Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Vicar's Study - The Art of Being Brilliant

When I bought this book from a charity shop the woman behind the till looked at me as if I was buying The Art of War or something equally sinister. Granted thinking about 'Being Brilliant' is a highly un-British thing to do. Being 'alright, thanks' is far more socially acceptable. Striving for 'brilliant' just seems, well, a bit much really doesn't it?

But that is the great thing about this little book. It is written by two British Andy's who cut through the sometimes slightly nauseating world of books that consider our approach to life to produce a book on Positive Psychology that is neither academic nor puke making. If you haven't encountered it before Positive Psychology is, in layman's terms, the ever growing branch of psychology that looks at what makes people happy, resilient and well rather than simply studying what happens when things go wrong.

What the Andy's suggest is that so much of our interior world is of our own creating. We are sort of set up that way. Our brains are made to analyse and make sense of the world around us and we do his all day long. We don't simply take in everything around us as it is, we screen, we filter, we judge everything around us and take in a fraction of what we sense and experience. We really do create our own world in so many ways.

A few years back when I read a book about our consumer culture in the West I started to get more suspicious of the news seeing that it was more about ratings and copies sold than about genuine communication of what is going on. The more I read about positive psychology, the more suspicious I get. Because the news acts as a good example of how our lens on the world completely affects what we believe about it. If we fill our minds with a litany of disaster, destruction and violence then that is how we will see the world.

These things exist, to be sure, and being aware and responsive to the needs of the world is so important, but does having a constant stream of disaster playing in our living rooms do much for us or does it simply skew our view of the world to the point where we barely notice the peace and joy that is to be had in our every day lives and the real goodness in the people we meet?

A truly brilliant contents page!
These is just one of the things that the Andy's challenge in their book as they ask the reader to look again at their lens on life, to reassess and to aim higher in terms of your own happiness and well being. They challenge many of the ideas that we simply accept in life, about how life is and how we ought to experience it and I find that exciting.

In a nutshell (does that make anyone else thing of Austin Powers or is it just me?!) it is about getting to grips with the fact that we have one life, one chance to ask the questions we have and explore the world with gusto. I'm half way through and already finding it to be an uplifting and funny read. So if you can bear the scorn of the shopkeeper then grab yourself a copy, it is well worth it!

Friday, 25 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Joyful in the World

'Today is the most important day of your life. In these twenty-four hours you have the chance to love every moment and to appreciate everything about your miraculous existence. Take each day and live it to the full. Let yourself enjoy each moment wholeheartedly, don't hold anything back. Be the best you can be and let your mind, body and spirit flow easily and gracefully and confidently. Remember that your contribution always counts, so make it good. And as you take your love and joyfulness into the world know that everyone you meet is touched and affected by your positive mood'

- Lynda Field in Weekend Confidence Coach

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Vicar's Kitchen - Venice to Istanbul

I can't say that I really need much more prompting in the travelling and eating department, being fully, whole heartedly devoted to both, but Rick Stein's latest series has had me clutching my passport to embark on a culinary adventure in his footsteps. Those of you in the UK have been lucky enough to have the series on your screens for the last few weeks but those further afield, never fear, there is a book to accompany the series which is an absolute dream

The premise was this, embarking on a food adventure from Venice to Istanbul via Croatia, Albania, Greece and ending in Turkey. It was an adventure in the footsteps of the spice routes, following the spread and exchange of recipes and ingredients across the region. The whole series was sun soaked and vibrant, and made me want a kitchen overlooking the Aegean, very, very much indeed!
I loved the kind of food featured and that the recipe book is packed with, it is proper rustic and hearty food. Meats cooked in the oven until they are falling off the bone. Everything with garlic, lemon juice and liberal use of olive oil. Fresh tomatoes and the kind of vegetables that will even have you forgoing the meat.
I love eating that way which is why I love the route that Rick took in the series. It is why Greece is my favourite place to have a meal. Last time we were there, in lovely Crete, the restaurant owner pulled a courgette right off the plant next to us to whip up some fritters. Hearty and fresh food made with love, you just can't get better than that. I love how the series and cookbook feel infused with that, of the goodness of just sitting down with a great glass of wine and big bowl of something delicious.
Get the recipe here
I would really recommend the book, it is beautiful and inspiring, but at the moment (likely for a limited time) there are a few of the recipes online too. This recipe from Turkey of Oven Roasted Chicken with sumac, pomegranate molasses, chilli and sesame seeds is exactly what you can expect from the book. I also love the Greek chicken with orzo in the cookbook which Rick cooks on the show, do check in out if you get the chance. Orzo, tiny rice shaped pasta, really is a bit of a revelation as a new addition to our house. We love it.

So there we go, foodie inspiration in abundance. I do hope you enjoy!

30 Second Reflection - Joy in Adversity

'My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with you, O God, one great dialogue. Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on your earth, my eyes raised towards your heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep gratitude. At night too when I lie in my bed and rest in you, O God, tears of gratitude run down my face and that is my prayer.'

- Etty Hillesum, written from Auschwitz

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Bringing Joy

'To be a joy bearer and a joy giver says everything. For in our life if one is joyful it means that one is faithfully living for God, and that nothing else counts. And if one gives joy to others one is doing God's work, with joy without and joy within, all is well. I can conceive no higher way.'

- Janet Erskine Stuart

Monday, 21 September 2015

Vicar's Sofa - When One Door Closes

Have you ever had one of those moments where you realise with a crashing certainty that life is working out nothing like you thought it would? It can be pretty darn crappy eh? But this week I have been really inspired on this topic by a new book I am reading by Sally Donovan called No Matter What. It has reminded me of this phrase, slightly doctored from the original, but that I very often have running through my mind – 'When one door closes climb through the open window!'

Rather than simply 'When one door closes another one opens' suggesting you climb through the open window means saying 'stuff this!' when things don't go to plan and instead looking, actively looking, for what opportunities this new situation is presenting. And that sometimes what opens up as a result of a door slammed in your face is even better than the thing you were seeking in the first place.

But apologies, I am getting ahead of myself - Sally's book. Ahh, it is just wonderful! It is one of those books that leaves a mark on you long after you have read it. It is autobiographical and tells the story of Sally and her husband learning that they cannot have children and deciding upon the path of adoption. It charts the ups and downs of their journey to parenthood as they take in two children who have lived early lives of such neglect and tragedy that it makes you weep.

Like pretty much all of us they had it all planned out, Of course life would give them what everyone else seemed to acquire so easily and parenthood would occur naturally and easily. Sally charts so well the process of grieving and letting go of what we assume will just be in life and trying to find that open window then the door has slammed well and truly shut.

I just find this hugely inspiring. Their journey, though not what they would have chose, nothing short of saves these children. It gives them a home and a future. What Sally and her husband do is incredibly brave, incredibly generous and incredibly moving. They are ordinary people who climb through that open window and discover that on the other side is the fulfilment they were craving and a life infused with meaning even if it was never what they could have imagined.

You don't have to be thinking about adoption to get a huge amount from this book. It is simply a poignant reminder that life is only as closed off as we make it. I'm reminded again that if a door is closing look for the open window and climb on through it. There might be something wonderful and unexpected on the other side.

30 Second Reflection - Inner Happiness

'Go outside to the fields, enjoy nature and the sunshine. Go out and try to recapture happiness in yourself and in God. Think of all the beauty that's still left in and around you and be happy'

- Anne Frank

Friday, 18 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Quiet Love

In a Bath Teashop

'Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another -
Let us hold hands and look'
She, such an ordinary little woman;
He, such a thumping crook;
But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
In the teashop's ingle-nook'

- John Betjeman

Thursday, 17 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Our Primitive Love


I have heard about the civilised,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I
are savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat,
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.

- Sharon Olds

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Joy in Action

'There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do'

- Freya Madeline Stark

30 Second Reflection - Love and Fear

'God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.... There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.  

We love[ because he first loved us.  Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.'

The Bible, 1 John 4: 16-21

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Vicar's Kitchen - Pasta, Pronto!

Ever since my trip to Bologna last Easter my mind has been set on mastering the art of fresh pasta making. Sitting down to buttery ribbons of tagliatelle swirled with meat ragu was one of the best food experiences of my life. I savoured every last little bite. And then promptly ordered dessert!

A little while back I came across a Pasta Maker in a charity shop in my home town all the way from Italy. I wasn't really convinced that I would be able to get decent pasta out of it for a while figuring it might be a bit like bread making for me. Seems like a great idea but I am yet to produce much that I rivals anything I could just pop out and buy. It's more bullet like baps and baguettes like truncheons but hey ho!

I was delighted to discover, then, that not only is pasta making really quite fun it is also pretty easy. I went with a recipe from Antonio Carluccio's book Pasta to make some fresh lasagne sheets. This basic recipe can be used for all kinds of pasta so it is a very handy little recipe. 
All that was required was 300g of '00' Italian Pasta Flour and 3 eggs. I popped all of this into my food processor and whizzed it up till it formed a ball. I then cut the ball into slices about 2 cm thick and ran them through the pasta maker on the widest setting. This produces a lovely thin and silky sheet of what is already recognizably pasta.
You then reduce the space between the rollers and keep running the pasta through until you have your desired thinness. Then lay the sheets out on a clean tea towel, chop them to the lengths you need and you're done! All in all it took me about fifteen minutes and was really rather theraputic. Running the pasta through the machine was really quite soothing, especially when accompanied by a sing a long to Michael Buble and a glass of white wine. Ah, Sunday afternoons!
But of course the proof of the pasta is in the eating and, thankfully, I wasn't disappointed. The lasagne came out creamy and soft and lovely, lovely, lovely. All in all pasta making was a whole lot easier than I expected, much quicker and well worth it for the end result. If you fancy giving it a go, here is my Veg Lasagne recipe which showed off the fresh pasta a treat!

Vegetable, Feta and Pesto Lasagne

300g '00' Pasta Flour
3 eggs

2 aubergines
3 peppers (any colours will do)
2 courgettes
4 tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
A good sprinkling of dried oregano
500ml passata
2 tablespoons pesto
100g feta
15 (ish!) black olives chopped in half

50g butter
50g plain flour
900ml whole milk
Some parmesan to top it all off!
  • Make the Pasta as above.
  • To make the filling preheat the oven to 200 C, chop the vegetables into roughly equal chunks (about 3cm across is good). Place into a roasting tray and cover with the olive oil and oregano. Pop in the oven for about twenty minutes or until the veg is soft and browning at the edges.
  • When the veg is done pour the passata over the veg in the roasting dish and add the pesto. Give it all a good stir.
  • Make the white sauce by melting the butter and adding in the flour. Cook the resulting paste for a minute or two before gradually whisking in the milk. Bring to the boil adding a little more milk if it becomes too thick.
  • To make the lasagne layer a third of the veg on the base of a large dish and top with a third of the olive and a third of the feta. Top with sheets of lasagne. Top this will a layer of white sauce.
  • Repeat for another two layers finishing with lasagne and a good amount of white sauce. Top with the grated parmesan.
  • Pop into the oven at about 180 C for 40 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling nicely at the edges.

30 Second Reflection - Love is Enough

'Here in this place
Of angled streets and northern light
Under this particular moon, with Scotland
Quiet and sleeping beneath and around us;
Of what may I speak but friendship
And of our human wish for love - not just for me
But for friends too, and those who are not my friends;
So if you ask me, now, at this moment,
what is my wish; it is for love over Scotland,
Like tears of rain -  that is enough.'

from 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

Monday, 14 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Love like Rain

'Love is something like the clouds that were in the sky after the sun came out. You cannot touch the clouds, you know; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either; but you feel the sweetness that it pours in everything'.

- Anne Sullivan

Friday, 11 September 2015

Vicar's Craft Corner - Adventures in Dressmaking

Last night, after a brief spell of (rather embarrassingly!) being lost in the town where I grew up, I arrived at my first Dressmaking class. I've wanted to do a course for ages but life and timings got in the way. Now that we are in a new place I figured it was a good time to try and squeeze this in to the schedule as a way to meet new people and finally try my hand at a skill I've wanted to develop for yonks.

This might seem like very much stating the obvious but what I loved most about the first night of the course was that the teacher opened with the line 'The point of dressmaking is to make something you will actually wear'. They encouraged us to think of ourselves as our own designer. To draw ideas from this seasons fashion, to sketch and collect images (hello, hours on Pinterest!!) to create something that we will love and wear till it wears out.

I can't wait to make this from Tilly and the Buttons

The secret of great clothes is not so much the design, which is rarely that complicated, but the choice and quality of the fabric. I constantly fall foul of this, thinking 'Ah I'll just grab this cheap material in case what I make is complete rubbish.' But by doing so I am probably pre determining that the garment I make will look pretty rubbish because the fabric quality just isn't there.

When you start thinking like this it opens up a load of possibilities. Our teacher pulled out a tweed used by Chanel for their suits and skirts. At £30 a meter I would usually have bypassed it but if you compare that price to how much you'd be shelling out at Chanel, well. It all starts to look a bit more reasonable doesn't it?

I knew that I needed the discipline of a course to overcome one of my other weaknesses when it comes to crafting. I am a total trial and error crafter. I rarely read up properly how to do things. I just piece together, try it and see if it works. This is fine for some sewing and has produced a whole load of homewares in my house which are perfectly fine, as long as you don't inspect them too closely!

But I always knew that this slap dash approach to sewing wasn't really going to wash when it came to dressmaking. I never measured myself properly so stuff never fit. I never cut trial versions out of cheap fabric to check the fit. I never adjusted patterns for my body shape. So it is not surprise really that I made a fair few ill fitting garments! Last night was all about precision and measuring well.

Now that I actually know my own size I feel so much more confident to look at patterns and know where they will need a little adjusting. It's also quite a bonding experiernce to sit in a room full of women, all beautiful in their own way, and laugh over how wonderfully different each of our body shapes are and how far from the model perfection we are sold by magazines and retailers. Finally I will be able to make clothes styled for real shapes of real women, no guilt or cringe worthy changing room moments required!

So I am VERY excited about the prospect of six weeks of dressmaking and hope this is a new and successful crafting chapter for me!

30 Second Reflection - Time

'Rivers know this, there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.'

- Winnie the Pooh

Thursday, 10 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Who am I?

'Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!'
- Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
From en.wikipedia.org

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Fairytales

'One day you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again'

- Chronicles of Narnia
from www.snowsphere.com

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Storms

'I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship'

- Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Monday, 7 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Life Achievements

'What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others'

- Pericles

Friday, 4 September 2015

Vicar's Sofa – Subversive Wisdom

Random confession time - I love a snarky cross stitch. There is something about sitting down for several hours and stitching something wildly inappropriate that just makes me smile. Something cathartic about reversing what is normally something so twee and wholesome and making it into something that pokes fun at the world and how we live in it.

From http://www.subversivecrossstitch.com/

And that is a little bit like some of the wisdom writings that I love the best, what I call Subversive Wisdom. In previous posts we have looked at finding wisdom in nature and in the every day things of the world. It is an approach that sees the world as ordered, than a result inevitably follows an action, that there are good ways to live that will bring good results.

That, to be sure, has an element of truth in it. We all know that results follow our actions, that to a certain extent we live the life we build and we reap what we sow. But life is also a tricky old *insert swear word here!* at times! We certainly don't always get what we deserve. Children get ill, relationships get derailed, wars break out and life is simply horribly unfair.

That is what Subversive Wisdom is all about. It is about saying 'hang on a minute with your Proverbs and your advice this totally *bleeeeep* thing is happening to me. What do you make of that?' There are two books in the Bible that particularly take this approach, the book of Job and the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is like a long catalogue of the rubbishness of life. 'Everything is meaningless' says the author. Everything ends and all that we work for is handed on to those who come after us whether they have earned it or not. The days are long and life is hard and at time inexplicable. He laments and argues and grumbles and snarks his way through twelve chapters.

Job, on the other hand, is a story of a man who has everything. For a while. Then catastrophe strikes and he loses everything, home, family, livelihood and health. It is the stuff of nightmares. Job is visited by a number of friends with appallingly bad advice but advice that sounds oddly reminiscent of some of the good life wisdom writings. Job, however, is having none of it and simply says 'No, this is rubbish and I've done nothing to deserve it. It is simply unfair and I'll hear nothing else.'

I like this stubborn resistance to glib reassurance and platitudes in Job and Ecclesiastes. I like the complete rejection of easy answers that avoids the reality that life can be bone crushingly hard. And do the authors get anywhere with this approach? Well of sorts. Job is commended by God for continuing to protest his innocence. Ecclesiastes swings between darkness and light, seeing the joy in life as well as the sorrow.

But ultimately they are both books that end with a great big question mark, just like the difficult chapters of our own lives. No reason appears. No safe answer that we can comfortably accept appears. We just struggle on and pass through and keep going hoping against hope that new life that is waiting for us on the other side.

And so I love this side of the wisdom literature, this gritty, dark side. It allows us to get real about the realities of life and death. It challenges any attempt to control or make safe the tempestuous journey of life. For every piece of advice about living life well perhaps we also ought to take a dose of this to heart.

30 Second Reflection - Trust

To Trust

I have so much faith in you. I believe
I could wait for your voice
silently throughout centuries
of darkness.

Like the sun
you know all the secrets:
you could make the geraniums
and the wild zagara bloom
deep in the marble
quarries and legendary

I have so much faith in you. I'm as calm
as an Arab wrapped
in his white barracan
listening to God
make the barley grow around his house.

Antonia Pozzi (1912-38) Translated from Italian.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Presence


Expecting him my door was open wide;
Then I looked round
If any lack of service might be found,
And saw him at my side:
How entered, by what secret stair,
I know not, knowing only he was there.

T.E.Brown (1830-97)

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

30 Second Reflection - Home

'Now trust a heart that trusts in you'

Now trust a heart that trusts in you
And firmly say the word 'Adieu'
Be sure wherever I may roam,
My heart is with your heart at home

That pure light, changeless and strong,
Cherished and watched and nursed so long;
That first that love its glory gave
Shall be my pole star to the grave.

- Emily Bronte

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Vicar's Study - Compass Books

There are books in my house that I see less as pieces of paper bound together and more like compasses. They have been companions on the journey and I have turned to them constantly. You know the sort, dog eared and the spines bent, but you couldn't ever consider getting a new copy because this is the one that has been in your hands through all the ups and down of life.

On the blog this week, for the 30 Second Reflections I post each morning, are some excepts from some of my 'compass books'. One, an anthology of Christian poetry, I brought shortly after I started going to church. It has been opened a hundred times or more and spoken to me in big ways and small of how I am feeling right in that moment.

I've also collected women's poetry and writing for a long time. I love this old Penguin collection because it draws together the writing of women back to ancient times right up to modern day and from women all around the world. It got me into the Japanese poems of the Manyoshu, short little poems filled with images of summer blossom and love, and to writers from closer to home like the gloomy and atmospheric poetry of Emily Bronte.

Sometimes these little books have seemed to speak directly to a question I am asking. In this little anthology of women's spiritual writings I read an except from the diary of Florence Nightingale shortly after my 30th birthday feeling simultaneously overawed by the approach of starting work as a Vicar and also part wishing I was more, well, normal! It read,

''I am 30, the age when Christ began his mission...The thoughts and feelings that I have now I can remember since I was six years old. It was not I that made them...But why, oh my God, cannot I be satisfied with the life that satisfies so many people?'

That quote wasn't an answer to the things I was mulling over it just gave a sense of solidarity. A sense of solidarity that someone else wrestles with the same thoughts too and someone as brave and bold and extraordinary as Florence Nightingale!

I think that is why these books are so precious and what they are all about for me. Not answers, but guides. Not the destination, but signposts. And we all need those things. We all need the occasional person, or poem, or piece of writing to nudge us on the way of the journey through life that only we can make and that no one else can make for us.

So how about you, what are you 'compass books'? I'd love to hear from you!

30 Second Reflection - Love

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned.

- Song of Solomon (from the Bible)