Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Aftermath

Well, I still think it was a good idea but it ended in disaster, of course. I attempted to bag things up but the ingenuity and relentless energy of 3 little boys defeated me. By the end of the day I had, for all my efforts, only made a small dent on the chaos of the dining room. The boys had been busy elsewhere…. While I toiled away in one room they had been doing what they do best in every other room of the house and the results were not pretty.

Once I had stopped crying and Rob had administered the hot tea and chocolate therapy customary on these occasions, we sat down to think out what our options were. We scooped up the worst of the debris in the dining room, but it didn’t really get clear until about 5 minutes before our guests arrived on Easter Saturday. But these things we now know:

As fast as I can put ‘stuff’ away back where it belongs, our boys can pull it out faster. Much faster and more of it.

We just have too much ‘stuff’ and too many toys in particular.

Clearing up and putting away (not to make a Martha Stewart worthy house but just to make a house that is SAFE to live in) is taking up far too much time – time that we could be spending on much, much more enjoyable, fun things.

Not clearing it up isn’t an option either (though for a moment I fondly hoped it might be). It is taking a toll on my mental health and frustrating the boys no end. It is very difficult to play in chaos – even if it is your own proud creation.

We have to do something radical (but obvious - no rocket science here).

The answer is to purge and that is what we will do. We have explained to the boys that over the next few weeks we will be ruthlessly culling their toys. Ruthlessly. Without pity. Well, we didn’t tell them that. But here is the kicker. We also told them that WE would be the ones to decide what stays and what goes. I know that it is supposed to be good to involve ones children in decisions like this but trust me, it would not be good here and we know this from experience.

To my surprise they took it very calmly. Their only request (plaintive plea) was that we keep the train set and the Brio construction kit, to which we could readily agree. I am hoping that they are, in their hearts, relieved that they will have more space and opportunity to play and that they are glad not to have to be making the decisions themselves over what to keep (I would rather like it myself).


Or maybe they just don’t believe us.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Panic Room

I walked into our dining room this morning and began to hyperventilate at the chaos before me.

It isn’t the first time that I have had a reaction like this to this particular room. It has caused me to weep and despair many times. Actually dining room is a misnomer – we hardly ever ‘dine’ there. Play room/learning room/laundry room/resting place of discarded objects that have no other home would be a better title.

I always feel bad about getting upset over the domestic chaos that reigns in our home. It seems so very shallow to get upset over mess even though I know it has the power to plunge me into depression. It feels faintly embarrassing to blog about it, not because I am ashamed of the mess (well I am really) but because what, in effect, I am complaining about is having ‘too much’. “Feel sorry for poor me. I have too many possessions and no where to put them all” Ugh.

We are expecting visitors this weekend and so I have decided to take drastic action. Or rather, drastic delaying action. It is all going into plastic bin bags and boxes to be stored in our bedroom (with the door firmly shut). The plan is to then maintain sweet order and harmony while at the same time sorting through the detritus in the bags and boxes. Humour me.

My sister arrives from Australia in 4 weeks time and she is a decluttering whirlwind. As the Koala Brothers would say: “Help is on its way!”

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Wisdom Of Teddy Robinson (on books and blogging)

Deborah looked up and saw him ...

"What are you doing up there?"

"Writing a book," said Teddy Robinson.

"I don't see you writing," said Deborah.

"No," said Teddy Robinson. "You know I can't write really. But I'm thinking, and it's the thinking that counts."

'Teddy Robinson Is Put In A Book' by Joan G Robinson

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar 1936: Table Decorations For The Month Of April

1. Flat green clouded glass bowl, planted with primula malacoides, with the soil carpeted with moss.

2. A rustic basket spilling over bunches of lightly tied polyanthus, of different shades but all to tone.

3. Japanese garden planted with a sprig of fresh cherry-blossom to impart a fresh touch.

4. Bowl massed with wallflower, arranged so that each different shade forms a ring.

5. Flat silver or iridiscent glass fruit-dish lined with damp moss and planted closely with either pale pink or mauve tulip heads, with sprigs of forget-me-nots spraying up between.

6. China shoe, or "bachel" filled with water and a little shot. Arrange in it sprays of varying lengths of flowering currant, fruit-blossom, etc.

7. Low oblong earthenware jardinière, overflowing with a green growing carpet of "Mrs. Gossip," planted with any garden flowers that tone with your colour scheme.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar 1936: Tea Breads For The Month Of April

Pastries: Eccles cakes; apricot cheese cakes; cream puffs.

Biscuits: Oatmeal; almond shortbread; jam fingers.

Buns: Oatmeal; coco-nut; ginger.

Layer cakes: Marble, with apricot jam filling; Victoria sandwich with rum butter; spiced chocolate cake with vanilla custard filling.

Large cakes: Slab raisin gingerbread; Genoa; walnut; ribbon.

Sandwiches: Kipper cream; sieved cooked chicken; veal or pork, moistened with butter and seasoned to taste, then used with brown bread and mustard and cress; shredded lettuce, moistened with mayonnaise, strongly flavoured with Gorgonzola cheese, and mixed with a little minced walnut, used with brown bread; split toast, thinly buttered and filled with tuna fish mayonnaise and a little minced cucumber.

Note: Any of the fillings suggested for sandwiches can be used for filling oblongs of cooked pastry, or bridge rolls.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar 1936, Chapman & Hall, London)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Housewives Monthly Calendar 1936: The Cook's Guide: April

1. Give rhubarb fool - equal quantity of stewed sieved rhubarb and cream or custard - for dinner.

2. Buttered boiled spring greens, turnip-tops or hearting and sprouting broccoli, go well with grilled or fried steak or chops.

3. Why not a prawn and new potato mayonnaise for lunch or supper?

4. Start breakfast with orange juice or tinned figs.

5. Soak salt fish in cold water, and boil rice, ready to make kedjeree, for to-morrow's breakfast.

6. A South African granadilla or two added to your fruit salad is a great improvement.

7. If you want a bird for dinner, why not a casserole of pigeons, well browned before placing in casserole? But don't forget to add some tinned or bottled peas just before serving.

8. Pickle some herring for to-morrow's lunch or supper, and either make or buy potato salad to go with them.

9. Stuffed roast shoulder of English or Canterbury lamb sounds good to me for dinner, but put mint in the stuffing instead of making it into sauce.

10. Make a salmon loaf with egg sauce the principal course at lunch, and give it mashed potatoes for company.

11. Fried rabbit, browned in bacon fat, then cooked with a little stock, in a covered pan, might appeal to you for dinner. Serve with a green vegetable.

12. If you do not like tripe and onions, try Tripe a la Nicoise—cooked in equal quantity of stock and white wine with plenty of sliced carrots and onions and well seasoned.

13. How would you like a slice of fried or grilled gammon and a slice of fried pineapple (tinned) for breakfast?

14. If you serve a shrimp omelet for lunch, give it an endive salad for company.

15. I think it's time we had a mixed grill, with mushroom sauce or grilled tomatoes, and latticed potatoes.

16. Try a crown roast of pork for dinner, with apple and onion sauce flavoured with sherry.

17. Turn the remainder of pork into a mayonnaise for lunch, but give it a little minced pimento for seasoning, if you can.

18. Let's start dinner with a grapefruit cocktail.

19. Make cream cheese, moistened with cream, seasoned and mixed with a little chopped pimento and walnuts, the filling for brown bread sandwiches for tea.

20. If you are calling on the poulterer, take a look at the guinea-fowls. Cooked on a bed of sliced onion and bacon, after flouring and seasoning, in a casserole, with or without mushrooms and chipolata sausages, they are delicious. But give them half a glass of stock and wine before serving.

21. I want grilled herrings and mustard sauce for lunch.

22. What about curried prawns and boiled rice for breakfast?

23. You must have a roast of beef (I insist on Scotch!) with horseradish sauce, and a green pea pudding in place of Yorkshire.

24. If tired of biscuits and cheese, have a Welsh rarebit or cheese soufflé for dinner.

25. Make some lemon and orange marmalade, as long as lemons and oranges are cheap.

26. Devilled eggs and lettuce salad make a good luncheon dish, if followed by a substantial sweet.

27. Should you want a small bird for two, try a hazel-hen and roast and serve like a partridge.

28. A fish pie, made of sea bream, which is so inexpensive, may appeal for lunch.

29. I would like ham and cress rolls and an orange layer cake for tea, but you can also
have hot tea-cakes or cinnamon toast if you want.

30. Say "Good-bye" to April with chicken pie made from boiled fowl, neatly cut up, and moistened white sauce, and flaky pastry, followed by gooseberry fool. You can start with smoked salmon or Scotch broth, if you please.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar 1936: April's Table of Work

If Easter happens to fall in late March, and you manage to finish your spring cleaning before it, April should be an easy month in the home. But if, when Easter happens to be early, you have to leave some of your spring cleaning until after the holiday, then finish it at once, or as soon as you can.

1. Hang up clean or new curtains.

2. Clean or wash winter curtains and other soft furnishings, and store them away in a moth-proof bag or cedar-lined chest.

3. Plan your spring wardrobe if you did not re­furbish it for Easter.

4. Look over your bottling equipment, and renew anything required.

5. Prepare for egg pickling and early jam making, and if short of preserves, make lemon cheese and orange and pineapple butter.

6. If you did not make grapefruit marmalade when you made Seville orange, make it now.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Announcing with great joy ...

(but shamefully overdue - the announcement not the baby, that is) ... the birth of Caleb Luke. He weighed 7 pounds and 13 ounces and arrived on November 5th 2008, just four days early. The latter part of my pregnancy developed into somewhat of a trial, the horrid details of which I will spare you. For a combination of medical reasons we were denied a homebirth, although as circumstances worked out we very nearly had one. Indeed we very nearly had a 'backseat of the car, parked in the middle of the woods' birth. Caleb arrived just five minutes and five pushes after arriving at the hospital. The midwife hadn't even time to put on gloves and was actually still trying to attach one of their pesky fetal monitors to me as Caleb made his entrance into the world. Ah, hospital protocol.

The birth although blissfully quick was not without its complications. I hemorraged badly (amongst other things) and my blood pressure spiked after the delivery. It has taken a fair while to recover and I am still on medication although we are trusting God that this will not be a long term thing. But we are full of thankfulness to God for His amazing mercy and goodness in all of this. Caleb is such a precious little baby and has brought us all such joy. The boys are totally in love with him and show him such gentleness and care. It is so sweet to watch. Thank you everyone who prayed for us during the pregnancy. Rob and I really were blessed by it.

Here are two photos: one taken within minutes of his birth and the other a more recent one. He is 15 weeks old today. I can hardly believe it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Have I ever mentioned ....

... how much I hate, loathe and detest going to hospital? Or how nervous I get encountering medical personnel, on whatever level? Lots of things come into play here - past medical experiences, the attitude of doctors to non-doctors, the culture of passive, non questioning dependence on the judgement of medical staff encouraged by our National Health Service. Many other things too. A routine appointment is bad enough but if I am in a situation where I have to question or challenge medical opinion my anxiety levels soar. I am in that situation - or at least will be tomorrow morning.

Here it is in a nutshell: at my last consultant's appointment my blood pressure measured 120/80. Absolutely normal. The consultant announced that she was placing me on blood pressure tablets and a low dose aspirin straight away. She told me that I was at risk of a stroke and developing pre-eclampsia. I was in such total shock at this that I didn't ask a single question or raise an objection. I am kicking myself for this. Her words came directly after she dropped her pen in shock upon hearing that we declined the Nuchal Fold Scan which assesses your risk factor of having a baby with a chromosonal abnormality. She wanted to know exactly why and was clearly astonished that, having had a baby with Edwards Syndrome, we would decline it. I can't say she was interested in hearing my explanation, she just wanted to register her surprise and concern.

I am assuming she put me on the medication just in case there was something wrong with the baby, something that would cause my blood pressure to rise suddenly and sharply. When I was pregnant with Esther my blood pressure did shoot up and we were told that that was probably due to the placenta and cord being affected by her condition. The high blood pressure was controlled by the medication and I never had any of the other symptoms of pre-eclampsia. I've never had blood pressure problems or symptoms of pre-eclampsia in any of my previous pregnancies. I don't have them now!!!! Even worse, I found out (thank you Dr. Google) that the medication she put me on is a high strength beta blocker. It is used in pregnancy, but only usually in those cases where other types of blood pressure medication have failed. If I continued on it until the baby was born, the baby would have to be monitored very closely afterwards. It also enters breast milk.

Tomorrow when I visit the hospital I am going to ask all the questions I should have asked at my last appointment and unless the doctor can come up with some compelling reason why I should continue taking the medication I will explain to her that I will stop taking it. I am having my blood pressure checked weekly at my doctors surgery, I take it daily at home and have the testing sticks used for detecting protein in the urine (protein in the urine is one of the pointers for pre-eclampsia). If my blood pressure does go up over the danger level, I'll happily go back onto a different medication and see how I fare. I do not think I am in any danger, but I don't want to be reckless.

Some people relish encounters like this. I do not. I don't like upsetting people, and in my experience doctors do not take kindly to having their decisions challenged or even questioned. Your prayers for courage, wisdom and favour would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease...

... For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

Today we had our 20 week scan. As I have shared previously, when you have had a scan that brought very bad news before you never quite approach them again with the same easy excitement. I was not looking forward to today's visit to the hospital. It is not that we feared learning that our baby had a condition that would affect it for the rest of its life. What we feared was hearing again the news that our baby had a condition that would take its life.

But today we heard good news, and nothing but good.

According to every measure that the hospital takes to ascertain development, our baby is doing fine. The scan took quite a while because our little bean was bouncing around so much. I remarked to the technician how odd that was as I have felt very little movement from the baby. "That's just as well" she said "considering how much it is moving around". The detail of the scan was astonishing. We saw our baby's face full on and in profile, the little lips, the mouth opening and closing. Amazing.

We are so grateful to God for His mercy to us. I was in tears during the scan and have been like it for most of the day. Every concern we had regarding the scan has been answered. Even a fairly minor thing, God has taken care of. I was concerned that because this was a 20 week scan and not a 24 week one, they would not be able to see everything they wanted to. I dreaded being told "You'll have to come back in 4 weeks time" partly because I knew I would spend the next month in high anxiety and also because of the sheer difficulty we have in arranging for someone to look after the boys and for Rob to have time off work. This has happened to us in 2 previous pregnancies. But this time the scan was so clear and the baby so cooperative that we were told no, we didn't have to return. In the grand scheme of things this is so inconsequential, but it was really preying on my mind. The Lord took care of it for us. We have been abundantly blessed.

"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I have hope in Him."
(Lamentations 3:24)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Good News

The wonderful, amazing, glorious news is that, at the hospital visit yesterday, I heard a heart beat. Can there be a more wonderful sound?

The bad news is that my consultant has put me onto blood pressure medication (beta blockers) and aspirin because she believes I am at high risk for pre-eclampsia. I have my own feelings as to the wisdom of this but I have to get them into a more coherent and less emotional form before I blog about it more. It looks like there will be a lot more hospital visits in my immediate future. Ugh!

Six Unspectacular Quirks

Deputy Headmistress over at the wonderful Common Room has tagged me for a bit of internet whimsy: Six Unspectacular Quirks. I'm reminded of the picnic at Box Hill in Emma: only six at once?

The rules are these:
you have to mention who tagged you and link to them
you have to mention the rules
you have to nominate six other bloggers by linking to them.

I like to break the rules where I can (without harm to others) just for the sheer fun of it, so I will not be nominating six others. Well actually, I don't know six others well enough to nominate them. British reserve and all that. But if you are reading this and would like to participate, just leave a comment and I will link to you.

Six quirks were embarrassingly easy to find. My husband on the other hand hasn't any. Really, he hasn't. We racked our brains to try and think of one, but we couldn't. Maybe that in itself is a quirk?

1. I have to take a hot water bottle to bed with me every night. Every night without fail or I can't sleep. It doesn't matter what the temperature is or even if it is too hot to sleep with covers, I have to have it. Even in a hot Australian summer. It isn't about feeling cold (although I do feel the cold very easily) it is more of a comfort thing.

2. I don't read very much fiction and what I do read tends to be 'old favourites', but when I do read something new I always, always, always have to read the ending first. If I don't like the ending then of course I don't read the book and for me to like it the ending has to be happy. I get attached to fictional characters and I want the best for them. I know that I am excluding some of the greatest works of fiction by this practice but I really don't care. I know it is shallow but life for me is too short to read sad fiction. Just give me happy, happy, happy. The same holds true for films (fictional not documentary). It is almost physically impossible for me to sit through a film I don't know the ending to. Too much uncertainty. Thank goodness for moviepooper.com.

3. I can't eat a whole chocolate ( the kind that comes in a box) all at once. I watch in awe as someone makes their selection and then pops it whole into their mouth. What if there is something 'unsuspected' in there? What if you don't like the flavour? What if it is so delicious that you regret snaffling it in one mouthful?

4. I can't eat crisps/chips, nuts, snacks straight from the packet. I have to decant. I don't know why. It is just something about putting my hand into a packet. Odd because I've never had a bad experience doing this (or a bad experience eating a chocolate come to that).

5. I don't mind going to the dentist but I really, really, really don't like going to the hair dressers. Consequently I'm always in need of a hair cut. I feel intimidated by the whole hair cutting procedure, by the salon 'ambience' and I loathe having my hair washed (or even worse, my head massaged) by someone else. It is not a relaxing or enjoyable experience for me, even when the resulting haircut looks good. If I could cut it myself, I would.

6. Not sure if this last one is so much a quirk as good prudent common sense. I can only cross at a pedestrian crossing if the signal is 'Go'. Here in the UK that is indicated by 'The Green Man' which sounds deliciously pagan, but isn't. Well, of course, you are only supposed to cross if you have the green man, everyone knows that. In some countries, I believe, you can be fined for crossing a pedestrian crossing at the wrong time. You would be amazed how many people take the most unbelievable risks, however, crossing when the sinister 'Red Man' is showing. Even mothers with children. Even police officers! Even elderly residents with walking sticks who invariably make the traffic screech to a halt! I want to yank them back with a hook on the end of a big stick. Even if the road is completely clear in both directions I just can't do it. Who knows what may appear out of nowhere. I've had people actually smirk at me for waiting and waiting and waiting until the signal changes. Hah! I care not a jot. This has rubbed off on the children. Isaac has recently had to be reminded that it is not polite to reprimand complete strangers, very loudly, for crossing at the wrong time. It does give them a surprise though!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Thank You And An Update

Thank you all so much for your sweet comments and prayers. We really appreciate them. I'm sorry it took me so long to upload some of them - and to update this poor, neglected blog. I am now officially 17 weeks pregnant and the baby is due on or, more likely, around 10th November. This Wednesday I go to the hospital for a check up. This would normally be done at my GP (General Practitioner) surgery but the midwife who booked me in at the hospital wanted me seen by the consultant 'just in case' because of my history of high blood pressure. Later this month I go for my 20 week scan and from then on in it is just the usual round of blood tests and midwives' appointments, hopefully the fewer the better.

Well, those are the bald facts. I've seen on a number of blogs a jolly little widget that displays your mood for the day. 'Today I am mostly feeling ...' or something like that. I'm not sure such a widget could handle the range of emotions I am feeling at the moment. Overjoyed at being pregnant again without a doubt, elated, excited, hopeful, thankful, privileged, fearful, tearful, anxious, stressed ... The list could go on and on. That so many conflicting emotions can exist simultaneously is surely testament to the amazing flexibility of the human mind. Pregnancy after loss is a tricky thing. I know that many of you know this far better than I. I don't think you ever approach it with the same degree of relaxation or joyful anticipation as in those pre-loss pregnancies. The pregnancy books and sites speak calmingly of how the risk of miscarriage is much less after 12 weeks (and praise God this is true) but when you have lost a little one in your second or third trimester, you are not likely to gain much reassurance from this. At the moment I am battling anxiety and fear on a daily basis. On some days it threatens to overwhelm. I know from experience how destructive such anxiety is to me. Apart from anything else it prevents me from being the joyful mother of the children God has already blessed me with - and it isn't much fun for Rob either. I know with the Lord's strength we can make it through any eventuality. It isn't that I doubt. I just don't like the not knowing what will happen and my anticipating mind has a default setting that anticipates the worst.

So what have I been doing to counter this. I turn to things that have helped me in the past. I read Scripture passages that speak of God's faithfulness and goodness, verses that talk of the strength and joy that the Lord imparts. I meditate and pray these through. I listen to sermons and Christian broadcasts that focus on these things and I read inspiring Christian books, articles and (of course) blogs. I do all of these things fitfully and imperfectly and the Lord in His mercy does the rest.

I hope this doesn't sound too whiney and dreary. We are both truly overjoyed to be expecting again. It is very exciting and at the grand old age of 43, not something I had taken for granted would ever happen again. Rob and I can say with total confidence 'The Lord has blessed us!'. The awful vomiting (some days after every bite of food or drink - much, much worse than ever before) has stopped. Yippee! I still have the all day nausea but you cannot believe how bearable that is without the actual throwing up. I am anaemic - but have a good iron supplement. My blood pressure, according to our home monitor, remains out of the danger zone - despite the worries of the hospital midwife who managed to be both over zealous and utterly ineffectual at the same time. My cervix is showing no signs of its previous incompetence - so I am looking forward to avoiding bedrest. And, despite the nausea, I can even sit up for long enough to write a rambling blog post! At this rate I may even get some ironing done!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Homemade Soup, Rhubarb Pie and a little bun in the oven.

Today I made some celery soup and a rhubarb pie (with the first of our rhubarb from the allotment). No big deal you are no doubt saying, but these are the first things I have actually made from scratch in the last 5 weeks or so. It is testimony to the resilience of the human stomach that we have survived so long on ready meals, sandwiches, cold chicken and cereal, but survive we have. I am recovering nicely from what ended up being pleurisy but still feel somewhat on the fragile side. I had thought that the horrid pain in my chest and back was just a pulled muscle or possibly even my imagination, but pleurisy it turned out to be. No treatment as due to an (ahem) underlying condition I am unable to take the antibiotics usually given for it.

Which brings us to the little bun in the oven. . . .

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just a quick update

When I posted last week I confidently expected to be fully recovered within a couple of days.


The boys are fully well and Rob too (except for a niggling cough). Praise God for that. I, on the other hand am still doing a passable impression of a Victorian invalid. I am feeling pretty rough. On the menu this week are painful sinuses, coughing and vomiting. I am comforted by the thought that it is only a virus and it will go, eventually.

Probably just in time for the next family reunion.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Cometh the family reunion ...

... cometh the virus!

For the last 10 days or more we have all been sick, sick, sick. Nothing serious, thanks be to God, just a thoroughly nasty viral infection. In fact it is the nastiest I can ever remember having. Even my poor husband, who is normally incredibly robust, succumbed and had to take time off work. Cue sore throats, runny noses, infected sinuses, aching limbs, throbbing heads with a side order of nausea and vomiting and a mild chest infection to finish. For four days I was unable to even get out of bed, except to stagger to the bathroom or the couch. Too sick to read, can you believe, and way too sick to look at a computer monitor. Even when I had pneumonia, I don't remember feeling this bad.

We are all on the mend now, however, and I am anxious to gather up the reins of my household in capable hands. Ha! The 'household' looks as if it has been sacked by every ancient tribe that ever indulged in sacking as a recreational sport. It will be a while before even a semblance of order is restored. Rob has gone back to work and the children are in fine fettle. It is 10.30 in the morning and I have wilted already. Back to the couch, I think.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

March Meanderings

March, it is said, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Nothing is said about it creeping around like a cold, wet and miserable slug in between times. Yet this March has been, weather wise, definitely on the slug-like side. The weather has been uniformly horrid: mediocre and horrid for most of the time with the occasional exciting but horrible interlude.

Fortunately the month has had other compensations, chief among which was the opportunity to meet, a couple of weekends ago, with The Head Girl, who blogs at the ever wonderful The Common Room. The HG is an utter darling and all of us here were left wishing she could have visited with us for longer (and brought her entire family too). The boys are often a little wary of female visitors (odd, I'm not sure why) but they took to her immediately and have been most vocal about how much they liked her, both at the time and since. We met initially at the British Museum and it is amazing how many glorious treasures you can see in a very short space of time without too much cultural indigestion. The following day she ventured out to our corner of South London/Kent to explore the charity shops, which I am relieved to say yielded up some bargains. The weather for her visit was of the exciting but horrible sort - lashing rain, howling wind etc, but it didn't daunt her intrepid spirit!

This past weekend (ah, yes, I'm sorry about the absence of anything Easterish on this blog - we do celebrate it, just not very well) Rob's parents joined us for a visit, to the delight of all. We managed to get a day out by ourselves - something which usually only happens once a year and is always greatly appreciated. The weather was astonishing - hailstones practically on the hour every hour for the best part of the day. The rest of the holiday it snowed almost continuously, but never producing enough on the ground to build a snowman or even fashion a respectable snowball. Dismal.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar 1936: Sandwiches and Fillings for the month of March

1. Bridge rolls, put together with liver sausage mashed to a paste with cream or salad dressing, and flavoured to taste with lemon juice. Use with thin slices of radishes.

2. Mix ½ cupful of picked shrimps with ½ cupful chopped fried chicken livers, and minced onion or shallot and pepper to taste. Season with salt if re­quired. Moisten with mayonnaise. Use with thinly buttered white bread.

3. Stir ¼ pound ground dates, ¼ pound minced figs or raisins, and ¼ pound ground mixed nuts together. Mix in the strained juice of half a lemon and half an orange. Use with thinly buttered brown bread.

4. Wash, drain, and mince enough watercress to fill half a cup. Moisten a cream cheese with cream to taste. Stir in watercress. Spread on small rounds of wholemeal bread. Sandwich with a slice of scalded, peeled tomato.

5. Mix salmon and shrimp paste with chopped olives to taste. Use with white bread and butter and cucumber

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar 1936: Table Decorations for the month of March

1. Flat bowl of mauve and yellow crocuses growing in pebbles.

2. Specimen vases of scarlet anemones.

3. Short sprays of almond blossom, arranged in black Wedgwood bowl or vases.

4. Daffodils arranged in a flower holder in a green bowl, stalks hidden by moss.

5. Bowl of primroses, fringed with violets (very flat bowl).

6. Basket of Cape fruit, arranged on a lining of geranium leaves.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar 1936: Tea Bread for the month of March

Pastries: Lemon cheese cakes; Bakewell tarts; Mille feuilles.

Biscuits: Chocolate; Ginger; and Coco-nut pyramids.

Buns: Cherry; Chocolate and walnut; and Hot Cross Buns.

Layer Cakes: Orange; Chocolate with butter cream filling; and George Washington.

Large Cakes: Madeira; Dundee; Seed and Ginger.

Sandwiches: Puree au foie gras; cream cheese and walnut; Tunny fish moistened mayonnaise and flavoured with minced pimento, used with bread toasted on one side; bridge rolls covered with chicken, or tongue salad and cress.

Note: To make toast sandwiches, cut toast in half, butter inside thinly, and put halves together with filling.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

When Everything In The Garden Isn't Lovely: personal reflections on an internet dispute

King Jesus hath a garden, full of divers flowers
Where I go culling posies gay, all times and hours.

Where naught is heard but paradise bird,
Harp, dulcimer, lute,
With cymbal, trump and tymbal,
And the tender soothing flute


The above is part of a rather lovely carol which I haven’t sung since my schooldays, when it was part of our choir repertoire. It has flitted in and out of my mind over recent days. I love its imagery of a garden filled with spiritual virtues. It got me to thinking of the image of the Church as a garden too (filled with flowers, some more divers than others). If in the words of another hymn “All the world is God’s own field” couldn’t we be that nice cultivated bit (tortuous I know, but please).

In my own corner of the Christian cyber garden, however, the music has been far from harmonious of late. For the past 15 months or so I have been following an internet dispute between two groups of Christians. I’ll try to be as vague as possible about it but not because The Issue under dispute is unimportant. It is important and one that does concern every Christian directly or indirectly. It isn’t a ‘salvation/damnation’ issue – although one party is fairly adamant that the other party believes and acts as though it is (and that party, equally adamantly, denies it). I’ll be vague because I suspect that although the little corner of cyber-Christendom I frequent is a small and parochial one, this sort of dispute and the behaviour it has engendered is probably happening all across the web, over issues as far ranging as baptism and the right colour for a church carpet. So if you think you recognise the dispute I am referring to, you may be right or, on the other hand, completely wrong.

When I first encountered the dispute I thought that if the taking of sides were called for, my ‘side’ would be pretty obvious. My job, prior to marriage, concerned the very issues over which the dispute first hit the internet, so I had a natural interest and it might be assumed certain sympathies. Disconcertingly, I found after just a few salvos from each side that this was not to be the case. Neither side, to my woolly mind is completely ‘right’ but (to broadly paraphrase Jane Austen) I do believe that the weight of goodness, though it has shifted about pretty much of late, largely falls on one side and not the other. That was a lesson to me in itself. My presuppositions and natural inclinations are not infallible guides. Not rocket science, but sobering to me. I also had to realise, yet again, that having a sympathetic, humble and likable personality does not mean that one is always right. Nor does the absence of such a personality mean one is more likely to be wrong. As the old saying goes: in the English Civil War the Cavaliers were romantic but wrong whereas the Roundheads were right, but repulsive.

The dispute has burned up a lot of ground on the internet. The number of posts and comments on it must be in the thousands by now (and here is another one). Some of the things I have read (on both sides) have been filled with such downright spite and meanness that it has taken my breath away and all in the name of ‘contending for the truth’. I have seen one side split and almost devour itself and have been astonished at how some of the participants involved can be so continually involved and yet have time to do anything else. They could make a fortune with an ebook on time management.

I have spent a fair number of hours reading all the posts and comments but as yet have never commented myself. I would like to think that this is because I took my mother’s teaching of ‘if you can't say something nice say nothing at all’ to heart, but I suspect it is more to do with my own fear of confrontation. One side tends to disallow critical comments on its blogs, while the other allows the comments but tends to roast their critics with alarming zeal. Anyone who broaches a criticism or urges moderation is liable to be treated as a fellow traveller of the opposing side, or worse. There is more than one way of censoring debate and it has certainly scared me off.

This may be viewed as moral cowardice and probably is, but what the Lord has been speaking to me constantly about over these past months is rather my own motivation for following the dispute. It has come very close to voyeurism and of that I am not proud. The truth I have realised is that while I have a fear of confrontation that involves me personally, I find it horribly entertaining to watch it unfold in the lives of others. Especially if I can do it anonymously. And that is sin. Popular entertainment shows thrive on this kind of sin, but having no television does not guarantee immunity by any means. Meditating on scripture is the medicine needed:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:8 NASB

So am I still following the dispute? Yes, but evaluating my ‘lurking’ behaviour each time I read. I justified my initial curiosity as one of ‘professional interest’ – so that I could better understand some important issues and the various arguments involved, so that I could help others as they worked through similar issues (as I conceivably might be asked to do). Knowing how woefully easy it is to self deceive, I had better make jolly sure that I have a good purpose in reading such things and that it is God’s good purpose and not one of my own invention. And I had also better be sure to pray, more often and with more fervency for those involved on all sides, that the noisy gong and clanging cymbal might be replaced by ‘the tender, soothing flute’ and one day, hopefully soon, charity prevail.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Routine Review

So how did the week go, housekeepingwise? Well, this is how it should have gone in theory:

This week's focus: Bathroom
Monday: Bathroom
Tuesday: Boys' Bedroom and Bathroom
Wednesday: Dining/Play Room and Bathroom
Thursday: Kitchen and Bathroom
Friday: Living Room and Bathroom
Saturday: Our Bedroom and Bathroom
Sunday: Spare Bedroom and Bathroom

Well, it did sort of work and I am feeling decidedly positive about it. What could you possibly find to do everyday in a bathroom, you may ask? In my bathroom, plenty! I scrubbed the toilet within an inch of its life, washed down the floor, wiped down all the tiles (and the room is practically all tiles), cleaned out the bathroom cabinet (ugh), wiped over the shelves and the bottles of lotions and potions that were on them, washed the curtains and the window, hoovered dust from every crevice I could find (including the extractor fan which was wearing a fur coat), folded towels, removed limescale etc. etc.

None of this would have ever been done in a day (unless I did absolutely nothing else), but spread out over a week it seemed managable. The airing cupboard (except for the towels) has been left undone as has the jam cupboard (we have an under eaves cupboard where we keep a little tumble dryer and all our jars of jam, chutney, pickles and dried vegetables). I'll do them next time, perhaps.

What did I learn? I learned to my horror how filthy my bathroom actually was - even with a daily wiping down of 'essential items'. The dust that gathers in a bathroom is quite astonishing and I don't want to dwell on where it all comes from. I learned that the underside of sinks get grimy as well as the sink itself, that I hate limescale with a vengeance and that towels really do look nicer and take up less space when they are folded in thirds (even my towels which are a mish-mash of handed down unmatchables, some of which have stretched so much over time that they are no longer even rectangular).

As for the daily focus, well that worked okay too. Rooms got a little more TLC than they usually get, for relatively little time spent - this being on top of my 'morning routine' (a la Flylady). Actually, I'm stretching things to call it a morning routine. It's much more nebulous than that. Fluid would be a nice way of putting it. I don't as of yet have anything approaching an evening routine, which is why we wake each morning to a house that looks as though it has been burgled in the night.

What didn't work? The weekend. Things pretty much fell apart at the weekend. Saturday I had washing to catch up with (still have the ironing) because the weather had been to bad to hang things out. I have a tumble dryer but it only emerges from the cupboard in the direst emergency. While I laundered, the boys whooped it up elsewhere and when Rob returned from the allotment it was time to go shopping blah, blah, blah ....... . As for Sunday, well I would prefer not to do housework on the Sabbath but at the present time I have to. Maybe a time will come when it will not be so but for the present it is. But I only do the essentials, so the spare room will have to wait. I cook on a Sunday as well. Do you think that the time will come when I don't have to do that too. Oh happy thought.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Housewives Monthly Calendar: The Cook's Guide: February (1936)


1. Serve roast pheasant with chestnut puree.
2. Try kedjeree, made of Finnan haddock, for breakfast.
3. Mashed buttered Swedes go well with boiled mutton.
4. Start dinner with cream of artichokes.
5. Make a spiced fruit cake, or a Genoa or Dundee Cake.
6. What about fried pork sausage cakes, topped with steamed eggs, for lunch?
7. Say "Au revoir" to roast partridges at dinner.
8. Partridge paste and toast is a good savoury, better when served with celery.
9. Finish with apricot souffle pancakes at lunch or dinner.
10. Make fried whitebait and thin brown bread and butter the fish course.
11. Serve a piece of pickled pork with stewed rabbit.
12. What's wrong with braised halibut, mashed potatoes and a green salad for lunch?
13. Start dinner with oyster stew and salted cream-crackers.
14. A heart-shaped layer cake, please, for tea, with strawberry butter filling.
15. Ham a la king on buttered toasts for lunch, but with chicory salad, please.
16. Try scalloped potatoes and apple and celery salad with hot roast pork.
17. If you can obtain celeriac, boil and butter it, or make it into a salad.
18. Serve vanilla custard, enriched with sliced bananas, with steamed fig pudding.
19. Why not prawns a la Newburg, garnished buttered peas, and ringed boiled rice, for lunch?
20. Order oranges, lemons and sugar for marmalade.
21. Make a Simnel cake the piece de resistance at tea.
22. Serve Lyonnaise potatoes and scalloped toma­toes with grilled lamb cutlets for lunch or dinner.
23. Corned beef hash is seasonable for lunch but give it potato, onion and celery salad for company.
24. Celebrate the birthday of Capuchin Chabot, the inventor of omelets, by serving an omelet at one meal.
25. Let us have roast teal and orange salad for dinner.
26. Cream, custard sauce and junket all mate well with steamed rhubarb.
27. New Malta potatoes are in season. Serve, moistened butter, and sprinkled chopped chives.
28. Make your favourite galantine for supper to celebrate the birthday of Chef Prevost, who invented galantines.
29. Say "Good-bye" to February with oysters, hare pate and buttered toast, grilled medallions of steak, new potatoes, buttered spinach, orange compote, and biscuits, celery and Stilton cheese.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

The Housewives Monthly Calendar: February's Table of Work (1936)

Take a look at your store cupboard in the beginning of February. Decide how much orange marmalade you want to make this year, then wait until Seville oranges are at their cheapest, when order oranges, lemons, and sugar as required, and make and bottle some orange syrup.

ORANGE SYRUP (For Bottling)
4 sweet oranges
4 Seville oranges
1 lemon
4 mandarins
6 lb. sugar
6 quarts water

Wash 2 Seville and 2 sweet oranges and 2 man­darins and grate their rinds. Extract juice from all the fruit. Stir grated rind into the fruit juice. Cover and stand until the next morning. Place sugar in a preserving pan. Add water. Stir over fire until sugar is dissolved, then bring to the boil. Remove pan from fire. Cool. Stir the strained fruit juices into the syrup, taking care to squeeze the grated rind thoroughly so that none of the oil from the rinds is lost. Bottle and seal. Dilute to taste, when wanted, with aerated or still water.


1. Make a thorough inspection of your whole home about the middle of the month. Start with the ceilings and walls, then examine the windows and doors before going on to the floors, carpets, and lino­leums. If you live in a house and own it, you won't take long. If you are paying rent, you must keep two lists of necessary repairs, one for the owner and one for yourself. If you own your home, or if you have taken it on a repairing lease, list repairs and require­ments as you go along under the following headings:
(a) Structural; (b) Decorations; (c) Furnishings; (d) Cleaning, in the following way.

(2) Note any loose bricks, or slates, broken gutters, damaged pipes, broken windows, or crumbling plaster, or blocked drains. See that all lavatories are in proper working order. Examine scullery sink and taps in case any new washers or taps are needed. See that all electric sockets are secure, or that none have loosened. Look to all door locks and window fasten­ings.

(3) Make a note of any decorations necessary. Plan what you want done and arrange for estimates.

(4) Write out a list of any new furniture required, noting height, width, and depth most suitable for the space you can allow. Measure for any new curtains. Send away any bedding that needs renewing, and any valuable rugs that require expert cleaning or invisible repairs. If you have valuable Oriental rugs, send them to a reliable Oriental house. Take a note of any new lampshades needed and where. Send away any china that wants riveting, and any silver needing repolishing or repairing.

(5) Tell cleaners to call on a certain date for blankets, bed covers, eiderdowns, etc.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Disjointed thoughts on a homemaking routine.

Of course, the house isn't perfect. Wouldn't want it to be. It isn't even perfect in a 'not perfect but it's just how I would like it to be' sort of way. We still have clutter (by which I mean piles of ugly stuff - not books or meaningful doodads). But it is just so much better. However, I have the wit to realise that unless I implement some kind of system for 'household business' it will not be long before domestic chaos reigns once more and I am back to weeping and wailing into my tea. So I am resolved to find some sort of housekeeping routine or rhythm that will ensure that things get done (and that my sons get an education in something other than crisis cleaning).

In the past I tried FlyLady, but without success. More my fault than her's I am sure, as I know she has helped countless multitudes of women on their way to domestic serenity and I know she is of the firm conviction that her programme will work for everyone. I, however, just don't 'get' Flylady. It is rather like knitting - I know how to do the basic stitch, but just can't follow the pattern. I understand the shiny sink business, the am and pm routines. I get the weekly zones, the 15 minute missions and of course, the need to de clutter. What I don't understand is when you actually get to clean - unless your morning and evening routines are each roughly 6 hours long, meet in the middle and take in every room not covered by your weekly zone.

So, something else is needed. Stealing the idea of zones, I'm going to build on an idea of a Daily Focus which will cover each room of the house on a rotating basis. I've put them in alphabetical order for they are all as needy as each other in their own different ways.:

Boys Bedroom
Dining/Play Room
Living Room
Our Bedroom
Spare Bedroom
Stairs and landings (being in a maisonette we have 2 staircases)

Each room will also be the subject of a Weekly Focus, for the more in depth sort of cleaning and organisation that there just isn't time for on a daily basis but can be spread out over the course of a week (like cleaning bathroom grout with a toothbrush - only joking). Hopefully after a while it will be more a matter of maintenance than full scale crisis recovery cleaning. With less clutter this could be achievable. There might even be room for something creative. Obviously some things will need to be done every day, in the kitchen and bathroom for instance, but this plan will at least give me an area of focus. Laundry will have to be done, of course, and ironing too as I have no wish to repeat last December's 70+ item marathon. Will it work? I have no idea, but it does feel good to have something down on paper.

Um, then there is the matter of cooking, as I guess we have to eat. I'm not quite sure what to do here. Menu planning I suppose, although I am rather a failure at this. It is easy to plan, enjoyable in fact, but it is the cooking of the plan that trips me up. I am in a phase of really not liking to cook. Liking to eat, but not liking to cook. Except cake. I think I am going to have to re-evaluate the kind of cooking I actually do, would like to do and should be doing. And re-evaluate the food budget too. For example, nothing is easier than slices of meat from a joint roasted earlier with maybe jacket potatoes or a bulgar salad and vegetables. I've always reasoned that we can't afford to buy roasting joints of meat (unless marked waaay down for quick sale). Frugal stews and bakes instead - but then these don't get made (because of my own failure to plan and organise), and so we fall back on ready meals or take-aways. Frugal self-destruction. More on this for a later post.

The New Year Starts Here

Well yes I know it doesn't really, not by anybody's calendar, it's just that it feels that way to me. The last month has been spent in a whirl and feels quite disconnected in time. My lovely, wonderful and much beloved eldest sister has been visiting for a month from Australia and we have had such a delightful and totally distracting time. We have done a fair bit of visiting and travelling, both to relatives (ours) and in-laws (hers) and have even managed to fit in a few museums, galleries and teashops. We have also, in a repeat of last year, done an amazing amount of decluttering. More than I believed possible, in fact. The result is astonishing to me. I can find things in cupboards. I have room to put things in cupboards. Even our poor homeless hoover now has a home (we toyed with making our new 'hoover cupboard' a hideaway for Mummy when things get tough, but decided against it). Have I mentioned how much I love my sister?

The result is, however, now that she is gone and we all have finished crying, that I feel as though I stand on the threshold of a new life. An organised life. A life where things are put away, not left out to get lost or trip up the unwary. A life where cleaning is possible because one does not have to excavate in order to do it. No excuses. A terrifying prospect.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar: January's Table of Work


1. Use up any Christmas left-overs at once.

2. As soon as you have welcomed in the New Year, make a close inspection of your wardrobe and linen cupboard, and take advantage of the bargains at the White Sales. If you have children, inspect school kits and replenish where necessary.

3. Pay all club subscriptions which fall due now, also any dog or wireless or other licence.

4. Settle any accounts held over from last year and if you have a balance on the right side, keep it for an emergency.

5. If you have a country home or a town home with a garden, discuss, plan and decide on the flowers and vegetables you want, and order what requires to be sown at once.

6. Replace any shortages in your store cupboard, taking advantage of any cheap offers.

7. If short of Seville orange marmalade, make a supply of ginger marmalade, orange and apple jelly, and apricot jam from dried apricots.

To use up Oddments of Boiled Ham

Allow 2 oz. ham fat or 2 oz. butter to 1 lb. ham. Put both through a mincer with a fine knife. Season to taste with French mustard, and cayenne, and rub through a fine sieve. Pot, and cover with clarified butter or lard. Pot tongue in the same way, allowing 2 or 3 oz. butter to 1 lb. tongue, and flavouring with ground mace as well as cayenne and mustard.

(The Housewives' Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall, London)

The Housewives' Monthly Calendar: January


BEGIN by planning the family budget for the year. It is easy to do this when your income is fixed. If your budget is likely to fluctuate this year, you must plan it to allow for such an emergency. In brief, you must cut your coat according to your cloth.

The best way to budget is to deduct your income tax then divide your income into eight portions, and allot each portion in this way:­

A. Food and Household Expenses ... ... ... 4 portions
B. Rent ... ... ... ... 1 portion
C. Clothing ... ... ... 1 portion
D. For Saving ... ... ... 1 portion
E. Doctor's and Dentist's Bills,
Insurance and Holiday Expenses,etc. ... ... 1 portion

If the net income is £iooo per year, the money would be allotted in this fashion:
A ... ... ... ... ... £500
B ... ... ... ... ... £125
C ... ... ... ... ... £125
D ... ... ... ... ... £125
E ... ... ... ... ... £125

To discover the sum you must allow for each item in your budget per week, divide each allotment by 52. Weekly expenditure under "Food and Household" should include all purchases of food, drink, cleaning materials, laundry, light, coal or other fuel, wages, household repairs, any minor household replenishing, servants' insurances, or portion thereof, any window­-cleaning payment, etc.

(The Housewives'Monthly Calendar by Elizabeth Craig, 1936 Chapman & Hall London)

Elizabeth Craig

Until a few weeks ago I didn't think I possessed an Elizabeth Craig cookery book. I had heard of her, of course. In her day (1920's and 30's) she was probably the most well known and most published cookery writer. Her output was prodigious. She didn't confine herself to cookery either but wrote on many other subjects connected with homecraft and house-keeping; a pre-war Martha Stewart, and just as inspirational and unattainable for most of her readership I would imagine too. Then I obtained a copy of 'Elizabeth Craig's House-Keeping', a copy of 'The Housewives' Monthly Calendar' and found a copy of 'Economical Cookery' lurking, forgotten on a bookshelf. I'm hooked. Wikipedia has a few bald facts on her life - I would love to know more about her.

So, this year I'll be sharing snippets from 'The Housewives' Monthly Calendar', published in 1936. Each month she provides 'A Table Of Work', a menu suggestion for each day, 'Tea Bread For The Month', 'Table Decorations' and ideas for sandwiches and fillings. No recipes are given. I would imagine that the calendar was designed to be used with her other works, which would provide them if needed. The book is a delight. It would be fun to follow at least some of her suggestions for the month and some of the sandwich fillings sound quite delicious and far more imaginative than anything I have ever come up with. This was obviously a time when sandwiches were taken very seriously indeed.

Christmas Day Review

Did you have a lovely Christmas Day? I do hope so. Ours was delightful, quite the nicest I have spent for many years. The weather was horrid - rain all day, so we were under no obligation whatsoever to go out. Rob and I are both still struggling with residual sickness, so staying in and resting was probably a wise idea. Resting in the sense of playing with, feeding and reading to two very energetic and happy little boys., that is. Virtually no cooking either. A non-traditional Christmas menu has become, well, a tradition here and this year was the least labour intensive yet:

Caramel French Toast and Sausages for breakfast (the sausages and the bake in the oven style french toast prepared the night before - 40 minutes in the oven while the boys ripped open their presents and the sausages popped in to heat up for the last 10 minutes). Delicious and lots of left-overs.

Bacon sandwiches for lunch

Pasta with egg and tomato sauce for the boys and, much later quick roast shoulder of lamb (bought several weeks ago on sale and frozen), crusty bread and minty mayonnaise. The lamb was marinated for 48 hours in lemon juice and garlic and was utterly scrumptious. Roughly pulled apart and stuffed into the rolls and devoured by us sitting on the sofa as we watched a dvd on the lap top.

It was very nice not to have to spend most of the day in the kitchen (thank you sweetheart). No vegetables, I've just noticed that. Oh dear. But lots of oranges and grapes to save us from scurvy. Oh, and Christmas pudding too with brandy butter. Some things are sacrosanct.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Talk At The Christmas Tea-Table (1905)

“JANIE" says she wants to enjoy Christmas, but it seems often such a busy, hurried time. Choosing cards and presents for her friends becomes a burden rather than pleasure, and a great tax on her purse.

Be sensible, Janie. Put aside first exactly what you can afford to spend, including post­ages, for postages mount up considerably, and begin in good time. Then choose sensible things. The shops at this season are often full of useless ornaments; buy something which will last. I find my friends like books better than anything else. Very nice books can he bought for a penny, and are far more useful than cards, which are too often hardly looked at, while for 6d. and 1s. really beautiful presents can be made. I advise you to send for Partridges' list, telling them some of your wants. You could give your aunt one of their Devotional Books Series ; then there are nice text calendars for your brother's rooms, and beautiful books for the children. In fact, 9, Paternoster Row can supply wants suitable to every purse, and no rubbish.

“CLARA”, who keeps a little shop, says she used to give small presents to her customers at Christmas, but competition is so keen and trade has been so bad, that she has had to give it up. Still, she is sorry; she does not like to be thought mean.

It is not meanness, Clara; you must be just before you are generous. Remember you have children to support. I know in villages like yours the custom of giving Christmas boxes to customers still lingers, but in large towns it has been almost, if not altogether, extinguished. The population has increased so rapidly, and competition is so much keener, that tradesmen came to an unanimous conclusion that they couldn't afford it. All the same; you might do something in a quiet way. I think we all ought to try to cheer the heart of some lonely person at Christmastide. Is there no one who has seen better days, who you know is out of the pale of the ordinary charities and doles, whom you might take this opportunity of doing a little kindness to? No one is offended at receiving a present at Christmas­time, be the gift ever so small; it shows kindly thought on the part of the giver - a thing much more prized than the gift itself. Too often people who have seen better days are over­looked. I remember a case of a minister's daughter, whose father being dead, her income was greatly reduced, and she had to live in small rooms. She was well known and respected, and when Christmas came people said to themselves, " Oh, I won't send anything to Miss B; she is sure to receive a number of presents far better than any I could offer: she has so many friends.” But one old lady said, " Well, perhaps she may be offended, but I'd like her to know I thought of her loneliness this Christmas. I've been baking some mince pies, and I shall take her one or two over." This was on Christmas Day morning, and the old lady came back to say that was the only present the minister's daughter had received. Everybody had been thinking that some one else would look after her. So try and do something for some lonely person, Clara, and perhaps your thought will be far more appreciated than if you had sent presents round to all your customers.

"RESTLESS ONE." - You are restless because you are not satisfied with the state of your heart before God. As the year dies away, I guess your conscience is reproaching you for neglected oppor­tunities of drawing nearer to God; of unkind, cutting speeches you have made; of friends you have snubbed, some of them, perhaps, now dead; of your next­door neighbour's gossiping words about you, which you overheard and don't intend to overlook.

Yes, you must overlook them, poor, rest­less heart, or you will not find true rest. Christmas time gives one grand opportunities of forgiving and forgetting. Make it up with her; you cannot recall the past, but you can do better for the future. And that very restlessness about Divine things in itself is not a bad sign - it is far better than not caring at all. That good saint of old, Augustine, said in one of his beautiful prayers: " Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls are restless till they find their rest in Thee."

There is a restlessness that is Divine
God sends it to those souls He fain would bless,
Who, weary of the world and all its ways,
Do thirst and hunger after righteousness.

For Thou hast made us for Thyself alone,
And all the souls of men must restless be,
Till, guided by the Spirit of all truth,
They find their true and perfect rest in Thee.

"FANNY" - I have not forgotten my promise to give you some more fireside hints for those little fingers out of your scrap-bag. Needle books are always in request, and are most acceptable Christmas presents to those people who like to see something pretty in their work-basket, yet are always too busy sewing for other folks to dream of making anything pretty for themselves.

Take two pieces of card - the ordinary visiting card answers the purpose very well. Cover each card on one side first, with a scrap of bright-coloured ribbon or satin; this is done by drawing the silk by needlefuls of long thread across the card inside; then cover the inside with a piece of silk or sateen by seaming it to the edge of the satin. When both cards are thus covered, join them together by seaming them at the back with coloured silk; line them with bits of fine white flannel, neatly gimped with scissors round the edges; fill it with a few needles; stitch on two ends of narrow ribbon to tie up; and lo ! you have a pretty needle­ case. A flower or sprig, worked in silk or painted on the outside, greatly improves the appearance. They sell well at bazaars; also the long needle-books, but these require, more care in making. Any strips of wide ribbon for the outside, and scarlet or white flannel for the inside, are suitable; and if a little pincushion is made at the end in bolster shape, it is all the more saleable.

"PROUD MOTHER." Yes. I'm very glad your little Eva is so intelligent, but don't overtax her brain by feats of memory, and if, as you say, she takes note of everything, be very careful what you say before her. Parents should remember that children have ears and are very imitative. Let them hear and see nothing that you would be ashamed of any outsider hearing and seeing. Sometimes one hears such conversations as these:

" Mother, what made you marry father, when it was you that had all the money? "
" Hush, child. What do you mean?''
“Why the other day, mother, when Aunt Maria was here, you said he was poor, and had you known you would have been burdened with so many of his relations you might have thought twice about the matter."
"My dear, we must have been talking of somebody else­ - your Uncle Bob, I expect."
" Oh, no, mother; it was father you were talking of. You said there was a time when he drank too much, and that it was a good thing you moved here, out of the way of tempta­tion - that your money paid for the move – and - "
"Maggie, you must never repeat what you heard – never - ­never."

But all the same, the mother had had a lesson.

"YOUNG MAID" wants to know how to smooth a creased or rumpled ribbon. Lay the ribbon evenly on a clean table or board, and with a very clean sponge damp it all over, missing no part. Next roll it smoothly and tightly on a ruler, or some round piece of wood wider than the ribbon, and let it remain till dry. Afterwards transfer it to a fresh block of wood (which must be perfectly dry), rolling it round that. Wrap it up closely in coarse brown paper (white paper makes marks), and keep it thus till you want to use it. Don't iron it; ironing a ribbon is apt to discolour it, and give it a faded look even when new, besides making it limp.

"EDITH'' - By all means go to the Watch-Night Service on the last day of the old year. It is one of God's ways of calling His people to Him. Only if by going you so knock yourself up as to be unfit to get your old grandmother her early cup of tea next morning, then I think you would show true self-denial by staying away. Your prayer to God in the quiet of your chamber would be far more acceptable in His sight. To all it is a solemn thing, this departure of the old year. We know not what the new' year may bring - what changes, what disappointments - perhaps death itself for some of us. Life is so full of problems, and vexations, and struggles, it seems to many of us so hard to live at all and pay our way. Dear friends of the Tea-table, I would say to you all, Trust in God.

The Heavenly manna fell each day at dawn,
Not over-night.
So when thy trial comes, thou too shalt find
All will be right.

That each reader of " THE FAMILY FRIEND " may have a truly happy Christmas and bright New Year is the earnest wish of

Aunt Flo

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Blah

Well all around the blogsphere I see a hive of busyness and creativity and here on this poor neglected blog .......

Ho hum. We feel as though we are limping out the remainder of the year, full of cold and germs, coughs and sneezes. Visitors at the beginning of the month left a virus as a hostess gift and we have been sick, sick, sick ever since. Nothing serious (for which we thank God), just miserable, self-pity inducing sickness. We are all on the mend now, but the result of all this has been that the grand plans I had for advent went by the board long ago. We lost the advent calendar, lost the book of advent devotions and lost the will to continue. Homeschooling was of the decidedly 'unschooling' variety. Christmas has taken us by surprise. Aren't there usually more days in December? I was sure there was another week to go and here we are with it virtually upon us. I don't think I am alone - I keep eavesdropping on conversations in the shops: people moaning "I'm not ready! I'm not ready". In our little neighbourhood the Christmas spirit seems sadly lacking. The shops are packed, the shoppers frantic - as though the shops were closing for a week or more, instead of 2 days. No one seems happy about it - Christians and non-Christians alike. One lady I overheard in the charity shop was complaining that the supermarket was filled with men ("Just drives me mad: all of them moaning into their mobile phones 'I don't know which one you want!'). There are some comic moments but it is all rather sad.

Chez Baleboosteh, we are tired but not sad at all. Happy in fact - just not feeling terribly Christmassy. Today the weather was too bad to walk to church so we bumbled about the house and dried some garlic. Garlic is part of our Christmas tradition (such as it is). The first year we were here we planted garlic on Christmas Day. This year we peeled, sliced (in the food processor) and filled the dehydrator with approximately 10lbs of garlic. The house smells astonishing. We used the photo tutorial provided by Deliberate Agrarian as a guide. I have no idea how long it will take to dry, but we may be seeing the New Year in wielding a grinder and sieve.

Rob has to work a half day tomorrow (boo hoo), but we will then be able to relax and contemplate the holiday properly. Once the boys are in bed we will put up the tree and wrap their presents. As for the rest of today, well there is homemade fudge cooling in the kitchen that may not last until Christmas Day and we are going to settle down this evening to watch that classic Christmas movie ....... 'While You Were Sleeping'. Yes, I know it should be 'Its A Wonderful Life', but I have to admit that while in general I much prefer classic black and white films, I don't really enjoy this one as much as I perhaps I should. Shocking but true.

Friday, November 02, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

'Homeopathic' Chicken Pie
Cinnamon Apple Spice Tea

The last, minute vestiges of the organic chicken made an appearance tonight, fleetingly, in what was essentially an autumn vegetable pie. Very nice all the same and a pie is just the thing for a chilly night. The rest of it had gone to make 'Chicken Inspired Risotto' yesterday evening. No pudding tonight but we did try some rather delicious Celestial Seasonings tea. This brand is very hard to get hold in the UK, but our local natural health shop managed to track some down. It is always fun to try new teas (a comparatively frugal indulgence at 99p for 10 bags) so I bought this variety together with 'True Blueberry', 'Red Zinger ' and 'Tension Tamer'.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Chicken Flavoured Stir Fry
Hot Chocolate

Chicken flavoured because I would be breaking the Trades Descriptions Act if I called it anything else - there was so little chicken in it. Why the measley portions? It is all down to Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall and his campaign to stop us buying battery chickens in favour of organic, free range ones. We want to join in, we really do, but organic chicken is just beyond our budget at the moment. Unless of course we buy it when it is marked down for quick sale, which is what we did here. It was clear that this was a bird that had never ingested a growth hormone, wee little thing that it was. As my mother would have said: "You could stick it in your ear!" I poached it with some vegetables in a little water - not as delicious as roasting it but you lose less meat to shrinkage that way (and it is less tempting to nibble at - I can't resist roast chicken). I then stripped every bit of usable meat off of the bones, a grisly task. How much did I get: a paltry 375 grams (about 3/4 of a pound). At full price this would have set us back £6.10. We paid £3.29. Still an expensive option. The children ate some tonight, just as it was, I made the stir fry and I will try to squeeze two more dishes out of it. But it really will not go very far. I can't even say that the meat itself had a better flavour than we are used to, although it did make the most delicious stock (I added the bones back to the poaching liquid for extra flavour). Ah well, at least the bird had a better existence than a battery bird, and for that we are glad.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Talk At The Tea-Table V

"MARY" has a somewhat unhappy home, and thinks the burning of the Yuletide logs and other customs at this season of the year a mockery, when there is no real harmony by the fireside.

Whose fault is it, Mary? Ask yourself the question over and over again, and let the Yule log teach you a lesson. That fancied slight, that imaginary wrong, that careless habit, that nagging temper, that hasty word, throw them all on the Yule log, and let them burn away like the dying wood ashes. So shall the sweet music of the chimney-corner once more be yours.

" Aunt Flo " will glad to answer be from time to time any enquiries in this column, if letters are sent to "Aunt Flo," 9, Paternoster Row, London, E.C.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Talk At The Tea-Table IV

“PEEVISH OLD MAID" - Judging from your letter you have chosen a wrong nom de plume. There are no old, maids nowadays - at least, few of the scandal-loving, bitter-tongued creatures we once associated with the name, and marriage may take place at any age, so do not despair. One of the happiest unions I ever knew was that of a dear old aunt, who married at fifty-four. If you wish to lose your peevishness and keep young, don't be self-centred, but take up some interesting work in which you can show affection and self-denial.

Love is the instinct of every woman's heart; it is a God-given gift, so it is not wrong to feel you wish some one would love you. If, as I guess, you are strug­gling against some hopeless or unrequited attachment, make both a physical and spiritual effort to interest yourself in the lives of those around you - be they man, woman, or child. Rest assured then that, in some form or other, as God sees best, you will be loved and you will be happy. Sunshine will be round you to the end of life.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Talk At The Tea-Table III

"MOTHERLY PRIDE" must take a lesson in moral courage. Don't attempt to do as Mrs. Robinson, who has a private income, independent of her husband, while you have to ask George for every penny. You say you don't like your children to go to Christmas holiday entertainments there without making some return, yet you feel the Robinsons would despise your shabby house and plain way of living. If they did, they would not be worth reckoning as friends; but I think most likely you are mistaken.

Don't attempt an evening party; it is a great expense, meaning meat supper, evening frocks, etc. Ask the Robinson children to meet yours from three to six, have a nice tea with hot cakes, etc., plan a programme of various games beforehand, so that the children are amused all the time, and give some little inexpensive toys or prizes to excite interest. You will find the Robinsons will have enjoyed the party far more than many of the stiff formal ones they go to during the season, and George will not be cross at the outlay.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Talk At The Tea-Table II

“NETTA" is a nursery governess of small means, an orphan, too, with few friends, so has to spend her Christ­mas holiday with her employers, who are not absolutely unkind, but expect her to constantly amuse the children, who have had mumps this Christmas, and been unable to go to any parties. Netta's resources are exhausted, and she often feels lonely, and cross, and irritable.

Poor Netta! It won't improve matters to be cross and irritable. If the mood lasts, you will lose all influence over the children; yours is a sacred trust; you must not tamper with it. Throw yourself heart and soul into making their forced imprisonment lighter, and you will cease to feel lonely.

There are governesses in far worse plight - forced to leave their employer's roof in holiday time, and spend their scanty savings in board and lodging. You may have few friends, but remember you have always Him who hath said, " I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."

Teach your little invalids to think of other sick children. Have they made any scrap-books? Such nice ones can be made of scraps of coloured glazed calico, cut to uniform size, and covered with pictures out of ordinary illustrated papers. Paste these on to the calico, stitch the sheets together, make the cover of stout brown paper, bind it with a strip of colour, and decorate with used Christ­mas cards. The children will delight in cutting out the pictures, and the scrap­books will brighten some hospital or workhouse ward. Another time I will give you some more suggestions.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Talk At The Tea-Table I

(See previous entry for an introduction to Aunt Flo)

TIRED ANNIE has so much to do all day, making the house look trim, sewing for and amusing the children, and bearing with "Jane's" tiresome ways, that when night comes she is hardly able to speak to John. She can only fling herself in an easy chair, feeling intensely sleepy. John is finding his evenings dull, and lately has slipped out - to see a neighbour, whose influence is not altogether good. What must she do?

I'm very sorry for you, Annie; but John must not have dull evenings - and you must be your brightest and best at night - then he will not want to leave his home.

But you must set yourself straight first. What you want is an occasional dose of "rest cure.'' Body and mind are completely over-taxed - try what a whole day in bed (say once in ten days for the present) will do.

The house dusting must go; put Jane on her honour not to waste in the kitchen, give the children some quiet amusement, and recreate yourself while lying still with some wholesome work of fiction by well-known writers (I'm always very fond of George Eliot's books when tired and weary), or a pleasantly written biography.

These will carry you out of yourself, and suggest a fresh line of thought. Get up an hour before John returns, make a careful toilette so that he will have something pleasant to look at. You won't feel at all sleepy now; tell him how much that good rest has refreshed you, and you will find he highly approves.

There is no more depressing sight to a man after a hard day's office-work than a tired, peevish, untidy woman. It isn't fair to the bread-winner; it isn't right. Next month I will give you a hint how some pleasant evenings may be had. Remember, Aunt Flo has had some experience.
(The Family Friend 1905)

Talk At The Tea-Table With Aunt Flo.

Until beginning to read Victorian and Edwardian magazines some years ago, I would have imagined the 'agony aunt' or advice column a modern invention. Surely, Victorian ladies all had a network of 'Titus2' women they could call upon for advice. But it appears not and I would hazard a guess that such columns go back much further in time than the Victorian era too.

In 'The Family Friend' of 1905, there is a delightful example of the genre: 'Talk At The Tea-Table' with 'Aunt Flo'. No biographical details are given for Aunt Flo. Was she a real person or the creation of a number of writers. Both are equally possible but I would like to think that the editor of the 'The Family Friend' would be above such journalistic tricks and that she was the alter ego of one writer. Was the author a man or a woman? A woman I hope, although I have at the back of my mind those stories by PG Wodehouse where the hapless hero is reduced to writing under a feminine pseudonym for 'Peg's Paper' or some such frilly journal to earn a crust. The fact that the name was an assumed one was quite the done thing in those days, especially for a religious paper (for reasons of humility and privacy).

What is intriguing is the way that only the answers to the problems are published and not the original letters themselves. Again this is so common for the period. Advice columns in other periodicals take the same approach, even where the advice sought is of a purely practical nature ('hapless in Hendon seeks a pattern for a crocheted collar'; 'careless in Catford seeks remedy for gravy stains on linen' that sort of thing). This was, I think, obviously for reasons of confidentiality (and people were much more concerned with keeping the private, private then), to avoid the accusations of gossip and also to avoid creating an unhealthy interest in the problems and weaknesses of others. Far better to read the solution offered by a wiser soul and not the intimate details of the person with the problem themselves. Goodness, how times have changed.

So I will be offering up some of Aunt Flo's advice to you. I think that she is a delight and offers far more sensible advice that any of the 'aunts' writing in modern magazines. Certainly her advice is more wholesome. As with all things, eat the fruit and spit out the pips. There is certainly plenty of oddity mixed in with the common sense, but you may judge which is which for yourself (especially when it comes to health advice, household remedies and recipes)! I hope that you think her worth reading.

First Catch Your Fidget ...

Here, much later than promised is the recipe for Cheshire Fidget Pie. We haven't all been prostrate with food poisoning, it is just that real life has been somewhat 'real' this week! It really was quite delicious and as nice cold as hot. I guess that the taste of the pie would change according to the type of apple used. I'm not sure what variety ours were as we picked them up from the roadside as we walked down the hill last week (where they had fallen from a tree, I hasten to add, not someone's shopping basket!). If you didn't want to use bacon you could use minced chicken or potato. Sausage meat would be good too.

Cheshire Fidget Pie

8 oz shortcrust pastry (the original said only 5oz it wasn't enough for the dish I used)
1lb apples, peeled, cored and sliced (the recipe says cooking apples)
8oz onions, sliced
12oz bacon, chopped small
3-4 fl oz stock (I used vegetable stock granules and water)

Preheat oven to Gas 4, 350F, 180C

Make layers in a pie dish of apple, onion and bacon until all is used. Season between the layers with pepper and, if you want, a little salt. Pour over the stock. Cover the pie dish with the pastry. Bake for 2 hours or so. Enjoy.

(Adapted from: The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cook Book - Ed. Mary Watts. William Collins Sons & Co Ltd 1985)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Complete Farmhouse Cook Book

Today I rediscovered an old treasure - in the form of a cookery book. Don't you just love it when that happens. You are browsing your shelves, looking for something else entirely and you come across something that makes you exclaim: "How could I have forgotten I had this!"

My 'this' in question is a copy of 'The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cook Book', which I have had for at least 20 years and not properly looked at for at least 5, I would say. The book was published to tie in with a television series of the same name, which I dimly remember from childhood. I do know that it was in the days before television cooks became glamorous; the ladies who presented it looked comfortingly like real farmers' wives. I had forgotten until I read the blurb on the back of the book that most of the recipes were actually sent in by farmers' wives around the country. The result is a book that contains some very old and very regional recipes. I wonder whether some are ever cooked anywhere any more. They have wonderful titles: Sussex Heavies (which I think are pronounced as in heaving up a weight rather than 'heavy' as in the weight itself), Lemon Dainty, Shearing Cake, God's Kitchel Cake, How D'You Do Cake, Huffed Chicken.

A great proportion of the recipes embody the very essence of thrift, using produce that would have been easily available to the farmer's wife and making a small amount of meat go a long and satisfying way. One dish that took my eye is baking in the oven now: Cheshire Fidget Pie, made with layers of apple, onion and chopped bacon covered with a pastry crust. Why 'fidget' I wonder? We'll try it later today and I'll post the recipe if it is worth sharing.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sunday At Home 1865

"The Sunday At Home: A Family Magazine For Sabbath Reading" was published by The Religious Tract Society, of London: a robustly evangelical organisation and extremely influential in its day. The volume I have is for 1865 (the year the American Civil War ended, Lincoln was assassinated and Lister developed antiseptic surgery). Had you been a subscriber, here is what the first week's edition would have brought you (for the princely sum of one penny):

The Forty Acres; Or Dancing The Old Year Out And The New Year In, by the author of No.1, Paradise Row (a serialised story)

A Hymn For The New Year (Tune: Jerusalem The Golden)

A Winter Meditation (Cowper's 'Task' Book VI, The Winter Walk At Noon)

The Old Year And The New: Looking Back And Looking Forward (an exhortation)

Early Christian haunts In The Catacombs of Rome

The Pulpit In The Family: Eben-ezer; or, The Stone of Help (a sermon)

Sabbath Thoughts: Alleluia

Pages For The Young:
Marion, The Ballad Singer (Chapter 1 - The Working Party)
Scripture Enigma
Scripture Character
Questions on Bible Saints

The last three are Bible quizes or riddles but ones which presupposed an astonishing amount of Scriptural knowledge on the part of their young readers - or at least the ability to find the answers in the family Bible. One can imagine the solving of them being a family affair, with much excitement as the solution was pieced together. Rob and I attempted a couple of them. Great fun (and fortunately the solutions are offered in subsequent editions).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Victorian Sunday Books

I've posted before about how much I love vintage homemaking and recipe books but I'm not sure if I've ever blogged about another great favourite - Victorian Sunday Books. I've made that name up - I'm not really sure what to call them or if antiquarian booksellers have a special name for them (they do for most things). I'm thinking of the kind of book a happy and contented Victorian family would have settled down to read on the Sabbath and in particular the bound volumes of magazines designed for this purpose. They are still relatively easy to find in second hand bookshops and sales and, as they aren't really valuable at all in the financial sense or desirable to any but a small number of dedicated fans, not terribly expensive.

I think they offer a priceless look into the lives of Victorian Christians and a fascinating glimpse of the Church of that time. Of course, like magazines today, they reflect the aspirations of the readership at which they were aimed - or at least the aspirations that the publishers thought they ought to have! And how things have changed - particularly with regard to 'Lord's Day Observance'.

These books were written at a time when the notion that Sunday should be kept as a day apart was widely accepted and put into practise - not just in the public sphere but behind closed doors at home and in one's private life. Certain public activities were virtually impossible on a Sunday: shops were closed, offices and factories silent, fields empty. Recreational travel was difficult and frowned upon (at least in the early Victorian period) as indeed was public recreation of any kind. These restrictions even the non-religious had to put up with. But for Christians across the denominations (and to some extent across the classes too) keeping the Sabbath was a matter of private obligation and joyful sacrifice in one's home. The reading of Scripture, of religious books and improving, morally edifying works was thoroughly in keeping with the Victorian Sunday and something to be shared with the entire family. Hence these delightful volumes.

Over the years I've picked up a number of volumes with titles such as 'The Family Friend', 'The Sunday At Home', 'Words For Hearth And Home' ranging in date from 1865 through to 1905. The early volumes are weighted towards exposition of Scripture, sermons, Bible quizzes, essays on church history and missionary updates (fascinating and poignant accounts which make one long to know what happened to the people mentioned). Later volumes contain more household hints, domestic advice and geographical essays on the wonders of the British Empire ('The Dams of Canada'; 'Australia's Courageous Miners'). All feature a serialised story, fiction but of the improving sort, to keep their readership anticipating next week's instalment. Most have wonderful illustrations.

If you've never come across such volumes, I do encourage you keep a look out. They really are a captivating read. An edifying one too. They all contain a fair share of what to modern eyes does seem quirky and sometimes down right ridiculous, but with it comes stories of bravery and courage, faithfulness to God and sacrifice that should not be forgotten. Plus some very meaty articles on Scripture and church history that would never make a mainstream Christian publication these days. Even the occasional knitting pattern! Reading these books, for me, always makes me consider my own Sabbath practise too; an exercise never wasted.

Over the next few months I want to share some of my favourite excerpts with you. One of the volumes, for example, has an advice page where readers' problems are tackled by the redoubtable 'Aunt Flo'. Now she definitely deserves a wider audience!

Playing Catch Up

Thank you all so much for your sweet comments and good wishes. Things just don't seem to be getting back to normal around here. Or may be this is the new normal! The boys are well - if you discount one bout of 2am vomiting (Sunday night/Monday morning) and complaints of a sore throat (today). They still seem to have the most astonishing amount of energy - and honestly I'm not complaining. I thank God for their good health, knowing that it isn't something to be taken for granted. I'm struggling with migraines and would really value your prayers and wisdom. If any of you suffer from them, do you have any tips for either managing them or managing life with them. One thing I do know, I am almost guaranteed to have one if I've lost my temper, become extremely stressed out or ratty. As if one needed any additional incentive to obey God's word and walk in love.

Autumn is without a doubt my favourite season even though it is tinged with sadness for us here. Although maybe the memories of loss make it so beloved - not all sad memories bring sorrow with them, if that makes any sense. My mothers final illness began in September, six years ago and the landmarks of her last three months still frame the season for me. And this year we marked the first anniversary of our baby Esther's death and all the events leading up to it. Bittersweet memories. The weekend of her death itself, I had the most appalling migraine and cried my cry the night before visiting her grave stone. I had in my mind that the four of us would visit the church yard, lay a posy of flowers and spend a quiet moment, just a moment you understand, of reflection and prayer. Hmm. Sometimes I forget I have two rambunctious little boys. Don't know how that happens. The boys looked on the grave yard (which dates back to the late medieval period) as some sort of stony play kingdom. They hit it at a run, whooping like little savages. Every time we turned around we were peeling one or other of them off of the grave stones which they were attempting to ride like horses or scale like mountains. Isaac insisted on laying the posy on another grave altogether: "No Mummy, this one really!" and as we finally wrested it out of his hands, Elisha emerged from the undergrowth with the remains of a dead wood pigeon in his hands. Which he then attempted to eat or kiss, I'm not quite sure which! The boys then found some lumps of chalk (it rises to the surface of the land around here after a heavy rain) and proceed to wipe them over their faces and hands. How they quite manage to pack so much activity into such a short space of time I have no idea. Wiping tears of laughter from our eyes we decided to call it a day. You cannot be solomn around little boys.

I hasten to add that there wasn't anyone else in the grave yard at the time and that we will be following our visit with (yet another) lesson in graveyard ettiquette. On the way back home Isaac asked us if we thought that baby Esther would have liked the flowers. Would she have smiled, he asked. Yes, my sweetheart, I'm sure of it.