Monthly Archives: December 2004

Happy New Year

I was going to stay up tonight, chatting on MSN and bringing my wiblog up to date with reports of the Christmas season (which has been a very pleasant one, if slightly fraught with hurdles), until it was time to make the customary phone calls to members of my family and sneak into the boys’ room to give them the first kiss of the New Year as they sleep. But I have a headache already. Why? Well, when people say that you end up with a headache as the result of too much fun on New Year’s Eve, I don’t think this was what they had in mind…. a game of Pictionary with the Smudgelets.

It was a lovely evening, actually, as Auntie M had invited us round for tea. She always does a lovely tea, and it’s great to get chance to have a game together before we feast and before heading off to the little Norman church in the village for their half-hour Service of Light. I reckoned Taboo might be a bit of a challenge to my two, even though the little one could talk the hind leg off a donkey, but pictionary sounded a good bet. By the end of it, however, M and I were tearing our hair out. There was Tiddles at 12 years of age, claiming not to know that a person who sings is called a “singer”, Smudgelet spending the whole of his sixty seconds drawing the individual hairs on the head of the face which was meant to illustrate the word “smile”, neither of them quite able to comprehend why I had drawn a picture of a man wielding an axe and bringing it down to split a log in half when the word I was trying to illustrate was “chop”. Next time someone suggests party games with my Smudgelets, remind me to carry a packet of Anadin!

Today’s been rather busy, actually, as we decided to go into town this morning to get the photographs of the Chrsitmas and the Winchester Meet developed and for the boys to spend their Christmas money and put some in the bank. Great excitement in the bank, actually, as the cashpoint machine broke down and we had to be locked in the bank while the repairman opened it up and retrieved the crumpled ten pound note which was clogging up the works. Never seen inside a cashpoint before. Rather frustrating to stand there looking at all that money when I had just paid my credit card bill!

To speed up things and as part of my plan to encourage Tiddles to become more independent and confident, I sent him on an errand while we were in town, to purchase one medium sliced white loaf of a particular brand (while singing “Going Home”) and a box of our customary apple juice from the man who says “Yes”, for which purpose he was given two pound coins. The completion of this simple task cannot help but boost his self esteem, I’m sure. He arrives at the rendezvous point empty handed. “They cost too much, Mum. The juice was £1.20 and the loaf of bread was £2”. He had, of course, bought neither and, as bread was an essential, we had to try again. Half an hour down the drain. We return to the supermarket and, having given him a £5 and having checked for myself that the two items were a) on the shelves in large quantity and b) each less than £1 and having reiterated the instructions, I sent him forth on his mission once more. Now one of the fruits of the spirit is supposed to be patience, isn’t it? And if I want to boost his self esteem, then strangling him in the middle of Morrisons probably isn’t the best way to approach it, I suppose. And I am sure that the thick cheap bread and extremely expensive “six individual mixed fruit juice cartons for the wealthier family who don’t get very thirsty” would balance each other out in the long run…..

We are, however, pleased to announce a successful shopping expedition. Smudgelet now has sufficient batteries to keep all his new remote-control trains running until next Christmas (has he mentioned yet that Santa brought him two remote-control trains for his train set which make realistic noises and have lights that light up? If not, consider yourself fortunate indeed!); Tiddles has a long plank of wood and several nails and a hinge to embark on his first real woodworking project; and I have a new shower head and a handle for the front door.

More to the point, all three of us feel stilled and blessed after the Service of Light – a gentle liturgy by candlelight to herald the new year. What does the New Year have in store for us? Who knows, but in God’s hands we feel loved and secure and strengthened to face whatever challenges and blessings the future may bring. And all of us here at Smudgie Towers wish you a happy and peaceful 2005 (though don’t expect me to use quite the same words if you phone up at midnight to wish me the same!)

(P.S. Remind me to blog about Christmas – these Christmases with the Smudgelets are such a delight that I want to record them for posterity!)

Christmas plans?

As if it weren’t hard enough to motivate myself to do the million and one jobs I want to get done today, the news that my sister and brother-in-law may not be coming for Christmas after all has totally taken the wind out of my sails. Why tidy and clean the kitchen now, when only I am going to see it? Well, I suppose, because I am going to see it! But that doesn’t really help when I don’t particularly want to make myself do it, I just want it to be done. 😉

Having said that, Smudgelet is, as I type, tidying the bedroom (amazing what a motivator the thought of Santa seeing it in a mess can be) and Tiddles is cleaning the veranda floor. Bless them. Smudgelet is a reluctant helper, it has to be said, and it’s as much hard work getting him to do it as it is to do it myself, but I know it has to be done. Tiddles is a great help now, though – oh the delights of a twelve-year-old boy cooking the dinner and doing the shopping while I sit and drink the cup of coffee he’s made me to keep me out of the way! 😀

I wonder whether J will be feeling well enough today to make the journey down to spend Christmas with us. If not, she’s going to be eating brussels sprout sandwiches for weeks to come as she’s bought all the vegetables for our Christmas meals. The other branch of the family are also feeling a bit deflated as my sister’s son and his partner and their first grandchild are not going to be able to join them for Christmas this year either. Fortunately it was “before” they set out on the 13-hour journey and not en route, but my expectant “niece-in-law” started to bleed and has been sent to bed for a week in concern that she may again lose the baby. A fine Christmas they’ll have for my great-niece’s first real Christmas – no decorations, and no food in the house because they were going away. The other small consolation for my sister is that she got the news before she replaced all the Christmas goodies which she was having to replace because she accidentally switched the fridge off !

Well, I suppose I had better get a shift on and get this house clean and the last of the presents bought and wrapped before Christmas comes. With two over-excited children to keep calm and one grinch-type irritable father to motivate to “enjoy” something of Christmas I might have my work cut out…… but I can’t help it.. it’s a wonderful time of year and I love it 😀

Christmas inside out

This was the title of the reading at the carol service I went to tonight, and it was such a powerful message – the fact the Christmas story (from the beginning right through to the crucifixion and resurrection) is entirely about outsiders – and it is in the darkness of isolation and abandonment and insignificance that Christ’s light shines brightest. Christ didn’t come to an in-crowd (although I suppose he did come to an inn-crowd 😉 ) but to outcasts and strangers, born in a stable and killed on a rubbish heap.

A powerful message indeed when sitting amongst those whom society might reject as “lesser” beings. I had a phone call out of the blue two days ago from the prison chaplain at one of our local prisons. He had my number from a card I’d sent a couple of Christmases ago (You know, I have racked my brain and really cannot remember sending one at all) and wondered if I would be able to go to the carol service tonight, despite the short notice. I used to attend the church on a regular basis there first thing every Sunday morning and had been to the carol services every year for about four years. It was one of the few parts of my life that I have actually missed since I gave it up when I became a mother – one of the things I used to do which was really worthwhile and yet really enriched me personally… and which I also found, to my surprise, that I really enjoyed. Since I last went, about five years ago, there have been many changes including an almost complete change to the chaplaincy team. It was a bit nerveracking going in as I realised there’d be virtually nobody there I knew. But it was wonderful. The presence of God is so tangible in that crowded little church and it’s fantastic to hear the strength in the singing from these men who might not be expected to see the joy of Christmas, locked away from their families and friends. To know that God’s love for these men is no different than his love for me, except that it might well be more special because our God truly is the God of those whom society might well reject. And to break down once again those barriers of fear – them of me and me of them – and share a joke and a cup of coffee and mince pie and a prayer and a natter and the warmth of a sincere handshake that says “It really is good to see you here”.

Now here’s something that makes you wonder. As I sat there, I remembered the story I’d told the Smudgelets about how, throughout the four years that I “belonged” to the prison chapel, I had been amazed to find there was always a butterfly flying round during the services. Every time I went I’d find him, fluttering against one of the stained glass windows or visiting the artificial flowers (because they aren’t allowed real ones 🙁 ). A beautifully coloured peacock butterfly with brilliant red wings and detailed “eyes”. And to my amazement as I walked out of the chapel at the end of the service, there it was again on the window on the way out!

I learn a lot from going there – hopefully as the boys get older I will begin to go again. It’s a strange sort of situation – I’m sure God can’t plan for me to have an active ministry there because I’m really not the best person for it. I’m far to staid and respectable, and advancing towards being the older generation of ladies that’s far too out of touch with the “Young” world to enter into it without looking ridiculous. So I don’t give much, but I receive a lot, and maybe that’s what God has in mind. So although I do feel parasitical (yes, I do mean parasitical rather than pharasaical – if that’s a word!) in going, I hope God will make it possible eventually to give something back to the community there.

I’ve seen the man in red

Yes, we saw The Man In Red himself today. In person. It’s great to know that, while there are plenty of people pretending to be Santa to help us get in the Christmas spirit during Advent, the man himself does take time out of his hectic schedule to visit us in person at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Today was our annual trip to ride on the steam train (to the rather pleasant accompaniment of a glass of sherry and a mince pie as we travelled in the luxury we deserved in a first-class carriage ), to have lunch in the station coffee shop, and to explore the enchanting grotto and toy-workshop as we wait for our audience with Santa. He got a lovely hug from Smudgelet (something of a contrast to the first time Smudgelet met him, when he jumped on his tummy and kept pulling at his beard and gloves with a maniacal grin!) and chatted with them for ages about this and that. He said that the presents he gave them today must be taken home and put under the Christmas tree so that when he visits on Christmas Eve, he knows just where to put them – and he signed them with his autograph! It was lovely to see the boys’ dilemma – they so wanted to open the presents in the cafe afterwards, but knew that if they did, he might not know where to leave their presents and they might have to sacrifice the future “many” if they wanted the present present. In the end they begged me to hide the presents away where they couldn’t see them so that they wouldn’t be tempted!.

Today I regretted my impulse to buy a real tree. Last night I set it up, in secret, once the boys were in bed. I’d borrowed one of those lovely Christmas Tree stands from school and managed to secure it and fill the vase part with water, and then decorated the tree. It looked really lovely by the time I’d finished… well worth it. I did not think quite the same when, at midnight, the tree decided it was really too heavy for the stand and proceeded to fall full length across the lounge floor (you’ll recall I’m sleeping on the sofa at the moment, so I was aware of its graceful plummeting), strewing baubles in all directions and, more to the point, strewing water across my parquet flooring! There I was, in my PJs, holding a tree upright in one hand while mopping at the floor with a random bit of tissue – reluctant to let go of the tree as it would fall again and pour out more water, and yet unable to get at anything really absorbant without leaving the room completely. Eventually, after much struggling and manoevring, I managed to prop the tree upright sufficiently to clean the floor and retire to my bed, where I spent a sleepless night waiting for the sound of demolition once again.

This morning I tried every method in my entire imagination to get the tree holder to support the tree successfully. Three times the baubles and water went across the floor and three times I struggled to clear the disaster area, all the time looking longingly at my artificial tree with its reliable stand and absence of needles or water. Finally I threw the stand to one side, grabbed a bucket from the shed and a huge bag of gravel from the garage, and had a last ditch attempt to create a stable base to hold our beautiful-but-uncooperative tree upright. Thank heavens, it worked. (I wonder if this episode in any way contributed to Tiddles’ evening prayer tonight “Dear God, please make mummy less stressed and help her know that we do love her really”. !)

I’m not totally incompetant……

No, don’t answer that!

There are lots of things I can do if I put my mind to them. I can understand a lot of things. I am not lacking in intelligence or common sense. Well, I don’t think I am, anyway. I am not totally incompetant. BUT…

I just don’t “get” mortgages!

I am trying to change my mortgage to a cheaper one, but I discover I just simply cannot understand how my current mortgage is made up or how it works. My concept of how it should be is fairly simple, but the whole business is too complicated for me to get my head round… and there’s nobody I know who can explain it. The mortgage advisor explained it several times in words of one syllable for me, ever so patient with this Special Needs pupil, but after two hours I decided I really ought to let her go home for her tea.

So come on, in simple sentences, how do mortgages work? Because I would seem to have a mortgage which seems to be considerably bigger than I would have thought it ought to be. Should the redemption cost of my repayment mortgage and the death benefit of my endowment mortgage really add up to about £25,000 more than I paid for the bungalow (including negative equity) ? Anyone got a brick wall I can borrow for my head?

Silent night?

There are so many times during this season when I find myself with a lump in my throat. Poor, soppy, emotional and proud mother that I am. Last night was one of them. With lantern in hand, and scarves and hats and gloves securely fastened in place against the bitterly cold night, my two songbirds went out carol singing. It’s their Christmas gift to our neighbours. They don’t collect money, just sing and deliver a card to each house in the close (while their protective mummy stands at the end of each drive shivering!)

It was beautiful. They’re not totally tuneful, I must admit, but they sang out loud and clear and brought a smile to every household who dared to open the door. Almost all our neighbours are elderly and act as honorary grandparents for my gruesome twosome. Mind you, several didn’t answer (they don’t open the door after dark) and they got rather short shrift at two houses where one person was on the phone on a long distance call and another little family was having their evening meal… but most were delighted to see them. Only at one house was their rendition of Silent Night a bit..well, how can I put this nicely?… er… awful! The lovely lady, V, smiled sweetly and told them how lovely it was, but I gave them a prod in the small of the back and they suddenly decided that she might like to hear them sing Away in a Manger too… for which they actually KNEW the words! Amazing – her smile had looked sincere until I saw her true smile of delight at their proper singing!

I led prayers for the first time at Church this morning. Well, not for the first time actually, but for the first time with my minister in the congregation and for the first time since saying about training as a local preacher. Mind you, as I approached the lectern, the organ pipes suddenly syphoned and produced a sound not unlike the Queen Mary sailing into port. It was an occasion for great decorum (i.e. avoiding the giggles!) for which I rewarded myself afterwards with two mince pies.

I have finally done most of the decorations, although I’m not sure any of my Christmas cards are going to arrive on time as I haven’t even written most of those yet! I haven’t done the tree yet, either. I am really quite excited – this year, for the first time ever since the age of eleven – we are having a real tree. It’s sitting in the garage at the moment, waiting for a moment when the boys aren’t in so that I can get it all set up as a real surprise. I can’t wait to see their faces.

Yet more Christmas parties for them tonight. They went to the most fantastic party imagineable on Saturday afternoon – the Young Archaeologists Party at Carisbrooke Castle. It was on a Medieval theme and they got to wear real armour, to do a treasure hunt around the castle, to listen to scary stories in the castle keep, to dress up and have a banquet, including their first ever taste of roast pigeon! Smudgelet declined the pigeon on the grounds that the leader said it was medieval and he didn’t know whether he liked that! Tiddles wants to know whether they sell it at Tesco because he rather liked it.

Christmas starts here…..

A special treat for all my maths classes this morning. An end of term test. Mwahahahahaha…. well, we teachers have to have a bit of Christmas fun, don’t we? Actually it wasn’t my idea, and I had a bit of a battle over it because the test that had been run off for my Y7 class was more than half made up of topics we haven’t covered yet, and I don’t believe in giving special needs children tests they can’t do. I think our poor coordinator gets a bit fed up of me greeting his ready-prepared tests with “Oh no, we can’t do that”.

I really felt in the Christmas spirit today. I love Christmas. I love the sacred Christmas and I love the secular one and, to be honest, I don’t have the slightest bit of difficulty combining the two. I don’t aim for perfection – in this household that’d be like planning to climb Everest before teatime – and we don’t go for overindulgence – we just thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Sometimes it takes a bit of determination. Dad hates Christmas and is always at his worst on that particular day and it takes all my powers of patience to ignore him and work round him, but we usually find a way. And because I didn’t grow up with any particular Christmas traditions (apart from the one of staying well clear of Dad on “putting the decorations up” day), apart from an enjoyment of the season, it makes it all the more fun creating our own “traditions” together.

Today was phase one (ish) of our traditions. First of all I dashed home from work for Smudgelet’s Christmas play. It was brilliant. Truly magical. It was called “The Royal Box” and was based on the idea of the Queen and Prince Philip sitting in their PJs watching afternoon TV on Christmas Day. Each time they changed the channel they saw a different musical – each put on by a different class in the school – and Smudgelet’s was Mary Poppins. He looked a treat in his suit and bowler hat, and was splendid as Mr Banks.

Afterwards I waited for both boys to come home from school and whisked them off in search of Christmas. As I said, this is always one of the first really Christmassy things we do. We visited the local garden centre which is handed over to a total celebration of Christmas at this time of year (which is the obvious time of year for it to be so, I suppose!). A mass of tinsel, lights, moving figurines, singing Christmas trees…. we love it! The boys get to choose some new decorations – this year some lights for Tiddles who adores lights, and a huge golden cardboard star mobile for Smudgelet – and sneak off secretly to find me a Christmas present without me knowing anything at all about it… apart from suddenly finding myself £5 poorer! And the best bit of all is watching the moving figures – a North Pole scene made up of life-sized penguins, seals and polar bears; a parachuting Santa; a forest full of deer and, best of all, a gorgeous nativity scene which makes the boys gasp with delight. Then just time for a Grumpy Meal before driving home through the Bear Forest (obligatory stop en route to turn the lights off and experience complete darkness while looking for the glint of the bears’ eyes through the trees) and off to bed.

Down to earth with a bump tonight, mind. My sister finally said the A word which has been hovering in the back of all our minds but we haven’t really dared voice before. Alzheimers. It feels as though thinking it somehow makes it more likely, and certainly feels like a betrayal. And the word alone seems a violation of the proud and loving man my father has been. A challenge for all of us, if it turns out to be the case. One benefit only I can see – that maybe the sudden mood swings that make him so unpleasant to the children will be “explainable” as something they can understand as part of his condition and not take too much to heart.

But that is something to dwell on in the daylight hours, not just before bed, so I’ll go to sofa and dream of tinsel.

Merry Christmas.

Amazing, but true

He still has them. Well, he still had them this morning.
He’s lost his pencil case (again), his bus pass (again) and his entire PE kit (again), but he still has his glasses.

How could I have been so miserable last night? Smudgelet had made me a plate full of peppermint creams at Beavers. His fingernails are now incredibly clean. Why do I find this worrying? And I think the thumbprints on the top of the sweeties just add to their overall appeal.

And not only that, Tiddles brought home from school especially for me a life-size pottery football boot, painted bright red and complete with zip, studs and.. er… glitter!

I am so spoilt 😀

Thwarted

Having endured my various moans and rantings, you’d probably be forgiven for doubting this, but at heart I’m basically pretty contented with my lot. I have two wonderful kids who bring me endless joy (OK, a few headaches with it, but without the headaches you wouldn’t appreciate the joy so much, would you?). I have a job which 9 times out of 10 I love and find challenging and stimulating. I have a close and supportive family which is not something you can take for granted in today’s society, and a good circle of friends. I have a nice bungalow in a lovely part of the country and sufficient income to live in comfort. And I have a fantastic relationship with God.

I’d just like to be someone else, just for today. No, not even someone else – I’d like to be the other me I could have been if I’d made different choices along the way. The feeling’s caught me a bit on the hop.

Part of it has come, I’m sure, from the rather strange conversation I had with my minister yesterday in which he told me that, although he wouldn’t stand in my way, he didn’t feel that going forward as a local preacher was best for me or for the church. I think it’s to do with his own personal feelings of unrest (that word is beginning to haunt me) as he doesn’t see the local preacher role featuring in the future of the church. It’s also to do with his reservations about me having time and it causing me more stress – I can’t disagree with him on that one, but it doesn’t make the sense of vocation any the less. It doesn’t make any difference to me moving on with the training, but it sews seeds of discomfort – although maybe that’s a good thing. God, a signpost would be helpful, please.

But the biggest cause of me sitting here feeling sorry for myself is that fact that I have missed my massage class again. I can see the whole thing falling apart because this is the third week where Dad hasn’t been well enough to take care of the kids. I took them with me tonight, in the hope that they could sit in during the theory part of the lesson, but it turned out the whole evening’s devoted to practical tonight, which means I miss out on three hours of practise (and being massaged).

I have the social workers on my back for not having done a load of financial paperwork, I have the building society on my back for failing to make any of the appointments to review my mortgage (because one or other of my men was ill, or because of school engagements), I can’t go to yet another wedding this weekend because I can’t leave Dad alone, and it looks like his trip to my sister’s after Christmas won’t go ahead because he’s got to go back to the clinic for an appointment. Even Smudgelet’s Christmas play has coincided with the evening I was hoping to go for the farewell dinner for the colleague with whom I had become close friends and whom I’ll miss immensely after Christmas when she moves to the other end of the country.

Don’t endulge me with hugs for this pathetic bout of self-pity – what I really need is a kick up the backside to tell me to get on with it and enjoy the good times to the full.