Time Out – With a Parcel Full of Birds

In a recent post, I shared something of my fear of birds. Two days later, a parcel arrived for me. A ‘Time Out’ care parcel from a good friend. A parcel that just happened to have a lot of birds in it!

Not the living kind, I was glad to note – as are, I’m sure, those of you who began reading this post understandably concerned about the welfare of living, breathing birds potentially wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.

I don’t think my friend had read the post about birds by the time she had posted her parcel – but the irony was sweet. As were the contents – which included some blackbird wall-transfers and some paper birds to hang on a decorative branch. I am yet to find a decorative branch – but have not stopped looking yet.

Here are the interesting, thoughtful array of contents:

Birds and Other Things

Birds and Other Things

A ‘To Do’ booklet, a pack of Ransom Letter Tattoos, a Reading Challenge for the year, a Matchbox Garden, a pack of Tissues with an important message, some Scrabble tiles and – birds in various forms.

The parcel also came with the family’s updated sibling-to-parent height ratios and assurance of prayer. Lovely!

The next day, I took myself, my trusty map and a book about walking in Paris – and walked for an hour around some more streets of Sydney. I finished off at a another cafe from the book of cafes I’m working through. I was delighted to see there, a continuing Scrabble theme.

The Grumpy Barista

The Grumpy Barista

That night, I had a visitor staying with me and she obliged me with a game of Scrabble and two games of Bananagrams.

Scrabble tiles, birds and kind friends are everywhere! And I’m rather happy about that.

Daily Prompt

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Crowning the Year with Goodness – With Marcella #93 & #94 (of 466)

Last night, I prepared a table for some of my dear friends.

A Feast of Friendship

A Feast of Friendship

I also prepared some food…in case you were wondering if the small bowl of cranberry sauce (in the picture above) was all that was to be shared among my guests. I went with Nigella Lawson’s Feast cookbook for inspiration and instruction, preparing a turkey with accompaniments.

Big preparations in my little kitchen.

Big preparations in my little kitchen.

The food was delicious (thank you, Nigella). The friendship was even more so (thank you, Lord). Before we tucked into the food set before us I took a short moment to recognise and thank the friends around the table for their patience and love for me over what had been a challenging year. They weren’t the only friends who had loved patiently – but they were the ones who could come that night, and reasonably fit around the table!

I then took another short moment to thank the Lord for his goodness. A lyric has been going around in my head, based on Psalm 65,

“You crown the year with your goodness.

You answer us with awesome deeds…

Praise the name of the Lord.

Oh my soul, sing his worth!”

For all this year’s ups and downs, the Lord has been so good to me. The friends he has given me have been a big part of that goodness.

This time a week ago (Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day) I was with some more friends – more gifts of God’s goodness. We shared a peaceful meal of leftovers at one of their homes, with a starter of Marcella’s ‘Swiss Chard Torta with Raisins and Pinenuts’. Delicious (and more-ish) food (and company).

Tastes better than it looks!

Tastes better than it looks!

In between these feasts (not forgetting the lovely Christmas Day lunch with my ambassadorial friend and her family) I sat with another friend and my housemate, enjoying Marcella’s ‘Pork Sausages with Red Wine and Porcini Mushrooms.’

Now, on the first day of 2015, I sit alone, but content, having eaten a gorgeous leftover turkey sandwich. I feel very ready for this new year – more ready than I’ve ever felt in past years. I look forward to seeing how the Lord crowns this coming year.

On St. Stephen’s Day: #93 ‘Swiss Chard Torta with Raisins and Pinenuts’ with Anne, Ian and Stephanie at a friend’s table.

The night before the night before the New Year: #94 ‘Pork Sausages with Red Wine and Porcini Mushrooms’ with Barbara and the Violinist at my table.

Struggling? – With Marcella #91 & #92 (of 466)

At my table, last night, sat dear friends who know what it is to struggle.

We all do, don’t we? There’s always something we’re struggling with.

We talked about how unhelpful it can be for a fellow Christian to ask ‘How’s your walk with the Lord?’ It’s unhelpful because we’ll pretty much always be left standing there with a heavy awareness of our failures to love and serve our Lord the way we should.

We agreed a far better question was to ask ‘What are you struggling with lately?’ Then, to seek to encourage each other to see how the Lord is walking with us in those struggles, molding and shaping us to be more like him.

It’s less about our walk with the Lord. It’s more about his walking with us, beside us, before us, behind us and through us.

So, as we ate the next installment from the ‘Veal’ chapter in Marcella’s book, along with a deliciously simple potato and anchovy dish (neither recipe involved any struggle at all!), we asked each other, ‘What are you struggling with?’ and reminded each other how we do that struggling with the Lord by our side, holding us fast.

We finished off the meal with the remnants of Nigella’s ‘No Churn Coffee Icecream’ from the night before – no churning or struggling there!

Last night: #91 ‘Veal Scaloppine with Marsala and Cream’ and #92 ‘Pan-Roasted Potatoes with Anchovies, Genoa Style’ with fellow strugglers at my table.

In Need of Soup and Diplomacy – With Marcella #79 & #80 (of 466)

In the past 24 hours, I have experienced more help from friends than I would normally experience in 24 hours.

And I’ve needed that help – in big and small ways.

A friend contacted me quickly after I’d posted a blog post yesterday, to suggest I edit my post. She was right. It had not been written with the blessing of time, perspective and a good nap – and so was neither clear nor helpful. It certainly didn’t read how I’d intended it to read. I love my friend who speaks truth to me when I need it.

The irony was that it was a post about ‘diplomacy’ – or the lack of it! The reason for my haste in posting was that I was excited to have a photo of one of my Marcella-led creations – ‘Diplomatico’. Here’s the photo I was excited about remembering to take:

Diplomatico

Diplomatico

Later, a friend reminded me that I was loved – even with the tears and awkwardness that had preceded the reminder.

That evening, some friends rearranged another dinner engagement they had, to invite me over for dinner. They were graciously persistent in their invitation – even though I was feeling I’d be better staying in bed until my ‘diplomacy’ returned. These same friends prepared a beautiful dinner of mussels to share together. They cooked for me, asked questions, listened to me, prayed for me, and gave me a big hug.

Later that night, I needed to ask another friend for forgiveness for some other ‘undiplomatic’ behaviour. She lovingly and willingly gave it – making my heart lighter.

Today, at lunchtime, an older, wiser, very rational friend sat with me to go through some planning dates for my work – to make sure that my not-so-detailed brain was taking into account all the different contingencies that might arise from my plans. We did that checking of planning over a hearty, gorgeously thick and tasty bowl of soup.

Potato Soup with Smothered Onions

Potato Soup with Smothered Onions

Like most of Marcella’s recipes, the soup was simple to make. Like all of her recipes (excepting the boiled chestnuts), the soup was delicious!

The combination of simplicity, delight and comfort in the two recipes above was just a flavour of the same combination of simplicity, grace and comfort that my friends showed to me during these past 24 hours.

I thank God for good, honest food and good, honest friends.

At lunch yesterday and today: #79 ‘Diplomatico’ and #80 ‘Potato Soup with Smothered Onions’ with loving diplomatic friends at various tables.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/calling-uncle-bob/

 

 

 

 

 

Meatballs – With Marcella #74 (of 466)

I’ve can only remember making meatballs twice in my life.

Once tonight. Once last year.

Last year, I was rolling them on a very hot day in a very hot apartment with a crowd of people who were getting to know each other – very loudly. I was very uncomfortable.

Tonight, I was rolling them and cooking them at a beautiful gas stove, in the home of beautiful, old friends. We ate them around a family dining table with the fire going in the background. We knew each other very well. I was very comfortable.

I am a big fan of the second of the two meatball experiences!

Tonight, at my friends’ table: #74  ‘Meatballs and Tomatoes’.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/ready-set-done-6/

5 Down – Plenipotentiary

My favourite holiday memory? (so asks the NaBloPoMo prompt for today)

I don’t like it when I’m asked for one favourite of anything.

Once I was asked, when being interviewed in front of an audience, what my favourite food was? One favourite? Really??

Fortunately, earlier that day, I had been given advance notice of the questions they would ask, including the unanswerable favourite food question. My sweet, gentle, quiet hosts who had listened to me chatter away earlier that day, reminded me that, while I was chattering over breakfast I had mentioned that I love porridge. I do love porridge and we were eating it that morning! They also reminded me that while I was chattering over lunch, I had mentioned how much I loved sandwiches. I do love sandwiches and we were eating them that lunchtime!

‘So,’ he suggested, ‘There’s your answer!’

Needless to say, the answer was not one the interviewer or audience expected that night.

If I have to think of my favourite holiday memories, I would have to say they are ‘porridge and sandwich’ memories. Not literally. But they are wonderful and comforting, like said tasty morsels.

Like sitting on a park bench trying to take a group-bench-selfie and me laughing until I cried – which was a bit awkward – but lovely nevertheless.

Like drinking a beer and eating an Austrian sausage while sitting with friends on a hay bale in a harvested sunflower field, surrounded by sunflowers yet to be harvested.

Like a table with candles, a pot of stew and friends sitting around it eating, until the dog barked to remind us he hadn’t had dinner yet.

Like the peace and safety of the kindly offered house of dear friends – and the mid-afternoon naps I availed of there.

Like the day where I read a book that made me laugh out loud in a cafe and cry out loud in my room as I finished it. Then falling asleep again – because I could.

Like a chapter of a book read each morning with an espresso, in a cafe, in the piazza of an Italian village.

Like a letter written to my old friend of 35 years while sitting in the Pump Room in Bath and listening to a string quartet. My friend and I have been writing hand-written letters to each other for 30 of those 35 years of friendships and we try to find locations for writing that we’d both enjoy.

Like the many times I’ve completed a crossword on holiday with friends. With coffee, with onion bhajis, even with porridge topped with a little whiskey and cream.

I especially love the memory of three days of holiday with a good friend before her marriage, a crossword completed each day (that was a holiday record for us!) and the one day where we hit the jackpot:

5 Down: Plenipotentiary

plenipotentiary

‘Plenipotentiary’ is the answer. I can’t remember what the clue was and it’s covered by the pen in the photo.

All my favourite holiday memories are ‘porridge and sandwich’ kind of memories. They’re also pretty recent memories…because my memory is generally not great!

What are your favourite holiday memories like?

And does anyone know what the clue for ‘5 Down’ would have been??

 

A Friend in Need – Indeed!

In my younger years, I could never quite grasp the proverbial affirmation that ‘a friend in need was a friend indeed.’

I wondered how a friend that had needs could be much of a friend to me – certainly not to the extent that warranted an ‘indeed’

Or was it that a friend that is there for me when I was in need was a friend indeed?

Or was it that a friend who was to help me in my time of need would have to be a friend in deed?

Anyway, all this to say that in the last couple of days I have had some friends in my need and they have been friends indeed and in deed!

Friends sent a new magnetic fridge poetry set to replace the one I had lost in an episode with no poetic justice to speak of.

There's only one 'friend' and no 'indeed' in the set.

There’s only one ‘friend’ and no ‘indeed’ in the set.

They sent the poetic magnets via friends who offered ears (to listen) and a beautiful meal (to eat).

A friend dropped by earlier today with cheery pink flowers from her garden.

My housemate (admittedly without prior consent, but later willingly) supplied the requisite tin of tomatoes and tablespoon of tomato paste to add to this soup:

Poetry and Soup 003

Spicy Tomato Soup

 

Inspired by the Cookbook Guru to explore the cookbook of the month, ‘Saha’, I made the ‘Spicy Tomato Soup’ for dinner last night and had leftovers just now for my lunch.

I actually remembered to take a photo of it (long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m trying to make an effort here) and I thought that I was being all ‘foodie-arty’ by adding a garnish of parsley….but then realised that I must have been subconsciously inspired by the blog post with photo that I had seen this morning. Take a look and judge for yourself.

Tonight I have a friend coming over for a simple dinner of chicken soup. I made the stock last night, from the recipe in ‘Saha’. It was made from the frozen (and defrosted) carcasses and bones from past ‘Marcellan’ meals.

I’ve never made chicken stock or chicken soup before.

I’ve heard it’s good for you in times of need 🙂

 

Two’s Company…Thirteen’s a Crowd (of Company) – With Marcella #39 (of 466)

For the past few years, apart from the occasional temporary housemate, I have been living alone. This changed a couple of weeks ago. The change was a good one.

As my home is also my workplace it can be tricky, if not impossible, to have a permanent housemate. My new temporary housemate is therefore a great and timely gift – a girl in a similar line of work to me who understands that she occasionally needs to be somewhere else while I have other women over for meetings and other gatherings.

Over the past few months I had struggled, more than usual, with living alone. I tended to fill the empty space with lots of hospitality and visitors. This was a blessing to me (and hopefully to those who visited and ate with me) but I reached a point where it was all too much.

When we’re feeling at out lowest (or at least what feels like our lowest) loneliness makes the lowest feel even lower. But then the effort required for company can be too much effort. It’s tricky. It was tricky.

At my lowest point (or what felt like my lowest point), I went on holiday to stay with various friends in England. Poor friends! Poor, gracious, loving friends! They were so good to me – and good for me. Yet, I knew I had to return to life in my house – my ‘party for one’. I wondered how I’d manage.

It turned out that I didn’t have to manage. My loving God knew that I couldn’t manage. He sent company. Good, relaxed, intuitive, sensitive-to-other’s-needs company. The ‘lowest point’ became more and more distant. The clouds lifted and I felt strength to keep on keeping on.

I’ve read a couple of great books this past couple of weeks. One that I would heartily recommend is ‘True Friendship’ by Vaughan Roberts.

We need company. God has made us that way. He’s also given us the means to find it.

This week, the numbers in my house were, for a few hours, increased from two to thirteen. A whole load of women coming to keep company with one another and with one of the Psalms. We were encouraged by the reminder of God’s unfailing love for us and how he comes to our aid when we cry out to him. He keeps company with us through thick and thin, high, low and the very lowest.

Tuesday night: #39 ‘Almond and Lemon Biscuits’ with a whole crowd of company.

Why did the friends cross the road?

Two summers ago, I found myself in the streets of Klagenfurt. The neat, tidy, clean streets of Klagenfurt – streets with pedestrian crossings clearly marked.

It was here, at the pedestrian crossings, that I found myself in the company of friends. I knew no-one – in the usual sense of friendship. I had earlier been sitting in a cafe, reading my book, drinking a coffee, on my own. But here, before the red shining man, I enjoyed the company of those who abide by the rules. These were my friends!

I generally like to keep the rules. Not because I’m more virtuous but because, in my inner world, it feels safer to me. I am quite comfortable with an inanimate light box instructing me, with red and green lights, when to walk and when to stop walking.

And here, in the streets of Klagenfurt, my new friends were OK with that too.

In Salzburg, three days earlier, I had found a smattering of such friends. But they were slightly hidden from view by a plague of ‘foreigners’ who forged ahead, crossing the road when a gap appeared in the traffic.

In Klagenfurt, my friends and I were happy to wait – with not a car in sight – for the green man to appear indicating that we were now allowed to walk across the road in law-abiding solidarity.

Yet, this is where our friendship ended – at the other side of the road. Law-abiding will only carry a friendship so far.

That evening, I experienced true friendship – an outing with old friends to a field strewn with straw, surrounded by unharvested fields of sunflowers and ranges of beautiful mountains. We sat on sun-warmed bales of straw, with beakers of good, cold, Austrian beverages and disposable plates of hearty food. All this with good conversation and laughter.

I was getting a taste, from my friends, of some of the highs and lows of living as ‘strangers’ among a polite people – a people who were ‘friendly’ but hard to build friendships with. They told a story of a woman from Ireland (a place where friendship-building also takes some time). This woman was struggling to find friends and community in this foreign land. My friends spoke to her about their church community where friendships were forged – with the help of the Maker of friendships. The Irish woman came to see this community. She came again. She found both friends and friendship with God.

Later that night my friends and I spoke together of painful times when our community and friendships had gone wrong. And yet – how God, the friendship-maker, often used those times to build community in later times and in other places.

The next morning, I read the pain-filled words of Heman the Ezrahite and I recalled my own times of conflict in the past:

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily on me;

You have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confused and cannot escape;

My eyes are dim with grief.

(From Psalm 88)

Those times are mere memories now.

Today I rejoice in God’s gift of friends – two years ago among sunflowers – and right here, right now. Friends who have welcomed me into their hearts and homes, near and far. I am blessed with good friends and they’re a blessing because they know the Maker of friendships – they are friends with him – and he with me.

I am in the company of friends and I find God there.

(Response to the Daily Post http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/on-bees-and-efs/)