Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve

Joy to the world! Is Christmas Eve one of the very best days of the year? The start of holidays, a first lazy breakfast followed by visits to neighbours on a crisp, sparkly cold morning. The afternoon spent with last minute secret scurrying around the house and final present wrapping. The boys were in their jammies in record time - so early that they had to change out of them into Christmas jammies later - with their room tidied impressively well for tonight's special visitor, carrot, drinks and cards all laid out in readiness and hopeful expectation! I finally started the cooking - not terribly organised this year, but I impressed the family enormously with a hazlenut meringue roulade - hoping it will taste as scrummy as it looks! Then just my husband and I headed out alone in the star filled evening to a simple but so beautiful Christmas Eucharist. The candles were lit in the tiny church and I felt my heart fill up with the warmth of God with Us, Emmanuel, as we celebrated his birth.

A happy, happy Christmas to you.
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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Advent 4

The final week...Granny has arrived from France, the shopping done, tree decorated, all manner of secret preparations are going on, hat knitting is progressing and large quantities of chocolate truffles have been mixed and rolled. The 'creche' is now set up, added to and rearranged every now and then, this year with a few woodland visitors...

And today, the shortest day, the longest night, the tilt of the year. It started for me with a rose pink lunar eclipse on my early morning way to L'Arche. Then, as the sun dipped back down behind the snow covered mountains, as rosy as the moon, four tiny deer stepped out onto the road and slowly made their way across before pausing to look at me and then amble off. A special, time-stopping moment.

And in the midst of it all, I'm aware of my own longing to stop awhile, to linger...but it's coming soon. In the meantime, we are all trying to stay well - don't we all get a bit run down just about now? So here's my simple 'staying well drink' which I concocted when trying to redeem the taste of some worthy but not very tasty teabags.

Staying Well Tea:

Place one lemon and green tea bag in a large mug, add 15-20 drops echinacea tincture, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of ginger or a grating of fresh ginger and a teaspoon of honey. Fill three quarters with boiling water, allow to steep, then top up with orange or apple juice.

One a day, with a vitamin C and zinc supplement seems to do the trick! Hope it fortifies you to enjoy these days, and yes, they will be getting longer -starting tomorrow!
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Monday, 13 December 2010

Avent 3

Sorry for the terrible photo, but there wasn't much light indoors this afternoon, anyway, here they 'Advent 3' - otherwise known as 'Almost finished', 'Not much longer' and 'Help, not yet begun!'. Three Christmas hats for my three chaps. Now there are many elements to Christmas that are a touch stressful...this year I just haven't been able to settle down to card writing and I'll do almost anything humanly possibly to avoid the shops! But I must say that hat knitting, on the whole, is a remarkably peaceful activity, and by carrying them around I can get a wee bit done here and there. And the wools are rather lovely, so I feel happy every time I pick them up. L-R we have Noro Kureyon, Rowan Pure Wool Aran and Manos Wool Clasica. So who knows, perhaps I'll get them done? At least the door is decorated and I had some time for a blissful frosty walk out in the hill today.

Christmas is coming, but not yet...not just yet.
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Monday, 6 December 2010

Advent 2

Another tradition that has started edging its way into our celebration of Advent is the story of St. Nicholas, which I hope may start to gently nudge Santa/Father Christmas away from centre stage. Not that he ever has, but it is difficult when he appears plastered everywhere. Reading up on the stories of Christmas, the idea of Father Christmas comes very much from the historical figure of Nicholas, a third century man of extraordinary kindness, who used his entire inheritance to show compassion for other people in need, showing them God's love in practical caring ways. St Nick is about generosity, not consumption, and if ever we needed that spirit of living, then surely it is now.

My wee Christmas 'gnomes' get called Nicholas and pop up in surprising places around the house, with their pockets carrying a small treat. Hopefully we can share some of his kindness too. Happy St. Nicholas Day!

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Friday, 3 December 2010

Advent 1

And so, once more Advent is upon us, the season of waiting and looking for Christ's coming. For me, Advent is the perfect antidote to all the craziness of this month. There are sooo many things to attend to, but Advent calls me, again and again, to stop, take a moment, breath, pray, reflect and share. Because in the stretch of eternity, that's far more important than all the other stuff. Each year we, a group of women, have an evening at our church to prepare Advent wreaths together. For me it marks the start of the season. It can be a bit mad - this year there were over 60 of us - along with half the contents of the local forests! But it is also a beautiful creative time, and I enjoy the gathering of greenery, because no matter how foul the weather I just have to go out and get some, and inevitably it becomes a pleasure. This year I ended up at our local loch, with half an hour to spare and the most magical still, misty moment of the day. A small voice called me to linger...

Since then a great blanket of snow has fallen, oh so very early. I'm not quite ready for it! But there is something comforting to be surrounded by so much light that also calls you to slow down, take time, keep warm...and wait.

Indoors we are as cosy as we possibly can make ourselves as we come in from our days work. Layers of pyjamas and woolly jumpers are the order of the evening. As are thick nourishing soups, perfect for tired minds and bodies. We mark the passing of the days with our Advent calendar and wreath, and a Jesse Tree in a corner of the kitchen, taking a few moments by the fire to think, read and pray before bedtime. I admit it's a challenge to keep the seasonal chaos at bay, but I so want to live beyond all that, to know peace and trust in this waiting time.
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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

November already? Autumn seems to be racing past as fast as the leaves are getting swept off trees by stormy winds outside. Today is dreich, wet and gloomy. Nonetheless, once I've accepted that yes, it is actually happening, I begin to enjoy the change of season. I'm cheering myself up by looking at pictures of our half term holidays, when despite chilly downpours, we managed to get out and about. Thoughts of a camping trip were abandoned by forecasts of snow (and a mild dose of chickenpox!), but we stayed cosy at home, luxuriating in a little  unorganised time together, and ventured over to the west coast for the day, and out into a local arboretum to see the glorious colours of the specimen trees.  A bit of painting and foraging for hazelnuts too. Indoors saw us taking time to sew (a long-promised bag for my sister), make paper machĂ© dinosaurs (note son No.2 getting right up on the kitchen table to get on with his work - so like his mother!), bake and admire the treasures we brought home. Mine included some deliciously soft merino wool which I'm using for a simple project. A bit of knitting (nothing too taxing) is the perfect antidote for these long dark evenings, a simple cure for the downturn of the year, in colours as fresh as a spring day.

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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Island Blues

The temperature around here has dropped like a stone and this morning we saw the first dusting of snow on Ben Wyvis - yikes, already! Happily, I have just finished knitting myself a cosy scarf to go with this coat which I finished earlier this year. I had some lovely hand-dyed wool from the Isle of Skye and I wanted to try something different, with a bit of a lace, and in my Internet wanderings I found a pattern using the Shetland Isle traditional lace stitch 'Cat's Paw'.  The pattern is free on Elizabeth Lovick's Northern Lace website. Truth be told, as a fairly inexperienced knitter, it was a challenge to me, especially at the start, where more concentration was needed than an easily distracted mother can muster. However, once I got into the rhythm of the pattern and started to see the pattern emerge, I found it very satisfying to make.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sunday Tea

After weeks of chilly wet weather and accompanying poor health all round, finally the sun returned and our energy with it. How welcome is a weekend outdoors. And for tea today, off to a favourite spot, with a camping stove, pancake batter, jam, bananas and coffee. I don't believe any café could have made us happier.

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Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Day Out

Before I went back to work I had a couple of days when the boys were at school. It was a bit strange to have this time to myself...and rather nice. After a brief discussion with myself (yes, yes, it's the road to madness) I swiftly threw off any ideas about clearing out cupboards, sorting through papers, blah, blah, and decided to head out instead. I went to visit Scotland's Housing Expo, a local development of 52 sustainable homes.  The sun shone, I kept bumping into friends and it was a really interesting day. We went to something similar in Sweden some years back and it was great to see the Scandinavian influence in the Highlands. Having said that, some of the architecture was a bit too modern for me - and a bit bonkers too. Who would want to live in a home where the kitchen was downstairs and the dining room a rather long haul upstairs? Not designed by a cook, I suspect...
However, one of my favourites was the ANTA house , a tiny but very cosy home. I love their pottery and fabric, but it's horribly expensive. Still, very inspiring, nonetheless. Check out that wash hand basin!

There were quite a lot of lovely crafts on display too. Here's a couple of my those owls!

Beats clearing out any day...

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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A New Rhythm

Oh dear, a month has almost passed since my last posting, how did that happen? My absence has been due to a big shift of lifestyle. When my oldest was born (over seven years ago - unbelievable) I stepped back from a full time position of responsibility at L'Arche, in order to focus on  my new life as a mother, which I have absolutely loved. I didn't stop being involved in the Community, sometimes in small ways such as having folk over to lunch, sometimes in bigger projects like organising the whole community to go away on pilgrimage. It's been a great honour to have had so much time at home with the boys while they have been young, but now my youngest has started school, and it is time to start working again. It has taken me many month to feel ready, and a certain amount of heart searching, coupled with seeing the end of nursery days, which have been so very precious. However, several boxes of tissues later, and with peace in my heart, I am very much enjoying being back in a L'Arche house four days a week. Happily, I am normally at home by the time the boys are and I won't be working school holidays.

So far, so good, and I am trying to move slowly into this new rhythm of life. My day (without family) at home has become very precious and I am still trying to work out how to use it best (cleaning? swimming?shopping? painting?laundry?sewing?garden?walking?sleeping?? The choices are many). Being mega-organised does not come naturally to me, but I am getting some things right. The weekend together is a time to preserve some of our rituals and traditions, which seem more precious to me now - maybe my sense of 'home' is coming into a sharper focus, now that I am not here so much. Possibly the most important - rain permitting- is our walks and picnics which we try to keep going all year around. Even a small contact with the landscape we love so much helps to feel more rested and peaceful. And of course, it indulges many of our various passions!

Other weekend traditions? My French husband gets the family Gold Star for getting up on Sunday and making us all crepes, which we love, love, love! And what could be nicer than Golden Syrup?Off the spoon, if at all possible.

Breakfast anyday is an important meal for us. We each have a sense of what we need first thing. J likes eggs and marmite soldiers, for T it has to be cereal or porridge, my beloved is a toast and (his) homemade jam man. I do love toast too, but if there is time then fruit salad, yoghurt and granola is the very best (just now!).

Even with the new pattern of work, it doesn't long to whip up a batch of granola on a Sunday evening. We first got introduced to it in Canada when I was about 11. It's perfect for a snack or putting on top of yog or fruit for a simple pudding, or eating on the go. Here is my swiftest recipe, although there are many variations out there:
 Half a Cup Granola
For us British folk, something like a teacup works well, otherwise I use a half cup measure for speed of making and cleaning up.

3 1/2 cups (that's 7 half cups) porridge oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup green pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup chopped nuts - I like almonds or hazlenuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup rapeseed oil
1/2 cup honey
good tablespoon of peanut butter
1/2 cup raisins, sultanas or dried cranberries (optional)

Mix all the dry ingredients together except the fruit. Melt the oil, honey and peanut butter together and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix well. Spread over a large baking sheet. Stick into a pre-heated oven (325F/170C/150 Fan). Don't wander too far from the oven! Mine tends to cremate things if I leave it unattended! Turn the granola every 10 minutes or so, until roasted nice and golden (certainly not black and smokey). In my oven it's all done in about 25 minutes. Add the dried fruit about 5 minutes from the end of cooking.
Bring it out, let it cool on the try and then store in an airtight container. Voila.

Hopefully it won't be another month again!