Friday, 24 August 2012

If these walls could talk

This morning as I was doodling in my Scribble Diary one of the spaces to fill was a speech bubble with ‘If these walls could talk’ written above it. This is what I love about the Scribble Diary, it prompts completely random thoughts that often have legs and helps you to consider things a little differently. And this one really got me thinking.
We’ve been in our current house for three years now. It’s a house converted into two one bed flats on the end of a lovely terrace. We live in the bottom one and it’s got a little patch of garden around it where I took my first tentative steps into fruit and vegetable growing, so many happy afternoons spent there. But what about these walls? The more I think about it the more I realise how much has happened here.
lovely little house...
Perhaps the walls would talk about the day we moved in when it wasn’t a ‘we’ arriving but just a ‘me’ as Ben had to stay up in Aberdeen for another three months to finish his teaching placement. After the movers (and my ever handy Dad) departed I sat down and wondered about this new place, feeling half forlorn to be without Ben and half desperately excited to be in this beautiful city at the start of a new adventure. I had no idea what a big adventure it would be! A few hours later one of my best friends from home (now just an hour away) appeared on my doorstep with a bottle of wine and one of the main features of that house was born, it was an open house, full of laughter and friends. By far my favourite thing about it.
Perhaps the wall would talk about the day I came back from church in deathly silence. Silence isn’t something I do very often! They might say that the silence lasted for two weeks. Every time I tried to talk about what had happened at that service the words stuck in my throat and not a squeak came out of my mouth about it. My brain was whirring and I kept myself busy but Ben knew something was up.
Perhaps the walls might talk about the first prayer that came out of my mouth after those weeks of silence. About the flood of tears as I said to Ben ‘I think God wants me to be a Priest, isn’t that ridiculous?’ He smiled and said, ‘No, not at all.’ And so a long journey began of interviews, job changes, new people and places. There was more laughter, more tears, everything all at once, a rollercoaster.
Perhaps the walls would talk about when the house became an administration station for the church. About my desperation as I scanned the clergy list and realised I had no idea how to address any of these people and one week to get them invitations to come to the institution of our new Vicar. Perhaps they would tell about team work making the dream work as Ben helped me sticker hundreds of envelopes and convinced me that after a long six months of looking after the church while we were Vicar-less that I could jump this final hurdle, exhausted as I was. Perhaps the walls would talk about vocation tested, about the last stamp going on the last envelope, a job done.
Perhaps they would talk about darker times. About someone climbing through our bedroom window who wasn’t invited. About me coming home and finding glass everywhere and possessions gone. About not one but two sets of police officers being kind and calming. Neighbours and friends, shoulders to cry on. Perhaps they would tell about my final forms for my final interview that were due in the day after we were broken into. How a large glass of wine and a cheerleading team in the form of Ben and our upstairs neighbours got me to put pen to paper and get them finished despite my head being anywhere but on interviews.
Perhaps they would tell about the day the letter arrived, the shock as I sunk into one of the kitchen chairs and read the words‘recommended for training’ and thought ‘what on earth is going to happen to me?’ They might tell of the cassock arriving and getting its first whirl before the mirror or the quiet afternoons, a breeze coming through the window ruffling the pages of the latest theology text book as I tackled the mammoth reading list from college.
And now they would probably talk about boxes. So many boxes. We live in an obstacle course! They would talk about paint and sewing and people making plans. And now this house will have new inhabitants, new stories to tell. We head off soon for another three years in a new home, for another great adventure. After everything that has come in this place what will the next three years hold? I’m looking forward to finding out!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Mad Woman and the Coffee Hutch

As I mentioned in my last post this weekend was spent gallivanting around East Kent, visiting family and making the most of some good recommendations of charity shops ahead of the big house move next week. And my, oh my, did those recommendations come good. We started off with a trip to Whitstable which is retro and antique shop heaven! You definitely pay for the privilege of someone else having spotted a nice piece of furniture and cleaning it up but there were heaps of great finds to be had and ideas a plenty.

I came across this tin tray in the window of one of the shops and snapped it up for our new kitchen. As my other half hails from that part of the country (and my God he won't let you forget it. He even compared a lakeside in Africa to the seafront in Herne Bay. Err...deluded?!) I thought that this would be a perfect addition. My mother in law did a fantastic job at getting me a knock down price by coughing 'How much?' and waiting in stealthy, seasoned bargain hunter silence for the lady to reduce it to £4. Hurrah!
Speaking of items that arrived in my possession for four English pounds – on the way to the fish and chip shop in Herne Bay that evening I came across the most obscure, wonderful second hand item I have ever seen. May I present to you, the Coffee Hutch.

This is thrift shop gold for me. Total random, beautifully retro and absolutely unique. There was much scorn from my in-laws who laughed their heads off at my great concern that it would be gone by the time we got back there the following morning. Apparently the only way the Coffee Hutch was leaving that shop was in a bin bag. How rude!! What can I say, I'm a lone visionary in this family I've married in to ;)

The question has been asked, what exactly will I do with a Coffee Hutch? Firstly, 'do with it?' it need have no function other than look brilliant, surely? Secondly, I think I'm going to put bags of tea in it - I know, what a maverick! What can I say, I live on the edge.

Other finds included a lamp stand for a couple of pounds, a green candle stick, some great blue spotty and floral fabric, a super retro 60s style office chair and these little beauties. Not original Cornish blue but a good repro.
And last but not least the birthday that keeps on giving reared it's beautiful head again and my mother in law got me this sign for my craft corner in the new house. Love it!

Speaking of the new house, we got the keys yesterday! It's even better than I remember and I can't wait to get started with moving our stuff over and settling in. I'm hoping all this eclectic collecting will come together beautifully and we'll have a real haven on our hands. I've had a brilliant time doing it anyhow and the Coffee Hutch alone surely make the swing from 'Nice house' to 'My goodness this place is awesome!' Yes?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Four Days

After today I have four days left at work. FOUR DAYS! I’m off from tomorrow for a week and then to Kent we go to catch up with family, do some bargain hunting and participate in some general seaside merriment. Then it’s back home, pick up the keys for the new place and we move! All of this is tremendously exciting and just slightly nerve wracking. I am categorizing my wracking nerves, thus:

Country gal

I was chatting with a fellow student-to-be yesterday about my interview for Vicar-dom and mentioned that the location of the interview freaked me out because I’m not a fan of rural locations. He laughed as our college is right in the middle of the country. This had occurred to me but now the time to start is creeping up on me and the boxes are all packed for village life I’m starting to stare longingly at Starbucks and the cocktail bar about two minutes from our front door and think crikey! What am I going to do with myself?

In reality we can hop on a bus and be in Oxford in half an hour but I am one of these people who gets a bit out of sorts if I can’t walk everywhere. Blame that on being utterly spoilt growing up in Windsor where everything is on your doorstep and perfectly lovely. I’m thinking I need to embrace it, lots of country walks and all that?!

Wild Card

You know on those house programmes where they show people a load of houses that meet their requirements and then for laughs put one at the end that is like nothing they’ve ask for? I’m feeling a bit like a Wild Card as I enter college. Probably because even going to a theological college is a serious Wild Card in my life. How could it not be when I only went voluntarily into a church for the first time seven years ago? I never thought I would be here.

But I am trying to embrace the slight randomness of my being there. As I’ve said before I think that is kind of the point. It’s wonderfully unexpected and though my experience might not be conventional they have a bit of oomph behind them for that. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t really, really think it was the right, no make that only, thing for me right now. More than anything I know I’ll achieve very little trying to be someone I’m not (and I find that basically impossible, what you see is what you get and all that!) I may not know my alb from my surplice but I must be there for a reason, right?!

Essay fear

And lastly it has suddenly occurred to me, do I remember how to write an essay?! This is further compounded by the general doom-saying associated with my course about how hard it is and how people basically DIE when they do it. As far as I can see most people are still standing and I was firmly informed at interview that for the sake of the future church and women EVERYWHERE I need to get myself educated to the best of my ability so I can represent (innit) my kind. As a fully signed up flag waving champion of equality I can hardly back down from that challenge, now can I?!

So there we are, just a few teeny concerns there! I think I need to sit and build some sandcastles for a while, get windswept and eat a ’99. Until next week...!

Monday, 13 August 2012

House to Home

I’m having a truly brilliant time at the moment as I get ready to move house in just a couple of weeks time. My philosophy with most life events is to just go with it full pelt and get the most out of any experience. If you’re going to be a student then get yourself a satchel and dedicate yourself to take-out pizza like it’s going out of fashion. If you’re getting married spend hours of guiltless time perusing wedding magazines and (if you're anything like me) wandering round bridal fairs asking the prices of things and cackling with glee that you’re making your own for a fraction of the price.

When it comes to moving house there is almost too much potential excitement. There are the home magazine and blogs, the shopping – endless shopping – and if you’re going the frankly superior thirty, crafty home route the many hours ‘winning’ on ebay, the charity shop one-off-wonders, the DIY furniture makeovers and the feeling of being utterly pleased with yourself as you say once again ‘that was a fiver, that was. Destined for the bin before I saved it.’ BRILLIANT!

Charity shop find, re painted and the draw lined from my craft stash!
It has got me thinking though about whether all this nest building can be justified. Is it all a bit keeping up with the Joneses, a bit materialistic? As regular readers will know our house was broken into this year and I blogged about my heart not being in treasures stashed in my home but in bigger things. This is something I believe in and hold to. But does it stay true as I amass more things? When I actual own my own washing machine and bedroom furniture?

A few things have struck me about this. Firstly the really wonderful experiences I’ve had in other people’s homes. I call this the ‘House Hug’ effect. When you walk in somewhere and feel immediately welcome and rejuvenated. Being the hippy wannabe that I am I think this has a lot to do with the heart of the home, do people care more about their beige furnishings or you being at home in their home? Do people have truly generous hearts, cheerfully giving of what they have to you? When they do there is nothing better than curling up with a glass of wine in the lovingly decorated home of a good friend. I love seeing their personality stamped on a place. It is something unique and wonderful to be a guest in that kind of home.

My second thought is creativity. I love to create, whether it’s food or stuff for the house, clothes or a new eyeshadow. It all comes back to creativity for me. I love the ascetic, making things beautiful. I’m a messy creative. I want my garden to be full of bees not to be in regimented lines. Nothing I make is perfect, it’s very definitely ‘home spun’ but I like it that way. When I was doing my Masters we did a personality test as part of the final careers advice. Being a science course everyone else’s traits came up with things like accuracy and thoroughness. Mine were ascetics and creativity. I can say I looked mighty frivolous in front of those scientific types (and a bit of a heads up that I might not be in the right line of work!) It can be seen as frivolous to love beautiful things but isn’t it part of our nature to create, to admire, to feel awe and pleasure when we see something lovely?

My third thought is thrift. Often lovely things come at a price, the cost to the earth of more mass produced rubbish that will be quickly discarded, the cost to the producer who is paid a pittance. Beautiful things become quickly ugly in this light. But the brilliance of reusing, thrift and charity shopping (and fairtrade, handmade, green and locally crafted!) means giving a new lease of life to unwanted items. I long to do this more and escape the now, now, now mentality with each piece having a story of its own and how it came to you rather than being a flatpack from a warehouse. I’m going to go hippy on you again but I think that resonates something into the home, a certain kind of unique appeal. If you’re still not convinced then check out this brilliant kitchen renovation over at Lulastic and the Hippyshake. Isn’t it stunning?

So that long winded blog post is coming around to the fact that I’m guiltlessly celebrating creating a home packed with mismatched but well-loved items. That I’m thinking of the people who will come there, of creating a haven of hospitality that our own lives can operate from and that can bless people that come into it. And that now I’m off to make a bird garland from and old British Birds book, oh yeah!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

An ode to chairs

When I was in Zambia I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor or on logs. This was partly because women in Zambia don't get chairs and have to sit on the floor (don't get me started about THAT) but also because chairs were in short supply while we were camping. One evening one of the leaders emerged from the van with a camp chair and offered it to me and I nearly fainted with joy. 'Oh sweet bottom support, how I missed you' I cried. He walked swiftly away.

So now that I am back home the packing for the big house move is in full swing and this also means that the search for furniture and other miscellaneous items that I just know will look amazing has reached fever pitch. The charity shops have been good to me yielding some brilliant items from ornate, sapphire glass bottles to bargain basement photo frames that have been painted and filled with our holiday snaps. Ebay has also been my faithful friend and today came up with a real jem, a monks bench.

Now for those of you not in the know a monks bench is a carved, wooden indoor bench. It opens up into the base for extra storage and looks just plain fab in a kitchen with some cushions scattered across it. Ours is going to be painted light blue and I'm going to sew some cushions for it. I already have it's location perfectly planned, right next to the patio doors so friends can come sit and chat to me while I cook or on sunny days I can study at the dinning room table with the patio doors open.

Already the monks bench is a happy addition to our house in my minds eye which got me to thinking what a sound investment a good chair is (beyond that all important bottom support of course...). My last chair purchase was an olive green Parker Knoll arm chair (another ebay find) True it wouldn't look out of place in a nursing home but my goodness I love that chair. It's so comfy and I fit into it perfectly, almost like I was made for the chair. It has wings so you can rest your head and it practically spurs me on to read good books and think important thoughts. The chair demands it!

The fact that it's old in some ways makes it even more special, as the legendary Gilmore Girl's put it when moving in to their renovated old Inn – 'It's less like it's part of our lives and more like we're part of it's life for a little while.' Gilmores, that's wisdom for you! So get yourself a good chair, one that's built to last and has never heard of mdf. You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Zambia -and as for me….

Our trip ended with a brilliant day of animal tracking where I had the opportunity to fully indulge my inner idiot crawling along the ground trying not to scare antelope (much to the amusement of the team who declared Ben and I ‘properly insane’). We then had a couple of hours alone in the game reserve. We were dropped off half a kilometre from each other, our watches removed and told the van would be back ‘at some time, later.’ After such an intense time it was really quite brilliant to have time to process and reflect before our long journey back to the UK and where better to think than in the sunshine watched some Zebra have a wander?

And what did I make of it? All those wonderful experiences, all those amazing people? I’m still processing it all now to be honest. The first thing that really struck me was how much I enjoyed leading the team with Ben. I loved seeing them grow and develop as they took on, and overcame, new challenges. It was freeing to have a focus beyond myself, to be watching and observing and cheering others on to their goals. I knew the team would be good fun but there is something really brilliant about teenagers that makes them such great company. An amazing sense of fun, to be sure, but also an openness to life, a willingness to be affected and changed.

Being back home I miss the company, the laughter over the campfire and each day being so utterly extraordinary. I was instantly fed up of TV and computers. My Blackberry is off a lot more these days. I’m craving conversation much more and finding the constant bombardment with news and social media hard to take. I keep thinking of my spot on the veranda where I sat whenever I got a minute and read a book or just took some thinking time.

I realised how infrequently I take the time to stop and just stare into space when I’m at home. There is always entertainment, a magazine to be read, a TV programme to catch up on. As one of the girls put it ‘instead of watching someone else life on TV or reading about someone else’s life on Facebook, you just actually live your own life.’ Your focus is on who you are with, on what is happening right now rather than what someone else may or may not be doing elsewhere.

But biggest of all is the imprint left by the people I met. People like Donata and Foibe. I’ve been given renewed energy and enthusiasm for the journey I’m on. At my interview for ordained ministry one of the interviewers gave a morning reflection which ended with a sentence that has really stuck with me ‘God will give you people for whom to care.’ I think all of us sitting there, offering up our futures to an unknown ending, craved that. I’m encouraged that when I had people for whom to care I felt more alive than when my only real care is myself.

The people I met were the most extraordinary example of service I’ve ever seen. Walking for miles to feed someone else, suffering hardship and taking it on with a level of determination that I’ve not seen matched anywhere else. I truly felt like I was in the presence of the spirit of God, with people who understood what it really meant to walk in the footsteps of Jesus – quite literally in Donata’s case! And all this lays down a big challenge for me. I’ve always hungered after the extraordinary and felt that life in the footsteps of Jesus has to more than a few hymns and turning up on Sundays. It always has been more than that for me but seeing faith in action in Zambia shows me that there is so much more.

At the moment I have more questions than answers. I’m working out what all of this means for my life here in the UK. In a way I’m holding on the tension of travelling between two different worlds. Holding on to the feeling of inequality, holding on to the challenge of radical service, holding on to the desire for quiet in the noise of my world. Because I don’t want to transition right back into what I was before. I want to be changed by Zambia.

Last week I read a verse from Jesus’ famous speech, The Beatitudes in Matthews Gospel. It says:

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.’

Righteousness is an old fashioned word to us today but it basically means right-ness, justice. On the last leg of the mountain climb me and a group of girls were walking together in the baking hot sun. Our water had ran out and there was no access to any more until we reached our camp three hours away. I have never been that thirsty in my life. When we finally hit the stream we were straight in there, drinking out of our hands, desperate to quench our thirst.

Thirst isn’t a comfortable thing so to thirst for righteousness is to seek it with the same desperation that we looked for water, as something you need and cannot live without. These difficulties in adjusting back to life here and these hard questions that are putting a spanner in how I usually spend my time and the norms I live with feel a bit like thirsting for something. So I’m waiting expectantly knowing that there is something more than sticking my hand in my pocket and giving a tenner that is to come from this trip.

And so that was Zambia, better, more life changing that I could ever have predicted. But I do have one prediction this time that I’m pretty confident of – that was not my last time in Africa!