Sunday 30 December 2012

An Old Rant to End an Old Year

I read something today that had me bouncing off the walls. It was in a blog post by a lovely intelligent woman blogger named Cate, who writes a very thought-provoking blog called Infinite Sadness or Hope. The post I read today certainly provoked some strong thoughts - an old rant actually! Not ranting at her, but more ranting for her. 

Cate has written an excellent thought-provoking post that I highly recommend reading, but for here I'm taking a specific quote from her writing in order to explain what caused my rant. Cate said:
"Songs I sang in Sunday School taught me that I came last.  And I guess that’s where I always put myself."

Songs that taught her that she came last in life... songs taught in Sunday School - a place of (supposedly) religious nurturing of innocent children? 

 I’ve come against this warped view of what being a Christian is before, not at home, but in school religious classes and in the mindset of some of my friends.

But if we go back to the actual Bible and to what it states Jesus said? Well…

Matthew 19:16

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” 

Or in basic words – treat other people with the same respect, love and kindness you should be showing yourself. Jesus understood that you cannot give love to others in a healthy way unless you first love yourself in a healthy way, so why on earth do some churches insist on teaching the exact opposite of what Jesus himself suggested?

Using religious guilt ts used in order to bully people into being doormat souls has got to be one of the more unforgivable sins! 

If we are made in God’s image… why would he want anyone to be a doormat? If we are made in His image… surely not loving ourselves and taking care of our needs is slapping God in the face? Jesus seems to be advocating balance – that we love ourselves and others the same, alike… no selfishness, but no senseless martyrdom and self-abasement either. Which is why I prefer to follow Him than follow any church.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

The Feast of Saint Stephen

For today I'm putting up a very famous Christmas Carol with some facts that probably aren't as well known. The song is "Good King Wenceslaus"... 

But who was Wenceslaus and when is the feast of Stephen?

Saint Stephen's day is today - 26th of December, or 27th for the Eastern churches. He was a Christian martyr and in earlier times his day was a holiday feast celebrated during the full twelves days of Christmas that ran from 25th December to the Feast of the Epiphany (when the three wise men found the baby Jesus) on the 6th of January. In the olden days all twelve days were spent in various religious observances, parties, gift giving and feasting.We've lost out in modern times!

And King Wenceslaus? Well... he was a real person, but he wasn't a king. He was the Duke of Bohemia, born around 907and died around 935, so he was actually a fairly young man. Legends vary, but it seems his father was Christian and his mother probably Pagan, but Wenceslaus grew up Christian and was famous in his homeland and England for being a kind and pious man. 

 Wikipedia states that the chronicler Cosmas of Prague  wrote this about him:
But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

According to some legends, after Wenceslaus was murdered by his evil brother his faithful servant, Podevin, avenged his death by killing one of those who helped murder his master. I wonder if Podevin is the page in the Christmas Carol?

Saturday 22 December 2012

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Skating in Scotland

There's an interesting story connected to the man in the painting below. His name was
Reverend Robert Walker and he was a Church of Scotland minister. Robert was born on the 30th April 1755 in Monkton, Ayrshire, but his father was a minister of the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam. It's probably here, on the frozen canals in winter, that the young Robert learnt to skate.

In this painting, by Sir Henry Raeburn, he's skating on Duddingston Loch, which is where the oldest skating club in Britain used to meet!  - the Edinburgh Skating Society, the oldest skating club in Britain...

The Edinburgh Skating Club is recognized as the first organized figure skating club.[1][2][3] While some sources[1][4] claim the club was established in 1642, most sources accept 1742 or 1744 as the date of its founding. The next-oldest skating club, in London, was not founded until 1830.[1]

The claim to the 1642 founding date appears to derive from a small book published by the club council in 1865, The Edinburgh Skating-Club with Diagrams of Figures and a List of the Members. As of that writing, the club's oldest extant records were dated January 1778, and the reference to 1642 appeared in only in club records from long after that period.[1]
There was an early contemporary reference to the Club in the second edition (1783) of the Encyclopædia Britannica that supports the 1742 or 1744 founding date:
The metropolis of Scotland has produced more instances of elegant skaters than perhaps any country whatever: and the institution of a skating club about 40 years ago has contributed not a little to the improvement of this elegant amusement.[1]

I had no idea figure skating was that old!

Thursday 13 December 2012

A Note from the Universe...

A friend sent me this in an email. I added the pictures myself. :-)

The Official Top Ten Spiritual Ways to Defeat Boredom, Make Friends, Find Love,  Shape Up, Discover Your Purpose and Shine Your Light are...
 1. Take action.
 2. Show up.

3. Lean into it.


4. Start anywhere.

5. Keep busy.


 6. Get out more.

 7. Ask for help.

8. Shake more hands.

9. Give more hugs.

 10. Don't stop.


Monday 10 December 2012

Grace in the World

I stumbled on a song by a South African band that I love, Just Jinger. I think this song fits for this time of year when we have so many holy days from Diwali and Samhain in November to Hanukkah and Christmas in December...

If there is Grace in this world
If there is light on this earth
Let us use it, let us see it.. starting right now

Can we be down with ourselves?
Respectful and mindful of one
Of one another, your significant other,
Your sister or brother?

Peace, Love, more tolerance.
Faith, hope, trust in the same name of God
Peace, Love, more tolerance.

Faith, hope, trust in the same name of God in whose
name we die for, take an innocent life for
well that's not what he means..
and it doesn't matter what Book you read

Is there relief up ahead?
Cos Judgement and hearing await
A weight on our minds to bear,
A shame on our hearts to wear

Where is Salvation now?
Now that we have what we want
Now that we have our wars..

Peace, Love, more tolerance.
Faith, hope, trust in the same name of God in whose
name we die for, take an innocent life for
well that's not what he means..
and it doesn't matter what Book you read

with a little bit of ease and little bit of calm
acceptance is the key to all we know
what about a stir of compassion and lenience?
what about some understanding?
what about some sympathy?

Peace, Love, more tolerance.
Faith, hope, trust in the same name of God in whose
name we die for, take an innocent life for
well that's not what he means..
and it doesn't matter what Book you read

Music and Miracles

A friend sent me an email yesterday about a new movie that's out on the story of Sugar Man.The song of that title is a cult classic in South Africa, but trhe actual musician who wrote and sang it vanished into oblivion over the years... until South Africans went hunting for him. 

"In the early 1970s, Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit folksinger who had a short-lived recording career with only two well received but non-selling albums. Unknown to Rodriguez, his musical story continued in South Africa where he became a pop music icon and inspiration for generations. Long rumored there to be dead by suicide, a few fans in the 1990s decided to seek out the truth of their hero's fate. What follows is a bizarrely heartening story in which they found far more in their quest than they ever hoped, while a Detroit construction laborer discovered that his lost artistic dreams came true after all."

The story of what happened is both heart-warming and amazing. I highly recommend the movie.

 ... and I highly recommend the South African band who made the song Sugar Man a hit all over again in the late 1990s - Just Jinger. ;-) I'll be putting up another song by them that better fits this festive time of year. 

Wednesday 5 December 2012

NEWSFLASH November 2012

I used to do a newsflash at the end of each season, but I realised, looking back through my posts, that the last one I did was.. November 2010!

Here's the idea - give the everyday news update on my life in a format first started by another blogger, Jeff.

Nature Entertainment Wise words Spirit Family Lessons Artist Smiles Home

Nature decided to get up close and personal this last weekend. Hubby was tidying up the garage when a field mouse shot out from behind a box. He took a closer look and discovered that a family of field mice had shredded the edge of a dust cover blanket and stuffed it into a box full of pots and pans stored in the garage. Field mice will come into buildings for the winter and we've had them trying to nest in our car and in the garage of another house we were in years ago. They store food for winter too. They filled our car radiator with peanuts once and they also filled my dad's golf shoes with seeds and nuts one year, but they are so darn cute that it's hard to get angry about it.

When hubby took the box out onto the lawn another mouse shot out and ran like mad, but a third one decided the box was less scary and stayed put, hiding under a small frying pan. Eventually even he made a run for it, but he ran to the house, squeezed through the grating covering the kitchen drain and.. vanished! It's a long deep drain. Hubby went across and sure enough - there at the bottom was Mr mouse paddling madly, unable to climb back out. Hubby took the cover off, stuck his arm down the drain and scooped the little guy out. He was gone in a mad scamper, this time away and into the hedge.

So the weekend was spent taking everything out of the garage to check, clean, and repack in safer places. They made quite a mess, but not too much damage, thankfully. The only things damaged were some curtain tie backs (real cotton fibre) and the old blanket edge. But they peed on EVERYTHING so we were fairly worn out with all the washing, cleaning and disinfecting.

The best entertainment, recently, has been watching Masterchef Professionals on TV. Only down side is that watching the show makes everyone feel hungry! We all love the show and the food they create... wow. It's inspiring and makes me want to try more adventurous cooking; I always end up trying some new recipes after this TV series.

The BBC has some of the recipes from the show up HERE. Now if only field mice could cook like Ratatouille...

My Wise Words choice are always from a fellow blogger. This time I'm picking Cate of Infinite Sadness... or Hope?

"There is a lot of talk about invisible illnesses, and how difficult they are because others can’t see my hardship or pain. When I think about it, most illnesses are invisible. There’s only a few where we can see the physical effects of the illness, but even then do we automatically assume that means they are sick and/or in pain? Not always. And how do we see pain? Realistically we can’t. What a person experiences as pain is beyond the grasp of another. I know this well because I have a condition (fibromyalgia) that is known to be about chronic pain. But knowing that does not enable another to understand just what that pain is and how it affects me.
I’ve heard people say that it’s not fair that people with cancer apparently get more compassion than someone with an invisible illness. I believe that is a generalisation that isn’t helpful for anyone. The thing is that we are all struggling in our own way. My reason for not being able to maintain friendships to the degree I would like to is my physical health, but it could just as easily be something else, equally as valid.
Everyone is fighting their own battles. My battles are not necessarily and greater than yours.  They’re just different, but equally valid. I guess what it teaches me is not to jump to conclusions. Not to assume I know why a friend appears to have let me down. I hope my friends (and family) can do the same for me."
The spiritual part of November links back to Cate's thoughts on pain and invisible illness. and how we need more compassion and love as well as more understanding. The hardest thing in the world to explain to anyone else is how trauma (grief, fear or pain) affects your life, because it is different for every person. I know people who take part in extreme sports that cause them physical damage who still go pale and weak when you mention a dentist. I know people who can endure high levels of physical pain, but have phobias about things as varied as heights to mice. We are all different and yet far too many doctors and health care professionals seem to dismiss or ignore that fact.

Far too often online this year I've seen people talking about doctors who think their ailments or fears are "in their heads" or  cases of people who become annoyed at how long another person is taking to get over a trauma like a death, an accident, etc. There are no time limits on things like grief or fear. There are no tests to gauge levels of sadness or levels of pain and to become impatient or annoyed with anyone who doesn't "get over it" is just completely unfair. It is understandable, we don't like seeing people we love suffer so we do tend to push and urge them to get better, be happy, let go of fear, but the truth is the only thing we can do is give those we love enough space and most importantly enough time to heal, even if that means an entire lifetime. 

Family news was the exciting find of the book my great great grandfather's sister, Evie Culling, wrote about her adventures during World War I. Evie also mentions a family tragedy in the book - the death of her niece, Marie Vetsera, who committed suicide with the crown prince of Austria. Hubby thinks I look like her. Here's me, age 24 at a fashion show modelling a caftan.  

  And Marie...

Actually, I think I look more like Marie's uncle, Aristides Baltazzi.

Life lesson of November has to be the experience of taking part in the first Book Week Scotland as one of their League of Extraordinary Booklovers. 

I did two morning sessions of giving book-related advice via email and twitter.Some questions were easy, when people wanted ideas for books in genres I know well, but some questions truly stretched my book reading memory to the limits. It certainly was both challenging and good fun. I learnt that I have read a lot of awesome books, but that there are still hundreds of wonderful books still left out there for me to read.

My Artist choice for November is musical  - the glorious "Now we are Free" by Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer. This song was used in the movie Gladiator, but I'm going with a YouTube video of beautiful photos rather than the movie clip.


I wasn't sure what to write for this section and then I saw what I wrote two years ago in my last News flash...
Where will I journey next year? Where will you be on your life road? Who knows! All any of us can do is hold onto our map books and hope for good weather and safe roads but even more important - you need good travelling companions. :-) I've had excellent company this year, both in my literal travels with my family and in my online 'travels' with friends. I'm very grateful for both...

Friday 16 November 2012

A Little Sheepish

I thought I'd post a sheep photo, since I'm feeling a little sheepish at how rarely I've posted on my blog this year. With my computer not working for at least 2 days out of every week since March it's not been the best of years for getting any writing done, plus my wrist surgery mid-year added to my slow plod becoming a one-handed and even slower plod!

On the plus side I had the wonderful Olympic and Paralympic games to keep me happily occupied while my computer wasn't working and/or I couldn't use my hand to type.And now, as the year draws to an end, there have been a few more exciting things on the go, like Blogblast for Peace and my being chosen for the Scottish Book Trust League of Extraordinary Booklovers.

The list of things I planned to do this year is still untouched, but my frustration at that fact has faded into a realisation that sometimes... you just have to go with the flow. Sheep understand that, I think. I've watched them in the fields around us and I really don't think that they fret over missed deadlines. I don't think sheep worry about what they haven't done or what they should be doing. I think sheep could teach us a lot about how to live simply and enjoy the moment.

It's sunny - "I am happy to be warm."
It's cold - "I am happy to have a woolly coat."
And always constantly... "Ooooh, Grass! yummy."

Maybe we all need to be a little more 'sheepish' now and then. ;-)

Sunday 11 November 2012

Through the Eyes of the Past

Last month I received a very exciting box in the mail - a special book called Arms and the Woman by E Culling. The reason I was so excited to get hold of a copy lies in the name of the author... or rather her name before she married. Mrs E Culling was originally Miss Evelyn Ongley, my great-great grandfather's sister. :-)

Here she is, in the centre of this photo, pouring coffee for the soldiers.

Evie ran a canteen during the first World war and the following war in Syria. I must admit, I had no idea what that meant before I read her book. I found a *photo of a canteen for French soldiers, dated 1917. it should give you an idea what they were like.

They  offered simple comforts of a warm drink, sometimes music, a sense of normality and amidst the chaos of war...

Evie's account of arriving at Revigny, where she worked for several years, is an excellent example of how her simple statement of facts makes those facts all the more powerful to imagine.

Evie's sister, Minna, also worked with her in France for a while. Both sisters had sons fighting in the war... and both sons died in that war. Evie's only son, Evelyn Culling, fought with the Canadians. He died in 1915. Minna's son, Humphrey Stafford O'Brien, was a pilot in the newly formed RAF. He died in 1918.

Even though the war years were full of personal tragedy and horror, Evie still managed to keep her sense of humour. Here's one bit from her book that make me chuckle - her description of the 'joys' of bathing in a war zone situation.

Evie's writing style is quite formal to our modern standards, but the stories she tells of death, life, humour and compassion are timeless. She shows a side to the First World war that I had no idea about - the realities of daily life of those living in or next to the battle zones. She speaks about a way of life that is gone forever, places and people changed forever.

We need to remember them.

*French soldiers clearing debris.

 *Photos from The Heritage of the Great War. This website has an impressive collection of war photos that are well worth looking at.

 The French awarded Evie the Croix de Guerre in 1919.

“Dear Madam -
“I have great pleasure in informing you that Marechal Petain, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the East, has, on my proposal, conferred upon you, as from February 27th 1919, the croix de Guerre with the following inscription:

“Mistress Culling, of the British Committee of the French Red Cross, Directress of Railway Canteens, has in the course of the campaign, unceasingly provided our soldiers with valued comfort, material and moral. Has carried on her beneficent mission under violent and repeated bombardments, in particular at Revigny, on September 5th, and 6th, and October the 4th, 5th and 7th, 1917, gaining the admiration of all by her presence of mind and indifference to danger.
(Signed ) Petain.”

The Poppies Blow...

Canadian Stretcher bearers, Flanders, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae 

French patrol in a trench, 1916

*both photos from
 The Heritage of the Great War

Thursday 8 November 2012

Tiny Tigers and Fluff-cats

With all my computer woes I have been unable to access or share the last pictures from our trip to the Highland Wildlife Park in August. Well... today I finally managed to get back into that photo folder! So here are my final and most favourite animals - the tiny tigers and fluff cats. ;-)

Tiny Tigers? The Scottish Wildcats, of course!

The park has a lovely idea for their cats - they have an aerial walkway that runs through the woodland section, above the cages and footpath. It links several cages together so that the cats can prowl on high, chill in solitude or visit each other.  Here's one standing in the walkway, just to the left of one of the cat cages. Can you see it? 

I went closer and took some more photos...

 The Scottish wildcat looks similar to a domestic tabby, but their heads are more round and their tails are very bushy, with a distinct black tip.

This one completely ignored all of us below gawping upwards.

Sadly, these lovely cats are now one of Britain's rarest mammals, quite possibly in serious danger of extinction. Part of the problem is cross-breeding of domestic cats with wildcats. There is a very famous example of a melanistic hybrid, the "Kellas cat", in  *Elgin Museum. (*Scotland's oldest independent museum)

For more information on the Scottish Wildcat and the important work being carried out to save and protect them, by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, please go to Cairngorm Wildcat Project.

We saw kittens and adults at the park, but they were up in the trees grooming each other and not very interested in being photographed.

I did manage to get a few quick photos of one adult as it walked across the cage. This was with a zoom shot, so it is a bit blurry, but you can see that gorgeous black-tipped tail.

Now on to the fluff cats! We nearly missed them and the only photo I managed was so blurry it wasn't worth sharing. So I'm using a video from the Highland Park to show off these stunning cats. This is a pair of Pallas cats:

"The Pallas cat was named after the German naturalist Peter Pallas, who discovered them in the 18th Century. They are found in Iran, China, Russia, Mongolia and Tibet, living in rocky deserts and barren mountainous regions.

Pallas cats are most frequently encountered at dusk or in early morning. They make their den in small caves and rock crevices but will take shelter in the burrows of marmots, foxes and badgers. They will sleep here during the day until dusk, when it is time to hunt. Pallas cats have dense fur to cope with their cold, dry environment, and they wrap their tail around their body for extra warmth when sitting or lying."

Sunday 4 November 2012

Dona Nobis Pacem 2012, A Flicker of That Greater Flame

Dona Nobis Pacem... all kinds of songs sing about “Peace on Earth”, but is it really possible? Are humans actually capable of finding other ways to live and prosper that doesn’t include violent harmful conflict? Well, this year I caught a glimpse of what Peace on Earth could be like and it was wonderful. I saw it when I was watching the Olympic and Paralympics Games of London 2012.

You see, at the Games people from almost every single country on the planet gathered together to compete against each other. They came together as rivals and yet they did not rage at each other for being different nationalities, they did not hate each other for speaking different languages and they did not kill each other for belonging to different religions. Instead they showed respect for their similarities: they cheered each other on, they hugged and wept together at the finishing lines, they held hands and they made friends. They gave us all a glimpse of what life on Earth could be if we found ways to compete to be the best without wars and violence. 
Both sets of Games were inspiring and uplifting, but the Paralympics were my absolute favourite. From start to finish they stood out as a bright light shining on all that is best about being human – courage, persistence, tolerance, humour… and that greatest gift of all - our human spirit. Here were people running without legs, swimming without arms, playing team sports without sight, breaking records and shattering preconceptions. 

And what better example for a peace post than the Paralympics? 

In 1948 a doctor, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, organised the first wheelchair games to take place at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. He wanted them to take place at the same time as the London 1948 Olympics… alongside, hence the name para-lympics. He had been working with injured war veterans and believed that encouraging them to be more active would help in their recovery. He was right – it did and it still does. Right now in 2012 the Paralympics is still helping war wounded young people back into living a full life through sport. People like…

US Navy vet, Brad Snyder, who won gold and silver just barely a year after he lost his sight after stepping on an explosive device laid in Kandaha. 

Mohamed Kamara, competing for Sierra Leone, who had his arm cut off by rebel fighters (during their 11 year civil war) when he was 4 years old. 

Captain Luke Sinnott, who lost both legs and an arm in an IED bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. He was so inspired by being a part of the closing ceremony (he climbed the giant flag pole) that he now intends taking part in the Rio Paralympics of 2016, with the help of organizations such as Help for Heroes

 My most favourite Peace inspiration story comes from the Rwandan volleyball team:
Dominique Bizimana and Jean Rukondo make unlikely teammates. Eighteen years ago they were on opposite sides of a brutal sectarian conflict that spawned the worst mass slaughter since the Second World War.
Rukondo, an ethnic Hutu, was stationed on the other side of the front line as a soldier in Rwanda’s national army. While leading a patrol he stepped on a landmine losing his entire left leg.
Now they fight together as members of Rwanda’s Paralympic volleyball team. “We always joke when we are playing with young kids that I think that man who shot me was Rukundo,” says Bizimana, an infectiously enthusiastic 36-year-old from Rwanda’s Tutsi ethnic grouping whose lower left leg was torn off while fighting for the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). “Now we are friends and we train together. Our team is always together. It’s a good example for young people in Rwanda. Our team is a model for other generations.”
If they can do it, why can’t the rest of us? 

In the fantastic Paralympics closing ceremony, the speech was given by *Rory Mackenzie, a South African who was serving as a medic with the British Army in Iraq when he was blown up and lost his right leg. He said this:
"Tonight we bring you the Festival of the Flame, the symbol of the spirit of the Games, which has burned bright at London 2012. Tonight we celebrate that spirit, and although we have many differences, there is one quality we all share, one thing all of us have in common: human spirit."

(*Rory is another success story from Help for Heroes)

Yes, we have many differences, but the Games proved that we can overcome those differences, any obstacle or so-called “disability”, when we truly work together. When we focus on what makes us the same and use it to encourage and light the way for others… we are unstoppable and invincible.

The flame of the human spirit burns brightest when we share it with others.

Physicist and author Stephen Hawking made the opening speech at the Paralympics. The whole speech was brilliant and if you never heard it – go now and read it here! There’s one portion in particular I want to add to my post today. He said:
“The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world.  We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.  What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics.  However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”
"However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at."  

Beautiful words and how true they are, but there is one vital lesson from the Paralympics that we need to remember - all those athletes, even Stephen Hawkin himself, would not have been able to reach their full potential without the help of others. We all need help at some time or other, just as we are all capable of offering help in one way or another. With our creativity, that unquenchable fire of our combined human spirit, we can change perceptions and when we do... we change the world.  

I'm finishing my post with an example of that human creativity - a lovely video of Olympics  photos set to John Lennon's song "IMAGINE", sung by singer/musician, Billy Lemon.

Thank you for letting me use it, Billy. :-)