Friday, 31 August 2007

Hiatus

I'm going away for the weekend, and probably won't have access to the internet - so no posting, and I won't be able to moderate comments. I will enjoy reading any comments you care to leave when I get back on Sunday, though. :¬)

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

The only image that made me cry

A few years ago, I spent the summer working in New York. While there, I met a very flamboyant, very camp and very young drama student, who was a friend of a friend. We all went out for a meal one evening, followed by a visit to the theatre, and at the end of the evening, this young chap leant across to me, put his hand on my knee, and in a voice dripping with sincerity, said, "I just have to tell you this. I REALLY miss Princess Diana."

Well, what's an average Brit to say to that? "Er, gosh, right, you should really get therapy for that"? "You have the advantage over me - I didn't know her personally"?

I can't remember what I did say. But I've been reminded of what he said many times over the last few days. The papers have been full of the 10th anniversary of Diana's death, and in particular the memorial service which is being held tomorrow. It was organised by her sons - two people who have every right to miss her. They invited members of their family, people who knew her, people who will support them, and because of who she was and who they are, they were also obliged to invite some political bigwigs.

At the weekend, the newspapers reported that some publicity-seeking nobody who had never met the princess had written to Clarence House demanding that the Duchess of Cornwall be removed from the guest list. The Duchess had been personally invited by Diana's sons, who wanted her there to support them. Under pressure from the public, she has now decided not to attend.

The butler who betrayed Diana by selling stories which he had promised to keep private and has cashed in on her memory time and time again has also been in contact with Clarence House, complaining that he has not been invited. Being a shameless self-publicist, of course, he has also been in touch with all the national newspapers.

In all the public whinging about how the public is being excluded from the private memorial service on the anniversary of the day she died, people seem to forget that the princes also personally organised a massive public concert earlier this summer to enable the public to join in an event to commemorate her.
I watched the funeral, and it was a historic occasion. But this was the only image that made me cry - a picture of the flowers placed on her coffin by her 12-year-old son Harry, with the single word 'Mummy' on the card. It still chokes me up, and anyone who thinks they "really miss" Princess Diana should remember this image. To the world, she was a princess - but to that little boy, she was the world, and he and his brother should have the final say in how she is commemorated.

She was a human being. Her sons loved her. That's what's important on this anniversary of her death. I won't be amongst the crowds of people who never met her but want to gather in London to show how much they "miss" her.

But I will say a prayer for two boys who had to grow up without their mother.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Planning a wedding

Since getting engaged, I've spent a bit of time on a wedding chat forum, picking up a few ideas and reading about other people's wedding plans. It's amazing to read about the sort of problems people are having as they make their plans:

"Both sets of parents are divorced and remarried, and all four sets are contributing to the cost of the wedding. How do we phrase the invitation?"

"I haven't spoken to my father for several years and now he wants to come to my wedding. How do I tell him I've asked my stepfather to walk me down the aisle?"

"We don't want children at the wedding - except for our own. How do we tell people without causing offence?"

It makes me realise how lucky New Man and I are. We're both Catholic, both getting married for the first time, both believe that marriage is for life, both have parents who have been married to each other for over 40 years, both get on well with all our families, and both have some fantastic friends who are delighted to share our excitement at planning a wedding and a life together.

I know there will be some hiccups along the way - in fact, there already have been a couple of misunderstandings involving other members of the family (all now resolved). With two Irish Catholic extended families to contend with and the need to book a venue for the reception as soon as possible, we're having a bit of a headache over the guest list.

But whatever problems we have in planning the wedding, and however fed up we might get with the wedding plans, two things stand out in our minds.

The first is that both of us recognise the nuptial Mass as the most important part of the day. Some of our friends will be invited to the Mass and not the reception, and we look forward to declaring our love and commitment to each other and making our solemn vows in front of God, with all the people we're closest to as witnesses.

Secondly, we know that all the detail we're worrying about is just that - the detail of a single day. And how can any couple get upset at having too many people in their lives who love them and would like to share their special day?

There may be times when we get fed up with juggling our guest list to try to keep people happy, or delicately explaining to offended mothers of small girls that there's a limit to the number of bridesmaids any one bride can have.* But hopefully we'll never forget to look forward with joyful anticipation to the years of marriage that (God willing) will follow that one day.

*Note for US readers - here in the UK, it's traditional to have small children as bridesmaids, often with only one adult as maid of honour (if she's unmarried) or matron of honour (if she's married). Apart from my matron of honour, all my bridesmaids will be aged 8 or under.

Nice Matters Award

It's been a hectic week (as you may have noticed from the lack of posts), and I've struggled to keep my head above water at times, so it was a great lift this morning to see that Esther has awarded me a Nice Matters Award!

Here's what it's all about:

“This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded please pass on to seven others whom you feel are deserving of this award”.
I'm delighted that someone as lovely as Esther, who is one of the nicest bloggers I know, thought I was deserving of this - thank you, Esther.

Now the hard part - to choose only seven people to pass this on to. Well, a couple of my favourite bloggers (Mac and Leticia) have already been nominated by others. Here are seven more of my favourite bloggers, who have lovely blogs which always inspire good feelings in me:

1. Beth at Beautiful Day
2. FloridaWife at Waiting for the Gift of Children (and I hope and pray that the title of that blog will change soon)
3. Red Cardigan at And Sometimes Tea
4. Christine at Domestic Vocation
5. Diana at St Fiacre's Garden
6. Jennie C at Far Beyond Pearls
7. Amy Caroline at Knit Together in Love

Thursday, 23 August 2007

If you've ever gone shopping with several children...

... you have to read this. Absolutely brilliant! Having shopped for school supplies last year with my brother's seven children, I think I can relate a bit...

H/T to Jen Ambrose.

A silly joke because I'm too busy to think

Two Mexicans are stuck in the desert, wandering aimlessly and close to death. They are close to just lying down and waiting for the inevitable, when all of a sudden...

"Hey Pepe, do you smell what I smell? Ees bacon, I am sure of eet."

"Si, Luis, eet smells like bacon to me too."

So, with renewed strength, they struggle off up the next sand dune, and there, in the distance, is a tree, just loaded with bacon. There's raw bacon, dripping with moisture, there's fried bacon, back bacon, crispy bacon, double smoked bacon - every imaginable kind of bacon!!

"Pepe, Pepe, we are saved! Eees a bacon tree."

"Luis, are you sure ees not a meerage? We are in da desert, don't forget."

"Pepe, when deed you ever hear of a meerage that smell like bacon? Ees no meerage, ees a bacon tree."

And with that, Luis races towards the tree. He gets to within 5 yards, Pepe following closely behind, when all of a sudden, a machine gun opens up, and Luis is cut down in his tracks. It is clear he is mortally wounded but, true friend that he is, he manages to warn Pepe with his dying breath:

"Pepe...go back man, you was right, ees not a bacon tree."

"Luis, Luis mi amigo...what ees eet?"

"Pepe...ees not a bacon tree.... Ees......... Ees..... a Ham Bush."

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

10% more

Jen posed a question yesterday about whether we Western Catholics have become too comfortable, too seduced by worldly pleasures, and whether we should live more austere lives. This isn't a response at all, but a discussion of the tangent at which my thoughts have gone off after reading her post.

I once read that sociological research had shown that, no matter what a person's income level, if asked to name the amount of income which would be 'enough' for them, they would consistently respond with a figure which equated to their current income plus 10%.

For me, today is that magic date where suddenly the amount of month left seems an awful lot in relation to the amount of spending money left in my account. And yet 10 years ago, I could never have imagined having as much disposable income or as comfortable a life as I do now.

The trouble is that our expectations shift as our income rises.

Ten years ago, I knew I was a long way off being able to afford a car, so I didn't even think of having one. Now, I could probably list my car as a dependant and start claiming some sort of tax credit for the expense of looking after it.

Ten years ago, I was a student with three part-time jobs, and worked every evening, so I never had much time to notice that I couldn't afford to go out for meals in the evening. Now, New Man and I eat out at a restaurant at least once a week.

Ten years ago, I borrowed books from the library. Now, I buy them. And then have to buy new bookshelves to put them on.

Ten years ago, I couldn't afford to throw big parties, and it was easy enough to wash the dishes by hand after a simple meal for one, two or three. This weekend, I was hugely grateful for my new dishwasher, which made child's play of clearing up after a drinks party for 19 followed by a Sunday roast with all the trimmings for 8.

Ten years ago, I cycled everywhere, so my journey to work was free. Now, I live 30 miles from work and my train journey to and from work costs me £11 a day.

Ten years ago, I spent every penny I earned. Now, I put money aside each month and get jittery if my savings account isn't growing as I would like it to.

My lifestyle has expanded to fit my income. In fact, my current lifestyle would fit an income approximately 10% bigger than my current income very nicely. Still, I like to think that if it was all taken away from me, and I returned to the income level of ten years ago, I'd be able to cope as well as I did then.

In the meantime, I try to remember to be grateful for the many blessings that I have been given over the last ten years. And I try to remember that my car, my dishwasher and my fancy meals out are just things, that they're luxuries, and that I'm perfectly capable of living without them. But is there anything wrong with me enjoying them?

Some would say yes. The day I got my first mobile phone, an acquaintance told me I had 'sold out'. What would she think of me now - a chartered accountant, chartered tax adviser, owner of a house in the Home Counties and of more electronic gadgetry than you can shake a stick at, and reader of the Daily Telegraph? Is she right that I've sold out?

Well, I love having a dishwasher because it means I can entertain more easily. I love having a good cooker for the same reason. I love having a car because it means I can visit family and friends more easily. I love having a camera and a computer because it means I can keep in touch with friends and family who are further afield and share memories of special events with them. I love having a bigger house because it means my friends can visit me more easily. I also have a high chair, a cot and other baby equipment so those with babies and toddlers are able to feel comfortable in my home. I love having a big dining table in my kitchen so I can invite people over for meals. I love being able to afford air travel so I can visit my brothers in South Africa and the US and the good friend I'm going to visit in Northern Ireland next weekend.

The things that are important to me - God, the Church, my family, my friends, trying to do what I see to be the right thing - have not changed, and never will. And the pursuit of more money and more stuff will never stop me from making time for those important things. The luxuries I enjoy don't control me - I control them. And as long as that's the case, I'm not going to beat myself up over my good fortune.

Now, I must make a note to talk to my boss tomorrow about that 10% pay rise...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Co-ordinating the message

At Mass this morning, we sang "In bread we bring you, Lord". I can never sing this hymn without cringing at the memory of one of my worst efforts at selecting the music for Mass.

On this particular Sunday, the priest had preached a rousing homily on the subject of the parable of the Good Samaritan, finishing with a dramatic pause followed by the stirring words, delivered with a flourish, "So I want you to ask God, and ask yourselves, WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?"

Fast forward to the offertory hymn, all of five minutes later, and these are the words we were singing:

"In bread we bring you, Lord,
Our bodies' labour.
In wine we offer you
Our spirit's grief.
We do not ask you, Lord,
Who is my neighbour..."

Ooops! I'm not sure the priest ever really forgave me...

Saturday, 18 August 2007

More pictures of St Peter's Square

Blogger wouldn't let me upload any more photos in that last post - it obviously thought I'd included more than enough!

I do have a few more of the square that I'd like to add, though. As you can see, by the time we came out after Mass, the square had filled up considerably.


This statue of St Peter is at the bottom of the steps.


I love this picture of St Peter with his head framed against the sky.


And with the rather nifty zoom on my new camera, I was able to zoom in on these statues on the roof of the basilica...

... and on top of one of the gates.


With one last look back at the square, we left to find some lunch.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Sunday at St Peter's

Sunday was Hot, with a beautiful clear blue sky. I love seeing the greyish white statues and carvings against the sky, so I went a bit mad taking photos as we walked up towards St Peter's Square. This is the Ponti dei Angeli, which crosses the Tiber in front of the Castel Sant'Angelo (which I'll tell you about separately).

The excitement mounted as we got closer to St Peter's Square.


And then we actually arrived in the Square itself.





It was barely 9 o'clock, and as you can see, the Square was comparatively empty. This was the view of the Square from the steps of the Basilica.

We joined a queue to go through airport-style security to get into St Peter's Basilica - even at that time of the morning, it took a few minutes to get through. For women, the rule about knees and shoulders being covered was being strictly enforced - I saw a group being stopped while one of the women dug a t-shirt out of her backpack to cover her shoulders.

I'm pleased that people are expected to show respect, but the rule is fairly arbitrary - the woman looked quite elegant in her spaghetti-strapped top and neat trousers, but significantly less so once she had put on a t-shirt with the name and image of some heavy metal band. The image included a skull and crossbones. Still, her shoulders were covered, and once she had the t-shirt on, she was waved through.

We walked past a handful of Swiss Guard...

... into the main entrance porch, which had a beautiful carved ceiling.


The crowds were routed down through the crypt. We saw the tomb of Pope John Paul II, where a group of nuns was praying and an officious official (is there any other sort?) was glaring fiercely at anyone who looked as though they might ignore the signs which forbade photography.

There was no such officious official at the tomb of St Peter, though, so I managed to get a quick illegal snap (without flash, so not the best picture ever) of that.

And then we were up in the church itself.


One of the first things we saw, off to our right, was the Pieta.

In all of Rome's churches, and especially in St Peter's, you have to remember to "raise your eyes to the Heavens", because there are so many wonderful ceilings...

... including, of course, the dome itself.

We were told there was a Mass in half an hour in the Cathedra of St Peter, just the other side of the Baldacchino. While we were waiting, I noticed that there were several confessionals off to our right, where priests were hearing confessions in various languages. I lined up outside the English one, who heard my confession before Mass began.

The Mass was a Novus Ordo Latin Mass, concelebrated by 18 priests and five bishops, with beautiful music from the choir.


Tourists who weren't attending Mass weren't allowed into the Cathedra of St Peter. As we left at the end of Mass, though, we were able to take a couple of pictures of the Baldacchino with the papal altar.


Thursday, 16 August 2007

Saturday afternoon in Rome

After we finished our champagne, we went round the side of the building and into the Museum of Italian Independence (Museo Centrale del Risorgimento). Doubling round, we ended up in the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo.

We followed a little alleyway to the side.

This took us down to the Roman Forum. At this point, the sun really came out, and we wandered through the gardens between the ruins, basking in the sunshine.


The route through the Forum took us out just by the Colosseum.

You had to pay to go inside, and by this time it was not only hot but also fearsomely crowded, so we contented ourselves with peering in through the turnstiles and then walking round the outside.




We walked back up the Via dei Fori Imperiali towards the Wedding Cake ("Hey Fiance, look - do you remember that place? It's where you proposed to me!"). See what I mean about the scaffolding and plastic sheeting? It should look more like this.

By this time it was after 3 o'clock, and man cannot live on champagne alone, so we walked down to the Piazza Navona and had lunch there.

Sitting down made us realise how much walking we'd done and that we could do with a rest, so we headed back to the hotel. New Man's room had a complimentary bottle of champagne (well, fizzy wine) cooling in a bucket when we arrived on Friday, so when we got back on Saturday we took it up to the roof terrace and chilled out, toasting each other's health and happiness, looking at the photos of the day and reading up in the guide book about all the places we'd visited.

We did go out again in the evening, and walked along the Tiber towards the Vatican. The streets were really coming alive with both locals and tourists, and there was a street market running alongside the river.


At the Castel Sant'Angelo we cut across the bridge and headed towards Campo dei Fiori, where we bought ice cream at a place called Blue Ice that my sister had recommended and then went and ate it in Piazza Navona as we watched the crowds and listened to the street musicians.

All in all, one of the best days of my life...

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Saturday morning in Rome

We arrived in Rome on Friday night. Our hotel was conveniently placed between the touristy bits of town and the Vatican, and we decided to do the town on Saturday and the Vatican on Sunday.

We set off bright and early on Saturday, walking along the bank of the Tiber and crossing over into the Piazza di Populi.


On the way up from there, we stopped off and admired a couple of lovely churches. We stopped off at all sorts of churches in the course of the weekend, and loved the fact that all were open and we could just wander in, have a look round and say a quick prayer. In the UK these days, most churches are now locked most of the time that there isn't actually a Mass being celebrated.


In one of the churches, some latter-day successor of Michelangelo was busy working on the ceiling...

We reached the Spanish Steps before 9:00 in the morning - sadly, the Trinita dei Monti, like many of the other monuments we saw this weekend (including the front of the Wedding Cake), was shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting.


The view from the top was great, and the best we'd seen so far, but not the best we were to see. We were also rather annoyed to find a couple of con artists waiting at the top of the Spanish Steps, waiting to scam any unsuspecting tourists. They easily relieved New Man of 20 Euros - I love the way he trusts people and always sees the best in them, but in future I'm looking after the cash when we go on holiday!


From there, we walked down lovely old streets, finding the occasional little hidden treasure in a courtyard or round a quiet corner.



The next stopping point was the Trevi Fountain, where we each threw in a coin - legend has it that a coin thrown in the Trevi Fountain guarantees your return to Rome. We were very impressed with this monumental structure - both of us had rather ignorantly expected a straightforward fountain.


We then walked to the Capitoline Hill, where we climbed the steepest set of steps to the beautiful Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli.


There's a chapel by the sacristy in this basilica which houses a replica of the famous 15th century statue of the infant Jesus, which was carved out of olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane and was believed by many to have miraculous powers. The original statue was stolen in 1994, and has never been recovered.


We came out of there by a side door and crossed round the back of the museum and the palazzo to come out at the back of the Wedding Cake, where our breath was taken away by a vista of Rome stretched out before us, with the Forum and the Colosseum to our right.


We stopped to admire the view, and New Man asked if I was happy. I said, "Yes, are you?" and he replied, "Yes, but I'll be even happier if you'll agree to be my wife." Of course I agreed, and as we were conveniently next to a terrace cafe, after he had put the ring on my finger we instantly went and bought a couple of glasses of champagne (by this time it was around noon, so we felt justified...).

I don't want to make my posts too ridiculously long, so the next instalment follows tomorrow.