A very creative year so far …

Right Twin - week 19
Right twin at 19 weeks

In many ways 2008 has been a very odd year for me, for many reasons. Of course it opened with the IVF procedures that led to Jane discovering that she was pregnant, that led to us discovering that she was pregnant with twins.

During the last six months we’ve been filled with delight, trepidation, excitement, nervousness, wonder, a whole spectrum of emotions. And here we are now at week 27.

For those who don’t know, a full-term pregnancy is generally regarded to be 40 weeks. Twins, we’re told, generally make an appearance early, round about weeks 35-37. So we could have another 10 weeks; we could have more, we could have less. We’ll continue to trust God, and wait in quiet expectation.

I was born to reflect and not shine

It’s been a funny year where I’ve blogged a whole lot less, but gone out and done a whole lot more — but then didn’t come back here and share it with you all … sorry about that, but I guess I’ve needed that time to reflect. I’ve felt myself go deeper within myself — go into my ‘cave’, Jane might say — and reflect on where I am, who I am, and what it means to be expecting children: two, at once!

I’m not entirely sure where I am, or what to expect, it’s all a very new experience for me. But one thing I can say with certainty is that I’m really looking forward to meeting the boys now, and I’ll certainly give it my best shot.

I learned a lot of good things from my own dad, hopefully I can pass some of that love and laughter on to my own boys, and make up some weird nonsense of my own to hand on to them!

I just really wish that Dad was still here to meet them too when they arrive. (Again, for those who don’t know: my Dad had a triple brain haemorrhage in 1983, was really quite ill for about 15 years and died shortly after New Year in 1998. Ten years ago: another contribution to the oddness of 2008.)

New design

But 2008 also opened with another creative process: the redesign of the University of St Andrews website, which was launched to the public (having been in what I guess we could call ‘closed beta’ if we wanted to go all Web 2.0 with y’all) last night.

Here’s a screenshot of the external homepage:

Screenshot of University of St Andrews website
Screenshot of the new design for the University of St Andrews website.

“But… didn’t you just launch a new design last year?! Why do you need another new design?” Quite a few folk have asked us that over the course of the last few months, and it’s a good question to ask.

When we did the first relaunch of the University site it was more than just a new visual design, it was a completely new website: new design, new architecture, new way to update and manage the content, new … everything.

We designed and built the site according to the excellent wireframes that had been developed in collaboration with us by Dynamic Diagrams, an information architecture company from the States. They were great, we learned a lot from them, and for me that was one of the most exciting parts of the project.

Listening

But like any design, the then-new design was a “best bet”, it was the closest that we got to what we perceived we would need from the site. So we built it, launched it and let it settle in for six months while all the time listening for where the design wasn’t working properly, where we needed more flexibility, and crucially: what the users were asking for.

We got a little more explicit by inviting both staff and students to feedback sessions over lunch, where we bribed them with food to tell us what they really thought of the site, what they liked about the site, what they felt could be done better, and what was missing.

I went into those sessions expecting to feel very defensive, but came out of all three sessions feeling quite buoyed and encouraged. It felt good to listen to our ‘customers’, and from the feedback from those sessions mixed in with our own collation of ideas from helpdesk calls, as well as our own thoughts and observations we set about redesigning the site. And this time we didn’t touch the structure (much), we looked instead solely at the visual design and its functionality.

New design

We wanted something that was:

  • Clean, fresh and contemporary
  • Not too far from what we already had
  • Easy to maintain, and extend
  • Compatible with the most number of browsers (old and new)

The site itself is built on the Blueprint CSS framework, with a number of tweaks, which helped us address most of these requirements.

What was particularly impressive about Blueprint was how it allowed us to ‘sketch’ designs in code faster than we were able to do it with a graphic design package. And nothing looks more like a web page than a web page!

So for the last seven months or so I’ve been diligently working on the code, often times taking it home to work on in the evenings and at the weekend. I’ve working on it some nights past 01:00, and some mornings before 05:00.

It really has been a labour of love, but then … I believe in the University of St Andrews, and I love my job. St Andrews is where I did my undergraduate degree, I feel an incredible loyalty to the place and sincerely want to do the best for the University.

Launch

So at five pm last night we scheduled the new site to launch … and ran away!

At home we waited with baited breath while the new design for the University of St Andrews website was published to the public web server, and then breathed a sigh of relief that we’d got most of the planning right.

There were a couple of sections (sport, music, UTREC) that we’d overlooked and had published out with the wrong design, but on the whole it went without a hitch.

… until there was a serious power outage in St Andrews during the afternoon today and all our systems (including the web server) went down! You can’t have everything … like a new design and the ability to look at it!

And relax!

Saying farewell to Tim Morris

Worship building of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Edinburgh

This morning Jane and I attended the farewell service of The Revd Canon Tim Morris, from his position as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield, Edinburgh. He’s retiring from The Scottish Episcopal Church and heading over to The Anglican Church of Canada for a year or two … for an adventure in mission.

Backstory

For those who don’t know, I was a member of the ordained ministry team at both the Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield and St Salvador’s, Stenhouse from 2003-2006 before I moved to Fife and took up my current post at the University of St Andrews as Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager. An obvious move, I won’t bore you with the unnecessary and intuitive details suffice to say that I always explain it by beginning: “There comes a time in every priest’s life when he reaches a crossroads: down one path lies becoming a bishop, down the other lies information architecture and Web management …!”

Arrival

As we walked up the beautifully tarmacked path towards the church building I couldn’t believe that it was nearly two and a half years since my own leaving service there. It doesn’t feel that long ago. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun!

At the door we were warmed greeted by Tim with a bear hug each. Tim was resplendent in his white cassock alb, green stole and bright red Kickers shoes.

That was the first of many reunions. Some names I remembered immediately, some took a while to be conjured up, others I had to ask for; but I recognised every face regardless of whether I could put a label to it or not.

“You won’t remember me, but you visited me in hospital and it really made my day as I was feeling so low that day.”

Amazing and humbling that that one visit, probably over three years ago now, should be recalled with such fondness. A less not to underestimate the simple gifts of presence and listening. And I did remember her, by the way, … just not her name. Or which hospital it was — I visited so many. But I remembered her and was delighted that she was there today.

“I had to come and say hello. You visited me in hospital after I had my heart attack, and your prayers really helped.”

Another face that I remembered, and history. I just couldn’t bring his name to memory quickly enough, so gave in and asked. So lovely to see these people looking so well.

Good news and sad news

It was lovely to be amongst friends and fellow members of the church family.

It was especially lovely to catch up with folks from St Salvador’s, the church that I had most involvement with during my three years in Edinburgh. Warm hugs and handshakes, cheeky comments and smiles.

The news of our expectant twins was received joyfully, and in good time it would seem as there has been too much sad news of late with the sudden death of one long and faithful member of the congregation (MP) and another struck down with a heart attack (MB).

I also got to meet for the first time the minister of Saughtonhall United Reformed Church, the Revd Susan Kirkbride, who arrived in post just after I left — nothing personal!

Demission of office

The service was a slightly extended 1982 Scottish Liturgy with a liturgy for the demission of office and prayers inserted between the post-sermon anthem and the offertory.

When a priest newly arrives to take up responsibility of leading a congregation there is a special service, during which he receives symbols of that office: keys to the church building, chalice and patten (cup and plate for communion), congregational role (impressively now held on an USB drive!) and deed of institution (the paperwork!).

Today’s service was very similar, but in reverse with Tim handing these symbols back: a letting go. It was very poignant and meaningful, concluding with Tim completely stepping out of his cassock alb (the white vestment) and retiring to sit amongst the congregation, next to his wife Irene, to allow the rest of the service to be conducted by the remaining members of the ministry team.

Reflections

Tim’s last task before being stripped of the elements of his office was to preach. The readings were Isaiah 61:1-3, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and Mark 8:34-38, although he didn’t stick to these. Instead he asked for forgiveness for anything left undone or unnoticed, and encouraged us to keep on pressing onwards.

What really spoke to me in the service, however, was the second reading — read by Tim’s wife Irene. It was from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (the text below is taken from The Message translation):

  1. You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy.
  2. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did — Jesus crucified.
  3. I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate –I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it —
  4. and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it,
  5. which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else.

That’s exactly how I felt when I arrived at the Church of the Good Shepherd and St Salvador’s in 2003. I felt totally inadequate, scared to death at times, embarrassed for the times that I really messed things up (remember that awful sermon about liturgical colours, anyone?) but … I tried to live out the love of Jesus in the way that I conducted myself; and that’s also what I still try to do in my current job. From the kind memories of those few folks I spoke with today I felt affirmed that I had walked something of that path.

As I sat in the congregation this morning reflecting on where God has brought Jane and me these last two and half years I realised and remembered two things.

I realised that something in me really misses living and worshipping as part of a parish ministry team; that I kind of felt incomplete. It’s real privilege that is incredibly difficult to explain on a blog in just a few sentences, so I won’t even try.

But then, at the same time I remembered too that when I was in that situation, in full-time parish ministry, I felt incomplete and frustrated that I wasn’t able to be as creative as I can be in my current job.

An affirmation, perhaps, that I’m in exactly the right place; that I am where God wants me to be. And that has to be a good place to be.

Afterwards…

We all retired from the church building to the hall for drinks, speeches, a few amusing songs from the choir, and the handing over of gifts.

This caricature of Tim was gifted by the other members of the ministry team. Ah … how others see us!

Cartoon of Tim Morris

And the remaining time in the church garden was spent dodging rain showers, enjoying a BBQ and catching up with folks. All in all a lovely day with friends and family in Christ.

If it’s your discipline, please do remember Tim and Irene as they prepare for their long journey to Canada, for their safety and that they will quickly and ably settle into their new life and ministry in Manitoba in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.

Wordle clouds

The book of Jude as a word cloud

Two colleagues from work told me about this today: Wordle.

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.

There are three ways to create the word cloud:

  1. Paste in a bunch of text
  2. Enter the URL of any blog, blog feed, or any other web page
  3. Enter a del.icio.us user name to see their tags

The wordle cloud above is from the whole of the text of the book of Jude, the penultimate book in the Christian New Testament. Pretty cool, huh!

The site allows you to save wordle clouds to the gallery, where you can also see other wordle clouds created by users, such as those created by me: garethjmsaunders.

We’re just as lost as them …

Empty sign post
Photo by barunpatro.

I spotted this quotation in an interview with Rob Flynn from the Californian thrash metal band Machine Head in the Christmas 2007 (vol 02, issue 06) of the Soundcontrol magazine Reverb:

The four of us need this release of anger just as much as any of those people who come to a Machine Head show. And that’s what I think the bond is. I think that’s where the devotion comes from, that’s where the passion comes from, because we’re just as lost as them.” — Rob Flynn

All caught in a mosh

I remember standing at an Anthrax show in Glasgow a couple of years back and realising just how important gigs are for a lot of folks. I was standing on the edge of a swirling mosh pit in which there were maybe 20-30 young, sweaty guys — some topless — thrashing about to the music.

Here’s what the mighty Wikipedia has to say on the matter:

Moshing refers to the activity in which audience members at live music performances aggressively push or slam into each other. Moshing is frequently accompanied by stage diving, crowd surfing, and headbanging. It is commonly associated with concerts by heavy metal, punk rock, and alternative rock artists.

It looked aggressive. The music sounded aggressive. But, you know, as soon as someone went down there was always someone ready to step in and help him out. As soon as some slammed into you just that little bit too hard there were grins and apologies, and then both parties would step back into the fray.

I remember standing there, observing all of this and realising that this was incredibly healthy. Who knows what kind of crap these folks have to deal with in their every day lives. I know what I’ve had to deal with, and I guess what I still have to deal with. What other outlet is there for folks to healthily release any pent up anger or frustration? At that metal gig they could do just that, and I saw that as something really healthy.

Metallica and philosophy

I’ve just started reading a book called Metallica and Philosophy: A Crash Course in Brain Surgery.

Plato seemingly argues that we should be suspicious of the so-called “imitative arts” as they can “arouse our passions” and “corrupt our moral character”. His student Aristotle (clearly a headbanger … in the good sense!) instead suggested that “the imitative arts … can have a healthy effect on the soul, by purging the individual of destructive emotions” (op cit, p.6).

I remember a few years ago in a conversation with a psychotherapist, Murray, saying that I believed that my listening to metal and extreme genres of music helped to keep me sane during my adolescence, when as well as dealing with the complex task of growing up in the latter decades of the 20th century I had to also come to terms with and live with my father who had a severe brain injury.

What I said to Murray about the music was that it helped because they [meaning the bands] got angry so that I didn’t have to. It was a release, an outlet for my emotions, as well as some kind of absorption of their energy, something to keep me going. In the case of some bands I found their lyrics helpful too (Metallica, Megadeth, for example) as they put into words emotions that I felt. I didn’t feel quite so alone.

When re-reading that quotation from Rob Flynn today, saying “we’re just as lost as them”, I felt sad. Here’s to the lost that they’ll be found.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life!”

Waiting for buses …

London buses
Non-identical buses

So, the observant amongst you will know that I’ve not been blogging quite as often as I used to, or would like. We’ll here’s the reason: I’ve been waiting for a bus. Of sorts.

This is the blog post that I’ve been longing to write for ages, and it even has a neat twist. But before I get ahead of myself, here’s the good news: the IVF worked!

For those of you watching in black and white and haven’t a clue what IVF is, Jane is pregnant.

Today we had the 12 weeks’ scan, which was our own personal non-disclosure deadline and so we can now share the great news with the world … albeit admittedly those citizens of the world with Web access.

The longest wait

I’ll probably blog later about my/our reflections on the IVF procedure, suffice to say here that the staff at Ward 35 (Assisted Conception Unit) at Ninewells Hospital were absolutely wonderful; we couldn’t have hoped for better.

We had the embryo transfer on Wednesday 19 March which was followed by the longest 17 days wait we’ve probably ever experienced.

Six weeks

On Saturday 5 April Jane took a pregnancy test and to our delight (and, to be honest, amazement) it showed that Jane was pregnant.

Twelve days later we had our first scan at Ninewells (still at Ward 35). This was a six weeks’ scan. I’ve no idea how these weeks are worked out. It would appear that doctors use a different kind of maths to the rest of us!

(Update: actually I do know, I was just teasing. As far as I can ascertain it’s so that the total pregnancy adds up to a nice round 40 weeks!)

Week 6 scan

The midwife who was doing the scan told us that she’d get her bearings and then show us on the monitor what she could see.

She sat down, got her bearings and told us that she could see the monitoring machine.

“Have you been drinking?” I asked. No, not really. I’ll get back to the proper story now.

“Will we get to see it’s heartbeat?” Jane asked.

“I’m not sure,” said the midwife. “Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t.”

And then she showed us our baby on the monitor. It was 6mm long.

And then she showed us our other baby. It was 4mm long.

“You’re having twins!” the midwife said.

We were so delighted. We’ve been joking since about 2000 that we’d have twins. In the previous couple of weeks I’d been joking that it was quads. So the news of twins came as a delight and some relief.

The really amazing bit was that we could indeed see their heartbeats and sat watching their tiny, two-chamber hearts beating away; it looked like a really fast flicker on the monitor. Amazing, and reassuring.

Seven weeks

A week later they had us back in for another scan just to make sure that everything was going well.

It was. Both twins had grown to 10mm. They looked a bit like seahorses at this point.

Week 7 scan

Both embryos/babies were doing well with strong heartbeats. We could relax a bit and allow Jane to enjoy the next five weeks of so-called ‘morning’ sickness that is actually all-day sickness! We’re informed on authority that the symptoms of multiple pregnancies are generally worse than for singletons.

Except Valerie Singleton.

This was our final visit to Ward 35.

Twelve weeks

And so today we were back in Ninewells, this time at the Antenatal Clinic for the twelve weeks’ scan. Which looked like this:

Ultrasound scan of twins

They now look a lot more like proper babies. And not like Roswell experiments, as somebody kindly pointed out!

So, meet the family! At the moment they’re called Left and Right, but I’m sure we’ll come up with better names before December.

Both looked well, with strong heartbeats, and it really was absolutely amazing to see them moving about. “Baby Right” was doing somersaults, which was really impressive but he/she was probably just showing off cos he/she was on the telly.

Typical! Just like buses: you wait ages for one (in our case, eight years) and then two come along at once.

But how cool is that, and how blessed are we! Praise God (and the lovely staff at Ninewells Ward 35).