Wednesday, 10 May 2017

April arrives

April suddenly leapt out at us. We had endured the winter so long, but suddenly - with the change in clocks to British Summer Time - the days were longer, lighter, warmer...

Not that I noticed much. The school day is so intense that some days I barely venture outside, unless on duty, for more than a few minutes. We were in the midst of preparing for the school production of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, such a wonderful opportunity to share the Bible story with children and staff alike. A fascinating glimpse into another culture, too. So days were packed with rehearsals and costume preparation. All went well, the children sang, acted and danced magnificently, everyone was happy... and three days later, the end of term. What's not to like?

And with the end of term - glorious, glorious sunshiney weather. The first day of the holidays was like summer: think sunburn, think too hot to sit in the sunny garden; think taking shelter in the shade; think long warm evenings; think GARDENING. Fun.

Phil and Judy (lovely Adele's lovely parents) arrived a day later. They had had a dreadfully circuitous journey, thanks to the vagaries and inefficiences of Flybe. They should have arrived at 9.30 am - instead, it was more like 7.30pm. They were taken to Exeter where, thankfully, they could go into the city and enjoy the sunshine - one of the warmest days of the year so far. But the onward flight to Guernsey was then delayed by another couple of hours... oh well.  They arrived safely and we had a lovely Sunday with them, cycling to church, then via Le Gouffre by the cliffs for a coffee before returning home for a leisurely lunch.

A day later, and we were off to France, leaving them to enjoy the peace of Morningstar.  All the rest of our travels are chronicled in www.travelswithpickle.blogspot.com....

Meanwhile, back at Morningstar, Kareena, Chris and Howie the Boston Terrier (Pickle's best friend) moved in after Phil and Judy had left.They have bravely struggled with renovations but when it came to finishing the floor, there was no way they could continue to live in the house and so stayed with us for around ten days or so.  What fun. It was like having flatmates: casual suppers, some shared, some not; evening chats; a late night glass of wine; putting the world to rights; sharing lives.  Delightful to see how easy it is to have guests, too, as our guest room and ensuite is in a private part of the house on the other side of the main entrance.

It was good to have a friend to share with, too, when I got back to school: this term is incredibly hectic and it started with a bang: the first staff meeting of the term introduced, among other things, two new innovative extra-curricular days with quite a bit of preparation to do for them... more than a little demotivating when there are so many other things going on. For me, it is introducing a 'time travelling' trip to investigate the German legacy from the Occupation, including a spy story resulting from the discovery of a rucksack left at the beach by a British spy on the run... but that is for May. I staggered to the end of a month which had turned rather chilly....

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Mad March

March began wild and blustery. On the 3rd, I cycled home through FOUR different thunderstorm showers. Lightning, a deluge of water and flooded roads. It's hilarious on a bike - you're so wet, wet through to the underwear, that it ends up not mattering. And this was despite my wonderful 'Rainlegs' which cover my thighs and normally do an amazing job of keeping the top of my legs dry. That day, they seemed to give up: the water was splashing up UNDERNEATH them.  There were still a couple of inches near the top of my legs where I was still dry by the time I got home....

Fun. The dog, of course, hates thunderstorms and presses up closely against us while the thunder peals.  Usually, that is. Sometimes she just gets annoyed and goes round the house barking loudly, before she gives up in disgust and climbs back on to the sofa to curl into a small black ball.

Then, mid-month, suddenly SPRING CAME.  For a day, initially. The next was back to grey and mist and mizzle and drizzle. And more wind than was on the forecast.  But we had a glorious Monday of full sunshine.  The daffodils have already been shouting out their glory for several weeks, but now the odd crocus has appeared in the garden, with a shy cyclamen flower struggling up from underneath a stone.

So, now, daffodils have sprung up everywhere. I planted a bagful of bulbs I had brought with me from Barnsfield - by the time I got round to it, in December, the poor bulbs had become fed up with waiting for me and had put their roots out already, becoming hopelessly entangled with each other. It took much soaking in water and gentle pulling to disengage them from each other.

But the bulbs I planted - and which have bloomed so generously - seem like nothing when I see those which are already here. Clumps of green spikes and then yellow flowers have appeared everywhere: under bushes, in 'bare' patches, on top of the grassy hedge banks and even growing out of the vertical sides of the banks themselves. The garden blazes with yellow fire in the sunshine.

There are unusual varieties as well: fragrant narcissi perfume the air from the troughs outside the front door; creamy yellow lacy trumpets hide behind the nerines; on the banks, I see bright yellow outer calyxes with deep orange tubular centres: the aptly named and unusual Will Scarlet, perhaps. Other narcissi are the ubiquitous creamy pale thick clusters:
These grew, unsolicited, at Barnsfield. Their perfume was strong: so much so that, one morning early on in our stay there, I had gone out into the garden and picked a bunch which I displayed in the kitchen. I went out again, only to find them, on my return, lying disconsolately on the paving outside the kitchen. The scent - cloying, pungent, almost redolent of cow dung, at times - was too strong for Jonny. He had come downstairs, recoiled at the smell, located the offending blooms, opened the kitchen window and... simply plucked them from the vase and threw them out. I learned not to pick them again...

So the daffodils have been a welcome brightener in a month dogged by fog. I like it, myself: I love the silence, the deadening of sound, which the fog brings. Even the traffic sounds quiet and of course the planes do not fly... and there is something eerily beautiful about the mist:
Otherwise, my bike commute home is, for the most part, through tranquil lanes. The banks are studded with primroses, celandines  and the odd violet. Daffodils erupt on the field edges; Brussels sprouts, nearing the end of their season, still stand on stalks, slightly brown now. I near the house and see the sea... This is such a welcome change from my previous commute which wound its way among houses: ribbon development on Guernsey dominates, so I would see glimpses of fields between and behind the buildings, but now I travel through countryside....

Apart from the weather, the month seems to have been packed with meals with friends, here and away; and a fund-raising quiz one evening - mostly about TV programmes, which was amusing as only 2 out of our team of 6 had a television and one couple are South African and not familiar with British TV programmes. Then there was a breakfast - where we talked, non-stop, about deep things in our lives, gaining strength from one another. And school.... reports; a school musical (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat - it will be awesome); Saturday mornings of entrance assessments, a hockey festival, tag rugby tournament; encouraging 40Acts of kindness at school....

But the joy of the month has been the flowers....
Hyacinths in blue by the front door

Unusual daffodils from the garden in my tiny Kitengela glass jug


Unique daffodils from a friend chime in with my Mother's Day creamy white primula

And then there were the Amaryllis....


And finally....the warmth and the sun return, bringing bright mornings....

Saturday, 4 March 2017

February: well, where did that go?

Into spring, actually, although the dying gasp of the month put us firmly back into winter, ready for 'In like a lion and out like a lamb', as the saying goes about March. Or is it the other way round? I can be firmly convinced of either.

But February had its fair share of stormy weather, gales, high tides and fog. Lots and lots of fog, most of it over half term. We were all right - off on the boat to France, as documented in our motorhome adventures - but many weary travellers were delayed, sometimes for days. Ho hum - the price of living on paradise island, I suppose.

Inbetween the storms, the daffodils erupted - many growing in unexpected places, not only in our garden, but also along my daily commute to work. Most surprising were the single clumps, proudly perched high, on the grassy banks which do duty as walls or fences around the fields.

I managed a little more digging of our new vege patch: I'm creating more beds, digging up an old gravel path with some large rocks beneath it. #notenoughtimeathome

Otherwise, we managed to see many friends, both out and about and inviting them home. I had parents' evenings at school - all good, lovely to celebrate the children's progress with them.

And then it was half term, and we were off. To Brittany, this time.

In the midst of it all, there was much to pray for. Sick friends. Our children living in a war-torn country, serving the poor as best they can. Our children applying for new, exciting, adventures - and succeeding.  Pain and sorrow and anxiety and fear-that-trusts and rejoicing and excitement all rolled up into one intricate prayermat. God knows.

And the days grow longer, and lighter, and our spirits begin to lift...

Thursday, 2 February 2017

January

I survived.

Not quite the right attitude... and, indeed, it sounds worse than it was.  It is just that my stock answer, in January, to 'How are you?' is 'Surviving January'.  Because it always seems a little melancholy, and very very dark, after December. The Christmas decorations have disappeared, the days are still short and the weather is often just dark and dismal and damp-dreary.

But that is a gloomy picture which does not reflect reality.

In reality, in my house, the Christmas decorations stay up until, at least, January 25th - Cat and Jonny's birthday.  The fairy lights sprinkle in sparse corners, the Nativity set greets me at the front door and all serves to remind me of a twist on CS Lewis, whose description of Narnia in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe  is that it was 'always winter and never Christmas.'

Not in my house . Not in January, or ever. Because, for me, it is 'always Christmas and never winter.' Jesus is alive, whether rain or shine, summer or winter, Christmas or January.

And, indeed, remembering this, I did more than survive January over the last few weeks. I look back over the month and remember shared meals, sharing life with close friends in home group, breakfast with a group of women from church, lunch with my Supernatural School group.

I cycled to work on some incredibly (for Guernsey) cold and frosty mornings, where the hoar frost crickle-crackled under my feet as I hauled my unwilling bike from the shed.

The cold weather wasn't great for the sinuses, though. Catching a horrendous cold and cough made me feel bad enough to warrant a day or so off school. One day off, after a day of feeling really unwell; staggered back to school for a day and a half - never any suggestion from my superiors that I should take more time to recuperate -  and then managed a couple of extra hours at home before the weekend, which brought prayer for healing and a remarkable recovery. #healingrooms !!

Cat and Andy arrived in Iraq, starting their life with Medair, serving refugees.  #manychallengesahead  The 'lurkers' (as Jennifer Rees Larcombe calls those hidden worries in our lives) are still there in regard to their safety - particularly Cat's - but my brain is satisfied with and trusting of the security measures put in place for them. Cat has set up a 'WhatsApp' group for us and Jonny and Adele, which has been a lot of fun as we see and comment on the photos she and Andy have posted. And, of course, there is always Skype....

Still sorting out and unpacking boxes at home, after painting the office.  #nobookcasesyet #stillworkingonit  Richard is very busy with home improvements, necessitating much internet research. He is so capable and handy, enjoying learning new skills.

And the occasional foray into the garden -  preparatory digging for more vegetable beds; a little surfing; meeting up with dear Mags and Louis, over for 'Christmas' (thanks Condor for getting them here safely even though you cancelled the Christmas sailing so they couldn't come then); phoning and Skyping friends and making plans for visits from family in the spring.

Spring. The days are perceptibly longer and lighter already. Spring is on her way.

View on the way home

The sun on the ssea - 30 seconds from home

Cat sends me an apron, made with love by Lois, from Vanuatu

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Post-Christmas and into January... 2017!

I enjoyed drawing my gratitude for 2016 so much that, this year, I thought I might do a page a month, adding to it as I go along.  And that I'd also record particular photos here, so, starting today, some memories of the Christmas holidays. Which were, in fact, partly in December, but it still counts: it's post Annual Christmas News Letter, after all...
Surfing...

...good waves
L'Eree walk



Morningstar Christmas lights, at dusk
 Later, I put away my Jesse tree. Cat and I made it fourteen years ago: sadly, this year, it has succumbed to damp and the salt dough shapes are beginning to disintegrate. Gladly, the figures she handcrafted have not suffered, so I have packed them away lovingly, taking photos of the other Bible verses depicted so that I can recreate/renew the tree hangings...
Angel

One of the kings...






The first narcissus... #stillDecember   #30th

A bonfire on a still day... getting rid of the pile of hedge trimmings

sparks

cliff walk at sunset


stunning beauty

golden glow

just before the green flash... more of a lingering green glow...  #sofortunate

Early days in 2017: gratitude

The New Year. Reflections on the old. A 'gratitude' map:
Of course, many of these things I think about when I write our annual Christmas newsletter. But it's good to add in other little things as well as significant names:

Journeying through 2016: trains, planes and automobiles. Or, rather, planes, bikes and a motorhome.

Like the wise men of the nativity story, or Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, we too have, in many ways, been on quite a journey this year. In January we returned from the Other Side of the Earth, after seeing Cat marry Andy. They wanted their wedding to be God-honouring, inclusive, as families and friends met and mingled, and fun. And indeed it was. After the ceremony (conducted by Andy’s brother) in a historic church, we had the reception in a marquee in an idyllic setting on the edge of the ocean. Afternoon tea on the lawn, games, and a NZ buffet dinner. Such a joyous occasion, tinged also with bittersweet as we realised afresh that Cat will be making her home there in the future.
For the present, she and Andy are in Vanuatu where he works for UNICEF as a water and sanitation engineer and she works in project management for the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a branch of the UN. Come January, they head off to Dohuk, Iraq, joining Medair’s Disaster Relief Programme where Cat will be Project Support Manager and Andy will head up their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme. Jonny and Adele too may be adventuring further afield than Norwich, where they have been teaching for some years.

Our feet have also been VERY itchy. For the last couple of years we had considered moving to New Zealand, a decision with which we wrestled long and  very, very hard. The weather and the spacious lifestyle appealed and we had been granted immigration rights. It is a long, long story, but in the end – despite the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup - for a hotchpotch of reasons, we decided to settle down in Guernsey instead. After a few months of house-hunting, we found a home to buy. We had loved the house we had been renting, with its peaceful location and huge garden, so thought it would be a wrench to leave.

But not at all. Our new home is a spacious bungalow in a very rural part of Guernsey, a stone’s throw from the south coast cliffs. (It is a full 8 miles away from where we lived before which, for Guernsey folk, is almost equivalent to moving to New Zealand. They check they have their passport before coming to visit us.)  We benefit from the sun streaming through the windows from sunrise to sunset and outside there are several sheltered sunny nooks. Buzzards and harriers glide over our large, shrub-filled garden. We have lovely neighbours. The house has ticked more of our boxes than we could ever imagine and it has quickly felt like home. Do come and visit!

Tradition says that Mary travelled to Bethlehem on a donkey. The wise men almost certainly rode on camels. Bilbo walked. We cycle, mostly, in Guernsey, often with the dog who has her own seat, but we have also acquired a motorhome. So the summer holidays were spent journeying down through France to northern Spain, with the blessing of Jonny and Adele’s company for a couple of weeks. Cycling, surfing, even walking the Ceres Gorge through the Picos de Europa. Many adventures. It was good, too, to catch up with 9 different lots of friends and family in England over half term, driving 1000 miles in 7 days.

So...Richard is now retired, with gradually improving health which has enabled him to enjoy the gardening and  home improvements. Angie still enjoys the teaching aspect of teaching: children never fail to amuse. Pickle has adjusted to her new life,  enjoying barking through the fence at the neighbouring dogs.

In all this, we are grateful for so many blessings and we look back on the year with immense thankfulness for God’s guiding hand on our lives, for family and friends, for the gift of a beautiful place to live, and for new opportunities as we explore new expressions of faith with a group of friends. Exciting times.


We treasure our friends, old and new, and wish you a year full of blessings and much happiness. We hope you have a wonderful Christmas season and look forward to hearing about what 2016 has brought to you J

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Day 2016: reflections

WE SURVIVED! That seems an awful thing to say about such an awesome, stupendous occasion - our great celebration of our Lord and King's birth. I always imagine an earthly kingdom with all the pomp and ceremony, planning and preparation, feasting and extravagance which accompany a king's visit. And of course that is what Christmas is all about, really.

But, as I reflected a couple of days ago, this joyful occasion has become tainted with selfish expectation, and I was no exception, I had grieved and worried over the 'loss' of my children, just on this one day of the year.

Ridiculous, now, in retrospect. Because WE.HAD.A.GOOD.GREAT.DAY. Hallelujah!

And I am so grateful to God for changing the heart of this woman who, on Christmas Eve morning, had been lying on the floor of her bathroom, crying and praying for a change of heart. A move away from selfishness to thankfulness.

And He did. He worked a miracle.

It began on Christmas Eve as I drove around dropping off miniscule tokens of appreciation for friendship. In very busy lives, I had forgotten the gift of these wonderful people in my life and it was good to reconnect. And how good it was to bless just a couple of hard-working people with a little money. Next year I will be more intentional and organised. Our poverty here is hidden, but many people work two or more menial jobs for long hours in order to make ends meet. (At the other end of the scale, there are those who think nothing of paying hundreds of thousands for a car, or on an extra garage...)  And I was able to do a very small errand (introducing my neighbour to the wonders of the Turkey Roasting Bag) and build on a relationship with these marvellous people next door.

But it was Christmas Day which was so excellent. Waking early - in spite of going to midnight communion, greeting a few friends, singing the well-known carols - we sipped coffee and prepared to Skype with Cat and her new family in New Zealand. We chatted for half an hour with her and Andy and his parents, reflecting anew how very blessed she is (and we, too) to have such very nice people as in-laws. God has been SO good to us in our children's marriages and we love their spouses, parents and family as if they were our own. We could have talked longer, (often it is an hour or so), but it was late in the evening for them....

....and time to go surfing. I hummed and haaed - cold water is not my favourite - but put an extra layer under my wetsuit, donning boots and gloves as well, braving the waves with my bodyboard. And it wasn't cold at all, especially as the air, on getting out of the water, was mild, but tremendous fun.

Then, as we opened presents from our children and each other - thoughtful, intensely practical (and Richard did a trick we have done before of giving each other similar items because we both recognised the need for them in our lives) - an unexpected phone call. Our friend Danny, son of our beloved home help 'Cookie' who became another mother for me as I grew up. She was the most wonderful, generous person, always looking out for those in need and loving us all as deeply as if we were her own children. It has been wonderful to keep in touch with Danny and his wife - a relationship that goes back 60 years now - and to hear his news.

Then Chris and Kareena came round for lunch. We enjoyed the enormous shared feast - leftovers for the week, at least.
The mizzle had started in earnest outside in an increasingly grey day, but it made no difference as the dogs - Howie the Boston and Pickle the Patterdale - played together. We ate, pulled crackers, played hilarious (and sometimes rude) charades, chatted... and ended up watching the original movie of Home Alone, laughing uproariously at the slapstick humour.

And in the middle, more Skype chats with Jonny and Adele, and then my lovely brother and his family.

New Year's Resolution: more Skype time, more real time where possible, more communication. More love.

The story of Christmas. How amazing that God even CHOSE to communicate with us. How marvellous the ways in which He does so. And how breathtaking, stunning and awesome the means with which He communicates with his people, whoever and wherever we are.

Even with a silly, selfish woman weeping on a floor.