Monday, 2 March 2015

The Cheese List

My wife came home with some Wensleydale cheese recently, and I remarked that I remembered the name from The Cheese Shop skit by Monty Python. While discussing the list, we wondered how many of the cheeses we had tasted. One thing led to another and we have now decided we will try to taste every cheese on the list!  

It is, perhaps, a silly goal. But, hey, we don't get out much these days and everybody needs a hobby. :)

For those who have not seen the skit, here it is.

And the list:

Red Leicester
Bel Paese
Red Windsor
Norweigan Jarlsburg 
White Stilton
Danish Blue
Double Goucester
Dorset Blue Vinny
Pont l'eVeque
Port Salut
Saint Paulin
Carre de l'Est
Bresse Bleu
Perle de Champagne
Smoked Austrian
Sage Derby
(Greek Feta) 
Pipo Creme
Danish Fynbo
Czechoslovakian Sheep's Milk
Venezuelan Beaver Cheese

And getting us started right away, some Wensleydale, (pictured above), and some Shrophsire Blue for good measure!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Forty ways to do forty days for life.

Forty ways to do forty days for life.

 Most of us are pro-life. We are in favour of defending life, enhancing life and living life to the full!
So when 40 Days for Life comes around each year, we get that urge to somehow get involved. The 40 days campaigns are well run and a good example of what people joined in public prayer can achieve. I want to say up-front that the Forty Days for Life campaign is a good thing, and each and every one of us should consider making the time to get down there and get our knees dirty.

The trouble is that I have a wife, eight children, (one with special needs), a full time job, part time study and a few other good causes on the side. I suspect there are any number of good people in the same sort of position. We are tied up with very good things, and we would have to neglect those good things to be involved in the organised activities. Some people are simply too far away from the organised activities to make it practical.

 The tragedy of this situation is that many of us simply think ‘oh well, I can’t be involved this year… again.’ And, because we cannot commit ourselves fully to the activities, we stop thinking about it. I am writing this to encourage you to think about a way you can be involved, no matter how busy or remote you are.

So, no matter how busy you are, or how far away, here are forty ways to do 40 Days for life!

1. Make time to be involved in the official 40 Days for Life activities! Yes, I know, this is supposed to be a list for people who can’t get involved. But the first step in thinking this through should be to ask myself “Is it possible to organise things differently so I could be involved, even in some of the activities?” Perhaps it isn't, but we should at least ask ourselves the question.

2. Commit to praying with the 40 Days teams. Wherever you are, you can still pray. Ask the teams for some of the prayer texts, or find your own prayers and commit to praying them at a certain time each day. Let the team know you are praying with them, or agree with a friend to pray and encourage each other to pray.

3. Remember that ‘pro-life’ is not limited to ‘anti-abortion’. Pro-life means loving children, thanking God for the gift of children every day and helping them to grow up with a healthy appreciation of the life God has given us all. Instead of just giving something random up for lent, make some small sacrifice that will make your home a more joyful celebration of life.

4. Remember to thank and celebrate friends for being pro-life, even if you differ with people about the best way to be pro-life.

5. Remember that being obnoxious about pro-life issues can sometimes do more damage than not speaking at all. It is about winning people, not arguments!

6. Find out which agency in your diocese deals with ‘life’ issues. Check out their resources and recommendations.

7. Pray for your bishop, for courage to speak up and the skills to speak well on pro-life issues.

8. Pay attention when he does speak, and support his initiatives, even if they are not exactly what you would like.

9. Consider donating to a pro-life cause. Just because you can’t be there does not mean you can’t support them with donations.

10. Check your parish bulletin, website and notice board for ways the parish is involved. Or respectfully ask your priest about the parish’s involvement.

11. Pray for your priests, for courage to speak up and the skills to speak well on pro-life issues.

12. If you are married, thank your spouse for being your partner in life-giving. Again, thanks is not enough, but respect for each other as mutual life-givers it is a good place to start.

13. Love your children. This sounds obvious, but our first duty to life is the lives that have been entrusted to our own homes.

14. Thank your mother, for being your mother! Whatever else she has done, you are here today because your mother bore you for nine months. A simple thanks is not enough, but it is a start.

15. Write to your grandparents. For the same reason as thanking your parents, with bells on!

16. Help parents around you. Drop off a meal or some baking to busy mum.

17. Offer to babysit, so your friends can enjoy a date, or just a coffee together.

18. Give a kind word of encouragement to a parent. The smallest things can make a big difference. Do this even if they look happy. Even happy marriages can benefit from kindness!

19. If you have children, encourage single friends to be involved in family life. It is healthy for them, and helpful for you.

20. Pray for marriages. A marriage forms the nucleus of life giving families. Every marriage has struggles, some more than others. Pray for more healthy marriages and happy homes.

21. Involve your children in your prayers for marriage, for unborn babies, for life and for loving families.

22. If you know someone who has suffered a miscarriage, pray for them, and give them space to mourn.

23. Pray for people who are facing death, in hospitals, in dangerous situations and at the end of life. 

24. Pray for the end of the death penalty, abortion and all things anti-life.

25. Pray for an end to war and violence around the world.

26. Smile at a mother struggling with her children in public. Sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is feeling as if the whole world thinks we are doing a bad job of being a parent. Sometimes pro-life is showing a parent you appreciate the effort they make and that they share their children with society by coming out in public.

27. Pass on some baby clothes, or baby equipment that you don’t need any more.

28. When someone is pregnant, be happy with them. No matter what the circumstances, celebrate life!

29. Write to your Member of Parliament to let them know that life issues will affect your vote at the next election.

30. Write to the Senators in your state to let them know that life issues will affect your vote at the next election.

31. Re-read Humanae Vitae. Seriously, it is not that long.

32. Re-read Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Families.

33. Re-read Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women.

34. Read some stories of saints who have given everything for another person’s life.

35. Make time to listen to a more experienced couple talk about the struggles and joys of marriage and raising a family.

36. Be honest with others about the struggles and joys of marriage and raising children.

37. Try very hard never to make anyone else feel as if they have failed, ever!

38. Share the things that have helped you, and your friends along the way. But do not be offended if it doesn't help the person you are sharing with.

39. Make plans to be better organised for next year.

40. Never stop praying!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Waiting for the knife, again!

Albert continues to improve, albeit at a snail's pace. He has added a few centimetres to his length but has only gained half a kilo over a few months, which is a concern, but not a disaster just yet.

Susie took Albert to see the 'ear, nose and throat' surgeon today, to follow up on the information gleaned from his exploratory surgery (laryngo broncho esophegoscopy and nasoendoscopy) in December. The short story is that Albert has been diagnosed with Type 1 Laryngeal Cleft and Aspirational Disorder. Effectively, Albert cannot swallow a liquid without it flowing into his lungs. The surgeon told us that we have several options on the table. We could do nothing, and keep Albert on a tube in the hope he will improve naturally as he grows up. The nature of this particular problem, however, indicates that significant improvement is not likely without intervention. A second option is to begin with a minor procedure to temporarily reinforce his ability to swallow, as a test to see how effective a permanent adjustment would be, and then proceed to full surgery at a later date. The only advantage in taking this option is that, if it turns out that the benefits of the surgery will be minimal, we would spare Albert the trauma of major throat surgery. The downside would be that he has to wait in line for the first procedure, recover from that procedure, then wait for further testing and analysis, and only then get back in line for the full surgery. Taking a pessimistic estimate of hospital waiting lists, it could be over a year before the problem is dealt with.

After a discussion with the surgeon and a long discussion between ourselves, we have decided to push ahead with the full surgery option as soon as possible. Even though this seems the most logical and practical decision, we did not take it lightly. Operations in the throat area, particularly involving his breathing and swallowing functions, is traumatic and involves significant risks. Albert will be sedated and chemically paralysed for several days, so that an machine can do his breathing for him, allowing his throat to repair the damage caused in the operation. We remember months ago, sitting, standing, praying, and weeping beside his bed as he lay in an induced coma in the same ICU, so we are well aware of what is coming. This time is different in one significant way. It is not a desperate attempt to save his life, but an attempt to make a significant improvement to his future!

So tomorrow we place him in the queue for surgery. It could take weeks, or months. When it comes we will probably have only a few days notice, so we have decided to start praying now. Feel free to join us!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

A different gift

I remember one Christmas, I had my heart set on a particular gift. I was almost certain my parents had hinted I would get it and I was eagerly anticipating that particular gift above all else that Christmas Eve. Unfortunately I had misunderstood my parents evasive answers and the gift they gave was something completely different. My hopes had been dashed, my expectations unfulfilled. So, all Christmas day, I was miserable.

The gift I did receive was amazing. It ended up providing hours and hours of fun every week for the next five years or so, much more than the gift I wanted could have possibly provided. But I was miserable the day I received it.

History repeated itself this year when, after we went to great lengths to discuss, seek out and buy presents for our children, one child was deeply unhappy on Christmas day because his expectations had not been fulfilled. After a few days of seeing him mope around in a bad mood, he finally told me the cause of his malaise. I immediately launched into a long lecture about gratitude, (repeating much of what my own father had said many years ago) and admonished him to look at the qualities of the gifts had had been given, rather than what he thought he was missing, but never had.

Then, in the middle of a long sentence about gratitude, I stopped. I blushed and exhaled a lungful of air in a deflated admission I should be listening to my own lecture.

When Albert was first born I felt a certain amount of hurt and despair. Would my son ever smile and laugh with me? Would he slip his tiny hand in mine and call me "Daddy"? Would he play with me in the park? Would I encourage him as he played sport, studied and made friends at school? In short, waiting for my son to be born, I was expecting a specific package, a child just like the others. I knew that Albert was a gift from God, but he turned out to be not the gift I was anticipating.

Objectively speaking, Albert has been an amazing addition to our family. The advent of Albert has seen a significant change in all of those around him. Our children have grown in maturity and they have learned selfless love. Their parents have learned the same lessons, even if we have been much less gracious about our lessons. Albert himself is an active and joyful child, freely sharing his energy and joy with his entire family. Just as my parents' gift to me so many years ago was a great gift in itself, God's gift of Albert to us has been more amazing than any I could imagine.

I guess it is time I grew up and learned to take delight in the marvelous gift God has given us, rather than pine after the different one I was expecting.

(Printed in the Catholic Weekly Feb, 2015)

Thursday, 15 January 2015


Fred Nile has created something of a storm by suggesting that the hostages of the gun wielding nutcase in Sydney last December do not all deserve awards for bravery.

Fred has a habit of oversimplifying complex situations, or perhaps the media merely misrepresent him in this manner, but I want to pick out one point he made.

We do not know what the hostages endured in that horrible situation, nor can we accurately assess how realistic a chance they had to act against the cowardly gunman. I don't want to play down the horror all of them endured that day. I am sure that there were some brave actions by individuals in the siege which deserve awards, but let us reward that bravery specifically rather than equate it to simply being in the same place as everyone else.

I agree with Fred Nile on this particular point. I agree that handing all the people in that place an award for 'bravery' for simply being there would cheapen the meaning of bravery. Bravery is not merely surviving a situation. A bravery award usually recognises that an individual has knowingly placed themselves at risk of serious harm in order to save other individuals from serious harm.

A man who took the first opportunity to run for his life, leaving all the others at risk of the gunman's rage, does not seem to meet this description.

Please note, I am not suggesting I would be any better. I certainly hope I would be brave enough, but bravery is easy to talk about sitting safely behind a keyboard. Until I am in such a situation, I will never know how brave I really am. But I can say this; if my courage does fail me and I flee at the first opportunity, I certainly hope nobody hands me an award and calls it 'bravery'.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgement that something is worth risking, or even giving up, my life for. The brave may not live forever, but he has found something worth living for, and dying for.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Albert resists

Albert moves at Albert's pace. This is a lesson we keep learning.

The stomach peg has been a good thing for Albert's general development. His face is no longer covered by taping and tubes, his  hands are no longer covered in socks and prevented from grasping at those tubes. Since he came out of his latest surgery he has impressed us all with his range of expression, his responsiveness to faces and voices, and his progress in grasping things around him manually. He continues to display remarkable dexterity in his legs and feet, interfering with his feeding apparatus with remarkable speed and accuracy on a regular basis, much to the frustration of his parents and siblings!

We were very blessed to be able to take Albert away on our family holiday this year, where he was stimulated by double the usual number of children clamouring for his attention.

Unfortunately the gastric peg has not been all plain sailing. The wound itself has developed granulation. I will tell you that this is a build up on fleshy material around the outside of the wound, so that you do are not tempted to Google 'granulation' and spoil your next meal. While not ideal, granulation is a relatively common occurrence in wounds of this sort and his parents have learnt yet another new skill set in caring for Albert. Still less fortunate is the fact that the wound has developed a staph infection (no, not golden staph) and thus has added antibiotics to his daily intake. This has been complicated slightly by test results which show that Albert is resistant to Penicillin and Amoxicillin (another common antibiotic). We seem to have found an antibiotic that works now.

We are hopeful that 2015 will bring continued improvement, at Albert's pace, and that we can get a few other things done too. :)

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Poor in Relationships

ONE of the key stories on which Australians base our national identity is that of the convict who was desperately poor, stole a loaf of bread and ended up slaving his life away in a new British colony on the other side of the world. None of us condone stealing bread, but we feel compassion for the unjust situation that convict finds himself in.

Now if we were living in London at the time and happened to read a newspaper story from that time suggesting that the solution to the high rate of bread theft in London was to punish the offenders with a life of hard labour in hellish conditions, we might ask if there are better solutions available. 

Centuries of hard experience have taught us that clothing, feeding and educating that man, and providing the opportunity to work for his bread, not only reduces bread theft, it clearly pays big dividends for society in the long run. Scowling at a homeless and desperate poor man and telling him to get a job is hardly helpful. Neither is disproportionately increasing the legal penalties for his misplaced attempts to get by.

While considering some of the problems with family and relationships which are common in our Western society, it struck me that we may be facing a similar problem, and that some of our present solutions may be just as unhelpful and uncharitable as those used in London all those years ago. If a man is hungry and he can see no legal means to fill his need, he will become desperate and likely commit a crime.

The Church teaches that it is not enough to merely provide some bread to help a poor man survive through the day. The aim of charity is to help him find a dignified way out of his desperate predicament so that he can eat bread every day with dignity and joy. So far so good, but there are more needs than hunger for bread. Human beings need relationships. Real, lasting and fulfilling friendships and especially marriages and families.

 There are many studies that clearly show that our ability to form and keep healthy relationships are heavily influenced by the relationships into which we were born, and the way we were treated growing up. If someone has grown up with a poor experience of relationships they will find it far more difficult to form healthy relationships of their own. Being raised in a broken family, or with one parent absent is a factor influencing relationships.

That is not to say that someone raised in a broken family is doomed to fail in relationships. There are many people who have forged great relationships and have admirable families. The statistics tell us, however, that a history of broken families tends to make life much more difficult for some people. What if a person has been raised in a love poor family? What if, in spite of their family’s wealth, a child was starved of attention, love and affection by parents who were too busy, or who had a similarly impoverished upbringing themselves and don’t know how to change that? What if a person were loved poorly and felt driven to desperate measures to obtain the attention and affirmation they keenly lack?

Any counsellor or pastor will tell you that a desperately low self-esteem can be behind a great deal of self-destructive behaviour. How many men and women post carefully posed pictures on social media, involving clothes and/or poses that would not be fit for a public place, yet are on display for the entire Internet? How many young men and women commit crazy acts, sacrificing their own dignity and worth in a desperate bid for attention, acceptance and affection?

Yet perhaps the answer is not to condemn the selfies or punish the promiscuous behaviour. As in the case of the poor convict who stole the loaf of bread, we can see the desperation driving the behaviour.

Without condoning or encouraging such things, we can feel compassion for the circumstances that drive these people to such desperation. If we are truly Christian, then we should not resort to scolding people for trying to find what they need in all the wrong places. Rather, we should first seek to show them the right places to look for loving attention, genuine acceptance and love.

People make bad decisions because they think it is the best option available for them. The way to help them make better decisions is to show them that there are better options. That begins by giving them attention and treating them with genuine Christian affection and affirmation.

Only Christ can supply what they hunger for.

(Published by the Catholic Leader, November 25, 2014)