Thursday, 31 May 2007

Air & Space Museum

This was everything it promised to be - a 13-year-old boy can very happily stay in there from opening time to closing time and have a fantastic day (and his aunt can have fun watching him enjoy himself). He declared this his favourite day of our trip, and has just been on the internet looking up more detail about some of the things he saw - how's that for an educational outing?!

We fly back to Missouri tomorrow, and then I fly home on Saturday night. It's been a great trip.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Washington DC - tips for travellers

Here are a few things we've figured out while we've been here that weren't mentioned in our guide books (I might add to them if anything else comes up before we leave).

1. There's a ticket booth at the bottom of the path to the Washington Monument on 15th Street where you can get tickets to go up the monument. The tickets are free, but if you want one, you need to be there early - they start handing them out at 8:30, and by the time we got there at 8:00 there was already a very long line. Annoyingly, people save places for each other in the queue, so you can think you're near the front and then suddenly 10 people appear from nowhere. I'm fairly sure you need your whole party to be there when you actually pick up the tickets, though - I think they only give out one per person. Tickets are allocated to half hourly time slots throughout the day (until about 4:30, I think), and you can choose your slot. When we went back past the booth at 11:15, all the tickets for the day had already been distributed and the booth was closed.

2. There's a similar system at the Capitol if you want a guided tour, but they start distributing the tickets at 9:30, at a booth which is near the intersection of 1st Street SW with Independence Avenue. The biggest difference is that you can't choose your time - you just get whatever is the next time slot for which there are tickets still available. When we got there at about 9:45, they were handing out tickets for 12:30. We couldn't do that, as we had tickets for 12:00 for the Washington Monument, and they wouldn't give us tickets for a later time.

3. If you don't want to do the guided tour, you can go to the Rayburn House Office Building across Independence Avenue from the top end of the Capitol building, find the office of your state's representative (the security guards have a directory in which you can look up their office number) and ask for a gallery pass. That gets you into the Capitol building, where you can go into a visitors' gallery and look down on the Chamber of the House of Representatives. There is strictly no photography once you get up to the second floor, where the viewing gallery is, and you have to check in all bags and cameras at the top of the stairs. I'm not sure if non-US citizens can usually do this - I got in because I was with my nephew, who is a US citizen.

4. Absolutely no food and drink is allowed in the Capitol building, even zipped up in a bag. We had to throw away a couple of bottles of water and a handful of Granola bars on our way in. The Granola bars were picked up by the security screening, since we had forgotten we had them with us, and we had to go back outside to throw them away. There was nowhere we could leave stuff to come back for later.

5. The trip up the Washington Monument is fantastic, and it's really worth having a pair of binoculars and/or a really good zoom on your camera (we had both!). Although you get a specific time slot on your ticket, you may not get up at the specified time - you have to join another queue at the bottom of the monument, and people are let in about 10 at a time. You will be let in within half an hour of your allotted time, since they try to keep to schedule for the beginning of the next group. Once in, you can stay as long as you like (but there are no restrooms in the monument, so make sure you go before you get there).

6. The Museum of American History is closed for renovations until the summer of 2008. Some of its exhibits are on display at the Air & Space Museum, and some of the old coins are on display at the Smithsonian Castle.

7. Be prepared to do a LOT of walking. Most of the major tourist sites are a few blocks from the nearest Metro station, and it ends up being just as quick to walk from one to another as to try to find a Metro station. For this reason, a weekly Metro pass is convenient (if it works - the magnetic strip on mine became corrupted the first day we were here, and I've had to get the invariably grumpy staff to let me through the barriers on each subsequent trip) but won't necessarily save you money.

8. If you're looking for a specific name on the Vietnam Wall, there are plenty of rangers around with books where you can look up the location of the name. If you're sufficiently organised, you can do an internet search here before you go.

9. Some of the names on the wall are too high up to be able to take a rubbing. The rangers also have a step ladder, and will go up and do the rubbing for you if you tell them where the name is. When we were there, they also had special printed paper and pencils available for the rubbings - I don't know if this is always the case, or if it was just because it was Memorial Day.

10. It's really really really hard to find anywhere open that serves food after about 5:00 pm within a half mile radius of any of the tourist sites. If you do find anywhere, don't bother looking at the menu - just accept what's on offer gratefully. And don't expect any fruit or vegetables on the menu.

11. If you go to Mass at St Matthew's Cathedral, you can get Sunday brunch a few doors down at Beacon Bar & Grill on the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 17th Street. There's an omelette bar where they make fresh omelettes to order, a waffle bar, loads of cooked food, salads, fruit salad, delicious-looking desserts (we couldn't fit any), and a constant supply of mimosa (bucks fizz), bloody mary or orange juice included in the price.

12. The stop for the basilica is Brookland-CUA. You can pretty much see the basilica from the Metro station - walk up through the Catholic University and follow your nose.

More sightseeing

Well, today was an absolutely stunning day - visually, meteorologically and aesthetically. My nephew was marvellous company, and route marched several miles in blistering heat without a word of complaint and with every evidence of enjoyment. Oh, and we also continued to have great fun with my new camera. Our sightseeing started at the Capitol.
I tested the zoom again...

And thanks to my nephew being an American citizen, we were able to go across to his congressman's office and get gallery passes to go in. We missed out on the guided tour, but saw plenty even so.
We then walked back over to the Washington Monument, built in memory of George Washington.
While we waited for our turn to go up, I had a chance to play around with some of the fancy functions on my camera a bit more.
From the top, we had fantastic views of the White House...
... and the Lincoln Memorial ...
... and the Jefferson Memorial ...
... and the Capitol...
... and even the Basilica!

After a quick lunch, we spent the afternoon in the Natural History Museum.

I could show you lots of pictures of dinosaurs and other creatures that we took for my other nephews and nieces, but I'm sure you get the idea...

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Memorial Day

Well, since we were in Washington, we got to celebrate my first ever Memorial Day (we have Remembrance Sunday in November in the UK) good and proper.

We started off at Arlington Cemetery, where my nephew was very excited to be able to see the president arriving in a motorcade.

I think I would have preferred to be there at a time the president wasn't - not only were there huge crowds trying to catch sight of him, but large parts of the cemetery were off limits for as long as he was there.

Since this is my first and quite possibly only visit to Washington, I felt a bit miffed that we weren't able to look around properly. Also, the hordes of people tended to make it more of a tourist expedition than an occasion for paying respects to the fallen.

The size of the cemetery and the number of graves is mind-boggling - though one thing I had never realised was that most of the soldiers had their wives buried next to them, so that it's not just a cemetery for those who have fallen in battle.

We walked across from Arlington to the Lincoln Memorial, where we saw amazing views of the Washington Monument.

From there, we continued our remembrances by going to the Vietnam Wall, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. My nephew's great-uncle was killed in Vietnam, so we stayed for the memorial ceremony there and then took photos and a rubbing of his name.

There was a very young soldier there who had lost a leg in Iraq, and it was great to see the positive attention that he got - there was a real (and understandable) note of bitterness in the speeches of some of the Vietnam veterans.

We did a search for the great-uncle's name on the internet when we got back to our hotel room, and discovered that there is a virtual Vietnam Wall which people can visit and leave tributes to individuals. There were three tributes that had been left for him - I wonder if the rest of his family know about it.

We then walked down Constitution Avenue to see the Memorial Day parade - commemorating every war that the US has taken part in.

My nephew's now looking forward to tomorrow, when we get to visit the Museum of Natural History at last...

Monday, 28 May 2007

And I lit a candle...

I lit a candle here, at the statue of Mary, Mother of Mankind, and said a prayer for the intentions of all of you bloggers out there - especially Florida Wife, Esther's grandmother and Mac's job search.

Prayer to Mary, Mother of Mankind:

Mother, I commend and entrust to you all that goes to make up earthly progress, asking that it should not be one-sided, but that it should create conditions for the full spiritual advancement of individuals, families, communities and nations. I commend to you the unborn, the poor, the suffering, the sick and the handicapped, the aging and the dying. I ask you to reconcile those in sin, to heal those in pain, and to uplift those who have lost their hope and joy. Show to those who struggle in doubt the light of Christ your Son. Amen.

Sunday sightseeing

Well, as befits a godmother taking her godson on a trip, we had a very church-y Sunday! We went to Mass at the Cathedral of St Matthew, a few blocks from our hotel. The music was good, although I have to say for choral singing in a cathedral I prefer the purity of little boys' voices to women's voices for the soprano parts.

The most noteworthy thing about this cathedral (at least in our eyes) was that it was where John F Kennedy's funeral Mass had been celebrated.

After a stop-off at the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall (much enjoyed by my nephew, and the only part of the day that he thought all of his siblings would have enjoyed), we went to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

This is the biggest Catholic church in the Western hemisphere and the pre-eminent Marian shrine in the US, and all I can say is WOW! Perhaps the fact that I took 114 photos today gives you some idea of what an amazing place it was. If you're ever in Washington, I really recommend a visit.
Pretty good zoom my new camera has, huh?!

The same window from the inside:

We were fortunate enough to be able to tag onto the end of an official tour, and my nephew memorised some mind-boggling facts and figures. Despite the tour going on, the atmosphere was reverent and prayerful, and, although he commented that it would have been difficult to take all his siblings there and enjoy the experience, my nephew really seemed to enjoy the experience, and raved about it on the phone to his parents this evening.

The main altar, with the biggest (so far) mosaic in the church behind it. The main body of the church has several huge and intricate mosaics, and another is planned for the main dome which, when completed, will be the biggest mosaic in the world.

This one was designed so that the eyes of Jesus are looking at you wherever you are in the church. At first glance, He looks stern, but as you keep gazing at His eyes, you see the compassion and love in them.

This is the Blessed Sacrament chapel. The tabernacle rests on a marble base and is surrounded by a gold bronze canopy in which bronze rods rise to an open crown focusing rays from the skylight on the tabernacle. Gold squares along the rods recall the manna in the desert. In the dome, the centrepiece is Christ on the cross, with Mary catching the blood and water flowing from His side in a cup. The figures each side of this central scene represent people of all ages and races taking part in a universal offertory procession.

The crypt church - the original part of the building. The altar, with the figures of the twelve apostles carved around it, is carved from a single piece of onyx. Donations were solicited from 10,000 "Marys of America" to contribute towards the Mary Memorial Altar, which cost $50,000 in 1921.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Another big trip

Well, my nephew and I are in Washington DC now. We had a good journey, and after checking into our hotel we walked down to have a look at the White House and look for some food.

The walk to the White House was great. But why does every restaurant within a half mile radius of the White House close by 8:00 in the evening?

New toy

Seven years ago, 1.2 megapixels was a pretty big deal. Today, it's not really. And what's more, my old camera had developed some sort of software problem that made it take about a minute to process each picture, which was kind of frustrating. So I decided that while I was on this trip, I would treat myself to a new camera.

Well, those Wal-Mart employees know how to sell stuff! I went in for a little thing to take snaps with, and came out with this. I may be posting more of my own pictures on here in future.

Just as a little taster, here's one of the snazzy functions my new camera has - you can pick out one colour and get it to show that one colour and then shoot the rest of the shot in black and white. Here's one of my first experiments.

I love this camera!

Eight things meme

I've been double tagged for this one - by Florida Wife and Mac. Does that mean I have to come up with 16 things...?

The rules are as follows: "Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog."

Now, unfortunately, I've been out of blogging action for a couple of days, and while my back was turned everyone I know of who likes doing memes has already done this one or been tagged for it, so I'm struggling to think of anyone to tag - so if you fancy doing this one, then please go ahead.

As for the facts and habits - well...

1. I don't know if it counts as a habit, but I'm writing this while sitting on the bathroom floor in my hotel room so as not to disturb my slumbering nephew.

2. I can spend several hours getting myself all dressed up for a fancy do, putting on my make-up and getting my hair looking perfect, and ten minutes later I look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards, even if all I've done in the meantime is sit still with my hands in my lap. I'm about as far from being poised and elegant as it's possible to get.

3. I'll eat absolutely anything except scrambled eggs.

4. If I take work home with me, I would rather get up at 5:00 in the morning and do the work then than spend any time on it in the evening.

5. I love buying new electronic gadgets, but won't replace them until they fall apart. That means that, for instance, I was one of the first people I knew to have a digital camera, but for the last three or four years, I've had the most primitive digital camera of anyone I knew.

6. I wear my favourite clothes until they literally fall apart. Partly for this reason, whenever I find an item of clothing that I really like, I tend to buy exactly the same thing in two or three different colours.

7. I always always always have bruises all over my legs. I very seldom remember how I got them.

8. If I have trouble sleeping, I have an absolutely foolproof insomnia cure. It's a tape of which I have never managed to hear more than five minutes - Thomas Harris reading 'Hannibal'. I have no idea what happens in the story (I hear it's a bit bloodthirsty), but this guy has the world's most soporific voice.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Birmingham Oratory

I'm reminded by a comment from Wendy Doyle that I haven't said anything about last week's Mass for Ascension Thursday at the Birmingham Oratory. It was great to meet Matt, Wendy and Madeleine. Matt's account of the Mass is here.

The Mass was wonderful in every way. The church itself is beautiful, with a calm, prayerful atmosphere. The singing was outstanding, the Mass celebrated with true reverence and the homily was both thoughtful and thought-provoking. (And yes, Jackie, the two little altar boys were very cute!)

Now, I've said before that I like being able to participate in the Mass - in a Novus Ordo Mass, I actually hate it when the choir take over and the congregation are unable to join in with the hymns, or when new settings are constantly being introduced so that we can't join in with the sung bits of the Mass.

In a Tridentine High Mass, however, it felt perfectly right that most of the singing was not participatory. With the beauty of the music, the majesty of the decor, the solemnity of the ceremonial, and the scent of the incense, it was a true feast for all the senses, but somehow this feast didn't distract but deepened the prayer experience.

I'm not sure I would want this sort of feast at every Mass, and I still enjoy being able to sing a selection of well-chosen hymns at a properly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass, but this was amazing.

I was also very grateful to have the opportunity to attend a Mass for Ascension Thursday ON Ascension Thursday.

Thanks very much to Matt for letting us know that it was happening.

Monday, 21 May 2007

On holiday

Well, here I am in mid-Missouri, getting reacquainted with another fine set of nephews and nieces. The journey was OK - I got upgraded to 'Economy Plus' on the transatlantic flight to Chicago, had plenty of time for the layover there, and arrived here late last night.

The great thing about being in a house with seven children is there's no time for jet lag...

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Not what she used to say...

I'm off on holiday again tomorrow - a week in Missouri with my brother and his family, followed by a week in Washington DC with my eldest nephew. I'm planning to take my laptop with me (if it fits in my hand luggage), but blogging may be sparse.

I was just talking to my mother, and at the end of the call she said, "Well, have a lovely time, and don't talk to any strange men. Unless they look nice."

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I'm sure something has changed since I was a little girl...

A book meme

I've been tagged by Esther (thanks, Esther) for this meme.

How many books do you own?

Several hundred - can't count at the moment, as most are in boxes pending painting of the new bookshelves.

Book(s) I am reading now:

1. An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire - strictly speaking, I haven't started it yet, but I'm taking it on the plane with me tomorrow.

2. Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith - the third in a series, which has just come out in paperback. A light read which is very good for reading on the Tube, as the chapters are very short!

3. Diary of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe - the book I'm reading for my book group.

Books I've read recently:

1. Walk With Me - A Lenten Journey of Prayer (diocesan production)

2. Tottel's Property Taxes - preparation for the last course I taught

3. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Guo Xiaolu - the first present New Man bought me, which he gave me on our first meeting. A very thoughtful choice, based on the fact that he knew I used to work in China, and I very much enjoyed the early part of it, but started to struggle a bit when it got a bit pornographic in the middle - don't tell New Man, but I didn't actually finish it.

Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me:

1. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church - a beautiful book, which is small enough to keep permanently in my bag so that I can dip into it any time I have a spare moment.

2. The Angel Who Guarded The Toys by Doris Burton - this is a book which my mother received as a prize when she was a little girl. She read stories from the book to my brothers and me when we were children, and I still remember several of those stories and the lessons they taught. This book probably had the biggest influence on my way of looking at the world when I was growing up, and I loved hearing stories from it.

3. London The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd - this is just a brilliant book: part fact, part fiction, and brilliantly researched. I have given copies of it to countless people. The best recommendation I can think of for it is that one of the friends to whom I had given a copy gave me a copy of the same book for my birthday six or seven years later, with a note saying, "Someone recommended this to me and I thought it was brilliant - hope you enjoy it too". So the friend in question gets no marks for memory, but lots of marks for enjoying the book I recommended and passing it on!

4. There's No Such Place As Far Away by Erich Segal - a book which my brother gave me when I was briefly having a hard time at boarding school. Another which I have given to several people, and I don't need to have my own copy any more - I know the story by heart.

5. The Dragon Book of Verse - all my favourite poetry in one book. I've given my copy away, so need a new copy, but there's definitely a space on my bookshelf until I get it.

Special mention should also be given to my Shorter Oxford Dictionary and my Encyclopaedia Britannica, without which my libary would not be complete. Every time I look anything up quickly in one of these, I end up browsing for hours - I love them!

It's very late, and I only got home just after midnight. I tag whoever fancies doing this...

Thursday, 17 May 2007

EU farming subsidies

To: Rt Hon David Milliband MP Secretary of State, DEFRA

Dear Secretary of State,

My friend, who is in farming at the moment, received a cheque for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I now want to join the "not rearing pigs" business.

In your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the EU under the Common Agriculture Policy.

I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs, but if this is not the type you want not reared, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these?

As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping an accurate record of how many pigs I haven't reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this?

My friend is very satisfied with this business. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is - until this year, when he received a cheque for not rearing any.

If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. Then I can afford to buy an aeroplane.

Another point is that these pigs I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I didn't rear? I am also considering the "not milking cows" business, so please send any information you have on that too. Please could you also include the Government information on set aside fields? Can this be done on an e-commerce basis with virtual fields?

In view of the above you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will also qualify for unemployment benefits and I'm sure you can also include housing benefit and exemption from council tax.

I shall of course vote for you at the next general election.

Yours faithfully
Virtual Farmer

Shoddy service

I'm in Birmingham on business at the moment.

I arrived last night and ordered room service - big mistake. It took over two hours to get to me, and each time I phoned to ask where it was, I was told another big fat lie:

"We tried to deliver it to you, but we couldn't remember your room number. We'll send it up right now."

20 minutes later: "Yes, the guy's on his way to your room now."

15 minutes after that: "Your burger's on its way... Oh, you didn't order a burger? We'll have to call the guy back and get him to take what you did order."

10 minutes after that: "We thought you already had it."

And then when it finally did arrive, they forgot to bring me any cutlery!

A tip to anyone in the service industry - customers (particularly if they're British) will put up with an awful lot if you tell them the truth. If you lie to them and make them think they only have two more minutes to wait when in fact another hour is closer to the truth, they get REALLY REALLY CROSS!!!

And when at breakfast the next morning, you serve them apple juice which has gone off and is beginning to ferment and forget to bring them any tea or coffee, you're unlikely to get any return custom from that customer or the firm that's paying for them to stay there.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

A bit disappointed

OK, I'm feeling disgruntled, and it's probably largely because my back is, after all, still very sore.

But I think I see why some people get discouraged. Thousands of words and pictures are spewed onto the blogosphere every day, professing to support unborn children. And yet here we have a chance to do something concrete to get the law changed, and to save the lives of countless future unborn children.

Sitemeter tells me that two people have clicked on links in the above post, both in the US and therefore probably not eligible to write to MPs requesting a change in the UK law. Nevertheless, thanks to both of them for taking an interest. I know I have UK readers, but it seems none of them are interested.

There is one other link (apart from mine) to the Catholic Action UK piece. And none of the UK blogs I read has mentioned the Bill - in fact, on a quick Google search I didn't find any other UK Catholic blogs at all that mentioned it.

Maybe if we're this apathetic, we deserve the laws we have...

True forgiveness

What happened to my sister was that, while the consultant was still outside the operating theatre, scrubbing up for what was meant to be a routine operation, the registrar made the first small incision to insert the camera. With that one cut, he nicked her aorta and she began to bleed profusely.

During the course of the operation that followed, my sister received 17 units of blood - that's twice what the human body normally holds. Twice, the surgeons thought they had lost her and wondered whether to stop. But God was with her that day, and not only did the surgeons keep going, but there was a vascular surgeon in the next theatre who had just finished an operation and was able to come in to repair her aorta. Without him, she would certainly have died.

Meanwhile, when he realised what had happened, the young registrar who had made the incision had passed out. He came round utterly distraught, and tried to assist in the operation to save her life but was unable to do so.

My sister was taken down to intensive care, where there was an anxious wait to see whether she had suffered brain damage - apparently quite a common complication when you lose so much blood so quickly. Thank God, there was no permanent damage there.

On about the sixth day, she was well enough to have been moved out of intensive care. My brother-in-law and I were at the hospital, and he excused himself and went to talk to someone.

When he came back, he explained that the person he had been talking to had been pointed out to him the previous day as the registrar who had made the original incision. With my sister's agreement, my brother-in-law had, at the first opportunity, gone up to the registrar to say that there were no hard feelings.

In fact, he wanted to make it absolutely clear that he and my sister were full of admiration for someone who was doing such an important job and had the courage to perform surgery, knowing the consequences it could have if anything went wrong.

I often think of that registrar, and hope that he was able to continue his training and follow his vocation as a doctor. I also often think of my sister and brother-in-law's example when I'm tempted to hold someone's mistakes against them.

Two years ago today...

When I was a little girl with three brothers, I desperately wanted a little sister. Every night for about three years, I prayed for a sister, and eventually, when I was 7, my first sister came along. I always adored her and felt protective towards her, and as she grew up we also became the best of friends. I was delighted when she married someone I am also extremely fond of, and we remain as close as ever.

Two years ago today, my sister went into hospital for keyhole surgery to remove her gall bladder. That evening, I phoned up her house. My father answered the phone, and it was only afterwards that it occurred to me that this was odd, as he hadn't been intending to be there. If it crossed my mind at all, I suppose I just assumed that he hadn't been able to resist a bit of time with my niece, then aged just under 13 months.

Having greeted my father, I cheerfully said, "Is my little sister all right?"

Then my world came crashing around my ears on hearing his reply: "No, I'm afraid she's not."

Over the course of the next few days, we learnt what had happened. What we knew that night was that the operation had gone badly wrong, she was in intensive care, and the next 24 hours would be critical.

I spent most of the night praying the Rosary. I choked on the words, "now, and at the hour of our death" and pleaded with the Blessed Mother to intercede for my sister and with God not to let her die. I said how much we all loved her, how she was needed by so many people, and although I also remembered to say, "Thy Will be done", I qualified that with, "But please let it be Your Will that she should live".

Two years later, my sister has a foot-long scar running down her abdomen, a hernia which bothers her sometimes, and she is still thinner and less strong than she was before the surgery. But she has not simply survived but, within 18 months of the surgery, given birth to a little sister for my niece. They now live just a few miles from me, and I see them regularly. In fact, later today she's bringing the children over to lunch, and I'm sure this anniversary will be on both our minds.

I thank God every day that she's still with us, and ask Him to continue to keep her safe in the future.

Monday, 14 May 2007

A woman's real right to choose

It seems the noble supporters of a woman's right to choose are up in arms again.

The issue now is a Private Member's Bill being introduced by Ann Winterton. One of the "contentious" provisions in this bill is the following:

A Conservative MP is seeking to change the abortion law to make women faced with unexpected pregnancies receive mandatory counselling.

Ann Winterton, the MP for Congleton in Cheshire, also wants a seven-day "cooling off" period following meetings with counsellors.

The reason is to make sure that women are not rushed into a decision to abort and that they take sufficient time to reflect before they finally decide on what they would most like to do.
You can read the whole article here. The Daily Mail appears to be the only one of the nationals reporting on it at the moment, and the web version of the article is more objective than the one that appeared in the print version on Saturday. Here's the beginning of the print version (the emphasis is mine):

Counselling 'must be compulsory for women wanting an abortion'

Women would be forced to undergo counselling before they can have an abortion under proposals to be debated by MPs.
The author clearly thinks this would be an unreasonable imposition on the women concerned. Am I alone in wondering why?

Surely this is the very type of measure that those who genuinely support the right to CHOOSE should be welcoming - a measure which ensures that a woman who is upset, confused and doesn't know which way to turn is helped to see what her options are and given a little breathing space so that she is able to make an informed choice and not rush into something that she may regret for the rest of her life.

Or is it that they don't really support the right to choose at all? Every time anyone introduces an initiative (think of Cardinal Winning in Scotland, for instance*) which might entail a woman being supported in making a choice which doesn't involve killing her baby, these feminist harridans screech about oppression of women and claim that these schemes which aim to support women at one of the most difficult times of their lives are actually restricting their freedom.

Surely the only people restricting anybody's freedom are those who aren't giving them the right to talk their options through with someone who is impartial and is not emotionally involved, who will help them to see that they DO have choices. I was horrified to realise that women don't already get counselling as a matter of course at such a difficult time in their lives. No wonder so many go for what they see as the only option - nobody has helped them to see that there are alternatives.

The Bill will be introduced into the House of Commons on 5 June. Let's pray that it succeeds, and that women and their unborn babies from now on will be given a fairer chance.

In the meantime, the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship is urging voters to write to their MPs asking them to support this Bill. Catholic Action UK gives further details and the address to write to.

Remember what the Catechism says: "Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you." If we say those prayers and write those letters, we can make a difference.

* I'm going to link to an article here, but decided not to do so in the body of the text for the sake of your blood pressure. Here's what Cardinal Winning actually achieved. And here's a whole steaming pile of vitriol accusing him of being "perverse" and referring to his "distasteful initiative to bribe girls as young as 12 into continuing with unwanted pregnancies". And people wonder why I won't let the Guardian in my house...

Update: In case you are interested, here is a copy of the e-mail which I have just sent to my MP - feel free to use it or butcher it in writing to your own MP:

Subject: Termination of Pregnancy (Counselling and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

I am sure you are aware of the above Private Member's Bill, which is to be introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday 5 June 2007.

It aims principally to ensure that women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy receive proper counselling and information about alternative help available, and provides for a delay of seven days before they are required to make a final decision on this very important and emotional issue.

I am writing to request that you attend this debate and vote in support of the Bill, which will give women a real opportunity to make an informed choice at a time when they often do not know where to turn.

About me meme

This meme came from Bill the Cat.

1. Male or Female: Female

2. Married or Single (or religious): Single.

3. Dream vacation: My holidays are mostly all the same - visiting other members of my family who are scattered around the world. I'd like to see Australia and New Zealand, and to visit the village my grandparents came from in Ireland, and I'd also love to go back and visit all the places I used to know in China.

4. Birthplace: Hanover, West Germany.

5. Area I live in currently: Buckinghamshire.

6. Someone you wish you could meet: My future husband and children :¬).

7. Biggest "pet-peeve": Oh, there are so many - but they all boil down to one thing: the lack of respect for other people in British society today.

8. Favourite Religious devotion: Besides the Mass - the Rosary.

9. Favourite Saint (besides the Blessed Mother): St Christopher (now you've rehabilitated him for me!).

10. Favourite sport that you play: Squash - though I haven't played it for a little while. I also used to row, and loved that - but don't have the time to devote to it these days.

11. Favourite food: Tough one, this - I love food. I can tell you what I don't like - the one food I won't eat is scrambled egg (though I love eggs in all other forms). And if you really can't stand scrambled egg, don't feed it to a toddler before taking her on a boat trip if there's any possibility she might be seasick!

12. Tridentine or Novus Ordo: Novus Ordo with reverence and a bit of Latin (Missa de Angelis) at the moment - though ask me again on Thursday night after I've been to this Mass.

13. Would you (or are you) home school or public school: I went to boarding school, and think it had huge benefits for me. If I had to choose a school, the important thing is that it would have to be a Catholic school. Given the opportunity, in the absence of a Catholic school I'd be interested in home schooling - particularly with the mess education is in here in the UK at the moment.

14. How many kids do you have: None.

15. Ever been in an auto accident: When I was 21, I wrote off my parents' car. It was shortly after my birthday, and my mother used to give me silly badges on my birthday cards. I stood on the pavement at the side of the road, crying my eyes out and bemoaning the fact that this was my parents' only car and I didn't know how they would manage - wearing a badge that said on it "Mummy's Little Ray of Sunshine"! Incidentally, as I left home that day I had scratched the car very slightly on a wall outside my parents' house. My mother had inspected the damage and said, "Well, if that's the worst you can do, I really wouldn't worry about it"!

I've been in three or four other accidents, but fortunately have never been hurt. The last time was when a truck went into the back of me on the motorway last year, and left a perfect imprint of its radiator grille on my back bumper!

16. Ever seen a pope in person: No.

17. Languages that you know fluently: English. French used to be pretty fluent, but is now very rusty. I can argue quite effectively in Mandarin Chinese.

18. Last movie you saw in theatres: Fracture (starring Anthony Hopkins doing his intelligent psychopath act again). Chosen by New Man - saw it a couple of weeks ago. New Man and I have been to the cinema more times in the last couple of months than I have done in the previous five years.

19. Favourite Blog: Well, the first blog I read, which introduced me to the blogosphere, was Mulier Fortis, and it's still the first I'll look at if I haven't got much time. Mac, you've got a lot to answer for (I should be working right now...)!

20. Your thoughts on Barney, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus: I'm very happy to say that none of my nephews, nieces or godchildren has ever got into Barney.

Both the Easter bunny and Father Christmas gave me many happy memories from my childhood, and I was devastated when, at the age of 10 (yes, I was a credulous child) a group of other girls told me Father Christmas didn't exist. I remember arguing back for ages, with 'proof' that they were wrong, and I'm still not entirely sure I believe them...

But he only gave us small presents (a tangerine, a sugar mouse...), and we knew that our main presents were from our parents - I think it's important that children learn to recognise the time and effort their parents have put into choosing the perfect presents, and then learn to do the same thing themselves in choosing presents for other family members.

OK, I don't know who's already done this - Mac might be here till Kingdom come if she has to answer question 15. If anyone is reading this and hasn't done it yet - have a go!

Holiday reading

I bought myself a new book yesterday:

It looks fascinating - here's a review. I'm planning to take it on holiday next week - I should at least have some reading time on the plane. I'll let you know what I thought of it when I've finished reading it.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Mothers' Day (again)

OK, it's not Mothers' Day in the UK today - but this is an American video (and I love the ending). Happy Mothers' Day, all you Moms out there.

Favourite music meme

I've been tagged by Esther for this favourite song/music meme:

Five favourite songs: I have so many... but here are the first five that come to mind: 'Objects in the rearview mirror' by Meat Loaf, 'Promise me' by Beverley Craven, 'Freedom' by Fat & Frantic, 'I'll be there for you' by Bon Jovi and 'Total eclipse of the heart' by Bonnie Tyler

Three favourite music artists: Only three? That's hard. Well, if I say Dolly Parton, Meat Loaf and Ralph MacTell you might get an idea of how eclectic my taste in music is.

Three favourite composers: Mozart, Sibelius and Vivaldi.

Favourite song when you were a little kid: The Skye Boat Song

Favourite song you wish you could sing: Panis Angelicus

Favourite type of music: Hmmm - country/folk, I think. Country can be an unfortunate choice at times - several years ago, when the man I had thought I was going to marry announced three days before Christmas that the holiday he was about to take was actually his honeymoon and he had got some other woman pregnant (apparently he had 'needs' that he had to relieve elsewhere because I wouldn't service them before marriage...), the family had all already finished their Christmas shopping. My poor sister was mortified when I opened the present she had bought me - a CD of 'Alone and Forsaken' by Hank Williams!

Least favourite song: 'Who let the dogs out' - I'm not even going to bother looking up who sang this. I hate hate hate hate hate it - I'd rather pull all my toenails out one by one than listen to this song.

Least favourite type of music: Garage/house/rap/hip hop: one or all of these - I'm not entirely sure of the distinction between most of them, but they all seem to be noise without either a melody or decent lyrics to recommend them.

Favourite musical instrument: The violin

Musical instrument you wish you could play: The violin. My brothers refer to mine (very accurately) as the Vile Din. I'd also love to be able to play the piano.

Right, I tag anyone who fancies doing this. Go on, Brad - I'll do yours if you do mine.

Ooooh, the relief!

On Tuesday morning, the very last time I had to put my niece into my little car (bending at quite an awkward angle to do so), I felt something ping in my back. It's got progressively worse since then, until this morning I could barely move. I was OK when upright, but found it very difficult to bend in the middle to sit down and extremely painful, once bent, to get myself upright again.

It poured with rain for most of the day today, then this evening as New Man and I ate our tea the sun came out, and I suggested that we go for a walk before having our pudding. We explored a lovely little country lane, and stopped to look at the rabbits hopping around and to listen to the complete absence of traffic noise. It was utter bliss, even when the rain started again.

And as we walked home again, having gone a couple of miles, I felt something ping again in my back. Whatever had gone 'out' seems to be back 'in' again, and I can reach my shoelaces, sit down without being in screaming agony when I try to get up again, and generally just move much more freely. It's still a bit tender, but I think I'm on the mend, and the relief is wonderful...

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Nemo has been found

Funny Pictures
Funny Videos

This is amazing!

Funny Pictures
Funny Videos

Erm, just run that by me again...

The Evening Standard has a report today of Cherie Blair's latest money-making venture - another lecture tour in the US. The article says:

"She has been accused of making money out of her husband's status, but a No 10 spokesman said, 'Mrs Blair has been making speeches about work-life balance and human rights for the last 10 years'."

OK, that's all right then.

Oh, but hang on...

How long has her husband been prime minister?

Thursday, 10 May 2007

So much to do, so little time

I always try to take one day at a time.
Unfortunately, today I think several days hit me at once.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Another silly joke

Farmer McCarthy lived for many years with only his dog for a companion.

One sad day he found his dog dead from old age. He went to his parish priest and asked if he would conduct the funeral.

The priest said, "Oh no, we can't have a funeral Mass for a dog here, but there's a new church down the street that might be wiling."

"Father, do you think £50,000 might be enough of a donation?" asked Farmer McCarthy.

"Well man," exclaimed the priest, "Why didn't you tell me your dog was a Catholic!!!?"

C'est le mois de Marie

C'est le mois de Marie,
C'est le mois le plus beau;
A la Vierge chérie,
Disons un chant nouveau.

Ornons le sanctuaire
De nos plus belles fleurs;
Offrons à notre Mère
Et nos chants et nos coeurs.

De la saison nouvelle
On vante les attraits:
Marie est bien plus belle,
Plus brillants sont ses traits.

Au vallon solitaire,
Le lis, par sa blancheur,
De cette Vierge Mère
Nous redit la candeur.

L'aimable violette,
Cherchant l'obscurité,
De la Vierge reflète
La douce humilité.

La rose épanouie
Aux premiers feux du jour
Nous rappelle, ô Marie,
Ton maternel amour.

Vierge, que ta main sème
Et fasse croître en nous
Les vertus dont l'emblème
A ses yeux est si doux.

Fais que dans la patrie
Nous chantions à jamais
Sainte Vierge Marie,
Ta gloire et tes bienfaits.