Mayflower 400

Dear friends

Growing up in Southampton means that you know about at least two famous historical ships – the Titanic and the Mayflower. And this year is 400 years since the Mayflower sailed from this port town.

The thing that impressed me most about hearing the story of the Mayflower is that it’s about a group of people that fled religious persecution. It’s essentially the story of a group of people who wanted to live and worship differently than the dominant religion at the time and were being persecuted for that. They gathered together, got a ship (the Speedwell), and sailed from Holland to Southampton where they met the Mayflower ship, which had set out from Rotherhithe, London. The Mayflower was carrying 102 passengers who wanted to build a new life, in peace, across the Atlantic Sea. Half of those passengers died within the first year in their new home (mainly from disease having arrived in November 1620). But essentially they were colonisers, settling where other people already lived. That always seems to end in pain for those who lose their land for no other reason than someone else wants to live there! This website gives a great in sight into the full story of the event and it’s position in terms of native Americans and the colonisers: https://www.mayflower400uk.org/education/the-mayflower-story/.

So, these past several months one of my work projects has been conservation work to the Pilgrim Father’s Memorial (aka Mayflower Memorial) here in my hometown, originally constructed 1913. As it is literally a 5 minute walk from my former primary school, I can’t tell you how many times, over 40 years ago, I saw the memorial and heard the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.

The commemoration weekend here is in 2 weeks – 15 August 2020. Despite knowing about the commemoration date for the last, well, hundreds of years, the Culture team were a little slow to get going on the conservation work and had to be rescued (financially) by the Property team. An exemption request submitted to Procurement was eventually approved and a specialist main contractor was appointed in February. However with stone to be sourced and carved, completion of the works for the commemoration weekend was always ambitious. And then, the pandemic was declared!

The first half of the contract took place in the stonemasons yard with lots of photographs being sent showing the stonework progression. I really wanted to go to the mason’s yard so was rather disappointed that the pandemic meant this was too high a risk to take, especially with 5 of us at home, since the yard was in another town.

However, with site works commencing in May, I was finally able to visit site and hold external site meetings, rather than conference calls. And this past week, with copper Mayflower ship back atop facing West, the upper layer of scaffolding came down to reveal the refreshed mosaic dome, renewed stone work and, at night, a beacon light shining out from it’s quirky Art Nouveau/ Arts & Crafts style fire basket metalwork. The memorial isn’t the tallest of columns, about 15 metres or 50 foot. And it’s location means that most people in town probably will never see it, unless they make an effort.

But it is a story, an event that happened, 400 years ago and, like with any real event, it shouldn’t be forgotten.

I am descended from people who, not wilfully, were transported across the Atlantic Sea from the African continent to work and effectively colonise islands of the sea. Many of them died within months of arrival, from disease, from hard labour, from abuse, from broken hearts. Though there is no specific monument with their specific name that I can definitely say they are my descendants, I still feel proud that somewhere in my family history, I am descended from survivors.

“Though today’s restrictions relate to a virulent virus,…

“… life’s personal trials stretch far beyond this pandemic. Future trials could result from an accident, a natural disaster, or an unexpected personal heartache.


“How can we endure such trials? The Lord has told us that “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”

“Of course, we can store our own reserves of food, water, and savings. But equally crucial is our need to fill our personal spiritual storehouses with faith, truth, and testimony.”

Russell M Nelson, Prophet and Apostle, April 2020 General Conference

Light The World

Dear friends

Happy New Year 2019! This time of year, Christmas and New Year can be difficult times for many; loneliness, cold, reminders of darkness in our lives when light seems to surround. Here’s a story and a thought to encourage you to light the world, light your community, throughout the year. Seehttps://www.lds.org/church/news/2018-lighttheworld-asks-members-to-give-as-christ-gave?lang=eng

In recent years our town, city, has become home to the homeless. Tents in the city parks have appeared and a soup kitchen takes over at 6pm outside a coffee shop which serves as additional meeting rooms for nearby businesses during the day. As a local government worker, I’m aware that there are targets for building homes over the next few years. As an architect, I know what can be done to the physical structures that lie empty while someone sleeps on the ground in it’s shadow. As a Christian, a Latter Day Saint, my heart aches to do more.

And so it was a few weeks ago that on a rainy morning as I left the office for a morning site visit that I passed a motionless figure wrapped in a sleeping bag at the base of an advertising kiosk, in the open rain, on the pavement. The guilt engulfed me as I passed on to my site visit – how many times have I been in lessons and heard the parable of the good Samaritan. Site visit done, I headed back to the office and determined that if that figure was still there I would offer assistance. I prepared myself by visiting the bank first and purposefully walking back the same way. The figure still lay there but I could see movement and rain had stopped, the sleeping bag was, of course, sodden. I knelt and began speaking. Food and drinks were on the pavement for the person so I explained that before trying to persuade them to let me help them to a local launderette, to wash and dry the sleeping bag. As this offer was refused I realised that the person was a woman. I then decided to give her the money which I had withdrawn and asked her to put out her hand so she could receive it. And I pushed the note into the grey hand which emerged from the side of the sleeping bag. Our family has been blessed throughout this year, we’ve not struggled for food, managed to pay bills and debts and though I’m not in the habit of giving money away, I felt humbled to do so. I then headed into the warm dry office.

Whatever you may feel about homelessness and how a person finds themselves sleeping on a rainy pavement in a sleeping bag under some cardboard, I know that individual is known to God who is the Father of us all. And we can be His hands to bring comfort to each other. And as this life is a test, I remember the scripture (Hebrews 13 v2):

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers : for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

And, of course, this one (Matthew 25 v40):

… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

And the prophet said…

Dear friends

This past weekend (first weekend in April) was General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of which I am a member.  This happens twice a year, six months apart, and is when the general (world wide) leaders of the church address the general membership and the world.  With satellite and internet technology, wherever we are in the world, we can receive the messages, virtually instananeously, through live streaming, audio and/or video as the conference takes place at church HQ conference centre in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

As a Latter Day Saint I believe in living prophets and I trust that, for our spiritual safety, when they speak, we should listen and follow.  For me it’s​ no different to the trust the ancient Israelites had to have in Moses, that if they followed him, they would gain their freedom from the Egyptians where they were in a state of slavery.  Which ultimately is what happened.

So the conference actually all began last weekend with the women’s session where female church leaders spoke on trusting the Lord and not leaning (Proverbs 3:5-6), the beauty of holiness and being faithful, certain women, in the New Testament sense.  And then an Apostle (Henry B Eyring) spoke on the peace that we can only receive from the Lord Jesus Christ; it was sublime.

When you prepare yourself for conference, it’s as if the speakers are speaking to you, personally.  The words resonate within my spirit as I hear words of truth.  There were admonitions to be kind, charitable, true, faithful, how to recognise and follow the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, how to not live by fear, how to overcome the world. 

And the prophet, Thomas S Monson, in his Sunday morning address, asked: We live in a time of great trouble and wickedness. What will protect us from the sin and evil so prevalent in the world today? And the answer: I maintain that a strong testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of His gospel will help see us through to safety.   And to develop and keep a strong testimony: read the Book of Mormon, each day 🙂  And the promise if we do this? 

As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives.

I am very grateful for the simplicity which is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ – it is a the greatest blessing in my life and that of my family.  I love our Saviour, Jesus Christ; I’m grateful that He speaks still through living prophets, same as anciently – all things have been restored.  

Primary role

Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19 verse 14

Dear friends

In recent weeks I have been called to serve in the Primary organisation of our church ward (local unit).  The Primary organisation is for the children, up to 12 years.  

It’s been about 10 years since I last served there – I recall because Son1 had not long been baptised (at age 8) when I was released. Daur1 and Daur2 were also there, but Daur2 was 3 years old so doesn’t remember.

You can imagine how excited Son2 has been since finding out that his Mum will be with him each Sunday:)!!  And I’ve been excited too.  I’ve already had a week in nursery (with children aged 18 months to 3 years) – I’d forgotten how delightfully stubborn a 2 year old can be! And this month I’ll be doing sharing time, with all the 3 to 11 year olds, about 12 of them so not too many.

Of course, I will miss the youth Sunday School class… not sure if the feeling is mutual 🙂 … and Daur1 did remind me they are little children!!  We had our first presidency meeting – I’m a counsellor -the secretary is the same, and filled us in on recent issues. With a couple of families moving out before summer we will lose several children in a short space of time. But things change quickly so we’re not relying on a small number of children to ease anything.  

This will take me out of my comfort zone, that’s always a good thing for me as it stops me becoming complacent. And I feel it’s so important to be able to share the gospel with children; the gospel of Jesus Christ is beautifully simple, and simply beautiful (not my phrase… I think one of the modern day apostles) and so to be able to explain eternal concepts in a manner that a child can understand is important.  That’s the way the Saviour taught us 🙂

camping & the genders

Dear friends

On Monday we dropped off our three eldest children at the church youth camps for the week.  (It’s quiet at home!)

The difference in the camps for the young women (YW) and the young men (YM)! Wow!!  This shouldn’t surprise me but it is enlightening to compare!  

First stop at a little before 10h was YW camp, to the north of home.  A beautiful green, well kept field, with new shower facilities, much to the relief of Daur1 who had already warned her sister, Daur2, “don’t shower barefoot!!”. Everyone worked together to erect large 6-8 man tents which the girls will be sharing in their age groups. A large marquee was also erected as a food tent, and each girl had been asked to bring not only secret sister gifts to share but also a camp seat/ chair (so they don’t have to sit on the ground).  As we hugged farewell Daur2 noted there’s music for the devotionals – a portable organ.

The kit list for the Young Men was similar, minus gifts, camp seats, and including tents. My dear husband and I picked up Son1 (and Son2, too young for the camps, having ate first lunch prepared by Son1) around lunch time and headed south, into the forest.  Following the instructions we pulled into a discrete car park behind a golf course club house.  A gate in a hedge met us and beyond a grove opened up – the leader greeted us.  As we entered the shady grove, several tents had already been pitched around a central area with rubber mats and a rope with a large knot hanging from a tree.  I made no comment on what this scene could suggest… There were a few ‘seen better days’ huts and Son1 immediately began pitching his 4-man (all for me) tent at one end of the tent round, closest to the fire pit.  I noted plenty of logs that could double up for seats.  Others arrived, tents continued to go up, each team of young men working alone or with who they came.  Help was not requested and when offered it was rejected – we’re almost there. It was such a macho scene!!  Son1 looked embarrassed as I helped with the tent – but I didn’t care, I’m his mother!!  We left as more young men arrived and I really wonder if they will all fit – I think there will be some tent sharing for Son1. I’m concerned that he seems to feel he’ll cope without a sleeping mat… night temperatures have dropped… but that was his choice, he refused to get one.  His sisters took the air beds/ mattresses 🙂

We left Son1 deep in the forest and headed to my mother’s house for lunch – Son2’s second lunch!  

I am absolutely sure they will have fantastic camps. Men and women are different in so many great ways.  We have to learn from and be here for each other.

International Women’s Day

Dear friends
So life keeps going with all that it brings. 

The funnies: –
Me: (on why there’s a mid season break for extended filming) I don’t think it worked like that in my day!
Daur2: What?  You twerked in your day!!??

The compliment: –
Local Heritage officer: (on looking at my latest project) A very well designed extension.
This is why I’m an architect,  I love creating spaces for all to appreciate 🙂

The surprising/ thought provoking: –
Female friend (mother of 2, same age as me and the LDS seminary teacher): It is cancer. Their going to operate next month,  remove it completely and I have to decide on whether to have reconstructive surgery later in the year.  It helps to talk about it.

And then Mothering Sunday: –
My mother: (after lovely dinner prepared by my dear husband and why it’s not Mother’s Day) It originally started so those downstairs [ie servants] could visit their homes/ mothers at least once in the year. 
My children and husband (expressions – similar – in a card): Thank you for being the best Mummy!!

Latest read: – I’m reading Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje – I’ve read it before; it’s one of my older books retrieved from the garage last spring; it’s a great,  poetic read. 

Latest on running: – I’ve been running a little bit during these wintry mornings – I need to improve my stamina!  but my latest running partner (another mum with dog during early morning seminary) will be teaching seminary (in the absence of the teacher for surgery),  so I’m not sure whether to go down to the park to run on my own… it’s quite light in the mornings now but it’s a big grass and woodland area.  There are other runners… I’ll think on that one.

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View on my typical early morning run

Finally, to international women’s day, that this is, I can’t say I’ve done anything particular but I did decide (yesterday) to go to the LDS women’s conference on Saturday – I didn’t have much choice,  my mum declared she wasn’t going if I wasn’t!  I also thought on how if we don’t support such activities and conferences, they won’t be organised. It simply means a whole Saturday out… at least a friend is driving this year (it’s towards London).  The workshops do look quite interesting and despite my cynicism, I know I will enjoy the day, and probably meet some old friends.  

After all this,  I recognise that our family is greatly blessed by our Father in Heaven.  I am very grateful for where we live and the time we live in and the opportunities we have.  A different place,  a different generation,  and we would be living very different lives. That goes for all of us.  Take care. 

inside church

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Dear friends
This is my current view. It’s early morning, at the chapel, I’m waiting for Daur1, and yes, those are my sock clad feet to the bottom right of photo. 
I’m reading the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13 verse 1):

Look! And I looked and beheld many nations and kingdoms…

And I looked around to ponder. And my mind cast back to when I first entered this building nearly 30 years ago, one spring morning for church.  It looks a little different – back then the walls were brick internally. But the feeling was the same. A feeling that I was home, where I should be. 🙂
And the beautiful paintings always remind me who I’m following.  I love our buildings, so simple and functional on every level.  When I visited St Vincent (in the Caribbean) it was great to see a lovely two storey building reflecting local stone materials, responding to the terrain (a hill and that’s why it was two storey).  And to know that our tithes are used for these. 🙂

I’ll take a few more photos (I need to slip on my shoes…) for those of you that have not seen the inside of a LDS church building. Enjoy! 🙂

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minority families…

Dear friends

Last week there was a policy announcement from church leadership. I wasn’t aware of it until Sunday, when after church meetings, Daur1 said it was mentioned in young women’s lesson and there is loads of comments on the Internet about it.  So, back home I looked up lds.org to see what it was about, for myself.

In my words, it’s that children of / within a same sex marriage couple can not be baptised until they are 18 years old. 

This seems perfectly reasonable to me – no point having a child baptised (we don’t believe in infant baptism, a child must be at least 8 years old) when their parents are in a situation which opposes those beliefs.  Regardless of how stable and how supportive those parents  may be of the child’s decision, at some point there will be conflict.  Either for the child or for one or both of the parents. And, I’m certain, for the child, it will be confusing at some point, even if eventually that child manages to mentally resolve it. I can refer to my own situation, which some of you may feel is not the same, but for me, it feels relevant.

My dear parents were never married, and, as far as I can tell, never lived together. I don’t know why – I’ve never asked, and I probably never will.  My Dad has a wife and children and a home.  He visited my Mum and us once a week.  For the bulk of my childhood I said nothing more than “Hello Daddy” and “Goodbye Daddy” at the start and end of an uncomfortable 20 minute visit where he money to my Mum and pocket money to us.  I am the oldest of his children.  My younger brother is younger than my oldest half sister, so you can work that out!  My relationship with my dear Father deserves a post of it’s own, so back to the point of this post.

I was in the clear minority at school, not only for my skin colour, for growing up in a single parent family, for “having no Dad” as my peers described, and I felt that as a ‘stigma’.  I knew I was loved and was very matter of fact with friends that asked, “do you have a Dad?” Response “yes!! Everyone does. He just doesn’t live with us.”

By the time I reached my teens, although I knew what was right in terms of civic society – not hurting, stealing, killing, lying – when it came to what was right in terms of my own personal welfare, well, I was in a state of confusion, particularly in terms of relationships, questions like what is the real, true position, God’s point of view, on premarital sex?  I was in search of personal peace, personal answers, as I was becoming an adult. I never felt able to ask my mother since I was fully aware that she had all of us out of wedlock.  And although my mother was firm, provided a Christian upbringing (Mum not affiliated with any particular church though I went to a pentecostal Sunday school) and and told us not to ‘drink from the governor’s cup’ (or some strange phrase where the governor and his cup was an innuendo for sexual activities), it was a struggle, at least for me to reconcile this with her own actions.  (You may judge me as weak because of that).  Once I had the opportunity to learn more, I made a choice, to make and keep covenants with God, and I found peace. 

So, what am I saying? I’m saying when it comes to eternal matters, our choice matters.  And most of us, when we reach adulthood, will have the ability to choose things in this life.  And quite simply I believe that our Father is fair and that 18 years in any loving home where respect is taught for parents, with one, two, male, female, black, white, parents, is beneficial for our eternal welfare – family love can be learned and that is fundamental.  There will be time, and I feel, time to make and keep sacred covenants once we individually make that choice…

I’m probably not explaining this very well.  It may be difficult enough to grow up in a minority-type family, so why would our Father want to make it worse for his children in such a situation.  So I totally accept this policy statement as Father’s will.  And I fail to understand why others feel this shows intolerance or a degree of being unfair.  I expect the reason it wasn’t explicit before is because same sex marriage is a new situation.  Thankfully, revelation is always relevant and for the times in which we live.

a musical assignment

Dear friends

When I was around 8 or 9 years old, I really wanted to play the piano.  I was already learning the tenor horn at school but I absolutely became desperate to learn piano.  I received a small electronic organ for Christmas but I must have continued to pester my Mother, or my Mum decided that a child playing piano was a great thing, because on my 10th birthday I received piano lessons which my Mother continued to pay for for the next several years… I think until I moved away to university.  Sadly, we could never afford more than my two octave keyboard, and I was never that diligent in practising…
The first opportunity I had to live with a piano came several years later when I served as a missionary.  I was in Lancaster, Lancashire, and our house had a piano, and of course, a church song books.  The hymns were tricky but the children’s song book… So over the following couple of months, I spent time on our free day playing piano and became fairly competent at a few pieces. 
After my mission, I had a flat mate with an old piano who left it when moving out to make room for my dear husband.  We kept the piano for the first flat move but with children and subsequent moves it got left in a large unfurnished two bed with a moisture problem!
Several years and two more children later, we decided to put together some Christmas gift vouchers the children had received and buy a Yamaha keyboard – 5 octaves.  I recall Son1 was not too keen on a family keyboard taking the place of more wooden train tracks.  He still remembers that!
So here we are, Daur2 is learning piano, Son2 will hopefully start piano lessons at school this term, and I often have a nagging feeling that I’m not using my musical talent…
Flash forward to last Sunday and after church meetings the choir director is in the hall getting support and I hear her call out – I need someone to play piano.  In a moment of generosity I admit I can, enough to play the melody, in fact all four parts but not at the same time (I’ve never truly mastered playing more than one key with each hand!).  Then, out of nowhere, my dear mother states – oh yes, Vanessa can play, did piano lessons for years! And I’m thinking – please don’t big it up too much.  Sister Choir Director thrusts some sheet music into my hands and asks:

Can you play this?
With some practice!

I respond. And that’s it! I don’t even recognise the hymn – but it’s not like it’s in C major so that’s a plus, I think.  On telling my dear children on the way to the car, Daur1 asks, and when are you going to find time to practice that!?  Mmm… a good point me thinks!! This post has taken the best part of 3 days to write.

It’s nearly the middle of the weeks, four full days till next Sunday, and I’ve yet to touch the keyboard but I have done some air piano :). Maybe Sister Choir Director is planning on the hymn being sung a capella and only needs the melody played to learn the hymn… doesn’t everyone dream of doing a piano recital… I’ll update you on what happens…