Sunday, 29 December 2013

The dresses' tale

As I've mentioned before, I've been participating in Dressember, and I have worn a dress every day of this month in order to raise awareness (and money) for IJM, who work to release people from human slavery.

I've actually rather enjoyed the excuse to wear a dress every day, and I think from now on I probably will do so more - especially now that I've been given some new tights and leggings for Christmas to replace my very-worn, holey ones!

One reason why I've liked wearing my dresses is that a lot of them have a story behind them...


The bright blue one
Bought: Oxford (i think), 2007
First worn: Pacha, Ibiza... to dance the night away to on my first visit to that crazy-beautiful island, with some amazing people.  I spent most of the night in the RnB room of one of the most famous clubs in the world ( don't hate me - I was still getting my head around house music at the time!), grooving away to Trevor Nelson's tunes.
The photo isn't actually from Ibiza but from the Bridge club, Oxford... not quite as classy but still good for a boogie!



The green and brown one
Bought: Barcelona, while visiting my friend Annah, 2008
First worn: Esther and Rob's wedding, Devon.  The majority of the dresses I've bought were for weddings.  I've been to a whole lot of weddings, I'm telling you.  This one was for a friend I've known since I was 5 and a lovely summery one in a beautiful countryside setting. This dress was definitely my favourite for a long while, although it has now - after a lot of use (including a very hot dancey day at Nottinghill Carnival) and a lot of fading - been 'demoted' to beach wear :-)


The short patterned red one
Bought: The North Lanes, Brighton, 2009
First worn:  Adele and Larry's wedding, Somerset... I was one of six bridesmaids all wearing red dresses of our own choice, adorned with henna'd hands, golden scarves and glass bangles.  A Trinidadian/Jamaican/English wedding with an Indian influence, it was one of the most fun and most colourful I've been to.  It was also amazing because I'd recently graduated and all my best uni friends were there.


The black and white checked one
Bought: well - given by a friend of a friend who was getting rid of some clothes at a dinner party with friends from sixth form, Oxford, 2010
First worn: Another wedding, in York this time, of Jess and Gareth.  I've known Jess since primary school so it was extra special to celebrate their marriage.  Recently they announced they have a baby on the way, another reason to celebrate!



So yes in one way, they are just dresses - pieces of cloth.  None of them cost a lot of money.  They're all a little worn now, and all a few years old.  But they've all travelled, they've added my own splash of colour to many a wedding and party and gathering of friends.  They've danced, been dressed up and down, and each one holds a whole lot of memories which connect me to a whole lot of people and places.

So wearing them all during this Dressember month has been extra special, even if I am the only one who knows all their stories.

If you want to sponsor me - to donate to IJM, who work to release people from slavery and trafficking, you can go to this link.  I think the one I put up before went to their American page, but this one goes to the sponsorship page of some friends in Derby who are also participating (all goes to the same place).

Thanks :-)

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

This home, this Christmas

What makes this house, this time, home?

Having only spent a sprinkling of nights here in the past year and a bit.

No knowledge of the surrounding area, miles and miles away from anything familiar.

Of course, it is the faces I've known my whole life, the laps I will curl up in, the hands that will rest on my head.

It is sisters sitting around the table after dinner, telling stories and making mum laugh.

It's Dad talking to the dog, walking the dog, shouting at the dog

The dog collecting everyone's slippers and hiding them in her bed

It's sisters going off for runs, reading books, making plans

It's mum singing carols at the top of her lungs whilst baking

It is cups of tea, and coffee, and sherry, and wine...

Dad offering everyone the tea, the coffee, the sherry, the wine...

And mince pies, and cake, and soup, and cheese, and bread, and 'lemon freeze', and apple crumble, and food and food and food.

And in this home, more than any others, it's the things that fill the place, that have filled many different houses before:

The wooden hippo by the fireplace
The mug with pig on that's mine and the mug with the cow on that's my twin's but that Dad always thinks is mine
African wall-hangings and woven wastepaper bins
Furniture that belonged to grandparents
Framed photos of little girls becoming bigger girls, becoming students and graduates and wives

Walls full of memories, books full of shelves, sofas full of family.

Family. We make each other laugh, sigh, cry.  Astounded by the way we are all so similar and all so different at the same time.

And I'm thankful for them. And for this slice of home.

Just an excuse for a pic of the dog putting her cute face on!

Happy Christmas Eve, one and all :-)  I hope you are 'at home', wherever you are.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Birmingham at Christmas

Yesterday we left Cornwall for the first time in several months.  We've been looking forward to our Christmas break since well, the summer!  Living even further from family than we did in Brighton has been quite hard, especially whilst trying to settle into a new place.  So we're very happy to have a whole week up in Birmingham and Shropshire with sisters, parents and the bro-in-law.

My twin sister has lived in Birmingham for seven years and told me about the German Christmas market every year of those seven.  Finally I got to sample it yesterday, as well as having a tour of the new library which is one of the coolest buildings I've ever been in!  I was pretty excited to be in a city, and to be around lots of people - I just stood in the crazy crowds in the market with a big silly grin on my face.  I have missed this.

So hooray for libraries with amazing city views and German sausages and beer, and meeting my sister's friends, and gingerbread lattes with girls and a baby, and Christmas :-)

The new library is the big building with all the circles on
view from one of the library balconies

lots of people, lots of beer

twinny and bro-in-law
 
nom nom

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Advent: God-child

This is part of a poem by Alberto Caeiro that I read at the Advent event in the House of Prayer this evening.  We were talking about the craziness and wonder of God coming to earth in the form of a child...

In heaven everything was false, and in conflict
With flowers, trees and stones.
In heaven one must always be serious.
...He fled to the sun
And climbed down the first ray he caught.
Now he lives with me, in my village.
A child with a beautiful smile, and natural...

He taught me everything.
He taught me how to look at things.
He points out to me all one can find in flowers.
He shows me how funny stones are
When we hold them in our hand
And slowly look at them...

The New Child who lives where I live
Stretches out one hand to me
And the other to all that exists,
And thus the three of us follow whatever road is there,
Jumping, singing and laughing,
Enjoying in our common secret,
The knowledge that there is no mystery
Anywhere in the world
And that everything is worthwhile

Monday, 16 December 2013

O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree



Finally feel like there's a bit of time and space to start getting Christmassy, having got through a week of being ill followed by a week of catching-up-on-all-the-work-i-missed while being ill!  So far getting Christmassy has actually just meant tidying and cleaning the house and wrapping presents - which might not sound like much to you, but as neither of them are my strong points, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself!  We've also bought a Christmas tree. It's the first one that I've ever bought for myself (ourselves), having always lived in other people's houses.  And - as I nearly always spend Christmas with parents and sisters, I've always relied on them for the tree and decorations part.  We are going away for a week over Christmas, but have some family coming down for New Year, and... needed somewhere to put the presents... so we bought a tiny one.  And I love it!  It's funny isn't it, how a little tree and some fairy lights can bring so much joy.

It's easy to get cynical about Christmas.  I do think it's way over-commercialized and becomes very materialistic.  Lots of people get into debt unnecessarily.  Waaaay too many supermarket adverts on TV.  But you know what, it's also good to celebrate.  All cultures have their festivals, because I think we all need a break from the norm from time to time.  We need things to look forwards to and a reason to gather, to rest and to appreciate.  A lot of traditions seem a bit random and silly - like mince pies, carol singing, and bringing live, pine-shedding trees into our houses.  So we could just discard them all.  But they also bring us together.  They bind us and remind us.  And they declare something.

Yesterday at the church we went to, the pastor talked about the history of Christmas, and how it became 'blended' with older festivals that celebrated nature, fertility and life.  And as someone who believes in a God that created the earth and joined us on the earth in human form to show us LIFE to the full, I'd say YES!  Let's join in those ancient traditions and celebrate those things.

It might seem really obvious to everyone else, but I'd never thought of the reason for having a tree as being to celebrate LIFE.  And the fairies LIGHT up the room.  And mulled wine smells of MYSTERY.  And (some) decorations spell BEAUTY.

This year has not been easy.  I'm not going to lie.  But it doesn't mean it has to finish on a low note.  There is still so much to be thankful for.  There is an awful lot of good around us. So today I make the decision to lift my head and to live, to really live.  Even as I am still figuring out what that means.  Even as the path ahead doesn't seem to clear right now.  Today I will live, not just survive.  And tomorrow I hope to do the same.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Life to the Full

I have come that they may have life, 
and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

light and colour in the House of Prayer

Yesterday at the 'Advent Event' we focused on The Life.  I enjoyed draping the House of Prayer with colourful Saris and I also brought in flowers, photos, candles and bread and wine.

It was good to take a moment out of what was, to be honest, a pretty stressful day. I was crying when hubby left for work and crying when he returned (poor guy!).  Don't worry - I didn't spend the whole day crying, but had just had enough of items being undelivered, frustrating customer service phone calls, and additional unexpected 'money worries'. SIGH.

So I needed to be reminded that life is about more than work and deadlines and benefits and bills.  Needed to be reminded that 'life to the full' isn't necessarily about having fun and being happy all the time.  That this LIFE is about something deeper, about not being defined by circumstances, or emotions.  That this Life is a gift in the first place..

It's way too easy to get caught up in what the TV/adverts/corporations/internet/culture says about our purpose and meaning - which is generally about having more and achieving more... leaving me, for one, often feeling discontent with what I have and who I am right now.  I'd like to step aside from all that and be. Be thankful. Be hopeful. And recognise that I AM full of life, and let it flow over...  This is something to ponder more on over Christmas, for sure.

Apologies that this is a bit fragmented - just mirroring the current state of my brain!

Thoughts of life led on to thoughts of joy, and I read this last night too:

"With God there is joy, and from him it comes down and seizes spirit, soul and body. And where this joy has seized a person, it reaches around itself, it pulls others along, it bursts through closed doors. There is a kind of joy that knows nothing at all of the pain, distress, and anxiety of the heart. But it cannot last; it can only numb for a time. The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the distress of the cross; therefore it is invincible and irrefutable" - Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Monday, 9 December 2013

Sunrise

Sunrise this morning from my living room!


Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
    God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
    those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
    down the path of peace

Luke 1:79 (The Message)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Advent, Quakers and World-Changers

"Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openess to the Holy Spirit?  All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength.  Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life.  Do you encourage in yourself and others a habit of dependence on God's guidance for each day?  Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God".

(Advices and Queries #3)

This morning I returned to the Quaker meeting in Penzance, to carry on with the whole 'stillness' thing.  I knew a little bit more what to expect after my last visit.  There were less people there and the room was freezing but everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

I spent the time reading some of the Advices and Queries (as above) and also the beginning of Luke.  I love reading about John the Baptist, and Advent is about the coming of Jesus into the world, but today I was more struck by the stories of those that ushered in those two amazing men: John's parent's - Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph.  It's so easy to skim over texts so familiar and often read.  Today I tried to imagine just how it must have been... especially for Elizabeth and Mary.  Two normal, good-hearted women, going about life, unlikely to be expecting anything out of the ordinary.  And then, in an instant, the visit of an angel, and everything changed.  Two miraculous pregnancies shook their world and their sons changed it.  It's pretty hard to imagine, really, but I reckon I'll be pondering on it more.

Not many people spoke during the one hour of quiet, but what was said focused on the death of Nelson Mandela this week, and stories were shared of joining in anti-apartheid protests, visits to South Africa, and of the minute's applause at the Penzance rugby ground on Friday night.  Here was another man who had a tremendous impact on countless individuals around the world, and on the destiny of an entire nation. It's incredible, really. I know he was not perfect, but none of us are, and he never pretended to be.  Which makes me respect him more.

May we not forget the lessons learned.  May we learn something from these faithful men and women who lived both ordinary and extraordinary lives.  Who spoke up for the oppressed and called for change.

Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Slowing down (in a snotty kind of way)

On Sunday I talked about slowing down.  And then that night I got sick, and am still recovering. 

Ironic?

 I've hardly been able to do any of the work I planned to do this week and instead have spent a lot of time under blankets watching the screen with snotty tissues scattered around.  Pretty frustrating -  but I have learned that 'Bridesmaids' wasn't as funny as I thought it would be, 'Kings of Summer' is a lovely film, and that being ill destroyed my intentions of stopping watching 'Made in Chelsea'. Doh. 

I'm also learning that sometimes you have to tell people you can't do something, and that it usually isn't the end of the world, and that most things can wait.

Anywaaays, hubby has been wonderful as ever (he even wiped my brow with a warm flannel, which I don't remember anyone doing before!! i'm sure my mum did once upon a time...).  He's been poorly too though, so we've mainly been giving each other weak pats on the head, making a lot of lemsip/supermarketcheapbrandofsimilarproduct and taking turns sleeping in the living room to give the other person a good sleep. Fun times in our house, as you can imagine... feel sorry for bro-in-law, who's so far managed to avoid the lurgy!

Despite feeling rather sh*tty, I HAVE worn a dress everyday, even if just for a few hours between the baggy t-shirts and tracksuit bottoms.  And I'm quite enjoying getting out the pretty flowery ones I usually reserve for weddings and wearing them under my work shirt to waitress in!  (this photo is before I got ill, and left my makeup bag at a friend's... after that I didn't include my face in the photos!) 


I also did manage to put on the Advent Event I'd planned last night and I really enjoyed it.  A few people came and we spent a quiet hour in the House of Prayer with candles, silence, John chapter 1, Gungor, and prayers.  

This is one of the ones I used, from Ray Simpson's book of Celtic Prayers:

We wait in the darkness, expectantly, longingly.
Come, O God Most High
In the darkness we can see the splendour of the universe – blankets of stars,
The solitary glowing of the planets.
Come O God Most High
In the darkness of the womb mortals are nurtured
And the Christ-child was made ready for the journey into light
Come O God Most High
In the darkness the wise three found the star
That led them to you
Come, O God Most High
In the darkness of dreams you spoke to Joseph and the wise ones and you speak still to us
Come, O God Most High
In the darkness of despair and distress we watch for a sign of hope from the Light of Lights.

Come, O God Most High

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Hello December... and Dressember!

Hello December.

November has been super hectic, and hopefully I will actually follow through on intentions to slow down a little a reflect upon Advent this month.

I fear that worries about money, and being 'useful', and of dark thoughts that might creep in should I be still for too long, have kept me rushing about in recent weeks. Hence no blog posts, barely any journal writing, no new poems, and a fair bit of stress.

At the same time, I am enjoying the jobs I have at the moment, which is a privilege, and a lot of the things I've been busy doing have been worthwhile. I think. It's about balance again, isn't it? And our motivation behind it all.  About finding peace in the midst of movement.  I think perhaps that's been the problem... losing my grip on peace. And forgetting that it's not all about me and what I achieve, or believe that I achieve.

With three weeks until we head north for Christmas with the family (I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!), and rather a lot to 'get done' before then, I don't know how still I'm going to manage to be, but here's to trying.  I am putting on three reflective evenings at the House of Prayer and I'm looking forward to them.  Even if no one else comes, I know it's important for me to start following through more on ideas that I have.

On that note, here's another idea that I'm following through on:


DRESSEMBER

What's that? I hear you ask... Well you've all heard of Movember, and seen the varied hairy experiments on many a man's face, and should know that its aim is to raise awareness of prostate cancer...

Well, Dressember follows a similar idea.  Women all over the world are committing to wearing a dress everyday of December in order to celebrate beauty and femininity (before you cringe too much, these are ideals that I often struggle with, so sure there'll be some ponderings on their meanings coming up soon!) and to raise support for International Justice Mission (IJM).  IJM is a human rights organisation that rescues victims of slavery, sexual violence and other forms of oppression.

So, thanks to the encouragement of a friend, I've decided to sign up and commit to wear only dresses this month.  If you know me, you'll know i'm not a particularly dress-y person, although I do like them.  So this will be an interesting challenge.


What would be amazing is if you sponsored me, which means donating to IJM.  I will be taking a photo each day to prove I'm following through on my commitment, and probably posting them up here every few days.

(The photo above is actually from last night, before a 3 Daft Monkeys gig, but that's another story!)