Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Your Five a Day...

Birchwood Highland have just dropped their newsletter into my inbox. It includes an article about wellbeing. I seem to remember being a part of a working group at school looking at the “Health and Wellbeing” aims in school. They were called Es and Os – Expectations and Outcomes. The E could have been about experiences. I never mastered the jargon alphabet.  Everything was rephrased into “I can…” statements. The health side of it concerned sports and home economics. I can definitely say that I can’t hop on one foot any longer.

Birchwood identified five day to day things that were important for wellbeing.  Here’s a few “I can…” statements I have fleshed out for you.


I can connect with the people around me including family, friends, colleagues and neighbours, at home, work, school or in your local community.

I can show support to the people around me.

I can build people up by what I say and do.

I’m not doing too badly with this one. I live too far to see family often. I used to have a letter writing habit that saw me getting through books of stamps weekly. Neighbours? I planned to get to know my neighbours through my kids, but the kid thing didn’t happen. A dog maybe? Next door is dog-sitting a very lively little brown dog with floppy ears and a waggy tail.
Be Active

I can spend some of my time outside walking, running or cycling.

I can do some gardening.

I can benefit from regular exercise.

I can discover a physical activity I enjoy and that suits my level of mobility and fitness.

Winter and cold weather doesn’t make for good reasons to go outside. I am walking more often. I could run…actually, I probably couldn’t. Running has gone the way of hopping on one foot. It’s not gardening weather. The soil is rock hard. I have found my Dobbie’s card which means I can go down to the garden centre and drink free cups of tea. Regular exercise? I suppose I could dig out the swimwear and head off to the leisure centre. My bus pass is also a Highlife card which means I get to do things free of charge.

Take Notice

I can be curious.

I can see and admire beauty.

I can notice the unusual.

I can be aware of the world around me and what I’m feeling.

I can reflect on my experiences to help me appreciate what matters to me.

I have this one covered. I tripped over a paving stone just the other day looking at the tops of trees for birds' nests. I almost got run over too because I was paying too much attention the frosty sparkles on the road in the early morning sun. I love sky. I love clouds now that I think I can paint them. I had a discussion this morning with my financial advisor about some of the organisations I appear to have shares in – I am aware that not everyone out there is ethical. I have taught moral issues for too long not to know who the baddies are.

Keep Learning

I can try something new.

I can rediscover an old interest.

I can sign up a course or an evening class.

I can take on new responsibilities.

I can set myself a challenge I will enjoy achieving.

We have this one covered too. Knitting socks with five needles is proving a challenge. My socks have holes that have nothing to do with wear and tear. I have ear marked funds to sign up to a degree in creative writing, part time, over eight years! I’m learning to paint.


I can do something nice for a friend, or a stranger.

I can say thank you to someone.

I can volunteer my time.

I can join a community group.

I can create connections with the people.

When I saw the word “give” I thought about all the different causes that I could donate to. Having retired and having less of an income I really had to sit down with the list from the bank of direct debits and standing orders and do a cull. I have joined a knitting community and a walking community – two different groups – I could just picture you trying to see us all knit while we walk. I haven’t quite got the nattering bit of Knitter-Natters. I talk – I drop stitches – I don’t talk. Sometimes I don’t talk because I have forgotten to put my hearing aids in and can’t hear the conversations to well. Saying thank you – to God – gratitude is an essential – and not just for the good days, but for the resources given to triumph on the not so good ones.

As Horatio Spafford said, in his wonderful hymn, “It is well with my soul.”

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Can’t Be Bothered

I can’t be bothered to rise
and cross the open skies
Says the sun this day
It’s Just too much to ask
This day after day task
And she tucks herself away

I can’t be bothered to glow
My silver face to show
Says the moon this night
No sickle in the sky
No silver to catch the eye
As he folds away his light

I can’t be bothered to blow
No clouds across the heavens tow
Says the wind today
I won’t whisper or sigh
The washing I won’t dry!
And he doesn’t come out to play

I can’t be bothered to fall
On grass short and trees tall
Says the rain just now
I won’t pitter or patter
On windows won’t splatter
A raindrop he will not allow

I can’t be bothered to care
To love, to help, to share
Says the man next door
And the world becomes cold
And wickedness bold
As he marches off to war

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Go Explore

The box of cards is labelled “Go Explore”. I picked it up from the Young Enterprise market just before Christmas. Schools throughout the region go head to head attracting customers with the product they have produced, after doing all the research and surveys about what might sell or where there is a hole in the market they can fill.

The box is really designed for younger people – much younger than me. It’s the woods edition designed to pry youngster away from TV or computer screens and get them outside exploring. They did an adult version, a box with candles, herbal tea and how-to leaflets on meditation. I could probably make my own box up if I chose to.

I chose five cards at random and headed off to a nearby wood – taking the scenic route, which involved a wrong turn and heading off into the hills. The cards come with points to add up along the way. I had the potential to collect 40 points. Points don’t turn into prizes – they just kick you outside to enjoy some fresh air.

I’d bought a pair of walking boots in a closing down sale a week ago and was keen to give them a whirl. I know that the proper way of buying walking boots is to have them properly fitted and tested on up-hill and down-hill equipment – but it was a sale and none of the staff suggested anything other than a swipe of the credit card. I saw money saved.

So how did I do?

Two of the cards were “do this” – hop ten steps on the left foot, and hop ten steps on the right foot. I thought ten points were in the bag. Not so! How can I not hop anymore? The right foot fared slightly better than the left foot, but in neither case did the body leave the ground. I bounced up and down rather than hopped. It was bad. Mu sense of balance was shot to pieces. It could all be down to the new walking boots, of course.

I remember my mum confessing to one of the great grandchildren than she couldn’t skip, I’m not even going to try. The great grandchild assured her it was easy and, if she liked, she could teach her how to skip. I don’t think the lesson achieved anything. I had no one to offer to teach me to hop.

One of the cards was “Spot a…blossoming tree”. That was ten points down the drain. It was never going to happen in not in mid-winter.  A forest stretching in all directions and all in winter’s garb. I had to be content with buds on the brink of bursting and trees draped with bright lime coloured lichen.

Another “Spot a….” card, this time looking out for a treehouse. Another ten points not to claim! It’s a forest path not someone’s rather large back yard that has a tree in it. Which woods had the makers of these cards walked through to see a tree house?

“Get creative, Mel” said God. “Think outside the box! What about bird boxes?” That was a possibility. There were a number of bird feeders beside the entrance to the forest path, but I saw no boxes.

“How about a woodpecker hole? That would qualify, at a stretch.” He suggested. I’d been on a walk along the River Ness with the lads and lasses from the Scottish Waterways Trust. One of them pointed out a woodpecker hole in a nearby tree. I knew what it looked like. I scanned the trunks at what might I thought was the right height.  There might have been dozens of them but I saw nothing.

“Fallen logs!” said God, “They house all sorts of life. It was a tree and now it’s home to all kinds of insects. The forest wastes nothing. Even the dead stuff is put to work.”

I didn’t really want to poke around with the bark. I decided to take God’s word for it and claim ten points.

The final card was “Find somethings that meows.”

“Scottish wildcats (Felis silvestris) look similar to a large tabby cat, weighing up to 8kg and measuring as long as 98cm. However, there are some key differences. The most obvious is the thick tail that has a black blunt tip with thick black stripes. They also have a much larger cranial capacity, shorter gut and a more angular jaw, good for crunching live prey with. Genetically, they are distinct from our domestic cats which have evolved from the Near Eastern wildcat rather than the European wildcat. They are one of our last remaining natural predators and play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.”

I didn’t see one. “They are very rare and elusive, it's difficult to spot them in the wild. Many people living in the Scottish Highlands may never see one.”

I didn’t see a tame cat either.

I found something that barks, something that runs, something that gallops = dogs, people and horses,

So, technically I ended the walk without notching up points. That’s OK. Maybe I shall practice hopping for next time..

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Ego Deditionem

I have got into the bad habit of checking Facebook for anything interesting if I happen to wake up in the night. It’s a bad habit. There was a comment made on a friend’s post. It dragged me out of my half asleep mode into a “how-dare-she-write-that” kind of thought spiral.

Remember that moment in Ananias’ life when God told him to go and see Saul/Paul? And how he listed Saul/Paul’s faults as if God needed to be told? Well, I had my own Ananias moment telling God, as if He didn’t already know, why the comment writer was in no fit place to write the comment that was written.

God’s word to me was “Back down! Surrender!” What was it to me what was written, by whom, in response to what? It wasn’t.

I am not intending to make the word “surrender” my one word for the year. I have done these things in previous years and it has turned out to be not for the whole year but a week or two. Much like the usual New Year resolution. I like chasing down the Latin word for these things – so “Ego Deditionem” it is.

The word surrender had been popping up all through last year. I am, in the general and possibly vague sense, surrendered simply because I am a Christian. It’s in the Christian DNA. Sometimes, however, it’s a noun. It describes what I am rather than what I do. Lately God is talking about verbs. He calls me to surrender on some point or another.

Having been around for a while, as a Christian, teacher, preacher, theology degree holding person, sermon-soaker-upper, I have baggage. It’s a collection of knowledge gleaned over the decades. Nothing I read in the Bible, nothing I hear from the pulpit comes without a whole stack of information clamouring in my inner ear. This is the surrendering that God is talking about. He calls me to lay all that stuff down. It may be truth, but not the truth that is needed right for this moment. So I lay it down. Sometimes I pick bits up and hold it up to the light, like some great cut diamond with all its facets. Maybe there is a light there to shed on the situation. I’m not one for throwing stuff away bathwater and baby together. The knowledge if there for a purpose. It’s about not presuming that I already know what I need to know or that I already have the answer. It is hard to lay stuff down. It’s far easier to fall in with what’s already there.

So, last night I surrendered. It wasn’t a quiet surrender but one with lots of muttering. I wasn’t happy that God didn’t see things my way and act as instructed. That’s probably not any kind of surrender at all really. It was not a peaceful surrender.

God’s solution was to put me on to a different path. Ages back, on a second hand bookshop, I had picked up a copy of “A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer”. Not so long ago I had lent it out to a friend. Even more not so long ago I bought a new copy. What can I say? I like liturgy. Picked it up last night to read and sing and pray my way through a Tuesday evening selection.

Psalm 20 was there with its verse 5 challenge - “May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.” Sometimes, when some people disappoint, like my comment writer on Facebook, we think they don’t deserve their victories – that it’s not fair for some reason or other. But again, God tells me to back off, to surrender, as it’s not my business how He leads another lamb in the flock.

I also read, from 1 John 3, “We ae already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He really is.”

None of us this side of eternity are the finished article. For all my having been around for a while, as a Christian, teacher, preacher, theology degree holding person, sermon-soaker-upper – for all that baggage of truth and wisdom that I carry, I have not reached the got-it-all-sorted-out point.

In the meantime - ego deditionem

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fighting the Hermit Gene

The end of the year approaches and then there’s the New Year and resolutions, clean slates, starting again, something new.

I begin to think about what I can resolve to do and about what I have resolved to do in previous years and never did.

It’s all got to start in the heart – and that is where my problems lie. I try to change an outside thing and hope that the heart catches on. If it begins in the right place, in the heart, it will work its way out.

I’m not entirely sure I want to go poking about with my insides – my thoughts, my feelings and emotions. It frightens me. The worms are best left undisturbed in the tin.


I am discovering I’m not indestructible. Winter, life-wise, is coming. Daylight hours, life-wise are, are short. I want to live well while I am still living and not merely survive or exist. How does a person live well? What does it even mean?

The fridge magnet has the answer. “Live like someone left the gate open.”

I spend too much time fretting about what might come through the open gate – something that spoils life’s flower bed or stomps over life’s manicured lawn.

The gate left open is for walking through. It’s about having adventures and taking risks rather than playing sate.

Of course, it all takes courage and as I look into my heart I wonder if I have enough.

Thursday’s writing class was about renewal, or recovery or rebirth. There was just the four of us. Four of us sat around the table, pens busy.

Last year, or the year before that, or maybe many years ago, a friend and I didn’t so much as make a resolution, nothing official, nothing that required a hand on the Bible and a solemn declaration – just musing really. We thought it would be a good idea to do something new, something we had never done before, an adventure into the unknown, if you will. It wasn’t a communal thing we planned to do together, just something on our own.

I am very proud to say that I did three things. Three things doesn’t sound a lot but for a person who has built her life-house in a rut, that’s a lot.  Maybe I wouldn’t have done the three things if I hadn’t retired. I fight a hermit gene. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose.

Knitting – I joined a knitting group called Knitter-Natters. My husband assures me that there is another group called “Stitching and Bitching”. I used to knit a lot. Most of what I wore, once upon a time was home made. I knitted and I sewed. In some ways it’s not a new thing.

I’m loving being part of the group though I don’t natter much. It takes me a while to settle in with new people. I have knitted a variety of scarves over the last few months and I have been to more wool-fests that my bank account can deal with. I bought a sock kit. I have never knitted socks before or used a set of double pointed needles. 

“Can I make a suggestion…?” said one of the ladies and the needles were tamed.

Art – There have been times when I have looked at a landscape and wished I could paint it. Yes, I paint with words and what I produce sometimes is stunning.

A friend contacted me to invite me to an art class he was planning to run. We had met through poetry events that stumbled through graveyards and forests.

Art was beaten out of me at school. It was in the days of still life. I shifted over to a more craft based class and spent a year making a fibre-glass tray. It turned out that I was allergic to fibre-glass. Hands swelling and turning red and itchy did not do me any favours. So, yes, art and I had a dodgy past.

We fell in love – art and I.  I discovered colour and texture and marvelled at the world as if I had just opened my eyes. Forget about still life – although a mug and lemon turned out fine.  I loved it. The bank account coughed up for paint and paper and a host of art related stuff. Between knitting and painting the housework never got done.

Walking – What’s new about this is who I’m walking with. The Scottish Waterways Trust has recently started up their winter walks. They are not long journeys, an hour and a half, with a tea break in the middle.

I don’t often walk in company. I have a fitbit which kicks me out of the house to notch up steps, so I do walk often. Sometimes in the New Year we plan to get a dog and dogs need walks.

The lads and lasses at the Waterways Trust plan out the routes. Getting people outside and into nature is a good thing. We are, as a species, becoming less and less at home in nature, and, sadly, more and more suspicious of it. All the remedies for all the ills we experience come in small bottles filled with pills. Nature has the better cure.

The walkers are all shapes and sizes. There’s no rewards for first up the hill. Things are out there to touched and handled, to be picked up and smelled.  Last time there was a tree trunk, fallen over, that just had to be walked along while someone held out a hand to keep you balanced. Kid’s stuff? Playing? Yes, it is. As adults we have become far too sensible and some of us have taken a road with too few risks. It is good to rediscover the adventurer is us all.

My three things. I have made new friends through doing them. I have also connected with myself in a way I didn’t expect.

The hermit gene has taken, perhaps, a fatal blow.