A favourite poem …

Still-life

Through the open French window the warm sun
Lights up the polished breakfast-table, laid
Round a bowl of crimson roses, for one –
A service of Worcester porcelain, arrayed
Near it a melon, peaches, figs, small hot
Rolls in a napkin, fairy rack of toast,
Butter in ice, high silver coffee-pot,
And, heaped on a salver, the morning’s post.

She comes over the lawn, the young heiress,
From her early walk in her garden-wood,
Feeling that life’s a table set to bless
Her delicate desires with all that’s good.

That even the unopened future lies
Like a love-letter, full of sweet surprise.

Elizabeth Daryush
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Something lovely for the weekend

Jonathan finished school some weeks ago now. He’s busy with his reading and helping out at church. He took all the books off the shelves and dusted them clean for me, before putting them back one by one. Doing this he earned some money to buy birthday presents because he had spent all he had (and more) on a banjo.

For us it is a summer full of picking and strumming and tabs and tunes. The music runs down the stairs and tumbles out the windows. It taps on the door in the morning and sings us to sleep at night. And we really like it. In the evenings he’s in the sitting room searching out artists and songs and if you care to join him he’ll stop what he’s doing and find you some music that he thinks you will like.

Jonathan knows I like music that I can match to the novels I’ve read, and the sense of place that I keep in my head.  He finds the theme tunes to times in the past or the ‘my song’ of a person in fiction or history I’d really like to know.  He plays me Americana, nostalgia music, sacred harp, English folk and all my favourite hymns and he’s taught me some stuff about folk and the blues and everything in-between. And all the stories of where that music came from and where its going to and one day I think he will be an Emeritus Professor of Folk Music in an eminent University sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge with the world.

This tune and the playing of it is just about perfect.

Doc Watson, Deep River Blues

Camping and a free summer give-away

In which I make enough bunting to give a set away!

It’s the count down to our annual church camping trip and preparations are well under way. Whilst Andy gets on with the real business of airing the tent, putting new batteries in the torches and cleaning out the cool box I’ve had the scrap bag out because bunting is this year’s must have camping accessory; and mine needs to be home made.

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I think this stems from a childhood spent in books where camping trips involved cooking over an open fire and sleeping under the stars. I’ve been humming the Open Road song from Toad of Toad Hall and imagining a summer spent on the river bank amongst the weeping willows, listening at night to the howls of the wild woods from the safety of my cosy sleeping bag.

What I’d really like is a Swallows and Amazons camping trip where the tents are made up of rope tied between two trees and a canvas hung over them, the sides weighted down with rocks (Andy and I did this once in 1991 in the Lake District because we forgot the tent poles). I’d like to sleep on hay-bags and eat corn-beef, eggs and seed-cake all stored in an old biscuit tin and camp out on the edge of the woods where the charcoal burners make their fires.

Many years ago in Lancaster a family camped all winter in a yurt in the field at the bottom of our garden. They had a wood burning stove and promised me sincerely that even on the coldest night it was the cosiest place they’d ever been. They had two small children and the woman had given birth to one of them in the yurt.

More recently my camping dreams come from Cormack McCarthy , The Border Trilogy. To ride out on my horse along the fence line and across the open pasture. To lie on my blanket at night looking up at the quarter moon cocked over the heel of the mountain. To call it camping with nothing more to pack than a bottle for water and a warm wool blanket.

This is why I have a Pinterest board called camping, full of enamel coffee pots, afghan rugs and Cath Kidston fabrics. This is why Lucy and I will doubtless stalk campsites over the next six weeks spying out the most splendid tents, monuments of white canvas and guy ropes, shining like ship’s sails: ridge tents, teepees and yurts. I don’t want my camping holiday to be all utility, high performance synthetic fabrics and high-tec outdoor gear.

I do not have an old fashioned Girl Guide tent or a Central Asian yurt. I just have a very reliable and spacious Vango tent that has seen us through one or two good holidays every year for the past nine years and I do like it very much. I will be tarting it up this year with a small piece of my dream, thirty glorious flags sewn onto a ribbon, a string of bunting made from twenty years of little boy’s pyjamas, boxer shorts and plaid shirts along side their daddy’s old work shirts and a few pieces of vintage cotton picked up in charity shops.

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I have also made a second string of bunting in pinks and blues, this time made up of thirty years of dress making and quilt projects (no pants, I promise). I want to give this away so some one else can adorn their tent , or garden, or home with a cheery banner of waving flags this summer. It is the custom on blogs much bigger than mine to treat readers to the odd give-away and though I have sixty readers rather than 6,000 I’d still like to try a blog give-away.

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If you would like to win the pink and blue bunting please comment on this blog post or ‘like’ my Facebook page in the next four days and on the evening of Sunday 21st July I will draw out a name and send the lovely bunting your way in the post.

Good Luck!

To enter the competition please go to my Facebook page or to my blog and leave a comment.

A great weekend plus snickers muffins

I had a great weekend and thought I would post a blog before Andy and I set out on our date night walk on the beach.

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I was in charge on Friday night whilst Andy went over to Clitheroe to be with old work colleagues. I managed to get everyone to the right place at the right times and suitably fed (I don’t always manage this!) Lucy and I even had time to enjoy some fast food on the beach.

When I got in on Friday night it was too lonely to go to bed so I indulged in a little late night baking: snickers muffins and strawberry cheesecake. And because so many of you asked, I added the recipe at the end of this post.

On Saturday I went to a hen party brunch for the lovely bride-to-be, Helen. This is only the second hen event I’ve ever been to and I think I excelled myself by talking more frankly about sex than anyone else in the room and causing a few giggles (OK, not giggles, raucous laughter!) amongst the married women. I’m proud of that!

The rest of the weekend was spent in the wonderful company of our dear friend Katherine visiting from Australia. Twelve years ago she was part of an awe inspiring bunch of students who joined us for a time at the church in Lancaster and it was good to hear her memories and how her time in England has been a big part of her personal story in God. She was such a lovely house guest and blessed us all just by being.

Finally, our wonderful youth (who I love beyond what is reasonable) led the Sunday service and I got to spend some Sunday school time doing play-dough and reading Rainbow Fish with the under fives, followed by BBQ. And all this still left time for afternoon beer and books in the garden sun.

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Snickers Muffins

Ingredients

9oz/250g SR flour

4-5oz/100-150g castor sugar or golden castor sugar

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

4 heaped table spoons smooth or crunchy peanut butter

4 snickers bars cut into small pieces

4oz/100g chocolate chips

4-5fl oz/100-150ml  milk or butter milk

3oz/75g melted butter

2 eggs

Preheat the oven, 160 or gas mark 3

Whizz up the flour and peanut butter in a food processor until in resembles sand/fine breadcrumbs

Combine with baking powder, chocolate chips, snickers bar bits and sugar in a bowl

Lightly beat the eggs then, combine all the wet ingredients in a second bowl

Combine the dry and the wet ingredients, being careful not to mix them too thoroughly

Divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases in a muffin pan

Bake until the muffins are well risen and lightly browned, 20-25 minutes

Cool on a wire tray

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Eyes wide open

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Prayer’s enemy told me prayer is hard. He told me if it isn’t long it isn’t prayer. He told me rise early, conquer giants, scale mountains, if it doesn’t hurt it isn’t prayer. Sometimes I didn’t pray and sometimes when I did I could not bear what I saw behind my own shut eyes.

The black out curtains were industrial strength, serious and intentioned. On the sunniest afternoon of the year they were determined to bar every scrap of light. I felt my way to the bed and curled up for a day time sleep, headache and heavy with an anonymous weariness that defied every good thing I count as blessing in my life.

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After I woke I took a walk by the canal and sat a while in the sun. The water was cool with a mallard casting small chevron waves across the dark green surface. Along the lichen splattered concrete tiny red spiders ran wild. There was bird song and apparently a nest in a hawthorn hedge not far from where I sat. My eyes fill up on light and beauty and then on tears. I wanted to say thank you God with my eyes wide open, not bowing my head or looking within. Not wanting to miss a moment of this glorious day. I dared to believe He was telling me to look the world in the eye and I saw Him stare right back. I prayed just as I was because,

The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

From, J.B. Phillips New Testament, Romans 8.18-21

So this is why I pray: because I hope in this Christ and how he has brought, and is bringing all things together under his lead and rule, that wrongs will be righted, tears dried, needs satisfied and love realised.

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Later I pulled up a chair, sat by the open window and watched the world, still praying eyes wide open. I prayed for the big blue sky as it faded to pink, for cool water to drink from a glass, a quiet room and rest. I pray for my family, my friends, things old and things new, that which I love and that which I hate. I prayed eyes wide open for the world walking by, people I don’t even know. I prayed as if it really mattered, as if prayer could change their world because I sense it changing mine and I can’t keep that to myself. I can’t stay crouched and hidden kneeling in prayer besides my bed, mind astray, when the world awaits good news: God is near, he hears our prayer, he bids us come and it is good

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Out of proportion

It wasn’t sensible and it wasn’t economical but it did make me smile.  It was an act entirely out of proportion …

I was stunned-happy, lost for words, blown away on Sunday morning when Andy and the kids decided to show up at my School of the Word graduation.

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Surprised that in the middle of a hectic end of term, summer time rush, with visitors at home and commitments at church they would suddenly change schedule.  That they would rise early and drive 130 miles just to see the look of surprise on my drained and weary face when they walked into that service.  At a time of year when hours are scarce Andy broke protocol that we did the Bible school programme separately over consecutive years, first him then me. The most sensible, efficient, least upheaval, family-friendly plan.

Surprised that he would pull them all from their Sunday morning lie ins and into the car for a four hour journey to a short forty five minute service, a certificate and handshake then all the way back again, 130 miles, half a tank of petrol, hours of motorway boredom.

It wasn’t sensible and it wasn’t economical but it did make me smile.  It was an act entirely out of  proportion …

The gospel we have is a gift run out of control. The gospel of Christ is a gratuity out of all reasonable proportion. It is peace, joy and righteousness on a scale that is frankly irresponsible. It confounds all reckoning, is an embarrassment to the balance sheet, it defies sense, throws scorn on frugality and is extravagant to the point of shame.

This gospel is a love completely undeserved, a love that could never be earned. Really, there is nothing I can ever do to make Him love me more and nothing I can do to make Him love me less (that’s NOTHING!). When He forgave my sin it was everything in my past and everything in my present and he even knew about my future failings (however gross) and he still said, it is done. And he meant done, finished, completely complete.

He was never unsure or casual or reticent about this love.  God never said, let’s take it slow, let’s see how it goes. Through hell and high water, in sickness and in health, forgetting all others and anything else, he loved me to hell and back and death itself can not change that.

He loved out of all proportion, lavish, expensive and without compare. This love is like a woman with a jar of perfume worth a whole years wages, washing the feet of Jesus, anointing him with the oil and wiping away the excess with her long, long hair.

It wasn’t sensible and it wasn’t economical but it did make me smile.  It was an act entirely out of proportion …

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

(Luke 7:37, 38, 44, 45, 47, 50 NIV)