Christmas dinner disaster

One Christmas, about 30 years ago when my 1st husband, who was Dutch, was alive, we were all at his parents for Christmas dinner. His dad, Opa, was always forseeing problems & accidents & tutted when his youngest son, Jan, started opening a bottle of bubbly to go with the fantastic meal that had just been served up. “Be careful with that cork son, an accident may happen” he said. The cork shot out of the bottle, hit the ceiling, & caroomed back smack into Opa’s laden plate, which promptly split in half & dumped the hot plate of chicken, veg, gravy etc onto Opa’s lap. We could not stop laughing enough to help him, Oma (his wife) had to leave the room as she had a knicker accident from the hysterical laughter!! He never forgave Jan, convinced he had done it on purpose!! p.s. only Opa’s dignity was hurt!

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“Once there was a painter who was very greedy and crooked. When his very large, local church, which was right in the centre of the town square, needed repainting the members of the congregation and the church elders got together and when bids were considered for the job, offered him the job.

So the painter bought paint for the job and set to work. But what the church did not know was that he was very dishonest and always charged for good quality paint, but bought cheap paint and thinned it down to make it go further.

Well, his bid was about as low as he could go and so he decided to thin his paint even more so that it would spread farther. He got about half of the outside walls done and concluded that he would have to thin what he had left even more so that his paint would stretch to cover the whole church.

Unfortunately, that night a terrible storm came to the town and when the painter was awakened by the crash of thunder he realized the thinned paint wouldn’t be dry yet and wouldn’t stick to walls of the church and would be washed away. Then the painter  panicked and he realized that he would be found out as a cheat and shamed in front of the whole town.

As soon as the next day has dawned, he rushed out of the house to the church and sees all of the thinned paint covering the lawn in front of the church. Faced with humiliation and possible ruin of his business, he does what is only natural and falls down on his knees and prays.

“God,” he says, “please forgive me and help me to see the error of my ways.” Just then the heavens open above him and he is bathed in a pearly radiance. A voice can be heard in the sudden stillness of the morning that rings as if it comes from Heaven itself. God speaks to the painter and says: “Repaint and thin no more!”

Be sure your sins will find you out!

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(Roughly) Following Brendan AMS – PDX

Following Brendan – the easy way!

Our Delta Airbus awaits us at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

On 14th July 2010 we flew from our home in Northumberland (North East England) to Portland, Oregon for my younger son Pieter’s big wedding (celebration) to Keven.

They had married in a quick legal ceremony a year before.

This is the 2nd time a son of mine has married a Portland girl and settled there 5000 miles away in the amazing city of Portland. We stayed for a month, seemed too short! More to follow but here is the journey we took to get there:


Awe-inspiring Greenland glaciers from 33,000 feet

I started writing this at 33,000 feet above the enormous  snow, ice, glacier and rock covered wilderness of Greenland, on a Delta Airlines flight of around 5000 miles, from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. We left a rainy hometown of Alnwick, Northumberland, UK at 3.15 this morning, to be driven to Newcastle-upon-Tyne airport by David and Rowena, friends from church, we are very grateful for the lift. We took the 6.05 flight to Amsterdam, and then had a long walk to our next gate to board this flight. The flight route took us in a wide northern arc, through the Arctic Circle to eventually cross Baffin Island, then Canada to Portland, Oregon, on the Pacific North West coast of the USA. Usually it takes 11 hours, but we have a tail-wind and should make it in 10. When Rob and I married, in 2002 he had never left the UK, since then he has been with me numerous times to visit my late husband’s family in the Netherlands and, recently, to visit one of my sisters who had moved to Belgium with her husband. Now here we are, off on a great adventure, following Brendan!

Very, very cold outside. Glad we were inside!

He was a Celtic saint who travelled far and wide in the 6th century, possibly even following the northern arc route to North America from Ireland. This voyage was reconstructed by Tim Severin, in 1976, who had meticulously worked to make sure that the leather skinned boat he had made was, for all intents and purposes, identical to the ‘mythological’ boat in which St. Brendan and the Irish monks crossed the North Atlantic centuries before the Vikings. He proved it could be done. His book is fascinating.

I have posted more on St Brendan the Navigator (as he is called) on a page in my Celtic Saints catagory.

Back to our 2010 journey!

Ice crystal patterns on the plane window -How cold was it outside?

With clear skies for most of the journey I was able to take many photos from our comfortable warm cabin, the screen in front of me showed where we were on the map, the outside temperature and the distance travelled/remaining to destination. The outside temperature got as low as -61 centigrade, -77.8 fahrenheit! It was amazing to see the Shetland Isles, Iceland, huge Greenland, Baffin Island, Canada and Washington and Oregon from the air. Really makes you appreciate how far these distances are, remembering the enormity of the risks taken by our forbears! In case you are wondering why the airlines chose the Great Circle Routes, here is a link to a great site which shows the earth from an unusual angle to prove how the route we flew was the shortest! I found clicking on the “Blue marble” choice made it clearer to me, by the way, the big white island in the middle is Greenland, it took us about 2 hours to fly over it!

Once we started over the Canadian mainland we began to appreciate how large this country is, with so few towns visible, it was great to follow our journey on the screen as I could tell Rob just where we were in relation to towns, mountain ranges, lakes etc. Was it coincidence, I wonder, that the Delta crew handed us all a snack of Pizza and ice-cream just as we flew over the ‘border’ between Canada and the USA?

Mt St Helens, over the Columbia River in Washington State, as we came in to land at Portland

Mt Hood as seen from the Portland Airport bus

Spotting the Pacific Ocean for the first time was also a special moment – it is a long way from the North Sea! As we came in to land at PDX (Portland Oregon) I saw both the pointed top of Mt Hood and the flattened peak of Mt St Helens, which lost its top when a massive eruption occurred in 1980 which reduced St. Helens’ height by about 1,313 feet (400 m).

We felt so amazed that we were actually in the Pacific North West of the USA, (especially Rob) had a friendly welcome from Immigration and were immersed in hugs and kisses by my two sons and their wives as we emerged, bemused, tired but elated and filled with wonder at the magnificence of this earth we call home.

Here are links to the other stories of these two weddings and our growing love for Oregon. Kjell & Kims’ wedding Pieter & Kevens’ wedding

This picture is very blurred, I was so thrilled and emotional at seeing the family!

My hands were shaking with joy so Kim, Kjell, Keven and Pieter are blurred!


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The 9/11 series of novels by Karen Kingsbury.

The 9/11 series of novels by Karen Kingsbury. Published by Zondervan.

1. One Tuesday Morning  (2003)

2. Beyond Tuesday Morning  (2004)

3. Every Now & Then (2008)

All widely available in both print and audio formats.

I have read and re-read these three books by Karen Kingsbury. Obviously very well researched and gripping novels in their own right they also help us all to deal with the mixed emotions that can turn our lives upside down. Of course they deal with probably the hardest tragedy that the USA has had to deal with, but on a personal level, I too, have had to face challenges and asked why a loving, all-powerful God can allow families to be bereaved? Why evil, in whatever form, can seem to win, the innocent be victimised? The story of the emergency personnel, their families, the (true) amazing work that began, and continued, in St Pauls Chapel – all those caught up in the horror of that Tuesday morning and its aftermath are told in a realistic way that made me grieve for all those whose lives were touched forever by the Twin Towers disaster. But love is stronger than hate, stronger than death and somehow good can come from what was meant for evil.

One Tuesday Morning

Karen Kingsbury wrote this novel as a way of grieving the events of September 11, 2001. One Tuesday Morning is the emotionally-gripping story of a devoted fire-fighter, and a driven businessman, strangers from opposite sides of the country with the same face. They meet in the stairwell of the South Tower that fateful Tuesday morning, but only one of them will leave the building alive. Battling amnesia, the survivor must learn how to be the husband and father he never was, by living in the shoes of a man who no longer is.

Beyond Tuesday Morning

It’s been three years since the terrorist attacks on New York City, but FDNY widow Jamie Bryan keeps waking up to the aching pain of that one Tuesday morning, the morning of September 11, 2001.
Determined to find meaning in her grief, Jamie pours her life into volunteer work at St. Paul’s, the small memorial chapel across from where the twin towers once stood. In the stream of broken, grieving people who make their way through the church doors, Jamie connects with two men – a fire-fighter forever changed by the attacks, and a Los Angeles police officer

Every now and then

Karen takes up the story again of the characters from her previous  9/11 series in this book  focusing on sheriff’s deputy Alex Brady, who lost his fireman father in the twin towers attack. Now 25 years old, Brady, whose faith once ran sure and strong, turned from God and family after his father’s death. He relocates to California and spends all his time trying to find the bad guys and put them away with the aid of his K-9 partner, Bo. Bent on preventing arsonists from setting more fires, Brady is stunned to discover that others have endured similar loss but have made peace and moved on.

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Flaws that make us unique and precious

A friend of ours is blind, as my husband is also. I have just found this email I sent to her a while ago and found it worth posting here:

“Carol, I have just read this as for some reason Yahoo has sent you to my Trash Bin! I have told it firmly that you are “Not Spam”. It made me think that society sometimes gives the impression that if we are vulnerable in one or two areas of our lives that means we are no use at all and should be “dumped” in the Trash Bin, figuratively speaking.
But to God our little or large “flaws” are opportunities to show His overwhelming power and love in and through our lives.

Insects in Amber

I love TV shows about antiques and one last week showed an old amber necklace a lady had inherited. The expert was examining each large ‘bead’ under a microscope, and showing us the enlarged picture as well. he was exclaiming over the beauty and purity of this rich orange/yellow treasure until he exclaimed ‘This is what I hoped to see, this one has a tiny fly trapped in it; many, many years ago this fly landed on some resin oozing from a tree and it has hardened into amber with the fly perfectly preserved in the middle. That one bead is worth more than all the rest – because of the flaw!”

I doubt if there is a person in the world who does not have some ‘flaw’ in them, the larger that problem is , the more they need to rely on God. As you know, I have had 3 new tiny patches of skin cancer frozen off. That is one of my minor ‘flaws’. It makes me realise afresh how much I, and all of us, need God!
Remember, we are” treasures in jars of clay”, flies in amber!

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Love: A Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13

If I talk a lot about God and the Bible and Church, but I fail to ask about your needs and then help you, I’m simply making a lot of empty religious noise.

If I graduate from Bible college and know all the answers to questions you’ll never even think of asking, and if I have all the degrees to prove it and if I say I believe in God with all my heart, and soul and strength, and claim to have incredible answers to my prayers to show it, but I fail to take the time to find out where you’re at and what makes you laugh and why you cry, I’m nothing.

If I sell an extra car and some of my books to raise money for some poor starving kids somewhere, and if I give my life for God’s service and burn out after pouring everything I have into the work, but do it all without ever once thinking about the people, the real hurting people – the mums and dads and sons and daughters and orphans and widows and the lonely and hurting – if I pour my life into the Kingdom but forget to make it relevant to those here on earth, my energy is wasted, and so is my life.

Here is what love is like – genuine love. God’s kind of love. It’s patient. It can wait. It helps others, even if they never find out who did it. Love doesn’t look for greener pastures or dream of how things could be better if I just got rid of all my current commitments. Love doesn’t boast. It doesn’t try to build itself up to be something it isn’t. Love doesn’t act in a loose, immoral way. It doesn’t seek to take, but it willingly gives. Love doesn’t lose its cool. It doesn’t turn on and off. Love doesn’t think about how bad the other person is, and certainly doesn’t think of how it could get back at someone. Love is grieved deeply (as God is) over the evil in this world, but it rejoices over truth.

Love comes and sits with you when you’re feeling down and finds out what is wrong. It empathizes with you and believes in you. Love knows you’ll come through just as God planned, and love sticks right beside you all the way. Love doesn’t give up, or quit, or diminish or go home. Love keeps on keeping on, even when everything goes wrong and the feelings leave and the other person doesn’t seem as special anymore. Love succeeds 100 percent of the time. That, my friend, is what real love is!

By David Sanford

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Body language & misunderstanding blindness

‘Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.’ Mother Teresa.

A simple and lovely quote from a simple and lovely lady. But, is it true?

We could answer it with another quote, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, Shakespeare expressed a similar sentiment in Love’s Labours Lost – ‘Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye’.

The meaning of both these last two quotes is that different people have different opinions about what is good/beautiful/valuable. However, another aspect of this may not so readily occur to most people; what about those who have visual impairments who cannot ‘judge’ with their eyes?

I have been looking at research on body language and blind people as my husband, Rob, is blind. Here is a quote I found (not sure which government report it was):

“It has been accepted by many experts that 93% of communication is nonverbal, 55% through facial expression, posture and gesture and 38% through tone of voice. These are seldom used consciously, but are a natural way of communicating with others. We are taught not to touch people unless we are really familiar with them and these gestures help us not to offend people by touching them unnecessarily.”

The 55% section of these figures refers to what are grouped together as “body language” “.

Mona Lisa - possibly the most famous enigmatic smile ever?

This whole subject of body language, of which a smile is an obvious one, has a different slant when viewed in respect to a person for whom visual hints are unreadable. Many people have hearing as well as sight loss, which means in the most profoundly affected cases, they may only receive 7% of the full meaning of a conversation. From a personal point of view, this was brought to my attention through meeting and marrying a man who is blind. With other friends, I would make eye contact, through facial expressions and body language, we could each convey our emotions, attitudes and quite complicated messages, without uttering a word. The difference between visual and non-visual forms of communication are brought sharply into focus (no pun intended) when, like me, even after 8 years of marriage to him, you find yourself waving to a blind man across a room to attract his attention!

We have many friends with varying degrees of sight loss, from the relatively slight to total, life-long, blindness. Rob, my husband has gradually lost all his sight and does miss not being able to read body language any more. But even though we have instinctively found ways to at least restore some of the balance in our communications together, it can still lead to misunderstanding. The most obvious example of this is where I began this post, with a smile. If I make a remark that sounds serious or condemning but is not meant that way I would show my intention by adding a smile. Rob would miss the smile and maybe think I was being rather negative. For example, was I to say to a sighted friend, “You are a nuisance!” and smiled at them they would know the message was not unkind. But if I said that to Rob he may think I was rather unhappy with him. We can simply avoid these misunderstandings by a trick I learnt when training long ago as a telephonist by putting an audible smile in your voice!  This sounds obvious, but try speaking to someone on the phone and understanding every nuance of their conversation, not so easy as talking face to face, is it?

When I met Rob 9 years ago, I had never known anyone with sight problems before. I did not know how to help him feel part of whatever was happening around us in company. This is why we wrote the 12 Myths of Blindness for the Echurch website. (We no longer have the website but I have added our (updated) Twelve  Myths to this blog.  These ‘Myths’ have since been “borrowed” by other organisations online. We used them as the base for the talks we have given on “Living with Blindness” to many groups. I can tell you from a sighted persons point of view it is really hard to remember that Rob can’t see when folk nod, smile, or wave to him. I still do it, after 8 years of marriage! One sad aspect of this whole body language problem for blind people is when they are at a gathering for a meeting, party, church, club etc. They can come away feeling hurt that their presence has been ignored by others there. When, in reality, several people have smiled, nodded, or waved to them!

When you meet a visually impaired person, go up to them, introduce yourself by name. If you know their name use it, then they will know that you are speaking to them and not someone else. This is particularly important if there are other people about. To further attract their attention, gently touch their upper arm with your hand. When you are leaving, say you are going away. Nobody likes to find that they have been speaking to an empty space! It all sounds very simple but what is blindingly obvious (pun intended, people don’t lose their sense of humour along with their sight) once it is explained to you, can be the cause of much hilarity or much hurt.

An example of the former was when I was trying to talk to the receptionist at the doctors and guide Rob to his seat in the waiting room at the same time. He turned in the wrong direction and the man whose lap he was about to sit on waved him away in embarrassment, at the last second he realised Rob’s problem and shot out of his chair, ran out of the doctors surgery and missed his own appointment – everyone else tried to stifle their laughter till I explained to Rob what had just happened, he roared with laughter and everyone else now felt free to join in! As I said, blind people do have the usual portion of humour, just that it can be dented when folk don’t include them in what is going on in a way that they can appreciate.

Rob and Catherine enjoy walking wherever we go.

So now you have a little bit more information – by the way, many, many people and businesses seem to assume that Rob can’t use stairs, most people understand the difficulties faced by people with mobility problems, but forget that most visually impaired people are reasonably fit apart from their sight. In fact a friend who is looking for work has been told he can’t go to the upper floor of the Job Centre, though he has now fought a battle over that and won!

Our favourite occupation is walking, especially in the Northumbrian Hills near us, though many people seem bemused as they meet us on craggy moors, miles from anywhere, I reply to friendy comments with –  “Rob is fully fit, only his eyes don’t work!.

In fact our local branch of a supermarket giant has so-called ‘disabled’ toilets with a coloured light door-lock system, when I pointed out Rob’s problem they said they would change them, a year later and they are still inaccessible to visually impaired people, I did tell them that only 8% of folk registered disabled in the UK use a wheelchair, a simple lock would serve everyone, whatever their issues. What works for both visually and mobility impaired people are solutions that are well thought out and sensible, then we can all enjoy life on more equal terms, and enjoy a few laughs along the way!

P.S. Is Rob the only blind person who has gone home from the pub on a mate’s arm and only remembered part-way home that he had gone there with his guide-dog? She was still curled up asleep under his table at the pub when they rushed back! This was before I knew him. He does not need or have a dog now.

Posted in About us including WRNS, Living with Blindness | 3 Comments

Keven and Pieter’s whimsical fairy-tale wedding

I was going to write my own impressions of Pieter and Keven’s wedding in July. But I have just read the following wedding blog and simply can’t do better to describe what we experienced as my younger son, Pieter, married Keven!

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The Farne Islands

Outer Farne. Longstone Lighthouse (the red & white striped one) was built in 1825 and first functioned on 15th February 1826. It was made famous by Grace Darling and her father, the lighthouse keeper, William Darling. On the night of the 7th September 1838 they rescued nine survivors from the Forfarshire, a paddle steam ship bound for Dundee, which ran aground on Big Harcar in stormy seas. When I took this photo we were in the fishing/holiday town of Seahouses, we also visited the Royal National Lifeboat Institution base, the magnificent modern lifeboat housed there is named The Grace Darling. They regularly get called out to rescue irresponsible tourists who get stranded in the rising tide of the causeway to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, they drive their cars onto the causeway even when the tide is racing in, not seeming to realise that the Tide Times posted everywhere are serious!

Inner Farne. The first visitor recorded by name was Saint Aidan followed by Saint Cuthbert. The latter was called to the bishopric of Lindisfarne but after two years he returned to the solitude of the Inner Farne and died there in 687, when Saint Aethelwold took up residence instead.
Among other acts, Saint Cuthbert introduced special laws in 676 protecting the Eider ducks, and other seabirds nesting on the islands; these are thought to be the earliest bird protection laws anywhere in the world. Eider ducks are, to this day, known locally as “Cuddies ducks”, ‘Cuddy’ has been a local nick-name for anyone called Cuthbert for many years. Apart from the Inner Farne Lighthouse, all the buildings on the island date from the monastic period.
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St Oswald’s Way

St Oswald's Way marker on Simonside, Northumberland

St Oswald’s Way is a long distance walking route, or Pilgrim Path, if you prefer, 97 miles through Northumberland, which used to be part of the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria. We were out walking recently and found ourselves on the part of this path on Simonside, above the town of Rothbury, one of our favourite local places for walking. St Oswald’s Way runs from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, past the site of Oswald’s palace at Bamburgh on the coast, to the scene of his famous battle at Heavenfield, 3 miles outside Hexham.

St Oswald, All Saints Church, Rothbury

Oswald was born in about 605 and killed in 642, much of what is known about this Celtic King and Christian was written by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English people in about 730, around 90 years after Oswald’s death in battle near the Welsh borders. Bede wrote that Oswald was a “man beloved of God” and the ideal Christian king, fighting for his faith in life and death.

He fought many battles; the one at Heavenfield was to confront the Northern Welsh King Cadwallon. Before the battle he set up a cross on the field and called on God to protect and help them, many of his men knelt before that cross too, intrigued by Oswald’s faith. They won the battle; united Northumbria and so put an end to many years of battle and division for a while.

We have been to Heavenfield, a modern cross and a church named St Oswald’s is on that peaceful site today.

Oswald had himself been converted to Christianity by the monks on the Scottish Island of Iona. After he established his kingdom he sent for these monks to come and teach his people, but everything went wrong as these missionaries did not act in a caring, gentle way towards the Northumbrians but came down hard on them, calling them “Stubborn, unreachable people” and returning to Iona, their mission failed.  But one of the monks, when he heard from the returning missionaries, had compassion of these people and felt called to travel himself to Northumbria, where his compassion and care for these folk won their hearts, first to him, Aidan, and then to Christ. This was around 635. King Oswald acted as an interpreter to Aidan as he only spoke Gaelic and later installed Aidan, as the first bishop of Holy Island.

The Pilgrim Path photo shown as the title of this blog would probably have followed the same path that Oswald, Aiden and many travellers would have followed even then, to travel to and from Holy island at low tide. Many still walk this path on pilgrimage even though there is now a modern causeway road you can use twice a day.

Aiden was often at the palace with Oswald but would not eat rich food while so many peasants were hungry and would take food from Kind Oswald’s table to give to the poor.

Rob in front of Bamburgh Castle built in stone by the Normans on the site of the ancient wooden one and added to.

Oswald united much of the old kingdoms of England north of the Humber River (hence the name)  and southern Scotland under his rule.

His Royal Standard of purplish-red and gold forms the basis of the modern day flag of Northumberland, which we, like many others, proudly carry on our car on our travels!

Rob at St. Oswald's chapel, Heavenfield, Northumberland

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