Tuesday 31 October 2017

It's Reformation Day!

Today, many Christians around the world will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the day on which a German Priest and Theologian, Martin Luther, nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. 
This is regarded as the start of the Reformation- his protests against the Pope, and the Catholic church, brought about the 'Protestant' faith. Luther had come to understand that 'eternal life' wasn't something you could earn by good works, or buy from a priest 
[the poor people were spending their money on 'papal indulgences' which purported to ensure their loved ones would go to heaven after death] 
He had found that eternal life was a free gift of God's grace, available to all, and that this abundant life began straightaway, not after death. He wasn't popular with the Pope and the other Catholics. 
He was called upon to recant his heresy. But he wouldn't [Here I stand...] so was excommunicated- cut off - from the Church of Rome. Once he was no longer a celibate priest, he married Katherine von Bora, herself an ex-nun.
People have got rather carried away with the celebrations [rightly so, imho] although some of the memorabilia is ...unusual. My Lutheran friend has been to the celebrations in Germany this summer, and returned with some Here I Stand socks[hopefully not too holy?]. 

You can also get life size figures of Martin and Katherine to decorate your home[tacky], a playmobil Martin for the children [cute], and much more...
In 1967, when it was the 450th anniversary [much more muted - that was pre Internet, so merchandising and publicising was harder] I was in Grammar School. Our History Master [Mr Watson, aka Pugwash] set his annual competition to write a biography of a historical character.
There were two winners that year, my Methodist mate Deborah, was one, with her bio of John Wesley - and I shared the prize, with my bio of Martin Luther. 
Here are a few good Luther Quotes - you can find plenty of others online [but just be careful - some uininformed people are confusing Martin Luther with the Baptist Preacher born 400 years later, and named after him - Martin Luther King!!]
I rather like this one
And this one
But this one really challenges me

Monday 30 October 2017

All God's Creation...

... is very good!
That is the theme of next year's Women's World Day of Prayer [Friday 2nd March] which has been prepared by the women of Suriname. This amazing country, at the top of South America, is blessed with stunning wildlife, in the forests and rivers, and along the coastline - and a variety of beautiful plants - but sadly Suriname is also blighted by deforestation and pollution. The service considers our responsibility to be good stewards of creation.
During October and November, I've been travelling to groups all over the place to help them prepare for the service.
It is great to meet so many women committed to prayer, and to serving others and concerned for our planet.

The latest version of our WWDP Magazine, Together in Prayer, features lots of information about next year's service, and the 'writing country'. At the end of each Preparation Day, I like to give all the participants something to take home - a reminder of what we have learned together, and something which will inspire them to go on praying for the country, even before we get to The Day Itself, next March.
But what to do for Suriname. Bob suggested little toads [Suriname Toads are quite fascinating] But it seemed inappropriate to buy a few hundred plastic Amazonian toads from Amazon - knowing most would eventually end up in landfill. I decided I would celebrate instead the beautiful butterflies of the forest - but make them entirely from materials I had already.
I have a lovely little butterfly punch, which cuts out and embosses butterflies about 5cm across.
I prepared about 350 of these, using old greetings cards.
Then, using double sided tape, I stuck a short length of lace to each one, to make a bookmark. I had plenty of scraps of lace in my Great Stash. I think they look really pretty, and they have been very well received. 
I love butterflies. There is a charming Victorian story called "Charlotte the Caterpillar" in Mrs Gatty's Parables from Nature [retold in a more modern version 30 years ago] about a nervous little caterpillar who is anxious about the future, and how she overcomes her fears. It is one I have told time and time again to children.
I only have three more Preparation Days left to do now [Herne Bay, Norwich and Devizes] I have enjoyed meeting people and enthusing about WWDP - but all the early morning starts and long journeys have been quite tiring.
I'm still in school twice a week...and the preparations are continuing for all the Church Christmas Events. I am grateful for the health and energy to be able to do these all things - and pleased that I have an opportunity to use my crafting skills to bless others.

Sunday 29 October 2017

Dark Horse

This advert has become an 'earworm' for me recently. I find Hannah Grace's cover of Fatboy Slim's original song is frequently buzzing round in my head.
I have to say that when I see the advert on TV, my first reaction to the sight of the lovely black horse galloping across Britain is "Perhaps the horse is looking for a branch of the bank which is still open". This advert first aired in April 2017, and since then, Lloyds have closed 100 branches. My commiserations to those of you living in 
Bakewell, Baldock, Blackfield Southampton, Bordon, Bourton-on-the-Water, Brewood, Broadstairs, Broadway, Carterton, Clay Cross, Clifton Village Bristol, Colmore Row Birmingham, Corsham, Derby Road Ipswich, Droylsden, Garstang, Gonville Place Cambridge, Grayshott, Hawkhurst, Haxby Road York, Heckington, High Wycombe Business Centre, Langley, Lichfield Road Stafford, London Law Courts, Longridge, Lymm, Manchester University, Marton-in-Cleveland, Mere, Montpellier Cheltenham, Mosley Street Manchester, New Ash Gree, Nottingham Old Market Square, Pewsey, Pontypridd Treforest Ind Est, Portland, Settle, Southampton Row, Stokenchurch, Sturminster Newton, Tenterden, Tetbury, Three Bridges Crawley, Tidworth, Topsham, Tyldesley, Wadhurst, Wendover, West Dulwich, Wincanton Wirksworth, Wood Lane End Hemel Hempstead, and Yatton.
[It is not just Lloyds - the Ferndown Natwest and HSBC have recently closed too] 
But that is a bit cynical of me.
My second reaction is to listen to the words
"We've come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you, baby. I have to praise you like I should"
I have been a Christian an awful long time now. I have been through hard times, and good times - and Jesus has always been with me. 
Do I really celebrate that fact? and do I praise Him like I should?
Or am I a 'dark horse' - sometimes keeping quiet about the most important part of my life?
I hope not...

Saturday 28 October 2017

Undivided Heart

This book was written by Lucy Mills, published October 2017 by Darton, Longman and Todd.
I read Lucy’s first book – Forgetful Heart – when it came out in 2014. I enjoyed that one enormously. She is a gifted wordsmith, and has a very readable style. Her second book is written with the same format – four sections, and different chapters within each section focusing on aspect of the topic. Each chapter includes poems (prayers?) written by Lucy, and concludes with a few helpful questions for personal reflection on the content of the chapter just read. 

Lucy sent me a copy of her new book to read and review. The subtitle of Undivided Heart is “Finding Meaning and Motivation in Christ” – and I think it would be helpful both to those who are new to faith, and those who have been on the Christian journey for many years.
I admit that sat down to read this book, and initially I just could not get into it at all – after a couple of chapters I put it down again (that was probably more about me than the book). Returning to it a couple of weeks later, I found that I really WAS wanting to read it all, and there was much to learn, to think about, to challenge and to encourage. It certainly fulfils the old instruction to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Unlike Forgetful Heart, this one includes very good footnotes- not just to clarify where the Bible quotes come from, but also references to the books and articles which Lucy has used to justify her arguments. I always like a book which spurs me on to find out more, and points me in the right direction for my research.

Lucy is very honest about herself, her faults and failings, her feelings and her frustrations – but her strong faith shines through. “Decluttering your life” is very on-trend right now – and this volume gently reminds me that maybe the best place to start is not with my wardrobe or my in-box, but with my soul!
Read more about the book, and about Lucy - and find out where to buy the book here. It would make a great Christmas gift too.

Friday 27 October 2017

A Riot Of Colour...

We enjoyed a proper day off together on Tuesday- and went over to IKEA at Southampton, then up to Mottisfont Abbey, a  National Trust property near Romsey. We first visited there in May 2015.
The place was feeling really autumnal- and as it was Half Term, there were dozens of happy families enjoying the sunshine and the golden, amber, brown and russet leaves all over the grass. Giggling little girls and boys carrying bouquets of huge sycamore foliage, like bridal bouquets - and others stomping in puddles in their wellies and kicking up clouds of leaves then crunching them underfoot.
But I had not come for the gardens, or the main house- I was just interested in the exhibition on the top floor [and Bob was patiently indulging me] It was celebrating 50 years of the work of American artist Kaffe Fassett. Helpfully the sign explained that his name rhymes with safe asset. Check out the NT site here
I've admired KFs colourful style since I discovered him in the early 80s - he was in his forties then, he is now 80!
His mantra is 'if it doesn't look right, add in 20 more colours'
Much of the stuff I had seen before, I went to his exhibition at the V&A in 1988.
I have two of his books - Glorious knitting and Family Album. And no, I've never knitted anything from either!
 At Mottisfont, the walls of the rooms had been painted in bright colours - pink, yellow, green, blue, lilac - in order to form an amazing backdrop for his work.
I was in awe of the patchwork hangings, tapestry cushions, and knitwear. So much detail, so much colour...

I wanted to rush home and start stitching something! I had a lovely conversation with another woman about patchwork and suffolk puffs [whilst our husbands discussed woodworking tools] Then she whispered 'Did you see the pink lady?' I think we all noticed the charming grandmother, whose outfit went so well with the exhibits!

What confidence, to dress so brightly. I think maybe the NT staff in each room should have followed suit.
I liked this clever use of stripes, mitred into squares of varying sizes. The blue and white cushions on the bench appealed to me too. I am altogether over fond of blue and white for home decor, as friends and family keep reminding me.
The tapestry of vegetables was delightful - but Bob was concerned it did not hang straight, and suggested that maybe it had not been blocked properly. 
We concluded this was one of K's earlier pieces when he had not learned all the techniques. 

I have a piece of work made of colourful Suffolk Puffs, which a friend passed on to me. Maybe I should turn it into a hanging like this? But where would I put it?

Perhaps I should plan to have an exhibition when I am 80 - after all, I have one little jacket, two quilts and three teacosies which I could put on show...


Thursday 26 October 2017

Super Suet Stodge Leaves Me Half-Crazed

Sometimes, when it is cold and wet and autumnal, I find myself wanting a warming, stodgy pud. Last week I found a rather nice Mason Cash pudding basin in a local CS shop for just £2. It was unused- but I knew it must be eight years old. It was one of the M&S 125 years celebration pieces [I bought some of their stuff in the Penny Bazaar]
I knew I had some cubed beef in the freezer, so I thawed that, and picked up a pack of suet in the supermarket. I had onions, mushrooms and flour already.I checked out lots of recipe books

I decided that Jane Grigson's method of cooking the meat filling first, before putting it in the basin was best. It halved the steaming time. Other than that, all the recipes were about the same. I was extremely pleased with the finished result. The steak and mushroom pudding was delicious. served with parsley sprinkled boiled carrots. Good old fashioned comfort food!
There was only one disappointment in the whole process.
When I turned out the pudding, I discovered that the glaze had crazed badly.
I have a number of Mason Cash bowls, and this has never happened to me before.
Look at this!
These grey lines are under the glaze, and there are no actual cracks [the bowl 'rings true'  when you tap it]
What should I do?
Can I still use the bowl - in a steamer, in the oven, in a microwave?
Can I wash it in the dishwasher?
Has anybody got any advice on this one, please? The outside of the bowl is fine. If the damage is simply cosmetic, I can live with that, because I like the size and shape of the bowl.
But I do not want to risk it cracking whilst it is in use.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Mary And Martha

Sometimes I feel that books are churned out in the run up to Christmas just so the author can make a little more money. I was passing Waterstones on Monday and they had the latest offering from Mary Berry on display, so I popped in to have a look. I had read a few reviews already, and sadly they haven't been that encouraging [here, here,here]

It does appear that this lady - whose cookery skills are in no doubt - really doesn't have anything much to add to the growing stack of volumes on the subject of household hints and tips. Many are quite banal and obvious...
One newspaper summed them up with this info-graphic. I am not sure that the subtitle "The complete guide to Home Happiness" is quite accurate either.
My cursory skim-read [and I admit I didn't take in every single word] left me feeling that MB doesn't inhabit the same world as I do.
I do not need tips on 'how to clean my Aga'. 

Furthermore, is MB not aware that since the days of Mrs Thatcher changing rules about new house builds, many developers no longer build homes where "The whole family and two dogs can gather round the meal table in the kitchen for dinner" . Two of us perch at the breakfast bar.
But I think what irritated me most about this book is that the pictures seemed alarmingly familiar. Some of it appears to be a direct rip off of earlier books by Martha Stewart.
There's the Great Wall of China [MS on left, MB on right]
And then there's the section on How to Organise Your Linen Closet [MS on left, MB on right]
It is obviously vital to possess a neat blue shirt to wear when being the perfect housekeeper...

Sorry Mary, most of this book was written [better] by Ms Stewart nearly 20 years ago, and I've already read that one. 
This one's definitely not going on my Christmas List!
And apologies to anyone who saw the title and was expecting a post about two sisters who lived in Bethany [Luke Chapter 10 etc] I'll just say that I think the way to 'home happiness' is all about building good relationships with the other people who live there, not fretting about limescale in the loo, and the state of the Aga!

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Spelling Perfectly - To a T

A recent discussion among colleagues has set me thinking. Someone had used the phrase "Well done, you have earnt a star!" when marking their students' work. I queried this, and was informed that earnt was an acceptable past participle, just like learnt. I'm not convinced about putting it in my pupils' books, and neither is the OED [it is technically correct, but not in current, common, usage] but that's irrelevant. What it did get me wondering is how many of our regularly used verbs still use the -t ending instead of -ed.
It is fascinating, and the list is surprisingly long. Consider the eep endings
sleep goes to slept
keep goes to kept
weep goes to wept
eave endings
leave/left, bereave/bereft, cleave/cleft 
and then there's the verb-to-noun heave/heft, weave/weft
and give/gift, thieve/theft

Nobody says they will rive things anymore, but riven [usually asunder] and rift are well known. 
lend/lent, bend/bent, send/sent, lose/lost
kneel/knelt, feel/felt...and burn/burnt
I'll ignore the crazy irregular stuff [catch/caught, bring/brought, buy/bought, think/thought]

I discovered that the word comb comes from the European kemb, brought over by the Flemish weavers, centuries ago. Kemb is still a dialect word in parts of Yorkshire. So combed becomes kempt. I have always been particularly fond of this word. 
It occurs in a poem by Ogden Nash. I learnt it by heart when I was a student. I didn't realise at the time that my true love would be half Belgian!

My dream
This is my dream,
It is my own dream,
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.

And if you want to know about "To a T" check here

Monday 23 October 2017

Pigs Might Fly

"I've a right to think" said Alice sharply... "Just about as much right" said the Duchess "as pigs have to fly"
I've been learning some fascinating facts about pigs recently, and some new words. 
I haven't actually seen any pigs flying [though the high winds have been blowing lots of other stuff around] 
No, this relates to the pigs living in the New Forest, and the ancient annual custom of pannage also sometimes called common of mast.

The problem is that the trees in the New Forest drop their fruit each autumn, and some of it [especially acorns] can be poisonous to the New Forest ponies. So for 60 days, farmers have the right of pannage, when they can allow their pigs to roam free, eating all the acorns and beechmast [the old name for beechnuts] that they can find.
In a year when the harvest is really good [known as a mast year]  one oak can produce 10,000 acorns.

2017 is such a year, so the New Forest Verderers have declared that the Pannage Season has been extended. Instead of concluding on November 12th, it will continue to December 17th. My friends Carrie and Betty encountered 26 pigs on their walk last week.

What an amazing custom - and it's been happening annually since the time of the Domesday Book. Maybe if I can find a spare afternoon I might go for a walk and see if I can meet a little piggy or two. 

Sunday 22 October 2017

Caught In The Crossfire

Our Women's World Day Of Prayer Committee was sent this set of photos from a WWDP person in the USA. These are some of the recent forest fires raging across California.
Look at this photo above, and notice the tall concrete cross on the right side of the picture at the bottom of the hill.
This cross was put up many years ago to honour the veterans of World War 2. The flames surrounded it and engulfed it, as the fire raged across the countryside.

But the next morning, the photographer [Gene Blevins] went back to get more shots - he was amazed that the cross stood firm, and was not scorched or damaged by the heat.
When I received the email, I found myself thinking of the first verse of an old hymn
Beneath the cross of Jesus
  I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty Rock
  Within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness,
  A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat,
  And the burden of the day.

Much as I love the very old hymn, I rather like this new take on it, written by Keith and Kristyn Getty in 2005...
Beneath the cross of Jesus
His family is my own—
Once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
Now one through grace alone.
How could I now dishonour
The ones that You have loved?
Beneath the cross of Jesus
See the children called by God.

May God help all those affected by these destructive fires, and bless the firefighters working to extinguish the flames. 

Saturday 21 October 2017

Happy Birthday Steph!

Whether it's helping street children in Brazil with BMS
running a marathon for East African Playgrounds
painting pictures for your parents, 
being a loving little sister, 
becoming the world's best Auntie, 
and generally Wonderwoman...
- you bring so much love, life and laughter to your friends and family. 
Have a wonderful birthday. 
May the year ahead be full of unexpected blessings.