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December 2015 Happy Christmas?

One of my daughters has an incredible child-like nostalgia for the Christmases we had as a family when she was little.  She remembers a cosy old world cottage, a big open fire, homemade wreaths, a Christmas tree that hit the ceiling and a huge pile of wrapped presents under the tree.  Add the big turkey, crispy roast potatoes and the smells of mulled wine … her memories are of a perfect happy time. So the run up to Christmas for her is a time of increasing excitement.

Me now, I don’t get it.  For me November is a time of increasing irritation.  It begins in October actually, just after Halloween, when I begin to get irritated at tinsel in the shops.  Then as the television starts advertising My Favourite Expensivetoy at strange times in the early afternoon I begin to rant about materialism. About mid-November the new season’s “must have” (must have?!!) women’s hair curlers (or straighteners or frizzers or twirlers or shavers) bring out my internal feminist; and by the time I walk into my local supermarket on a perfectly ordinary autumn day and find the shelves piled six-foot-high with tins of chocolates and the background music jingling of reindeers I am positively Grumpy! So if some innocent then cheerfully remarks “only 24 more get-ups to Christmas” I may explode.

So why this strange reaction?  It’s not just old age grumpiness setting in.  In my case it’s the shadow of a Christmas many years ago that was very unhappy. The sights and sounds of Christmas still bring back faint echoes of that sadness. Somehow we expect Christmas to be some sort of ideal family time – and that is difficult to achieve when you aren’t living in the ideal family. (And who is?) It is also difficult for everyone who is struggling financially.  It is difficult for those who have been made redundant around Christmas time.  It is difficult for anyone who has experienced a tragedy at Christmas time.  It is difficult for everyone who has lost a loved one at Christmas.  The deeper the loss the longer the shadow it casts.

So if it’s getting to look a lot like Christmas for you and you don’t like how that feels - here are a few ideas that others have found help. (I have excluded getting totally smashed out of your face and missing the whole event, as not being good for your health.) Some people go to their Mum’s or their sister’s.  Some invite friends to them.  Some happily volunteer for the Christmas shift and have a normal working day. Others do something completely different like helping out at a soup kitchen or taking a holiday abroad in a country where they don’t celebrate Christmas!  Or you could join the millions of people round the world who don’t have it as their tradition and do what you want to do on that day - close the curtains, take the phone of the hook, buy in your favourite meal, download your favourite book and relax. Why not?

As the shops and adverts blare out the usual materialistic money-spending version of Christmas we have somehow persuaded ourselves that that is the real way to celebrate it! But the best Christmases I have had are the ones where - in good times or bad - I have been able to experience something of the God-with-us that came to us on the original Christmas day. And God's presence always comes with that gentle peace and joy that's beyond understanding.  So, however you choose to spend it, have a Happy Christmas!

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November 2015 Autumn at last!

Finally autumn has arrived with all the intensity it can muster and the colours this year have been zinging around me in the bright autumn sunshine.  The main picture is of Sheffield Park in Sussex, taken on a visit down south, but all the others are the colours surrounding me here at home in Scotland.

My thoughts this month are beautifully illustrated day after day right in front of my eyes.  It's simply this: Autumn is stunning.  OK spring is lovely with it’s bright bold colours, the yellows predominating with the daffodils, the red of the tulips and the contrasting blues of the little muscari and the woodland bluebells.  All so welcome after the depths of winter.   And everyone raves about the sights and scents of summer, all blue skies, green fields, creamy honeysuckle and pink roses.  But just open your eyes and look at Autumn!  Stunning!  And fruitful as well.

Summer is beautiful and to many is the best of seasons.  So many of us are tempted to work at preserving the summer.  I don’t mean making jam from the strawberries and raspberries and brambles (most of the kids round here have had purple faces for weeks) I’m talking about reaching the summer of your life and trying to stay there, trying to preserve the summer with cosmetics and fashion, with chemicals and doctor’s skills or with living in the past and yearning for what was and what might have been.

But Autumn is beautiful too.  There is a richness of colour here that hasn’t been seen before.  There is a fruitfulness here and a harvest to be had from a lifetime of growth.  Summer’s gone but autumn brings new gifts.

So enjoy Autumn, whether it be the nature around you, the season of your ministry or the autumn of your years.  

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October 2015 Orange for a boy?

Well the skies are clear, the sun is shining, the temperature is up to 21 and everyone is walking the dog in their shorts and sleeveless T-shirts or lounging outside soaking up the warmth.   The birds are singing, the butterflies flying and the evening air smells of barbecues.  Yes its October! 
 
I was going to write about the apples on our trees, and the harvest (the barley’s all rolled up in the field opposite), and the mellow mists of autumn, but I can’t bring myself to do it when everyone’s suddenly enjoying the summer we never had this year!
 
Instead you’ve got more knitting!  This time celebrating new life.  I’ve been knitting for the prem. unit and loving the way the little garments are finished so quickly. “Those surely aren’t human sized” commented my (comparatively) gigantic son when I’d finished another minute mitten.  But some of us are born very tiny and very precious.  
 
There are lots of great free knitting patterns for prem babies and charity use out there.  The eagled eyed knitters amongst you will have spotted the lovely all-in-one-top-down baby cardigan from Marianna Mel on Ravelry which you can find here or on her blog: mariannaslazydaisydays.blogspot.co.uk
 
It is such a delight to knit I keep wanting to make different versions. Orange for a boy or a girl?
 
But first I think I’ll grab my sunglasses and a long cool drink and go out and enjoy the autumn colours from my sundrenched garden!
 

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September 2015 Tablecloths!

I really wish I’d taken before and after photos.  But I didn’t  - mostly because the before was so bad I didn’t believe there would be a satisfactory after. 

I’m talking about tablecloths, small, vintage, embroidered or lacy tablecloths.  I spent most of last month sourcing them from car boot sales and junk shops. Most were so stained or torn that even the hard bitten dealers gave them to me for pennies because they looked beyond redemption.  But there is a magic I know – I learnt it from my mother in a recent visit when I literally couldn’t understand why her whites were so much whiter than mine!  (At 85 she knows a thing or two about doing the washing!!)  The secret, I found was a small pink pot of white powder added to the wash.  I came home and bought a pot.  I won’t advertise the brand but I’ll just tell you that with a  spoonful of this added to a hot wash all the stains just vanished! 

That’s what got me started on the vintage tablecloths.  I’ve always liked those hand – embroidered white tea table cloths but oh how easily they stain!  Tea, coffee, chocolate cake, wine, damp and soon they look like old rags and lie discarded on the back shelves of charity shops, creased and filthy.  One in particular had obviously been used to cover a table under a large plant pot.  Oh yes, the edges were deceptively pretty as they hung down in full view with swags of colourful flowers, but the middle was permanently ringed with large black rings where the plant pot had been standing for years, and to make matters worse the water had leaked from the bottom of the pot making spreading brown water marks, ugly on the white linen. Then of course there was the black mould. The cloth was ruined beyond redemption….or so I thought.  I bought it because it cost virtually nothing.  Picked it up off the floor.  Took it home and thought, “Well I’ve not lost a lot if it doesn’t work.”  In it went into my washing machine on a hot wash with a spoonful of innocuous white powder.  Innocuous!  How could I have ignored this special stuff for so long!

When I took the tablecloth out I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I had thought in my mind that I’d give it two goes, maybe three before I gave up, but after just one wash it was gleaming white and beautiful.  I literally danced around the kitchen holding it.  I was so pleased!  I pegged it on the line to dance in the wind and then out came the iron!  Soon it was as good as new! Not a spot, not a stain, just lovely smooth white linen and  beautiful hand-embroidered flowers.  I was so pleased with it! I thought about selling it on ebay  - people would pay a fortune for such unique vintage pieces - but I couldn’t bear to part with it, not after I’d found it unwanted, not after all the work I’d done to restore it, not after seeing it in its full beauty. So I folded it carefully and put it in my own drawer.  And I smiled.  I could see the future – the select friends I’d show it too, the delight  of my daughter when she saw it, (she’d would want to take it home immediately), the special occasions and birthdays when it’d come out and grace the table and be admired.  

So that one became the first of an ever-increasing collection – all unique, all different.  And will I worry if they get stained again?  Not me!  I have the answer!  I have the Power!  Stain removal is my specialty and I can keep them looking good forever!

I think I know how God feels.

For the first time I can hear the excitement in this verse: ‘Come let us reason together says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow” (or tablecloths) Isaiah 1:18

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August 2015 The River

I love walking along the river at the bottom of my garden. Well it's not exactly at the bottom of my garden, my garden’s not that big actually.  But if I cross the road that runs past the front door and walk down the footpath alongside the field I come to my river and it's like entering a different world.  The sound of the water, the green untidy riverbanks and always, always a surprise.  The fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher, a jumping salmon, a lumbering heron, stately swans on an evening glide, busy sand martins dive-bombing the water, a mob of sparrows perfectly camouflaged in the hedges until startled.  Once, yes really, there was a cow climbing the sandy river cliff. Why?  To get to the top I presume.  It had a lot of lowing support and interested encouragement from the rest of the herd on high.

 

I love the way I can leave my front door and go to the river anytime I want and it's always lovely and always different. Today it wears a rushing torrent fast flowing, white waved, and carrying dead tree trunks and branches to wash up on shore at the bend.  In spring it is gentle and full, the silver water flowing generously past green meadows flush with yellow buttercups or purple thistle, the riverbanks edged with lacy white may blossom.  Sometimes it's so shallow the pied wagtails barely get their feathers wet as they bob and wade in its waters and every pebble on the river bed shines and glistens in polished black and brown and silvers and greys like a inspiration board for a new high end tweed.  That's when the village children come down and wade in to their calves and dam the river with the biggest stones they can move.  It's a community effort, doubtless passed on down the generations, and it takes a few days of the summer holidays to get it right; but when it's done the river is tamed by children for a few weeks and deigns to flow gently round the corner into a pool constantly replenished and constantly flowing over the pebble dam.  And there the children paddle and play and splash and fish with nets and catch tiny little fishlings that swim confusedly round and round in small plastic buckets, stared at by huge round eyes until released once again to the river’s flow. The dam is washed away in a night of heavy rain and the river begins to swell again until its flowing full and free.  That's the time the young men in their green coats and wellies go wandering across the field to secret corners of the river and come back alone in the dark with their pockets bulging.  Like them we’ll draw a cloak of darkness over that.

 

In the winter, in the rain, the river fills and expands, breathes out and grows.  The path by the river is claimed by the water, forcing walkers to climb higher and make new paths, climbing fences, exploring new ground.  Finally the river overflows it's bank turning the field into a lake and attracting flocks of ducks quacking in pride to find such a luxurious new home, however temporary.  The snow falls and the river's green lushness is forgotten as the river shows off its monochrome beauty.  Black water flows between white banks, the trees and branches etched in darkest brown and slate grey. The only contrast - the occasional drops of red from hips and haws or a robin's brave song from his topmost stark branch.

 

No one's tried to tame our river or box it in with concrete or divert it's excess water with culverts or constrain its banks with concrete. Our river is not made to our measurements and required to flow where we lead it.  It takes its own course and moulds the landscape to itself.  Our river is not  a tamed river.  So don't expect it to be the same as it was in a different season.  Don't expect it to be the same next year. Don’t expect to see the same river twice. It will always be there - but whether as a raging torrent, a flood that engulfs the land or a silver ribbon for children to play in is beyond our control.

 

It reminds me of how God is.

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