Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 – How was yours?

I love Instagram. The other night as I was snuggled up under a blanket on my aforementioned giant and cosy chair and I was flicking through some of my snaps and saw what a great record it has made of the last year. And not just the big things that we tend to remember but also the little things that really make a day at the time.

Little things like biscotti making. A great day!

2015 saw the founding of the sewing corner!

Things like my ‘Curry Resolution’ last January which has to be one of my only New Year’s Resolutions to be a resounding success. I now wiz up curries like a pro! Or things like my first attempt at baking macarons and biscotti. Little things that you really would forget in the midst of the busyness of life if there weren’t a little record of it to flick back through.

One of my first curries and still one of my favourites

2015 has really been an extraordinary year. A few weeks back I said to my husband, ‘this has been the best and the worst year!’ and it really had been. Insanely tricky at times and very challenging indeed, but absolutely full of the best surprises too. 

A trip to Crete

As I flicked back through my pictures I realised that I have managed to rack up a trip to Paris, Crete and Prague, a graduation, finishing training, moved house, was ordained, learned to dress-make and starting my first church job! Not a bad list really! Starting work at church has had a whole truck load of firsts to add to the list, first baptism, first funerals, first ‘ordained sermon’! I have ended the year in a very different place to where I started but with a sincere sense of gratitude for a year of adventure that will live on its effects for many years to come.

Starting ordained life off right at the summer fair!

In all this I have wondered about the nature of the ‘good year’. That’s what we all hope for as the clock strikes 12, isn’t it? That this year will be better than the one before, that this will be ‘our’ year. There is something nice about that. Always striving to get more out of life, to challenge ourselves and broaden our horizons. 

But the reality is that the good and the bad is so often intertwined. It can be so well laced together that it is impossible to pick apart. The best things rarely come in easy to manage packages. If something is going to make you say ‘Wow, I did that!’ at the end of the year then it is unlikely to come without some struggle and a few tears alone the way. 

Someone I read recently put it like this, in life there is death and is death there is life. As we look back on some of the hardest times in life they can be the place from which new life has sprouted up, the places that have generated real change. Likewise the truly life giving moments are caught up in struggle too.

And ending the year with baubles a plenty!


So perhaps I won’t look for a ‘good’ year this year, as strange as that maybe sounds. Perhaps instead I will look for a year well lived, in whatever comes. And here is wishing you the same for a brand new year about to open up before us. Happy New Year to you all. 

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas - it's time to Hibernate!

Is anyone else in full hibernation mode? I have practically taken up residence in my favourite chair and any reason to leave it I now view as a huge inconvenience. If I could have all my meals delivered to me in this chair then I really would. As it is I have box of Quality Street nestled next to me which, not going to lie, my hand strays into every few minutes, and a husband of work who can be persuaded to bring the occasional cup of tea.

As it is now Christmas Eve I am guessing that most of us are about to finish work for a little while and all the Christmas preparations are done. Hoo-flippin'-ray! It is time my friends to enter hibernation. To enjoy a few days where there is nothing much demanded of you besides eating chocolate for breakfast, sticking a turkey in the oven and flopping on the sofa in front of a Christmas movie.

And don't we all need that? A change to just be. A chance to spend time with the people that mean the most to us, who we pass by like ships in the night in all the busyness of the festive season? I can't wait to realise I haven't left the house in three days and to stay in my pyjamas till noon. And me and this chair...well...we won't be parting company any time soon

.
Which just leaves me to say, I wish you all a very happy Christmas indeed. Thank you for being wonderful, for stopping by this little blog from time to time and being companions and friends.

Merry Christmas!


30 Second Reflection - Judah's Lion

Where does the lion, Judah's lion walk?
Stealthy under star by winter night his soft paw stalks
Out on lonely hills a cold wind howls and darkness scowls;
Shepherd's shiver – danger in the dark! - some wild beast prowls.
Suddenly up springs a light; a voice rings like a bell;
'Joy, O men of Judah! Come and see! Noel! Noel!
Where lies Judah's longed for lion? 'Come and see the sight!
Fear not – your golden one is couched among the lambs tonight'

- Keith Patman

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Unto Us a Son is Given

Given, not lent,
And not withdrawn – once sent
This infant of mankind, this One,
Is still the little welcome Son.

New every year,
New born and newly dear,
he comes with tidings and a song,
The ages long, the ages long;

Even as the cold
Keen winter grows not old,
As childhood is so fresh, forseen,
And spring in the familiar green.

Sudden as sweet
Come the expected feet.
All joy is young, and new all art,
And he, too, whom we have by heart.

- Alice Meynell

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - The Church, Part 2.

Last week we spoke about what some of the costs and benefits of being part of a Church might be. The opportunity for community, for spiritual and mental growth, space for you and a place to love and be loved. This, is weighed up against how flippin' annoying church can be sometimes and that, like an human institution, it can get it spectacularly wrong sometimes. You don't need examples, I know you have seen it all before. But for me, the vision of what it could be has tipped the balance and I am committed to it (God help me!) but getting to this place has been no easy journey let me tell you!

Because even if that vision of church as community hub and spiritual watering hole sounds fantastic to you then unfortunately the situation in the church today is such that just wandering in might be a rather difficult thing for you to do. I often joke with a friend of mine who also came to church in later life that being an adult coming into the church rather than being raised in it, is like being an alien landing on Planet Christian. You don't speak the same language, for a good proportion of the time you have no idea what is going on and when you do finally get what is going on you are always the one saying 'Do we have to do it like that?' and that can be an interesting person to be!

The Church, in all generations, has been given the task of making God, faith, the whole shebang, make sense to the people of its time. Sometimes the church is really great at that. Sometimes, and I wonder if we are in one of the times, it is a bit rubbish really and the whole thing can get a bit mysterious. In a bad way.

If you have not been raised going to church and therefore have learned the lingo then you will struggle to even decode the service board to know what on earth you should expect of any of these things let alone knowing when you should stand up or sit down or say something in the service itself. This, I must stress, is entirely not your fault and I think is rather unfair really.

A huge part of the responsibility for rectifying this lies with the Church and I am hugely passionate about that. Because underneath those layers of what at times can seem like impenetrable 'Church Culture' is a two thousand year old heritage full of richness and beauty and wealth. Underneath it all is a place where I have discovered life, hope and been changed for the better and I am not the only one. I really, really, really hope that the Church of this generation will do something about making these riches accessible to people today.

But that doesn't mean that Church is a closed door to those of us who come into it with no prior experience. We have many advantages. Not being raised in a tradition or even in a religion means that we are not wedded to a particular way of doing things. This means that you can try out a whole range of styles without prejudice and preconception. I have been part of churches with a stage and a band up front and ones with incense and hundreds of years old services. I loved them both. Us newbies can be intrepid explorers of the spiritual landscape, going into territory that others find it deeply uncomfortable to go.

And as explorers we are also questioners. The church needs people who ask 'Why?' A LOT. Never be afraid to ask why things are as they are, or what things mean. You may uncover for other people the gaps in their own knowledge which may start them off on their own voyage of discovery. Celebrate your role as a challenger and don't be afraid of what you don't know. A lot of people in Church don't really know either, they have just grown too afraid to ask. Be an Asker!

And I also hope this blog can be a place for the spiritual explorer to find support and companions on the way.In the next post I will do a little decoding for you on what some of the Church lingo you might encounter really mean. And if you do have any questions you can contact me with any questions under the 'Want to Chat?' Button above or through Facebook or Twitter. I'd love to run a retreat one day for all of us explorers to come together and support and learn from one another. So wherever you are on your own spiritual journey, take heart and be bold. It really is well worth it!

30 Second Reflection - All we ever loved

Christmas — that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance — a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.

 ~Augusta E. Rundel

Monday, 21 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Words of the Magi

'Shall I bring you wisdom, shall I bring you power?'
The first great stranger said to the child.
Then he noticed something he's never felt before -
A wish in himself to be innocent and mild.

'Shall I bring you glory, shall I bring you peace?'
The second great stranger said when he saw
The star shine down on entire helplessness
The gift that he offered was his sense of awe.

'Shall I show you riches' the third one began
The stopped in terror because he had seen
A God grown-up and a tired tempted man.
'Suffering's my gift' he said
'That us what I mean'.

- Elizabeth Jennings

Friday, 18 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - A Child Again

'Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.'

~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday, 17 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Open Hearts

'I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.'

- Charles Dickens

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - We, too, are Shepherds

The angel danced and laughed
and touched my eyes
And the world lit like Christmas,
A depth of sparkling lights,
everywhere, the touch of God,
Lightness of Spirit
Shining back to me.

I felt like a child
discovering Christmas is true,
Barely daring to believe,
Hesitant to even move
in case the glory should vanish,
But the angel laughed and danced on
And the world stood new-made.

- Wendy White

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - The Church, Part 1

Ah, Church..... I say that in a similar tone to how you might say 'Ah, extended family gatherings'. We all (or most of us at any rate!) love our families in all their weird and wonderfulness and have all sat through an afternoon with a particular group of relatives that we wouldn't care to repeat in too much of a hurry. That, after all, is what Christmas is for, right?! And why we are all a little bit grateful that it comes but once a year!

Church, like family, has many good things about it. When you are part of a church if you have a baby you suddenly have twenty additional grandparents to coo over your offspring. There are people to talk to about all sorts of things, people to pray for you and listen to your thoughts and feelings. There is a support network for when things get tough.

Church offer you a space to think about the bigger questions of life, a guaranteed space out from the busyness of life each week to recharge, reset and get ready for a new week ahead. If they are doing it right then Church is a place to challenge you, where you can learn and grow and attend to the whole spectrum of who you are spiritually and mentally. Our church even has a dieting group and yoga so they can sort you out physically as well!!

However Churches, like families, are also occasionally a pain in your neck. They squabble, they fall out, the say annoying things to you, they fail you, the do the wrong thing, they let you down. Being in church is not always easy. It takes up time when you could be enjoying a nice hot chocolate and a muffin in a coffee shop with things like finance meetings. You end up going out on evenings you would rather stay in and getting out of bed when you'd rather have a lie in.

It would be out and out lie for me to say that going being part of a church would make your life easier. It more than likely won't. But, as life goes on, I come more and more to realise that the easy things in life are often the least valuable. Everything worth having takes work and perseverance. Everything that means something has the potential to let you down. There is no love without the possibility of heartbreak. There is no Church without the chance of it going wrong and no community without sacrifice.

Church is a very human institution and it has all the failings you would expect from any organization where a whole group of people attempt to work together. But I do believe that it has the potential to be something rather extraordinary in our lives and communities. There is nothing like standing next to your actual, real neighbour and praying 'Forgive me for I have not loved my neighbour as myself.'

And there is nothing like sitting in a Church building, as I regularly do, and see every sector of the community passing through from the Toddlers group for playtime, to the homeless for a meal, to a group from the Mosque popping in for lunch, to someone popping in to light a candle for a lost loved one. Church can be a hub of life, a place for all people in whatever circumstance. Being part of that means you live and work alongside a vastly bigger cross section of people in your area and that is truly wonderful.

So that's the vision, and is what gets me out of bed in the morning. But how, if that takes your fancy, do you even begin to get involved in these often old and mysterious places? How do you even know which church to go to? And what on earth is going on when you actually do brave it and go along to a service? Never fear I've been there and that is where the next post comes in - my insiders guide on how on earth to get to grips with church for the absolute beginner!

30 Second Reflection - The Grinch

"It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!... Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"
 - The Grinch

Monday, 14 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - The Stars Bow Down

From – A Christmas Sequence

He is so small the stars bow down
The fierce winds ease their breath,
And careful shepherds look upon
The one unsullied birth.
They kneel and stare while time seems gone
And goodness rules the earth.

The blight on man is all undone
And there will be no death,
For though this child will be nailed on
A cross, he'll be so since
He is the jewel of untold worth,
For him all stars have shone.


 - Elizabeth Jennings

Friday, 11 December 2015

Vicar's Craft Corner – Online Sewing Courses

Since completing my 'in person' sewing course I have been looking around for some more tuition as I come across new skills and ways in which I want to expand my repertoire. As great as doing a class locally was it was certainly not cheap. Though it was great to have someone there to put your right if you are struggling with a particular technique I realised that part of what I benefited from was seeing things being done rather than reading about them in a book. Reading sewing techniques for me is akin to reading your washing machine manual. You'd just rather not and most of makes very little sense anyway!

Online sewing courses for me have bridged the best of both worlds. They are cheaper and you get to see things done rather than try and read about them. I've recently signed up to two online sewing course to expand my skills, one to learn to sew with high stretch jersey and the other to use an overlocker and design clothes from scratch. I got both of them on sale and under £50 which is less than what you would pay for most full day courses.

The Agnes Top

Looking at the combined video time on the courses I wondered if I was getting value for money but having been in an 'in person' course recently I know that the amount of time someone is demonstrating skills for you in class is fairly minimal. Most of the class is spent practising what you learn.
 
The major downside of Online Courses is not being able to ask someone to take a quick look if you feel like you are going wrong but the advantage of having access to these videos forever outweighs this. I can't even count the number of times I wish I had my 'in person' dressmaking teacher on video to watch her carry out a skill she has taught me again.

So here are a couple of my top tips for some great online dressmaking courses that you might like to try out.
 
The first is Learn to Sew Jersey Tops with Tilly Walnes. I have really enjoyed this course. You get a full downloadable Agnes pattern with instructions as part of your course fee and there are some useful tips in there for dealing with stretch jersey which can be a rather temperamental beast. I wear a huge amount of stretch jersey so I think this course is going to pay dividends in my quest for a handmade wardrobe.


The second course I have recently acquired is The Modern Girl's Guide to Sewing by Merrick and Leanne. I took the Intermediate Course and so far the session on using an Overlocker has been amazing! Leanne and Merrick have totally drool worthy Instagram accounts and make so incredible stuff. They create patterns from existing clothing which is a really useful skill. Their video on that is actually free if you'd like to check out their style.



So there we go, Online Course for your Sewing pleasure! Enjoy!

30 Second Reflection - The Star of the Heart

The star has risen in the heart,
The sweet light flushes every part.
The shepherds of the body know,
The rumour reached them long ago,
Abiding in the field were they
When deity informed the clay.
The wise kings of the mind bow down,
They yield the wiser king his crown;
Before the cradle they unfold
The myrrh and frankincense and gold.


- Susan Mitchell

Thursday, 10 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Christmas Gifts

Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

~Oren Arnold

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - The Shepherd's Carol

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day's work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
The winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day's work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves
We give to your son.

- Anonymous

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - Are you there God? It's Me, Nicola

As I have progressed through this little series thinking a bit about some questions of faith and spirituality it struck me that the one thing I haven't really spoken about is the existence of God. Quite an oversight! Perhaps this is because the belief in God is something that is such a bedrock in my life.
Like the ground beneath your feet you don't think much about it. It is just there.

But I am also one of these strange people who went from not believing in God on the Friday and changing my mind by the Saturday, literally over night. Since then life has been a bit like God on Surround Sound but I still remember what it was like before I thought what I thought now. I know and understand the questions. I've walked the path.

And so the first thing I want to say on this matter is that no one can tell you for sure whether God does or does not exist. Sounds obvious perhaps but I remember when that dawned on me for the first time and how liberating a thought that was. This means that there is nothing you can read that will tell you, definitively, that God is there and there is nothing that you will read that can tell you, for sure that God isn't there either. No one can answer that question for you conclusively, I'm afraid, but that means the journey, the path and the choice is yours. And that is pretty cool, right?

That is not to say that I think we may as well all come up with whatever we fancy and expect others to merrily take on board whatever we have concocted up. For me the case for God is about plausibility. It is about arguments and experiences that ring true. We each have to weigh up all that we see around us, all that we think and experience, pop it in the scales and see how it comes out.

This, I think, involves the insights of the generations that have gone before us and the huge variety of cultures and beliefs in the world today. This choice may be our own but the journey is not a solitary pursuit. It is not enough to sit in a bubble like the 'See No Evil, Hear No Evil' monkeys with your eyes and ears stopped claiming a belief in something that you won't explore and question. That kind of belief is like the house built on sand that washes away when the rains come. And it can be pretty dangerous too.

So what have I got in my scales that has tipped the balance in favour of God? A few things really. Let's start small first. A big factor is people. I find people to be the most fascinating, infuriating and glorious of things. The idea that we are created, that our lives are meaningful and purposeful, that we have the capacity for great good and great evil is all something that just makes an awful lot of sense to me as I look at the world. I believe human life to be infinitely valuable, I know it to be. So it is no great leap for me to see someone, something behind our being here.


The Second things is on a somewhat grander more cosmic scale. When I think about the world, that we are all on this spinning ball of rock, orbiting around a ball of fire, surrounded by other balls of rock in a galaxy amid galaxies more vast that my imagination can hold, then the idea of God suddenly doesn't seem so outlandish.

This might make me sound like a simpleton but I find it hard to believe that we are really all living on that spinning rock in space. I know that my mind struggles anything that isn't right in front of my face. So the idea of 'God', a force so large, something behind it all? Well, that doesn't seem any less plausible or more hard to believe that the things that I know are true about the universe.

On earth itself I also see something in the natural world that hints at God. The way that a drive towards life seems hard wired into how the world is. How, wherever the circumstances allow it, life springs up in its infinite variety. That anywhere, at any time, if the conditions allow it, life will emerge. What is that all about? It is like life itself is an unstoppable force that just pushes on and on. For me, Life = the essence of God. So this powerful impetus towards life in the universe speaks volumes to me.

And then I consider our reaction to all that we see around us. I consider things like beauty. Why do we feel, in the depth of our beings, such a deep contented connection with the natural world? What is this seemingly innate capacity to feel wonder and awe that allows us to say 'Now that is beautiful'?

And while we're at it, where does a sense of love and truth, rightness and justice come from? The way we strive to live our lives, our greatest ideals, makes me believe in God. I know that as I commit to ideals that are often a huge inconvenience to me, like loving others as I love myself and serving without hope of gain, that something inside me is set free and soars. What is that all about?!



And lastly (for this little list at least!) there is experience. There is the comfort I have felt, the steady rock beneath my feet when my whole world has felt like it was crumbling. There are the stirrings in my heart that I have followed, questioning them all the way, that have proved to be exactly the right thing for me to do when I didn't even believe it myself. There is the record of God in my life that now
sits behind me like most whacking great piece of evidence in the world.
 
What can I say except deep down I feel I know God and that in many ways I always have, even when I didn't even think I believed. There is a joy in me and a hope in me that is not of my own making. There is a drive that I did not create. And all that, to me, just spells God.
 
And that is why I believe.

30 Second Reflection - Kid Stuff

The wise guys
tell me
that Christmas
is Kid Stuff...
Maybe they've got
something there -
Two thousand years ago
three wise guys chased a star
across a continent
to bring
frankincense and myrrh
to a Kid
born in a manger
with an idea in his head...
And as the bombs
crash
all over the world today
the real wise guys know
that we've all got to go
chasing stars
again
in the hope
that we can get back
some of that
Kid Stuff
born two thousand years ago.


- Fred Horne

Monday, 7 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.


- Rowan Williams

Friday, 4 December 2015

Vicar's Kitchen - Christmas Baking

As soon as December 1st hits out come the Christmas cookbooks. This year I pulled out Nigella Christmas to find a whole load of bookmarks still in it from last year. Turns out my tastes haven't changed much in the last twelve months – Gleaming Maple Cheesecake, yes please!

There are a few things that are always on my to bake list this year, including my Christmas Cake packed with what sounds like a weird combo of prunes and cocoa but it is absolutely delicious, I promise you. I am also temped by this Gin and Tea Christmas Cake from Good Housekeeping but two Christmas Cakes is just gluttony, right?!
 
 
My to bake list also includes Christmas muffins made with clementines and cranberries and Cranberry and White chocolate cookies both from my idol, the glorious NIgella. Anything with cranberries in is good in my book, especially at this time of year.

from Nigella.com

 And of course I will be eating plenty of mince pies, by the box load, and washing it down with generous servings of mulled wine. I will also be cracking out the edible glitter with abandon. No one gets to leave my house without a smattering of glitter on them at this time of year. Seriously, get yourself a pot. My favourite is gold hologram rainbow dust. With a name like that, how can you go wrong!?
 
So what are your favourite Christmas bakes?

30 Second Reflection - The Advent Virus

WARNING……WARNING: ADVENT VIRUS
 
Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:
  • A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  • A loss of interest in judging other people.
  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
  • A loss of interest in conflict.
  • A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
  • Frequent attacks of smiling.
  • An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  • An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Miracle and Magic

God
you could have come
with miracle and magic
in a flash of light
in a hurricane of judgement
so that the earth shook
and the earth trembled
but you chose to come
in a baby's newborn cry
you chose to make your coming known
to working men in a cold hillside
to wandering scholars
to an innkeeper
and to the beasts of the field.

Because you came, a baby,
born to a young girl
you brought miracle and magic and mystery
into ordinary things
and the whole creation sings at your coming
and is blessed.

-  Heather Pencavel

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - The Door

The door to every heart lies within.
The door to the earth lies within.
The door to the mystery lies within.
The door to everywhere lies within.
For the way of God lies within.

 - W.L Wallace

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Vicar's Sofa - Curate's First Christmas

Well deck the halls with boughs of holly and shower me with glitter, how exciting is it that Advent is here? I am particularly excited because this is my first ordained Christmas. And I LOVE Christmas. No, seriously, I really, really LOVE Christmas!


There is something about this time of year that is so completely magical. It's not just that spending inordinate amounts of time snuggled up under a blanket with a tub of Celebrations is seen as perfectly normal. Or that such culinary wonderments as mince pies and mulled wine emerge (here is my top recipe for Christmas cake too btw!), but it is also the sheer hopefulness of the season that gets me.

I've written before about how much of my own story is tied to Christmas. It was during Advent that I first explored faith for the first time and it was on Christmas eve that I prayed my first tentative prayer. It really was a time where the world felt different to me. And for that to happen when you are surrounded by glitter and tinsel and outdoor ice rinks, well, it was magical.
 
Over the years Advent has retained this magical feeling for me. It has remained a time where I feel renewed and hopeful. When the world is getting busy and frantic Advent for me has been a time to slow down. It has often been a time of exploration and that exploration has brought new beginnings. It has also been a time, even in difficult years, of finding (as one of my favourite bible readings says) 'that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.'


 
Of course Christmas is the perfect time for a crafter and this year I will be putting my new found sewing skills to use by making the dress I am going to wear to deliver the Christmas Day sermon at Church. I can't tell you how happy this makes me. To be standing up there doing the thing that I love most in the world and doing it wearing a tartan shift dress put together (however dodgily!) by me.

 
So this year is one special Christmas for me. I've got my Knitivity all set up to remind me every day of the reason for the season and I'm shamelessly working my way through that tub of Celebrations. And I am also sending up a prayer for all of you, my lovely blog readers and Twitter friends. May Advent bring you all you hope for and your Christmas be full of joy.

30 Second Reflection - Christmas Rush

Ready for Christmas?
You're joking!
With all
I've got to do,
I'll be lucky if
I'm ready by
This time next year.

Stir-up Sunday
Found me without even
The ingredients,
Let alone the time to
Stir them....

The cards -
I was going to write
More than
'Hope all is well'
This year
But I haven't....

Shopping's a nightmare,
With all those people
Intent on spending
Christmas...

Working out who's
Visiting who, and
Who'll be offended
If we don't...

The tree, the decorations,
Enough food for the cat,
Not to mention us,
I'll never be ready.

But I'm certainly ready for
Christmas - that moment when
The world seems hushed
In silent expectation,
The light in the stable
Draws us from chaos
To the stillness of
God at the centre,
And love is born.

I'm longing for that.

- Ann Lewis

Monday, 30 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - To Wish You Well

Lights are lit,
Candles glow,
Advent trees already twinkle
Silently - bearing gifts -
Awaiting their moment,
In each window - reflecting,
Presently poised;
Lovingly wrapped
To wish you well.

So, spare time
To dream;
To admire.

In the stature of waiting,
In the magic of wondering -
Christmas mysteries unfold.
Today, every day,
So precious, so priceless;
Soon to be with us anew;
Prepare then the holly bough
And ringing bell
To welcome God, Emmanuel.

- Wendy Whitehead

Friday, 27 November 2015

Vicar's Kitchen - Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Suddenly England seems to have been plunged into bleak mid winter eh? It is at times like this that I am reaching for anything that is warming and cosy or bowlfood as I mentioned in my last Vicar's kitchen post. One of my favourite lunch options at the moment is this little beauty, Cauliflower Cheese Soup.

Knock up a pan of this at the start of the week and you'll laughing in the face of frost as you snuggle up with big bowl of hearty, cheesy deliciousness.

Enjoy!

Cauliflower Cheese Soup

20g butter
1 white onion
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cauliflower
1 bay leaf
A couple of potatoes (to about the size of a baking potato!) peeled and chopped into about 3cm chunks
500ml milk
500ml veg stock
1 teaspoon mustard (any kind will do!)
100g Mature Cheddar, grated

  • Melt the butter, add the onions and cook gently until they are soft. Add the garlic, bay leaf, cauliflower and potato. Put the heat down low, cover the pan with a lid and cook for ten minutes. Stir occasionally and add a little splash of water if the veg are sticking.
  • Pour in the milk and the stock. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the veg are nice and soft.
  • Remove the bay leaf and blitz the soup.
  • Stir in the grated cheese and the mustard over a gentle heat to melt.
  • Taste to check the flavour and add more cheese and mustard as you like. You can also thin the soup out with some more stock if you prefer.
  • Serve with a nice chunk of crusty bread and enjoy!

30 Second Reflection - Why Pray?

'The best reason to pray is that God is really there. In praying our unbelief gradually starts to melt. God moves smack into the middle of even an ordinary day. Prayer is a matter of keeping at it. Thunderclaps and lightning flashes are very unlikely. It is well to start small and quietly.'

- Emilie Griffin


The 30 Second Reflections this week are all on the theme of prayer to tie in with the Faith for the Fainthearted post this week which you can read here. Have a fantabulous day!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - I Called you First

This quote probably needs a little explanation but it is one of my favourites when I think about prayer. It comes from the Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair. The children decide to seek out Aslan and he responds to them...

'“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you," said the Lion.'

This sets in me this little wondering thought that perhaps when I feel that little nudge to pray it is not me who is calling but I am being called first and what an amazing thought that God might want to hear from me.


The 30 Second Reflections this week are all on the theme of prayer to tie in with the Faith for the Fainthearted post this week which you can read here. Have a brilliant day!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Prayer and Strength

'Prayer is the way to open ourselves to God and the way in which He shows us our unstable hearts and begins to strengthen them.'

- Teresa of Avila
 
 
The 30 Second Reflections this week are all on the theme of prayer to tie in with the Faith for the Fainthearted post this week which you can read here. Have a fantabulous day!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Prayer and Action

'Prayer is not some old woman's idle amusement. Properly understood and applied it is the most potent instrument of action'.

- Mahatma Gandhi
 
 
The 30 Second Reflections this week are all on the theme of prayer to tie in with the Faith for the Fainthearted post this week which you can read here. Have a fantabulous day!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - Prayer 101

What are your earliest memories of prayer? For many of us it is sitting cross legged on the cold floor of the school hall, eyes squeezed shut as we mumble out the Lord's prayer. These are my early memories. That and being in a big, dark church and just finding it all a bit creepy really. I was, and have remained, someone who prefers to be 'out there'. Who is much more likely to experience something beyond myself when out and about, looking at the world, feeling that rhythm of life all around me.

So the idea of prayer for me as a boxed up, contained thing that you do with certain words attached to it has always been a bizarre one. No, prayer for me has been more like that moment on a cool crisp morning, when you are walking up the street and fill your lungs with that cool air and say to in your heart 'I am so glad to be alive'. That is a prayer of thankfulness. Or prayer is the moment when bent over the sink doing the dishes I say 'God, what should I do about this situation?' and let the possibilities flow as I stack up the clean plates.

Because God, (surprise, surprise!) is everywhere. I believe and find God to be in my waking, my sleeping, my thinking, my doing, my past, my future and very much in my present. God, I find, in the birds, in the sunshine, in the air I breathe, in the eyes of those around me, in laughter, in joys and in sorrows.

There is God, underneath it all, like a steady heartbeat that I feel and hear in every part of my life. So I makes sense to me that prayer is something to be unleashed onto the whole of life rather than contained in specific moments. Prayer in this way is an attitude, a constant connection, a living of life in the presence and guidance of that God who is everywhere and in everything.

That's not to say that moments where your entire attention are on God and you retreat to just the quiet inside yourself are not important. This is where things get trickier for me. I am such an active person that sitting in silence for any length of time is difficult because I am always thinking about the next thing I want to do. But when I do it, which I schedule in for myself a couple of times a week, I am nearly always surprised and bowled over by what comes to me. A sense of peace, yes, but also many times a feeling of deep conviction about what I ought to do or how I might see my situation in a new way.

And praying for others, well that really is a transformatory thing. Try this one on for size, try asking for as many blessings as you can imagine for someone who annoys you or has upset you. It is incredibly freeing and I've found it shift the dynamic of my relationships many times. Praying for the community and the world is part of life working for a local church and I really treasure it. It remind me every day that my part in the world is so very small, that life is so very fragile and to look outside of myself to the situation of others. It challenged that reflex to be all about me and my world and draws me outside of myself.

For all its benefits, though, perhaps one of the trickiest things we find hard to get to grips with is that prayer is not like a vending machine. You don't pop a prayer in and out comes your tasty treat. I tried that out when I was five asking for a bag of hot chips and I can tell you it doesn't appear to work like that! Logically we know that if every prayer was answered the world would be a very different (and perhaps very odd!) place indeed. It wouldn't even be possible for every individuals prayer to be answered when so many conflicting, and perhaps sometimes unwise, prayers are prayed every day.

Recently as I have been praying about one particular issue in my life I have been struck by the feeling that God may not be answering my prayer because he is answering someone else's and logically I know that these two things can't happen at once. Does that make sense? I don't know, but sometimes I wonder if that is how it is. If I am being told gently and quietly to just hold on because in the chain reaction of events linked to everything that happens there is someone who really needs to be heard and for things to come together in their favour.

The life of prayer can certainly be mysterious. I have had so many prayers answered and yet sometimes it is those big one, those great whopping burdens of life, that never seem to be relieved. In all of that, though, I have found that one prayer never fails to be answer and that is this, 'Be with me, hold me up, be my rock' and its close neighbour 'Guide me, direct me, keep me strong.' That, for me, is the true beauty and wonder of prayer - its ability to keep you going on life's journey, to travel through its difficulties and to fully appreciate its joys.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Vicar's Study - I Know How She Does It

I'm a bit in love with a new book I am reading. Do you remember that film (or indeed the book) 'I Don't Know How She Does It' with Sarah Jessica Parker? I remember watching that with this sinking feeling about the future. This was going to be me, I thought, the Mum who fakes homemade pies by bashing them with a rolling pin or who is always rushing from one place to the next trying to maintain a career I love and a family I am devoted to.

from dailymotion.co.uk

Well, scrap all that 'I Know How She Does It' by Laura Vanderkam is like the complete reversal of all this and has actually given me some semblance of hope that I can pursue goals at home and in my leisure time as well as at work. If you too have vague hopes of (or indeed are attempting to pull off!) combining a full personal and family life with a busy and successful work life, then this book could be a bit of a revelation for you too!

The book is like going to Time Management Bootcamp. Week One with the book and I was filling in a time log of my every movement every fifteen minutes, 24 hours a day, for a week. My goodness this in itself was a revelation! It turns out I make a massive big deal about some things that use hardly any of my time and allocate next to no time for some of the things that are most important to me in life. Who knew?!

from Lauravanderkam.com

Laura encourages you to start looking at your week as 168 hours rather than 24 hour blocks when looking for balance and fulfilment. Yes, some days may be crazy with work, but other days you can leave at 4 and have drinks with your best friend or take your kids to the library. Adding up how much time I spent on different activities gave me much more of a sense of calm and challenged that little voice saying 'You are so busy! This such a nightmare!'. Yes, my work life is busy but actually it only takes up about 50 hours a week. With 56 hours of sleep that still leaves 62 hours in my week to do with exactly as I please. Not too shabby!

This is a lovely thought when you are in the midst of a busy work day. Laura even suggests that if you want to make inroads at work then you might consider working more hours. Steady on! But the thing about thinking about your time is that it allows you to take control of it. To make informed decisions about how you want to spend it rather than dashing from thing to thing headless chicken style and exclaiming 'I don't have any time!' Likewise she also suggest that we really consider how we want to spent our leisure time rather than assuming we have none as this is a sure fire way to lose all your personal time into the blackhole of internet browsing and watching endless reruns of The Big Bang Theory (or is that just me?!)
 
Laura presents life a mosaic and encourages you to move the slots around as it works best for you and gives you a huge wealth of tips, based on compiling time logs of many women in high level careers, on how to get the best out of your work life, family time and personal life. Getting all you want out of life, she suggests, is about playing around with the tiles until you get an interesting, varied and full picture emerging. The picture that you really want. For me this picture includes growing in my new role at work, working on this blog, praying (I have to say that as Vicar right? but it actually keeps me sane!), sewing, cooking meals from scratch and having little adventures in London visiting all the museums and eating and extraordinary amount of cake. I can indeed do all of these things! Hurrah!

I can't recommend it enough, particularly if you are currently looking at your life and wondering how it is all going to happen in the hours you have Or if you have a bucket list as long as your arm and feel like the time just isn't there to pursue the interest you want to. I would practically press it into your hands if you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment by all the demands of your life. So basically, read it! This is a great little book.

30 Second Reflection - A Whole New Whole

Nope, I'm not about to get all Alladin on you (Ah!! Alladin! That's this weekend sorted then...!) but rather I am introducing the last of these little bible excepts for the week. These mini reflections have gone along with this weeks Faith for the Fainthearted post all about how the Bible might be useful for something more than a very effective doorstop (which it is, by the way!)

So today, rather fittingly I have gone right to the end of the Bible to one of those passages that I would happily have written on my wall to read every single day. It is such a beautiful picture of what the life of faith envisions at the end of this wonderful yet often turbulent life that we live. Check it out:

'The I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

'See the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them and they will be his peoples
and God himself will be with them,
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.'

From Revelation 21:1-4

Thursday, 19 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Nothing can separate us

Today's Bible except barely needs an introduction. It is one of my absolute favourites because of the sense of deep security and optimism within it. This is one I return to when I need to be reminded again that anything is possible. And we are never alone.

'What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his son but have him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?....No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, not angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depths, nor anything else in the whole world will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

from Romans 8:31-37


All the 30 Second Reflections this week are some excepts from the Bible which might surprise you and might be ones you have never heard before all applied to modern life. This ties in with the Faith for the Fainthearted series which this week explores the theme of the Bible.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Stuff the Cleaning

I've been doing a Time Management survey recently like the complete geek that I am so this little story from Luke's gospel really resonated with me. Here are two sisters, one who is dashing about doing the cleaning and the other one who says, 'You know what, stuff the cleaning. Here is a fascinating person that I want to learn from. The laundry can wait'. I'm trying to do that in my life.

'Now as they went on their way; he (Jesus) entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at his feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks so she came to him and asked. 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself. Tell her then to help me!' But Jesus answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worries and distracted by many things but there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.'
 
from Luke's Gospel 10:38-42
 
 
All the 30 Second Reflections this week are some excepts from the Bible which might surprise you and might be ones you have never heard before all applied to modern life. This ties in with the Faith for the Fainthearted series which this week explores the theme of the Bible.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - That Big 'Ol Book

One of the most common things I hear from people when I talk to them about the Bible is the line 'Yes, I tried to read the Bible. I started at Genesis and gave up somewhere amongst the laws about mildew in Leviticus'. A part of me always wants to bang my head on the table at this point and say 'Well of course you gave up, who wouldn't!' and then press a reading plan into the their hand which skips all the mildew bits for now and gets straight to all the cool bits like King David, the prophets and all the amazingly smart things Jesus said.

The Bible is certainly not an easy thing to just dive into, and even less so to just open up and begin reading. Because it is less a single book and more a collection of books. It is like a library held deceptively between two covers. And more than that the books of the Bible span millennia in terms of the time they were written and the events that they tell us about. More than that each of these little books in the library is slightly different.

There are different genres to be found: history books, law books, poetry books, philosophy and biography. To name but a few, the books are influenced by contact with ancient Egypt, ancient Greek philosophy, Roman occupation, experience of exile, rural living in the Middle East and life in the court of the King. No wonder that getting to grips with something like this is somewhat more of a challenge than picking up your average book.
 
But it is also this scope and breadth that makes the Bible so interesting for me. It is fascinating to see how different people in ages well before you own have viewed the world. To see what it is that they have considered to be good or inspiring and compare it to your own time and your own beliefs and values.
 
For me, this is what the Bible is, an account of people's dealings with God down the ages which, though written in many different human voices, has something of a golden thread running through it. There emerges through these different writers a growing sense about who and what God might be and that is fascinating to watch unfold.
 
I don't believe that everything anyone has ever said that has now been recorded in the Bible is a record of what God wants or approves of. Reading the Bible isn't an exercise in blind acceptance of the absurd or what is plainly wrong like the Old Testament land grabs in the name of God. The Bible is an evolving account of a nations quest to understand and make sense of God. Sometimes they reach glorious heights and sometimes dismal lows. It is a book that is at times so plainly human and at other times so intriguingly divine.
 
But this shouldn't surprise us really as the Bible in many ways offers an internal critique of itself. One set of ideas is presented and then another writer comes along who says 'Well, that is all very well but what about this?' or who challenges some of the underlying assumptions of generations gone past. Jesus does this A LOT. When he talks about parts of the Old Testament he says 'You have heard it said, but I tell you...' He is evaluating, critiquing and reframing the teaching of the Old Testament for his day.
 
So I suppose what I am saying in a rather long winded way is not to be afraid of the Bible, to see it as something to tussle with and question as well as learn from and be inspired by. There is a lot to be inspired by. I believe that there is a vision for humanity in those pages that I have never seen bettered anywhere else.
 
I am constantly drawing from the Bible for a huge range of aspect of my life. It is a treasury of hard won wisdom of generations before us. Tussle with it, I say because, that for me has been the a path which uncovers riches in this amazing text that you might never have imagined you would find.

Want to get started?
If you fancy starting out with the Bible then one book I would really recommend is The Book of God by Walter Wangerin. It is basically a novel of the Bible which helps to put all of the details of the books of the Bible in the order in which they happened and make some sense of the historical context. I'd read it with a Bible next to you to read stories that interest you for yourself but having this framework might just be the start of some interesting explorations.
 
This is the second post in the Faith for the Fainthearted series, see the other posts here.

30 Second Reflection - Strength for the Weary

I love this reading from one of the Old Testament prophets because it reminds me that I don't have to always be striving to do everything alone. It is so true that even the young grow weary, we wear ourselves out! For me this gives me a jolt to remember that I can't do it all alone and nor do I have to.

'Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint
and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths grow faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord
shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not be faint'

From Isaiah 40: 28-31



All the 30 Second Reflections this week are some excepts from the Bible which might surprise you and might be ones you have never heard before all applied to modern life. This ties in with the Faith for the Fainthearted series which this week explores the theme of the Bible.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Vicar's Craft Corner – Things I have Learned About Dressmaking

I can't quite believe it but I have now finished my dressmaking course which only seems to have just begun! I spent six weeks going to an evening class to learn the skills of fabric selection, reading and cutting patterns and the basic skills needed to start putting together wearable, well finished clothes that, most of important of all, actually fit!

So far getting in to dressmaking has been the most brilliant thing I have done in a long time and well worth venturing out into dark autumnal nights for. I mentioned in a previous post some of therapeutic benefits of having something completely different and practical to focus on. Now I am starting to reap the benefits in my wardrobe too! So far everything I have made is completely wearable and I only had one small disaster where I managed to put my thumb through a seam while at work. Awkward!
 
One of my favourites so far, an Audrey Hepburn style jumper
 
A lot of things I have learned probably should have been obvious to be me but really weren't! And yet these simple things have transformed my success rate when it comes to dressmaking. So if you fancy giving it a go yourself here are some of my top tips I have gathered along the way so far.

Fabric is Everything
 
When I first started attempting to make things to wear I made the mistake of purchasing cheap fabric. It makes sense in a way. I was convinced that as it was a first attempt it was likely to go a bit wrong so why waste money on expensive fabric? Errr, major error! Because the first thing I learned on my sewing course is that if the fabric is cheap, the garment looks cheap. Good fabric hangs well and lasts well.
 
Instead of thinking of your competitors in dressmaking as being New Look or Primark think instead that you are producing Boden level clothing. There are many amazing end of line designer fabric around that you can make into a gorgeous garment for a fraction of the price of more high end retailers like the one pictured below that I am currently making a 60s mini out of.
 
From the brilliant fabricgodmother.co.uk

Measuring is Everything

As a newbie dressmaker I was a bit afraid of the measuring tape. But dressmaking pattern sizes bear no relationship to shop sizes so you really do need to get measuring. Besides, that is the joy of making your own, that your clothes will fit you perfectly so knowing your measurements is a must. When you do measure yourself you will discover that your dressmaking pattern size is about three sizes up from your shop size. Don't be alarmed and frankly, ignore the number. This is about getting a perfect fit for you.
 
A perfectly fitting pencil skirt, never managed to buy one of these!
 
Also make sure you fit the garment on yourself the whole way through. Try it on all pinned together before you stitch the final seams to make sure it fits as you'd like. Try it on before you do the final hem to make sure it is where you want it to sit. This is your garment, have it exactly as you want. This is the joy of dressmaking!
 
Take it Easy

I used to dressmake like I was in some gigantic rush but as I am not a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee then there is no reason why I shouldn't take my sweet time. After all I am doing this because I enjoy it so time isn't really an issue.

Particularly take time when you are in the stages of measuring, laying out your pattern pieces and cutting the fabric as this is key to the final garment and how it looks and hangs. Take each step as it comes, doing a little bit and then perhaps leaving it for the day. This approach has made dressmaking such a joy for me.

Buy Good Equipment

On my second class we finally got to sewing and I brought along my cheap little sewing machine that I brought a few years ago to see if I would take to it. A few stitches in and it started to make a horrible growling noise before completely giving up the ghost.

More lovely fabric, this is destined to be a dress

Luckily I had been gifted a gorgeous Bernina sewing machine so all was not lost but this did teach me a valuable lesson. Sewing on a good machine is an absolute dream. Likewise you really do need proper dressmaking pins and tailors chalk and pinking shears and proper sharp dressmaking scissors. So go on, go shopping. It will make the experience so much better!

So there we have it, a few tips from my craft corner to yours. I'm sure there will be plenty more where that came from!


30 Second Reflection - The Challenge

'For me it is the challenge - the challenge to try to beat myself or do better than I did in the past. I try to keep in mind not what I have accomplished but what I have to try to accomplish in the future'

- Jackie Joyner Kersee (Olympic Gold Medalist)

Thursday, 12 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Love

'The story of love is not important - what is important is that one is capable of love. It is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity'.

- Helen Hayes

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - A Better World

'You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end each of us must work for her own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful'

- Marie Curie

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Vicar's Kitchen – Butternut Squash and Sausage Pasta

Now that the dark nights are here I am really enjoying snuggling down with some warming winter meals. I recently bought Nigella Lawson's new book. Simply Nigella, and her description of this kind of food really struck a cord with me – it is 'Bowlfood'. The kind of food you settled down with in a comfy chair that is served just in a bowl with a fork to dig in. Food that is hearty, and nutritious and warms you right down to your sock clad toes!


Well this recipe is definitely in the bowl food category. It is quick to do, really tasty and uses easy to find and every day ingredients. I love butternut squash recipes at this time of year. Squash starts to become cheap in the supermarket as it comes into season and one big squash can do several meals. As well as this recipe I'm a big fan of squash soup, squash curry and squash lasagne – but those are perhaps recipes for another day!

So for now this neat little pasta dish to add to you winter meals, enjoy!

Butternut Squash and Sausage Pasta with Feta – Serves 4


A little snap of a similar dish from my Recipe Binder that I pulled from a magazine

Butternut Squash (about 700g) cut into 2cm cubes.
2 tbsp olive oil
360g penne pasta
6 pork sausages
Half a teaspoon on Real Lazy Chilli, or 1 red chilli, chopped.
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
100g feta

  • Preheat the oven to about 200 degress or gas mark 6. Toss the squash with olive oil on a baking tray. Roast for about half an hour until the squash is tender and starting to brown at the edges.
  • Cook the pasta as per packet instructions.
  • Meanwhile, snip the sausage meat out of its skins and place into a frying pan over a medium to high heat. Fry off the sausage, breaking it up with your wooden spoon, for about ten minutes. The sausage should be nicely browned.
  • Add the chilli and garlic to the sausages and fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the balsamic vinegar and stir to combine.
  • Add the butternut squash and the drained pasta to the frying pan and give it a good mix.
  • Serve with a scattering of feta over the top and enjoy!



30 Second Reflection - Beyond Circumstance

'I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances'

- Martha Washington

Monday, 9 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Little Actions

'We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee'.

- Marion Wright Edelman

Friday, 6 November 2015

Faint for the Fainthearted: The J Word Part 2

In last weeks post I did that toe curlingly awkward thing in our culture and decided to talk to you about the J Word. Yup, it's Jesus! Because as I mentioned when I set about writing this series on Faith for the Faint-hearted I realised quickly that there was little I could say about life, faith, spirituality, self esteem, the world, the universe and everything without talking about Jesus. And today, buckle up, we are going to get pretty deep. We really are talking life, death and everything!

So here we in Part 2 which, as I alluded to in the last post, is all about some of the loftier claims that Christians make for Jesus. What the story of Jesus can't do, I'm afraid, is give up a nice 'Be positive and everything will be ok' approach to the world because, well, it doesn't portray the world in that way at all. What the story of Jesus doesn't do is make any promises to you that life is going to be ok, that you will have all the things you hope for or even that it will be that comfortable. I'm really selling this aren't I?
 
Because the story of Jesus, though it begins with and is suffused with such joy and hope, ends in death and a pretty violent one at that. It seems to me that we do a pretty good job in our culture of living as if we never die. As I become more and more acquainted with death in my work life I am fast becoming one of those people no on wants at a dinner party, chatting away about whether burial or cremation is more preferable. At which point my companions are like 'Errr....calm down and pass the peas...'
 
But death is a reality, darkness is a reality. Some people are born into such excruciating poverty that any worldview which has nothing to say to that has very little to offer in my view. Jesus' story is one that says, in his own words, you are blessed when you mourn and you will be comforted, the weak will become strong, there is hope in this world that can be so desperate at times. It recognised evil and it recognises good in a dramatic and in you face kind of way but that is really what I like about it.
 
And what of this hope I mention? This perhaps the more radical thing to justify given how the world is. Well it stems from that rather bold claim I dropped in at the end of the last post - that Jesus is God come to be with us. Taking our on our human life so that we can see the way to live, yes, but also to reconcile this broken and hurting world to the source of all goodness, light, health and healing which is God.

For the Christian what we are missing in this world is God. Because where God is there is no darkness, there is only light; there is no death, there is only life. God is the source of life, the creator and sustainer of all that is beautiful and true and good in this world and the point of Jesus' life and death is to bring us into that life of God, so close that it infuses our whole life, everything we are and everything we will be. This transforms life right here, right now and gives us hope whatever the darkness around us.

But yes, this comes through death. Perhaps it might help to think of it like this. In dying on the cross God experiences death. Imagine that, the source of all life experiencing death, just imagine that for a moment. This unthinkable possibility is real, we say, because of God's deep and unwavering love for humanity which is so vast that he would go to these lengths to overcomes death and to bring us into life, fully restored, again.
 
In this way comes a major building block of the way I see the world me. Yes, death and pain and suffering is 100% real, not to be ignored and impossible to avoid, but also that love overcomes all of these things and that love is the greatest power there is. Marcus Braybrooke puts it like this 'Love which through suffering absorbs evil and is completely vulnerable is of its very nature indestructible. Such love cannot be defeated by evil and death, whereas enmity eventually exhausts itself.'
 
I don't have all the answers to why the universe is as it is, why the world is so desperately unfair. But in the story of Jesus I see God's intervention, that he can't stand it either and has stepped in to change it. And I also see something which I know to be true. That in life there is that golden thread of goodness and of light as well as that darkness and death. And that golden thread of goodness and light is so glorious that I can quite easily believe that, after all, love really does win.

So there we go, bit more than you bargained for with your morning brew eh? Don't worry, next time we will be exploring the completely uncontroversial topic of the Bible! ;)

30 Second Reflection - The Greatest Commandment

They said “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.

- Jesus (Matthew's Gospel 22:36-40, The Message Translation)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Love Yourself

'You as much as anyone else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.'

- Buddha

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Security

'If I can think of myself as loved, I can love and accept others. If I see myself as forgiven, I can be gracious towards others. If I see myself as powerful, I can do what I know is right. If I see myself as full, I can give myself freely to others'.

 - Kathy Peel

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

30 Second Reflection - Spread Love

'Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to a wife or husband, to a next-door neighbour.'

- Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, 2 November 2015

Vicar's Kitchen – Autumn in Prague

We just got back from an amazing few days in Prague. I didn't have many expectations of the place which, I've found, is always nice. You can then be surprised by what is there and open to explore whenever something catches your eye.


We are big fans of the Insight Step-by-Step guides which give you guided walks around major cities. They pass by all the main sights but also take you to unexpected little corners that are often really wonderful. Wandering around Prague felt a bit like living inside a Disney movie! It is all turrets and spires, figures emerging from the mist on the bridge and the sparkling lights of the city's many, many spectacular buildings unfolding out below you.

 
 
All this walking around requires some good solid fuel and Prague certainly didn't disappoint in that regard. It struck me as the perfect place to come in the autumn or winter. On the streets are people selling hot wine (really, really good mulled wine basically) and you can quite easily walk about the streets with a pint in hand without anyone really raising an eyebrow. I had the most amazing sour cherry beer from a street seller accompanied by the worlds largest sausage in a bun slathered in mustard and ketchup. Amazing.


Dining out was such a relaxing experience in Prague because everything is so wonderfully informal. We came across a fair few breweries doing amazing food with their unending supply of tankards of beer where we tucked into to warming winter dishes like goulash, beef in cream sauce with dumplings, sausages cooked in beer and chicken schnitzel.

The stews were like something else and made me realise that when it comes to them I have been doing it ALL WRONG. The goulash was spicy, thick and flavoursome. So much so that I was half tempted to lift up the bowl and slurp down the last few bits. Prague being as brilliant relaxed as it is, again, no one probably would have batted an eyelid!


So now the inevitable hunt begins for some stews to rival the Prague breweries, some hot wine for these cold evenings and where on earth can I get sour cherry beer?! I think another trip might be in order....