Thursday, February 28, 2013

Will Blog For Food (Literally)

I apologise for the silence here over the past few days. My blogging abilities have been needed elsewhere.

So a quick two things:

One, if you'd like to read a couple of my blog posts for of our week in Kingussie/Cairngorms, you can read them below.

 Sometimes the best surprises are found in the places you least expect. Such was our dining experience at the Silverfjord Hotel in Kingussie. From the street, we could have easily passed by it; the outside of the building is unsuspecting and rather plain - in fact, I would have thought it was some kind of sports bar - but inside, we discovered an extraordinary little gem.



 As it turns out, Kingussie is full of culinary surprises. In a little village boasting a green grocer, a couple of chippies and a Cantonese takeaway, we certainly did not expect to find the amazing restaurants that are tucked neatly along the side streets off the main road. The Auld Alliance, a French ‘restaurant and rooms’ establishment which incorporates Scottish ingredients and influence into its French cuisine, is - dare I say it – one of the best places I have ever eaten. There. I’ve said it, and I don’t take it back.


Second, I'm going to shamelessly ask you to consider clicking just right over there -------> on my sidebar and 'Follow' me. I'm feeling a bit depressed by my lack of official 'followers' even though I know I have a lot of readers. And feel free to leave comments in the comment section below too, because, you know, I apparently need validation or something.

Okay there you have it. More blogging coming soon, after I write about the Highland Wildlife Park and the Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway!

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Week in the Cairngorms

So as I mentioned, Scott, Jaguar and I just spent five days in Kingussie, which is up near the Cairngorm Mountains. What a wonderful time we had! We stayed in a friend's holiday house (thank you again and again!), where there was wood-burning stove and no internet. I'm not gonna lie, I think we suffered a bit of internet withdrawal for the first couple of days, holding our phones up in crazy positions trying to get some mobile connections with which to check our emails and go on Facebook, but in the end it was kinda nice being away from the digital world.

Which is part lie because the house DID have basic TV channels, which to this no-TV family is a massive luxury. We watched plenty of "Come Dine With Me" and "Dinner Date" while we were there.

But mostly, we just enjoyed each other's company. Jaguar was a bit grumpy half the time, but still, Scott and I had a wonderful time of just reconnecting, talking, taking walks down the quiet little street, going to cool places (which you'll be able to read about soon enough on!) and buying daily foodstuffs at the local grocers. It was definitely a step forward in my 2013 goal of learning about simplicity.

This time of year in the Cairngorms is skiing season, so we were able to soak in the majestic beauty of the snow-covered mountains. It was awe-inspiring, breath-taking, my heart was full to burst - all the cliches that in this setting become alive and true again. I felt peaceful, happy and fully alive up there.

Maybe it had something to do with the thinner air, but it could also be just the slow-paced, quiet way of life in the mountains.

We visited the Highland Wildlife Park, the CairnGorm Mountain and its funicular railway, and ate delicious food at the Silverfjord Hotel and Auld Alliance (wee plugs there for SearchScotland again, reviews of all will be posted shortly... after I finish writing them). We read books. We took naps. Ahh what a week it was.

(Wondering where Fifi and Lolly were? Sunny Portugal. But anyway.)

Here are a few photos we took while away. No photos could do any of the sights justice, but I sure tried.

These are just some photos we took at the top of CairnGorm. It was so beautiful. I don't know how cold it was up there, but at the bottom of the funicular railway it was -5.5C, so I imagine it was much colder at the top. But it wasn't uncomfortably cold; it was really fresh and invigorating. Made me think learning to ski might actually be kinda fun.

A Pallas Cat at the Wildlife Park... trying to look so innocent while the murder victim lies right before his paws...

The monkeys at the Wildlife Park were my ultimate favourite. I love monkeys more than anything. It is my lifelong dream to hold and cuddle a baby monkey. I'm thinking seriously about getting a zoology course and becoming a zookeeper just so I can hold an orphaned monkey baby.

This mama monkey nursing her baby was just too much for me. They both looked so serene and peaceful sitting among all the baby monkeys playing rough-and-tumble (and the littlest baby stealing the patch of moss from the older monkey kids and the older monkey kids chasing it to get it back). I was captivated. I must have taken a million photos of this little couple. I don't believe humans evolved from monkeys, but I can sure see our resemblance. I wanted to sit down with mama monkey and talk childbirth and rowdy toddlers with her over a cup of coffee.

And finally the polar bears. Yes, there are polar bears at the Highland Wildlife Park (hey, I think I'm writing my review already!), it is their main attraction. We watched the polar bears wrestle and play for a long time too. It's such a thought, being that close to something so large and dangerous, separated only by a fence (and at this stage, a car, but at another part of the park, it was just a fence). The bears were great fun to watch, and again, I pretty much depleted my camera battery taking gazillions of shots of them. But I didn't have the same desire to play with them as I did the monkeys. Not quite.

Overall, it was a wonderful week. Now we're back home, and I'm looking forward to my darling daughters coming home tomorrow. Life can go back to its regularly scheduled programmes, but hopefully I'll be approaching it from a chilled out, happy place.

(Which reminds me, I've done really well with my-giving-up-negativity-for-Lent thing. But we'll see how it goes 20 minutes after the arrival of my inevitably hyper and exhausted daughters.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mamaw's Sonnet

Wondering where we've been the past week? (You're like, 'Uh, no...') Well, we've been away up north in the Cairngorm mountains enjoying a lovely wee holiday, just Scott, Jaguar and myself, while our sweet daughters are in Portugal with their wonderful grandparents.

While we had a great holiday, and I'll talk about that later, we had some sad news while we were there. My grandma, my 'Mamaw', passed away on Thursday early morning. We've been expecting it for a while, so it wasn't a shock, but it was still very sad for me. Being away from 'home' (even though Scotland is also 'home') is really hard in times like these.

My mom asked me to write a poem for the funeral. For me, poetry is such a visceral and peculiar thing; I write in a certain way, with the words seeming to bubble up out of my very guts, and I employ heavy imagery and abrupt line breaks and usually end up with pretty bleak unexpected outcomes. None of these were terribly appropriate for writing a poem for a funeral.

And considering I had only one afternoon in which to do it, and no computer with me, the task was an immense one.

I sat down with a pad of children's colouring paper, the only paper I could find in the house we were staying in, and a pencil with no eraser, and started jotting down ideas. I haven't handwritten anything longer than a message in a card in years, and besides that, I didn't know what to say or how to say it succinctly enough for its purpose.

I wanted to do Mamaw's memory justice. I wanted to do my relationship with her justice.

I also wanted it to have poetic merit. I am a writer and don't like to put my name to anything I'm not proud of.

Finally, after agonising for hours, after three front and back sheets of paper covered in one liners, quatrains, scribbles and glib phrases, I was ready to give up.

So I gave up. I gave up trying to be literary. I gave up trying to incorporate all Mamaw was into one little passage. I gave up trying to be poignant. I had a few lines I'd written in rhyme (not my usual style) which I suddenly realised could give me a framework in which to write: I would write a sonnet.

An English sonnet (or Shakespearean sonnet) is 14 lines, consisting of three quatrains and a couplet, with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. Generally speaking, the first two quatrains will have one focus, then the focus shifts for the second half, with the couplet often 'summing up' the sonnet.

Here is Mamaw's Sonnet. It's not book-worthy or a competition winner; it's not lofty or mind-blowing; it's not even a perfect sonnet (some lines aren't exact iambic pentameter, many of the rhyming words are only slant rhymes). It's just about my mamaw, it's just a simple poem written in her memory.

Goodbye, Mamaw. I hope you were able to hear it in heaven.

Mamaw's Sonnet
When we parted last, it was with tears -
We both knew it would be our last goodbye.
So frail, so thin, worn out with many years,
She couldn't speak, but still she fought to try.
And yet when I remember her tomorrow
Fond memories of her will make me smile.
So rather than goodbyes and tearful sorrow--
The things I loved about her, as a child:
Mamaw making pickles and sewing drapes,
The nights of Lawrence Welk on PBS.
She made me learn to cook and how to bake
But I liked playing dominoes the best!
It's memories like these I wish to hold
For bodies age but love does not grow old.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Giving Up Grumpy

I've never been a member of a church or denomination that practices Lent but have practised it on my own for many years. When I first started, I was very pious, and did it 'the right way' - replaced x with times of prayer, focused on repentance, all the good stuff.

The last two years have been the hardest, as my faith in God was waning significantly, and I found it hard to do Lent 'right'. Last year, while I maintained my Lenten fast (no drinks other than tap water for 40 days), there was pretty much no religiosity to it. But I didn't feel guilty about it. In many aspects of life, if not all, we fail to achieve our goals with perfection and immaculately spotless motives. For a believer, guilt should be given no lurking space in our hearts, and while I'm a pretty pathetic believer, I still believe in giving guilt the old heave-ho.

This year, Lent has come early, not giving me much time to think on it. In years past, something would always come to me - usually something very hard to give up, like meat or cake - and I knew right away it was the thing. Nothing like that has come to me this year. I considered just skipping Lent this year, but Lent is a discipline, and discipline is the most effective when it's done... well, out of discipline.

So what can I give up this year that will mean something to me? Giving up alcohol or chocolate is always an option, but I don't think it would have any real meaning to me this year. It would just be an act, a challenge, but nothing spiritual would really come of it. My life goal for this year is 'Simplicity'; I could give up a physical 'thing' each day, but let's be honest - would I actually remember to do this? Doubtful. So, if I want to practice Lent this year, and I want to do something that will make a difference to me spiritually, what can I give up?

I've decided to give up negativity.

Once, a few years ago, I gave up anger. It was wonderful. I learned so much self-control that year, and felt so much happier with my life, my kids and my husband. So this year, I'm going to take it that one step further and give up all negativity. If I'm around gossip, I'm going to turn it into something positive. If my kids spill my SodaStream syrup all over the floor and the cabinets (AGAIN), I will keep calm (unlike LAST TIME). If Scott and I disagree and I start to feel nippy, I'll hug him instead (possibly quite aggressively). I'm going to take negative feelings and situations and turn them into positive ones.

No question I will fail many times. But life - and Lent - aren't about perfection. They are about learning, growing, trying, and most of all, forgiving. Forgiving ourselves for our mistakes, forgiving others for theirs. Accepting ourselves and each other for the imperfect beings we are, and reaching towards betterment, tripping and falling even as we grasp for it. Repenting of our mistakes; in other words turning around and trying again. I'll probably find myself getting angry at my misbehaving kids. I'll probably find myself annoyed at obnoxious people and bad drivers. I'll probably get snippy with my husband for not taking out the rubbish. I'll probably grumble about housework. But when I catch myself in these negative moments, I am going to gather all my strength and will-power and steer myself out of it, like a boat steering out of choppy waters.

I'm two days late starting Lent, but better late than never. See how positive I'm being already?

What are you giving up for Lent? Leave your comments below!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nine Valentines

Nine Valentine's Days.

That's coming up for a decade of being the same person's Valentine year in, year out.

It's a strange but wonderful thought.

My memories of unmarried Valentine's Days are few. I had lots of boyfriends in my day but never seemed to have one on Valentine's Day. Scott tells me this is intentional on boyfriends' parts, so they don't have to buy a gift. I believe it. I remember one year, a guy from school, Matt Yeager, brought a bucketful of red roses and gave a single rose to every girl he knew. He was always such a romantic; I don't know whatever happened to him, but I hope he's married to some girl who simply adores and appreciates his romantic side - and pays it back.

My first Valentine's with Scott consisted of him sending me a bouquet of roses from Scotland, in a turquoise vase, which I kept ever since, until about a year ago when my darling beloved child broke it. It had a green Irish teddy bear with it; InterFlora must have assumed Ireland/Scotland/same thing.

My second Valentine's was here with Scott in our first home, our first married Valentine's together, and he made me a fancy, romantic dinner. I'll never forget - steaks, mashed potatoes with the skins and asparagus drizzled in lemon butter.

My third Valentine's with Scott was a Bombay Sapphire cocktail-making class in Glasgow, where we learned to make fancy gin cocktails, and where we developed a cocktail snobbery. Cosmopolitan without the flaming orange? Not a Cosmopolitan.

And that... is where I begin to forget.

Kids came along that year. Fifi would have been less than a month old that year, and every year after that is just a blur. I know Scott has brought me home Oriental lilies just about every year, a major sacrifice for him with his allergies, but in general, I can't remember what we've done on this favourite of holidays for the past six years. We tried to do a back-and-forth thing, where we take turns planning our Valentine's dates, but each year, for the past several years, we can't remember who's turn it is.

I've been thinking today though. Valentine's has always been one of my favourite holidays. I love all the gushy mushy stuff, I love red roses and my Oriental lilies, I love chocolate-covered strawberries and jewellery and romance. But at this stage in our lives, with children and trying to make ends meet and housework and busy schedules, romance gets sort of the back seat... and not the good kind of back seat. I miss doing all that lovey-dovey Valentines stuff that couples - especially dating couples - put so much effort into.

It's true that Scott and I agreed to save our Valentine's date for next week when the children are away with grandparents, and we can have a nice, relaxing week away ourselves. I'm not suggesting that Scott and I have blown it this year. But I am thinking that next year, I'm going to kick the whole Valentine's thing back up a notch. I've seen so many sweet ideas on blogs, Pinterest and Facebook that I wish I had thought of doing, to show my man how much I still fancy him, how attractive he still is to me, how deeply I love him, and how much I enjoy spending time with him. I want him to know that, despite the season of life we are in, he still makes me giggly and happy, and I still love the socks off him... and the shirt, and well, everything else. *Wink.

I'm looking forward to next week, when we'll have the chance to get away for almost a whole week with just the baby - no other kids, no internet, no housework, just me and him (and hopefully a baby who just sleeps a lot), some books, some TV, some good conversation, some lovely walks, a cosy fire, a few leisurely outings, and a romantic dinner or two. Because I still love my Valentine, nine years later, more than I loved him on that very first, or even second, when the fire burned so brightly... but as we've learned, the brightest fire isn't always the hottest, and it isn't the fire that lasts the longest. I want our fire to burn brightly, but more importantly, steadily, forever.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why I Left My Church

I've been fighting with myself for some time over whether to post about this or not. On the one hand, I don't want to trash anyone or upset anyone, particularly those I am still friends with in the church. On the other hand, rumours (always rumours) are going around about why we left, and they are false, and worse than being just false, they are hurtful. And if the rumours were just hurtful to us, we'd get on with it and ignore it, but the rumours aren't hurting us - they are hurting another family instead, a family I don't want to see hurt anymore. So what to do?

I think the only thing I can do is set the record straight. Explain why we left.

First of all, no statement has been made at the church informing everyone that we have left, which is the usual procedure. This means most people just think we've stopped going. Again, it doesn't matter much to us that people just assume we're "backsliding" (gotta love Christianese), but it's not the full story. As I've said here before, I and the children are attending a new church, one we feel very happy in, and one we are going to formally join. So first of all, in case people do not realise, we have formally left the church via letter to the overseers, deacons and members (though only the overseers have been allowed to see it), and the letter is very, very clear why.

The easiest way of doing this would just be to post a copy of the letter... but again, I'm not sure if I'm totally comfortable with this. However, I keep coming back to these rumours, so...

The rumour is that Scott and I have left because of a certain man in the church. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is practically the opposite; we have left in part because of the way everyone else has treated this one man. ("Everyone" being, of course, a generalisation, not a total absolution.) The story going 'round the pews is that he is the reason we have left, and this has been said to his face by leaders in the church (with whom we'd already had extensive conversations regarding our leaving and had already read the letter before making this claim). You can imagine the hurt this would cause anyone, but what's worse is the close relationship I have with his wife. Thankfully, this couple had already been made privy to my letter prior to being told to their faces that they were the reason we left, so that saved a lot of misunderstandings and pain, but it was only by coincidence that they had read the letter. It would have been a lot more likely that they hadn't, and if that had been the case, well... you see what I'm trying to say.

Rumours cause damage, that's what I'm getting at.

The other reason we left is more general, and it is a fault of probably many churches. Just because it is a general fault, however, does not mean it ought to be swept under the carpet and ignored. We felt that the church offered very little teaching or discipleship. We really needed some good Biblical teaching to keep us going, but our request for this to the leaders was rejected over and over. As the years went by, our secret doubts and questions grew and grew but no answers were offered. Who knows how many other people are secretly struggling and getting no help from the one place that claims to have those answers?

It's been said, in just about as many words, regarding our dissatisfaction with the teaching that 'Oh well, it's too bad Scott and Lori have left, but they were having problems anyway.' Insane! That's like telling a starving man, 'Oh well, we didn't give you any food, but you were already hungry anyway.' It hurts to be waved off so lightly, from a church Scott was raised in, and we have both been so active in for eight years. Yet another reason I hesitate to post this: It's a sad and painful situation for me.

So, to set the record straight, I paste below a copy of the letter sent to the church (edited for anonymity). I sincerely hope it does not offend the wrong people. It may offend others, but I am tired of being used as a pawn in an agenda to hurt people who do not deserve to be hurt. That offends me.


To the overseers, deacons and members of [the Church],

It is with sadness yet careful consideration that we write to you this letter stating our decision to remove our membership from the [Denomination]. This decision was not a quick or easy one; indeed it has been months in the making. Our reason for leaving is twofold:

1 - For many years we have felt the church has offered very little in the way of discipleship and teaching to its members. When the Family Service was started so many years ago, it was stated explicitly that the purpose was to build up the members and not to become a ‘gospel meeting’. Yet very quickly it became nothing more than an outreach. Outreach is important, of course, but should not replace the church’s obligation to feed and shepherd its own flock. We spoke to people about this on numerous occasions and put to the leadership our desire for it to offer more teaching intended to build up its members, the body of Christ, for our spiritual growth. This was never acted upon. Instead, the Family Service, and many of the other various meetings aside from the [Lord's Supper], began directing all its efforts to outreach and none to in-reach. In plain terms, it became mostly a church for drug addicts. We requested that the ministries be more challenging, perhaps going through a book of the Bible in depth or a short series on a Biblical topic, in order to give the body more ‘meat’ to feed on and be challenged by, instead of only ‘milk’. This was refused over and over by the leadership. Due to lack of teaching and challenging, we found ourselves struggling with our faith but with nowhere to go. We began to feel the church had nothing to offer us, and even more sadly, it seemed uninterested in what we, as active members, desperately needed.

We’d been approached by the overseers about our lack of attendance at the [Lord's Supper]. As a young family with two children and one on the way, our attendance had dwindled considerably. We agreed we would make more effort to attend regularly again as soon as we recovered from the birth of our third child. A couple of weeks after his birth, I, Lori, went to the [Lord's Supper] for the first time in a year and really enjoyed it. A glimmer of hope ignited in my heart that maybe things were really changing and there would finally be something for us spiritually in this church.

At the same time, after years of asking for ‘meatier’ ministries, the leadership decided to have a short block of sessions focusing on the topic of end-time prophecy. While this might not have been our personal choice of subject matter, we were very excited that finally something was being done, and we, for the first time in years, began to look forward to Sunday mornings again.

This is where the biggest problem, and our second main reason for leaving, comes in.

2 - The general reception of this series of ministries was appalling. People displayed their unhappiness with this decision by boycotting the meetings – in essence, ‘voting with their feet’ – because of, quite frankly, who was leading them. The response to what we felt was such a positive step in the future of our church was to decry the subject matter and the speaker. It became personal. People began to launch personal attacks on other members, causing irrevocable hurt to people with known sensitivities. This I observed with my own eyes. Stories and gossip spread, and as things filtered back to us, we couldn’t believe how skewed and untrue, not to mention hurtful, they were. Never had we expected to see such behaviour in a church that before had seemed so loving and accepting. It seemed the love and acceptance were reserved for outsiders and drug addicts only, but not its very own members.

This was what made the final decision for us. The first positive step the church had made in years resulted in boycotts, personal attacks and a huge divide among its members. To a family already struggling with doubts, this was the last thing we needed to witness. Not only had we been repeatedly ignored when we asked for teaching, we now saw the distasteful way people could be treated by their own church family. We realised then that [the Church], and the [Denomination], was no longer a place we wanted to be or where we wanted our children to grow up.

It is sad for us to have come to this conclusion. Scott has been a member of the [Denomination] his entire life, and Lori has been a member since moving to Scotland eight years ago. We have waited to write this letter until we were sure of what we wanted to say, and until we had found a new place to attend church, which we now have. We recognise that we ourselves are nowhere near perfect, and we hardly expect anyone else to be. We are not placing the blame solely on the church for our issues of faith – we recognise there is personal accountability - but we do feel the church has failed in its responsibility to care for the spiritual needs of its members. As far as the way people have been treated, we certainly understand that no church is without its conflicts, but we also never expected to witness such un-Christlike behaviour from our church. We have no personal bad feelings, no personal agendas, against anyone, but we cannot in good faith maintain membership in the [Denomination] after the manner in which we have seen people be treated. We have many friends in the church, and it pains us to leave, and it pains us to write this letter. We only hope that by speaking frankly about our decision that it will lead the church to reconsider its obligation to feed and disciple its members first and to outreach second, so that it does not become an outreach church (‘drug addict church’) only, and that people will also take responsibility for how deeply their negative actions are hurting vulnerable people – whether they are aware of those people’s vulnerability or not.

In Christ’s love,
Scott and Lori

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

It was a little late, but it couldn't be helped.

Fifi's 6th birthday was at the end of January. Originally, her party was booked for the following Saturday, two days past her birthday, but that ended up unfortunately falling on the same day as her class's entry into the Inverclyde Music Festival, so the party date had to be set back another week. Her party, therefore, was over a week late, but that's just how it goes.

The whole point is, anyway, that the rabbit is running late for a very important date.

And the Mad Hatter's Tea Party was for celebrating his un-birthday.

So it all worked.

This year, instead of going through the blood, sweat and tears of organising a big birthday party, I paid a friend of mine to do it for me. Fifi wanted a tea party, so I had my friend from a cute little tea shop called Teacups organise a lovely Mother & Daughter Mad Hatter's Tea Party for me, and boy, did she deliver!

The girls all arrived in their fancy party dresses and/or Alice In Wonderland costumes, and were ecstatic over all the beautiful real tea cups and tea pots set out at their special table, not to mention all the beautiful sweets. "This is how the post people do it!" I heard one of the girls say.

I had envisioned the mothers sitting with their daughters, making jewellery together with the kits at each place setting, but instead, the children took one table and relegated the mothers to the other. In the end, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we mums don't often get the chance to sit at a big table together with nice tea, coffee and cakes and just chat for an hour and a half while our darling daughters behave wonderfully!

The girls had a great time, and they all behaved so well. They enjoyed pouring their own 'tea' (diluting juice in tea pots), trying on their chocolate moustaches, eating all the sandwiches (jam and Nutella sandwiches, shaped like hearts), devouring the cupcakes and jelly, and inspecting the birthday cake and party favours. Oh, and they got immense pleasure out of playing with the wind-up rabbits on the tables. In fact, an hour went by before they began asking for something to do. They had been overall uninterested in the jewellery kits, so I got some of them to start in on those while we mums finished our coffees, and then we played Pass the Parcel. Following that, we sang Happy Birthday, sliced open the cake, and, well, the party was over. It was just such an easy afternoon!

I must say thanks to Pauline and all the staff at Teacups for such a wonderful party, and to Robyn, who helped me make the cake and the party favours. And thanks to Marion, my MIL, for helping out so much with Jaguar (who was not a happy baby during the party) and to Lorna for taking Lolly and Fifi after the party overnight! Talk about a carefree birthday party experience in every way!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sick Days

It's been quiet around here, because since Sunday, we've all been lying on our death beds, making bargains with sleep for respite from our misery.

I took Fifi and Jaguar to church on Sunday, leaving Lolly at home with Scott. Lolly had already been feeling rotten since Thursday night. When we arrived at church, I noticed Fifi was acting a big clingy and funny, but I assumed she was just being shy without Lolly there with her. Then Jaguar, who is usually quite cheerful and quiet during church, happy to take a boob if he starts getting chatty, started crying and refused to feed. I took him out into the back hall to the creche, and while playing with him in there, my back started aching, and then my neck and head. By the time church was over, I was feeling completely exhausted. I took Fifi from Sunday School, and she looked pale and lethargic. We came home, with Jaguar crying, and all three of us went straight to bed.

We were still there Monday morning.

All four of us, I and the three children, have come down with a flu-like virus that is seemingly attacking the whole entire town. Yesterday and today, only two children showed up for nursery. All of the kids' friends from school and nursery are off with this illness. It is rubbish.

We stayed in bed all Sunday and Monday. Today though, unfortunately, we had to venture out for some groceries, as our fridge was empty (not that any of us have much of an appetite) and also I needed to mail some ebay parcels. The girls did not want to go, so I bribed them with McDonald's Happy Meals (it got some food in them, at least) and let them go to the shops in their pajamas. We must have looked like freaks.

So that's where we've been the last few days. I'm starting to feel better, just battling a runny nose now and a bit of light-headedness. The children are all at varying degrees of wellness, though I think they'll be staying off school again tomorrow, at least for one more day.

But let me just say, the kindness of people in my life really blows me away. Yesterday, while feeling like a soggy plastic bag stuck to a tree branch flapping around in the wind and rain getting pooed on by seagulls, a new friend, who I've only just recently started getting to know, texted me to ask if I needed anything from Tesco. Gratefully, I asked if she could just possibly bring me some milk and some tomato soup if it really wouldn't be too much bother, and I'd give her the pennies for it. She arrived at my door with a whole bag of groceries for us, including two kids' magazines for the girls, and refused to take anything for it. She then offered to let me go to bed while she watched Jaguar for a wee while. I preferred to stay up and have some company, so she held Jaguar while I shivered under a blanket and had some friendly adult conversation.

Later that day, my dear mother-in-law popped in, who was herself feeling miserable with this virus, with another bag of shopping, and stayed to help look after the kids for me for a while. She even took Lolly to the chemist for me to get the kids some more medicine.

Honestly, if I ever wondered if good people still existed in this world, I needed only look right around me. One day when I write my memoirs about the people who influenced my life and made a difference, these people will be getting whole chapters. Thank you both.

And now... I dare say, it's bedtime again.

Friday, February 01, 2013

January Book Review

January is finished, and so is my January book.

(About two-thirds the way through the month, I decided my 'book-a-month' thing would happen, finally, and determined I would finish it by the 31st. I finished it last night.)

Soul Survivor by Phillip Yancey was most remarkably - divinely? - the perfect book for me in my present faith crisis. Turned off by the church, sickened by Christian hypocrisy, cynical of the infiltrating mysticism, exasperated by stubborn Right Wing Evangelicals, faithless and empty, I was sceptical that a book - a Christian book - would be of any use to me.

The book was recommended to me by someone, and I mentally placed the recommendation to one side as a 'Yeah, maybe, thanks.' Then a few weeks later, we were visiting friends in Edinburgh and the book resurfaced again. The whole day was relaxed, enjoyable, and to my great relief, my Christian friend did not once bring up my confused, uncertain (lack of) faith. It was only upon seeing us to the door that she gently and sensitively handed me the book with simple words, 'It just made me think of you.' I gratefully accepted her gift, and the discernment with which it was given. (Thank you, Judith.)

I started the book a few days later, and from the very start, I realised this was not going to be your average Christian bookshop self-help rubbish. Yancey begins by sharing his own experience with the church - an experience that pushed him away from it, and from God, because of the same reasons I have. Hypocrisy, lies, and spiritual and emotional manipulation were among some of our mutual complaints.

He goes on to discuss thirteen different men and women who's lives and written works drew him back to a belief in God. Not one of those thirteen people were expected. No Billy Grahams or Benny Hinns here.

Instead, he dedicates chapters to the least likely sources, many of whom would be considered horrible role models for a Christian, some of whom were not Christian at all. And yet, as I read about each person, I was struck with how much I related to all of them, in most cases because they were not your squeaky-clean church variety.

Great historical figures like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Junior, and John Donne are included in this list. Not a one lived a 'holy' squeaky-clean life (in fact, all three liked their women), but all three looked to Jesus for inspiration and as the model of whom they wanted to emulate.

People I had never encountered before like Paul Brand and C. Everett Koop impressed me, as men outside the accepted Evangelical circles, but who's love for God's people shone brighter than the average church-goer today. Brand, who dedicated his life to care for the untouchable people of the world, people with leprosy, and Koop, who understood the difference between his own moral stance on abortion and homosexuality and his responsibility as Surgeon General to care for the needs of all Americans, including those who's choices and beliefs differed from his, placed a bit of hope in me that there really are devout Christians out there who are not only 'practising what they preach' but doing so with intellectualism and unconditional compassion.

(Koop might be the figure who inspired me the most - second to Frederick Buechner, who I'll get to shortly - as a man who believed faith and science could go hand in hand. He used his position as Surgeon General to help numerous people with AIDS, sometimes just sitting with them and listening to their stories, in a decade when most church folk rejected AIDS patients as people who had brought their disease upon themselves with their immoral lifestyles.)

Then there were the writers. Yancey is not a typical Christian best-selling author; he is a real writer (I was surprised), one who actually writes because he must and cannot live without doing so. He writes several chapters on fellow writers, who also share his faith to varying degrees and with varying conclusions, and again, none who are squeaky-cleaners. Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen, Shusaku Endo and Frederick Buechner are a few of the authors who I am now eager to get my hands on. Many of these writers in my younger days of evangelical zeal I would have written off as unorthodox or even heretical. Now, though, through the eyes of a fellow searcher, a fellow imperfect and a fellow writer, I see people honestly expressing what they know and don't know and relying on God anyway, through days of belief and days of doubt.

The most inspiring chapter for me was that on Frederick Buechner. I think every word about him and quoted from him resonated deeply with me, as a human and as a writer. I feel kinship with a guy who had intellectual doubts and felt like an outsider to the church. His advice to 'listen to your life' and discover that in even the boring and mundane there are key moments to be revealed has changed the way I have lived, quite literally, in the past few days. I have stopped to cherish and revel in as many moments as possible - while pouring the kids' cereal, while opening a tin of soup, while running through the rain and the hail and the wind in tears with my baby - and I have found tiny glimpses of meaning that have in all past like moments been overlooked. I have started writing like I haven't written in years. I have purchased a journal and have been carting it with me everywhere I go, jotting down comments, notes, thoughts and more at all hours of the day and night. I even have the foetus of a novel growing.

In short, this one book has introduced me to a great number of people who have rekindled my hope that there might indeed be a God who actually does change lives, and a number of works for me to get my fingers on. I have made a reading list that will last me all year from the suggestions in this book alone.

This is probably a very poor book review; that is because it is no ordinary book. It is not a beginning-middle-and-end sort of book; it doesn't start with a premise and attempt to prove it. It is just a book on how his 'faith survived the church'. What a tagline. Can my faith survive the church? Maybe. Maybe.