Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Everything on the allotment seems to have been slow starting this year, perhaps because we haven't really had a proper warm spell so far.
But finally things are taking off, and that means one thing: I have to make space in the freezer.

It's a good chance to rummage around in the bottom of the freezer, looking for the leftover fruit from last year.

I found approximately 2lbs of currants and 1lbs of blackberries. Enough for a small batch of jelly.

Making jelly is a fairly easy process.

  1. Wash the fruit, then just cover with water. 
  2. Bring to boil and let simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.
  3. After letting the fruit cool, pour the mixture into a large muslin cloth and hang up to let the liquid drip out. I like to hang mine from a broom handle laid across the back of a chair and the kitchen table. Let it hang for at least 4 hours, better still over night. Do not squeeze unless you don't mind your jelly being cloudy.
  4. Measure the liquid and add 1 lb (450g) of sugar per pint (550ml) of liquid. Jams and jellies need pectin to set. Some fruits, such as plums, currants and apples are high in natural pectin. Rhubarb and soft fruit such as raspberries and strawberries need to have pectin added. It can be added in liquid form, powder or already added to the sugar. If unsure you can test the pectin content with the methylated spirit test. Hubby likes this because it's sciencey. ;)
  5. Sterilise the jam jars. You can estimate to need twice as many jars as you had pints of liquid. I.e. I had 3 pints of liquid and used just over 6 jars. I tend to reuse old lb jam or honey jars with metal lids. I sterilise the jars by washing them well and putting them in the oven on a low heat. I sterilise the jar lids by simmering them in water. But if you prefer you can use waxed discs and cellophane covers instead. 
  6. Return liquid and sugar to the boil and let boil rapidly, stirring constantly. 
  7. After 10 or 15 minutes you can start testing if the jelly is ready to set. I use the wrinkle test. Put a small amount of the liquid on a plate and put in the fridge for a few minutes until cold. Then gently push it with your fingertip. If it wrinkles up it is ready to set.
    You can also look for the jelly starting to set along the side of the sauce or the spoon. 
  8. Carefully pour the hot jelly into the sterilised jars and seal with lids or cellophane covers. 
The jelly will keep for at least a year in a cool storage place.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What weeds are teaching me. A gardener's tale

Dandelion season is upon us. The first flush of dandelions appearing in fields and on verges is a cheerful sight ... but on my allotment they are a pernicious weed.
Difficult to get rid of too. If you try to mow them down, the cut flowers will still produce seeds ...

So today I spent 2 hours picking hundreds, no thousands, of dandelion heads. Painstakingly. Tedious, tedious work. And it got me thinking.

I am someone who easily lets negative thoughts run away with her. Somehow "being prepared for the worst" turns into ruminating about every possible thing that could possibly go wrong at every possible moment.

So picking dandelion heads became a metaphor for dealing with negative thoughts.
Rather than worry about the many hundred dandelions which were still there, I tried to remind myself that every single dandelion I had picked was one which would not go to seed and produce more dandelions.

Now, for dandelion read negative thought.
Every negative thought which I manage to nip in the bud and stop from growing bigger and stronger is one less negative thought I will ruminate over and allow to occupy my thinking.
It requires constant vigilance and awareness - recognising the emerging thought and putting a stop to it.
By distracting yourself from it; by thinking about something positive; by finding constructive solutions ... whatever it is that works best.

By the time I had finished, the plot looked like this. Not a cheery yellow in sight!
Now, I know fine well that next week, or even tomorrow, some dandelions will be back.
But there will be fewer of them!
And over time the first flush of them will ease and their emergence will reduce.

In the same way, negative thoughts will lessen, if you keep on top of them.
Don't get me wrong, there will be times and seasons when you will be more susceptible to negative thinking. Because of your frame of mind at the time or because of circumstances or because of other factors.
Negative thoughts will sneak up on you, and sometimes you will find it easier to deal with them than others.

Don't beat yourself up about it. Keep plucking.
The more you weed, the more you can grow the pretty things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

So it is Earth Day today.
Like all special days it leaves me thinking that one day per year really doesn't get us anywhere.

Let us learn to appreciate this beautiful world we live in, learn about its amazing diversity and interconnectedness.

Let us understand that we are not detached from this planet, but a part of it.

And that it is our duty to care for it.

Let us tread lightly! Every day.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Non-dualism and social media

Once in a while I love to take time out from the daily grind to make time to go within myself, ponder, search and see what I can find. For me, Lent, Ramadan and Advent offer convenient opportunities to do just that.

This year I took Holy Week off. I had some annual leave remaining, which needed to be taken before the end of March, and the last week before Easter seemed a good time for some soul-searching.
And while I was in the mood, I decided to take some time off from social media too - one of my greatest distractions.

It so happened that during this week I met two men who had quite an influence on me, and who might just turn out to nudge me into a new direction.

The first one was Judas Ischariot.
I had agreed to take part in a reflective church service on Monday evening, one in which each of us read/played the part of one of the six characters from Stephen Cottrell's book 'The Nail' - Peter, the Centurion, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas and Mary Magdalen.

As soon as I read the parts, I knew Judas was for me. I loved Cottrell's Judas. He was a man of conviction, a man with political hopes and dreams. He wanted the best for his people - freedom from the Roman occupation and from oppressive religious leaders. He wanted political change and his frustration grew when Jesus, the man he believed had what it took to bring that political change, did not live up to his expectations.
Judas, who was so sure that his way was the right one that he took drastic action in the desire to make it happen.

"It is not more love this world needs, but change, leadership, action!" is what he said.

Judas reminded me of some zealous political activists I have met over the last year or so, some who are convinced that the end justifies the means - no matter how drastic.
Judas also reminded me of myself, when I am blinkered and unable to see the other side, take the wider view or stand in the shoes of the other.
I loved Judas. So human, so misguided, so unable to see beyond his own small mind. So much like all of us!
Playing Judas made me cry, and it made others cry too.

Life is complicated and I think it is in our human nature to try and simplify it by taking a black-and-white approach. Much easier to see things as black or white; right or wrong; good or bad - definitely much easier than delving into the intricacies and complications of the finer details and underlying factors.
I'm not usually a very black-and-white kind of person. My world tends to be in shades of grey (perhaps even more than 50) ... although I sometimes secretly envy the black-and-white types, because I think their lives must be easier and less complicated.

But I am reminded that when I step away from the right-or-wrong thinking, I almost inevitably learn new things and gain new insights.
For example, any hardened views I might have had about issues like sexuality, abortion or assisted suicide were impossible to sustain and either crumbled completely or at least softened, when I allowed myself to see the other side, hear the stories, walk in the footsteps of another.

And I like it that way!
Easy answers are often, well, just too easy. Too simplistic!
I prefer the answer being "There is no definite answer".

Cue to introduce Richard Rohr, the other man I met this week. Richard is a Franciscan monk from the US, who describes his Christian stance as "being on the edge of the inside". That's a good place to be.
From Richard I learned a name for the thing I have been feeling for a long time - non-dualism.

Social media in particular is full of dualistic thinking. And it's so easy to fall into it ourselves. So easy to share that simplistic meme, because it is pithy and witty - without querying or challenging its validity and truth.
So easy to join the crowds which declare that...
... atheists are immoral.
... Muslims are terrorists.
... theists are stupid and incapable of rational thought.
... Tories are heartless selfish toffs.
... liberals are lefty pinko communists.
... men are sexist.
... feminists are lesbians.
... gays want to convert us all to homosexuality.
... Catholic priests are pedophiles.
... etc, etc...

Even as I write this list, it becomes easier and easier to go down that road of outrageous, unreasonable and spiteful statements.

Non-dualism - as I understand it so far - encourages us to take a situation, an event, a moment as it is; to consciously try to not give it a label and make a judgement - at least not straight away.
We love to compartmentalise. Are you right or wrong; good or bad; a friend or an enemy? Are you on my side or against me?
What if it is a whole lot more complicated than that?
What if you can even love Judas? Understand his motivations and desires? And empathise?

Where does all that leave me with my involvement in social media? I honestly don't know.
I know that I am tired of being exposed to angry and often hateful tweets and memes.
I know that having taken some time out has been refreshing, almost healing.
I may have to change how I use social media.
I may have to lose a whole bunch of friends and followers.

Perhaps I should be non-dualistic about this and give myself some time to consider it.

For those of you wanting to hear about Richard Rohr and have two hours spare, can listen to his interview here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

12 years a Christian

Today is an anniversary for me - 12 years since I became a committed and practising Christian. I had been raised in a Roman Catholic family, but hadn't given religion an awful lot of thought since leaving home in my late teens.
I had met a life partner, had children, bought a house, gotten married (in that order) without religion in my life.
I had probably always believed in some greater being or force, but had not given it a name.
I had dabbled with paganism (I loved nature and the seasons, still do), flirted with Hinduism (I enjoyed Yoga, still do) and set foot inside a church once in a blue moon (I liked the peace and serenity, still do).

Then, in my mid-thirties, I had a conversion experience. One evening. Alone. In my kitchen.
It was a very personal and precious moment, so I am not going to blog about that. But I want to reflect on the last 12 years.

I started going to a lively evangelical free church - 'Bible-believing', 'spirit-filled', with energetic worship and long sermons. It took a pretty literal interpretation of scripture. Creationism wasn't openly mentioned, but seemed to be covertly implied; homosexuality was frowned upon (in the 'Hate the sin, but love the sinner' kind of way); women had an inferior role to their husbands.
I was never comfortable with those things, but for a long time felt I could hold that tension and accommodate the differences.

In the end it wasn't the differences in opinion which drew me away, but the fact that having different opinions was discouraged. If one had a question, there was only one answer - that of the pastor/leadership.

I can't function like that. In fact, the worst thing you can do is to tell me what I can/cannot believe.
Atheist friends have taught me that our convictions can only be our own. We hold them, we own them and - if we are honest with ourselves - we review them regularly.

I demand for myself an immense level of freedom. The freedom to mull things over and choose for myself my very personal path.
Some call that cherry picking. I call that being true to myself! :)

I find beauty and meaning in all sorts of religious and non-religious traditions, practices and ideas.
I have found a home (for now at least) in the Church of England in a church where nobody tells me what I can and cannot do, where I am respected and appreciated as I am and where the congregation is very active in social justice and in the local community.

Has becoming a Christian made me a different person? Yes and no.
Many of my values have always been there.
Genetically determined?
Implanted during childhood?
Willed by God?
Who knows.

But I find that my faith crystallises certain values out for me and has become a permanent framework to remind me to strive to be a better person. And yes, I believe to strive to become the person God wants me to be.
Principles like forgiveness, perseverance, grace and patience are things which my faith constantly calls me to do.
To not give in to bitterness, anger and cynicism.
To hold onto hope and trust and love. To believe in a better world and our (god-given) ability to build it.

My faith has changed over the years and it will no doubt continue to change. It seems to mature and become clearer and sharper. The more questions I ask and the more difficult conversations I have, the more I understand what it is I believe and why. The more comfortable I also become in being clear and honest about the many things I don't understand.

Despite it's tricky connotations, I have always found the description 'being born again' quite accurate.
Choosing to become a Christian and essentially follow the teachings of Jesus was a fresh beginning and a commitment for me. And one I have not regretted in 12 years.
If you are one of those people who have honed and sharpened my faith, I thank you for your companionship.

Whether you are a Christian or a follower of any other faith or none, I am glad to know you.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My year on Twitter. What have atheists ever done for me?

Almost exactly a year ago, at the beginning of Lent 2014, I opened a Twitter account. I had decided to spend my Lent as a time to really listen to people, with the intention to understand, engage and connect.

When I say 'people' I meant in particular atheists. I figured that by listening to atheist strangers I might learn something about atheists closer to home, and that some conversations might be easier with strangers than with loved ones.

A year and 20.5K (!) tweets later, perhaps it's a good time to reflect and look back. And hey, a new Lent has arrived and who knows where this one will take me??

My life on Twitter turned out more varied and interesting than I had anticipated. I became political and tweeted about marching for the NHS; about the Greenbelt festival and LGBT issues; about knitting #ToriesMustGo beanies; about running; being a humanist Christian and lots more. And more importantly I made a bunch of friends and had heaps of fun!

But back to the atheists. After all, this blog is dedicated to them. :)

Having innocently joined the Twitter community I very quickly met atheists like I had never met in real life! The aggressive, militant, out-to-offend type.
I got to practice taking a deep breath, being gracious and forgiving, keeping calm and friendly A LOT!

To be honest, being offensive or aggressive isn't a problem for me. As long as people are willing to engage, sooner or later there is common ground, which friendships or at least connections can grow on. I have taken part in some pretty tough and painful conversations which have led to great friendships - once the waves had settled, the pain and anger eased ... and two people had remained, still looking at each other and eventually smiling too.

The bigger problem are the people (and not just atheists, of course!), who actually have no intention to engage; who just want to shout their message loudly and without distinction into the void.
So if you are a one-trick pony with just one message and seemingly nothing else in your life, chances are we will struggle to engage with and learn from each other.
Even then, I have learned to stop and ponder why some people might be so angered and so driven to just share that one single message.

I have learned from my time on Twitter that many atheists are...
  • ... Angered by theists who reject scientific proof if it contradicts scriptural accounts/teachings (apparently there are many of those out there); especially when those teachings lead to harmful, hateful or discriminatory behaviour (i.e.being against LGBT rights; denying climate change; being against human rights in general; discriminating against people from other faiths or none; rejecting medical treatment, especially for children etc). I am with you, my atheist friends.
  • ... Bewildered by theists who use 'religious language', which to an atheist has no meaning at best and which can sound patronising at worst. I have learned to avoid expressions such as 'I will keep you in my prayers' or 'I feel God is calling me to...'. I use this kind of language with ease when speaking to other believers, but I have learned that for many atheists it touches a nerve.
    I am finding that some atheists are curiously literal in their interpretation and find it quite hard to accept that other people take a much less literal view.
    When I say 'God is calling me to...', I don't usually mean that I have just heard a booming voice giving me instructions.
  • ... Irritated by the superior thinking of some theists that everybody who does not subscribe to religion A will be doomed to eternal hellfire and misery. And some have been treated terribly by those who call themselves religious and godly. I feel ashamed on their behalf!
  • ... Upset by a world in which suffering is a reality and even more frustrated that theists believe this world to be created a by a loving deity. This is probably the most meaningful issue for me. Especially since there has been a fair amount of discussion about this in the wake of Stephen Fry's thoughts on what he would tell God if he met him.
The issue of suffering is one we all have to grapple with, and we come to different conclusions.
I can see that simply disbelieving in God seems the easier option. Shit happens, and that's all.
Suffice to say, when I meet God the question of suffering is right on top of the agenda.

Perhaps the most difficult moment comes when atheists meet theists who don't fit into the "all-theists-are-thick,-uneducated-and-gullible" category. Sometimes I think that is the most frustrating of all.
So you question the Bible? You disagree with much it says? You don't think it is God's direct word? You think much of it is metaphorical? You think you have to read it through the lens of modern knowledge and understanding, and interpret it for yourself? You think it is your responsibility to question it?
Then why on earth do you follow it at all??!

If you atheists have taught me anything over the last year, it is to think about my faith much more and to be much clearer about what I believe and why. Frustratingly for me, that doesn't mean I can always convey these things to you. Often we seem to lack the common language and perception to be able to make each other understand. And a limit of 140 characters does not help! 

You have taught me to not assume that the path which seems so right and beautiful for me is not necessarily so for others. And that I must be careful in how I choose my words, because being hurtful and causing offense is just not something I want to do.
If I value your thoughts and feelings, then I should do my best not to hurt you in any way.

So, what now and where to next?
I don't yet know. Perhaps I am waiting for God's calling ... ;)

Here's to my atheist friends. I love you all! xx


Monday, September 15, 2014

TMI Tag - some useless information about myself

Secular Scarlet nominated me for this TMI Tag, and now I have worked out what the questions mean, there is no going back ….

1 What are you wearing?
 Fairly muddy three-quarter length trousers (not long back for the allotment) and my favourite Festival T-shirt.

2 Ever been in love?
A couple of times. Stuck with the second guy, which was a good choice.

3 Ever had a terrible break up?

4 How tall are you?
1.75m or 5’8″

5 How much do you weigh?
around 63kgs or 10stone

6 Any Tattoos?

7 Any piercings?
Yes. Had my ears pierced, when I was a teenager, but don't bother now.

8 OTP (One True Pairing)
I reckon Tony Benn and Jesus together would make this world a better place.

9 Favourite Show
Rather partial to Swedish Crime Drama

10 Favourite Bands?
Crowded House
The Beautiful South

11 Something you miss?
More tolerance in the world and willingness to co-operate and work together

12 Favourite Songs?
"Fields of Gold" Eva Cassidy
Most songs by Simon and Garfunkel

13 How old are you?
Heading for 48

14 Zodiac sign

15 Quality you look for in a partner?
Commitment, humour and tolerance

16 Favourite Quote
"Be the change you want to see in the world." (Mahatma Gandhi)

"Three things will last forever: faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)

17 Favourite Actor?
Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, Judi Dench

18 Favourite Colour?

19 Loud music or soft?

20 Where do you go when your sad?
Walking or running

21 How long does it take you to shower?
10 minutes tops

22 How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
20 minutes to be physically ready; 60 minutes to be mentally prepared

23 Ever been in a physical fight?
Not that I can remember

24 Turn on?
Honesty, sincerity and laughter

25 Turn off?
Hatred, dishonesty and cruelty

26 The reason I joined Utube?

27 Fears?
Heights and being abandoned

28 Last thing that made you cry?
Seeing thousands of people last week waiting in Red Lion Square for the marchers in the People's March for the NHS - such solidarity and support!

29 Last time you said you loved someone?

30 Meaning behind your online/Twitter name?
Madhat refers to my early Internet days, when I was into knitting and selling hats.

31 Last book you read?
Finding Sanctuary by Father Christopher Jamison

32 The book you are currently reading?
"Seeking Justice - The Radical Compassion of Jesus" by Keith Hebden
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini

Hoping to read next:
"NHS Plc - The Privatisation of our Health Care" by Allyson M. Pollock
"Harry's Last Stand - How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save it" by Harry Leslie Smith

33 The last show you watched?
Waking the Dead

34 Last person you talked to?
My son

35 The relationship between you and the person you last texted?
My daughter

36 Favourite Food?
Lamb biryani

37 Places you want to visit?
Scotland and Scandinavia

38 Last place you were?
Trafalgar Square in London

39 Do you have a crush?

40 Last time you kissed someone?
About an hour ago

41 Last time you were insulted?
Unless you count meaningless Twitter tweets from people who really don't know me at all, not for a very long time

42 Favourite flavour of sweet?

43 What instruments do you play?
Saxophone and piano (once upon a time); these days singing is my thing

44 Favourite piece of jewellery?
Wedding ring; don't really wear jewelry

45 Last sport you played?

46 Last song you sang?
"How Great Thou Art" last Sunday
Before then "Donald, Where's Your Troosers"

47 Favourite chat up line?
I don't have one.

48 Have you ever used one?
Not for 28 years, so I'm probably a bit outdated ...

49 last time you hung out with anyone?
Last week. Long walk with husband and daughter.
Before then, joining the People's March for the NHS with the greatest bunch of people! (See previous blog post)

50 Who should answer these questions next?
@SaritaAgerman @KeithHebden @beingboth
(Have tried to look for tweeps who I know also blog)