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...

Meme

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.