ben had the idea of decorating it with scented things - dried citrus fruit, chillis and star anise, all of which seem to be quite repellant to Wilson the tree-climber. However, we've had one or two close calls with other decorations already... all breakable ones are on the mantelpiece or tucked away for a year.

With relation to my Last Straw post, below, no, Mags, I never came near to my own last straw, but thanks for asking! We divided up the tasks between us - I took on the house tidying and cleaning, the boys committed themselves to checking, sorting and putting up the decorations, and Ben has very nobly stayed in the kitchen for three days producing seasonal and everyday food. Wonderful man!

Have your own, wonderful, Christmas. God bless you all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A third pause in Advent - the Last Straw

I had a lovely surprise on Friday when a little boy I teach decided to read this Christmas story with me. His brother brought him the book and we began to share the reading between us (because there was rather a lot of writing on the first page, and he felt daunted). I want to share what I took from the story with you, because as far as I can see it is all about Pausing in Advent!

So, here's what I took from the story:
A camel who is slightly past his sell-by date is chosen to take the Wise Men to visit the new baby king. He's tired and rather sore but when the young camels praise him he laps it up and adds to his own legend by boasting that he has the strength of ten camels.
On the way to Bethlehem, ordinary animals and people stop him to ask if he'll carry their own gift to the new baby king. The other camels could have taken a bit of the load, but no, he doesn't want to admit his own weakness, and carries on accepting the charges given and staggering towards Bethlehem.
As he nears the town a little child comes to give him the famous 'last straw' as a gift for the baby king's bed. Of course he knows it's going to finish him, but he accepts it and lurches into the final stage of his journey.
Limping into the stable, his knees give way and he finds himself kneeling in forced humility before the baby king. Others follow his example, thinking he's kneeling out of reverence not exhaustion.
The baby king reaches out and touches him. His pains and his sense of having to carry the whole world on his shoulders disappear and he realises why he was chosen.
Well, of course I was nearly in tears by the time my sweet little pupil had finished this. The author may be a man, but I sure feel that the story is that of millions of mothers around the world as Christmas approaches. We take on what may be ludicrous burdens, without realising that others are ready and available to share them with us, and we may be forced to our knees before we realise that Jesus is waiting to give us the real perspective, and the real healing, which are the centre of Christmas.
Thanks for all your contributions for a Pause in Advent! Your posts mean a lot to me and I have managed to read all of last week's now, I think! Commenting is another matter, and as I'm trying to avoid my own Last Straw I hope you'll forgive me for being a 'lurker' rather than a commenter on your posts again, this week.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Second Pause in Advent - the Grateful City

I mentioned that we'd be away for the weekend, but I didn't tell you where - the boys and I took the train to Lyon, to stay with Ben (he usually comes home to us at the weekend). It was the boys' first visit to see their dad's flat and his university, and the large and very beautiful city of Lyon.
Lyon is one of France's biggest cities, and to me seems very elegant. I feel a bit of a country bumpkin wandering round it, but I'm prepared to put up with that!
We decided to vist Lyon on December 7th and 8th because every year the city holds a huge Festival of Light, which combines lighting effects, film, music and tehchnology to light up the whole city.
The boys were fascinated by how the lights changed on both the Law Courts and the underground river-front carpark below it!
Watchers on the many bridges or on the opposite bank could see the lights dance,
to the music from the film Lawrence of Arabia!
The wonderful Basilica on the hill to the right was also part of the same show, and the lights changed constantly and majestically.
Other parts of the town had more 'classical' lighting, with two long avenues like this one down the main shopping streets.
We stopped by this reflecting pool to munch on hot chestnuts.
To the left of the basilica you can see the original reason for all this light,
and to the right, in between the light shows, you could see it clearly stated: "Mercie Marie."
The Festival of Light stems from an occasion when Lyon was threatened by the plague, which was affecting towns, villages and the countryside around. The faithful citizens lit candles in their windows and prayed to Mary, and the city was spared. Now, as a Protestand, praying to Mary is fairly alien to me, but it's impossible not to be impressed that, centuries later, people are still remembering to say a grateful 'thank you' for their deliverance. Answered prayers are something we are prone to ignore or forget, and centuries of gratitude for one big answer seems very appropriate to me.
France is a secular country, both legally and psychologically, these days. The opportunity to draw in tourists and patronise the arts is (perfectly reasonably) a big part of the festival these days. The huge ferris wheel which stands in the main square is designed as a working ride but also as a cinema screen!
This year's film, which was mainly shown on the revolving ride but also moved to the large balls, the horseman statue and various nearby roofs, made great use of the circular nature of the screen!
The pierrot-figure comes to life and has a series of misadventures,
arrgh, it's beginning to turn too fast!
Out of control!
Ker-splooey! (as Calvin would say...)
The constantly repeated shows used fireworks, lazers, flames and music to tell their stories or display their effects.
Yesterday night, after we'd gone home, Ben went back into the city and sent me some live footage on my phone of yet more shows!
So my weekend has been filled with family time, light, and a reminder of the value of gratitude. How about you?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Normal service will resume on Monday- we're off for the weekend! Apologies that not all the 'Pausers' are on the list yet- please check my 'Sign Up' post, below, for a few more contributers.

Note to aspiring robbers: a friend will be sleeping over to mind the animals!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A First Pause in Advent 2013 - Refinding Faith

My sidebar is full of pictures of my old Advent Wreath! That's a funny feeling... I took the photo years ago! Welcome to all the Pause in Advent bloggers, old and new. It's great to have so many of you (see the sidebar for details) and I hope to come and visit your posts over the course of my busy week. My apologies to new and occasional readers that this post, below, is pretty heavy and personal. I promise you something light, pretty and festive next week!
This old wreath is still in our Advent box, but rather battered, especially after one or two candles were allowed to burn down too low over the years.

To my surprise, my theme for Advent this year sounds rather like last year's. I wouldn't have expected that - I certainly don't feel 'in the same place' as last year. Last year I was thinking about the Essence of Christmas. This year, I've been feeling rather unsure about the whole thing. My faith took a battering earlier in the year, something which has never happened before. Over the past decade we've made a difficult (though ultimately delightful) move to a new country, had problems in a church, my mum has died, my dad has remarried, and through all this my faith remained real and certain. This year nothing to shock you happened at all, and yet, perhaps due to cumulative effects and one little trigger in May, it feels like the foundations of my faith have been shaken.

Over the difficult months I held on to one thing only - forgiveness. This is because my friends without particular faith live good, kind, meaningful lives, really not so different to the Christians I know and the Christian I have been. However (and you can disagree with me) it seems just about impossible, without Jesus,  to offer true forgiveness. I'm not even sure if forgiveness is a particularly high priority to my non-Christian friends. After decades of living with forgiveness as both something received and given, this forgiveness-free (or forgiveness-reduced) life was the one thing that didn't seem at all attractive.

My faith was dented, shaken, and at times apparantly gone. It's still a very tentative thing - maybe it's going to grow back in strength or maybe it will always be a bit weak now, who can say? I realise that this period of doubt may help me to be more understanding and respectful of other people who question and doubt. I've seen both sides, now.

There's lots more to say and maybe some of you want to hear it. Maybe some feel that my faith or lack of it is a matter for me alone. I'm sure others are really concerned to hear what I've been through. For some it would be possible to assume that I never really had a true, saving faith in Jesus, because how otherwise could it just disappear? This article has been a lot of help to me on this subject and others - please read it if you have any questions about the whole theme of refinding faith.

But for now, the theme of my Advent pauses has been decided by some very powerful words I heard in church this morning:

'Discern the essential. Discern real life'.

I can't tell you the impact those words had on me during our communion service. I need to send an appreciative email (in French, drat...) to our pastor and the guy who was preaching this morning, as their emphasis on the Essential and on Real Life had a real turn-around effect on me. I hope that in some way the emphasis on discernment, on the essential, and on the real, gives you pause for thought in whatever you'll be doing in this first week of Advent. See you next week!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sign up for A Pause in Advent 2013

It was nice to read in the comments on my post below that a good number of people would really like to join in the Pause in Advent this year!

The idea is to take time out from the rush and panic in the lead up to Christmas, and take some time to think about what we are really preparing for. This differs for every blogger - some of the most popular posts interpret it in a 'simple living, anti-materialistic' way, others throw in a good seasoning of spiritual thoughts, and there's usually a healthy dash of crafting, baking and traditions from around the world. Please join us if you'd like to contribute to this delicious feast of Advent thoughts!

This year Advent begins on Sunday 1st December, which is nice and neat! So the rules, as far as they go, are:
Post four times in Advent, either on the Sundays (1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd December) or on the following Mondays. Don't worry if you miss one or more, though - this is about resting and thinking, not feeling more pressure!
Use the ‘A Pause for Advent’ picture at the top of this post to link back to my blog, which will give the links to the other Advent bloggers.
Post about ANYTHING on your mind this Advent – traditions, family, craft, questions, hopes, experiences, faith … it’s up to you!
Visit the other Advent bloggers as you are able, to find out what’s on THEIR minds this Advent.

If you've already told me below that you'll join in, then you'll be listed in my sidebar once Advent begins. However, if you haven't told me already, please sign up in a comment on this post. And if you're not taking part, then please still come and visit and find out what people are up to around the world, as Advent begins!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fuzzy family photos

Hello and happy weekend! I've just had a look through the photos on my phone from November so far, in the hope that I could find something interesting to share with you, and this is the best I can come up with!
Three fuzzy individuals - Son 1, Raja the elderly dog and Wilson the lively young killing machine - in a fuzzy photo taken to send to Ben in Lyon!

We are muddling along quite happily, with lots of work and a few ailments - the usual for November! I've been thinking about A Pause in Advent - I hope I'll be able to do something for that now-yearly event. Would you like to join us?

Friday, October 25, 2013


Google Translate tells me that the Spanish for 'jewels' is 'joyas' - I sure hope it's right, as I spend all day telling students not to trust that programme... but here are some beautiful, jewel-like Spanish treasures for you:
They almost seem like a beautiful children's craft project to me, made of thousands of tiny pieces of sticky paper, or maybe wine gums...
They're actually tins, imported into France containing sweets, something like the vintage Huntley and Palmers tins I sometimes find on Vide Greniers stalls. I've never seen anything else as spectacular as these jewelled Spanish tins, though. The first time I saw one I enquired the price and the antique stall holder said to me: 'People are always asking about the tin, but it's not for sale, only the contents!' After that I seemed to see the same dratted tin with the same stubborn brocante dealer about once a year, but never any others, until...
...I bought the lozenge-patterened one with the pale roses earlier this year. It was lovely but a little lonely, and slightly lost amongst less textured tins I own. Until...
Our wonderful housesitters spotted this black-centred tin, FULL OF BUTTONS, at the brocante market in Toulouse and decided that it had 'Floss' written all over it. The wonder of generous, blog-reading housesitters!
They saw it and they knew I'd love it and they wonderfully bought it for me, all without knowing I had another one just looking for company.
Late in the summer I bought the frankly inferior (untextured) tin at the top of the frame, with the idea that two's OK but three's a display. And it seems I was right!
You may remember the frame - it's a complete fake, made of solid foam, but it does mean you can play around with it like this!

Some of my favourite tins are in this stack, but I think they look ordinary compared to the glamorous Spanish tins to their left.
It's hard to snap a photo of the whole thing - the mantelpiece is never in natural light, but here's my best effort. Marie-Antoinette is tucked onto the gold rim of the mirror - can you spot her?

Thanks for all your comments - it's now the holidays and my timetable has reduced just a little bit, so I'm trying to take the time to reply when I can - it's ALWAYS lovely to hear from you!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Marie-Antoinette and the Midden

In the middle of our town there is a church. Next to the church there is an old school. Next to the old school there is a play centre. Next to the play centre there is a car park. And in the car park there is a hole.

Holes in the ground may be a nuisance to some, but to an archaeology-lover they are a magnet! I know that before the old school (1900s) and play centre (1920s) were built, this area was the livestock market. Son 2 studied photos of it in school, looking at how life has changed since the days when farmers drove their cattle and geese into our town for sale down the hill from the church.

Ben and I were passing the other weekend and decided that the ‘stuff’ piled up next to the hole was just too interesting to ignore. We spotted a huge ox shoulder-blade and many other bones, indicating that meat as well as livestock was sold around here.

There’s so much ‘stuff’ in the hole – in layers as you can see – that it’s clear that the area was covered with rubbish at some point, probably to form a base before the car park surface was laid.

It’s hard to pin down exactly when the layers were formed, but we seem to have a ‘pre-school’ market layer, and a ‘post-school’ layer of 1950s and 1960s bits and bobs which probably just pre-date the car park.

You might feel that rubbish from within living memory is, well, just, rubbish, but it’s from a very desirably ‘retro’ period and tells more about life in our town in those days than finding the same things on a Vide Grenier stall, so I rather enjoyed peering through the fences and picking out a few things from the spoil heap.

Well-washed, they look rather special around the house.

Four little bottles, glittering, iridescent and impossible to capture in a photo.


And Marie-Antoinette, a Limoges ‘cameo’ – a very popular and inexpensive form of jewellery from the 1950s and ’60s - although I can’t find a photo of this specific cameo on the net, there are many, many others for sale, some of them in the little bronze setting which has corroded around this fragment. I bet someone was upset when this broke – maybe she still lives in our town! Wouldn’t she be amazed that her treasure has resurfaced after all these years?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mapping the past

Son 1 (he’s 16 now – perhaps I could actually name him???) bought his Dad a really fantastic birthday present last month. Admittedly, I helped, but the present was so ‘him’ that we decided he should be the one to give it.
It’s a huge early 20th century school map of France. Son 1 stunned the seller by telling her he could date the map by the presence or absence of various French border regions – see what I mean about it being his kind of thing? The combination of maps and history really suits his interests. And you can see that I liked it, too…

Ben is also very pleased with it. Of course he’s interested in this kind of thing too, and he’s also been looking for large hangings to fill the empty space on our ‘barn-style’ walls. Everyone’s a winner!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Single-portion Puddings

I mentioned the individual portion desserts that Ben was making when I talked about our Rentrée Resolutions. The idea is to reduce costs (a little) and processed food (more than a little) in my packed lunches and the boys’ snacks/evening meals.

The cheapest, probably most ‘natural’ and certainly most popular desert chez nous is the individual rice pudding, which Ben makes in these little earthenware yoghurt pots which are easy to pick up from Vide Greniers in France. I was chuffed to find a set of seven with plastic lids, which make them perfect for my packed lunches! Ben also uses little individual pudding tins (surely from Lakeland Plastics decades ago…) to make crème caramel – this photo doesn’t show his best version, as he’s still experimenting to get the temperatures right, and these ones went into the oven in their bain mairie at too high a temperature…

You can also get yummy ‘entrement’ powder in the supermarket, which you stir into warm milk, to create chocolate, vanilla or speculos (yum) puddings! This isn’t really additive-free, of course, but is a little bit more economical than buying the cheapest ‘pot puddings’, so is probably worth doing. At UK prices jelly with cake pieces or fruit would also be a good option, but we have to pay import prices here, so that only works when someone’s been visiting!

Ben is having enormous fun producing all these puddings for us at the weekends – I think he likes to feel (just like his mum) that he isn’t leaving us without sustenance when he heads off to Lyon for his studies.

My contribution is the home-made yoghurt. Ang showed her excellent yoghurt maker on her related post the other day. Mine is different – it plugs in and you put seven individual pots (with lids again, hurrah!) into it overnight. My recipe is very like Ang’s – 1200ml of UHT milk, a little skimmed milk powder and an Actimel drink, whisked together, fills the pots and produce a week’s worth of yoghurt for very little cost. Ben, as a biologist, is generally sceptical of ‘health-foods’, but he is convinced of the superior nature of the lactobacilli they put into Actimel, and thinks that it’s worth buying that brand rather than supermarket’s own live yoghurt.  And now we’re on the lookout for a second yoghurt maker (they’re very easy to find second hand here) so that he can add yoghurts to his own, equivalent selection of individual puddings in Lyon. Ah, an excuse to visit some Troc shops… sigh…

Monday, October 14, 2013

Giveaway results and a little garden produce...

I’m coming to the conclusion that full-time working mums don’t blog – how can anyone find the time?  Work is fun but really busy, and taking the time to relax with the boys in the evenings, with Ben and the boys at the weekend, and to keep the house tidy-ish (lol, lol, lol) means that blogging is sadly very secondary at the moment.

I did manage to meet, and even work with, a blogger a few weeks ago – Dormouse came to our area for a weekend course, and spent the Sunday night (and Monday morning, in class) with me! It was a flying visit but it was lovely to meet her in person and to be able to help out with accommodation and transport, and, in return, be helped with some interesting role plays in class!

So now I’m really happy to take some time to announce the winner of my magazine giveaway – chosen randomly by Son 1, the winner is Healing Woman, who left a really positive message of encouragement (not the only one of course - it's so nice to find your comments and even to read your posts inspired by my own). So, Healing Woman, congratulations and please send me your address by email ASAP, so that I can post it to you while it’s still in date!

I’ve prepared several other posts in a spare moment (waiting for hours with Son 2 at the doctor’s, unfortunately…) and I’m going to schedule them for you, because I have so much to share, even though there’s little time to share it. So please do keep reading, and if you have time and thoughts, please do leave a comment. I read your blogs on my phone, which doesn’t allow me to comment, but I am keeping up to date with you in my limited kind of way…

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

C'est la Rentrée - Resolutions and a Giveaway!

Well, actually, it was the Rentrée, rather than is, but better late than never! We've been busy but I finally have the delightful chance to offer one of my readers this beautiful French magazine in a giveaway:
It's up for grabs because my kind local friend picked up a copy of Country Living for me when she was in the UK, so now I don't need to offer Campagne Décoration as an exchange (see post below). Therefore it's my now traditional C'est la Rentrée gift for one of you.

To enter, you don't have to be a follower or anything, although you are welcome to follow if you don't already! Just leave me a comment here to have a chance to win. - I'll post anywhere in the world. If you'd like to share any of your Rentrée Resolutions with us in the comment, feel free, but it's not essential.

Rentrée Resolutions are traditional in France, where Back to School means a really positive New Start for adults too - resolutions made in the sunshine and after a good rest tend to be a lot more active than the ones we make in the New Year! Ben and I have particular resolutions this year based on the fact that he's living away during the week while he studies for an MBA in Lyon.

So my Rentrée Resolutions this year are to keep up the good work on the exercise front but to add some further healthy penny-pinchers to our already wholesome, thrifty ways. (Lol- I can't say the word 'wholesome' seriously, you understand. It's just too, well, wholesome!) Here goes:

We have resolved to buy one bottle of wine for the weekend to share between the two of us - no alcohol to be consumed alone when the other one isn't there! When Ben announced his side of this resolution I felt miserable, and that worried me. I should be able to cope with evenings without a glass of wine. And indeed I can...

Take a packed lunch every day, instead of giving in to the occasional panic trip to a boulangerie - if you had access to lovely French bakers I bet you'd be happy to pop into them at lunch time too, so this is a harder one!

Make 'portion' desserts at home instead of buying yoghurts and cakes. I think this should be the subject of my next blog post!

So, please enter my giveaway and do tell if you have any resolutions - best of luck it all!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A very mini magazine swap...

Oops! My dad gave me some birthday money to update my Country Living subscription, and I did it too late! I am now having withdrawal symptoms thinking about that lovely October issue which will NOT be landing in my post box... Would anyone in the UK be prepared to post me that edition, in exchange for this?
Lululiz and I think that it's one of the nicest country decor magazines in France. Please form an orderly queue if you would like it!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ben's Rentrée

Ben's lectures in Lyon start today! He's taking a break from work (partly funded by them) to do an MBA. He's really fallen on his feet for accommodation, as a new colleague owns a flat near the university which he can't currently live in - so Ben is his paying guest! It's a whole lot nicer than a student flat, I can tell you... He's coming home every weekend, but the boys and I do hope to pop up there every now and then, to get to know another part of France. We will keep you posted!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Countryside images

Our mantelpiece is rather calm at the moment (for me) but it seems to draw people to study the various images...

I asked Son 2 the other day: "Are you OK? Are you LISTENING to me?" (classic mother question...) He replied vaguely: "Yes, but I'm just looking at those badgers..."
Well yes, I think they are worth gazing at too! They're from an English book of nature through the months.
This French dressing-table mirror is my latest find, from the charity shop. It's sitting with a few other favourite French discoveries.
The little jug is also a September find - it has cows in a field on it. I guess I've grouped together various countryside scenes, French and English, and am rather pleased with the results. The large feather in the jug comes from a Spanish bird - Son 1 picked it up in the Picos de Europa last month.
Hmm, a peaceful, countryside display. Just what we need for la rentrée!