Did I mention I'd been on the road again?

Two trips this time - one to the western Med and one to Kenya and Uganda. (Trips seem to be like buses - you know the "none for ages then two come along at once"?

Our cruise round the Western Med was the most relaxing break in years - even allowing for a hot tramp round Pompeii (haven't been since 78 and that was a school trip - it hasn't changed much but I understand it better now!)

I was bemused to find a street that appeared to have been paved with stones from the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. We went to a Sicilian olive farm for lunch. Having read Carol Drinkwater's books about her own olive farm and also her talk in Bangor at the Aspects Literary Festival, we were keen to see an organic olive farm for ourselves - and we enjoyed the scenery as we sailed out of the harbour at sunset.

Other highlights included a trip to a Corsican organic essential oil producer (mum and dad surrounded by fragrant, pungent maquis in Corisca - rosemary, lavender etc) and later to a small family run business where they make nougat to die for. Mmmm.

Less than a week after we got home, the passports and bags were at the ready again. The African trip was unexpected. For years I've been trying to persuade my parents to visit Uganda and see the projects they've been prayerfully and financially supporting since I visited the country several times on work teams in the 1980s. At last, on a whim, dad agreed and I had the tickets bought and collected before he got the full stop at the end of the sentence.

We went to Kenya first to stay with a friend from home for a few days (a soft landing - it's higher, so fewer bugs and cooler temperatures - also less humid than Uganda.)

It was lovely to see Graham again - just sorry he couldn't join us when we headed to Lake Naivasha for a couple of days to stay in the fabulous Chui Lodge. Oh man, what a trip that was. Several game drives, a couple of sundowners and a large, greedy python later (it ate, then barfed up "Bambi") we headed back to Nairobi for another overnight at Graham's. Luxury all round.

Then we headed to "real" Africa and the Acheru project run by Africare. I love Uganda. It's sticky, the roads are still hopeless outside of the main routes, there are bugs galore and I'll never be able to digest matoke, but it's wonderful.

It was dad's 79th birthday while we were there, and some of the children clambered to the verandah to sing happy birthday to him. (that's them on the left.) It was incredibly moving - and such a joyful day. The unit offers care and treatment for children in need of (mainly) orthopaedic surgery and rehab. It is NOTHING like what we can access at home, but they're setting new standards in Uganda and getting referals from all round the country - and beyond and man are they putting smiles on wee faces.

Funding is mainly from NI and we're having a coffee morning on Saturday to spread the word about the work going on in Acheru. If you know where I live and you're in the area - we'd LOVE to see you - just swing by for a cuppa (and a freshly baked scone with good Irish butter and home made plum jam!)

I've gone into overdrive making jams (lemon curd, plum) and marmalades (ginger and Bushmills whiskey!) Hopefully the little pots of sunshine will sell! (If you don't live nearby I'll post you a scone! And if you'd making a even a little donation, you could do so online at www.acheru.com - go on, you know our scones are great - and I'll post them ANYwhere in the world. Ask nicely and I might even manage a wee tody tiny pot of marmalade too!)

funky cake!

Update on the happy zone.....

The wedding cake was a lot of fun. Different flavoured tiers, and in keeping with the theme of gerberas for the whole wedding.

And it was a fabulous day - thanks to the new "Minnie Tinnies"!

Welcome to the happy zone.

Northern Ireland is living up to the Vivaldi thing - four seasons in one day.. or at least in one week. The only thing we haven't had this week is frost.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that I'm in a happy zone. (Can you feel the vibes from there?)

I have a wedding cake to decorate for next Wednesday and a house to refurb for a friend by the end of September - so a creative outlet and an organisational one - both make me very happy!

I love the "before and after" thing of a house - the satisfaction of emptying it, repairing then redecorating - and to a short timescale so there's no time to diddle about. This is a three story red-brick (brownstone) end of terrace in need of a lot of love.

The cake is a fun one - multi coloured and zany - so I can't wait to get started - I've all four tiers baked already - a different flavour for each one. It's going to be a busy Saturday and the finishing touches will be done on Monday so I can deliver it to the hotel on Tuesday evening and assemble it.

Roll on the weekend.

New Irish Arts

I was having a poke about on the web and realised someone had posted our appearance on BBC Songs of Praise - it's "Still, my soul be still" - hope you like it. (Since it's from the telly, the words are there so you can sing along with it!)

This was part of the chamber choir and orchestra - I'm looking forward to the big event this summer at the Waterfront when we're part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention. There are still some tickets available for that if you're in Belfast in August!

Ladies of impeccable taste.

Of all the shops, in all the world... how did Angela and Leta end up with the same shirt?! (And I have one just the same in the wardrobe.... though mum bought it for me because I admired hers!)

our latest graduate...

The l'il guy follows in the family tradition! It's the first non-university graduation ceremony I've been at here - though I think they're creeping in and I know they're very common in America.

It was the best entertainment for half an hour - I'm not sure when I last saw my father enjoy something so much and laughter is such good therapy. They trotted in behind the staff to their version of the drill instructor's song from Full Metal Jacket - "we are winners from the start"... and from there we had songs about numbers, colours, shapes, hygiene and a personal statement from each of them about something they'd learnt this year (table manners!).

So having been snowed out of the nativity play at Christmas, and security alerted out of sports day, nothing was keeping me away on Friday. I wouldn't have missed this for the world!

Elderflower cordial

It's that time of year again and for once, I have bottles.... and time.... and there's sunshine (or there was when I made it last weekend) and there was elderflower* a-plenty to be had in the lanes near the village.

I brought some into work with sparkling water to dilute and it went down a treat. It's simple to make;

In a large stainless steel or glass container, soak the following overnight;

  • about 25 heads of elderflower (ideally picked at the end of a sunny day when it's very lemony and fragrant)

  • 3 unwaxed lemons sliced very thinly

  • sugar syrup (2.5 pounds of sugar (don't think about it!) disolved into about 3.5 pints of hot water)

  • 2oz citric acid (Boots generally have it at the pharmacy counter)
After about 24 hours, strain the mix through a seive lined with muslin and pour into sterilised glass bottles with screw top lids. It'll store in a coolish place for at least 6 months, but when I open a bottle, I keep it in the fridge and use it within a month. Gorgeous with sparkling water, ice and a lemon slice. Mmmm.

*Elderflower grows on woody stems, generally shoulder height or above - the stuff that looks the same but grows from the ground on green stems is cow parsley and smells like cat's wee! Not recommended - even with ice and lemon!

puppy love

Thought it was time to revitalise the blog a bit - and this background was very pretty.

Having dabbled again in facebook for work purposes (we were running Wild Week across BBC NI so I had to have a presence), but I've come off it again - it's such an hour-gobbler and life's too short. THIS however, is more like a slightly public diary and I don't need to be so responsive to it so it doesn't faze me as much - and it doesn't steal my days. That said, it's lovely when someone leaves a message.

There've been some lovely days recently - including the Sunday we went to visit friends in the village to meet their new puppy "Yo-Yo".

Call me sentimental, but a four year old boy and a seven week old pup is sort of a marriage made in heaven - one of life's essential pairings - but this was just a visit - l'il guy doesn't have any pets yet.

"Yo-Yo" is a trainee guide dog and my friend's family will have him for 18 months to get him ready for serious training as a visually impaired person's "eyes". Lesson for life? Proverbs 22: 6 "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it!" (Small, energetic boys... and pups!)

So it's been a while... and it's been a busy while too. I'm knee deep in an animation project to introduce children to French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese - and maybe Irish eventually too.

I've also been on the fringes of some Songs of Praise recordings - for those not in the know, it's the BBC's longest running weekly music programme on television and is watched in the UK by about four million people every week, and many, many more internationally. It's been a pleasure to be involved in it - and it's not often I get to say that about work!
Added value is that the New Irish choir and orchestra are taking part and as I'm a member, it was fun getting to be on both sides of the show. (The hyperlink is to the trail for the Christmas concert but it gives you a flavour of what we're about.) Jonathan Rea's arrangements of the hymns featuring in the programme are wonderful. It was also recorded in the church I attend, so it's great to recognise lots of friends and family in the pews.

The first programme is for Sunday 13th March - and features Dr Helen Roseveare - she's only on for a few minutes, but she packs her punch as always and it's compelling viewing. Her story is the stuff of a Holywood filmscript - except her experiences of God's presence as she served through her medical missionary work in Africa are challenging. She starts by saying she fell in love with Jesus while she was a student, and finishes by reminding us that at the end, it's only what's done for him that matters.