Saturday, April 27, 2013

It Runs in the Family

By Belinda

It's officially a family affliction, this sentimental attachment to photos!

I have had so many creative suggestions in the comment section on how to "have my cake and eat it too," i.e. a clutterless house, and yet have a way to display photos of the people in my life.

My Dutch cousin Deb, who lives in Alicante, Spain; wrote that she solved her need to have photos of her dear ones on display, by using a clear plastic curtain with pockets into which she slotted her photos (that's a photo she sent me above.) She explained:
"It is like a curtain with holes in it on top and probably to put cd's in but for me it was the photo curtain I had in the entrance-hall in the former flat......I have to find a new place for it here."
Cindy, a blog friend, suggested putting the fridge photos into an album which would be on top of the fridge for people to browse through. This was getting warm, but still dangerously like clutter to me in my zeal to finally be free of it. :)

She didn't give up that easily but came back with the winning idea: she suggested scanning all of the photos and putting them into a digital photo frame, which can be on display right where people expect to see their photos. They can stand and gaze at it, as they once did at the photos on the fridge.

The spectacular thing is that I already had a digital photo frame; a gift from my dear friend Susan, several Christmases ago. This is my funny confession: it was still in the box! It's funny because my poor brother Rob has been teased by me about his printer being still in the box, and the potential for the laptop to also remain there for some time--once he buys one. Some things truly do run in the family. :)

Thank you for enjoying the fun of solving the problem. I didn't expect so much help, but I am glad for it because I am now able to say:

Guilt Free in Bond Head--that's me!

The Message of the Many Balls

By Belinda

It was one of those holy moments. We were praying as a work group at the start of our team meeting. One of our managers prayed for God's help with the many duties we juggle and she used the words, "the balls we need to keep in the air." And I saw this picture:

A figure stood facing me but I could not see who from the neck up. Around the person, on the ground, were scattered balls. 

Jesus was there too, facing the person. He bent down, and picked up a ball, a blue one. He gently placed it in the person's hands, in a most loving and intimate way. This was the ball the person was to carry and focus on in that moment. And he was the one who knew which one it should be.

It was simple, profound, and filled my heart with peace and my eyes with tears as I shared it moments later with the team.

Matthew 11:28-30

The Message (MSG)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Guilt Ridden

By Belinda

There are times in life to think through potential transitions and Paul and I did some of that recently. 

Brenda, Kevin and the girls will be moving out this summer as both girls will be in high school in another town, so we thought for a while about selling our beloved home of 25 years and moving ourselves.

Our daughter-in-law Sue, who with Pete and their four children, recently went through the major life disruption of a move herself and is therefore a bit of an expert on selling a house; told us that clutter; i.e. anything that makes a home a home; has to go. Oh, yes, and family photos too; anything that is personal, the theory being that potential buyers should be able to imagine their family in your home without being distracted by evidence of the family who still lives there.

We thought and prayed a lot, and weighed the pros and cons. In the end we decided to stay here, and once we made that decision our hearts heaved a sigh of relief and we felt at peace.

We decided to spruce up the home we love and keep decluttering though, which means I'm living in a mess at the moment as "sprucing up" means it gets worse before it gets better. And I must have an awful lot of clutter because no matter how much I give away I keep finding more.

But what I want to confess is a dastardly deed that I am guilt ridden about. It's my fridge. I've---taken---all---the---photos---off it.

It just about killed me to do it. That fridge held a massive collection of photos lovingly held in place by magnets, somewhat like a crazy quilt of smiling faces. Visitors often stood in front of our fridge and gazed at the collection of photos as though they were contemplating a great painting in an art gallery. There was an engagement  photo of Paul and me; photos of Mum and her brothers and sisters; several wedding photos; baby photos of friends' children and grandchildren; photos that people sent with their Christmas letters; grandchildren's school photos--you get the picture(s) (ha ha!) 

I suddenly decided in a decluttering frenzy one night this week that I was taking them down, because anyway, many of the photos were curling at the edges and some were so old that when teenage friends came to visit they would exclaim at their old school photos on my fridge ("Look at those glasses I used to wear!") But secretly, I think they liked finding them there.

I imagined a clean, decluttered fridge and went for it. But I was unprepared for the guilt. Every photo I took down felt like tearing out part of my heart. I felt like the biggest traitor. I felt so mean.

Even Paul, the fan of clean and uncluttered living, said, when he saw the expanse of bare whiteness, "You could have left a few of them up there you know; just not all of them!"

Now I am waiting with apprehension, for regular guests at our house to see that their photos aren't adorning our fridge anymore. Will they be hurt? Insulted? Will they despise me for heartlessly prioritizing tidyness over sentiment?

I'm gradually getting used to the blank fridge but I miss the photos and momentarily expect to see the familiar faces when I look in its direction. 

Guilt Ridden in Bond Head--that's me.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Deep Joys and Intense Pleasures

By Belinda,

I find myself now and again, in the middle of moments of deep joy and intense pleasure--both slightly different things, but they go together well. When I notice one, I always consciously and simply enjoy it fully and completely.

I had several of these moments while in England. Some may seem ordinary things to excite joy, but that to me is the best thing about them.

1) Engaging others in the surprising of Rob, multiplied the excitement factor. I really did imagine a host of people behind my shoulder shouting "surprise!" with me. :)
2) Enlisting the support of my 26 year old nephew, John, in carrying out the plan. He picked me up at the airport and together we came up with the best way of making it happen. Sharing this with him was very special.
3) Cooking a home made macaroni cheese, for Rob, twice. There is something so intensely satisfying and gratifying about chopping and measuring, stirring and grating, until it all comes together and something made of basic ingredients turns into something comforting and more delicious than anything you could buy ready made.
4) Enjoying a meal that I didn't cook. On Fridays Rob's 19 year old son Tim, comes to have dinner with him. When he was younger he would come and sleep over that night on a mattress on the floor but now he comes for dinner before going out with his friends. Rob always cooks his favourite meal: grilled gammon bacon, mashed potatoes, boiled carrots and gravy. How delicious it was to smell the bacon grilling! When Rob brought in my dinner on a tray, I ate it slowly, enjoying every bite.
5) Hosting visits of friends with Rob; creating a space of hospitality. I love doing that naturally, but it was a pleasure to do that for and with him.
6) Getting together in a coffee shop with Paul's mum and other family who also happened to be in England for a visit at a time that overlapped with my visit, and capturing in photographs some of the essence of who she is as she engaged in conversation with old friends who gathered to see her. She is a very special person, much beloved of many, including me. 

7) Finishing a book I was reading and when looking for one to replace it, finding a new and beautiful hard cover edition of one of my favourite classic books, Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. This edition contains additional notes. It is a book that can be read over and over, always yielding something of worth to the reader. Frankl's powerful message is that man always has choices to make, even in the most desperate situations. Having long hours to just read was a great luxury and pleasure, and made all the better by having such a treasure to read again.

I am grateful for the gifts upon gifts and joys upon joys: Relationship, receiving, recording and reading--abundant blessings indeed.

A One Minute Sermon

By Belinda

One of my coworkers, Diana, sent me a link to this one minute and thirty nice seconds sermon. It left me breathless listening to it, but this lady says everything that needs to be said in the space of that time!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


By Belinda

I arrived home to the fair land of Canada late yesterday and so glad to have email that feels as though it is working at the speed of light--which it probably is! I will continue to be grateful whenever I think back to the chug, chug, chu-u-g--stop! of the internet over the past two weeks. :)

I thought that I would write and journal regularly while I was away, but here I am already home and only two journal entries and three blog posts to show for an entire vacation. That seems almost scandalous.

But apart from the time I wasted trying to connect to the uncooperative net, what this meant was that I was investing time in other things that I might not have done so well if I had been writing. Instead, I was being with, or doing things with, the people who were my whole purpose in being in England.

I am always struck by the irony of having judged people who spend so much time recording their lives on i phones or other recording devices that they aren't actually "engaged in" the lives they are recording. On Christmas morning they aren't eyeball to eyeball with their children or grandchildren, but viewing the scene through a camera or video recorder. And what is a writer doing if not the very same thing if they aren't careful?

As a bit of an introvert I find it easy and comfortable to hide behind a camera lens or a note pad! The slow internet and close quarters in Rob's flat, gave me little opportunity for that and so I relaxed and didn't hide. 

Rob expressed over and over how much the surprise of my visit meant to him. He said, "Nobody has ever done anything like this for me Belinda." When I heard that I knew that my mission had been accomplished; he knew that he was loved very much.

There are memories stored that I will reflect on and write about as time allows and as God leads, but tonight I couldn't go to bed without touching base to say say thank you for joining the adventure and making the joy greater by sharing it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Profitable Pause

By Belinda

A brief change of topic from Alvechurch Chronicles, to something I've been thinking about; an audio book I listened to a while ago: Scream Free Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up, and Getting Closer, by Hal Runkel.

I loved the book, and it has added lasting value to all of my relationships--so I have to share.

One of the stories in the book is about a couple whose stressful circumstances bubbled over into tension in their relationship. The half of the couple that was typically the most outspoken and aggressive, said, at a moment that was explosive, “Let’s be careful.” He was really saying, “We have something we care about that is of value; let’s press “pause.”

Now, it’s amazing how often I hear those words in my head; “Let’s be careful;”, at moments when I am on the verge of offense or defensiveness. Pressing “pause” and calming down gives you a gift: a chance for perspective to shift—and it’s amazing how it does. Having had years of saying things in the heat of the moment that I wished I could take back, pressing pause is so much better. There is always another point of view, but in the moment of heat, we only see our own.

Proverbs 10:19
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. 

Friday, April 12, 2013


By Belinda

It was a chilly and drizzly day yesterday, but in spite of the sad weather, Rob and I went out with his friends and neighbours, Derek and Shirley, to the Jinney Ring Craft Centre, not too far from Alvechurch, where artisans making violins; handmade soaps; rag rugs; candles; stained glass; blown glass; woodwork and pottery; make and sell their wares.

We looked at the beautifully crafted items and sniffed the air scented with the candles and soaps, but it wasn't long before shivering in the damp air, we succumbed to the comforting warmth of the tea room and viewed our surroundings from the windows while enjoying a hot drink and a freshly baked treat. I chose a slice of Victoria Sandwich Cake--and I knew that Paul's mouth would be watering if he only knew! :) The others enjoyed their own guilty pleasures.

As I gazed past the pond outside the window, around which all sorts of interesting breeds of ducks were scattered, I noticed through the haze, the profile of a church, high on a hill. I took the photo below from the tea room, but then, since we were passing so close to it on the way home, Derek drove us up the steep hill that the church is built on, to have a look.

Shirley stayed warmly in the car, but Derek, Rob and I braved the cold, and the freezing wind that blew without any shelter over what seemed like a bleak and lonely graveyard. Of course, in sunshine and warmth it would have looked entirely different and much more inviting.

It was clear that Hanbury church was ancient, but in one of my all too brief and few moments when the internet connection was working well, if slowly, I discovered that for sure there has been Christian worship on that hill since 660 A.D., as it is mentioned as a "minster" in a charter, according to Wikipedia. However, it is believed that there may have been a church there since the year 400. Here are some photos; the view would have been amazing on a clear day, as you can see here.

We were glad to be back in the warmth of the car and on the way home, where I made Rob and I a delicious supper of the ultimate comfort food: macaroni cheese topped by tomatoes and crispy buttered breadcrumbs.

Brave daffodils, usually they are in bloom in March here!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Journey Here

By Belinda

A little about my journey to get here--out of sequence, but I had to get down to the most important business, earlier. :)

...In C34, the boarding lounge for KLM flight 692 on Friday evening, I connected as quickly as I could, to the free internet at Lester B. Pearson Airport, Toronto--to check Face Book. A message waited there from my nephew John, and he had given me his cell phone number to call him in case of any problems. Just then, as I searched my handbag for a pen, I heard my row being called for boarding. Usually I stock up with many pens but in my last minute rush, changing over to traveling bags, I hadn't packed even one!

I broke into the airport anonymity of the man across from me to beg a pen from him and scribble John's number into my moleskin journal, handing it back with ridiculous gratitude for this essential implement, afterwards.

I turned off my laptop and gathered up my carry on luggage to board the plane, bent on securing another pen as soon as possible. Such a silly and small thing to forget, but without one I felt lost. A writer needs a pen!

As I stow my luggage in the overhead baggage compartment, a flight attendant in KLM blue, a little older of vintage, but classically beautiful, with glamorously made up eyes; smiled a welcome at me. I'm afraid I pounced on her with my need. "Is there any way of getting a pen?" I asked.

She nodded and said, in English with a slight accent, "I will bring you one in a few minutes."

As she vanished into the crowds of busily boarding passengers, I wondered if she would remember, but she returned a few minutes later and handed me blue ballpoint pen. I took it from her hands as though it was a most precious gift, feeling that now, all was right in my world!

I found myself wondering if Rob had any idea and how he would react when he saw me. I could hardly wait to see John in the morning and felt a little guilty at how much pleasure I was experiencing at Rob's birthday surprise. I thought of how many people were "with me" on this adventure, and how they too, would be shouting, "Surprise!" at Rob, my somewhat reclusive brother, in the morning. He would much rather have "virtual" party guests than real ones. It was all perfect.

I imagined him sleeping during the early hours of his birthday, with Bruce snuggled in his own bed under the shelf, where he feels secure, in Rob's storage cupboard, covered by the colourful blanket crocheted by his elderly neighbour, Olive.

Six and a half hours after take off, we descended into Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, where I had just over an hour before boarding a City Hopper to Birmingham. I chose Amsterdam for the city to catch my connecting flight because I love the airport and love even a brief time in the culture that that half of my genes come from. 

Schiphol is the most colourful airport and distinctively Dutch. Today, hooray, I managed to upload some of the photos I took there. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

1953--A Year to Celebrate Much!

By Belinda

Rob’s surprise on Saturday was not the only plot being hatched.

Mum’s dear friend of 64 years, Aunty May, and her husband Uncle Tommy; were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary the weekend just before Rob’s 60th birthday and had come down from their home in South Shields, near Newcastle; to stay with their daughter Diane, in Bidford on Avon, just half an hour from Alvechurch, where her other daughter Trudy and her partner Richard would join them for their special celebrations. They all knew that I was coming, but Aunty May and Uncle Tommy didn’t know that their son, Paul, was flying in from Mexico to surprise them. I had to be careful not to mention that to Aunty May, while they were being careful not to mention my coming to Rob!

Knowing that I was coming over, Aunty May and Uncle Tommy delayed their return home long enough to see me, and we planned that Rob and I would visit Diane’s on Sunday the 7th of April. Rob had visited them the previous weekend when their son Paul was there; a wonderful opportunity to connect, as they are also friends of 57 years standing, in this family of double generation friendships.

So on Sunday morning, all secrets out at last, Rob and I drove through the spring countryside, through sleepy villages, and past stately homes, to visit our friends--our Family of the Heart.

Since last year when we met up with them in Warwick, Diane had moved into a new house. I had a tour and pronounced it just beautiful. We had taken the old family photos that I had sent to Rob, to show them, and we passed them around,  telling stories and sharing memories.

Then we toasted Aunty May and Uncle Tommy with champagne, and had a delicious lunch of salads, fruit, rolls, ham and hard boiled eggs in the conservatory, followed by a piece of the beautifully decorated dark fruit anniversary cake.

What a special day it was of strengthening ties that bind us together.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Mission Accomplished!

By Belinda

I only just managed to get hooked up to a very sloooow internet connection. My apologies to all who have emailed and whom I have not yet answered. I keep losing what connection I am able to pick up. But here goes! I will post again about my journey later, but I'm going to start by getting right to the news I know you are waiting to hear--how Saturday morning unfolded!

The KLM City Hopper, from Amsterdam, where I had landed earlier that morning, began its descent into Birmingham airport right on time, at 8.40 a.m.

Down below a patchwork of green fields, and farms surrounded the airport, and cars and trucks that looked like toys, ran along the country roads in the spring morning sunshine.

The airport still seemed Saturday morning quiet, as we sleepy passengers made our way to passport control. 

When it was my turn to approach the friendly looking middle aged female official and show my passport, I couldn't help myself when she asked, "Are you here on business or is this a personal visit?" I answered, "Personal--I'm surprising my brother on his 60th birthday--today--and I'm hoping he has no idea!" A classic case of "too much information," but there was no stopping myself.

The passport official-turned co-conspirator, while stamping my passport, said with a smile, "I hope it all works out for you."

My lime green suitcase plopped onto the baggage carousel just as I walked up to it and in no time I was walking out into the arrivals lounge, looking across the crowds for my nephew.

He had spotted me and was waving. and as we hugged I asked, "Does he know? Do you think he has any idea?"

John shook his head, laughing, "I don't think so!"

He said that Rob was planning to leave for Sainsbury's at 10.00, to do some shopping for a visit from our friends Chris and Eileen that afternoon. We checked the time and thought we might just catch him before he left. 

As we drove through the rolling hills and hedge lined fields that meant we were getting closer to Alvechurch, we hatched our plan.

We stopped the car at 9.45, just outside John's mum's house, along the Birmingham Road, and he called his dad on his cell phone. I could hear Rob's deep voice answering. 

"Hi Dad, happy birthday, he said. "I'm at my mum's; could I come over and see you for a minute?"

"Oh, yes," I heard Rob say--so far, so good.

John dropped me off in the little parking lot behind the Red Lion, and he went on alone to Rob's flat, where he would leave Rob's front door on the latch so that I could catch up on foot and quietly enter a few minutes after he had gone upstairs.

Exciting? You bet! When I came to his front door, on which there was a banner saying "Happy Birthday!" I could hardly stand it. I wondered if Bruce would bark, picking up the slightest sound as I crept upstairs, but he didn't. I could hear Rob talking to John about his plans for the day as I poked my head around the corner of his living room.

For a split second he thought I was Claire, John's girlfriend, and he began to say "Hello," but then as I shouted out, "Surprise! Happy birthday!" he realized it was me, and his mind could not catch up with what he was seeing. He could not believe that I was there! He had only spoken to me on Wednesday, about the photographs that had arrived, and he says that he thought, "How can she be here?" It was a classic and perfect surprise. 

I asked if it would be all right if I stayed for two weeks, and was relieved when he said, "You're here for two weeks Belinda? How lovely!"

Down in my suitcase that was still in the trunk of John's car, all the friends I'd brought along with me were cheering. I could feel it!!

John went down to get the cases and I said to Rob, "I'll come with you to Sainsbury's," and minutes later we were on our way to buy treats for the afternoon.

When we got back, I unpacked, and gave Bruce a Kong pull toy that Susan had sent for him--along with the elk antler. :) 

Bruce appreciated both gifts very much although he made the  pull toy into a chew toy and spent the next hour biting it into little pieces which I picked up every few minutes.

At 12.30 Chris and Eileen arrived, and we went to the Tudor Rose Fish Bar to buy lunch.

In the evening, after a wonderful afternoon with Chris and Eileen, John came back, this time with Claire, and we celebrated with birthday cake. It was the most perfect day and a perfectly wonderful surprise. It could not have been better. Thank you for being with me in this adventure. Rob knows how much he is loved--mission accomplished!

Tim, Rob and Chris.

Yours truly with Eileen.

And below, Claire!
The reason for it all!