Daybook Entry – New Year’s Eve 2016


021114_2314_DaybookEntr1.jpgFor Today… the last day of 2016

Outside my window… I can hear some isolated bursts of fireworks going off locally. The weather is mild to cold but not frosty yet.

I am thinking… about some changes I need to make in myself, my outlook, my worldview and my expectations.

I am thankful… for so, so much! Where to start? Well, first and foremost I am thankful for the ever present grace and love of God in my life. My faith in him (and his in me) has got me through so much this year and I am thankful to have reached this point still in one piece.

I am praying for… Charlotte and Kieran who are dealing with the most heartbreaking loss anyone can imagine; my brother who is going to be having an operation in a couple of weeks and is facing a long recovery time afterwards; Roy, Margaret, Iain and Megan who will be taking a big step next week; Emma who is starting a new job on Tuesday; Ethan who has got a high-pressure time ahead this term.

I am wearing… a happy smile this evening as I look back at what has happened this year.

I am creating… a new way of thinking. I have come to realise that my thought patterns and behaviour patterns need an overhaul if I am to ever make progress with my life. For example, I am desperate to write a full length novel but fear of failure is holding me back. I know I have the skills (talent is as yet still untested), but I keep talking myself out of doing anything about it because I think my story is not good enough, or that people won’t want to read it and so on. I am trying to create a new way of thinking about myself where I concentrate on the positives of what I’m doing rather than worrying about the (unknown) negatives.

I am going… to put my new thinking into action over the coming weeks and let’s see where we are by half term.

I am wondering… whether I ought to do something about my physical health as well as my mental health this year…

I am reading… “Speaking in Bones” by Kathy Reichs. I was fortunate enough to receive an Amazon gift card for Christmas which I have already bitten into and bought this latest one in the Temperance Brennan series. I have had my eye on it for a little while and I was really chuffed to be able to buy it on Boxing Day. I’m nearly at the end of it and to be honest, I can’t wait for bedtime tonight so I can go and finish it!

I am hoping… that our financial difficulties will be eased this year, if not resolved somehow. I have faith that we will be ok.

I am learning… to ease up on myself, to lower my expectations, and to celebrate the small things.

In my garden… we have a gazebo erected over our deck area at the back of the house. We put it up there for Christmas Day so we had somewhere dry to put the settee out while we had the long tables set up for dinner. We haven’t got round to putting it down yet but I rather like it and might persuade Kevin to keep it for a while.

In my kitchen… we have some snacks and treats waiting to eat while we watch the final Harry Potter film later on tonight.

A favourite quote for today…

new_year_meme

A peek into one of my days… I’m going to cheat here and show you a few photos from December as there’s too many to choose from!

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A bonus little video for you: filmed outside our house on Christmas morning as we played for our neighbours before church. Hope you enjoy it!

One of my favourite things… is planning and researching things for writing about. One of my least favourite things is spotting when “research” becomes “procrastinating” and getting a move on and to get writing.

Post Script: This year has been a year of spectacular highs and devastating lows, and this is my chance to acknowledge those difficulties and joys and to say a public thank you to everyone who has got me through it all.

Those of you who have followed my blog over the months and years will know that from time to time my mental health takes a hit, and that my family’s financial situation is not particularly secure or hopeful. This year has been the worst we have endured and we have come close a few times to crossing the line. However, we have been blessed on so many occasions by the kindness and support of family and friends who have seen us through. With gifts of food and other necessities, and on more than one occasion the gift of money, our family and friends have literally saved the day. Ethan would not have been able to go on the trip of a lifetime with the music centre had it not been for an anonymous gift of a substantial amount of money which was put through our front door the day before the deadline for payment. More recently, we were facing a very lean Christmas with no spare cash to be able to buy any presents for anyone but again, from anonymous gifts, we not only were able to get some gifts for our children but we have enough now for both Kevin and I to be able to replace our glasses in a couple of weeks. We are both desperate for an eye test and new glasses but until this money came in, we were getting very anxious about how we were going to pay for them. As I said, we have been extremely blessed and we are so grateful for everyone who has helped us in 2016. The grace of God has been in abundance in our family this year!

Some high spots have punctuated the seemingly endless struggle to “get by”, such as our family camping holiday in Wales this summer (again, paid for as a gift to us – and boy are we glad for that gift!). We were joined by my brother and his family for a few days, which was a great experience, and I got to enjoy some spiritual time in a very special part of the world. I finally finished my studies and I got my degree this summer which is an achievement I never in a million years thought I would ever do. Kevin and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year too, which, as with my degree, is an achievement and milestone I never thought I would ever see. But we did and I am proud to have made it with my best friend and partner in life.

Thanksgiving


In the spirit of Thanksgiving in the US today, I thought I would share with you a list of things I am thankful for in my life just now:

  1. homeThe roof over my head. Yes, we owe more on the mortgage now than when we took it out 18 years ago, and yes there are some fairly hefty repairs that need doing on it, but these four walls and the roof on top are my safe haven. Homelessness and the possibility of losing the family home have been brought home to me recently, which makes me all the more thankful that I have this place to call my home.
  2. The food in our freezer. It was only a few short weeks ago that we were in a position to pool a couple of weeks worth of groceries and do a big batch cookout so that we would be seen through the “silly season” ahead, yet already we have had to turn to those supplies because of an unexpected bill (and therefore massive bank charges for failed payments) and we have very little cash to see us through the next 6 weeks or so. We also have an unexpected lodger too, so the food in the freezer was well timed, and continues to be a life-saver for us. I am thankful that I was prompted to fill the freezer just before the money ran out.
  3. Spiritual support from church friends. Linked to point #2 above, this one is another big one in my life. My faith in God is as strong as ever, but sometimes, the spiritual support of other people is what keeps my grip strong. I am thankful that my faith in God has brought me to such a place that I can be part of a group of supportive and understanding friends.
  4. dsc_0949.jpgMy family. Especially my husband. We are like a tag team at the moment, and we seesaw between being strong and weak. When one is weak the other lifts them up, and vice versa. Sometimes we are on an even keel in the middle, but as anyone dealing with a financial (or other) crisis knows, emotions and ability to cope can swing quite violently from one extreme to the other and it takes a particular type of relationship to hold it together. My kids have been fantastic too, both in emotional support and simply bringing laughter and sunshine into an otherwise bleak and austere existence. My parents too – where would I be without them?!! From my mum “accidentally” making an extra Shepherd’s Pie, to my Dad transferring an emergency lump sum into my bank account over the summer to bail us out (yet again), my parents have been instrumental in me holding things together in the last few months. I am thankful for the loving and supportive family I am surrounded by.
  5. crochet-hookCrochet. A life-saver a couple of years ago when my illness first took hold and everything seemed pointless and without direction, crochet has been an activity that I turn to again and again to help with anxiety and depression. I have started some Christmas projects and I am thankful that I have been able to find a cute snowman which I am working on for our house this Christmas.
  6. Music. Like crochet, music has been a life-saver in so many ways over the years for me. Whether it is listening to it, playing it, writing it, arranging it, planning it, organising it or whatever, I am thankful for the presence of music in my life.
  7. My Kindle. I was bought a Kindle as a gift for Mothering Sunday a couple of years ago and at first, I was a bit sceptical about using it. A lifelong lover of books and reading (notice the differentiation I made there), I didn’t really want to engage in technology like a Kindle but having been given one as a gift I thought I didn’t have much to lose. I haven’t actually looked back since being given it and I have engaged in so many more books and articles than I would have done in hard-print books in the meantime, largely because of all the free books available online. I am thankful that I have got access to such a large, free, library of books to read and the mechanism to carry them all round with me all the time.
  8. bedMy big comfy bed. Might sound a bit trite, but I honestly say a prayer of thanks every time I get into my bed each night. Linked to the point about the roof over my head above, I am so grateful that first of all that I have a place to put my head each night, and second of all that it is so comfy and warm once I get in. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to rest properly each night.

This is not in any way an exhaustive list, and it isn’t in any particular order, but these things are on my mind most of the time and they are the things see me through when times are bad as they are now. I am sure that when the climate changes for me I would come up with a slightly different (and longer) list.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

happy-thanksgiving

I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say


This is a lovely hymn. Sung here by the choir from my home town, Manchester Cathedral “I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say”

The words are:

“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”
by Horatius Bonar, 1808-1899

1. I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down,
Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

2. I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

3. I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light.
Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise
And all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of Life I’ll walk
Till travelling days are done.

The tune is Vox Dilecti which was written in 1868 by John B Dykes. Ralph Vaughan Williams used a very similar tune in the 5th of “Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus” which is doing the rounds on Classic FM at the moment. Both orchestral and choral versions are beautiful and just the thing for calming down at the end of the day.

Goodnight, God bless.

Don’t Quit


I want to share the following poem with you today for my own inspiration as much as anyone else’s. It’s called “Don’t Quit” and I have been familiar with it for a number of years. My Mum gave me a little card with it on when I was going through a particularly bad patch about 16 years ago and every now and again I revisit it to remind myself that, just as I came through that spell, so too will I come through this one.

As life has progressed and as I have got older, the nature and the depth of the “bad spells” have varied. First it was relationship things, you know the type, the “who am I in this partnership?” crises we experience when we are in the “bedding in” stage of a relationship. Then came “I haven’t got the energy to keep up with a toddler” type of bad spell. Where things seem so out of your control and your comfort zone you decide that you are simply the worst parent in the world and your child/children would be better off anywhere else rather than with you. There may be the other type of relationship crises – the “I hate you and what you have made me become” stage. Then comes the financial crises, the employment crises, and now at this stage of life, the bereavement crises and the beginnings of health crises.

I am not alone, I can’t be. I’m sure there are many many people who will identify with one or more of these staging posts in life and we know, don’t we, that we will get through them one by one if we simply tell ourselves “don’t quit”. I have a deep Christian faith and I consider myself to be a spiritual person, and my belief is that one day, when human life is over, there is something better for us. A fairer and infinitely more loving, beautiful something. But until then, how do we cope? Well the first way is to be a bit more forgiving – of myself as well as others. By letting up on myself I am giving myself space to breathe and to regroup. Just as the poem below says, having a rest from the struggle is not the same thing as giving up.

I do feel weary at the minute. Not just in body, but in spirit and mind too. There has been a lot to cope with recently and there is still a lot going on that can’t be ignored. Some of you will know about the situation with my parents in law, and you may know about my ongoing health problem too. Along with those things I am finding it difficult just now because my two modules with the OU are coming to an end and I have major deadlines to hit next week. They are both creative modules, and it isn’t easy being wonderfully joyously creative when my emotions are strung out and my body is creaking. Composing a song, writing a complete publication-ready short story and reflective commentary, and writing a music analysis essay are all there on my “to do” list along with my other responsibilities this week such as exam invigilation at the school.

We have had a financial set back too. We already have an IVA in place, which means that we have no access to credit for the next 5 years and with the one wage coming in things are tight. Kevin’s April salary was the first one of his new wage in which he took a pay cut, but knowing that it was coming, we have been saving up for a “rainy day”. Or a different car (which is now so unreliable I won’t drive it on a motorway).

The rainy day came this weekend when after nearly 12 months of painful sleep we decided we had enough cash saved up to buy a new bed. So we tested out the ones in the shop to see how firm we needed the mattress to be and came home to find one online cheaper. Well you would wouldn’t you? After nearly two hours of hunting and comparing on various sites we ordered one and paid for it. I went downstairs to make a brew to recover from the ordeal, to find that the fridge freezer had broken. Nothing in the fridge was cold to the touch and the freezer was all slushy. The temperature gauges both said that they were working but clearly, they weren’t as our food was starting to go off. The little bit of money we had left over from saving on the mattress has now gone on a new fridge. It would have been nice to have it for something good like a holiday (or a car) but needs must I suppose.

Whilst on the one hand I’m so grateful that we had the money there to pay for the unexpected emergency, on the other it just makes life feel like it’s a grind. Surviving for so long on just enough to get by takes its toll on morale and spirits are most definitely flagging at the minute.

I’m tired, so very tired, but this poem has helped me see that it is all worth it and to just keep going. Tomorrow. After a rest.

dont quit2

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread


daily-breadWhen we say the Lord’s prayer we kind of mouth our way through the words sometimes without giving them much thought, but there is one phrase in that prayer that strikes me every time I say it. “Give us today our daily bread”.

It sounds weird doesn’t it? I mean, who has a diet of bread every day nowadays? Especially if you are carb-conscious or are counting calories to lose weight, as a lot of people are. And why bread? Why not “give us today our daily MEAT” for example, or “daily MILK”. Both are essential for growth and nutrition so why BREAD?

There are two ways to look at it – the first is as I’ve hinted at above, that bread is an essential foodstuff to many people and we pray those words to ask God to give it to us. The second is that if we go deeper into bread being the food of LIFE, then we are asking God not only for the mechanical means to gain nutrition into our bodies, but his divine inspiration into our daily lives that we might live life to its fullest? We ask him to feed us so we can feed others.

What does that actually mean anyway? Living life to its fullest seems to be an idyllic way of living – to have enough work to do to be challenging without being exhausting, to have enough people who love you and whom you can love in return to be emotionally stable and well, to have enough food on your plate that you are not hungry and you never have to worry where your next meal is coming from, to have enough mental stimulation that you are constantly learning and growing, to have enough time to rest and relax on leisure activities that recharge your batteries, to have the emotional “stretch” to be able to support other people pastorally and to have enough strength of faith to be able to be a light shining for God throughout everything you do. Wow, who wouldn’t like a life like THAT?!

So when we ask God to provide enough for us to live our life properly and to its fullest through the words “give us today our daily bread” we are entering into a contract with him that in return for that, we will live our lives well and fully in his name.

But what if your life isn’t like that idyll I have just painted? What if you have too much work to do and you are constantly exhausted and stressed because of it? You haven’t the energy to be “nice” to people, let alone have the emotional stretch to help them when they are stuck. What if you don’t have enough food to eat and your thoughts really are taken up with where your next meal is coming from? It is difficult to appreciate the beauty of the world when you are constantly hungry and can’t enjoy the food you do have because you know it will be the last for a while. How about when you don’t have time to recharge your batteries? When the worry about day-to-day living takes its toll to the extent that you can’t switch off at weekends, you can’t sleep during the week, you can’t enjoy a holiday from work because you know it’s all piling up for you to do when you get back? How about the times when you are so bogged down with your own worries that you just can’t see how it is for other people? When your own parents are facing big decisions about their future because of infirmity or disease, and you have to manage their affairs as well as your own? There is little time for affection and love when duty and responsibility are piled on top of worry and grief. What about the times when you want to do things with your church, such as take communion to sick people in the parish, or help out at the play group in a morning but you can’t because you have to go to work? How about the times you want to be creative but the materials are too expensive and your time is taken up with work and stress and worry and duty to other people?

To live with all these things when we ask God to provide our daily bread we are asking him not just for the food in our belly, we are asking him to help us deal with our lives in such a way that we can and do make room for the things that make life worth living – the company of others, love and laughter, creativeness, joy in rest and so on. We are asking him to help us make room in our lives too for those things that bring glimpses of his kingdom to others here on Earth. Most of all, we are asking him to keep feeding us with his strength and his spirit so that we can grow and mature as spiritual beings as much as we do human beings.

Next time you say the Lord’s prayer, see how different you feel if instead of visualising a loaf of Mother’s Pride at that line, you visualise a life full of beauty and wonder with God pouring it all out to nourish your soul as well as your body. It’s all about trusting him to provide for us, even when we don’t know exactly what and why.

 

 

 

Northumberland Part Two


It has been a gloriously long day today, with our alarms going off at 3.30am for a 3.45am get up. I had planned to go and catch the sunrise on the beach at Bamburgh with Kevin this morning, and we were going to do a bit of experimental photography while we were there.

Oh boy!

We got some absolutely beautiful shots and I managed to get two decent time lapse sequences of the dawn breaking and the sunrise over the Farne Islands, just off the Northumberland coast. I have tried to upload them to share with you, but as wi-fi is a bit intermittent I might have to wait until I get home to share them properly.

For now though, here are some of my favourite shots taken this morning.

The sun rising over the Farne Islands
The sun rising over the Farne Islands
Our beach setup to take the time lapse video
Our beach setup to take the time lapse video

 

It was so worth the effort of getting up and out so early today. Not only for the photos but for the spiritual experience of sitting on a beach in the shadow of a 1200 year old fortress, with the tide coming in and the sun coming up. Priceless.

 

 

10 Things….


….I love about Christmas

This post came about as a result of something we were talking about last week. We were talking to a group of children about what was coming up in the next few weeks and what they were looking forward to. They all said “CHRISTMAS!!!!”, which is unsurprising as I have to agree with them. It got me thinking about what it was about Christmas that I was looking forward to in particular, and so I’ve compiled this list to break it down a little. How many of these do you agree with? What would you change or add to it? Please link up with my post and let me know what your own list is.

In no particular order, here’s my list:

christmas music1. Music – as a musician, music naturally plays a big part of my life but at Christmas it really gets exciting for me. A lot of the stuff we hear is what we’ve heard a million times before but in lots of ways that is what I love about it. Sounds strange when you think that there are only probably 40 or 50 pop songs that get aired around Christmas time – the SAME 40 or 50 pop songs – but I listen to a lot of classical music too. Some of these pieces are only really appropriate to listen to at this time of the year, but there is so much to choose from I never get bored. Add to that the carols in all their various settings and arrangements and I’m in heaven. I listen to music, I watch music, I perform music and I (now) conduct music. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without it for me.

candles2. Candles – I love candles! I would live by candle-light all year round if I could. They give such a warm and welcoming glow for one thing, and the smell just of a basic candle is comforting and reassuring too. There’s something primal about naked flames and in the absence of a real fire candles are a more-than-adequate substitute.

3. Smells – the smell of food cooking, the smell of a real Christmas tree, the smell of greenery round the fireplace, the smell of mulled wine, the smell of scented candles, the cinammon and citrus smell of biscuits and cookies on the tree, the smell of frosty mornings, snow in the air…… oh wow Christmas cannot be beaten when it comes to stimulating scents!

4. TV – a lot of people complain about repeats on TV at Christmas but I love them. Like the music point above, the reassurance of the familiarity of things on TV is one of the things that relaxes me at Christmas. Some things are pure cheese and what’s wrong with that? Who wants to be intellectually challenged when they’re stuffed full of Christmas dinner and mince pies?? There’s always a good choice of films on TV too. Perfect for snuggles on the settee with the kids.

5. Family – speaking of snuggling up with the kids, what better time of year is there for spending time with loved ones? I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t have that privilege and I am oh so grateful for the time I can spend with mine. The teamwork involved in getting the dinner ready, the cameraderie of clearing the kitchen afterwards, the fun (and arguments) when it comes to playing games together later on, the vegging out in front of the telly when visitors have gone home again….ah bliss!

christmas dinner6. Food – I adore my Christmas dinner. Every family has their own version of the “traditional” Christmas dinner and mine is no exception. I have tried varying things a little over the years and we have arrived at a more or less agreed menu for the big day. We have turkey, pork, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots, sprouts, stuffing, cauliflower cheese, braised red cabbage, mashed potatoes, pigs in blankets, gravy, cranberry sauce and apple sauce. Not everyone has everything, and there is always plenty of leftovers to last us a few days. We might have a starter, we might not. We might have dessert, we might not….but we probably will!! We don’t tend to have Christmas pudding but there is always a home-made trifle, mince pies, Christmas cake and an emergency microwavable pudding to hand in case someone fancies it later on. I suppose I should add the category “drink” to this point too. I don’t tend to drink a lot week by week, and at Christmas I do like to push the boat out a bit. Not a lot, but bucks fizz at some point and a glass or four of sherry while cooking the dinner is usually the norm! I like mulled wine too, which is a nice indulgence when I visit the German markets in Manchester city centre. I quite like it at the Carol Service in church too….mmmmm…..!

board games7. Games – this ties in with the family point above. We like to play games at Christmas, whether it’s on Boxing Day or the big day itself. Monopoly, Cluedo, games on the Wii, Twister (better when everyone’s had a drink), cards, Buckaroo etc all good fun! We also like to play games with presents as well. I suppose it would be more accurate to call it “subterfuge”….but hiding and disguising presents are all part of the fun for us in my family. We rarely label gifts from ourselves and we have evolved a highly detailed “other world” where Santa lives with his plethora of supporting characters that send gifts on our behalf. For example, I will send a gift to my Dad and instead of saying “lots of love from Pam” I would label it “lots of love from Rudolph’s Chief Mucker-Outer” or some such. There is an unspoken competition between us as to who can come up with the most outrageous/funny/original description of a character from this Santa-land that we have invented. Well, it keeps us amused!

8. Treats – not that we go without treats the rest of the year, but the treats around Christmas time are ten times better aren’t they? A Christmas trip to the cinema becomes a big treat; certain sweets and food that appears around this time (I’m thinking brandy snaps and Elizabeth Arden mint crisps here); speciality cheese that I wouldn’t dream of buying the rest of the year (Stilton anyone?); the bottle of port that becomes a Christmas Eve necessity while watching Carols from Kings on BBC2; fresh flowers on the fireplace; late nights for the kids; those jellied fruits that don’t taste quite as nice as they do in December…..oh the list goes on!

9. Peace – after all the rush of concerts, rehearsals, services, carolling, shopping, cleaning, cooking, visiting etc the thing I love most of all about Christmas is the sense of peace that it gives me. That might sound strange when you think about the constant activity we have in the run-up to Christmas Day, but there are certain times where the peace of the season breaks through and is a beautiful thing to experience. I usually feel it at the Crib Service on Christmas Eve, and after the big day itself I tend to go into hibernation for a few days. We hunker down with our leftovers, the TV and each other and enjoy the peace of home together.

10. Love – throughout everything at Christmas runs a thread that for me can only be summed up by “love”. Love for family, love for strangers, love for God. Whatever I do is underpinned by that emotion so whether it is standing out in the cold playing carols for shoppers as they go about their last minute shopping at the supermarket or serving Christmas dinner with the Home Start volunteers for needy families in the parish as we did last weekend, it is all done with love. I know I am a lucky girl with the family and friends I have around me, and Christmas is the season that brings it all home to me.

christmas

 

So, what’s your list? How does yours compare with mine? Have I missed something, or do you disagree with something? Please drop me a line and let me know!

 

 

 

 

Thorns In The Straw


I was introduced to this song today for the first time and I had to share it with you tonight because of how much it moved me. I am going to use it tomorrow when the first of our school groups visits us in church for Experience Christmas, but we sang it tonight at our new music group too. I’m not the world’s best guitar player, but with Helen also playing, and Lorraine, Marie-Claire and Kevin singing along too we made a pretty decent attempt at it.

I had one of those rare moments while we played this where I lose where I am in this world and find myself somewhere else. It happened on about the third or fourth run through/practice of it and it was as if my fingers on the strings, the notes on the page and the words being sung around me all blended together and became one whole experience. I have felt that only a handful of times when I’ve been playing music myself, it is more usually something I experience when I’m listening to music  and am in a sort of trance-like state of mind. There is no feeling like it on Earth.

I hope you are as moved by this as I am.