One of the best things about The Learning Zone is our annual cookie exchange, organised by one of our members. This year we had a whole afternoon of festive fun. The English and drama group put on an amusing play with magically growing hamsters – yes seriously. Then we exchanged cookies – some of which had the most amazing wrapping this year. Then we sang a mix of sea shanties and carols rather raucously which was great!

Here are a few cookie pics to make you which you had joined in!

Our basket of rather cheaply and simplistically packaged cookies, we made chewy chocolate-chip cookies, German lebkuchen and Dutch pepernoten :

DSCF2754

But got these amazing cookies in return:

DSCF2760

And just look at this house – I think some people were just showing off!

DSCF2770 

DSCF2769

 

We loved these boxes too:

DSCF2767

and there were so many other lovely and delicious cookies from so many other generous people, we feel really blessed to be part of such a great group.

 

Maastricht was an easy 30 minute cycle from out camp site, so we headed there for a couple of days.

The first day after the obligatory visit to the, rather impressive, tourist information centre (VVV)

DSCF0847_r

 

we set out on a walking tour of the city.

First stop was the magnificent bookshop converted from an ancient Dominican church – Boekhandel Dominicanen

P1000009_r

 

DSCF0789_r

 

DSCF0790_r

 

 

We opted for the fortifications tour so we saw lots of, well, fortifications.

2-DSCF0815 1-DSCF0811 1-DSCF0812

1-DSCF0828 1-DSCF0830 1-DSCF0827

We learned that “molen” means mill and saw some watermills.

1-DSCF0813

 

 

Jonathan wanted to take some photos of the deer in the town park.

1-P1000016

 

 

We ended up back at the very empty town square and had an ice cream, toasted sandwich and a beer before cycling back to the camp site.

1-DSCF0833 5-DSCF0838 2-DSCF0834

6-DSCF0849 4-DSCF0837 3-DSCF0836

 

 

We love going on holiday to The Netherlands – this year we decided to go somewhere other than the Katjekelder park in Nord Brabant so we headed for a camp site just outside Maastricht, Camping De Oosterdriessen.

This was a great choice: It had a large areas to camp in separated by light hedges,

DSCF0870_r

 

A lake to swim in,

P1000056_r

P1000079_r

 

And some good weather to sit outside and eat the tarts

 

P1000003_r

and drink the wine we bought in France.

P1000092_r

One of my best friends bought me this lovely book for Christmas, not a diet book but a wheat and dairy free book.

2-P1150062

So I had a go at the rye soda bread recipe and it was great!

 

1-P1150060

3-P1150063

 

Between Christmas and new tear we met up with both the Gibson and Anderson sides of the family.

Boxing day saw the traditional Boxing day visit of the Gibson family.

We had the usual walks, games, food and fun.

1-P1140987

 

Telestrations – the new game Iain gave us for Christmas was so funny I could hardly play as all the hilarity was making me cough!

1-P1140991

1-P1140994

 

We had a gap in the family celebration while Martin went and played on the Saturday night with his Boy Band at The Hideaway in Shanklin

1-P1150002

 

Then Sunday saw a departure from our usual Christmas traditions with a meet up with the Anderson side of the family at a restaurant in the New Forest. The ferry was packed but we squeezed in around a table and while 3 of us played our usual ferry card game of Yaniv 2 of us were swottily attached to textbooks!

 

1-P1150016

1-P1150014

 

This was my first experience of eating at a Michelin starred restaurant and it was a really interesting and delicious experience for me. It was so yummy I forgot to take photos of the food until we got to the pudding – which was definitely the best bit!

1-P1150018

1-P1150020

1-P1150024

1-P1150030

 

We managed to meet up with some friends and found the teenagers thrashed us at Demons – did you know the Archbishop of Canterbury also plays.

2-P1150052

1-P1150047

 

And then we saw out the old year and in the new at my favourite place on the island with some of my favourite people, eating curry and chocolate, drinking some sloe vodka, playing games and generally being silly – a great way to end and begin a year!

1-P1150055

2-P1150058

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas eve sees the start of our Christmas traditions watching The Muppet’s Christmas Carol together.

We start Christmas morning in our big bed to do stockings together with various levels of enthusiasm!

1-P1140956 1-P1140959

1-P1140963

An easy but yummy breakfast follows, croissants and yoghurt and fruit – in this case our rather lovely home-grown raspberries soaked in vodka.

1-P1140974

A trip to church – where for the first year since we have been having a Christmas service I wasn’t able to lead the singing which was very disappointing to me – but the rest of the family did a great job. Church-On-The-Roundabout were in full joyful and rather raucous mood which was just what was wanted for Christmas celebrations.

Back home and Ruth and Martin went for a quick driving lesson!

Then our standard bucks fizz and starter of dips and veggie sticks and Pringles.

A bit of present opening – including the gorgeous old Fortnum and Mason hamper from our lovely friends – the girls already have picnic plans for the hamper in the summer.

1-P1140975

Main course follows and we opt for easy to cook and wash up as well as tasty, so no traditional roast for us but instead garlic chicken, chips, cauliflower cheese and peas – yummy but easy.

1-P1140979

We were too stuffed to want the chocolate cheese cake Ruth had made.

Then we wait to watch Doctor Who on the iplayer and that is pretty much our day done.

This year things have not gone the way I like them to. I like to try and keep Advent quiet of extra things so we can focus on preparing for Christmas. This year I have been ill and had lots of extra training to do for a new job. Many of the things I like to do, including not being rushed, have not happened.

Some of the good things though have been:

Going to a folk festival with great friends, I loved The Young Uns and Edwina Hayes (we heard her on the Introducing Stage and she was great). We were also brave enough to sing at the sing around – first time we’ve done that at anything other than one of the local little folk nights here on the Island at The Hideaway, we opted for our attempt at Beth Rowleys’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine

1-P1140879 1-P1140870


 After the folk festival I had a week of training for a new, and only very p/t, job. This meant lots of trips to the mainland, dashing too and from the Red Jet, being in a not quite as warm as I would like swimming pool and this was not good for my cough, so I went downhill rapidly the week after and had to cancel loads of things I was planning to do – most notable the Learning Zone Christingle. However I was just well enough to manage to do the advent meditation i had planned for church and it was lovely I was really pleased I managed to get this done it was probably the highlight of the advent period for me.

However I was well enough to contribute to the cookie exchange and one of the joys of having older kids is that they can make their own cookies without help too and Jonathan took them to the meet up and distributed them and came back with a mountain of yummies from other home ed families.

1-P1140887 1-P1140902

1-P1140899 1-P1140904

1-P1140896

 

 

I was too ill to sing carols with any gusto which I felt very sad about but did manage to get out for a cocktail with some friends and we managed to:

decorate gingerbread houses

1-P1140911 1-P1140916

1-P1140933

 

Get the Christmas tree put up – the girls did it the Monday before Christmas when Rebekah came home from uni.

 1-P1140920

Get my driftwood tree up and the potato advent wreath made

1-P1140929

make a very plainly decorated Christmas cake

1-P1140944 1-P1140950

Jonathan managed a large star for the window

1-P1140939

and we played some games

1-P1140951

Happy Easter.

I woke up at 5.30 so rolled out of bed and dashed off to East Cowes for their dawn service – I was a wee bit late, but in time for communion and bacon sandwiches. They didn’t sing Thine Be The Glory which was a slight disappointment and the sun rise was hidden by the clouds but it was still brilliant to be on the beach at sunrise celebrating Easter Sunday with other Christians from the island.

Photo0056 Photo0057

And our mantelpiece is transformed from the solitary bare cross to a vibrant fruitful display.

P1120163

After much debate and searching of the ethical consumer website we decided on a compromise of Thorntons eggs, Thornons came out better than most of the mainstream fairtrade chocolates. I was very pleased with my Attic 24 inspired Easter wreath.

P1120166

And our bare branched tree is now covered by crosses and eggs – the girls thought my moustachioed eggs were not in keeping with the Easter tree but I was very pleased with them!

P1120171

I haven’t managed a single blog post throughout Lent so now a quick round up.

Facebook:

For the 3rd year in a row I gave up facebook for Lent, this was surprisingly both much harder and much easier than previous years.

It was harder because I found that I use facebook in a different way to the last couple of years. I am using it much more to arrange things and to keep in touch with local friends and I realised part way through that a number of my local friends I only have facebook contacts for and it was very hard to connect with them in a practical way without. at one point I had to get one friend to contact a group of other friends to let them know about a meet up I was having as I didn’t have any other contact details. I also run a maths tutor group and I have a facebook page that I interact with them on – in the end for this I set up a different facebook persona so I could keep doing this group and felt this wasn’t cheating. In the last couple of weeks a friend was trying to keep a number of us updated with some important news and in the end I joined this group with my second persona as I felt keeping up to date on this issue was more important than my facebook fast a case of “the Sabbath being made for man not man for the Sabbath!” I don’t think I will do this again next year as I actually found it very hard to practically contact people without facebook, particularly in a group setting.

It was easier because I found I didn’t miss sitting at my computer wasting time on it as much as I had in previous years. I think this was due to my increased interest in crochet and zentangling as well as connecting with my other Lent discipline.

P1120113

Living Intentionally:

I decided to try this for a second year, to not specifically take up or give up something but rather to try and live as I intend rather than what just happens to happen to me. Some time ago I read a book by Michael Neill called You Can Have What You Want. This was really the first specific self help book I had read as I had been rather snooty about the genre as the people I saw reading them seemed to jump from one to the next and never actually changed – I have now become one of these people – I love self help books. The main thing I took from this book was the concept of “do what you want not what you feel like” and this is what my living intentionally is about – doing what I really want to do not what I feel like doing at the time. This has worked in some ways and not others, I have been trying to keep on top of things at home by making sure that everything gets put away when they are finished with, doing the last of the dishes before going to bed. these things were very successful for the first 4 weeks and then suddenly seemed to get much much harder for the last 2. I have tried to meditate more – this worked well for the the first couple of weeks but then rather went by the wayside! So I have definitely been more thoughtful about how I’m living but sometimes i haven’t let my actions follow my thoughts.

P1120062

Family Stuff:

We decorated eggs – keeping it simple this year with shapies

We’ve done our family beans again. We get a dried bean for every good deed done and on Easter Sunday they are transformed to jelly beans, This year we also gave bravery beans and achievement beans.

The girls have done 40 acts again and Jonathan, Martin and I have been doing the Love Life Live Lent booklets again. The girls did well and were fairly consistent, Martin and I were rubbish at doing ours and Jonathan has been trying to do about 3 weeks worth of activities on Easter Saturday!

I tried to do Lent candles with the the family as suggested by Sacraparental but this hasn’t really been adopted by us as a family in the same way as our advent candle and readings – perhaps because it isn’t dark or just perhaps because it is getting a little late in the day to start new traditions with the kids.

We also managed a Learning Zone Easter egg hunt.

 P1120086 P1120084

P1120092

P1120089

Rebekah is clearly getting indoctrinated by me. She suggested on Good Friday that we lit a candle for each of the 7 last saying of Jesus which we did while listening to At The Foot of The Cross on Radio 2

Church Stuff:

We took the palm Sunday service at church and I was scheduled to preach on the cross – you can listen here if you have 20 minutes with nothing better to do! This gave me a good excuse to give out palm crosses. We also took a meditation service on Good Friday – this has become a tradition for us now and every year our congregation grows – it’s a chance to be quiet and reflect – I love doing this.

Jonathan and Rebekah did the Good Friday walk of witness through Newport and the rest of us stayed at the church and prepared teas and hot cross buns.

P1120102 P1120104

 

Baking:

We usually make an edible Easter garden but this year we have made hot cross buns, Easter biscuits, nests and a simnel cake.

 P1120145 P1120114

 

 

 

Our Christmas Days tend to follow a standard pattern each year.

1. Stockings – in our bed.

DSCF5240 DSCF5247 DSCF5248

DSCF5249 DSCF5251

we all had to make something home-made and i was really pleased that the minion wrisites I had made went down well!

DSC03913

2. Then it’s off to church, relatively early as we usually do the music and open up the church on Christmas Morning – great time, everyone was in good voice so the singing went well.

3. Back home and a starter of dips, veggie sticks and crisps and a glass of bucks fizz.

DSC03897

DSC03923

4. Time to open presents.

DSC03929

DSCF5269

5. Time to prepare the dinner and play a game while it cooks.

DSC03942

6. Dinnertime – not a traditional turkey roast but toad-in-the-hole with cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes!

DSC03947

7. More games – Rebekah was delighted and some what surprised to win a game of Blokus and think we all won a various games of Articulate.

 DSC03953

DSC03958

8. then some cheese and crackers and settling down to watch Doctor Who on the iplayer

DSC03984