Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Happy Christmas

Not that you'd notice at the moment, but I'm going to be offline for a few days now. Have a very happy and blessed Christmas, and hopefully I'll be back more regularly in the new year.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Struggling on manfully...

This story could have been written about me - except that I haven't quite given in to it yet. In fact, I'm about to go Christmas shopping in Watford on a Saturday, which is bad enough when you're healthy...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Full brain

I think any woman who has spent several months trying to get pregnant will have had a stage where it was all that she could think about - where it seemed to occupy every waking thought, every hope, every dream and every prayer.

Most women I know in that situation have also had one month where they were absolutely convinced their prayers had been answered. Every little twinge in their body is noticed and interpreted to the nth degree, and the hope and excitement build up until they can hardly bear to wait another day for the confirmation of what they *know* to be true.

The disappointment when it turns out that yet again it hasn't happened is crushing. I don't think anybody who hasn't been through it can understand the feeling of failure and despair, and the fear that it's never going to happen.

So that was my November. The sickness turned out to be a tummy bug, and the exhaustion turned out to be the natural result of the amount of work I've been doing recently.

I know it's only been six months, but this is all I've really wanted out of life since I was a little girl. I'm 39 and desperately afraid that I'm going to be too old soon. I'm afraid to go for tests in case they show up problems other than the one we already know about (and which turned out not to be totally insurmountable after all). I'm afraid that any changes in my body which I attributed to pregnancy last month might actually be down to early menopause. I'm also afraid that I'm turning into an obsessive bore.

So that's why I haven't been blogging - my brain was full. But after the emotional rollercoaster of November, I'm going to try to relax about it in December and think about other stuff. After all, nobody thinks much about children around Christmas time, do they...?

Thursday, 13 November 2008


One of the things we didn't enjoy about our trip to Jersey was the Mass we went to. When we walked into the church, I almost walked straight out again - I wasn't sure if it was actually a Catholic church.

There were huge projector screens each side of the altar, onto which the words of the hymns (with several misspellings - another of my pet peeves) were projected during the Mass. I've only ever seen this in Baptist and Pentecostal churches before, and I've always thought it was because the stuff they were singing was too new and radical to be in the hymn book.

The room was half-full, but from the noise level as we went in you would have thought it was packed to the rafters - I've never heard such a racket before Mass. The seating was on ordinary chairs, and we eventually discovered that if you wanted to kneel down, you were expected to collect a cushion from the back on your way in.

For all their friendliness with each other, I couldn't say the congregation were particularly welcoming to strangers - given that the people on every side of us turned their backs on us and ignored us during the (extremely long, due to the deacon's desire to shake hands with half the congregation) sign of peace.

There was an 'animator' who led the singing, and he leapt up to the microphone before Mass began to introduce his little sideshow. He began by saying that he had received positive feedback on the "more powerful" music that had been sung the previous week and had been asked for more of the same, so was going to make a start... and then he got some sort of silly wig out of his 'prop bag' and put it on, to gales of laughter from the 'audience'. I have seldom seen anything so inappropriate.

The priest wasn't actually allowed much involvement in the Mass - it was mostly taken over by the deacon. The deacon himself seemed mostly preoccupied throughout the Mass with checking that his microphone was on - and after each check, he usually cracked some sort of joke. He gave the homily, and although I tried very hard to concentrate, my mind started to wander once I realised how much of it was about himself.

I did eventually spot the tabernacle, tucked away to the side of the church. It couldn't have been more central, because the central 'stage' was taken up with the two huge projector screens.

I came away with two overriding thoughts.

First, that this was some sort of penance visited on New Man and me because we had looked at the Mass times for the island and chosen to go to the one which gave us the longest lie-in (although to be fair to us, it was also at the Catholic church which was closest to our hotel).

And secondly, I pondered that the problem with the Novus Ordo Mass is that when you're in a parish that's not your own, you have no idea what you're going to get. You could attend a beautiful, reverently celebrated Mass which fills you with peace. You could attend a Mass celebrated by a wise and prayerful priest who speaks to your soul in his sermon and leaves an indelible impression on you.

Or you could go to a Mass like this. And until you get there, you have no idea what you're letting yourself in for.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Weekend away

We spent last weekend in Jersey. Look what fabulous weather we had...

It was a bit breezy by the sea, and the tide was in so that we couldn't walk out to the Corbiere Lighthouse (there's a causeway somewhere under those rolling waves that gets uncovered at low tide).

But the weather was ridiculously warm on Sunday, and we had some lovely walks along the beach - I even took my shoes and socks off and went for a little paddle in the sea.

Life has been very hectic lately - work has been very busy and very stressful, New Man had Man Flu a couple of weeks ago, I had a severe recurrence of back pain from a slipped disc, we've had a lot of social engagements that we couldn't get out of, we're trying to sell New Man's house without much success, and we were both feeling really run down.

Getting away from it all and just taking the chance to be together and talk with no interruptions and no distractions was just bliss. We talked about some big important things and some little trivial things, and just enjoyed each other's company.

In all the rush and hassle of everyday life, it's easy for us to put each other low down on the priority list and not to make time for each other. I think this weekend has been really good for our relationship, and I feel closer to New Man than I have done for a while.

Divorce lawyers often have a bumper crop of new clients after Christmas and other holiday seasons, because couples who don't usually spend much time together see more of each other and don't enjoy what they see. I feel very blessed that the more time I spend with New Man, the more we enjoy each other's company. I hope I never forget that, and remember in future to make more time to be with him when things get tough, and not less.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Remembrance Day


The soldier stood and faced God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
Just as brightly as his brass.

'Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My Church have you been true?

'The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
'No, Lord, I guess I ain't.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can't always be a saint.

I've had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I've been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny,
That wasn't mine to keep...
Though I worked a lot of overtime,
When the bills got just too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear..
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here, Lord,
It needn't be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't, I'll understand.

There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.'

Step forward now, you soldier,
You've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in Hell.'

Author Unknown

Monday, 10 November 2008

UN petition

I may be a bit behind the game, but I received the following by e-mail today. I have signed the petition, and think this needs to be publicised as widely as possible.

On December 10th, radical pro-abortion groups will present petitions asking the UN General Assembly to make abortion a universally recognized human right.

We have met the challenge and you can help.

We have initiated a petition drive that calls for governments to interpret the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as protecting the unborn child from abortion. Along with a coalition of pro-life groups from around the world, we will present our petitions at a press conference at UN headquarters.

So far, in only three weeks we have generated 46,417 names endorsing our petition; that is 15,000 a week! I now fully expect that we will present 100,000 names on December 10th, the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In order for this to happen, though, I need your help and I need it now.

If you have not signed the petition, do so now HERE or by going directly to http://www.c-fam.org/ and clicking on the icon "UN Petition for the Unborn Child." Then, after you have signed the petition, send this email or one of your own to ALL OF YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS!

If you have already signed the petition, send this email or one of your own to ALL OF YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS and urge them to sign it.

What we are trying to do is create a real global internet campaign that will shock the pro-abortion radicals at the UN on December 10th! To help you, the petition has been translated into 11 different languages and each can be found HERE or by going to http://www.c-fam.org/

So, please act now. Go HERE or here http://www.c-fam.org/ and sign the petition. Then send this message or one of your own to ALL OF YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

Yours sincerely,
Austin Ruse

PS We absolutely must submit more names to the UN than the pro-abortion radicals. They are bigger, richer and stronger than we are. So, act now; sign the petition HERE or go here http://www.c-fam.org/. And send this message to everyone you know!

I've looked into this a little bit. The pro-abortion petition is being presented to the UN on 10 December by Marie Stopes International. As far as I can make out, it currently has 632 signatures, compared to over 67,000 on the C-FAM petition. I don't know whether this figure is accurate, though - there is an indication on the C-FAM site that the counter on the Marie Stopes site has been disabled, so we can't necessarily trust that number. Clearly, the more signatures there are on the C-FAM petition, the better the chance of defeating the pro-abortion radicals on 10 December.

Friday, 7 November 2008

What credit crunch?

You know Frasier Crane's father's recliner? Well, New Man had a scruffy old recliner that made that thing look classy. And you know we had that reading from the Book of Ruth at our wedding: "Wherever you go, I will go..."? Well, it turns out that it wasn't about New Man and me. It was about New Man and his recliner. He was not going to be parted from that thing.

Sadly for New Man and his comfy old piece of landfill, a woman has ways of making things happen. I finally managed to convince him that his recliner was too big for the place he wanted to put it. The deal was that I would get him a nice new one of his choice for his birthday, if he would get rid of the old one.

His birthday is now fast approaching. I suggested that we might have to cancel it because of the credit crunch, but I couldn't bear the mournful look on his face. I then suggested that having already had seven more birthdays than I have had, perhaps he should stop being so fanatical about it and let me catch up a bit, but that didn't wash either. So on Saturday we struggled out to Watford to look at recliners.

After much sitting and contentedly sighing in various chairs around the store (and sampling the free freshly-baked cookies a few times - nice touch, Furniture Village!), we finally ended up with this (though not in this colour):

And it's so comfortable that New Man ended up buying me one for Christmas as well, so we'll be reclining in tandem. And I feel we can sit back with a clear conscience, knowing we've done our bit for the local economy in these difficult times...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

It's a while since we had a silly joke...

So, why do Communists always make their tea with a teabag?

Because proper tea is theft.

Monday, 27 October 2008

I only got a C for Latin O level

... but something has been niggling at me.

You know when we say, "Domine, non sum dignus..."? Well, if I'm talking about myself as being unworthy at that time, rather than making a general statement about the unworthiness of the congregation as a whole, should I (and all female members of the congregation) not be saying, "non sum digna" instead? I mean, I know you use the masculine form if it's a generic statement, but how can a statement in the first person be generic (unless it's plural - "non summus digni" I'd accept as correct)? And surely in any case this is meant to be a personal prayer.

Just wondering...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Pig ignorant

I haven't done one of these for a while, so I thought I'd try this little test that I found over at Mac's place. She, being a blogger supremo extraordinaire, got 7 out of 8 right. How does she know this stuff?

I am more of a humble pig ignorant blogger, and this was my result:

Do You Even Know What a Blog Is?

You got 1/8 correct!

What the heck are you doing at Blogthings?

Monday, 20 October 2008

In denial

This weekend, we celebrated my niece's second birthday. Not that she would admit it - when we arrived at the party she was busy refusing to open her presents from her godfather, while her 4-year-old sister danced around next to her almost bursting with excitement and offering to open the presents for her.

She was eventually persuaded to open the presents, but she refused point blank to blow out the two candles on her birthday cake. She also had the following conversation several times over the weekend:

"Is it your birthday?"

"Nooooo" (shaking head vehemently).

"Are you two?"


I'm not altogether surprised. I mean, I'd be in serious denial if I woke up one morning and someone told me my age had doubled overnight.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Keeping my head down

We've had a spate of 'rightsizing' in the office in the last month. Yes, apparently that's the new name for sacking someone because in a downturn you want to maintain the level of profit growth you had in the upturn. Others might call it corporate greed and lack of human compassion.

The thing is, the Big Bosses haven't officially announced any of the redundancies, haven't told us anything about what's going on and why, and, most importantly, haven't told us whether they think they've done enough yet. Every week we hear about a few more people who have been called into a meeting, come out looking crestfallen and been given only enough time to clear their desks before being cast aside like dust from someone's shoe.

This means everyone is looking round thinking, "Who's next?" Of course, we feel desperately sorry for the people who have already lost their jobs, and the empty desks are a constant reminder of the times we're living in. But now rumours are flying about who has gone, who might be next, and what justification is being given for the departures.

The latest rumour is that everyone's diaries are being reviewed to see how busy they are. We haven't been told this officially, of course, and since we are all supposed to keep our diaries electronically and make them available on the intranet so that anyone else in the firm can access them, the review can be done without most people's knowledge.

In the meantime, the owners of the gym which helped me to lose 30 pounds for my wedding have just announced that they're closing it at the end of this month. Apparently it is profitable. Just not profitable enough. And it doesn't fit in with the corporate image of the wider organisation, so despite its huge popularity, it has to go.

The depressing thing in tough economic times is that the people who make the decisions seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. So while I wait for economic recovery, which will come eventually just as it always has done in the past, I keep my head down, work harder than ever, pray for the people I know who have lost their jobs, and hope the axe doesn't fall any closer to home.

With the whole keeping-my-head-down-and-working-till-I-drop thing going on, blogging may be a bit light over the next couple of months.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A pretty good cake

This is the cake that my niece and I made for Grandfather's birthday. I think she would have liked to cover the whole top with chocolate chips, but we were running out of time, so she made do with jelly babies once I told her time was nearly up.

The cake itself was a little bit experimental, but it worked REALLY well. We used the yogurt cake recipe I mentioned once before, but we added to it a cup of chocolate chips. I then iced it with cocoa butter icing. We will DEFINITELY be making this variation again - it was delicious!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Icing the cake

The reason I borrowed my nieces at the weekend was so I could take them as a birthday surprise for my father, whose birthday was on Sunday. He loves all his grandchildren, but has a special bond with the 4-year-old, as when she was a year old my sister was very ill and my parents spent a lot of time looking after them.

My parents knew New Man and I were coming, but weren't expecting anyone else. When we arrived on Saturday, I went into the house and said, "I'm afraid I can't leave your birthday present in the car until tomorrow, so can you come out and help me bring it in?"

His face when he saw the children was a picture, and he had an absolutely fantastic weekend with them.

The other surprise we had for him was that the 4-year-old and I had made him a birthday cake - and that WAS left in the back of the car for the next day. We had made the cake together on Friday afternoon, then I iced it after she had gone to bed and she decorated it with jelly babies and chocolate chips before we left my house in the morning. She was very conscious that it was a surprise, and kept reminding me not to tell Grandfather about it.

Unfortunately, she did let the cat out of the bag... Just after we arrived, he said, "It's lovely to have NewHouse and New Man here, but to have you as well is the icing on the cake."

My niece hastened to correct him: "Oh no, Grandfather, it was Aunt NewHouse who iced the cake."

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

I knew he was trouble when I saw his sandals

You know that particular type of open-toed sandal that trendy priests wear? You see them, and immediately try to dampen down your antipathy and persuade yourself to be charitable and give the guy a chance. And then the Mass starts, and the first thing he does is to omit the Sign of the Cross. And as he goes on, changing the liturgy for the sake of change and making things up as he goes along, you realise that your prejudice has been confirmed once again.

That's how it was on Sunday. We were away visiting my parents for the weekend, and although I knew the church we went to, I hadn't come across this particular priest before.

Now, I try to respect the environment and to make as little mark on the world as possible. We have a car, but we don't use it for short journeys, and we take the train to and from work every day. I try to drive in as economical way as possible and get the greatest number of miles per gallon that I can. I keep the central heating on low and make New Man put on an extra layer if he complains about the cold (I knew this might be a bone of contention when I discovered last winter that he kept his thermostat SIX DEGREES higher than I kept mine - and that's Celsius, so in Fahrenheit it's even more degrees). I was taking my own reusable shopping bags to the supermarket long before it was trendy, and I have recycled glass, paper and cans for as long as I can remember.

You might wonder why I'm mentioning this now. Well, this priest chose to make his homily into a huge long tree-hugging rant about how we're destroying God's beautiful earth and we must all start wearing silly sandals and growing our own vegetables (OK, I made up the bit about the silly sandals). To me, this is the biggest turn-off ever, and makes me want to go out and buy a gas-guzzling 4x4 and use it to go to the supermarket half a mile down the road every day. I would rather be encouraged than berated, especially when the person berating me knows NOTHING about me and the way I live.

Anyway, it wasn't just the homily. He then kept weaving all these awful tree-hugging 'prayers' (which were actually digs at the congregation and exhortations to buy those sandals and start hugging more trees) into the liturgy. The worst was when he started on (I can't remember the exact wording, but I promise you this is pretty accurate, but maybe a bit shorter than what he said): "This is the Lamb of God, who died for this beautiful world which we are destroying. May we reflect on the effect that our way of life has on the environment, and may He take away our grievous sins towards this world. Happy are we who are called to share in this beautiful meal."

At the end of his performance, I really felt in some doubt about whether I had actually fulfilled my Sunday obligation to attend Mass. I was also having distinctly unchristian thoughts about this man.

He then compounded his sin after Mass. It's a small church where the congregation meet for coffee after Mass. New Man and I had borrowed two of my nieces for the weekend, and I was holding the 23-month-old as Father Sandal-Wearer approached. I told my niece to say "Hello Father" and he said, "Oh no, call me Pat. That's much easier to say, and much nicer, isn't it?"

Well, I'm sorry, but I think children should be taught to show respect for priests, and should call them Father. Or am I just being old-fashioned?

Friday, 3 October 2008

Things I discovered this week

I suppose the biggest discovery of the week was that mobile phones and cups of tea really don't mix. I knew it in theory, and now I know it in practice.

As a result, I now have a new phone. I'm obviously a valuable customer - they gave me a free Nokia 6500 and 10% off my phone bills for the next 18 months. Oh, and they also gave me £150 cash (well, not quite cash - credits to my phone bill) for leaving behind my old phone. The one that's full of tea and doesn't work any more.

Not a bad day's work, methinks. Now, what can I spill tea over next...?

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Someone worse off

Today was the day I was going to have a good old moan. I started writing the post a few days ago, but it had grown to mammoth proportions. I considered holding onto it, releasing it in several parts to give it its full force. I played around with the wording, honed the text and generally wallowed in my little pity-fest. Because, you know, I have a husband who adores me, a beautiful house, a job I enjoy, a large and loving extended family, some wonderful friends, and this week I got another promotion - but that doesn't mean I can't find something to grumble about.

The one thing I never changed about the form of this post is that it ended with a request for prayers. For me. For something I want and can't have.

Anyone who doubts the existence of God should try being me for a few days. Ever since I started writing that post, He's been giving me the most crashing and unsubtle signs you could ever imagine that I should stop whinging and count my blessings.

The thing that finally made me delete my huge long draft post was receiving an e-mail from an old friend this afternoon.

This friend had an abusive husband, and ended up fleeing in the middle of the night with nothing but her small son and the clothes they stood up in. She rebuilt her life in another country, settled her son in a school where he had to learn a new language, and worked on providing him with love and stability. He began to thrive, and threw himself enthusiastically into an array of after school activities with an ever-growing circle of friends.

Her e-mail today told me that her mother died very suddenly a couple of weeks ago. Although they lived a continent apart, she described her mother as her best friend. They used to speak at least twice a day, and there was no sign that her mother was ill.

Her father, on the other hand, suffered brain damage during an illness a couple of years ago. As well as this damage, he is thought to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's. My friend has decided that she must cross continents once again to go and look after her father. She has to uproot her son again, and he will have to get used to another school system, another set of friends, and another language.

She has no idea how much longer her father will live, but she does know that he is unable to appreciate what she will be doing for him, and that he will be increasingly difficult, grumpy and demanding. She goes willingly, because she loves her father, but the man she'll be looking after is a shadow of her real father, the shell of his body carrying none of what made him the loving and intelligent man he once was.

So if you can spare a thought, please pray for my friend, that she has the strength to cope with this latest upheaval in her life, the wisdom to help her son adapt yet again to his new circumstances, and the patience to deal lovingly with her father.

Monday, 29 September 2008

My latest new toy

Every September, my job requires my entire department to spend two weeks away from home with our new graduate recruits. This ends up being an expensive fortnight for me, as I always seem to come home with some new piece of gadgetry. Two years ago, it was an iPod docking station. Last year, I broke the trend by buying clothes instead (a whole new winter wardrobe). This year, it was this.

It's the most incredible piece of kit. It's about the size of a slim paperback, and with the leather effect cover on, it really feels as though you're holding something akin to a book. It comes with 100 free books - they have to be out of copyright, so it's an eclectic mix of classics, many of which I expect to read for the first time over the coming months.

You can download books from the Waterstone's website, which I haven't tried yet. What I have done, though, is to download a couple of free pdfs - one of them being the document by Bishop O'Donoghue that I referred to yesterday.

The other was a piece of legislation that I needed for teaching - all 766 pages of it. I was able to set electronic bookmarks for the sections that I needed to refer to, and it was very easy to flick through it as I taught. I love the way you set a bookmark as well - you fold down the virtual corner of the virtual page! (Not something I'd ever do on a real book, mind you...)

The battery life is brilliant - it charges through the USB cable when you connect it to your computer, and after I had it switched on for most of the day, flicking extensively between pages as I taught, the battery indicator still had the maximum number of bars on it by the end of the day. This is largely due to the technology which the reader uses - the screen is not backlit, and the print is a special type of electronic ink which apparently only uses power when the page is being turned.

Unlike a computer screen, the screen on this thing can be viewed from any angle, and you can read it clearly even in direct sunlight. It doesn't flicker, and so is much easier on the eye than a computer monitor.

I also find it very intuitive and easy to use, both when loading stuff onto it from my computer (simple drag and drop from the e-library software provided, and it's easy to import pdf files into the library as well) and when reading material on the screen. I can see this being something that goes everywhere with me, along with other essentials like my mobile phone and my wallet.

For me, this will never replace actual books - I love the feel of a book in my hands and the look of it on the shelf, and I wouldn't feel comfortable taking this thing in the bath, which is one of my favourite places for reading for relaxation. But it will give me access to a lot of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise have read, it'll save me from lugging huge numbers of heavy books around for teaching or when going on holiday, and it'll mean I'm never caught short of reading material.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Welcome to the cafeteria

I was involved in an online conversation the other day with someone who was very excited because she had decided she was interested in Catholicism and had arranged to go to an initial meeting for an RCIA course. She said she knew very little about Catholicism, despite her vague interest, and wanted to know what to expect and if anyone could tell her a bit more about it.

Some of the responses she received were along the lines of, "It doesn't matter if there's something you disagree with - just pick the bits you like" or "I'm Catholic and I don't follow everything they say. I think these days you're allowed to just choose."

I had to wade in... I said that some people these days do seem to pick and choose the bits that they want to follow, but that the Church is NOT happy with that. She had specifically asked about Confession, and the general consensus seemed to be that "nobody does that any more". I told her that people DO "do that", explained what its purpose was and pointed her to a few sites where she could read more. It was an open forum, and I didn't want to cause World War III, but I had to point out as strongly as I could that the Catholic Church is not a cafeteria.

She has subsequently asked me various other questions, which I have answered to the best of my ability. I wish she'd asked me a bit later - after I'd read Bishop O'Donoghue's new book 'Fit For Mission? Church'.

In his book, Bishop O'Donoghue asks whether we have forgotten what it means to be Catholic. He says:

Those who ignore their responsibility to God and neighbour forget they are Catholic.

 Those who deliberately miss Sunday Mass forget they are Catholic.
 Those who never pray forget they are Catholic.
 Those who deny they are sinners and avoid confession forget they are Catholic.
 Those who live oblivious to the suffering of the poor forget they are Catholic.
 Those who dissent from the authority of the Church forget they are Catholic.
 Those who use contraception, IVF and embryonic stem cell research forget they are Catholic.
 Those who use pornography forget they are Catholic.
 Those who have sex outside of marriage forget they are Catholic.
 Those who commit homosexual acts forget they are Catholic.
 Those who exploit their power and position forget they are Catholic.
 Those who cheat on benefits or taxes forget they are Catholic.
 Those employers who exploit their workforce forget they are Catholic.
 Those who have racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes forget they are Catholic.

Our parish priest has read extracts from this document to us over the last couple of Sundays, and has talked about what it means. I've just downloaded a copy and will be reading it over the next few days - it looks as though I might need it...

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Some things I love about being married

We've been married for almost four months now, and I find it hard to imagine what it was like being without New Man. I've been working away from home for the last two weeks, and it's been the first time we've been apart since the wedding. Every evening, I would rush back to my room to wait for his phone call, and the hour or so that we spent chatting inconsequentially about this and that was the high point of my day. I came home last night, and it's great to be back - so I thought I'd do a little post about some of the things I love about being married to him.
  1. I love lying in his arms chatting for a few minutes after we go to bed and then drifting off to sleep beside him.
  2. I love waking up, turning off the alarm clock and turning to him for a good morning kiss - and the first words I hear in the morning are always "I love you".
  3. I love his willingness to learn to cook, pick up after himself, hang his towel on the towel rail and do all the other things that he never thought were important before he moved in with me.
  4. I love pretending to get cross when he accidentally addresses me as "Wifey".
  5. I love the fact that he makes sure I always have some of my favourite chocolates in the house - he checks the box every time he's going near the shops and buys a new one if I'm getting low.
  6. I love the fact that he thinks I'm beautiful.
  7. I love surprising him with little presents, and how appreciative he is of them even when they're quite boring - like the nice leather belt I brought home for him last week.
  8. I love the way he gets up and brings me a cup of tea before he leaves for work on days when I'm working from home.
  9. I love the fact that my shy, buttoned-up man who used to be totally uncomfortable with terms of endearment now occasionally calls me "My Love" - he says it totally naturally, and I know he means it.
  10. I love referring to him as my husband, and hearing him refer to me as his wife.
  11. I love the fact that we have a similar sense of humour and laugh together over the silliest little things.
  12. I love his patience and tolerance, and the fact that I can bring up fairly difficult topics and he'll discuss them with me and reach a compromise without turning a disagreement into an argument.

I'll keep the list down to a dozen for now, but yes, married life is pretty good really. We have our difficulties, which I will also be telling you about, but I love this man and I'm so grateful that we found each other.

Friday, 26 September 2008

A life worth celebrating

My mother is a church organist, and frequently plays for funerals. There are those which are attended by a scattering of parishioners, who sparsely populate random benches throughout the church. There are the funerals of the regular churchgoers which are attended by a few members of the family, who have clearly not darkened the door of a church for years, and many of whom have not visited the deceased for some time before their death.

And then there was the funeral she played for this week. The church was packed with people of all ages. All were there to celebrate the life of a person who had clearly had a very important role in their lives. They knew him from the many different activities he had participated in, and from the many different groups of which he had been a member. My mother was struck by how much this man had been loved, how well he had been cared for and how central a role he had had in so many lives.

She attends on average at least a funeral a week, and has done so for many years, but she found this funeral a particularly moving experience, because of the love that so many people clearly had for the deceased.

The man whose life was being celebrated was not a young man, and at birth he had probably not been expected to live so long. In fact, the majority of mothers these days who are faced with the prospect that their child may be like him choose never to let that child see the light of day.

This man who was so loved by so many people had Down's Syndrome.

Thank God for his long, happy and fruitful life, and may he rest in peace.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Wedding presents

For our honeymoon, New Man and I spent a week in Hawaii, then broke the journey home with three days in Chicago. We did a LOT of walking in Chicago, and stopped for a little breather in the Pauline Bookshop, where we ended up buying each other this wedding present:

New Man didn't much like the Extraordinary Form of the Mass when he first started going with me. He couldn't follow what was going on, and found it quite uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

I knew he'd come round to my way of thinking at the end of the Mass we went to in Kaua'i, when he turned to me and said, "I really miss our own church."

I love the Mass in both forms - I've been to numerous Novus Ordo Masses over the years which have lifted up my soul and filled me with gratitude that I'm a Catholic. But I love the calmness and prayerfulness of the Extraordinary Form. The more I go to this Mass, the more I enjoy the feeling of lifting up my mind and heart to God, and the less bothered I get by external distractions (which have always been a bit of a problem for me in the past).

And having this Missal has really helped both New Man and me to appreciate the Mass more deeply - we can follow what the priest is saying and doing, and understand why he's doing it. And we can follow the readings, which was something I missed when I was just hearing them in Latin.

I also love to look at the loving little inscription New Man wrote in the front of my Missal before he handed it over. I couldn't have asked for a better present, and I feel doubly blessed that he appreciates his Missal as much as I appreciate mine.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Back at last!

Well, how nice to see that some people are still stopping by - I admire your perseverance! I finally have my computer back and a working internet connection, so I'll be gradually trying to catch up over the next few days.

I've got loads that I want to blog about - some conversations I've been having with someone who's thinking of becoming Catholic, some debates I've been having with myself about the issue that most preoccupies me at the moment, the latest piece of electronic gadgetry I've invested in...

Unfortunately, I'm teaching for five hours tomorrow on a subject about which I currently know next to nothing, so I'd better do a bit of preparation for that first. Watch this space...

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Just so you know...

... I'm still here, but my computer's broken. I can't really blog from my work computer, so until the home one is either repaired or replaced, this blog's going to remain a bit quiet.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The discerning bride and groom are using...

I still have a couple of things I wanted to share about my wedding, even though it seems ages ago now. We've just been so busy since we got back from honeymoon...

Anyway, one of the things that gave Mac a laugh when she came over for lunch the other day was the cake knife we used at the wedding. You can just about see it in this photo of us cutting the cake.

What's special about this cake knife is that it plays four tunes - 'Happy birthday', 'For he's a jolly good fellow', 'Jingle bells' and ... the Wedding March. Well, there's only one time that you're really going to be able to use that fourth button, so we took advantage of it.

OK, I'll admit it - not all of our guests found it funny! But whenever we cut a birthday cake, Christmas cake or any other sort of celebration cake in the future, we'll be reminded of our wedding. And we might well have to have anniversary cakes too, when that Wedding March button might get pressed again.

Friday, 4 July 2008

The honeymoon's over!

For the one week anniversary of our marriage, New Man took me out to a posh restaurant for a fantastic meal. We gazed into each other's eyes as we toasted each other with champagne, and as we sat on the veranda with the sound of the waves lapping on the beach in the background, we admired the beautiful Hawaiian sunset and murmured sweet nothings to each other.

For the one month anniversary of our marriage, New Man took me to see the new Indiana Jones film at the Finchley Road multiplex, and then we had a quick pizza on the way home as we listened to the dull roar of the traffic outside and he craned his neck to see the live Wimbledon coverage on the television screen behind me.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Wedded bliss...

... seems to leave very little free time for blogging!

We had a fantastic day, surrounded by family and friends. The weather was good, the atmosphere was wonderful, and New Man and I grinned like idiots all day.

Not everything went entirely according to plan. I often tease New Man about his inability to tell left from right, and he demonstrated that inability by holding out his right hand for me to put the wedding ring on. I didn't notice until later, when I reached out to hold his (left) hand and the ring wasn't there - a hasty changeover ensued!

Also, the usher who had been tasked with looking after the car parking didn't turn up until about five minutes before the ceremony, and a certain amount of bad feeling was apparently created by the ensuing chaos in the car park. I'd rather not increase the bad feeling by going into more detail, but having been very careful to try to make sure we got all the necessary permissions beforehand, we were very disappointed with the way our guests were treated.

Apart from that (and we didn't know about the car parking issue until we got back from honeymoon), it went like a dream. There were 41 children there, and we had a creche for the smaller ones which they absolutely loved (as did their parents!). There was a teenagers' table on which we had put a selection of games, and a friend who sat near them said that the games were a really good ice-breaker and the teenagers had a great time.

My niece had a very memorable First Communion, and really enjoyed being made to feel special by the other guests. Her cake was beautiful, as was the birthday cake we gave to my matron of honour, whose birthday was the day before the wedding.

The day after the wedding, we met all my immediate family (parents, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces) and a few friends at a pub for lunch. My brother had his laptop and a card reader with him, and we already had a couple of CDs with photos on (one from a neighbour who came outside to take pictures of my father and me leaving my house, and another from a friend who came to the church just to see me arrive), so he set the laptop up to run a slideshow of pictures of the wedding in the corner of the pub, which was a lovely touch.

Then we went off to Heathrow, ready to fly out to Hawaii on Monday. We arrived 24 hours late in Hawaii, but that's another story...

Saturday, 31 May 2008

And we're off!

It's the morning of the wedding, the weather is looking promising, and I'm waiting with my mother for the florist to deliver the bouquets. All the jobs are ticked off on my to do list, and we're looking forward to a fantastic day. I can't wait to see New Man in the church, and am so excited that we're going to have this great celebration with so many of the people we love.

We have a few little 'extra' touches planned. We have 24 countries represented among the guests (nationalities or places they have travelled from), so we have a display of the 24 flags of those countries at the entrance to the ballroom where we're having the reception.

My matron of honour celebrated her 40th birthday yesterday, so we've got a cake for her which will be presented during the speeches.

My niece is making her First Communion during the nuptial Mass, and we've got a lovely cake and a little present table for her at the reception.

There are all sorts of other little details, and I can't wait to show everyone the things I've been planning.

Tomorrow we're meeting any of the guests who are still around for lunch, then we're off to Hawaii for 8 nights. It's a long journey home, so we're breaking it for 2 or 3 nights in Chicago on the way home.

See you in a couple of weeks...

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Things to do three days before your wedding

Host an impromptu lunch for 15.

Go to Wembley to watch England play the USA with 10 other members of your family and a friend's son and his friend.

Turn up for a fitting for your bridesmaids' dresses to find that they've accidentally cancelled your appointment and the dresses are at another shop 50 miles away (all sorted now).

Move out of your bedroom to make room for the latest guests and prepare to spend your last two nights as a single woman sleeping on the floor in the sitting room.

Realise when the washing machine goes into its final spin at 1:00 am that it's actually quite noisy and you're not going to be very popular if it wakes your nephews. Wonder how you're going to get the rest of the bedding washed and dried in preparation for lending your house to a family of nine while on honeymoon.

And now I must empty the washing machine and see if I can get some sleep...

Monday, 26 May 2008

Things to do 5 days before your wedding

How high on most people's to do list would "prepare and host a lunch for 32 people at your house" be?

I had such a good time, though. My eldest brother and his family arrived from South Africa yesterday. My second brother and his family arrived from the US this morning. They were all here for lunch, along with one of my cousins and her family, one of my sisters and her family, my other brother, two of my oldest friends and their children, a new friend who lives just up the hill and is getting married in September, and the two sisters of one of my sisters-in-law, plus the husband of one of them.

It was meant to be a barbecue, but the pouring rain meant that all the food was cooked and eaten indoors. My two-year-old nephew woke me at 5:30 this morning, which gave me plenty of time to get all the salads and side dishes ready before the guests arrived. My brother and his family went out for the morning, apparently to allow me to prepare all the food without the children getting in the way. Actually, it was a nice thought, and I've been preparing for parties on my own for so many years now that I have quite a good routine and managed fine on my own. New Man wasn't around today, as he was recovering from his stag do in Edinburgh this weekend.

After lunch, we celebrated the second birthday of one of my nephews with a big chocolate cake, then had a baby shower for my sister (due on the day of the wedding - we're hoping this baby will either arrive tomorrow or be late), then my sister-in-law's sister, who is doing my make-up for the wedding, did a practice run on me and the matron of honour. We gave presents to the bridesmaids and ushers, and all the girls were thrilled with their necklaces and wore them for the rest of the day. One of the bridesmaids got to try on her dress and take it home with her, as I won't see her till the day now.

There has been a slight problem with the dresses - when I took another of the bridesmaids for a fitting last Monday, we discovered that the dresses they had made were not the ones we had ordered. The lady in the shop has been absolutely fantastic, and instantly offered to unpick the bodices and remake them in the style we originally chose. It does mean the last of the dresses won't be ready until Friday, but I have faith in this lovely lady.

I still have two more days of work (today was a bank holiday in the UK), but I'm so excited now about the rest of this week. The guests (except for the ones who are staying over) have now gone, I've cleaned up the kitchen, and I'd better toddle off to bed, just in case it's another 5:30 start tomorrow...

Friday, 9 May 2008

As promised ages ago...

I finished preparing our order of service yesterday, so it's fresh in my mind, and I did say ages ago I'd blog what we'd chosen.

I got a CD of wedding music for Christmas, and we listened to it in the car a few times before deciding on the Prelude to Te Deum by Charpentier for my entrance.

Then the first hymn is Lord of all hopefulness.

We're singing the Missa de Angelis Kyrie and Gloria. I have to confess New Man wasn't too keen - he thought nobody would know it - but I talked him round, and we compromised by having the Sanctus and Agnus Dei spoken in English.

The first reading will be read by New Man's sister. We liked the reading from Ecclesiasticus here, but weren't convinced my future sister-in-law would be able to read "her skill puts fat on his bones" with a straight face - New Man does love his food, and seems to enjoy my cooking. In the end, we chose Ruth 1:16-17.

The psalm is the third one here, from Psalm 103. We had the same psalm at my grandmother's funeral, and I'll be wearing her pearls, so I'll be thinking of her at this point in the Mass.

The second reading, read by my father, is Colossians 3:12-17. This was the reading we always used to have at the leavers' Mass at my old school, and my father read the same reading at my sister's wedding, and I think at my brother's as well.

The Gospel acclamation is "God is love; let us love one another as He has loved us", then the Gospel is John 15:9-12.

Having spent ages with New Man looking on the internet, going through the missal and the bible, reading all sorts of different readings and deciding on what we wanted for ourselves, when I went to use my sister's order of service as a template for ours, I realised that our psalm, second reading and Gospel are exactly the same as hers, as is the first hymn. What can I say? My little sister obviously has good taste!

My second brother and his wife are writing and reading the bidding prayers, and I know will do a fantastic job of that.

The offertory hymn is Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven - another old favourite. One of my godsons will be taking up the offertory with his two older brothers.

My niece, who is also a bridesmaid, will be making her First Holy Communion during the Mass. I've found a great quote for the order of service from the Comtesse de Gencé (whoever she was): "A girl's whole life unfolds between two veils: the communicant's and the bride's". She and her parents will receive Communion first, followed by New Man and me.

My father is my niece's godfather, and that weekend will be exactly 60 years since he made his First Communion (liturgically, anyway - he made his First Communion at Corpus Christi). So the first Communion hymn will be Jesus Gentlest Saviour, which was sung at my father's First Communion Mass. I tried googling it for my sister-in-law, so they could practise it together, but the tune which came up was not the one that we're having. Here are the words, though:

Jesus, gentlest Saviour,
God of might and power,
Thou thyself art dwelling
In us at this hour.
Nature cannot hold thee,
Heav’n is all too strait
For thine endless glory,
And thy royal state.

Yet the hearts of children,
Hold what worlds cannot,
And the God of wonders
Loves the lowly spot.
Jesus, gentlest Saviour,
Thou art in us now,
Fill us full of goodness,
Till our hearts o’erflow.

Pray the prayer within us
That to Heaven shall rise;
Sing the song that angels
Sing above the skies;
Multiply our graces,
Chiefly love and fear;
And, dear Lord, the chiefest,
Grace to persevere.

Then there's going to be a second Communion hymn - Fill My House - despite the protests of both my parents, who hate it. I've just always imagined having this one at my wedding, although I think the priest was quite pleased when I asked if we could change the words from "eat my bread and drink my wine" to "eat my body, drink my blood". Again, I can't find the tune on the net, but here are the words:

Fill my house unto the fullest.
Eat my body, drink my blood.
The love I bear is held from no-one.
All I own and all I do, I give to you.

Take my time unto the fullest.
Find in me the trust you seek,
And take my hands to you outreaching.
All I own and all I do, I give to you.

Christ our Lord with love enormous
From the cross his lesson taught
– to love all men as I have loved you.
All I own and all I do, I give to you.

Join with me as one in Christ-love.
May our hearts all beat as one,
And may we give ourselves completely.
All I own and all I do, I give to you.

New Man's contribution to the hymn choices has mostly just been to say yes or no to my suggestions. But one Sunday at Mass, we sang Immaculate Mary, and he turned to me as soon as it had finished and said, "Why don't we have that at the wedding?" So we're having it during the signing of the register at the end, and the one regret that I have is that I won't be able to sing along. I'm pleased to be having it for three reasons, though - because New Man chose it, because I know several of the people who are coming love it, and (most importantly) because the wedding is in May and so we particularly wanted to have a hymn to Our Lady.

Mac won't be able to come to our wedding because she'll be on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, so we'll think of her as we sing the Lourdes hymn.

And finally... we'll be going back down the aisle to Mendelssohn's Wedding March.

Monday, 5 May 2008

This made me cross

This weekend, I spoke to a good friend who was received into the Church at this year's Easter Vigil. She is very happy, has made lots of friends at her local church and is involved in SVP and a number of other activities.

She mentioned that she had been given a couple of really nice rosaries, but said, "I don't know how to say the prayers. I'd like to learn, but at my 'Journey of Faith' course they told me that nobody says the rosary any more, so they didn't teach it to us."

I expressed some surprise, and she continued, "Well, they said it was just used by stupid people who didn't know how to think up prayers for themselves."

I hope she misunderstood whatever point they were trying to make. But I'm furious, and assured her that both my father and I, with our postgraduate degrees, pray the rosary regularly and each carry a decade around in our pockets with us at all times.

I think all the regular readers of this blog are at least as familiar as I am with the rosary, but in case anyone stumbles across this who has suffered the same sort of catechesis as my friend, have a look here to learn how to pray the rosary and here for a brief history of its development.

May is the month of Our Lady, and as good a time as any to learn this beautiful prayer and get into the habit of praying a daily rosary.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Sneak preview

I don't think New Man ever comes on here [if you do, look away now!]. I've been winding him up, telling him that my dress is rather unconventional - knee-length, with a red skirt 40 inches wide and a green bodice.

Actually, I'm not that unconventional... Here's a couple of quick peeks.

What, you didn't think I'd show you the whole dress before the big day, did you...?!

Only a month to go now!!!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Unintended consequences

I love the fact that my sister has carried on with her children a number of traditions from our childhood. One is that at the end of the meal, my niece (who turned 4 last week) says, "Thank God and [name of person who cooked the meal] for my lovely [name of meal]. Please may I get down?" The person who cooked the meal then responds by telling her she can leave the table (or occasionally by saying, "But don't you want any pudding?"...).

I like this because it makes her think of both the immediate and the ultimate provenance of each meal, and it teaches her to say thank you for it.

But the other day, she was staying with my parents, and one morning my father let her help to make the breakfast. With help, she spooned the oats and poured the milk into a saucepan, and she stood on a stool to stir the porridge as it cooked. When it was served, everyone said what delicious porridge it was, and how clever she was to have made it all herself.

At the end of the meal, she said, "Thank God and ... ME for my lovely breakfast. Please may I get down? Yes, I may," and promptly left the table with a very satisfied look on her face!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Marriage preparation course

OK, I promised to tell you about the marriage preparation course that we did two weeks ago...

It was a one day course by an organisation called Marriage Care, which lasted from 10 am to 4 pm on a Sunday. The first thing that surprised me about this, given that it purported to be a Catholic marriage preparation course, was that the start time was too early to allow us to go to Mass beforehand at the nearest church. It was also too early to allow us to go to Mass in our own parishes before travelling there. New Man is more charitable than I am, and said maybe they expected us to go to Mass on Saturday evening. I said maybe they didn't expect us to go to Mass at all.

In the introduction to the day, they made a big play of the fact that although this was a Catholic course, they wouldn't be "shoving Catholicism down our throats". This turned out to be a very accurate prediction. In fact, far from shoving Catholicism down our throats, they made a number of statements which were directly opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church. They spoke with approval of contraception and of living together before marriage. One of the presenters made a big deal of the fact that although he got married in the 1960s, when living together before marriage was much less common, he and his wife had slept together before marriage.

There were 17 couples there, and for most of the day the format was listen to a presentation, divide into groups of three couples to discuss the issue presented, then present back to the whole room using notes made on a flipchart. Most of the discussion was around the subject of communication, and the day had quite a corporate feel to it - in fact, some of the ground which we covered was identical to the material covered in a corporate communication skills course that I went on at work a couple of years ago.

The other couples in our group were very friendly, very pleasant, and very different from us. Both couples were already living together, and both were mixed - the woman Catholic, the man not. One of the men already had a child from an earlier relationship which had broken down. The other couple already had a child between them.

Some of the issues raised were quite interesting, and New Man and I would have loved the opportunity to discuss them on our own. Unfortunately, the other two men were more interested in joking around, while the women desperately tried to drag the conversation back to a serious level. We also felt constrained by the fact that we had to get stuff written on our flipchart page and be ready to report back to the whole group. Of course, we could have discussed the questions together ourselves afterwards - if we could have remembered what all the questions were. The pack we were given to take away at the end didn't include a copy of the questions.

I was hugely disappointed that the organisers were so desperate not to offend people who don't follow the Church's teaching that they ignored that teaching altogether and actually went out of their way in some cases to indicate that they didn't follow it either. I truly believe that a course which purports to be Catholic should actually be Catholic. Where you have a mixed marriage, I think that the non-Catholic spouse should know what it means to be married to a Catholic. If they don't hear it on a Catholic marriage preparation course, where else are they going to hear it?

And since most people have heard about the Church's stance on issues like contraception and sex before marriage, why not educate them properly and explain what the Church says and why it says it, rather than pretend that it's old-fashioned and unimportant, and that nobody follows it anyway? It's precisely because of woolly liberalism and fear of causing offence on courses like this that so few people know what the Church actually teaches, and even fewer follow that teaching.

So was it a total waste of time? Well, no. The fact that we were going on the course gave New Man and me a focus and a reason specifically to look beyond our wedding day to our life together. We've been doing that anyway quite often, but we really discussed a lot of bigger issues before and after the course (though not during it, because of the format). The discussions that we had on our own over the whole of that weekend brought us closer together, and we did learn more about each other.

Oh, and we did learn one interesting thing on the course itself. Pretty much the only thing we did as couples rather than in groups was to complete a questionnaire - first individually, then comparing our answers with our partner. We had to consider various issues and say how important we thought they were, and how important we thought our partner thought they were.

Our assumptions about each other's ideas turned out to be absolutely spot on, except for one thing - one of the questions was "How important is it to keep to a budget?" I said I thought it was very important; New Man said he thought I didn't consider it important at all. We discussed why he had that impression (when paying a big bill, I often say, "Oh well, it's only money"), and I explained what my attitude really is (I only say that after I've worked out that I can afford to spend the money, and the only debt I have ever allowed myself to have is my mortgage). So now hopefully he realises that he's not marrying a spendthrift, and the moths in his wallet can rest a little easier!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Why worry?

This morning, to distract myself from a high level of needless worry and consequent inability to concentrate on work, I caught up on a few blogs. One of the posts that I read was all about frustration and worry. The author feels that she should be worrying less and placing her trust in God more. In her own words:
I don't like to worry, it is kind of like self torture but I have such a hard time trying not to. I *know* I am supposed to pray and give it up to God, knowing he has infinite wisdom in his plan for me, for my life, for the lives of my loved ones. The thing is... I am still pretty new to my faith and it is not as rock solid as it should be sometimes. I have doubts, I have fears.
Well, I'm not particularly new to my faith. I'm a cradle Catholic, I've never been away from the Church, and I made a conscious choice as an adult to continue to try to grow in my faith. And yet there I was, reading blogs when I should have been working, because I was so worried that I couldn't concentrate on my work.

The thing is, as we grow older we realise that bad things DO happen, even to the nicest people. People we love can get very sick, and even die, and we can see them suffer horribly and not be able to take the pain away. The insouciance of extreme youth is gradually replaced by caution and realism: the knowledge that things can go horribly wrong in a heartbeat. The love of another human being can cause us great joy, but it can also cause us great suffering, because their pain is our pain.

Jesus Himself knew not only pain but also fear, and in the Garden of Gethsemane He begged to be relieved of what He knew He was about to suffer. When God asks us to trust Him, He doesn't ask us to stop being human. When you put your faith in God and know that He loves you, it doesn't prevent you feeling worried, angry, frustrated, unhappy and many other negative emotions at times. But like Jesus, we try to say, "Thy Will be done" and know that God will give us the strength to get through this.

The great gift God gives us is prayer. When we're utterly helpless and there's nothing else we can do, we can pray. When our minds are full of negative thoughts and we can't help imagining the worst, we can ask Him for help. We might even see our worries at times as a little nudge to remind us to pray. It doesn't make the problems go away. It doesn't even necessarily make the worries go away, because we're human and to be human means to be frail and fallible. But it does give us the strength to carry those worries and not to be overwhelmed by them.

I have no idea how people cope with the trials of life without the support of prayer and the love of God. It's one of the graces I thank God for, and often pray that others will receive.

Oh, and that thing I was worrying about this morning? It's fine. I think. But maybe I'd better stop and say another quick prayer...


There are loads of things I want to blog about when I have time - the marriage preparation course New Man and I went on last Sunday being one of them - but for now, you'll have to make do with this meme, since I see I've now been tagged by three people - Leutgeb, Mac and Colleen...

Here are the rules:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

What I was doing 10 years ago:

In April 1998 I was working on my PhD. I started it the month after I got back from China, and was very fortunate to get a loan from a family friend to pay the first year's fees. The second year I was even more fortunate when a nun at my old school suddenly announced that the order had a fund to make grants to deserving cases, and gave me a cheque to cover my second year's fees.

By April 1998, I knew I was going to have to find the money to pay the third year's fees. Although I had two jobs at the time (an evening secretarial job in an office and a more casual job doing typing for a print shop), I was living a fairly hand-to-mouth existence, and certainly didn't have £2,500 knocking around. Fortunately, the guy who ran the print shop had a friend who edited a legal journal and was looking for someone to compile a cumulative index of its first 10 years. The amount he was offering was a little more than I needed to cover my fees.

So the typical pattern of my days was: get up by 7:30 and do any typing that needed to be done while listening to my favourite radio programme (Wake up to Wogan) until 9:30. When that was finished, work on my thesis until lunchtime. After lunch, finish any typing that had to be done that day and then work on the indexing. Leave home around 4:00, cycle up to the print shop (about 5 miles) to drop off that day's work and pick up anything new, then cycle to the office (on my way home, fortunately) to work from 5:15 to 9:15. Get home around 10:00 and do more typing/indexing work until about midnight.

The day I got a full-time job after finishing my PhD, I couldn't believe my luck - only one thing to concentrate on, and free evenings too!

Snacks I enjoy:

Chocolate, especially Lindt Lindor, which New Man buys for me regularly
Pringles crisps
Reece's Pieces
Pretty much anything calorific and bad for me - since Lent ended, I'm having a bit of a battle between my desire to look slim (OK, well at least not fat) and beautiful in my wedding dress and my desire to trough handfuls of the mini Tootsie Rolls that I brought back the last time I went to America. At the moment, the latter seems to be winning.

Five things on my To Do List today:

1. Update notes for the course I'm teaching next week
2. Write to New Man's parents to thank them for a very generous gift they gave us last week
3. Respond to a lunch invitation for the celebration of my aunt's 60th birthday
4. Go to the gym
5. Carry on sorting through some papers and shredding the ones I don't need. This is an ongoing project at the moment, as I'm such a terrible hoarder and need to make room for New Man and his belongings to move in next month. He's also a hoarder and is (hopefully) doing a similar exercise himself.

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

1. Pay off the mortgages of all my friends and family
2. Set up a holiday fund for my family to enable all of us to be able to visit each other regularly (not easy at the moment, since one of my brothers lives in South Africa and another in the US)
3. Set up a fund to help people who work hard and need a bit of a break. When I started my PhD, I couldn't get any funding at all. I paid the full cost of supporting myself while I studied and paying my fees, etc, apart from £5,000 representing two years' fees. That £5,000 was what enabled me to achieve my dream, and I'd love to be able to do that for people in a similar situation.
4. Finish writing the book that I started about 12 years ago and have never had time to go back to.
5. Choose a few charitable causes to support - probably not big established charities, but each one would be carefully researched. I'd want to know what they needed the money for, and some sort of evidence of what was being achieved with the money. OK, I know, see number 3 under my bad habits...
6. If we're in a fantasy world already, I'll award myself three or four children and become a stay-at-home mother.

Five jobs that I have had:

1. Teacher trainer (training teachers of English as a foreign language)
2. Secretary
3. Index compiler
4. Tax accountant
5. Au pair, looking after several children aged between 6 months and 8 years

Three of my bad habits:

Only three? Gosh, which ones to choose...?

1. Procrastinating
2. Always having to have the last word in an argument
3. I'm a bit of a control freak

Five places I have lived:

1. Monchengladbach, West Germany (as it was then)
2. Rennes, France
3. Xi'an, China
4. New York, USA (only for six weeks, but I had a job and my own apartment there, so I reckon it counts)
5. York, England

Also various other places in England and Germany - by the time I was 18, I'd lived in 15 different houses.

Now, who to tag? Everyone I'm interested in knowing more about has either already done it or isn't the sort of person who generally does memes. Anyway, if you read this blog, I want to know more about you, so if you haven't already done it, consider yourself tagged.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

BBC Passion - Good Friday

There were some surprising omissions in this episode - after all the effort to show that Pilate was a somewhat unwilling participant in Jesus' death, they didn't show him washing his hands. Perhaps this was because in the Gospel versions, he then told the Jews that they were responsible for what was to happen - could there have been some politically correct concerns about not offending modern day Jews here? Certainly if you didn't already know the background, you might be hard pushed to identify the people as Jews in this version - as far as I can recall, the word 'Jew' is never mentioned. Jesus is not even accused of being (or calling Himself) the King of the Jews, but the 'King of Judaea'.

During the Crucifixion, Jesus is offered some wine on a sponge before He's actually nailed to the cross - and He refuses it. This was a detail I had not picked up on before, and I thought it was an invention of the director, particularly as the more widely-known account of Jesus saying He is thirsty and being offered a sponge dipped in vinegar is not included. But there it is, in Mark 15:23. I'm still not sure about the exchange that takes place in the film, though - the Roman soldier who offers it to Him says it will be less painful if He is drunk when He dies, and Jesus says words to the effect that He would prefer to die sober.

Some of the Last Words are covered beautifully - I cried when Jesus asked John to look after His Mother (a little more long-winded than "This is your mother", but "This is your son" stayed more or less intact). Others, including His very last words, were omitted altogether.

The episode ended as Jesus took His last breath. I'll be interested to see where it picks up on Sunday. So far, this adaptation has really brought home to me the human side of Jesus - the agony in the Garden, the pain and suffering, the struggle between His desire not to go through that suffering and His desire to do God's Will. Perhaps it has erred too far on the former side, but I think that's a minor quibble. Both mental anguish and physical suffering have been portrayed in a clear and unmistakable way, but without making it into a snuff movie.

I've seen evidence of His suffering, and of His compassion and love, and of the charisma that made the crowds follow Him. Of His divinity, I have seen less. Three of the four Gospels refer to the sky darkening as His death approached - in this adaptation, the sun continues to shine brightly. In fact, the director said in an interview that the actual filming of the Crucifixion scene had to be delayed, because every time they tried to roll the cameras, the clouds rolled in and the sky turned black!

Since the episode finished as He took His last breath, we didn't see the piercing of His side. We didn't see the veil of the Temple being torn, or the earth quaking, or any of the other dramatic events which surrounded Jesus' death in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

So far, although there are things I would have changed, and things that jarred because they didn't accord with my understanding of the Gospels, I'm still finding this adaptation hugely watchable. More importantly, although there are gaps which I'm filling in by going back to check the Gospels, this series is enhancing my understanding of what Jesus suffered for us.

The final episode will depict the Resurrection. I look forward to hopefully seeing a little more of Jesus' divinity being revealed in this episode.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

I'm so excited!

I shouldn't really talk about this yet, as it depends on various people agreeing to it, but I'm just so thrilled at the idea of it (and so is New Man - there's a reason I love this guy!). It's looking like a strong possibility that my eldest niece will be making her First Communion at our wedding!!! All we need now is for my sister's baby to come early, and we could get a baptism in too!

Monday, 17 March 2008

BBC Passion - Day Two

Today's episode, much more than yesterday, I think, contained a high proportion of fabrication. Once again, we saw the build-up to Jesus' arrest from the point of view of Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. We saw more of their motivations and more of the political background. We also saw a lot more dissent from the apostles than is mentioned in the Gospels. An attempt (successful, in my view) has been made to create a multi-layered drama rather than a story from one person's point of view.

I did find this a little more frustrating today, and there were times when I thought, "This is a total fabrication, and they're making Jesus more seditious than He really was." Once again, I was driven to my own Bible, and read the accounts in all four Gospels. This is the first time I've been moved to do this so immediately (actually during the programme this time) on the basis of a film or television programme.

As it turned out, the BBC portrayal of Jesus was a lot closer to the Gospels than I had thought. My mind has skipped over passages such as Matthew 23 in the past - but looking at it again, it is pretty seditious. And it would have frightened the chief priests and elders if they were trying to keep the peace in a crowded (and occupied) city in the run-up to a major Jewish festival.

And what of the pure invention - the conversation between John and Jesus, where John tries to persuade Jesus to leave Jerusalem and save Himself; Judas' desperate pleas to Caiaphas not to be made to betray Jesus; the cloak and dagger approach to the upper room in which the Last Supper is to take place; the conversation at the end between John and Peter, where they discuss whether Jesus will go through with it?

These are indeed all fabrications - but are they faithful fabrications? Do they help us to understand what happened in those few days, or do they simply try to put across the producer's own agenda?

For me, they are faithful attempts to explain the events of the Gospels, to put them into context. Viewers may or may not feel that they have succeeded, or even that they are necessary in the first place - but what the writer and producer have NOT done is to twist events to suit some secular agenda. There's no political correctness, no homosexuality, no suggestion that Jesus was sleeping with the prostitute - just a straightforward attempt to provide historical background to the events and to flesh out some of the characters so that we can understand them better.

The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales urges us to use this new production to evangelise. There are parts of the dramatisation that do not correspond to the Gospels, and there are some which are not in accordance with Catholic teaching (one of the more obvious so far being Mary's statement in her conversation with Jesus last night that "I didn't choose to have you, you know" - errrm, actually, one of the major reasons we revere Our Lady is precisely because she said "yes").

There will also be some parts that individuals will find are not in accordance with their own view of Jesus - we've all seen many film and TV adaptations of the greatest story ever told, and we each have our own favourite portrayal of Jesus.

But this is a major and very watchable dramatic production which, let me say again, is being shown on BBC1 at prime time. It's expected to attract audiences of 10 million - that's one person in every six in the UK. It will be discussed at water coolers at work, on the internet, on the bus and in the pub.

I feel very strongly that we Catholics in the UK should be watching it, so that we can join in those conversations - maybe point out some of the inaccuracies, but also acknowledge the places where this version is faithful to the Gospels. And we should be ready to answer people's questions and to counter any challenges that they offer.

The third episode is being shown on Good Friday at 9:00 pm - that gives us plenty of time to get home from church and eat our hot cross bun. The first three episodes are being repeated on Easter Sunday from 2:15 pm, before the climax of the Resurrection is shown in the final episode at 7:30 pm. So most of BBC1's prime time viewing on what to the majority of people in the UK these days is probably just day three of a four day holiday is given over to explaining what this holiday is all about.

I don't say this very often - in fact, I haven't said it for years, if ever - but jolly well done, BBC!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

BBC Passion

I've just been watching the first episode of the BBC's new dramatisation of the Passion, which is being shown in four parts - tonight, tomorrow, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

I admit to having been a little sceptical about this production beforehand - it's had plenty of pre-publicity, and the 'hook' that the media used this time was the supposed new take on various key 'baddies' - Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas Iscariot - each of whom was said to be presented in a way that attempted to explain his motivations and paint him as a multi-faceted character dealing with his own concerns in his own way rather than some pantomime villain.

I watched it anyway - although I refuse to watch anything which I know will be blasphemous (such as the awful Jerry Springer opera), most reports emphasised that the producer in this case claimed he was making an honest attempt to be faithful to the Gospels.

I can also remember year after year in which I have looked at the TV schedules for Holy Week, only to comment in despair that the only nod towards the importance of this week for the huge numbers of Christians in the country is perhaps a repeat showing of 'Jesus of Nazareth' at 3 am on Good Friday on one of the digital (ie, not universally available) channels.

So for the beginning as well as the end of Holy Week to be marked with a dramatisation of the events leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection - framing the week with prime time BBC1 programming recognising the place of Christianity in the life of this country and the place of this week in the lives of Christians - is, I think, an occasion for some celebration. It even has a couple of big names as an added pull for the audience - James Nesbitt, Paul Nicholls...

Tonight, I just noticed in time that the first episode was about to start. As an interesting point of contrast, New Man and I had just been watching Pasolini's 'The Gospel According to St Matthew' on DVD. I love this film, but it has two defects in my eyes - there are too many Significant Silences With Brooding Looks, and Jesus' preaching is angrier and shoutier than I imagine it to have been in reality (to be fair, that might just be because it's in Italian - Italians often sound to me as though they're arguing when they're just having a lively chat!).

'Jesus of Nazareth' is another good attempt, but also suffers from the Significant Silences With Brooding Looks, along with the fact that whenever Jesus is about to perform a miracle, He looks as though He's suffering from severe constipation. And Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' is just too violent for me.

So I was in a receptive mood when 'The Passion' began this evening, with the entry into Jerusalem. It's not perfect, and people will always find things to quibble with. But I found it extremely watchable, and am greatly looking forward to tomorrow's episode.

Joseph Mawle's portrayal of Jesus as a simple man of great charisma is outstanding. The scene where Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. And I loved the scene where Jesus and His followers were gently tending to the beggars at the pool. I also loved the little vignette between Jesus and His Blessed Mother - even though I wasn't entirely happy at the way Our Lady was portrayed (as a little disillusioned, jaded perhaps). Yes, it's a total invention - but I can just imagine a headstrong young man (and let's face it, Jesus was pretty headstrong) having a conversation like that with his mother.

What we saw today emphasised Jesus' humanity, and His great love. It also showed how simple yet radical His message was. I hope to see more of His divinity as the story unfolds, but this is a Jesus I can relate to, with a message I want to listen to and no trickery to distract me from that message. One of the things I didn't like at all in Mel Gibson's version was the computer-generated devil that kept appearing to hammer home to us that something wicked was going on. For me, it was a cartoonish device that wasn't necessary and actually detracted from the simplicity and power of the Gospel message.

This adaptation aims to show some of the historical background to Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. It shows the tensions between the Jews and their Roman rulers, the underlying unrest and the fears of the high priests that they would have their authority taken from them by their Roman masters if they were unable to keep the peace.

Is it a whitewash of the villains of the piece? Well, Judas Iscariot felt such guilt at his betrayal of Jesus that he committed suicide. Pontius Pilate could find no fault with Jesus, and washed his hands of him. Look at Matthew 27:24:

Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact a riot was imminent. So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said, "I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your concern."

So instantly we see that, while this new interpretation takes some poetic licence to explain the background to the potential riot, and brings in (invents) a whole new sub-plot with the murder of a tax collector by Jesus Barabbas and the latter's subsequent arrest, it doesn't come from nowhere. And maybe it does help us to understand the context in which it was possible for Jesus to be arrested and put to death when all he had done was preach a message of love and peace.

But you know what the best thing is about this new adaptation? As soon as it was over, I rushed to my New Testament to remind myself how the same events were portrayed in the Gospels. And a hugely watchable prime-time TV drama which provokes a bit of thought and causes anyone to reach for their Bible is one which I think should be welcomed. Mel Gibson never did that for me.


We had a great day yesterday. Before New Man got here, I mopped the kitchen and sitting room floors and scrubbed a few surfaces. In the afternoon, he put books back on shelves while I carried on cleaning the kitchen.

When I moved into the house, the previous owners told me that the wooden worktops needed to be oiled about once a year. I bought some oil, and it's been sitting in the cupboard ever since. In the meantime, I've bought an unvarnished beech kitchen table and an unvarnished teak coffee table/bench.

You may have heard a faint slurping sound coming from the area of southern England yesterday. That would have been the kitchen table and the coffee table. I finally got round to oiling the wood, and boy, am I glad I did it! The oil was soaking in almost before I could spread it - the kitchen table alone took half the bottle. As it soaked in, it really brought out the beauty and richness of the wood, particularly on the coffee table. And hopefully now rings from tea and coffee cups won't soak in so easily, and I'll be able to relax a bit more when I have guests of the less careful variety.

After the wood was nicely oiled, New Man and I put the kitchen back together. We decided together where things would go, and several items have found new homes. My kitchen looks soooo great now, and I can't wait to get back to making bread and soup, now that my bread machine and blender are back in place.

Clearing the kitchen stuff back into the kitchen also meant we were able to relax on the sofa in the evening, listening to classical music on the radio and choosing the readings for our wedding (I'll do a separate post on that later). Since the front room has looked like this for over a month now, you can imagine what a relief that was!

But the best thing is that at the end of the day, New Man said, "I've really enjoyed today - I felt as if I was moving in. This really feels like home now."

He's been staying here most weekends that we weren't away somewhere for months, and we chose the colours together when the painter was coming. But after the wedding, he is going to be moving in here permanently.

I'm so happy that he now feels like he'll be coming home.