Monday, December 29, 2008

i'm at home for Christmas...

Merry Christmas everybody! Sorry for not posting for a while...I'm really enjoying some down time with my family and have many glimpses to share with you, but can't upload pictures from my camera. So, have a read on the other blog links here, and I'll be back in the new year with pictures and glimpses galore!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

now that's funny

-Finishing up some Christmas shopping and running into some Fitzroy young people who were hanging out in town.

-Going with some (other) Fitzroy young people to see Twilight, a movie I've been excited to see. I've read the books and really loved them, but my friends who would have gone with me to see it (namely Jessi and Melissa) are in the States, so I went with a bunch of girls from church. It was almost as good as the book.

-Making it a day-o-cinema and going with Sarah to see three Charlie Chaplin films at the Waterfront accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra (on complimentary tickets from a church member who's in the orchestra!). We saw The Fireman, The Immigrant and The Adventurer. There is something so purely comical and delightful about Charlie Chaplin films, especially when watched with a live orchestra. It was touching to have a grandfather in front of us smiling as his two grandsons laughed out loud.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

worth quoting

-After working two thirteen-hour days, I received a text last night saying, "I think you should not bother coming in the morning to church house. Take it off and relax. If u want to of course!" I wanted to catch up on sleep, and I did. It was a fantastically lazy, double-coffee morning.

-Passing two women in the park and hearing one say to the other, "It's the dogs who are the sensible ones, not the people." I have no idea what she was talking about, but it made me smile.

-Two men attempting to put up a new sign for a hairdresser shop stopped me and one asked about the dent in the new painted metal sign. He jokingly said that it was the product of his co-worker's bad driving. "Would you notice it?" he asked with hopeful anticipation. I told him that you could barely see the little dent and it would be even less obvious once it was hung above the shop. Satisfied, he said, "yeah, and the rain makes it all blend together."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

life is like...

-Being given a lovely box of chocolates by some of the youth. I was delighted to lift the tray and realize that there was another layer of chocolates underneath!

-Walking around the Continental Market and looking at all of the different things from around the world with old red-brick Belfast city centre buildings in the background. I met my friend Neil there for lunch, and we hung out in a huge wigwam/tepee that was warm and cozy.

-Showing the Love Came Down video as part of our Religious Education lesson with primary students and watching one girl laugh and smile at it's quirky message.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

brown, black and blue

-Getting a new scarf that's brown and black houndstooth (which they apparently call "dogstooth" here), so I can wear it with anything. It's so funny how many things are just slightly different...for example, the hokey pokey is the hokey cokey here.

-Going for tapas with friends and enjoying the all-you-can-eat Spanish food for a tenner, as well as great conversation and entirely too much laughter. After a couple of the guys ordered a third round of tapas, the cook was getting a little annoyed. I jokingly told the server to apologize to him for us and "tell him to make something for himself as well." She just exploded into laughter, which was much more funny than my little joke, and her peals of laughter kept us in stitches. There were also wine bottles with candles on our table, and when the candle melted away from one, we saw that there was still a tiny blue flame burning. Tom said, "Whitney, is that a glimpse of grace?" and so it became one.

-Amy saying at dinner, "Whitney, what if you went home for Christmas and didn't come back?" My heart immediately sunk at the idea of not coming back, and realizing how much this place means to me, I replied, "oh no, of course I'm coming back!" She said they would all be waiting on me here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

looking foward

-Receiving my Rachael Ray magazine in the mail! My Grandmother was so good to have it sent all the way over here, and it's such a taste of home. I'm all ready putting it to good use: tonight, I'm making roasted cauliflower pasta with sage butter. Mmm!

-One of the young people seeing a video of Neil's baby girl and saying, "How cool would it be to have Neil for a Dad?"

-Jessi emailing a glimpse for me to post:
"The true anticipation of a phone call! With the internet becoming what it is during my lifetime I sometimes forget how wonderful a phone call from a friend can be. My dearest friend Whitney is across the pond and because of the time change and busy schedules its often really hard to figure out the perfect time to call. She will be in her native land of Texas in just a few short weeks [only 9 days now!] and I cannot wait to be able to chat with her and hear her voice! We have so much catching up to do and its fun to realize how much I am looking forward to that call!"
Me too, Jessi!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

and we're off again...

Ready to go for another walk with me? This time, you'll need to bundle up, because we're off the the Ulster Folk Museum, where everything is done just like early 20th century Northern Ireland. All of the buildings have been transported from their original historical locations. There's no heating except for coal and peat fires in most of the homes and churches. Roberta, Heather, Chris and I went to meditate and read the Bible there and enjoy a morning away from our hectic lives to reflect. So, grab a scarf, a flask of tea and come along!

-View from the window of one of the old row-houses.

-The entrance to one of the churches, which was transported here. You're looking straight up over the doorway to the sky.

-Here's the friendly donkey who tried to eat my glove!

-Here's the doorway that looks like the cover of many Christmas cards, and the candle burning inside.
-Brr! I told you it was cold. It's freezing (literally). Don't worry, we'll get to a fire and some tea soon.

-Isn't it just beautiful?

-Advent candles burning warmly in the cold wintery room.

-Merry Christmas! Now go and get yourself a cup of tea or coffee and a scone and warm up! It did the trick for me. Thanks for coming with me. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

withering heights

-At the end of a night helping out at Common Grounds, I was given the tips from the night (because apparently volunteers get to keep the tips). It was after ten-thirty, so I needed to get a taxi home--a little cost I don't mind contributing to the fair-trade, non-profit coffee shop cause. However, my tips covered my taxi and left me with a whopping two pence to spare!

-The first sip of a corona that instantly took me back to a warm summer Texas day in my backyard at home.

-Discovering that Bible Works--the amazing Hebrew/Greek translation program I have on my computer--has classic commentaries and even the Westminster Confession on it. When researching commentaries on Ruth, Matthew Henry's made me laugh out loud when he discussed Boaz's readiness to marry Ruth: "But why was Boaz so hasty, why so fond of the match? Ruth was not rich, but lived upon alms; not honourable, but a poor stranger. She was never said to be beautiful; if ever she had been so, we may suppose that weeping, and travelling, and gleaning, had withered her lilies and roses." I hope I'm never described as having "withered my lilies and roses!" Ha!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

love came down

-The chronically abrupt and cold sandwich maker in the Spar shop was replaced with a friendly person today, who actually smiled at me. Usually, the people working there just bark "what's yours?" to take your order, making sure you know they're annoyed at having to. It was such a nice change.

-Looking out of the window to see the lacy black branches of a bare winter tree stretch in fine lines and curls against a pink and blue sunset.

-Looking for resources for kids music for our upcoming family service and discovering a whimsical music video, "Love Came Down at Christmas" by Jars of Clay. It really gets the central message of Christmas across with a lot of imagination and fun.

Monday, December 08, 2008

what goes around comes around

-Going to the Clonard Monastery Carol Service. Fitzroy was given a warm welcome (which goes to show the great reconciliation efforts both churches have made) and the choirs were absolutely breathtaking. It felt like such a holy place, where I could sit and ponder, celebrate Advent, pray and sing.

-Getting off the bus at the city centre to meet a friend and seeing a woman my age get off as well. As I waited at the city hall, she waited, and then her Mom (I assume) came to meet her. My friend's bus was late so I went on to the Italian coffee shop we were meeting in. While enjoying my oh-so-authentic cappuccino and apricot croissant, I looked up just in time to see that same mother and daughter leave the coffee shop. Coincidences like that are so amusing.

-Discovering Darby O'Gill and the Little People in a charity shop for 50p. I grew up watching this Disney classic with its stereotypical whimsy about Irish leprechauns and so much enjoyed seeing it again, and in Ireland! All day I've been singing, "oh, he is my dear, my darling one, my smiling and beguiling one. I love the ground he walks upon, my darling Irish boy..."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

memory, move, magic

-Drinking coffee in the morning out of my new cup and saucer and enjoying the familiar clink that reminds me so much of home. I think the noise of a cup meeting a saucer might just be my earliest memory--it certainly was the first thing I heard in the morning for years and years. I remember the grown-up luxury of getting to drink my own wee cup of coffee (properly doctored with lots of milk and sugar, of course) in my Grandparents' bed as a child.
-Being given a lovely little white sofa by a family in the church who are moving to Scotland. Ours was in desperate shape, and they were desperate to be rid of theirs so they could move. So, a win-win situation it was! I've brightened it up a bit with some pillows and a blanket, and really love it. I fell asleep watching a movie on it last night, which is a sign of true sofa love.

-(An aptly prophesied glimpse by Tom...) While driving home from Sunday lunch, Tom, Pete and I noticed smoke coming up in great plumes from behind some buildings. Alarm turned to awe as we realized that it was actually an old-fashioned steam train emitting hot steam that billowed grey-white against the cold winter sky. I don't think I've ever seen a steam train in real life, so it was as bewildering as seeing a unicorn or leprechaun (which I'm still looking for, by the way).

Thursday, December 04, 2008

eggaroos, a tale or two, and hot brew

-Going to the grocery store and trying to decide what to get and make for dinner. All of a sudden, the memory of scrambled eggs with cream cheese and herbs from a diner in Decatur flooded into my memory and I craved it. Inspired by the memory, I made scrambled eggs with creamy Philadelphia and fresh basil for dinner. It was delicious--and tasted just like Georgia.

-At staff meeting this morning, Denis talked about leadership by telling a story from when he was the head of his traveling choir a long time ago. While making their way through a German airport after getting off of a place, one of the choir members came to him and said, "Where is the bathroom?" Denis told him to read the signs, and made the point that, when in a leadership role, people expect you to know everything. We all laughed. At lunch later, I made a point of asking Denis where the bathroom was and we all laughed again at his story.

-My housemates know that I like whole milk and have just quietly (and kindly) adopted the practice of buying it instead of skim. Mixed with my dark chocolate Cadbury's cocoa powder, it makes the richest hot chocolate.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


-Going to see Duke Special, a favorite Belfast musician of mine, play at St. George's Market. It was certainly a quirky evening, but fun and entertaining too. His voice has even improved in the past few years, and he sounds as great as ever with his rich, Rufus Wainwright-style voice.
-Finding out that one of the children I teach in Religious Education classes is from Mexico. His face lit up when I mentioned that I had been there, and that my family loves having tamales for dinner on Christmas Eve. He said, "ooh, yes, I love tamales...and tacos and enchiladas..."
-Going Christmas shopping and finding things that I think my family will really like.

Monday, December 01, 2008

sunday happy sunday

-Being invited to the church welcome lunch at the Williamson's (we have them once every month), and sitting around a table with Northern Irish folks, a Columbian woman, a Mexican woman and a Rwandan man. The man from Rwanda began talking about his PhD work studying conflicts and reconciliation, South Africa and Northern Ireland in particular. It sparked a great conversation on the road to peace for both places, and how humor has played such a role in healing here. I learned a great deal.

-Arriving at the Blake's house for our Lord of the Rings fest and being greeted by the always friendly Goldie (the dog) and being handed a fleecy blanket and given a space on the couch. Curled up in front of a coal fire (which kept reminding me of Harry Potter--thought Sirius Black might just poke his head up in it), warm and welcomed, watching one of my favorite movies was just the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

-Leading the evening service and feeling really comfortable. We had a great turn out, and met in a smaller room of the church, which gave the whole service an intimate, friendly feel. I was really relaxed during my sermon, and even brought out some of my natural nerdiness, and people really responded to it. It's a great thing to feel like you can get a message across while being completely yourself.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

whim, washing up, white

-I've been on the look out for the movie Love Actually for weeks now because, well, it's British and Christmassy and Love Actually. After buying some groceries yesterday afternoon, on a whim, I decided to brave the cold a bit longer and check the charity shop across the street for it. I ran in, groceries in tow, and immediately saw Love Actually on the shelf. I grabbed it, paid (50 pence) and left all in about 30 seconds. I watched it last night, and it was as lovely as ever.

-Cooking broccoli, cheese and potato soup (which is so very good with white Irish cheddar and Irish potatoes taken from the ground that morning) and sharing some with my housemate Jonee. After devouring large bowls of it and sitting back contentedly watching the movie mentioned above, he jumped up and said, "You cooked. I'll do the dishes." Those might be my favorite words ever.

-Looking out of the window to see a blanket of frost covering the roofs this morning.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

relax at home

-Having a table quiz to raise money for the youth program and enjoying the banter, relaxed atmosphere and decadent desserts. There were dozens of yummy treats to chose from: I had a raspberry cake roll and the always-tasty banoffee pie. The whole night felt really comfortable and entertaining.

-Going with several friends to see my friend Kellie's band play and having fun all hanging out together. Back in Decatur, I would often drag friends to little shows, and so I felt really at home and myself to be doing it here.

-Waking up to a really cold morning and indulging in a second steaming cup of tea.

An addition--I don't want to forget this:
-Yesterday I went to visit an immigrant family who live in the area to learn more of their story about how they came here, how life is here for them and what their needs are. As I left, 5 of the children gave me hugs, and 3 said, "I love you" with the joy of genuine affection and the pride of being able to speak English to me. It was a humbling experience for me: here I am, fluent in the language of the place I live, and yet how often do I use it to express love? I have much to learn from these children.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

sunny thoughts

-The hiss of piping-hot buttery popcorn. I'm a little popcorn obsessed...I think it's my family's fault. We always had popcorn in the afternoon, and I crave it several times a week. It tasted just as good as it smelled.
-Sunlight shining on a big leaf in the middle of my path through the park to work this morning.
-Getting an email from my parents with pictures of our house all decorated for Thanksgiving. Everything looks so festive. I can't wait to be there in a few weeks! I've also received other texts and emails wishing me a happy Thanksgiving, which were so thoughtful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

uncommon ground

-Getting a thoughtful thanksgiving card from my parents--and in it a leaf from our front yard. It's funny how the card and leaf just smelled like home. It's said that smell is the strongest sense of memory, and I think it's true.

-Preaching my first sermon as an ordained minister. Sermons are never really easy to gauge--you're invested in what you say, but once your words leave your mouth, they go where they will. I think I was a bit more nervous than normal preaching as an official minister for the first time and being in a place where I haven't preached before, so to have that hurdle jumped is great.

-Volunteering at Common Grounds, my favorite non-profit fair-trade coffee shop. I have a Tuesday night free, and thought it would be a great way to get to know people and spend time contributing to a place I love. I already met another volunteer there who's an American phd student in creative writing and the girl who works there full time, and they are both quirky, friendly and laid-back. I'm really going to enjoy the conversation, company and free coffee!

Friday, November 21, 2008


-Putting Christmas lights up in our living room around our big picture. I normally wouldn't go all Christmassy quite this early, but I figure I don't really get Thanksgiving over here, so bring on Christmas! It reminds me of my old apartment to have lights around a picture, and creates the warmest glow in the room. The new cinnamon and spice candle also adds a Christmas feel to the room.

-Watching rain fall lightly and sparkle in the sunlight, making the trees glisten and shine.

-Having a teenage girl in the youth group say (when she heard I was preaching Sunday night), "So, you're ordained as a minister and all?" "Yep I am." "That's sooo cool!"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

this hour and that one

-Receiving the most amazing package from Jessi. (THANK YOU!) She sent me a great top, a cd of music we both love and a copy of The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, complete with her own personal notes to me in it. Her inscription to me in the book was so thoughtful it brought me to tears. Feeling that she was right there with me, I read the entire book last night and this morning. I found myself emotional when I read a sentence about dancing next to the band and saw that beside it Jessi had written "I thought of you immediately." It's a wonderful thing to be so deeply known and loved.

-Annie Dillard's wisdom and truth. I was particularly shocked into new awareness and profound simplicity when she said, "What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing."

-I've decided to volunteer on Tuesday evenings at my favorite coffee shop, and have already noticed the people working there treating me as more than just another visitor. Their friendly smiles, helpful information and enthusiasm ("The girls working are so excited you're helping! I'll leave a t-shirt out for you.") make me already feel like an insider.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

pure poetry

-Going to a poetry book launch with Jonee and Jason. The author was one of Jonee's poet friends, and the launch--with traditional singing, heartfelt readings, free red wine and quirky attendees--was charming.

-The fun of Northern Irish sarcasm.

-Instead of drinking my morning coffee while blogging & checking emails, I opted to sit in bed and read another chapter of my Jane Austen book while surrounded by warm blankets and pillows.

Monday, November 17, 2008

a wee dander

I awoke last Saturday to find the weather unusually mild, with bright sunshine. I decided that sunshine in Belfast is a terrible thing to waste, and so I walked up Cavehill, the hill that overlooks the city and ocean. It was so relaxing to meander my way up, slowly taking in the fluffy green grass, sights of the ocean and regal hills. I wanted to share it with you, so grab a cuppa tea (the closest you have to the English/Irish variety), sit back, and walk the hills of Northern Ireland with me.

(Belfast Castle)

(view of Belfast and the sea)

(When my cousins Lee and Adele came to visit once, Lee sat on a rock on Cavehill and claimed it as her own. I think this is it.)

(Hey! Thanks for coming.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

purple broccoli and little ears

-Walking to work on an unusually warm day and seeing Maureen sweeping her front porch. I stopped to say hello, was invited in for coffee, and decided that I should always make time for this sort of thing. I had a really encouraging chat with Chris and Maureen, delicious coffee and cinnamon raisin bread. I left the Blake's feeling, like I always do, lighter and more at home.

-After teaching the Flipside (youth club) kids about God's goodness in creation, on a whim, I asked if any of them wanted to pray. One boy did, and he thanked God for "making everything and calling it good," asking, "help us to treat other people as God's good creation." It was awesome.

-Going on a late night Tesco run with a couple of the youth leaders after clubs on Friday. It's become a bit of a tradition to venture out together at 11PM to the open-all-night massive grocery store, and it's always an adventure. I love finding interesting foods I can't find in my tiny branch of Tesco near me. This time it was purple sprouting broccoli and oreccheitte pasta (which means "little ears"). Throw in some bacon, cream and onion and I've got one creative (and colorful) dinner!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

dream, delicious and dad

-A great chat with Chris about where we think Fitzroy will be this time next year, and the year after... I'm really thankful to be a part of it.

-Going to Common Grounds (as usual) for lunch and asking Stephen what soup they had today. He replied, "Butternut squash, and it's really lovely. I've changed the recipe a bit--a little more nutmeg and some cloves--please let me know what you think!"

-Reading my Dad's blog and being amazed at the way he weaves stories together with subtle grace and finds hidden in them a deep, lasting meaning. What a gift.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

go lightly

-Spending my day off curled up on the sofa watching Breakfast at Tiffany's and having lots of popcorn. It really is one of the most remarkable movies. (Remember how much I like it?)

-Discovering an amazing song and listening to it over and over: "The Writer" by Ellie Goulding. She's not very well known, and so isn't on iTunes and I can't find her chords anywhere. I'll just have to to make it to London to a show at some point!

-Seeing pictures from Clay's birthday and knowing that he had such a great time. My sister organized a suprise dinner at an Italian restaurant owned by another Patranella--Clay's third cousin. It sounds like they had an experience worthy of the Godfather (minus the violence of course!) as they ate delicious food and were then escorted to the private bar, which was of course named the "Corleone Bar."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

there and back again

-Lunch with lots of Fitzroy folks that included great conversation, amazing food and time to relax. It was also great to catch up with some parents of youth I work with and hear from one that her daughter was really excited when she heard I was returning. It was another of those great hobbitish Northern Irish Sunday lunches, where you leave when it's dark outside after several hours together.

-A deep discussion on election (God's, not ours) with one of the youth--initiated by her.

-An hour-long Skype conversation with my parents, where we finally caught up with each other on everything. I can't wait to see my family at Christmas.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

got any change?

-Bright orange and yellow leaves crunching under my feet as I walk. My life is full of change right now, and it's comforting to know that the seasons are changing with me.

-Hanging out with Veronika at St. George's Market and greeting each other with "it's so great to see you!" and "we have lots to talk about." It's amazing that, knowing her only a few weeks, I feel like I can really confide in her, and her in me. This is a real gift from God.

-Eating Cadbury's dark chocolate fingers that, (try to follow me) I used to buy at home in Texas to remind me of here, and that ended up instead reminding me of home tonight. How funny.

Friday, November 07, 2008

no really, escape, awake

-Having a student at Nightreach look at us with suspicion when we said that we were giving them bacon sandwiches, soup and tea into the wee hours of the morning just to show them kindness and that we (Fitzroy) want to be a presence in the community. I think some of the students, who are mostly Catholic, are used to Protestants trying to challenge or convert them and after explaining to him that that's really not what we're about, he smiled and said, "thank you." I could actually see in his face the moment suspicion turned to gratitude.

-Having a really long day and Jonee my housemate noticing my weariness and saying, "Wanna go to the cinema?" It was the perfect way to relax and recharge.

-After sleeping like it's going out of style (because of a night out til 3am with Nightreach) I wake and groggily make my way downstairs, make coffee, take the first sweet and rich sip and smile as it coaxes me awake.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

if there's two things you can't talk about...

...they're politics and religion. Well, I always talk about religion, so I've already blown that one. Today, I'm going to go ahead and talk about politics too. This is a massive glimpse of grace for me personally, so there's just one for today:

-Seeing Barack Obama become the first African American president (which is something we can all be proud of) and feeling hopeful, determined and inspired at the direction our country is headed and the person who will serve as our leader. I genuinely believe he's going to do great things for our country. Put in Northern Irish terms...I'm chuffed! Oh, so chuffed.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

life as an ocean

-If "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills" from Out of Africa is the best opening sentence of a book (which I think it is), then I may have found the most perfect conclusion in Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Speaking of his son-in-law joining the abolitionist cause, a man says,
"You'll be spat on, shot at, lynched, pacified with medals, spurned by backwoodsmen! Crucified! Naive, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!"

Adam responds, "Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?"

It's a deeply complex, multilayered book. I recommend it!

-From the first second outside my door this morning to when I arrived at work after a half-hour walk through the park, I was bombarded by cheery, "good morning's". What a great way to start the day.

-An old man who talked to his little dog lovingly in a strong Belfast accent, saying "Ackkkk, Ackkk houw are ye?"

Monday, November 03, 2008


-Going to two gigs at the Grand Opera House with Ruth this weekend. The first was Martha Wainwright, which was pretty good, but the second was the Swell Season aka Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from "Once." They were absolutely brilliant. I love the old-world feel of the Grand Opera House.

-Hearing Glen Hansard sing to a massive audience without a microphone, just belting out his song with passion. It felt so personal, even thought I was waaay up high and far away. The acoustics were amazing--I understood how it would have functioned so well (and still does) as an Opera House.

-Glen also sang a song called "People Get Ready" that's all about making things right and bearing light in the world. He spoke of the how the outcome of the American election impacts the whole world, and then sang that song. It was so relevant and powerful.