Rediscovering honest blogging

Where I love to sit and listen, and pray and think.

In my study, where I love to sit and listen, and pray and think.

This is a blog post I’ve been trying to find the courage, and the words, to post for quite a few months now. I made a commitment with myself to post it in the first week or this year. Here we are four weeks later… but here it is.

For the last few years I’ve felt bad about not blogging here more often. I’ve missed it, apart from anything else, partly because it helps me to think things through but also because in not writing I feel that I’ve not been honest with either myself or others. Let me explain.

Blogging

I started blogging shortly after I got married in 1999, following our move to Inverness. Although I didn’t call it ‘blogging’ at the time, it was a simple way to let family and friends know what we were up to. I had acquired a domain name (gareth-and-jane-saunders.co.uk) which I still own, had taught myself HTML and I hand-coded every page and news update. It was fun… apart from using FTP over a dial-up connection. When I moved to Edinburgh in 2003 I installed a new piece of software called WordPress which was then at version 0.71. I loved it and I’ve stuck with WordPress ever since; it’s now at version 3.8.1.

For years I blogged about all sorts of things big and small, both serious and fun. I enjoyed the creativity, I enjoyed being silly, I enjoyed having somewhere that I could refer back to: my blog also became a record of how I’d made stuff or fixed stuff, with the benefit that it was also there in the public-domain for other people to find and use.

Writing is thinking

I enjoyed that the writing helped me to think things through. In that sense it was like a journal. An article on A List Apart two weeks ago, called ‘Writing is thinking’, confirmed this for me. In it Sally Kerrigan writes:

I’m asking that you start with thinking. I suspect, if you’re a reader, you’re already a thinker—which means you’re halfway there. Really. Because writing—that first leap into taking your idea and making it a Thing People Read—isn’t really about wording. It’s about thinking.

I enjoy thinking. I enjoying thinking things through and arriving at a conclusion, an opinion. That said, I’ve never really considered that I’m good at sharing my opinion about things, but I guess that I must be if I have written about them. At theological college I always used to joke that I was born to reflect and not shine.

Crisis of confidence

In 2005 I read a blog post by a friend, Kelvin Holdsworth, entitled ‘How to blog’ in which he offers twelve eleven tips (number nine is missing, for some reason) on how to be a good blogger. Tip number three is ‘blogging is performance, not real life’.

I didn’t fully agree with it and it got me worried. Sure, some of my blog posts could be described as ‘performance’: playing the fool, showing off, trying to make my audience laugh. But many other posts were about reminding myself how I had done something (like how to change the node type on a Windows network) or simply sharing with friends and family what was going on at home. I didn’t consider these as a performance: I was trying to be genuine and honest and authentic.

micro-blogging vs traditional blogging?

In November 2006 I joined Facebook, back in the day when you needed a university email address to sign up (go me!). In January 2008 (six years and one day ago, to be exact) I signed up to Twitter, having resisted for about a year. I began micro-blogging.

My updates were more up-to-date and shorter, they were quicker to write, but they also invited more immediate feedback. It was when I saw that my micro-blogging could become a conversation that I really saw the value of social media, and Twitter especially. I hooked my Twitter account into Facebook and so anything posted on one network was immediately echoed in another. It became a quick and easy way to keep in touch, and for the conversation to be more two-way than my blog comments allowed.

Over the next few years my posting to this blog declined. Here are the number of posts by year:

  • 2003 (26 posts) — First installed WordPress (June)
  • 2004 (138)
  • 2005 (415)
  • 2006 (409) — Joined Facebook (Nov)
  • 2007 (423)
  • 2008 (368) — Joined Twitter (Jan); Reuben and Joshua born (Nov)
  • 2009 (35)
  • 2010 (59)
  • 2011 (165) — Isaac born (Jan)
  • 2012 (34)
  • 2013 (48)

It seems that micro-blogging (Facebook and Twitter) in itself didn’t contribute to my reduction in writing longer posts. Which is interesting, at least to me, because I had always tacitly assumed that’s what had caused it.

Factored into this, of course, is the fact that I also got involved with other blogs:

(and more) which meant that my focus was diverted away from this channel exclusively; my blogging habit got a little diluted, you might say, not simply by micro-blogs and social media but also by other ‘full’ blogs.

Parental crisis

Looking back, the biggest factor that stopped me blogging so regularly was (obviously) the birth of my twin boys Reuben and Joshua in November 2008.

Despite having more to say, I had less time, less energy, and less sleep—which was not conducive to thinking things through to any depth beyond the most immediate. (Ah! Those days when it felt like my thoughts were literally falling out of my head!) In 2009 I posted only 35 articles, and I almost doubled that the following year.

But if I’m honest, it wasn’t just the lack of sleep that prevented me from writing. As we clocked-up the boys’ first few months I realised that I was becoming more withdrawn. I certainly felt that I was out of my depth, as I’m sure many first-time dads feel. I had an enormous learning curve, not only with the practicalities of feeding, winding, changing, bathing, and dressing a baby (and two for that matter!), but there was also the learning curve in managing myself and my relationship with Jane under such trying conditions. We were both utterly exhausted and (with hindsight we know now) Jane was descending into post-natal depression. I felt incredibly alone and incredibly vulnerable, more so than at any other time in my life.

I had always prided myself in sharing even the difficult periods of my life with others, whether that be being bullied at school or the death of my father. But somehow throughout 2009 I felt locked in: between a rock and a hard place. I was highly critical of my own perceived failings and I felt too vulnerable to reach out and ask for the help or advice that I really wanted. Except in a few cases, I felt too afraid to post on my blog things like ‘I found X useful today when looking after the boys’ or ‘I don’t know how to do Y’, because when I said such things in the ‘real world’ I felt bombarded by the advice given to me: ‘Oh, you should do this…’, ‘No! Try that…’, ‘This other way worked for me…’.

The worse piece of advice, as well-meaning as it was always offered, was, ‘It does get better.’ I knew that it must. It just never helped me at the time. It never took away the pain of now. Like the man standing on the shore watching another drowning shouting, ‘It does get better once you reach the shore. Or learn to swim’. I wanted someone to throw me a life-ring to help me float for a while, so that I didn’t need to use any more energy treading water, and for them to simply stay beside me for company.

And so I felt locked in, unable to reach out, afraid of not being able to cope with the consequences of baring my soul, admitting my weaknesses, and asking for help. So I wrote nothing… or at least when I did, it was ‘performance’. I shared the cute moments, the proud moments, the funny conversations, the humorous anecdotes. These were the moments that didn’t require me to open myself up to criticism. These were the moments that hid the darker moments: the pain and uncertainty and honesty.

My genuine and authentic self

Chrys Bader wrote a fabulous blog post on 15 December 2013 entitled ‘The end of the Facebook era’ in which he wrote,

Now that social networking has become universal, we’ve become increasingly sensitive to what we share on Facebook. Speaking on a stage in front of a mixed audience of family, friends, and acquaintances makes it hard for most of us to be our genuine and authentic selves. As a result, we tend to see people sharing only their proudest moments in an attempt to portray their best selves. We filter too much, and with that, we lose real human connection.

As your Facebook network becomes saturated, it can feel very public. It puts the focus on managing your image, rather than truly bonding with people.

I realised that is how I felt about my blog. I had lost the real human connection. My posts were increasingly impersonal posts about web technology or videos that I had enjoyed. I had begun to feel that my every move was being watched and judged, and so I posted nothing that revealed any more of the real me than was absolutely necessary.

I included part of that quotation in our Christmas newsletter 2013 before talking about some of the significant but in other ways trivial events of our family life from last year. I prefixed those tales with what was really a challenge to myself: let’s connect!

And so, here I am. This is one of my primary challenges for 2014: to rediscover honest blogging. I want to share more of my genuine and authentic self on my blog this year, and on social media. I want to explore more about what I think—and there’s a lot to think about this year: the referendum on Scottish independence, the economy, the state of the Christian church in today’s society, as well as family life, work, music and a million other things. Maybe this is the year I learn to shine as well as reflect. Let’s connect!

My Mum on Skype (and other connections)

My Mum on Skype, earlier this evening.

My Mum on Skype, earlier this evening.

This morning we got up early, carefully removed the roof box (it turns out that if the wind gusts above 50 mph then cars with roof boxes will be prevented from crossing the Forth Road Bridge… and we didn’t want to take any chances), packed the car and headed south, just as the sun was beginning to rise.

Destination: Selkirk. And more specifically, the my-Mum’s-house part of Selkirk. We were delivering presents and catching up, albeit too briefly, with relatives.

There are some members of my extended family that we’ve not seen for too long; a few had not even met Isaac, who turns three next month. Not due to any conspiracy, but simply a combination of the impracticalities of small, twinsy children, lack of sleep (a lot to do with lack of sleep), depression, back/neck injuries, and… the fact that it takes us the best part of 6 hours to just drive down there and back again. So it was lovely to catch-up, albeit too briefly. On our drive back north we popped in to see my brother Eddie at South Queensferry, to get the boys into their pyjamas and to deliver another Christmas present.

This year, for Christmas, we gave my Mum a new laptop computer (Asus X551CA, featuing a 15.6″ screen, Intel Celeron 1007U dual core CPU, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Windows 8.1 Home).

Mum has never had a new laptop. Her last-but-one was a very generous hand-me-down from good friends of ours. Her last one was bought about ten years ago for a business that Jane and her Mum ran in Edinburgh. It was creaking at the joints: it almost panted with exhaustion running Windows 7, it would take about 15 minutes to start, the cheap webcam I had bought for it had too low a resolution and would invariably find itself pointing at the ceiling when I was trying to Skype with Mum, and the speakers were too quiet, so we’d have to Skype and phone at the same time to get both video and audio.

The new one, though, is fast: it boots in about a minute. It has a built-in high definition webcam and the speakers are loud enough for us to make a Skype-to-Skype conversation, as you can see form the screenshot above.

It’s been a good day of re-establishing connections. Hopefully we can get back down to the Borders before too long, and can start using Skype more to keep in touch.

Summer adventures at the Selkirk Common Riding 2013, part 2

In the summer of 1989 I flew out to California for eight weeks, courtesy of one of my many American cousins, the late Charlotte Anderson. It was my first flight on my own, and my first visit to the United States. What an amazing experience!  I hung out mostly in Healdsburg (about 70 miles north of San Francisco) but we took a number of road trips: down south to Monterey; then on to Disneyland and Universal Studios at Los Angeles; boogie boarding at the beach at San Juan Capistrano; back north and inland to Yosemite National Park; up north as far as Crater Lake and Medford in Oregon where I witnessed the most amazing lightning storm I’ve ever seen. During the two months I went water-skiing, boogie boarding and rode my first (and last) rollercoaster (in the dark!). I also met up with family.

Boonville

About an hour’s drive north-west of Healdsburg, cradled in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County lies a small town called Boonville, population 715. It has its own folk language called Boontling. It was also home to a good few members of my extended family, also named Anderson. One weekend Charlotte drove me up and dropped me off, I was to meet and hang out with Bruce and Ling, and their two sons Zack (a little older than me) and Ben (a little younger), and another cousin, Jamie (much younger than me).

Left to right: Ben, Jamie, Zack, me.

Left to right: Ben, Jamie, Zack, me.

Bruce ran the local newspaper, The Anderson Valley Advertiser, the AVA. He is still its editor. The newspaper’s motto is “fanning the flames of discontent.” I wouldn’t say they go out of their way to invite controversy, but they don’t exactly shy away from it either.

I love this photograph of me with Bruce, taken—I think—in his office. I was a little intimidated by Bruce at the time, I have to admit. But I sat and listened to him for hours, he was incredibly well read and really interesting.

Bruce Anderson and Gareth J M Saunders, Boonville, 1989.

Bruce Anderson and Gareth J M Saunders, Boonville, 1989.

One morning over breakfast, Bruce came down from his ‘tree-house’ office with a stack of mail that had arrived for the newspaper. Amongst it was a letter from a couple who had passed through Boonville a few weeks before. It transpired that they had recently adopted a baby and when they had stopped to fill up with gas the infant had inadvertently dropped their toy rabbit out of the car. It wasn’t just any rabbit, it was the rabbit, the rabbit of comfort, the rabbit that stopped them crying while they were upset, it was I-WANT-RAAAAAABBIT! There was a letter explaining the torment that this poor family was now experiencing sans rabbit, along with a five dollar bill and a plea to make a few posters, get them photocopied and paste them up around town. Proper wild west stuff with a reward and everything. We joked about the letter over breakfast, and soon after I got packed up, Char came to collect me and I headed back to Healdsburg.

A few days later the post arrived and Char opened her subscription copy of the AVA. A few pages in there was the letter about losing a rabbit. I smiled. I’d read that letter myself. But to be honest, that’s not really what had demanded my attention on that page. It was the 4″ x 6″ photograph of a toy rabbit with a pistol to its head that had caught my eye, with a caption beneath that said something like “Send five more dollars or the rabbit gets it!” Brilliant! Why aren’t more newspapers like that?!

In 2002 and again in 2004 I travelled with Jane to California to stay with Char. We had amazing holidays, and once more Char was adamant that I should get in touch with my generation of the family, and so I did. Our cousin, the novelist, Robert Mailer Anderson very kindly put us up in his guest accommodation both times and we met up with and hung out with Robert and Zack and Jessica, and Wayne and Margaret and a whole host of others. We had such a brilliant time, with such lovely people. And we should have gone back again after that but we moved house, and then the IVF treatment started, and we had children and… well, last month they came over here.

The gathering

I love my American family: they are warm and loving and accepting and never too far from laughter. Before we travelled down to the Scottish Borders I was a little apprehensive that we might be gate-crashing their party, despite what Robert had said to reassure us in an email. I needn’t have worried. We arrived on Friday afternoon, and over the next few days there was a steady trickle of people arriving. Zack, Ben and Robert had been part of the advance party; then Nicola (Robert’s wife) arrived with the children; and shortly after Bruce and Ling arrived with their daughter Jessica, her husband Ryan and two children; and lastly Bruce’s sister Judy turned up with her husband Charlie.

Sting!

I cycled up the drive, through clouds of midges, from our holiday lodge to ‘the big hoose’ (it was about a ten minutes’ walk) shortly after Nicola arrived with the children. They were running around the grounds playing tig, or whatever young Americans play these days. As I pulled up outside the house I teamed up with Zack and Ben and we laughed and joked until one of the girls, Frances, ran up saying that she had touched something and her hand had come up in a rash.

“Ah, that must be a stinging nettle,” I explained.

“A what?”

I hunted the nearby border beneath the dining room and quickly found one.

“One of these,” I explained. “They sting, so stay away from them. However, if you do get stung look for a docken leaf.”

Again I hunted amongst the foliage beneath the dining room window and tore one off.

“Place this on your hand, on the sting. It will soothe it and cool it down,” I explained, suddenly feeling like some kind of mediaeval wizard or the monk Cadfael.

“Wow! That’s cool,” said Ben. “One plant that’s an antidote to another plant.”

Selkirk Common Riding

Each morning we met around the (tremendously long) breakfast table and ate together and laughed and shared stories. Each evening we did the same over dinner. Robert, who was fulfilling his duties as the 2013 Selkirk Colonial Society Standard Bearer joined us when he could—boy! that was one full schedule he had, packed with late night after late night. It was lovely to catch up with him when I could, and I was disappointed that I had to leave one morning when he and Bruce had just got their teeth into a really meaty conversation about American politics. I was back in Boonville in ’89. I wanted to hear more, but family duties were calling.

Of course, what we were all there for was to support Robert at the Common Riding. On Wednesday evening I travelled into Selkirk for the Colonial Bussin’ concert, where Nicola bussed the flag (put ribbons on it) in a very graceful way (as they kept remind us) and Robert received his standard bearer’s sash and flag for the Common Riding on Friday morning.

Selkirk Colonial Society Bussin' Concert 2013

Nicola tying ribbons onto the flag at the Selkirk Colonial Society Bussin’ Concert 2013

After the concert I got to attend the Colonial dinner, something that I’d seen my Mum and Dad go out to for years as I was growing up. Finally I was allowed to go, and I’m so glad that I did. What fun Zack and Ben and Frances and I had sitting at the top end of a table that extended about three-quarters of the way down the Lesser Victoria Hall. We sat beneath a California flag that Charlotte had donated a few years before she died. She would have been so proud of us all being together.

My Mum surprised me at one point by going forward to present a gift to Nicola, from a former Lady Busser to the current one. I leaned in to Frances and said, “That’s my Mum and your Mum!” She smiled. I was so proud of my Mum that evening, and so proud to be a part of this family. I wish my Dad could have seen it all too. He’d have been in his element.

There was a lot of singing that evening, which took me a bit by surprise. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I like singing. I was in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain for about eight years, but it was like hanging out at the Prancing Pony inn with a bunch of hobbits and dwarves! More singing! More drinking! More singing! But it was brilliant. At one point, near the end, Robert got up with Frances and they sang a fabulous, eerie, gothic American ballad, something that they sometimes sing at bedtime. It went down a storm.

Robert and Frances wow the gathering with a gothic American ballad

Robert and Frances wow the Colonial dinner with a gothic American ballad

Then on Friday morning we got up at pointlessly-early o’clock and did the Selkirk Common Riding. Reuben and Joshua were incredible. For about five hours, Reuben walked pretty much the whole way round, Joshua got carried for a bit of it, Jane about broke her back carrying Isaac in a sling the whole way. I was so proud of them all.

Robert did everyone proud casting the Colonial flag in the Selkirk Market Place at the conclusion of the festival, which you can watch on the ITV website along with a short interview with him.

Robert Mailer Anderson casting the Selkirk Colonial Society flag, June 2013

Robert Mailer Anderson casting the Selkirk Colonial Society flag, June 2013(Photo: Eddie Saunders)

The following day the wider family gathered at Hoscote House for a buffet meal. What was rather fun was that Judy and I worked on a copy of the family tree so we could all identify where we sat on it, and we could see graphically how we were all related to one another.

Buffet meal in the dining room at Hoscote House

Buffet meal in the dining room at Hoscote House

Then we gathered for the obligatory family photo on the steps of the house and then we all went our separate ways.

Almost everyone gathered on the steps at Hoscote House.

Almost everyone gathered on the steps at Hoscote House.

I was sad to leave. I miss not having so many people around the breakfast table. I miss the jokes and nonsense conversations, I miss finding out more about these amazing people with whom I’ve spent less than a month of my life in their company but who have accepted me as one of their own, and who I regard as close to me as my nuclear family. I guess I miss them because I love them. And surely that’s a good thing in a family, even one as wide and extended and scattered and… odd as this one.

Two minor operations and one long recovery

scalpel

#1 The eye-watering operation

On Tuesday 2 April I drove north with Jane to Stracathro Hospital (52 miles north of Anstruther, on the A90, 38 miles south of Aberdeen) for what would be the first of two minor operations within a week.

This first procedure, which would see me admitted to hospital for the first time since I emerged into one on a very cold and dark morning on Remembrance Day, November 1971, was for a ‘gentlemanly operation’ to ensure that no more little Saunders’s would be making an appearance in the years to come—at least not from this branch of my family tree; a procedure, under local anaesthetic, which would sever the vas deferens but make a vast difference.

With Jane having suffered from post-natal depression since 2008 it was the least that I could do to remove at least some of her anxiety about what lies in the future. Still, I have a further three months and two samples to go until I’m given the all-clear…

Oh, and there is the small matter of two nasty post-op, NHS-sponsored, iatrogenic infections that have laid me low for most of April.

On the day

I was remarkably calm the day of the procedure. I had half expected to be very anxious on the morning of the operation but I really rather enjoyed our drive up to Dundee, crossing the Tay road bridge in the warm morning sunshine and then skirting our way around Dundee to the east to meet up with the A90 towards Aberdeen. It was a pleasant change to have Jane to myself in the car, no children interrupting every few moments, although they are usually very polite in doing so, “Mum! Mum! Mum! … excuse me?” I was also surprised to see so much snow still piled at the sides of the road, when we had had so little this winter and what we received had always melted within hours of falling.

Stracathro hospital was surprisingly far away. (Are we nearly there yet?) It was built in 1939 as an emergency hospital for WWII military casualties. It reminded me very much of Peel hospital, at Caddonfoot situated outside Galashiels between Selkirk and Peebles, built around the same time for the same purpose.

Seemingly the first patients at Stracathro were victims of an air raid on Montrose in 1940, followed by civilian casualties from London, Birmingham, Coventry and other English cities, and later by soldiers from all theatres of the war, all delivered by train to the nearby station at Brechin.

We parked the car and navigated our way to the day surgery ward in time for my 08:30 admission. The waiting room wasn’t much more than a large abandoned ward with a handful of chairs pushed to the edges at the far end.

The operation

“Ah! Hello!” came the cheery greeting from the nurse in charge. “You’re first here, so you’re first on the list that’s how it works here.”

Seemingly Stracathro carries out a number of minor operations for three health authorities: Fife, Tayside and Angus, and on Tuesday mornings they alternate week-about chopping off the bits of men from Fife and Tayside, four men every 90 minutes. That week it was Fife’s turn. And as it turned out I was not just the first to arrive, I was the only one to arrive. Two had phoned to cancel, one just didn’t turn up. Cowards!

In theatre, besides the surgeon there were two nurses. One was assisting the surgeon, the other it would appear was simply there to sit in the corner and talk incessantly about the weather, and the snow, and how she had spent an entire afternoon digging out her cul-de-sac, where all the old folks in the street had stood watching from the comfort of their living room windows and where none of them had made her a mug of hot chocolate.

During the operation the surgeon asked me if everything was all right.

“This is very odd,” I said, grimacing.

The surgeon looked at me.

“Certainly… unusual.”

“I’ll accept unusual,” he replied.

There was a slightly awkward silence.

“I mean… I’ve not had this done to me before.”

The surgeon burst out laughing, stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said, “No. No you wouldn’t have.” He smiled then returned to chopping up my bits and melting the severed ends with a soldering iron.

The nurse in the corner took that as her cue to continue with her epic tale of shifting snow.

And I can tell you another thing. After all these infections, I’m certainly not having another one!

Next!

After a returning to the ward, and once my stats had returned to normal (my usually-high blood pressure was refreshingly low after the procedure) I was allowed to dress and leave. No tea and toast for me. Not even the whisper of a biscuit. Or nuts! NHS cut backs, eh!

I emerged into the waiting room just as the next batch of men were arriving. Well, two of them, anyway. One rather brow-beaten looking man was accompanied by a heavily-pregnant wife and—very obviously—his mother-in-law.

“She’s expecting her fourth!” the mother-in-law exclaimed to anyone who was listening. “So A’ve come tae make share he gets it cut oaf!”

And so the long road to recovery, and back to Anstruther, despite the information sheet accompanying my admissions papers assuring me I’d be well enough to return to work the following day.

#2 The eye operation

My second minor procedure was simply to remove a cyst that had developed next to my left eye this year. I noticed it in mid-January and by the time it was removed it had doubled in size.

This minor op. was done at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where all three of my boys were born, during the Monday afternoon ophthalmic clinic and by the Charge Nurse. She was brilliant—by which I mean she was very good at her job, not that she was particularly shiny.

And guess what?! No infection. Mind you, I’ve had so many antibiotics this month I’d probably live through another plague. Or even survive a Big Mac meal from McDonalds.

Recovery

Neither procedure, the vasectomy nor the cyst-removal, was particularly traumatic although I did feel rather sore and wobbly for quite a few days afterwards—certainly more than the one day that the information leaflet suggested; but then I guess that everyone is different.

The post-op infections, however, really did knock me for six: everything from pain to fever, shaking and confusion. A skin infection to begin with, followed by a particularly nasty UTI for which I am now on my third course of antibiotics, which will last another three weeks.

Thankfully, though, I am now on the mend and greatly looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow morning.

“Talking faith” article in local newspaper by my Mum

talking-faith

Every week my Mum faithfully sends me the local newspaper, the Selkirk Weekend Advertiser.

This week, on page two, was a short “Talking faith” article by “A member of St John’s” (the Scottish Episcopal Church in Selkirk). That member was my Mum, and her thought for the day ‘column’ was inspired by two of my beautiful children, Reuben and Joshua.

“Just you and me!”, said one of my three-year-old twin grandsons, contentedly trotting off to play tennis with his Mummy.

“Just you and me!” said the other twin going to the shops with his Daddy. They were experiencing individual quality time… attention… being loved. Let’s enjoy ‘just you and me’ quality time with God.

Come to me with your ears open, and you will find life. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised. Isaiah 55:3 NLT

Christmas 2011

20111222-isaac-and-santa
Above: Isaac gives a knitted Santa a cuddle a few days before Christmas.

Christmas Eve

“I was very surprised that you agreed to preach at the midnight mass,” said Jane on Christmas Eve, “after you’d said last year that you were going to take a year off this year.”

“Did I say that?” I asked.

Apparently so, but I’m glad that I had forgotten because the midnight service at All Saints’, St Andrews was beautiful. The nave (where the congregation sits) was in darkness, lit by hand-held candles, there was a procession during which the baby Jesus was placed in the crib, which was then blessed. The choir was small but enthusiastic; and daring (In dulce jubilo in German). My sermon was warmly received, with another member of the clergy team saying to me afterwards that he thought that it was “spot on”, which I found encouraging.

I drove back to Anstruther around a quarter past one, glowing and thanking God. While I was waiting for the toast to pop-up at home I tweeted:

Fabulous midnight mass at All Saints, St Andrews. The good news of Jesus preached. Feeling very blessed. Happy Christmas one and all. x

I retired to bed for about four-and-a-half hours.

Christmas Day

The drive to Selkirk wasn’t quite as I had planned; particularly the 30 mph winds. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared while driving. The Forth Road Bridge was closed to high sided vehicles, buses, cars with trailers, caravans, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians: pretty much everybody apart from us. I crept across the almost deserted bridge at 30 mph, driving mostly down the line between the lanes.

Just south of Edinburgh, at Newtongrange we discovered that Isaac had a very dodgy tummy. And that we’d forgotten to pack a change of clothes. He turned up to St John’s in Selkirk wearing his pyjamas: a George Pig (Peppa’s brother) fleecy sleep suit. Very sweet.

Jane stayed at my Mum’s to prepare Christmas lunch while the rest of us (minus Reuben, who wanted to stay with Mummy) went to church.

We had Christmas lunch round a wallpaper-pasting table covered in a table cloth, which was a great idea and fit the space perfectly. Jane’s lunch was cooked to perfection—even the parsnips in honey and mustard which always go wrong for us.

Before and after lunch presents were opened, mostly by Reuben and Joshua regardless of whose name was on the label—they were so excited, it was great. And all too soon we were packing up bags and boxes and loading up the car again for the equally-windy drive back to Fife.

Once back home the boys all transferred effortlessly (and for us thankfully) from the car to their beds. We unpacked the car, reheated some Christmas dinner and crashed out in front of the telly to watch the season finalé of Merlin that we’d recorded from the night before.

Then bed.

Boxing Day

20111226-joshua-and-reuben
Above: Joshua (left) and Reuben rip open a present on Boxing Day morning.

This was our stay-at-home day, with the majority of Reuben, Joshua and Isaac’s presents still to open. It was nice to stretch out their presents over the last two days rather than overwhelming them with everything all at once.

Jane had picked up a big box of action figures: underwater, mountain, space, etc. which you can see Reuben and Joshua opening in the photograph above. They have loved playing with them all day. At one point they were both lying on top of the dining room table totally engrossed in their play: fabulous!

It was also a tired day, as the busyness of the last few days caught up with us. Jane crashed out on the sofa around mid-day; I went for a sleep mid-afternoon; Reuben fell asleep on the armchair just before dinner.

That said, bedtime still took about three-and-a-half hours. And everybody wanted Mummy to put them to bed.

And to be honest, that’s where I should be now, so I’m going to be uncharacteristically sensible and catch up with as much sleep as I can get. That is, after all, the only thing that I asked for for Christmas: a sleep.

Night, night! And Happy Christmas!

Creating a new 2012 diary for Jane

Diary 2012 - work-in-progress

Jane's new diary for 2012 - work in progress

Jane’s been looking for a diary for 2012.

She wants one that allows her to see a week at a glance, with separate columns for each of the family members, separated into blocks for morning, afternoon and evening activities.

There are similar diaries available, but none that also have photographs of our family within the pages. Or our key phone numbers printed on the inside cover.

So I’m making one for her, and will get it printed at Lulu, or similar. It should cost around £10.

The image above is work-in-progress; I’m using Microsoft Publisher 2010 and Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3.