Monday, 30 August 2010

40 credits, sir?

Last week, I had the pleasure to meet some of the ministry candidates I will, eventually, be studying with. This was at a "pre-conference social". It was great, I get to meet people, discuss ministry, God, politics, life, the universe, everything and Up! without being thought of as odd, annoying, different or strange...or not too strange, anyway.

On another note, Edinburgh uni have now advised me I need 40 university credits (I don't know exactly what that means, either), to stand a chance of gaining a place there next year. This because I have been away from academic study for more than 2 years. I could do courses at their centre for life long learning or elsewhere, such as distance learning courses at Aberdeen uni. I was informed of this at the beginning of August by Edinburgh uni and told the prospectus for the life long learning course would be available to download by the end of the month. Yes, it became available on Friday, this is a bank holiday weekend and some of the courses begin tomorrow. Nice!

I happened to mention to other candidates at the social last week about this. They were pretty surprised by this as none had experienced this nor had to undertake additional study, where they had a prior degree. I thought this may have been due to, in one case, a couple of years passing, but one of the candidates is only starting now and obtained their place in February. As they said, how could things have changed in 6 months?

So, now I'm thinking do I start courses with Aberdeen uni in the hope I can gain sufficient credits, while working full-time and remaining some sort of sanity? Should I see the opinion of ministries council and see what they can do to help? Or, should I not bother applying to Edinburgh after all and just go to St. Andrews - they don't need additional credits?

Choices, choices.

I'd prefer to go to Edinburgh, for a while plethora of reasons. If their criteria is 40 credits for those outwith academic study in the last 2 year, fair enough, but always apply them or not at all. I have a very ingrained sense of fairness and having a tantrum to get a uni place, rather than playing by the rules of the institution just isn't me.

Anyway, much praying and contemplation to go on in the next few days, while I work out where God wants me to go. Watch this space.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Should I stay or should I go?

Yesterday, my office announced a voluntary redundancy scheme. My initial reaction was “show me the money; show me the money”. Over the course of the evening, Spot and I had a long chat about the implications of the package.

Ideally, my office wants those taking up the offer to leave by 31 December. Doing the sums, Spot and I would be worse off with me leaving then than waiting until next August to leave. That, of course, works on the assumption I do not get another job meantime. However, the redundancy offer does say the leaving date can be as late as 31 March 2011. With that as a leaving date, it does make the package more beneficial than staying for an additional 4-5 months (if I did manage that long!).

I know Spot supports whatever decision I make. As he said, he was expecting me to be leaving about now to go to uni, so any earnings I have beyond now are a bonus. There’s also the matter the office may not receive sufficient applications now and compulsory redundancies come in in the new financial year, with poorer terms. Worse still, from our perspective, during that round Spot’s made redundant rather than me.

I have decided I will apply for redundancy. Obviously I have prayed for guidance with this decision. I feel God not only supports it, but wants me to trust Him. That this is all part of His plan for me and He will provide for Spot and I.

Monday, 23 August 2010

New boots

I've a confession to make. I have really conservative tastes when it comes to footwear. Basically, it's Doc Martens for work and play, Merrel  for trainers and brasher boots for hill walking. I know it makes me sound like a brand snob, but not being a shopper combined with the childhood trauma of literally spending hours getting a pair of school shoes which fitted, I know what fits and I will not deviate from that.

That said, I know when I get a new pair of docs, I have to wear then around the house for a couple of weeks to break them in. Yes, the are a good fit, but I need to make then mine. I give them a chance to become mine. I don't just put them on, walk around for a bit and go "sorry, they aren't okay". I know it will take a bit of patience and perseverance to get them "just right".

Once I've worn them around the house, I know they won't be right for anyone else. Not really. They are the made the same way as all other docs. They have the same sole, the same laces, the same materials. But the action of wear changes them. The develop a character of their own, based on how much I wear them, how I care for them and how I walk. All these factors have an influence on how my boots will appear to others.

It's much like people. We are all formed in the image of God. Our basic selves are like brand new boots. Unworn, lacking character and showing no signs of wear or care. Our lives are wearing in the boots. What life throws at us and the experiences we have through life, especially in the formative years, has visible effects on how we develop and grow and wear. And has a significant influence on how we show ourselves to the world.

I was badly bullied at school. Like many who are bullied, I was the easy target. Single parent, spec wearer (30 years ago, I was the only kid at primary school with glasses), a little overweight, pretty smart and I always wanted to help people. You can see why bullies attacked.

The bullies had been friends - people I had tried to help with sums and reading. They abused the trust I had put in them. So I learnt to put up barriers. I became determined to not let anyone get too close. That way they wouldn't be able to hurt me.

Looking back, I really hurt myself. There are probably many people over the years who I could have been friends with, but I just wouldn't allow it to happen. I am much better. I will take the risk of letting people in; of letting people care and love me.

My character is still influenced by the past. Like a scuff mark on a pair of well polished boots, if  you look close enough, you can see the mark. But the love and care of family and friends is the polish for me. Nourishing my soul and waterproofing my live against the weather I may come against.

All this possible only through the grace and love of God. God who loves me unconditionally, no matter my flaws. God, who has called me to ministry because of those flaws. Isn't God great?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Colours of dawn

As I drove to work this morning, I noticed how beautiful the sky looked. The intense sun was just cracking through the clouds. There was red, orange, purple, grey and blue. The sky looked like a Turner watercolour. A watercolour painted by nature and showing to anyone who cared to look the wonder of God's world.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Going batty

The other night, quite to my surprise, a bat flew past me in our back garden. Then, lat night Spot spotted a bat flying around our block. Cool - that means we have bats feeding and living nearby.

I love bats - no idea why, but I do., I think it's pretty cool discovering something like bats living in a place you really wouldn't expect.

So, in honour of our new discovery, we are now proud owners of a bat box. With a bit of luck, they might take up residence. It may take a while. Bats are fussy where they live and tend to return to the same roost, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, so to speak. Besides, if they are around, the midges better watch out!

Silver band

Yesterday turned into a great day...but didn't have the best of starts. On Friday, a part of Spot's wedding ring had broken off. Nothing major and, for a silversmith, a simple enough repair. We headed off to the silversmiths where we had had our wedding rings designed and made for us. It's also where we returned last year to have Spot's re-sized.

Spot called the day before to check opening times - from 10:30. We arrived a little early. Then waited, and waited, and waited a little more. At 10:50, there was still no show and we left. Now we'll need to find somewhere else to get it repaired.

It's funny. We didn't marry the rings. They weren't even especially expensive. But they are important to us, for the reason we have them. If we don't have them, we're just as married. They are, after all, only "stuff". Of little worth to anyone but us. But, that's why we will get Spot's wedding ring repaired.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A run in the car

Yesterday, Spot and I had planned to take the bike for a run along the Fife coast, generally heading in an East Neuk and then St Andrews direction. When I got up yesterday morning, the weather was dull, but not too bad. That was at 7am, though. By 9, the rain had started and it wasn't very pleasant.

So, we decided to generally follow our original plan, but in the car. The drive was lovely, as the roads weren't too busy and, even in the rail, the scenery is beautiful. The showers were pretty heavy, so we were pleased of the car!

I have been after a leather jacket, but I'd prefer a second hand one, so it's slightly worn in, rather than shinny. St Andrew's has a good selection of charity shops, so Spot and I went for a browse. Well, I didn't find a jacket, but I did make a purchase...

I bought all on this shelf. This includes a dictionary of the bible in 5 volumes from 1906, various text books, reflective reading and prayer/service resources. Some may be more useful than others, some more interesting then others, but I know they will all be useful. Spot recons it may have been divine influence we took the car, as those tomes were heavy!

Just after I made my purchases, the sun broke through the clouds and it turned into a stunning afternoon and evening, as this view of Tentsmuir forest from St Andrews castle shows...

More and more, I feel God guiding me and helping me out. Taking me places I need to go and opening my eyes to things around me. He's also giving me a hand up. Maybe yesterday was one of those. I think it was and I thank Him for it.


I headed into Edinburgh on Thursday. As I waited for Spot I noticed this lady selling "The Big Issue" outside Princes Street's Marks and Spencers. She was reasonably dressed and didn't fit into the stereotype for a homeless person.

Two things struck me as I watched. Firstly, in this uncertain time of job losses and reduction in benefits and public services, how many more of us will be where she was? Secondly, how invisible she was to passers-by. As you can see from the photo, people weren't looking in her direction and there's a clear space around her. No-one wants to get too close.

While I watched, a passer-by shouted "Big Issue, Big Issue" as he walked by. Edinburgh Council banned newspaper sells (mainly the local Evening News and Scotsman) from calling out. This also applies for Big Issue sellers. To her credit, she just shook her head at him.

A couple of minutes later, just as Spot arrived, a person doing a street collection in aid of RSPB turned up. He was about 5 metres away from the lady. I bet Spot someone would speak to him and donate money before anyone approached the lady. We waited less than a minute for me to be proven right. That made me very sad. I love birds and an passionate about watching them, but people are so much more important to God.

In all the time I watched, probably 15 minutes, no one approached the Big Issue lady.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Toy Story 3

Today I finally got round to seeing Toy Story 3 (2D only - I can't see out of one eye). I love animation, I think most of what Pixar does it completely genius and I now count Up! as one of my all time favourite films. I had also heard and read numerous reviews which indicated Toy Story 3 was brilliant.

Well, I wouldn't agree. Yes, the animation was outstanding, but I didn't care about the characters. If anything, I think the animation was so good it had hit uncanny valley. This is where the picture on the screen is very realistic, but not quite. The brain knows it's fake and all empathy is lost for the character. There's one scene where the animation was so realistic I was convinced the hands had been filmed rather than animated.

Personally, Toy Story 3 felt like the executives at Disney Pixar decided they needed to make a 3D Toy Story. 3D will only be a success when the stories are good too. Oh, and when issues with people feeling sick or not being about to see the 3D are resolved. I'd much rather a 2D film with a great story.

So, I think I may just go and watch Monsters Inc. or the Incredibles again. Those are works of animation and story telling genius. Toy Story 3, for me, wasn't.

At the moment, I think Spot and I are the only people who think this. Is it just us?

Sunday, 1 August 2010


When Spot and I were married, some friends gave us gardening vouchers. Among the plants we bought was a redcurrant. That was 6 years ago. It's bore fruit every year, but for one reason or another, I haven't done anything with it.

That changed yesterday. With the assistance of Spot, I harvested the fruit. There was more than either of us expected - 2.75 pounds. My Mum had kept mentioning how much she likes redcurrant jelly, but I couldn't be bothered with  the faff of passing the sweated fruit through an old pillowcase to make that, so I came up with this:

Redcurrant and chilli jam.

To make it, I sweated the fruit in a large pan until there was as much liquid as fruit. I then added 1.75 pounds of sugar and stirred thoroughly to make sure the sugar was dissolved. This mix was brought to the boil and after 5 minutes 3 finely chopped cayenne chilli peppers were added (these were growing on our windowsill). The whole mix continued to boil until set. Just about another 7 or 8 minutes. Redcurrants are high in pectin, so jams made with them set quickly! I test the set point by putting a little bit of jam on a plate I put in the freezer just before starting the jamming process.

It tastes really quite nice, even if I say so myself. The chilli just gives a bit of an edge, but not so much as to give heat and take away from the fruit. There's also less sugar than in a "proper" jam - such as strawberry. Normally it's 1 pound of sugar to 1 pound of fruit, though I use 0.75 pounds of sugar. I used less sugar as this is more a savory "with cheese" type jam.

Next thing I'll be making is elderberry jam and maybe some wine too. I've already made strawberry jam from the crop at the front of the house. There's nothing like reducing food miles. And the smell in the house is amazing.