Monday, December 31, 2012

On the 7th day of Christmas

Books have always played a significant part in our family , especially at Christmas  time when we read from a pile of familiar stories and authors. This year I bought a new book for Christmas reading:

Jenny Overton, Shi...
Best Price £4.72
or Buy New £8.96

It is a delightful story by Jenny Overton  and  illustrated by Shirley Hughes. We have not finished reading it yet but I would highly recommend it.

What does your family read at Christmas ? I would be fascinated to hear - please leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stir up Sunday

This Sunday , the last before Advent is  known as Stir up Sunday and is traditionally the day to make the Christmas pudding.The name comes from the collect for day in the Common Book of Prayer -

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded: through Jesus Christ Our Lord. 

I did a bit of reading and found out that:
  •  your pudding should be stirred from east to west to remember the journey taken by the wise men 
  •  should  have 13 ingredients to remember Christ and the disciples.
And , of course, it  should contain a sixpence bringing good luck to the finder!  My grandmother always put a sixpence in her's, I think nowadays it's a fifty pence piece!

I was surprised to see how many newspapers and food blogs, including my favourite one were running articles with plenty of pudding and cake recipes in time for this weekend. It seems that this tradition is still popular. We make a home made pudding in our family - my sister has made it this year but I thought I would put a non traditional one in the freezer for a another occasion. This weekend I will make my Christmas cake , the fruit is ready soaking and today I made homemade mincemeat.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Preparing for Advent with Soap and Water.

Advent is my favourite season and I have begun to plan how we will celebrate - mostly with familiar rituals that we have celebrated every year since the children were little. However, it is always a joy to discover new ideas. Over the last few days I have been reading about the tradition of cleaning ones house over Advent. In Scandinavian, Polish and Irish homes it is part of the preparation for Christmas to have a big clear up in readiness for visitors and the hospitality of the season. It mirrors  the internal clearing out and spiritual preparation of Advent which is a penitential season - albeit  also one of quiet joy and suppressed excitement. The idea reminded me of the Benedictine attitude to work - ora et labora - that work and prayer, contemplation and action  are essentially linked. The quiet , repetitive nature of  quotidian tasks can aid prayer and meditation.

Our house is in need of a thorough clean right now and as I think ahead to the busy Christmas season it seems like a good idea to use this time of preparation to do a few timely domestics. Cleaning out cupboards in the kitchen, the fridge, the freezer and stocking up on baking essentials ready for Advent baking are some of the jobs I'm tackling.  It feels good when the job is done and I can practice the presence of God in an act of service to those who will visit our home!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

All Saints Day.

 November 1st is All Saints Day. I enjoy celebrating it because it has given us the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the many Christians who have set us an example of faith over the years. We have told stories around the fire, hosted dressed up parties and  played traditional games like apple bobbing. Last year we watched the film Chariots of Fire. This year I think it will be a quiet evening together at home - a film, home made doughnuts and toffee apples and lots of silly games.

Here are a few links to celebration ideas;

 Pumpkin decorating ideas

Saint O Lanterns

Garden lanterns or try these

Film suggestions
Amazing Grace
The Hiding Place
Chariots of Fire

Story sites
Christian Heroes

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Autumn thoughts.

Here are the links to a few autumnal posts I have enjoyed reading.

Autumn store cupboard essentials by the BBC Good Food site.

And  a couple of links to some interesting thoughts on Michaelmas the feast of Michael the Archangel - I found these thought provoking.

Malcolm Guite's sonnets are always reflective.

Michaelmas Dragons and Delight   this post pushed  me a little deeper into the symbolism of the feast.

Some lovely prayers for Autumn

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The sacrament of the table.

I have just bought my self a new cook book .

Sacred Feasts from a Monastery Kitchen. by Brother Victor Antoine d'Avila- Latourette

I am fascinated by the link between food and spirituality. Food plays such an important part in celebration and hospitality. I also enjoy cooking  and providing my family and friends with good food. In his introduction brother  Victor -Antoine says:

  ' It  ( the book) is  imbued with the innumerable joys and ways of praising God daily through the practice of food spirituality in the humble sanctuary of the kitchen'

That link between prayer, worship, food and hospitality is what I have been and continue to learn about. Appreciating the seasonal produce that come into my kitchen and what is served from it are one way of demonstrating thankfulness to God from whom every gift is good and perfect.

Another cookbook I have enjoyed using is The Times Cookbook for Feasts and Festivals by C.J. Jackson

Since today is Michaelmas Day here are a few links to recipes for today's feast.

lots of lovely blackberry, apple and other seasonal  recipes at  BBC Good Food  - I tried blackberry and coconut squares

Catholic Cuisine as usual has plenty of ideas

I am roasting a duck ( they were half price at Sainsburys a while ago and this one has been in the freezer!) and also a chicken. Goose being out of our pocket range! I am going to try roasting some apples along side the chicken. I have also made an apple and blackberry pie - wondering if there is too much of an apple theme?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Celebrating Autumn

Next Saturday - September 29th is Michaelmas Day, a feast in honor Michael the archangel and, in English tradition, the last day of harvest. The hard work is over, the abundance of the land is gathered and stored and it is time to celebrate and give thanks.

 For most of us the significance of harvest is lost today since we gather our supplies from Sainsburys or Tescos and can usually find a variety what ever the season - no need to store, preserve, dry and put by for later. Autumn is my favourite season and despite the reliability of my local supermarket I both enjoy and feel an urge to gather and preserve at this time of year. We have been collecting wild apples and blackberries across our local common. So far I have made: apple sauce , blackberry jam, blackberry compote and for the first time blackberry gin (very easy to do - the recipe is the same as for sloe gin). And I have bought myself a proper old fashioned pie dish . Autumn seems the time of year to make pies.

The traditional  way to celebrate Michaelmas is to eat goose. Last year we had a family lunch with roast chicken followed by baked apples and blackberry compote. There is an old folk tale that tells of the devil being cast out of heaven and falling to earth to land in a bramble bush. Enraged he curses the bush and spits on it! Since then it is supposed to be unlucky to gather blackberry's after Michaelmas.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ordinary Summer Time

'Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.'  ~John Lubbock

So far this summer there has not been much opportunity or enough sunshine to lie in the grass. I remain absorbed in my return to practise course , on sunny days I take my books  and my lunch outside.

We celebrated Pentecost two weeks ago with friends and a large fruit filled,  flower strewn, candle blazing sponge cake representing the fruit, the gifts and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Now we are in ordinary time, when I wind down and take a deep breathe with God. It is good to be reminded that ( in the words of Michael Quoist)

'If only we knew how to look at life as God sees it we should realise that nothing is secular in the world, but that everything contributes to the building of the Kingdom of God'

Even ordinary summer things. Ordinary time is about taking time to learn to see life as God sees it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Easter for 50 days

Easter is a season of fifty days and not a celebration of one day. Here are a couple of resources that I have found which help to keep Easter and the amazing and joyous implications of this season upper most in my thought and prayer life.

Lent and Beyond  is an Anglican prayer site - often inspiring and thought provoking

 I have mentioned the book 'Living Easter through the Year ' by John Pritchard before. I am using it again this year and highly recommend it.

I would very much like to hear of any ideas or resources that others use ......

Saturday, April 07, 2012

An apology

My blog has been very neglected recently. I have started a return to practice for midwifery course and it is absorbing much of my time and thinking space. We still celebrate the seasons but I have little time to write about it! I am enjoying my first springtime Easter in a number of years - today I crystallised primroses and violets to decorate the Simnel cake with. We have shared much of this holy week with our church family and tomorrow we celebrate with my parents and sisters and their families.

I hope that before the end of the year I will have finished my course and will be back to regular blogging. In the meantime -
A very Happy Easter to any readers who drop by!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ideas for St Valentines day..

Activities that promote discussion..

Listen to some stories of romance
 At Storynory you can download stories for free

Watch a romantic film.- obviously your choice will depend on the age of your kids , how about;
Love Story
Love Actually.
Cinderella - maybe a modern day version like Maid in Manhattan or Pretty Woman
Roman Holiday or another Audrey Hepburn film.
The Time Travellers Wife
The Princess Bride
.....the list is endless! A Disney list here

Make an appreciation tree. Cut out paper hearts, each heart should have the name of one family member on it, distribute them to family members who then write something they appreciate about every person on the heart with that person's name. Hang the hearts on a branch and place in a jug on the table.

I am going to give my family a quest this year - the one that can find the best definition of true love will win a chocolate heart.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

St Valentine's Day.

We do not celebrate saints days except for one or two - St Valentines day is one of those exceptions. He is the patron saint of love and love is the very essence of God  who we worship in all our celebrations. To love as God loves is to what we aspire  in our relationships. In our commitment wary and self centred culture of today I would like my children to learn what true love is , and indeed remind myself  of its  height and depth and breadth.

'Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. it does not demand it's own way. It is not irritable, and keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when ever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never looses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance'
1Corinthians 13:4-7

Red roses or heart shaped chocolate boxes do not feature in our celebrations; I do bake a heart shaped chocolate cake for dessert though! But activities that provoke interesting discussions become increasingly pertinent as my children head into the teenage years.

A happy discovery for someone who loves books was that the 14th of February is also International Book Giving Day  What better way to spread love and cheer around on a chilly February day than to give a book away. So, this year our St Valentines Day plans include leaving some books lying around for others to find, maybe in a cafe or a bus stop - I hope they are blessed.

Zoe at playing by the book  also has suggestions  that are relevant to the UK.

Do you celebrate St Valentine?  What do you do?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Our Candlemas plans.

To celebrate we are going to:

Make beeswax candles to decorate the house and our table.

The children are going to make and perform a shadow puppet  show of the story of the presentation. The theatre is already finished - made from a cardboard box and baking parchment.To make the puppet figures we use free downloaded colouring pages as templates and trace on to card.
(This idea comes from the book The Year and our Children by Mary Newland Reed.)

Share a fondue meal with friends. I also plan to serve pretzels to represent the arms of Simeon and black olives to represent Anna , who was a widow. (If you want more ideas for food to serve at Candlemas try Alice's blog.)

Listen to some great music.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


This Thursday - February 2nd  - is the feast of 'Candlemas' .

Ron Dicianni   'Simeons Moment'

This little known , but delightful celebration is a feast of light , commemorating the presentation of Jesus as a baby, by his parents at the temple in Jerusalem. In the gospel story in Luke chapter two Mary and Joseph attend the temple as required by law to offer  sacrifices. As they enter the temple they are met by Simeon, an elderly and devout man who has been promised by God that  he would not die until he has seen the Messiah. It a dramatic and intense moment as Simeon takes the baby in his arms and  prophecies.

Imagine holding the infant Son of God in your arms.

His  parent are amazed and probably not a little disconcerted. To add to their perplexity they are approached by Anna, a prophet and widow who spends her days in the temple. She also recognises the baby for who he is.

The celebration of Candlemas includes three symbols; time, light and music.

God's timing uniquely perfect and beautifully executed. Simeon had waited a long time , faithful and patient , to see God's salvation. Now he would die in peace and  confidence.  Candlemas falls precisely between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Just as the days are beginning, ever so gradually, to lengthen and small quiet signs of spring discreetly emerge we celebrate the light of the world publicly recognised. We move from winter towards spring, from Christmas towards Easter.
‘The snowdrop, in purest white array, first rears her head on Candlemas day’
Traditional rhyme
 February is the month  when glimpses of the sun and early flowers give hope for the spring after the bleak days of January. Snowdrops flower at this time of year and are sometimes called Candlemas Bells. The tiny infant who was taken to the temple that day is a glimpse of the glory of God's salvation - for both Israel and all the nations.

 It is predominantly a feast of light. Simeon's words remind us  that Jesus is ' a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel'
Some churches hold candle lit processions into darkened church buildings and the candles to be used during worship for the rest of the year are blessed; this is where the name Candlemas comes from.

The words of Simeon are known as the Nunc Dimitis; they have been set to music by a variety of composers. The following links take you two lovely but very different recordings.

The first is Aled Jones and Ben Crawley singing Geoffrey Burgon's setting

And Michael Card singing 'Now that I've held Him in my arms.'

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January Days - feeding the birds.

 We are enjoying the birds that come to our garden and have started to feed them over the winter months. I have a pair of binoculars on the kitchen windowsill and we are gradually learning to identify the different birds that visit.

According to the RSPB half the adults in in Britain feed birds in their gardens! Winter is the often the time when we think about feeding the birds , especially during harsh weather conditions when food is scarce. The RSPB website has lots of good advise on how, when and what to feed.

Also, this month on the weekend of the 28th and 29th is the Big Garden Bird Watch . All you have to do is commit one hour to watching the birds in your garden and recording the species that visit, then send the results in to the RSPB.

It looks like fun.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January Days.

I am so much enjoying my first winter in over three years!

  • Frosty morning walks to school when I can see my breathe. 
  • Warming homemade soups, especially pea and ham made with the Christmas ham bone.
  • Seville oranges and homemade marmalade.
  • Scarlet sunsets from my window.
  • Evenings curled up under a rug.

Some snow would crown it all!

    Sunday, January 08, 2012

    Epiphany 2

    A few thoughts on and photos of our Epiphany celebration.

    Yesterday evening my husband and I went to see the film 'The Way' at our local community cinema. It is about a father who travels to France to bring home the body of his son who died walking the Camino de Santiago. Once at the place where it begins he decides to walk the way himself. The experience has a profound impact on him and the pilgrims who he meets along the way. An image that remains with me from the film is the clear joy even the most cynical pilgim feels on arriving at Santiago de Compostela.   The metaphor for life  as journey  is currently popular and a little over used in both spiritual and secular circles but it is a picture that is often used in the bible. When we read the story from Matthews gospel yesterday of the wise men setting out on their epic journey and resolutely following the star , seeking the new born king I was struck by their responce when they finally arrived at their destination. They were overwhelmed with joy. Anyone who has completed a trek or a long and ardous journey of some kind knows the relief, the satisfaction and the pleasure of arriving but overwhelming joy? The pilgims on The Way experienced something like this. For the wise men however, joy was complete because their destination was Jesus. The light leads us to Jesus - what other destination could there be?

    A few photos of our feast

    Friday, January 06, 2012


    Epiphany means an appearance or manifestation , a moment of revelation or insight and is the name given to the beautiful celebration of the visit of the wise men to the young Jesus and his family. It is celebrated on January the 6th.
    This year we are going to celebrate on the 7th - mainly because the kids are back to school and we plan to go Geocaching so Saturday is a better day. I read about geocaching some years ago and stored the idea away: it seemed such an excellent way to have fun on Epiphany with a meaningful activity that gets us thinking about intrepid journeys and hunting for the greatest treasure of all. When the children were younger we made crowns for everyone but now the boys especially are less inclined to play with paper and glitter. It seems like a good year to introduce a new, more energetic tradition!

    After our adventures and treasure hunting we will have a lunch with  middle eastern theme - since the wise men came from the East;

    Lamb Stew with Coucous 
    Pitta Bread

    followed by a Gallette  de Roi which is the traditional French kings cake. This year is the first year I have made it as I have often been living in places where the ingredients were not available!
    and Chocolate Chunk Spice cake which is what I usually make from Catherine Bells book Everyday Epicurean.

    The wise men will have completed their journey through the house and will be placed along side the other figures in the Nativity scene.

    There are lots of good stories to read together after lunch ; the story of the wise men from Matthew's gospel of course and the story of Babouska - a Russian folk tale, we may read T S Elliots poem ' The Journey of the Magi'

    We will feast, laugh, read and play - what I hope above all is that we will end the day with a revelation of our own,  a deeper appreciation of what the coming of Jesus meant to the world beyond Jewish borders.

    I am linked to the Nativity Carnival. 

    Wednesday, January 04, 2012

    Twelfth Night

    Twelfth Night on January 5th brings Christmas to a close. I like to think of it as a beginning rather than end.  Advent and Christmas are the start of the church calendar, after the birth we watch this remarkable baby grow and mature. We follow His progress as He fulfils the purpose for which He was born. Our journey with Jesus stretches ahead of us and the events to come are even more amazing.

    Traditionally it is a night of feasting and revelry and most of the traditions probably stem from pagan roots. It was an evening for plays and mummers, parties and games and in some areas of the country , mainly apple growing ones, a time to bless the orchards and the land to ensure a good harvest. Wassailing is an old English tradition when a hot spicy ale or cider based drink is shared from a common cup; some of the drink is poured around the trees to ensure a good crop. 

    It is also the night to take down Christmas decorations. In our house we usually spend the evening together quietly dismantling the decorations and the tree. Before we pack them away we record our best memories of Christmas on cards and tuck them in the box of decorations ready to find next Advent when we unpack everything again. 

    We drink Lambs Wool a warm drink made with cider or ale or a combination, flavoured with spices and baked apples. I make a non alcoholic version for the kids with apple juice  and serve a spicy snack - this year I think I will make gingerbread.

    As it happens we are also going to the Pantomime on the 5th of January , which seems a fitting end to Christmas!

    To share some ideas visit the Nativity Carnival at  The Ten O Clock Scholar. 

    Monday, January 02, 2012

    Happy New Year.

    If you have not already done so here are a couple of good links to resources to help families set goals and make plans for the new year. We did ours last night.

     Life as Mom has a free printable booklet here and Activity Village always has good resources too.