Monday 24 March 2014

A blog of thankfulness

Back in October my school held its Staff Retreat. This only happens once every two years, but it is always a happy occasion. This year Fr. Roger Dawson SJ came and spoke with us. His talk was inspiring, and it felt as though he has planned it knowing I would be one of his listeners (perhaps everyone felt like that). He spoke about life's journey, the ups and downs, and he used his experience of walking the Camino de Santiago as his guide. 

Well, as you can see, he was on my wave length, for I too have great memories of that pilgrimage, and learnt many things through my own journey. Fr. Roger drew many lessons from the pilgrimage. He spoke about Ignatius of Loyola's 'Consolations of the Spirit', little moments in which you know you are on the right path. These 'consolations', he explained, are moments in which you receive energy from the place, time and task you are in. We recognise such times easily when we are happy in our work, or with our friends. But, such energy and strength can also come at sadder times, such as when you are in the right place at the right time, grieving with a friend or nursing the sick for example. Fr. Roger likened these 'consolations of the spirit' to the yellow arrows which mark the way to Santiago de Compostela. You never know when they might appear, or on what they might be painted, but when you need them, they'll be there, pointing you in the right direction.

I have had cause to think about what Fr. Roger said recently. I remembered he encouraged us to keep a daily notebook and in it record, at the end of the day, everything we are grateful for. Little things, he said, like the bus driver who waits for you, or the children that help you move your classroom desks; a delicious meal prepared by a loved one, or a kind word from a colleague. Keeping such a diary, he said, would change the way you see and experience the world around you. I loved this idea, and tried it for at least a month. It worked, and really did help me to see things rightly.  But, after a while I began to forget to stop still in the evening, was too busy marking, cooking or reading to be writing in my little book of thankfulness.

Then the school retreat came round, Lent was beginning and I was going to be asked to lead a workshop on 'Faith and Journey'. Fr. Roger's idea came back to me. As part of my session I would ask my students to use post-its to decorate a huge wall with all the things in their lives they were grateful for. It was a really touching exercise, we had a few laughs and a few tears. But, after a week or so, the board was taken down and I forgot about it. Maybe my students did too.

The other day a fellow blogger, Mulier Fortis, was looking for inspiration, and I tweeted 'how about a blog of thankfulness?'. I didn't even think about it much, but a while later my phone went 'Ping!' and I noted she had 'favourited' the tweet. I was happy.

Today I found my little book of thankfulness from October. There are simple things recorded in there that make me smile, like the time I saw seven rainbows on a day out walking in November, or game of scrabble in which I laughed and lost. I am delighted to have found this little book today, and I will take up writing in it again. I'll try not to forget this time. It has been a brilliant month in many ways, and I should be grateful for the many happinesses there are in my life, but too often I worry about the work I should be doing, or the money I do not have. Life is too short for such nonsense.

I calculated I only have £10 left 'til payday, but in my new spirit of thankfulness I found I had some great ingredients for dinners for the rest of this week. I am grateful for:

Butternut Squash Risotto (made with Chillies and Parmesan)
Cauliflower Cheese (Smoked cheddar)
Homemade bread (with an apple in it)
Carrot and Parsnip Soup

And the fabulous things I am going to make with potatoes, mushrooms and bacon (to be confirmed). I think I'll save the £10 for wine on Friday. :-)

Monday 17 March 2014

Love life, love spring

I returned again to the Peak District this weekend. We walked from Hathersage up Stanage Edge via Denis Knoll. The sun was shining, and there was warmth in its rays if you hunkered down into shelter. By a small brook called 'Old Sheep Dip' we ate a feast of hot roast pork sandwiches, with crackling and apple sauce. We sipped hot coffee. It was tempting to stay there all afternoon, to curl up in a grassy hollow, bathe in the sunlight, snooze and watch the clouds whizz by. 

I wanted to write a post about how I felt to to be free in the outdoors. Those who know and love me know the relief I feel once I can escape into the freedom of the wind, sunshine, rain, snow. I adore my job, I really do, but I long to be outdoors all the time. I wait, looking longingly out of windows. I am patient. Then at the weekend, I spring.

This weekend, spring had sprung, but the cold was still with us. I stood up from our blissful picnic spot and the cold breeze caused me to zip up both fleeces and a raincoat. March: the sun is warm, but the wind is bitter. As the saying goes: 'March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb'. By the end of the month even the most delicate of buds will have braved the fresh air.

We turned to face the wind and, bent double to shield our chests from the cold, walked down the road. In a ditch by the roadside something moved in the water. I stopped, went closer. There, in the sunshine and shelter Mr and Mrs Frog had been busy. There were millions of tiny eggs bustling in groups on the surface. Underneath little black tadpoles teemed. And, hidden amongst it all, the industrious mother and proud father. No predators had yet found their home. They looked happy.

A hat was called for as we reached the top of Stanage Edge. The wind was strong enough to knock me from my feet. There were many people up there, but all was quiet. Conversation isn't free flowing in a gale. We stopped and looked out at the view, the village from which we had come, the tiny matchstick people down below. Once you see how small everything is from on high worries disappear on the breeze. There is nothing more relaxing and nothing more breath taking than looking at an expanse of beautiful, amazing, awe inspiring creation.

I met a hairy caterpillar on the way down. He seemed out of place. Perhaps had been dropped by a bird that did not think he was going to be tasty. He was in the middle of the path. I hid him in the bracken. He curled up when I touched him, furry defences poking out. I loved him. I hope he lives to be a butterfly.

Now it is Monday, and the weekend seems far away already. My tea is in the oven, it is a simple sausage casserole with onions, carrots and chicken stock. I'll eat it with crusty bread and a glass of wine (Feast of St. Patrick). I found a poem that explains how heaven and the outdoors share a space in my psyche. Here I share it with you.

In The Fields

Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,  
Under old trees the shadow of young leaves
Dancing to please the wind along the grass, 
 Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;
Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?  
And if there is
Will the heart of any everlasting thing  
Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?
They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent of hay,
Over the fields. They come in spring.

In the Fields: Charlotte Mew

Friday 7 March 2014

Simple supper?

Friday night. The first Friday in Lent. I am exhausted. School has been madness. I thought this evening would never come.

On Ash Wednesday I had all sorts of bright, pious ideas of what I could give up in Lent. By Friday, heading to open up chapel at 7am this morning, simple things were enough. The chocolate, the cake, the pastries - all those creature comforts I rely on to get me through the day....they were staying. I'll pray whenever you want me to, all the time if you please. I'll support charity fundraisers and give to those in need as much as I am able. But, to do those two things, I need chocolate to keep me going. And cake. And wine. Happily, to some extent, Isaiah was with me (check the readings for today).

And so it came to supper of the first Friday in Lent. Present in the fridge were:

500ml cream
wholegrain mustard
smoked and peppered mackerel
rocket salad.

With a little salt and pepper, a meal could not go wrong...unless, of course, you were on a diet. I sliced the potatoes into pound coin slices, mixed milk and cream (all of it) with mustard, salt and pepper. I layered the potatoes into a small pyrex dish, and ripped apart a smoked mackerel fillet, layering it on top. More potatoes, more mackerel, more potatoes, more mackerel, more potatoes. I poured the cream, milk, salt and pepper over the top, until it covered the top layer just a little. The whole lot was in the oven for 1 hour at 200C. I served it with a handful of rocket and a cold glass of wine. It was heaven.

Yeah, anyway, spider plants

So, Ash Wednesday came and it went. In school we had the 'Whole School Retreat'. I have written about that before. It was beautiful, and at times moved me. I am often amazed at the strength of faith students have. There were touching moments of us together as a school community; I will never forget distributing the ashes. I remember the experience from two years ago. There is nothing more powerful than first receiving the ashes, 'Repent and believe the Good News of the Gospel', and then distributing them to the school community. This year there were several moments I will remember. The line of stylish Year 8 students, one after the other, grinning and sporting excellent side slung fringes I needed to deftly flick out of the way; the faithful Sikh student who approached pushing his turban a little higher so as I could reach his forehead; the cradle Catholics who looked doubtful; the Muslim students who adjusted their veils; the embarrassed, the faithful, the grinning, the meek. And, to each and every one, the words, 'Repent and believe the Good News of the Gospel' or 'Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return'.

After all that 'turning back', all that refocusing and readjusting, what should one do with one's evening? That was my question. Tempting as though it was, wine was out of the question. So, I came home and walked about my tiny flat. The spider plants were bursting at the seems to be let out. I headed to B and Q, they would be open after 5.30pm, surely? And, surely they were. I bought huge wooden pots, homes for life. Then, when I returned, I gently rehoused my little pets. They were given to me, of course. Gemma gave her spider plant babies to me, she had received hers from Emma, a friend of ours. Perhaps now my spider plants are happy in their new home, they will have little ones I can give to others.

Now my Spider plants are happy, I love them more than ever. They are going to grow and grow, and I will watch them do it. I am looking forward to the day they have many offspring, and hang out of their pot looking fruitful and abundant.

For me, this Spider plant business was a good start to Lent. I am not very good at giving things up. I am quite good at taking things up though. Looking after my house plants might be a start, taking care of those around me might follow, praying for others follows that, and doing good comes as a result. If my Lent grows as fast as my Spider plants, I'll be happy.