Monday, August 21, 2006

Farewell Headley

I leave for Scotland tomorrow, so this is my final post from Headley; and the end of a substantial chapter in my life. To all those who took the time to follow along (immediate family excluded), I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for sharing in this experience and all the ups and downs that went along with it; you’ll never know how much it means to me. I can’t help but laugh when I look back on my initial posts and at how idealistic I was. Knowing full well what a sensitive, emotional and relational human being I am, I still chose to believe I could sail through this experience without too many significant struggles. But then again, I’m not surprised; I’ve always bordered a little on delusional optimism, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. So much has happened in the last two months, as a tourist and as a resident of this house, that I find the richness of it all a little overwhelming; so many beautiful places seen, so many truths revealed, so much given and received, so many limits tested and so many lessons learnt and taught. I know when I leave here, the young woman who arrived that sunny Saturday afternoon in June will be waving good-bye from the front step of the house as we pull out of the driveway. That thought excites me, but it also terrifies me for two reasons: first, I have an obligation to myself and God to continue my life from the point of returning home, not from the point of my leaving; and second, that I must maintain this fire in me that’s caused me to seek out all that I’ve learnt from this experience. Neither will come easy; that’s a cold, hard fact.

I couldn’t possibly go out without giving a rundown of my last day here. We all went to LEGOLAND; a Lego themed amusement park near Windsor Castle. The park was charming and even though the rides were rather infantile, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Regardless of my own excitement level, the kids’ uncontainable excitement and delight made every activity a complete joy. It was a perfect day.

And finally, I’ve been relaying my victories and failures as they’ve occurred, but to not leave any ends untied, I must now admit to a few unsuccessful previously mentioned endeavors:
The boys’ reward race track: this has been unsuccessful despite my best efforts; there is only so much you can do without the full cooperation of the main authorities in the house. There is simply a lack of consistency; oh yes, and the fact that all incentive is removed if the reward is given despite the unsatisfactory progress of their cars.
The Pilgrim’s Progress: I barely made it through a quarter of this book; but not for the lack of wanting, just time and the issue of priority. I do have every intention in the world to obtain a copy when I get home so that I might complete it. I didn’t know the premise when I first began reading it and was blown away by the author’s insight. I find this book utterly fascinating. I realized that despite the absolutely ridiculous logic of this notion, I somehow had the impression that with time came a greater understanding. What I would give for a drop of the knowledge and understanding of Christianity that John Bunyan must have had to be able to lay it out in such a way. Though I’ve yet to finish it, I would recommend this book to anyone.
Finally, the issue of my daily Bible reading: I fear my progress with this is not even near where I intended it to be. My intention was to make it such a fixture in my life that I would come home with a genuine desire to spend time alone with God without it feeling like a chore. Maybe I’m not ready; maybe at this point in my life it’s like hammering a square peg into a round hole. I have a peace about it because not only has the time I did spend been fruitful, but I realize this was primarily my intention and not necessarily what God wanted to focus on. I feel that if it was something He felt was a priority, then things would have been different somehow. I will continue to read My Utmost For His Highest and have been considering a new approach; not forcing it as a daily requirement, but simply taking advantage of a quiet moment at any given time during the day to sit down with my Bible. No pressure, no rules, just the anticipated gradual rise in my inclination.

What will I miss most? The kids, of course: Williams infectious and uncontrollable laughter when I’d chase him around the house, stomping my feet saying, "I’m going to get you." Henry and Edward’s energy and those gentle, touching moments when one of them would come up unexpectedly, wrap their arms around my legs and lay their head against me. And Tom, the way he seems incapable of any feeling besides love towards anyone he comes into contact with. Besides that (and my dear friend, Paisley), I will truly miss the beauty of this country. What will I miss the least? Being lonely, the lack of freewill and how the Potters’ washing machine turned most of my pink knickers, grey.

So with a raised cup of tea, to England I send out the good ol’ proverbial "Cheers!", and to all you at home, I say simply, "See you soon."

Stay tuned for tales of Scotland and Ireland…

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Stonehenge & Bath

"En route to London to board my bus tour: Everyday now seems to hold a number of lasts for me here; I’ve been trying to soak in every detail from the sounds of the kids’ laughter to the smells of the house. To be truthful, there have been a few occasions where tears could have come easily had I allowed it but I'm sure there’ll be plenty of that to come; no need to start early."


"The coach departed about 20 minutes late, but I used that time to look over all the people lined up in the queue, thinking to myself "Now, who can I make friends with?" There was one particular older couple whose southern accent left their nationality undeniable. I caught eyes with the Mrs., we smiled at eachother and the exact words that went through my mind where: "She looks like she might like someone to mother." What a sad case I am.

Driving through London on the way out of the city, it became clear to me how much more of the city I could have seen. Having the tour guide point out everything gave interest to things that I didn’t take a second look at. Did you know there’s a nude sculpture of the Duke of Wellington that had to be turned around because it was causing too many accidents? It would take at least a week to take in everything London has to offer. I realize also that as much as the whole backpacking lifestyle does appeal to me, Coach Tours have a few undisputable perks: being taken care of, not being on your feet all day and the extremely informative commentary; I absolutely love hearing the stories and the history of everything. The downsides? Traffic jams, stopping at Windsor castle to pick up some additional passengers and waiting for 30 minutes while they were located and sorted, the drafts of body odor from the gentlemen in front of me and the incessant whining and negativity of the old lady behind me. The docile and indifferent responses from her husband led me to believe his thoughts may have contained something of the following: "Oh, shut up, woman."

Thanks a great deal to the invaluable history lesson our guide provided before arriving, the stones were every bit as exhilarating as I thought they would be. Just to give you an idea of what a feat it was, the largest stones in the middle weigh about 40 tons each and not only were they transported 24 miles before the wheel was ever invented, they were hoisted over top of the previously erected ring of 12 foot high trilithons. Besides that, all they would have had for tools were stones and animal bones, yet each stone is individually sculpted and there’s a very large 30 foot deep crevice dug out surrounding the whole structure. As icing on the cake, I had a conversation with the American lady on the way back to the bus (they’re from Oklahoma) and discovered that she had taught about Stonehenge for years as a now retired teacher and was seeing them for the first time. I was able to share in that experience as her excitement was infectious; it was really quite endearing. We ate lunch at the Stonehenge Inn just 5 minutes from the stones and as I was sitting among strangers and nobody spoke to anyone outside their own party, I was essentially dining alone, which is something I’ve always wanted to try; it wasn’t so bad. Side note: on our way there, our guide, Steve, relayed an unusual experience he had had just last week at the stones. He began by telling us that he wasn’t one to believe in the powers of the earth and all that hoopla, but this particular time, after entering the park, he noticed that his brand new Armani watch had stopped. When he brought it in to fixed, upon removing the back, they found all the inner workings of the watch had been melted down into a small solid mass of brass…odd.

It was about an hours drive to Bath through wide open countryside made up of never ending hills and valleys and littered with small villages. We even passed a very large and impressive estate that’s home to, actress, Jane Seymour. It was an incredibly beautiful drive. Partly way through, though, we entered a rather intimidating storm. It downpoured intensly and I was worried that Bath would be a let down, but the rain did stop before we arrived. The city of Bath is a sight to behold. Even the soggy state of it and the grey, but bright, sky could not take away from the beauty of the city; in fact, it just made the splendor of it seem a little more surreal. After passing by an apartment building that was once inhabited by Jane Austin, the bus was parked and we received strict instructions to be back in one hour. I was not about to waste the opportunity to experience this incredibly city, built almost completely out of the famous "Honey Colored Bath Stone" (which is actually more of a soft taupe), so I made haste through the Roman Baths and came out with 25 minutes to spare. Because of the weather, the streets were relatively unoccupied and the usual sounds of city life were somehow muted, granting me the sensation that I had found some kind of undiscovered, lost treasure. My favorite part was a small square that had the entrance to the Bath Abbey, the entrance to the baths, a few stores and a row of columns, completing the four sides of the enclosure (see picture in previous post). It was so silent and isolated that anything audible was hollow sounding and echoed off the buildings around me; especially the water droplets falling into the pre-formed puddles and the flapping of wings as the pigeons took flight in small groups from the steeples of the Abbey, their shapes black against the bright grey/white sky. Standing there, taking it all in, I could almost see the ghosts of the Roman soldiers chatting amongst themselves and entering the baths together. The continued rain and the prospect of the 40 minute train ride home (after the 2 hour bus ride from Bath) could not possibly put a damper on the joy I feel from having seen not only Stonehenge, but the incredible city of Bath.

I quite love the look of Central London in the nighttime and was graced with the sight of Harrods, lit up by 11,000 white lights, upon entering the city. A wonderful sight and a wonderful way to end my time here, as besides an underground trip to King’s Cross train station on Tuesday morning, this was the last I’ll see of London."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bits & Bobs

Being determined to make the most of every detail of my days here has made me realize the depth of my tendency to constantly look ahead. Shamefully, I’ve realized how many minutes and hours have gone by unnoticed because of my preoccupation with the future. Knowing now where I’ve gone wrong hasn’t completely dissolved the issue, but awareness is the first natural step and there have been many occasions since, which I’ve soaked in after a conscious decision to focus my attention on the present instead of ignoring it. It’s incredible how much of a mind switch it is. Those moments that I did make that conscious change in my mentality had such an effect on me; physically and emotionally. In a single second, I felt lighter, more relaxed and most importantly, more alive.

Mine and Cheryl’s pending trip northward has been occupying my mind quite completely for the last week. I’m excited, but also a little worried about the effects the terrorist threats have been having on the airports and airlines. There have been major delays, flights have been cancelled, and hand baggage has been significantly limited. It could likely clear up significantly be the time we take our first of three flights, but it’s still cause for concern. I suppose this is just another test of my trust in God; so on that note, I’m pledging now to put it from my mind because Cheryl and I have done everything we can to guarantee smooth sailing so the rest is out of our hands and we’ll just deal with it as it comes. For those who are interested, here’s out itinerary:
Aug.22: Train to Edinburgh, Aug.23-24: Edinburgh, Aug.25: Bus to Inverness, Aug.26: Inverness, Aug.27: Flight to Dublin, Aug.28-30: Coach Tour all throughout southern Ireland, Aug.31-Sep.1: To be decided; evening flight to London, Sep.2: Home.

So far, I’ve simply been relaying truths that God has graciously shown to me, but now I will tell you of a lesson learnt that has more to do with me and less to do with the intricacies of our spiritual lives. I had been praying that I might begin to learn the art of humility (as I know I can be quite proud, but that’s another story altogether); just not in the humiliating, don’t want to show your face in public sort of way. This experience was an answer to that prayer:
On the Wednesday night in France, I sat down with Catherine to ask her about the possibility of getting some time off during the next few days as I was feeling a little frazzled. This conversation did not go how I expected it to, thanks also to Jonathan’s involvement. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a horrible experience, but it wasn’t the most pleasant conversation I’ve ever had either. We spoke like civilized adults and there was no animosity between parties, but Jonathan tends to approach things from more of a business-like approach due to his high-ranking position in a large financial institution. He spoke of the expenses of having me there and suggested that we could work it out as long as my 7 hours "on" were filled with significant activity as oppose to working continuously and enjoying the moments of relaxation that presented themselves throughout the day. First of all, I didn’t know what that meant exactly as my job is generally pertaining to the kids and they didn’t need too much looking after, and I really didn’t want that hanging over my head; always wondering if a moment being still would lead to scrutiny and resentment. Second, I could have explained that you can never truly relax in an environment where you’re "available" every waking moment of the day to be called upon at any given moment to aid or execute some task. In regards to the expenses, I could have argued that it was their choice to have someone along and, frankly, part of the arrangement; so though I am grateful for the experience, it was not fair to imply that I was indebted to them. I could have argued too that I was being deprived of two free weekends and, finally, that I was confident that I had displayed and proved my work ethic in the last month and a half and that he should know that I would not ask for this if I didn’t feel it was justified. I could have argued…but I didn’t. I choose instead to continue and complete my time here under amiable circumstances and did what was asked of me throughout the day for the duration of the trip. As my previous posts made clear, the trip was positive and amazing and wonderful and although this all sounds a little awkward and disagreeable, I could see where they were coming from and the conversation was generally good-natured and ended with pleasantries and wishes of a good night. There were moments during those days that I felt like I was in a room with no exit and the walls were closing in around me. There were moments where I would have given my left arm to sit down and have a conversation with someone who really knows me. It was a moment that evening, though, which was the most significant; when I was feeling dejected alone in my bedroom asking myself and God why he was putting me through this. The word humility then snuck into the forefronts of my brain and I realized then that this had nothing to do with the Potter’s and everything to do with me. Though I would be lying if I said I felt not a twinge of bitterness at any given time during those days; I am human as you know. I realize now that this whole trip, given the nature of the job, has been a lesson in humility; I’d just been so eager to please that it didn’t ever occur to me until I felt that I was maybe being taken advantage of. Though, to clarify, I don’t believe that has ever been their intention. Do I feel worn? Yes. Do I feel like my limits have been tested? Yes. Do I regret the lesson? Absolutely not. Not only have I been humbled by the experience, I have been utterly humbled by the unfailing efforts of my Heavenly Father where my personal growth is concerned. I know I don’t deserve it, there are many more worthy then me, yet he persists. Who am I to receive such attention? I suppose to ask such a question means only that my learning has simply just begun.

Friday, August 18, 2006

France Saga - Part V

Saturday, August 12:
I arrived at the Chateau de St. Paterne grouchy and stiff, but the moment I walked through the door and was greeted by the smell of scented candles and handmade soap, all that was pulling me down was peeled away and left lying on the doorstep. I opted to stay behind as the rest of the family went into Aléncon; it was a hard decision, but I have been in need of some downtime all week and I can’t imagine a more perfect place to unwind. The Chateau is actually a family home owned by Charles Henry and Segolene de Valbray; they live here with their two (almost three) children. This mansion was built in the 15th century and has been in his family for 400 years; the rooms we’ve taken once belonged to his grandfather and grandmother. Just off the landing on the second floor are two doors leading to the two sections of the second floor (See picture: All four large windows on the second floor belonged to us; mine were the two on the left). Our door opens up to a hallway that both of our rooms are entered from. Both are not only huge and have their own hearths, but each have a smaller room attached and have their own incredible bathrooms as well. The furniture and artwork are antique (one painting pre-dating the completion of the Louvre), the heavy drapery and bed cover fabrics are rich and dated, the walls are paneled (beige with blue accents) and there’s a decanter on the bureau containing something brown and potent that tastes like nothing I’ve ever tried before; a little like crown royal with a smidge of sweetness. Before settling down in my room with tea and music playing from the complimentary stereo, I explored the lounge rooms on the first floor and the grounds, tried to check my email on a computer and keyboard that were all in French and played a horribly out of tune key on a piano with brown keys and its finish stained and covered in bits of melted wax underneath the tarnished, swing out candle holders. This whole house looks more like a museum and staying here is more of a dream come true then anything I’ve experienced so far; I will take this memory home and carry it with me to remind myself of this charmed life that I live.


"I had dinner with the boys so Jonathan and Catherine could enjoy a romantic meal together with the adults; likely the last one they’ll have for at least the rest of the year. The evening went smoothly and the boys went to bed without resistance and were asleep within 20 minutes. Sleep was once again sporadic, though, and I was awake early because Tom was moving around a lot and I couldn’t sleep for longer then 5 minutes because I kept thinking he was getting out of bed; I have really weird and disturbing dreams when I sleep like that. We had an incredible buffet breakfast in the large, stately dining room, where they provided an amazing choice of croissants, breads and cakes along with the typical fruit and cereal selection. We checked out a bit later, after packing up, standing by one of the huge open windows and listening to the local church bells chime for 10 minutes signaling the beginning of the Sunday morning service, and paying the €500.00 bill; we’re now headed north towards Calais with cloudy skies overhead and rain pounding on the windshield. Every negative aspect of this experience was worth being a guest in that house. I will miss France and all the wishes it granted."


It took over 8 hours to get home once all was said and done, partly due to the huge delays at the Euro Tunnel due to a new automated check-in system with a touch screen. We ended up catching a train an hour and a half after our 4:45 reserved crossing. Everyone was complaining about how much money was wasted on a system that absolutely defeats the purpose of making the process more convenient; but if you ask me, it’s simply a test of the intelligence of the general public. Let me tell you, I witnessed the procedure, the British and the French didn’t bode well. We arrived home restless and tired to a kitchen that wreaked like garbage because of a bin that wasn’t emptied before we left, which was overflowing with maggots. Our dear Ginger Ranger also left a few welcome home gifts in random places throughout the main floor. Besides that, I was happy to be home and was greeted by a shiver of delight upon entering my room on the third floor, with all the peace, quiet and privacy it provides; God bless ‘em, but it’s good to get away.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

France Saga - Part III & IV

The internet has been down, which is screwing up my posting schedule, so I’ve been forced to combine posts for a rather large read; my apologies.

Tuesday, August 8:
It’s funny how much more climatized I am to the heat because of the typically dull English weather. Yesterday at the water park, when a cloud would cause a few moments relief, everyone would let out a sigh; whereas I would run my hand over the goose bumps that would coincidently turn up on my arms. And this afternoon, we all packed up and went to one of the local beaches and when everyone was complaining about how “bloody hot” it was, I was happy to just sit and soak it in. It was about 4:00, but the sun was still operating at maximum capacity. I had a goal in coming here and that was to immerse myself in the salty ocean water, as I had not done so since I was a child. So shortly after we arrived, when Richard and Nicola went down to the water with their son, Ethan, I was more then happy to accompany an anxiously anticipating Henry and we followed shortly behind. When we caught up, Richard and Nicola were standing at the shore and commented that it was much too cold to go in, causing me slight concern. I put my foot in and was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable it actually was; granted, it would have had to be glacier cold to keep me out at that point. I turned to them, shrugged my shoulders, asked Nicola to hold my sunglasses for me and turned back with the intention of leaping gracefully over any coming waves and diving in; think Baywatch minus the bright orange bathing suit. However, when I turned and started running I was met head on with that sequential bugger of a three foot wave as it crashed into me; you know the ones that often catch you off guard after following a string of less imposing ones. I was stopped dead in my tracks, soaked through and had the impulse to then take hold of my bathing suit bottoms as the decidedly strong grip of the undertow led me to feel it a necessary precaution. Once I had my wits contained, I turned back and joined Richard and Nicola in their laughter before returning to the task at hand and taking that long intended dive in. The water near the shore and that’s swung about in the waves is about half sand and half water so I was covered in the former; I could have built a small village with all the sand that came out of my bathing suit during the shower I had when we returned home. Richard did dive in shortly after; I guess he thought if I could do it… We didn’t stay too long, unfortunately, but I accomplished my goal so I went home happy.

After spending the last two days in the blazing sun (and doing a half-ass job of putting sunscreen on my back today), my skin is a jigsaw puzzle of rare, medium-rare and well-done.

Wednesday, August 9
David and Ann left early this morning and it upsets me that I didn’t bid them a proper farewell. They are charming people and I will miss them.

We went to a lovely park today that’s stationed at the edge of a pond and near the base Talmont Castle. Catherine, Nicola and I went for a walk around the pond with William, leaving Jonathan with the other four boys; the castle and two old church buildings took their turns becoming clear through the trees as we made our way around. This evening, all of us went to “Le Port Bourgenay” and walked along the promenade around the boats to a small lighthouse and back and then through a delightful market right on the edge of the water. At one point I was walking ahead of the group and became completely captivated by a lady strolling through the patio tables of a restaurant serenading the patrons with a rendition of “Hymne a L’Amour”; that is until the sound of Jonathan’s exasperated voice ripping into one of the boys pulled me back to reality. It was quite a contrast.

Thursday, August 10:
What an incredible day; but not just in the sense that everything was perfect, more of a supernatural, I can die happy, kind of day. The absence of Richard, Nicola and especially Ethan, made the morning and early afternoon so incredibly relaxed and wonderful. With the boys’ hyper-active cousin around, their behavior seems to go down a notch and the volume up two. At about 4:00 we left the house and headed to a small port town called La Rochelle about an hour and a half south of Talmont St. Hilaire; the drive down was lovely. Beautiful expansive fields of sunflowers were common, their faces all turned towards the sun, and filled the horizon between timeless, little old villages with farmhouses and stone fences; where without the modern convenience of paved roads, you might expect to see an old man with a hat leading a dusty, worn out mule down the street carrying satchels of French bread and wine. As I had no idea what I was in for, I had no expectations; but we parked in a parkade that was surrounded by a few large grey buildings, so it didn’t look like much. It was only a short walk, though, that brought us around a corner and in view of what’s left of a castle that was built right on the edge of the water. A little bit further, and over a small bridge the spans the channel into the port, I first set my eyes upon this incredible city. Of all the cities I’ve explored and towns I’ve walked through since I’ve been here, this city is leaps and bounds more beautiful then anything that I’ve seen. Maybe it’s the perfect combination of old world and new living or the strange contrast between luxury and rugged beauty; or maybe it’s simply the architecture. Either way, this city captivated me thoroughly and entirely. We walked around the port and through the street market where, if the funds and the means were available to me, I could have brought home a million and one different treasures. We ate at a restaurant called “La Popote De La Mar” where I ordered the Crudités Salad and Chocolate Mousse for dessert, then took a detour through one of the side streets and came back around the port, drooling over yachts and stopping to chat with an older couple from Wales; this being apparent originally by the word “Cardiff” written on the back of their boat. They actually weren’t on the deck, but Catherine started shouting “Anyone from Cardiff down there?” so they came up to see what all the hollering was about. On the way back to the car, I was bursting, so I stopped by the aquarium to use the facilities. When I met them back, they were waiting by one of those fountains that shoot up a grid of water spouts in an unpredictable manner. The boys had just stared running through and kicking at the water when I arrived but within minutes, Henry was running over top of them fully clothed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt getting absolutely soaked through. It was one of those times where a child (or children) is doing something that isn’t the most convenient at that present time, but you’d have to be a heartless scrooge to tell them to stop; absolute glee. The sun was just setting when we left, so it was easy to slip into a euphoric contentment during the drive home; even when Jonathan switched the radio to the BBC News to listen to the latest on the terrorist crisis back in London. Because the reception was poor, it sounded more like an old 1940’s wooden radio relaying news from the war to its anxious listeners. This world will never know peace until every last one of its occupants are called home or otherwise.

Friday, August 11:
Once again, the whole lot of us met up and went out in the early evening; this time to a large children’s play park filled with random playground paraphernalia and bizarre and wonderful feats of engineering from simple sea-saws to a 20 foot slide and an odd 10 person swing where 5 pairs of people sit facing eachother one behind the other; the thing actually went pretty high. It was one of those places that could be a legal nightmare without the not-so-small print stating simply that if you want to be stupid about it, it’s your own bloody fault. There was one such precarious attraction that was basically a wooden, man-sized hamster wheel. It was also one of those contraptions that the “big kids” seemed to get more enjoyment out of then the young ones do. The boys spent about 5 minutes tumbling over eachother and whining about which direction to go before Richard and I not so subtly gave them the heave-hoe. We started at a brisk walk that turned into a light jog but it couldn’t have been more then a minute before we both got too disoriented and lost our bearings. I bailed first and him just after, both falling over ourselves, limbs-flailing, before sliding to a stop unable to get up as we were laughing too hard. Catherine and Nicola, along with the boys, witnessed the whole display and were in stitches right along with us. I ended up with a couple scrapes, bruises on three out of four of the major hinges and a bruised and slightly swollen knuckle, but not an hour after we left, while dining at McDonalds, Richard started showing everyone his purple, swollen toe with the pretense of “Look what Stacy did to me?” As we leave tomorrow, I can’t imagine a better way to have ended the holiday.

Yesterday, I booked my first coach tour to Bath and Stonehenge, due to leave Saturday morning; my last English excursion and I quite like the idea of being chauffeured around after all of my previous sightseeing experiences. I was determined to get to Stonehenge and this was the most practical, efficient way to do it. The tour includes lunch in an old pub near the stones and a tour of the roman bathes; including a tour of the pump room and a glass of the “peculiar tasting” spring water containing 40 different minerals. Despite the fact that I’ll be alone, once again, I am looking forward to it. Consider this likely scenario: me, alone on a bus, with 10 to 15 other elderly couples; should be interesting.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

France Saga - Part II

Sunday, August 6:
The final drive from the hotel to Catherine’s brother’s house in France wasn’t any better, so my mood was less then cheerful upon arrival. It only took about 20 minutes for that to change, though, once I became reacquainted with Catherine’s Parents, brother and sister-in-law (David and Ann, Richard and Nicola). We all had a wonderful meal together and I was quickly reminded why I was so excited to spend this time with them all. Catherine and Jonathan went to our house earlier to unpack and get things in order, but it wasn’t until later that evening that I saw it for the first time. The house is one of many in a complex of holiday homes, all beige stucco with terra cotta roofs and brightly colored shutters, right in the middle of a charming old town called Talmont St. Hilaire, which has an old church whose bell rings out often throughout the day. The house is comfortable, roomy, with a décor that’s a cross between nautical and Mardi Gras, a canopied patio beside the pool and an ample backyard. My room is one of four on the upper floor; one blue, one green, mine, the purple room and one with a locked door. There are two bedrooms downstairs too, which is where everyone except Henry and I sleep. The room he’s in beside mine has an extra bed and the third bedroom has a double bed and a single bed that aren’t even being used. This morning was so pleasant and relaxed, giving me the opportunity to hop on the big round air mattress in my tank top and capris, sprawl out on my back with my feet in the water and float in the pool for a while before the boys had a chance to suit up and jump in; I was absolutely soaking it up as the weather started out beautiful and hot and remained that way throughout the day. The rest of the family joined us in the afternoon and we all sunbathed, swam and chatted amongst ourselves contentedly until they left in the early evening. Before dinner, we gathered the kids in the car so Jonathan and Catherine could take me for a preview of the ocean; what a wonderful day. This evening, as I sat reclined on a beach chair on the deck with a mug of hot chocolate, listening to the crickets and watching the moon become more and more vivid against the backdrop of the darkening sky, I thought of home for a moment to see if I could locate an ounce of longing; I found none.

Monday, August 7:
Last night, just before bed, while reading to Henry (he couldn’t sleep), the sound of fireworks interrupted the hijinks of Horrid Henry (the character) and prompted Catherine to come upstairs to see who was awake to view it. The next 20 minutes was spent sitting on the edge of the couch in my darkened bedroom staring out my wide open window watching an impressive fireworks display, hailing from the ruins of Talmont Castle, between the glowing silhouettes of Catherine and Henry. There was apparently some kind of an annual celebration going on and the sounds of laughter and cheering easily crossed the distance between us. It was quite a moment.

Today we went to Atlantic Toboggan; a water park about an hour and a half from where we’re staying. Unfortunately, though, because of some ridiculous traffic and a few missed turn offs, it took us twice as long to get there. Ah France, the land of traffic circles. My eyes were burning all day, but not from the sun, from the minion’s of Speedo wedgies I was forced to lay my eyes on; Richard included. Most of the men wear them, but if you ask me: fit or fat, smooth or hairy, it’s just not attractive. My message to all European men: just because women like to accentuate their bits doesn’t mean you have to.

Another lovely evening: dinner on the patio with Ann and David, tea and cake for dessert while the boys ran around the backyard playing, and reading My Utmost For His Highest with my hot chocolate underneath an outdoor light as the moon did not provide sufficient illumination. I’m truly ashamed of myself for feeling even a moment of self-pity at not being able to go to Osoyoos this year with my family. Just like I did in Africa, I’ve had to remind myself bi-hourly that I’m actually here. Don’t get me wrong, I love it in Osoyoos and I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve spent there for anything, but let me tell you, after 24 years of having "holidays" be characterized by a tent and public toilets, I could really get used to this.

Monday, August 14, 2006

France Saga - Part I

"We left for France about a ½ hour ago. I have to admit, for all the excitement I’ve felt in the past about coming here, I’m feeling a little down this morning. I think because I am such a headstrong, stubborn person (who doesn’t like being told what to do), the obligations of this arrangement are beginning to wear on me a bit. The fact that my time is not my own is a slight inconvenience. Usually, when you’re at work, you’re working and when you’re at home, that time is yours. Well, that’s not the case here; I do have roughly set hours, but there’s no distinction between work and home."

"We’ve just arrived in France after a 25 minute journey by train through the Euro Tunnel. It was strange not being able to see out at all, but feeling the pressure in my ears from being under water. I just saw a sign to Paris and was overwhelmed with a feeling of frustration at being in France without the opportunity to go to Paris. Here is my first impression of France:
Yellow sun-baked hills and fields spotted with patches of lush, green trees, houses and large white turbines turning with a weighted ease and overlooking the countryside with a personified regality and importance. The motorway is alternatively lined with corn fields and harvested hay fields; their round bales overlapping eachother hurriedly as we rush past. Cows and other livestock litter the surroundings, tails swaying as they graze contently. The blue behind the clouds is sparsely seen and the air cool, but the west coast should greet us clear and warm."

"En route to the Chateau, we drove through a city called Rouen and went over the River Seine, just catching a quick view of the incredible Cathedral Notre Dame as we traveled through. When we finally got off the motorway, I was so taken by the authenticity of the town streets, with their old, rough, flat-faced, beige stone store fronts and the remnants of barns and stables; all that’s left being wood skeletons with partial brick walls. A romanticized ideal of a place or otherwise is seldom realized, but in this case, I felt as though I was driving through a movie set; as if someone had taken it right out of a dream. My frustrations about not seeing Paris subsided significantly with the realization that I was seeing France in all its organic, historic, charming glory. When we first arrived at the Chateau, I was too wound up to really take pleasure in my surroundings. Call it cabin fever; being trapped in the car with those four boys for the majority of the day (imagine, on a couple occasions: Henry and Edward fighting in the back, William screaming and Tom having a fit over some desired object) was a little like being a zookeeper in a cage full of monkeys; I’m so glad I had my classical music to retreat to. My stress level didn’t improve initially with the reminder that I would be sharing a rather small bedroom with the three oldest boys. I’ll be honest, at that point, I just wanted it to be morning. However, after sitting for a bit with my legs in the pool taking pictures of the Potter’s (and hollering at Catherine when Tom waded into the deep end behind her and began flailing) and going for a lovely stroll through the forest before dinner, my mood took on a completely different shape and color. The chateau (an old, converted estate) and grounds are beautiful; complete with pool, restaurant, tennis courts and driving range. The main floor has a series of partially segregated sitting rooms with full, brown leather armchairs and couches, decorated with an old world, rich feel, and made to feel cozy and warm. The ground floor also has the restaurant, which is where we ate dinner. What an incredible meal; €25 was the least expensive selection and included a main course and dessert. When I brought Henry and Edward up after dinner to get them ready for bed, I started to look forward to our little slumber party and as I lay here writing now with my three boys in bed (one sleeping, two resting quietly), I don’t remember what I was worried about; I guess it could be the possibility of being woken up at 6:00am by a small child jumping on my head, but we’ll see. One thing I did thoroughly enjoy about this arrangement was reading them Beauty & The Beast, playing each part with gusto and emotion, using every opportunity to be over-dramatic: ""You can’t die," sobbed Belle, "I, I love you.""; then singing them Disney songs quietly on their bed for the last 10 minutes of pre-sleep activities. Oh, just lost another one; my dear Edward was just seen picking up and dropping Tom’s newly deadened arm. The air that’s coming in through my window smells like damp leaves; I can’t believe how fortunate I am."


"Sleep was sporadic as I’m a light sleeper and being responsible for the boys made me aware of their every move. Each woke up once in the order they fell asleep: Henry with a complaint that it was too dark, Tom just rolled around a bit before falling back to sleep in the opposite direction and Edward after falling out of bed. Although, he sat there with a confused look on his face, said not a word, and laid back down to sleep the second I lifted him back into bed, so I don’t think he was ever really awake. France is more beautiful then I could ever have expected; ever house, stable, building, is worthy of a portrait. I could have filled a photo album with pictures taken just within the five minute drive from the chateau to the motorway. This is the first true experience I’ve had with a language barrier. Since we’re away from the real touristy areas, very few signs have English translations; my gosh, it’s frustrating. My grade 8 French just isn’t doing it for me. Yesterday, when we were ordering dinner, Jonathan and Catherine placed their order and then looked to me. I had been staring at the menu for the last 5 minutes picking out familiar words and knew enough to know they’d ordered the beef; so not wanting to cause a delay, I just replied "I’ll have the same" and when choosing my dessert, simply pointed and said "That one please." I didn’t dare try and pronounce anything for fear of making an ass of myself. It felt rude, but what could I do? I also realized halfway through the meal that I was using the starter utensils; how very cultured I am."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Shiver and a Show

This past week or so, Cheryl and I have been trying to figure out the best way to get through Ireland; which has been a little bit of a struggle. It’s always easier when you’re actually there, so we had decided to just wing it once we arrived. That was until I came across a fabulous alternative solution, which I am ridiculously excited about it: Paddy Wagon Tours. It leaves the morning after we arrive in Dublin and brings us back the evening of the third day. The great thing about this is that it will take us to all the sights on our required list (and some) and brings us back with almost two days left before our flight back to London. So we can stay in Dublin, check out somewhere new or head back to a place we particularly enjoyed, with time to spare even. It’s no less then ideal.

Details from my last touristy day in London:
"I just got told off for taking pictures inside the auditorium; one of many, of course. So the theatre is much smaller then I expected which makes my 17th row, ground floor seats a bit less then fantastic, but it could be much, much worse. I can’t wait for the show to start but I’m glad just to be sitting down because the morning was so rushed. I went straight to St. Paul’s once I arrived in London and despite the unexpected £9.00 entrance fee, I’m so glad I came back to see it. The 500 some odd steps to the top were killer, but the view was fantastic. The weather stayed sunny so all of London was showcased brilliantly; although the gale force winds at the top made picture taking a bit of a sticky wicket (ask Piechnik). I went there with the view in mind, but I wasn’t prepared for the incredible interior of the cathedral. The show’s about to start…"

"Another really cool aspect of St. Paul’s was the crypt below the floor of the cathedral which housed numerous tombs and sarcophagi; my favorite being that of William Blake. Horatio Nelson also rests in that place; I learned of his importance during my tour of Windsor Castle. From St. Paul’s, I rushed over to the museum and since I didn’t know exactly what time it was, I hurried first to a painting by Di Vinci before asking an employee what time it was. "1:30" she replied, which is exactly the time I needed to be on my way to the theatre. "1:30?" I asked her; very surprised that time had rushed by so quickly. "Well, 1:25, my watch is fast." I thanked her, made a beeline for the Vermeer and rushed for the door. However, my disbelief propelled me to inquire the time, to be sure, just before exiting the building: "12:30" the guard answered. I turned on my heel straight away and returned to the gallery, asking just one more employee along the way for the sake of confirmation. I was able to see everything I wanted and more before catching a bus to the theatre: Vermeer, Di Vinci, Monet, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and an amazing painting by Peter Paul Rubens called "An Autumn Landscape With a View of Het Sheen"; crap, I just realized I missed the Michelangelo. Of all the paintings I looked at, I do have to say that I found the Vermeer the most exciting. For some reason, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" is one of my favorite paintings, so seeing one of his paintings, seeing his very own brush strokes, gave me goose bumps. So I can see why they called it "Les Miserable". I’ll start with the negative: a lady a bit behind me felt the need to hum with the music, which became annoyingly audible at times; it’s beyond me why someone didn’t tell her to zip it. Second, why does everyone feel such a need to clap between musical numbers? It pulls you right out of the story. Well, that’s enough bitching. Just before the show, the two vacant seats on either side of me were filled by two rather large young Asian guys (one of which dozed off during the show) who didn’t speak a word to eachother the whole time. This wasn’t so much good as it was funny. The show was amazing: the acting, the singing, the music, the set; a shiver went up my spine as the opening music broke the silence once the lights had gone dim. At times I became aware of my ridiculously involved facial expressions during particularly emotional and dramatic moments. I found my mind drifting a bit during the mellower, unfamiliar songs, but that was probably just because I couldn’t understand what they were saying."

What a fiasco getting home. My train was cancelled and then all others delayed because of a stalled train on the track. I’m so glad I’ve got a grasp on the train system otherwise this could have been a really stressful situation. As it was, I did make it home; it just took over twice as long. It would have been earlier, as the first train that came after the track was cleared was one I could have taken, but it was so full and when people started pushing to fill in the last few spaces, the train employees started yelling to back away as the doors were closing and the train was about to leave: pandemonium. After sightseeing on my own yet again, I’m looking more and more forward to having Cheryl with me in a month; it’s too bloody lonely. I didn’t realized how uncomfortable I was getting with it until on the train home, a young man tapped me on the arm with his book to insist that I take a seat that had just become available. I didn’t realize it until I had been sitting down for a few minutes, but I felt like the bubble around me had been broken because someone had spoken to me and I was much more relaxed. I realized then that a big part of it was the fact that I didn’t feel invisible anymore. After pondering that for a while, I thought, hey, this is probably good for me; getting comfortable being isolated. But then I thought: why is that important? What’s so bad about being a relational person? I’ve decided that learning things about myself doesn’t always signal a necessary change.

I waited to post this because I leave for France tomorrow morning and although I’m bringing my laptop and will be writing regularly, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post any of it; you’ll all have a nice long read ahead of you when I get back…ahahaha. Au revoir mes amis.

Monday, July 31, 2006

And then there were two...

I regret to inform that my dear cousin, Talia, will no longer be joining me and Cheryl in Scotland and Ireland…a moment of silence please. She will be missed, truly.

Catherine has repeatedly expressed a desire to have me stay on and some days, I do admit, the thought plays on my mind for a bit; but at the end of the day, I know I’d rather come home as scheduled. It’s a strange feeling to have the option, though, because as I’m going to be working on call, I really could stay here for as long as I wanted.

On Friday, Catherine and I took all the kids into town to go grocery shopping. We picked up a trolley (shopping cart) and headed inside together, but then went separate ways so Catherine could get started while I took the boys for a wee; all 4 of them. Even after being here for over a month, having all 4 kids under my wing in a public place was an experience all on its own. The hardest part was not controlling the children, it was maneuvering the push chair (stroller) without running one of them over. We did manage just fine, but the looks of horror and utter shock I received while traipsing through the aisles in an effort to locate Catherine was absolutely hysterical.

So, here’s more of what God’s been showing me: I’ve been putting so much effort towards growing so that my actions and my being might reflect God’s character, but I’ve realized that I’m approaching it completely wrong. If I focus on "acting" and "being", not only am I depending on myself, I’m fighting an uphill and never ending battle full of failure and shame. I realize now that I need to refocus my efforts and learn to abandon myself, open myself up to God without inhibition and let His Holy Spirit work from the inside out. I came across this after a little (and likely guided) probing: Romans 8:9-11, "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your Spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you." I’ve come to believe that once His Spirit is truly living in me, its fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) will begin to exhibit themselves genuinely and without pretense. Just like a caterpillar can not just start acting like a butterfly; it has to go through that conformation and then those characteristics will come naturally. Essentially, it’s the process of being sanctified. This realization materialized tangibly a couple nights ago, but as I started writing this, I remembered reading about it in My Utmost for His Highest and just went back to find it: July 23, "Sanctification means the impartation of the qualities of Jesus Christ. It is His patience, His love, His holiness, His faith, His purity, His godliness, that is manifested in and through every sanctified soul. Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be Holy; it is drawing from Jesus the Holiness that was manifested in Him, and He manifests it in me. Sanctification is an impartation, not an imitation." It seems God started work on this one a while ago; it just takes me awhile to get the point. The upside is that this approach takes a lot of the burden off my shoulders, but the downside (if you can call it that) is that it’s not necessarily an easy answer and it’s still a process. I suppose all I can do is to just continue seeking and above all, praying that I would be sanctified wholly and that God would manifest His Holiness in me. Of course, this is still just my interpretation, so if anyone has any insight or difference of opinion, please feel free to enlighten me.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Whimsical Windsor

"The 9:44 train was cancelled due to a staff shortage, so I’ve hopped on the 9:59 to Waterloo and should still have enough time to switch to the appropriate train at Clapham Junction. Another beautiful day in dear England, on my way to Windsor Castle; I suppose it’s because Windsor makes me think of the word whimsical, but I feel like I’m headed to some enchanted palace."

"Made it with 4 minutes to spare. When you arrive at an unfamiliar station that boasts "The busiest in England" with 8 minutes and 13 platforms to choose from, all separated by overpasses and underpasses, it can be a slight bit daunting. I’m actually really lucky to have found it in time. Random note: I overheard a lady talking on her cell phone earlier about how the London Eye was shut down last weekend because a man decided to climb up it; way to go, genius."


"I’m sitting on the banks of the Thames River just down stream from the bustling part of the city, having just finished my tuna sandwich. I’ve got a little time to kill before I need to get to the train station. This city is spectacular and the castle will long be considered one of the highlights of this trip. I went straight there upon arrival (unfortunately, just behind the changing of the guard) and after queuing for about 30 minutes, I gained access to the grounds. Just inside, I picked up the complimentary audio guide in the form of what could best be described as a remote control that you place up to your ear, and started off. This commentary (done as dialogue between a young boy and an all-knowing ghost-like character who had "worked in the castle since the day it was built" and had "seen everything", with added input along the way from gargoyles, lions and past royals) proved very helpful and was a much appreciated companion as I made my way through room after extraordinary room. The wind is seriously picking up and the clouds are converging; time to head to the station."

"Fabulous, this is the last stop on the track so the train is here even though it doesn’t leave for another 20 minutes. Where was I? After entering the grounds, I stopped in on St. Georges Chapel; one of the most incredible buildings I could ever hope to feast my eyes on. There is something special about that place. First, though, I stopped to observe a guard that was standing, armed, outside the historic guard’s quarters. At first he was alone and I know he saw me watching him from a distance, but then a wave of tourists came over to take pictures of and with the poor gentleman. Part of me wanted to as well, so I moved closer under the pretense that I was interested in the little souvenir shop near by, and stood behind a small group of people. Any thoughts of taking his picture very quickly went running when his gaze shifted and came into contact with my own. For that moment, what I felt could easily be related to the feeling of being naked in public; I moved on directly following that minor interaction. I skipped out on Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, as the line had reached past the 45 minute mark, and went straight on to the State Apartments (the inside of the castle). The gallery held drawings from Di Vinci and old photos of the royal family, which was neat, but the tour included drawing rooms, dining halls, bedrooms, and ballrooms; some of which are still used for important functions today by the queen herself. Everything about these rooms was incredible; from the furniture and detailing to the authentic portraits and painted ceilings. Cardiff is a distant memory. I think the fact that it’s still used by and is one of the official residences of the queen (who was there, by the way) and the lineage of its occupants and its history are much more tangible and familiar then any other castle I’ll see, made the experience that much more amazing. After leaving the castle, I wandered through the cobblestone, shop lined streets for a while before heading down to the river for some much needed nourishment. Again, it would have been nice to have someone to share it with, but I’m so glad I went."

"I finally, for the first time, took my mp3 player out on the ride up this morning; all movie scores of course. The other times I traveled alone, I was too afraid I’d get distracted and miss my stop. I feel so comfortable with these trains now that there is no longer any concern, but that doesn’t mean that the music is any less effective at pulling me from the grips and gabbles of reality. In fact, with the strong breeze coming in through the open windows, I can almost make believe I’m flying."

So, technically, I did take the wrong train home, but it just meant I had to be picked up at a station that’s the same distance from the house, just in another direction. I realized my mistake minutes before the train arrived, but I wasn’t about to start running to other platforms when I knew I’d get home just fine staying exactly where I was; silly me.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just (a few more) thoughts...

There isn’t too much to say about this week; the most uneventful so far. A few thoughts to fill some cyberspace:

There have been some major renovations going on here since Monday. The current nursery is having a bathroom installed and the upstairs spare room is being turned into two bedrooms for Henry and Edward. I knew this was all going to happen, but the rate of it and the exact details have been a little unexpected. I went upstairs a couple days ago to get ready for the day and arrived at the top of the stairs to find three walls missing; one belonging to my bathroom. I stood there in shock for a moment before remembering why I had come up in the first place, plus one of the builders helped bring awareness by asking kindly: "What do ya need, love?" I had to get him to pass me my toothbrush and face wash over a pile of rubble and had to sneak through a plastic curtain to gain access to my bedroom. The bathroom light wasn't working, so I had a shower that night in a very dim, large room, fully open to the rest of the house. Lucky the boys were in bed.

During moments of shameless vegging, I have been thoroughly enjoying a little show called Top Gear. It may air in Canada, I don’t know, but I’d seen the Bugatti episode on the internet a while ago, so I was already familiar with it. This show puts me in stitches; it combines two of my favorite things: Humor and bloody fast cars. I’m sorry, though, to inform all you cowboys out there that they consider the Chevy Tahoe "absolute rubbish". I highly recommend it if it is available.

I was debating whether or not to relay this because of the somewhat personal nature of it, but I find it so interesting that I must. You know when you have a dream that’s particularly disturbing and you spend the whole day trying to placate your mind about something that never really happened? On Monday night, I had one of those dreams. The dream began randomly with the sudden realization that I had obtained, um, two new additions; just beneath my chin, to be a little more specific. What I found interesting about this dream was not the nature if it (I’ve had stranger, trust me), but how I felt about it. Instead of thinking "Hey, looky there, that’s kind of fun", I specifically remember feeling absolutely violated, as though I was no longer myself, and my thinking was more along the lines of: "Get these things off of me!" Even now, when I think about it, it still makes me feel, well, wrong. Maybe I should stop eating sweets before bed…

I guess the week hasn’t been terribly uneventful; we had another lightening storm last night and another one this evening. It feels like something sinister is going on; that, or the end of the world is coming. Also, and I’m absolutely giddy about this, I purchased a ticket today for Les Miserable; £30.95, 18th row, not too shabby, eh? I’m going to a matinee next Wednesday so it won’t be as lonely as if I were to go at night, plus I won’t have to travel home from London in the dark; that should make my mother happy. There are also a few sights which I foolishly passed by the when I had the chance (St. Paul’s Cathedral and the British Museum), so I’ll visit them before the show. And finally, I’ve decided where I want to go this Saturday: Windsor Castle. Tours are steep (£13.50), but I think it will be worth the experience. The boys are officially on summer holiday now so we’re all going to Lego Land next week too. Catherine wants to take me to a few other places, including Hampton Courts, and I plan to make my way over to Stonehenge sometime before I go, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be leaving here having seen all that I could ever hope to see of England.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Our day in London didn’t even begin until 12:30, when we caught the train from Epsom to London Waterloo. The morning was humid and hot, but within 5 minutes of leaving the London train station it began to drizzle and by the time we found refuge beneath the stairs of a pedestrian overpass, it was an official downpour. We deliberated for a good 10 minutes before moving to a row of benches sheltered by a cluster of trees just an open field away from the London Eye (known by locals as the London Eyesore) and enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch while large accumulated drops of water played tic-tac-toe on our heads and shoulders. The rain did eventually stop, so we continued on. Because of Tom and Henry having "disabled" status, not only did the two boys, Catherine and Jonathan get in free, but we were fast tracked to the head of the line and waited no more than 5 minutes before stepping into a pod. Unfortunately, the rain returned during the ride making it hard to take a clear picture and the sky was grey and cloudy, but the view was still incredible. Our next stop was the Tower Bridge, so after an unsuccessful attempt to locate a couple of willing cabs, we bought tickets for and boarded a boat that would take us directly to the bridge via the Thames River. This little cruise was an extremely enjoyable way to see the city from a different perspective; including the Globe Theatre, the exceedingly ugly Tates Modern art museum, and a building that was once a school for boys and educated the likes of Winston Churchill. It also came complete with very entertaining commentary courtesy of a young, cheeky, good-looking English bloke and included many priceless tidbits of information; such as how Big Ben is not the name of the clock and tower, but of the large bell that resides within it. Apparently the bell, which was named after the man who constructed it, was originally suppose to be named after his brother, but the powers that were thought it a tad inappropriate; his brother’s name was Richard. Once arriving at the bridge, we wandered around the Tower of London for a bit, fed the boys at a bar/restaurant situated around a beautiful, quaint, and somewhat concealed little harbor, then returned to the pier to take the boat back up the river. The sights that accompanied the walk back to the pier were quite extraordinary: an apparent member of the British Navy had been married near by and a number of its attendees, dressed head to toe in their naval uniforms, were wandering the boardwalk along the river. The journey home was chaotic, the boys’ behavior throughout the day was atrocious and I did step in a few times (when they were driving me crazy), but as I have weekends off and am not required to make any effort, the day ended up being very enjoyable and surprisingly relaxing. London is a beautiful city.

Having Catherine’s brother and sister-in-law here for the weekend made France a common topic of conversation. They have a house there about 5km’s from where we’ll be staying, which is where Catherine’s parents will be settled as well; their place is about 1km from the ocean. I don’t want to spend the next two weeks looking ahead, essentially wasting what time I have left here, but I am getting so excited. I’d met Richard and Nicola briefly in Wales, but this weekend I had the opportunity to really get to know them; Nicola especially. We all ate together and sat together during the evening while the boys were out causing trouble and had such a great time; so having now met everyone and becoming so comfortable with them (Catherine’s parents included), I know France will be something special. As the whole family has been so welcoming to me and I don’t feel a smidge like the foreigner that I am, in a strange way, this just might be the family vacation that I missed out on back home.

Over the weekend, Richard introduced me to an Irish beer cider called Magners which, surprisingly, wasn’t all that bad considering I hate beer. I have no direct intention to get smashed with the locals during my time over in Ireland, but I’m pretty excited to know that there’s something I can order in an Irish pub besides water, if I choose to.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I’ve always had a hunch, but it’s been confirmed: kids really are delusional. Yesterday morning while I was managing breakfast with the boys, Henry requested more of his Weetabix Mini’s (a bite-sized, sugar coated, chocolate chip infused breakfast cereal). The box was near finished, so there was a good amount of crumbly bits left in his bowl; I told him to finish first, but he wasn’t keen due to the lack of chocolate chips. His genius excuse? "I’m allergic." To which I responded in my best English accent: "That’s rubbish, eat it." He did.

Catherine dropped me off at the printers yesterday to get my reward thingy printed and laminated. It’s not exactly what I wanted (and the lack of creative control at the printers made my skin itch), but it serves its purpose. We took it home, added magnets and super-glued magnets to a few tiny toy cars to use on the race track. The boys were so excited about it. We went over the list of good behavior and bad behavior together (Henry read them one by one) and discussed a few along the way for clarities sake, so there is no chance of misunderstanding and no grounds for excuses. They were so eager to see their cars move a step forward that their manners and conduct that evening were absolutely angelic; humorously so. I was, in a word, giddy to see it finally up and running and have high hopes for its success.

I’ve been sitting down at the piano to sing worship music at least once a day for the last week or so; whenever I’m alone, or when Jonathan and Catherine are upstairs putting the boys to bed. It’s not something I did too often at home, but that’s because I already spent so much time singing with the worship teams. I already knew it was therapy for me, but I’ve come to realize just how effectively it clears my head and how powerful it can be in preparing me (us) for God’s word. I’ve been struggling a bit because I’m so distracted all the time, but the other day I went outside to read the Bible directly following some time at the piano; I couldn’t believe how much more calm and receptive I was. I’ve always been aware of how important worship is as a form of reverence and how deeply it can affect people, but I now realize just how vital it can be as a precursor to a Sunday sermon. It doesn’t just prepare your heart; it prepares your mind and allows God to move more freely.

I find the contradictions between new and old in this country so surreal. I’m living a stones through away from a busy motorway in a house that was built a hundred years ago, ancient buildings and new structures share the same street corner (see picture), and old shop faces bear signs advertising cell phones and other current technology. I can’t decide which looks more out of place, the old or the new; oddly enough, I think it’s the new.

The strangest thing happened to me last night: I love storms, so being woken up at about 3:30am by flashes of light bursting through my open windows and the consequent sound of thunder was a welcome attraction. It was a slow, surreal process of waking up; residing in that space where you’re aware of your dreams, but not aware that you’re dreaming, but once awake, I sat out on my window ledge to catch the show. I knew it was fork lightening because of the intense whiteness, but all I could see was residual light so I got up and moved to my bathroom window. Once again, just out of my field of vision; puzzling. I decided to go downstairs to have access to all directions, so I wrapped myself in a towel to avoid an embarrassing situation (Catherine’s brother and wife are visiting as well) and after a brief stop on the second floor to appease the boys and be told by their cousin, Ethan, not to touch metal otherwise I’ll die, I found a suitable window. Once again, just outside of my view. The intervals between lightening and thunder were varied, so I knew the storm couldn’t be above us, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t on God’s schedule to "Give Stacy an ulcer", so I proceeded to run from window to window with feverish determination. It did finally occur to me that the storm was all around us, but that didn’t exactly help the situation. It was about a half hour later when I finally caught the first streak of lightening cut horizontally through the darkened sky. Conveniently, the window was directly above one of the ridiculously comfortable couches in the lounge, so I laid my head down and was treated to 4 more glorious displays before the rain eased itself to a drizzle and the flashes became less frequent and faded off in the distance. When I returned to bed a bit before 5:00, the darkness was beginning to give way to the morning, so I did consider staying up to watch the sunrise; but as I was unsure which direction was east and wasn’t keen on going back downstairs to locate it, I returned to bed satisfied and contented.

Side notes:
1) This week contained the hottest day in July since the year 1906; I wasn’t kidding when I said the temperatures were record breaking.
2) Petrol currently goes for about $2.00/litre here; feel better now?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Just thoughts...

I posted a few more pictures from London here.

Catherine and I finally dragged out their padded bench swing last week and set it up in a shaded area beside the garden. The temperatures here have been uncharacteristically hot for England; record breaking, in fact. I was taking a break from nothing yesterday, lying sideways, swinging, while Ginger Ranger playfully (and repeatedly) ambushed my hand from underneath the bench where he had deviously taken refuge. That kitten is so playful; mostly humorously so, but every so often he’ll drive me nuts while I’m sweeping up, continually attacking the broom I’m using. I don’t even try to avoid him, but he comes back over and over, even after being bashed in the head on more then one occasion. A little later, I ventured over to the stable to have a visit with my dear friend, Paisley. She was rescued as a foal, after being abandoned on a street somewhere at only a few hours old, and raised solely by humans, so she’s very people friendly and acts more like a dog then a horse; sniffing my hand and licking me. In the evening, whenever I go out to see her, she comes over and steps up on a two inch ledge in the door so she can comfortably put her head over top of the stall door to greet me; which puts us at exact eye level. I’ll usually spend a good 20 minutes talking and singing to her, stroking her face and neck; I love taking her face in my hands and giving her a kiss right on the nose. It’s one of my favorite things to do and she seems to appreciate the attention.

On Monday morning, Edward decided to stay back and play (his play group is now over for the summer) while Catherine dropped the twins off at school. While tidying up, I took a moment to check up on him. The last I had seen, he was wandering around in the yard so I went out the front door to look around. At first glance, I saw nothing, but as I started to head back in the house, I noticed that the sleeping bag on the trampoline had started to move. My first feeling was that I had found him safe and sound and could continue what I was doing, but that thought was quickly taken over by the desire to scare the pants off him. I took off my sandals so to make a quiet approach but, unfortunately, he looked before I reached him. The next half hour was spent taking on the persona of a 4 year old; climbing into the sleeping bags and seeing how long we could jump before falling over, running and sliding on them, tripping and chasing eachother, and finally getting crawled on and granted nearly a hundred "5’s" (some "too slow"), laughing all the while. Kids are such a joy. If it wasn’t clear before, Edward is the one I was speaking of when referring to the child I had become closest too. He was much more defiant in the beginning, but since realizing the following three things, he’s been such a joy to me: 1) I do, in fact, mean what I say, 2) If I tell him not to do something, I’m not going to let him do it, and 3) If I tell him to do something, I’m not going to let him walk away without doing it. At times, when they’re being particularly challenging, part of me says "You’ll only be here for another month, don’t even bother", but it’s just not in my nature to let a 4 and 6 year old walk all over me. I suppose some of that can be attributed to pride, but I really want to make a difference in this family and I think the best way to do that is to lead by example. I’m just a broken printer away from implementing a reward strategy; it involves cars and a race track so the boys’ competitiveness should aid in its success, but it’s really just a matter of consistency. It sometimes surprises me when I tell them to do something that they had never before been expected to do, and see it done without an argument or excuse and sometimes even preceded by an "Ok, Stacy". After my somewhat negative nannying experience almost two years ago, it’s nice to know that I am doing something right.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In a word: Incredible

"The breeze in the air bears a slight chill, but the sky is clear, the sun is shining and my train is on time. My immediate person is adorned with my train ticket, travel card, cell phone and money belt containing cash, passport, ID and insurance information, so I have all the confidence in the world that I’ve crossed my t’s, dotted my i’s, and that everything will run smooth as butter."

Silly, silly me. When will I ever learn that trips like this never go smooth "as butter"? More like smooth as chunky peanut butter. Here is my tale of London:

My train to London Victoria arrived right on time and entering into the lively station centre made my heart quicken a beat. In the main section, where there wasn’t a shop, the walls were all old brick and looked more like the outside of a building, so the whole area had the appearance of being inverted. After a quick ride, I emerged from the underground at Oxford Circus Station on Oxford Street, a well known shopping destination, and 5 minutes later I arrived at Selfridges; our rendezvous point. It was so amazing to take those first steps through London and a smile inadvertently crept over my face as I took in the buildings, the sea of people, the buses and cars and the madness of it all. I arrived about 15 minutes before our meeting time, so I took off my pack, sat down and took refuge in the shade of Selfridge’s main entrance. Right on time, I turned my head to see Nina walking towards me with a smile and a look of recognition on her face. We hugged and greeted like old friends, but little did I realize then how deliberate our meeting was and how prolific it would be. We were joined immediately by Lauren, another au pair from Australia, who Nina met because Lauren will be taking over for her and came by to meet the family beforehand. Lauren will be traveling for the remainder of the summer and there’s a chance that I might meet up with her somewhere for my last weekend before going to Scotland. We met up with Margareta, the au pair from Austria, a couple hours later. Most of the day was spent wandering along Oxford Street, in and out of shops, getting to know eachother. I’m not much of a shopper (ask my mom, she’ll tell you), so this wasn’t the most engaging of all activities, but it was still an experience and I was just happy to be in the company of people my own age. Margareta had plans to meet a friend at a pub in Coventry Gardens at about 8:30 in the evening, so we all decided to separate, check into our hostels and then meet back up with Lauren for dinner at 7:00. Our hostel provided a free shuttle service from Victoria Station so we made our way there a bit before 6:00. After calling the driver, I was informed that it would take him about 20-30 minutes to arrive. I called back about 40 minutes later and was told of a slight bit of traffic. He called us back about 15 minutes later announcing his arrival, but was no where in sight. Apparently, the pick up location is the Victoria coach station, not the train station; why he hadn’t mentioned that minor detail to begin with is beyond me. As it was nearly our meeting time and we couldn’t get a hold of Lauren, Margareta suggested that she go straight on ahead to Coventry Gardens and that we take her bag and get settled into our hostel. We agreed that this was a fine idea and went our separate ways. We met up with our driver about 10 minutes later, after a couple more phone calls, when he came and flagged us down at the end of a side street where he had parked. Our ride was a smelly, junky, 14 passenger van and our driver was a greasy, long-haired French man, but we arrived safely and he was indeed very nice. During the conversation on our ride over, it came out that Nina was a Christian and had recently started going back to a Lutheran church back home where she lives, in Helsinki. She proceeded to share with me her testimony, so to speak, and I in return shared a bit of my own story. This was the first time we had spent any time speaking alone, and this conversation set our budding friendship in stone. Our first impression of the hostel included a good look at the building, a look at eachother and consequent laughter from both of us. It didn’t look too promising and the smell of cigarette smoke that greeted us as we walked through the front door wasn’t any more encouraging. The common room was dim and smoky and the feeling of being inspected by 5 or 6 pairs of male eyes was a little unnerving, but after checking in, we were delighted to find that the bedroom and bathrooms were clean and the sheets were fresh. We were, however, incredibly amused to find that our coed room had a shower in the corner. It was just a small standing shower, so if you weren’t comfortable coming out butt naked in front of a few strange men, you’d still have to open the door slightly to grab your towel. I had plans to use it that evening before going to bed, hopefully while the room was still relatively unoccupied. It was about 9:30 when all was said and done, and Nina and I had figured out the best way to get to our destination. After finding our bus stop, getting on a bus just to have the bus driver inform us that that particular bus would be heading in the opposite of our intended direction, we crossed the street and boarded the appropriate bus. While waiting, Nina and I both agreed that we really did not feel like hanging out in a pub and that all we wanted to do was find a restaurant, sit down and have a nice dinner; so when we arrived in Trafalgar Square, with the last bits of light fading behind the British Museum, we called Lauren and Margareta to see if they’d eaten and if they would like to join us. They declined, so we found a quaint little restaurant called Garfunkle’s just down the street from the square, looked over the menu by the door, decided it was within our budget and were shown our table. Nina and I sat there long after our plates had been cleared talking about our friends, our families, our spiritual lives, and our lives back home. We both expressed that though we had only met that late morning, we felt as though we’d known eachother forever, and our conversation reflected that. We talked about how we felt that our respective trips were clearly predestined and part of a much larger plan and how her time has been one of growth and revelation as well and she was looking forward to getting home to see how much she has changed; there is only a few weeks left to her stay. Our time together that night was so awesome and I know she felt, as well as I did, that our meeting was not by chance. You know when you’re driving somewhere, following directions, and you start to wonder if you’re going the right way or if you’ve missed a turn along the way? But then you see an aforementioned street or landmark and you know that you’re on the right track. I think life is like that sometimes; wondering if you’re heading in the right direction, but then you have an experience that you know God has intended and is a part of, consequently affirming the belief that you are, in fact, on the path he has chosen. My meeting Nina was one of those experiences. This trip has been one of those experiences. We left a bit after midnight, went back to the bus stop and enjoyed, possibly, the most exciting bus ride I’ll ever experience. We sat at the front of the upper level as we made our way, slowly, through Piccadilly Circus and the centre of London, all lit up and crawling with life; then to avoid missing our stop, relocating to the bottom level as we sped (and I mean sped) through the residential streets. At one point, while I was just thinking to myself how if we hit something at this speed we’d be in a horrible state, the driver pressed firmly on the brakes and laid on his horn, narrowly missing a car that had turned out in front of us; no doubt having misjudged our speed. We arrived at our stop unscathed, but the walk back to our hostel included a proposed conversation with a couple young men out wandering the streets and narrowly being run over by a bicycle on the sidewalk. Margareta was just 10 minutes or so behind us. My hopes of having a shower were dashed by the late hour of our arrival and by the darkened, inhabited state of our bedroom. After retrieving our bags and getting ourselves ready in the bathroom, we crept in and crawled into our bunks. In the process of ascending, I was quite surprised to find that one of the guys had hung presumably washed socks and underwear on mine and Nina’s bunk; where is the logic in that? As the bottom half of the windows were frosted, it wasn’t until Margareta and I were both situated on our top bunks that she pointed out the lovely view: an old lit up cemetery just behind the building, very cool. I felt so icky when we woke up because the room had been stifling, but with half its occupants still asleep, I just couldn’t get myself to use the shower. So we just got ourselves ready, enjoyed a complimentary breakfast of toast and cereal and went on our merry way. The three of us (Martmarie decided not to come) had a lovely morning hopping around town seeing the sights; including Buckingham Palace, the Parliament buildings, St. James Park and the Tower Bridge, where we said goodbye to Margareta. Nina and I then walked across and caught a bus back into the centre of the city, found a Tesco Express (a mini version of a Tesco grocery store) and carried on to Trafalgar Square where we sat on a bench overlooking the fountain and enjoyed our chosen lunches; a fresh fruit salad and croissant for me, strawberries and a sandwich for Nina. It’s only in the last year that Nina’s been proficient at the English language, so she requested that I correct her when appropriate; which felt extremely rude. After hearing her talk about how hard it is to express herself and be herself in English, I have so much empathy for people who speak it on a daily basis when it’s not their mother tongue. It was during this time, though, that she accurately described just how comfortable we were with eachother by identifiying the simple fact that we ate together with barely a word spoken without a smidge of awkwardness. We proceeded to write our personal information along with short letters in each others journals and then spent a bit more time walking around before apprehensively parting ways at the train station. I made my way over to my own designated station on the underground just in time for the next train back to Epsom and waited just a few short minutes before the Potter’s pulled in, kids included, to pick me up. I went straight upstairs to have a shower so I didn’t have a chance to properly greet the kids, but a little while later while they were all settling in for bed, Tom came up behind my while I was talking to Catherine and wrapped his arms around my legs. The other two boys proceeded to come out of the room to give me a hug; Edward even came back for a kiss. It’s funny how the one child that I had the most resistance from in the beginning is the child who I’ve grown closest to. We spent a good 8 hours each day wandering around with our packs on, so my feet are extremely angry with me, but what a glorious weekend it was.

Because of a website that I’m signed up on, every day I receive a Bible verse in my email. This was the verse that was waiting for me when I got back: Isaiah 66:18-19, "I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; that they shall come and see my glory. From them I will send survivors to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations." Often I lead Tom around by placing my hand ever so gently on his shoulder blade or on the back of his head; now and again, I feel like God’s doing the same thing to me.

Friday, July 14, 2006

London Calling

On Monday, Catherine and I took the boys to London to pick up Jonathan, as he had to bring some things home from work and didn’t want to haul a box home on the train. The weather was distasteful so, unfortunately, we didn’t end up walking around anywhere, but we did drive by the Parliament buildings, Big Ben, the London Eye and the London Bridge. I can’t wait to get back there this weekend and the next; even in the rain, the city looked beautiful. It sure was nice, though, to have a driving tour and I now have a slight grasp on the layout of downtown. It’s funny: the way a lot of lower mainlanders feel about driving in Vancouver is how most suburbanites feel about driving in London. Catherine had never before driven to Jonathan’s office and was even quite proud of herself for making it through one of London’s notoriously chaotic traffic circles without a dent or a scratch. On two occasions, though, once while abandoning a right turn (the equivalent of a left turn back home) in a busy intersection because of an impatient driver laying on their horn behind us, and once just after missing a particular exit, Catherine began swearing like a sailor just quiet enough for it to go unnoticed by the boys and upon observing my amusement, we both began laughing loudly. I am so blessed to have this family. I could so easily of ended up in a house where I didn’t feel completely comfortable, where meals were awkward and conversations difficult and uneasy. There was also the extreme possibility of living in a house where I was treated like 19th century hired help. Not only do Catherine and I always have lunch together, but we will often have tea and biscuits in the morning when she returns from dropping the boys off at school, and conversations are never stifled and always amusing just talking about our lives and current events. Dinner with Jonathan is the same, but more likely to include questions like "In Canada, do you…?" or "Is there…in the UK?" On Wednesday night Catherine made an amazing meal; I told her to sit while I cleaned up the dishes and while doing so, it just struck me how comfortable and natural I feel here and how much I feel like a part of the family. God is good. I can’t even begin to relay all the things they’ve told me about their previous au pairs and how awful they were, so I know they feel the same way as I do. You’d think because of the nature of the job, those that pursue it would be somewhat domestically inclined, but one girl couldn’t manage to cook a pre-made pizza in the oven, another didn’t know to shut the oven door while baking something; that’s only the beginning, but these just came up last night because I made dinner. Catherine's mom called while I was cooking and my ears pricked when I heard her say "She's in the kitchen"; this was followed by "No, she doesn't hide out." Nice to know.

Random side note: Did you know that the cut off time for abortions here is 25 weeks and Catherine’s boys (the twins) were born at 24 weeks? When she told me that, I felt sick.

I’ve found that since being here, I’ve become less and less aware of myself, which is odd considering how much time I have to address and mingle with my thoughts. Let me explain what I mean: when you’re aware of yourself, not that it makes them false or premeditated, but you’re just very aware of the things you do and say. I think it stems from a constant and relentless desire to truly know and understand myself, but when I’m questioning whether or not I’m being absolutely sincere or just being the person that I hope to be, the line between who I am and who I want to be tends to get a little blurred. So, essentially, I was just getting further and further from what I strive for. What I’ve learned about myself in the last few weeks is that my thoughts can sometimes betray me, but my actions are truthful and this has been a huge source of comfort and reassurance. I hope that was at least a little comprehensible. I knew this trip would provide clarity and influence progression, so I’m trying to go through each day with both eyes wide open. I should say, though, that being aware of yourself isn’t generally a bad thing. If you tend to put your foot in your mouth or are simply an ass, self-awareness could be the best thing for you; but the average person need only be aware when their actions are inappropriate or irrational. Like the other day when I was minding Edward while he placed his cup in the dishwasher; I’ve been encouraging the boys to clean up their dishes after a meal (Edward did it without my asking yesterday; I was so proud). After he positioned it where he thought best, I became very aware of myself blatantly waiting for and watching him turn the corner before immediately rearranging the cup to where I wanted it. That’s a perfectionist being irrational.

I spoke with Nina on the phone yesterday to finalize plans and book a hostel. Martmarie won't be joining us until Sunday, so I'm taking the train up myself and meeting them in front of a store called "Selfridges" on Oxford street at 12:00pm; I can't wait. I had no doubts that she was a wonderful, relatively normal young lady, but it was still nice to hear her voice. You can never be too careful though. During my original search to find other au pairs in the area, I posted my email address on a forum put up for that purpose. Last week I got an email from another au pair asking if I wanted to meet up the coming weekend or at a later date. "She" claimed to have gotten my email address from another au pair site; odd how I’d never been to that website, let alone put up a profile. That was the first red flag. In my response, I addressed that minor detail and explained that I was going to be away on the weekend. I never did get a response. If that’s not sketchy, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, I laughed about it, but the reality of those unlikely, but possible dangers is a little unnerving.

Catherine's just left to pick up the boys from school. Two of her friends are coming over with their kids for tea (dinner) this after noon. Each friend has 4 children, so there will be a total of 12 kids here; 4 of which are autistic and that's besides Tom. Crazy times are ahead...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Cardiff Adventure - Part II

"It was almost 2 ½ hours later when Catherine pulled up in the minivan after calling the house, once again, and finally getting an answer. I split my time between pacing and huddling in a nook in the building, reading, to shield myself from the cold coastal wind. What a sad case I was: cold, hungry, abandoned in a foreign country…kidding, it wasn’t that bad. The day did end quite nicely; the general order of things when I got back was dinner, ice cream, curling up on the floor in front of the fire like a cat until Catherine brought me tea and a biscuit (cookie), relocating to the couch to watch "Twins", a glorious bath and finally, bed. I barely remember shutting the light off and climbing in. Catherine took me on a bit of a detour on the way home to show me my first stone circle: the Gorsedd Standing Stones, erected around 1100 AD, pre-dating the Saxons; David’s just given me a mini-lesson on Welsh language and history, God bless ‘im. If anyone’s interested (and I was), it was built by the Bards (poets) who used it as a place of worship. To finish off my story, though, here’s the kicker: there was someone home all along. David was cleaning the car and couldn’t hear the phone ringing over the vacuum and since I assumed they would check their messages upon returning home, I didn’t call as often as I could have. The rest of the clan arrived home a while before I got a hold of anyone, but were in and out with the boys and Catherine apparently answered the phone a couple times to find no one there. I guess it was destiny; a test of patience. Catherine and I are leaving the kids behind and going to a 12th century church a few minutes from the house for their morning service."


"We arrived back from Wales about an hour and a half ago; it’s nice to be home. So what can I say about a traditional Anglican mass besides being just that; rigidly so. The service followed a strict order complete with hymns, that horrible smelling smoke (they call it incense), the vicar singing the readings in a monotone chant-like manner, and plenty of congregational responses. It was the strangest thing: the vicar went through the whole service so straight-faced and methodical, then after the formal dismissal went to another pulpit, expressed a "good morning" to the congregation and proceeded to go through the notices with a completely different, laidback disposition; like the reins had been loosened. It made the whole thing seem a little…I don’t know…insincere; like, "Ok, now that we’ve got that over with…" I did, however, enjoy the experience and was even familiar with one of the hymns we sang: "Come to my heart Lord Jesus, there’s room in my heart for Thee." It’s not possible to say that God is not in a place where His word is being presented, but I have a hard time believing there is room for the Holy Spirit to move when every word that’s spoken is read and every action that’s taken is instructed; something to think about."

And that’s the end of my Wales experience (there are a few more pictures posted on the Flickr site).

I had a funny experience with Ann over the weekend. Catherine, Ann and I were all curled up on the couches on Saturday night with our tea watching TV and Catherine and I were having a conversation. Let me just remind you that she’s gone through a number of au pairs, a few of which didn’t have such a great grasp on the English language. During our conversation, Ann decided to pipe in with some additional information and began yelling at me as though there were a crowd gathered between us. Catherine burst out laughing and proceeded to explain: "She knows English, mom!" "Oh, right" she replied, sheepishly and amused, as we all had a good laugh.

Good news: we will not go bonkers during the car ride down to France. Tom put a couple coins in the CD player in the van a few weeks ago, which Jonathan and Catherine have tried a number of times to get out. I promised I’d give it a go over a week ago but hadn’t gotten to it until yesterday. Well I succeeded (persistence is key), which caused us both much excitement at the prospect of having more then just the radio to keep the kids quiet and entertained. She immediately called Jonathan to inform him; "Guess what Stacy did?" And to top it off, she rewarded me by letting me keep the cash: a 2 Pound coin and a 20 Euro cent coin…that’s worth about $4.27…score!