Water Lilies and More: A Visit to Monet’s Giverny

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Japanese Bridge

A while back I had the opportunity to make a summer visit to Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny, France.  My youngest had long had a fascination with the artist, so we decided to take her there for a birthday treat.

The gardens were relatively easy to find, and we were able to park easily for entry into Monet’s estate.  The water gardens, formal gardens, and house all provided a wonderful backdrop to his work, and we spent time just looking at the beauty, but also trying to find the vantage points from which some of his most famous paintings were made from.

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Water Lilies

The water gardens were my favourites, and the Japanese Bridge, and the Water Lilies were easy to find.  The weeping willows, moored boats, and flower gardens also featured, and we much enjoyed seeking them out.

The queues for Monet’s house were the busiest place, but as a whole the gardens while busy were not crowded.

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Monet’s House

The village of Giverny had a nice cafe, and we were able to have a brief snack before making our return trip to the UK.  This was a wonderful place to enjoy natural beauty, and to reflect on art history.

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Soda Bread (Classic)

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One of the most memorable foods from my childhood, both in Ireland and the US, was fresh soda bread.  This was a part of my culture, but more importantly it was something done as a family.  I remember making it with my mother, and being around when it was made by my aunts and grandmother, and it is something I continued to make with my own kids.  This is a simple bread, with little fuss, and no long lead times for rising. Buttermilk is becoming much easier to get hold of in the UK these days, but I do remember visiting my aunt in Reading a few years ago and finding she had a ready supply of whole milk soured with a spoonful of lemon juice on hand for her bread-making.

Ingredients:

  • Whole Wheat Flour 175 g
  • Plain Flour 300 g (plus some for kneading)
  • Porridge Oats handful
  • Bicarbonate (baking) Soda 1 tsp
  • Salt 1 tsp
  • Melted Butter or Oil 1 tsp
  • Honey 2 tsp
  • Buttermilk (or soured milk) 450 ml

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 C/390 F. In a large mixing bowl stir together all of the dry ingredients.  Then add the buttermilk, butter, and honey.  Mix well with a wooden spoon and then begin to knead by hand.  Add small amounts of plain flour if needed in order to form a firm but pliable ball.  Dust this with a small amount of flour and place on a flat baking sheet.  Press into a firm round loaf shape and cut 4 or 5 parallel groves into the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.  Bake 30-35 minutes (loaf sounds hollow when bottom tapped). Place on a wire rack to cool.

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Soda Bread

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Six Quotes and Reflections on Praise

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The Psalms give us the full breadth of human emotion.  The poetic words range from despair and fear to ecstatic joy.  It is not surprising therefore that they provide us with some of the most fervent calls to and examples of praise found in the scriptures.

  1. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” Psalm 100: 1-2

These calls to praise are a reminder to us that we should show excitement and appreciation about those things which we value. C. S. Lewis reflected that,

2. “The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.” 

In fact, these expressions shouldn’t be mumbled or reserved,
3. “I like to hear ‘amens’ out there from the audience. If you go to a football game and don’t yell, then the man next to you asks, ‘Don’t you like football?’ We need to let all of our neighbors know we like God and His Gospel.” Marshall Keeble

These outpourings of our love and appreciation, are reflections of the joy and happiness we experience in our relationship with God.

4. “The happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God is magnified and exalted.” Jonathan Edwards

Jesus made it clear that these expressions are proper and natural.

5. ” . . .the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’  ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’” Luke 19: 37b-40

All nature, Jesus implied, calls out to God in joy, and Calvin expanded on this by noting that all nature is also a spark and stimulus to our praises.

6. “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” John Calvin

As we regard the works of our Lord today, let us not refrain from praising Him.  Let your heart and spirit soar and your vary being exalt Him.

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What’s in It for Me?

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I read Pastor Matthew Winters’ post today on the “returns” or rewards of ministry.  It made me reflect on my early days of preaching in a small rural church in western Tennessee.  For my “labours,” I (and my family) received lunch on Sunday, $100 a week, and from time to time what was “in season” from the farms of members of the congregation.  This might have been a shopping bag full of sweet corn, or a few jars of freshly made pickles, jam, or preserves.  It was not the pathway to worldly riches, but it helped make ends meet, and it was a time of fellowship and service.  I have to say honestly that it was hard, but I was nevertheless happy.

I really do understand Paul’s words, “Woe onto me if I preach not the gospel.” I am in a vocation.  It is a calling from God. This does not mean I am in and of myself anything special.  I am “neither a prophet, not the son of a prophet.”  What I am, however, is open to God’s lead in my life.

Each person in Christ’s body is given a calling. Romans 12: 6 and following reads,

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Pastor Matthew rightly said in his blog, that the rewards of such efforts may not be seen “this side of the Jordan.” But, God knows our hearts, and our faithfulness.  Ministry (and I use the term in its true sense of “service”) is but a small measure in which we can show our thankfulness of what God has done for us.  Don’t get this wrong, Christians do not work to become “saved,” we work because we a saved.  How cool is that? The reward was not for our effort, but was a gift of His grace.

Golden taps my bathroom has none, but what I do have, I freely share (apologies for the paraphrase).  What have you been called to do?

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Orchard Meringue

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Ingredients (peach and second pear not shown)

I found this to be a great end of the week dessert, which allowed for the clearing out of the fruit bowl, before the new groceries are brought in.  It is tasty and relatively healthy as well. Of course this can also be done as a planned dessert in which exact proportions of fruit can be chosen.  The recipe below is illustrative and is in the proportions used this last week.

Ingredients:

  • Apple 1 large
  • Pears 2 ripe
  • Peach 1 medium
  • Cinnamon 1 tsp
  • Nutmeg 1/2 tsp
  • Stevia (or other sweetener) 5 tsp
  • Eggs 3 separated
  • Water 2-3 Tbs

Method:

Preheat oven to 200 C/390 F.  Peel and core the apple and pears and cut into slices, place in a 8-10 inch baking pan. Then slice peach and remove stone. Add the peach slices to the other fruit.  In a small bowl mix the spices and 2 tsp of sweetener, then pour over the fruit and mix until it is spread evenly.  Add water and cover with foil before placing in oven.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  While waiting place egg whites into a mixing bowl and whip until they begin to thicken.  Sprinkle in remaining sweetener a little at a time and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.  When baking time has elapsed remove fruit from oven and discard the foil. Reduce heat to 160 C and then spoon meringue evenly over fruit and return to the dish to oven for 15 minutes (when peaks begin to brown).

Serve in small dishes (with cream if desired).

I have used plums, apricots, and nectarines in the past as well.  Thus the “orchard” theme with virtually any tree fruit being a useful ingredient.

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Hippocratic or Hypocritic?

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I am beginning to examine the Moral Argument for the existence of God with my students.  Cardinal Newman argued that a sense of morality, or ethical certainty,  was shared by all humans.  This inner voice of conscience, he argued was the voice of God.

In route to the examination of this point, I will be taking my students on a side trip into medical ethics, in which we will examine the Hippocratic Oath and its implications.  Are the values contained within it a statement of professional conduct only, or is it a humanitarian and moral document? We will then question if the “universal” nature of the oath among physicians makes its implementation universal, or is it a relativist document in actual practice?

These questions are needed in order for us to examine our own moral compass.  Are we absolutists (an ideally Christian view in which morality is God-given), or is our ethical life subject to variables and personal opinion?

Auschwitz provides us with a case study to then examine the oath.  Dr. Gisella Perl, a Jewish gynecologist made several (what Primo Levi would call) “grey zone” decisions while incarcerated in the camp.  She conducted abortions, and risky operations without adequate equipment or supplies.  Did she fail in her oath?  Is our view in judging her absolute?  Was she being merely utilitarian, as she did abortions to save the mothers from the gas chamber?  In stark contrast to the “situation” Perl found herself, we have Dr. Josef Mengele.  Can we in the “name of science” excuse his “medical practice” in the camp?

Where did the Hippocratic Oath apply in the dark world of the camp?  Was it stretched, broken, or just ignored? If a straight forward, precisely worded document can be so treated, then what about “still small voice?”

Free moral agency is a fancy way of saying “we make our decisions.” God did not create robots. He allows humans to make mistakes.  Does this mean He doesn’t speak?  No, but it does mean we don’t have to listen.  It is here that the moral argument hinges.  Many will say the inconsistency of human action, “proves” their is no absolute voice. But is it so?  Maybe we just aren’t listening.

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“What Could Be More Natural?”: 8 Quotes on Prayer

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I recently spoke (and posted) on the topic of ceaseless prayer. Today, I am continuing on the theme by looking at what some great Christian thinkers have said on the seamless, continual place of prayer in our lives.

  1. “Prayer is not a hard requirement – it is the natural duty of a creature to its creator, the simplest homage that human need can pay to divine liberality.”  Charles Spurgeon

The act prayer and praise directed to our creator should be natural, and is the outpouring of thankfulness. This “natural” outpouring is cited in our next two quotes.

2. “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  Martin Luther

3. “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life.” Jonathan Edwards

But, if our prayer is natural, we need to be as well.  We need to remember that the Father sees us as we are, and any attempts on our part to be artificial disrupt the pure communication.

4. “We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” C.S. Lewis

Not only this, but prayer should be organic.  While it may be scripture referenced, or mentally constructed (after all it is communication), it can also be from your heart and spirit.

5. “Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things.” John Wesley

Ultimately prayer is more than about our desires, it is about our love of Him who provides. This “love song” of the heart, need not even require words.

6.”Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed.”   Teresa of Avila

And as an act of love, we should focus less on what we need, but on the relationship (first), and thanksgiving for what we have already been blessed with.

7. “… so our customary practice of prayer was brought to mind: how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love we spend so much time on petition.” Julian of Norwich

Yes, it is about love.  Not just ours for Him, but His to us.

8. “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.” Augustine of Hippo

Prayers are words of love.  What could be more natural?

 

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Visiting Captain Mainwaring: Dad’s Army Museum, Thetford

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Statue of Captain Mainwaring near Bridge House

At the end of the summer, I made my second visit to the Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford. It has come a long way since 2012. On the surface it is about the popular 1970s BBC sitcom, but it also marks the history of the real British Home Guard of World War Two.

The museum’s displays contain stills from the 80 episodes of the programme, as well as memorabilia and props from the same. It also has an area dedicated to the Thetford Home Guard detachment.

 

The museum has some really dedicated volunteers, and they are very helpful. While photography is officially banned, allowances are made as long as pictures of the actors, or of BBC copyright materials are not taken. This is a relaxing of the rules I found in place on my first visit.

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Mainwaring’s Office

The museum also houses the Marigold Tea Rooms, and a small gift shop.

Related to the museum, there is a statue of Captain Mainwaring sitting on a bench along the riverside nearby. It is positioned so that the Bridge House (the actual headquarters for the Thetford Home Guard) provides a backdrop.

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Bunker along rail line in the Thetford area

 ” . . . we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . . .” Winston Churchill
“Dad’s Army,” or officially “The Home Guard” was made up of one and a half million men, who were otherwise exempt from service because of such factors as reserved occupations or age.  They were to act as a delaying force in the case of invasion, with the mission to harass and delay the enemy until the regular forces could be organised.  They also operated as coastal watchers, and as guards at airfields, railways, and other strategic locations.
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The museum is closed for the season now, but will reopen on its regular schedule in March, and the J. Jones Butcher van will be on display from April. (The Mainwaring statue is always available to visit.)

Dairy Free Golden Milk

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My wife has several post-radiation and post-chemo conditions which still plague her.  One of these is severe headache. While she has several prescribed meds that do help, we read that turmeric might be a more natural aid.  So doing some reading, I came across “Golden Milk” as a tasty way to add turmeric to her diet. We now mix it up at the fist sign of a headache, and it often makes it so taking the drugs isn’t necessary.  But better still, she loves the taste, and often has it as a nighttime drink because it is yummy.

Turmeric is said, “supports digestion, immune function, and the liver.” It is a natural antioxidant and aids in countering inflammation.  It is often inflammation in the brain that leads to migraine.  The substances in turmeric called “curcuminoids” are the active ingredients in limiting inflammation. Black pepper seems to make these even more effective, though we do not always include it, and it still has the desired effect.

As with all such “Health Posts,” I make the disclaimer that I am not a scientist or a health professional.  Only that this tasty drink seems to help.

Ingredients:

  • Coconut or Coco-Rice Milk (500 ml)
  • Stevia (or similar) 2 tsp
  • Turmeric (1 tsp)
  • Ginger (1 tsp)
  • Cinnamon (1/2 tsp)        ———————————— All Spices Dried Ground
  • Nutmeg (1/4 tsp)
  • Ground Cloves (1/4 tsp)
  • Black Pepper (pinch) – optional, but does help absorption

Method:

Heat over medium heat in a small saucepan.  Dissolve the sweetener first, then add the spices dissolving each thoroughly before adding the next. Stir regularly and do not allow to boil. By time the final spice is added it is just about ready to serve in a large mug (about five minutes).

Be sure to adjust the individual spices to your own taste.  I have made it using honey in place of the sweetener and it too is quite nice.  I have also used allspice instead of nutmeg and gone clove-free.  On this last point, my wife feels that the cloves make the effects last longer. I have also added vanilla pod but found it rather expensive for little appreciative change in flavour.

Let me know how you get on.

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Mackerel Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

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Mackerel Stuffed Cabbage

While I am a pescetarian, I still find some oily fish a bit much to handle.   Mackerel is one of those fishes, that has at times been one of the offenders.  That is why I quite like this recipe.  Whether it is because of the steaming or the spicing, it really tames the mackerel, while enhancing the smokiness of the fish and paprika.

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Ingredients:

  • Smoked Mackerel Fillets 200 grams (2-3 fillets)
  • Cabbage  6 Large outer leaves
  • Red Pepper finely shredded (can be bell, banana, or sweet chili varieties)
  • Smoked Paprika 2 tsp
  • Garlic 2 cloves
  • Olive Oil 1/2 tsp
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Fish and Peppers Before Rolling

Method:

Finely dice or grate the garlic and cut peppers into fine strips. Remove the skin from the fillets, and using two forks shred the mackerel and mix with the garlic and paprika.  Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds (until soft enough to roll). Place leaves on a flat surface and lightly brush with oil.  Spoon the fish mixture into the centre of each leaf and lay pepper shreds in the lengthwise direction on the leaf. Then roll the cabbage starting from the bottom. Then fold in the two ends at the sides and let the cabbage roll sit on the folded ends to form a parcel. Arrange cabbage rolls in a single layer in a steamer and steam at high heat for about 20 minutes.

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Ready to Eat

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