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

Big...Ben?

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

Evaded

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!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My Cardiff Adventure - Part I

"I’m sitting in the waiting room at the Port Talbot train station with about 15 minutes to spare until my train to Cardiff Arrives. An announcement just came over the loud speaker in Welsh. Not only did I not realize until the last two weeks that Wales had its own language, but the language itself is very similar to Gaelic (Scottish). I’ve always loved Celtic culture; it’s all enchantment and magic, fairies and folklore and the language is actually quite beautiful. So, my first solitary adventure in a foreign country is upon me. I feel like I’m at the threshold of some kind of a milestone; a step into the unknown."

"We’re on our way. The countryside is beautiful; lots of pastures and really old houses and stables. I can’t believe I’m here, traveling through Britain on a train on a beautiful summer’s day all by my lonesome; it seems a little unreal, like, "Am I really here? Could I possibly be this blessed?""

*************************************************************


"Back on, what I hope to be, the right train. What a wonderful day; although it’s only 3:15. The city of Cardiff is gorgeous and the weather stayed perfectly warm. There is absolutely nothing scary about exploring a foreign city on your own; it may as well have been Vancouver. Although I do have to say that I know it would have been that much more enjoyable had I had someone to share it with. By the end of it, I was tempted to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the street just so I could talk to someone. My first stop along the way was St. Johns Church; a beautiful old building right in the centre of the city surrounded closely by shops and restaurants. Imagine my surprise to see a poster on the gate advertising the next Alpha course? - Why is it that on a train that’s not even a ¼ full, an older gentleman has decided to sit directly across from me and stretch his legs out under the table to sleep, leaving me no room to put my feet? I swear, every time I readjust myself, he’ll move so his foot is just touching mine; I’m getting annoyed enough to switch seats. Ah, he finally twisted; he was starting to creep me out. - Back to Cardiff: I then went to Cardiff Castle and bought my ticket for the next available tour, scheduled an hour and a half later. Perfect, I thought, an hour and a half to see the city, then a tour of the castle and a train ride home…and it was. I visited the museum (although I was bored after 10 minutes), the law courts and city hall, watched a bit of a show that the students from the Welsh College of Music and Drama put on for the tourists, and perused the shop-lined streets, taking in the incredible architecture and the flurry of life around me. In one of the shopping centres, the walkways were about 4 feet wide and the ceiling was more of a yellow-hued, frosted skylight. Above the old-fashioned store faces were beautiful arched windows with flower boxes and trellises, so walking through felt like walking through an outdoor shopping centre in Tuscany, at dusk, on a warm summers evening. The only store I entered, and a highlight of my day, was a secondhand book shop that I found and I couldn’t help myself from purchasing just one book before leaving: "The Fancy" by Monica Dickens, printed in 1945. It cost me a whopping 20 pence (about $0.40). The interior of the castle was absolutely dripping with wealth; gold-leafed ceilings, awe-inspiring detail put into the wood work, and marble everywhere. The castle itself dates back centuries, but the current d├ęcor was done during the late 1800’s. Every room told a story and some took over 10 years to complete."

"I’ve arrived at the Port Talbot train station just to realize that the mobile number I’ve been given is inadvertently missing a digit and no one is home at the house. So here I sit outside of the station, having left a message on the machine, with not a clue how long I’ll be here for. Am I ever glad I brought my journal and have just purchased a new book. It’s not terribly warm either; the clouds are looming precariously and have taken on a rather dreary shade of grey. So the castle: ridiculously excessive and rather tacky at times, but beautiful none-the-less. At one point we had to walk down about 80 dimly lit spiral steps to the dining room and library; I don’t think I’ve ever been so disorientated. I had to keep telling myself to just put my foot down because at the end of it, I’d hesitate before taking a step because of a strange sensation that there would be no surface to land on. It was worth it, though; the library was a treat with its stocked shelves and large, beautifully carved hearth. All in all, it wasn’t wet-yourself exciting, but I’m glad I took the tour. After a stop at Subway, I made my way back to the train station just in time for a quick wee before boarding the train; which brings me to my current situation: sitting on a block of
cement with my journal on my lap and my bags safely tucked beneath my legs. I had a lovely conversation with Catherine’s mom, Ann, over breakfast this morning. She was telling me about a trip to Canada her and her husband, David, took with his choir a couple years ago. They went to Edmonton, Calgary, Banff and Jasper and even stopped in on Vernon because of some kind of a Welsh society that resides there. She was telling me of a certain attraction that they saw on a bus with really large wheels: "The Aberdeen (?) Glashers". She told me this as though I should know all about it, but my ignorance was made apparent by the blank stare I was bestowing on her. She repeated it a couple more times, but that didn’t change the fact that I had never heard of a "glasher"…but wait…"oh, I get it…glacier"; that darn language barrier again. There’s a police station across the street, I wonder if they cross reference mobile numbers?…naw, better not leave in case someone comes by to get me..."

…to be continued…

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Wales...at last.

Travel plans have changed a little over here. We won’t be going to Disneyland in Paris on the way to the coast; they’ve decided it’s too out if the way. We might still go there on a separate weekend, though. No complaints here, I’m still spending a week on the French coast and staying in a couple incredibly beautiful hotels en route there and back. Check them out: http://www.pavillondegouffern.com/ & www.chateau-saintpaterne.com.

I found out this week that Nina’s "friend" is someone she met in the same way that we connected and they’ve only met once. So, it’s basically four strangers from four different countries, with four different mother tongues, meeting up for one crazy weekend in London; one from Canada, one from Finland, one from Austria and one from South Africa. How unbelievably cool is that? It somehow makes the world seem so much smaller.

I started one of the antique books: The Pilgrims Progress, written by one John Bunyan in 1675. I’m a little concerned about getting through it, though, because the ways we entertain ourselves in this day and age are a little more extreme and fast paced then in the 17th century, therefore it can sometimes take quite a bit to hold our attention; I’ll let you know how it goes down.

***Everything written above was done so before leaving for Wales on Friday afternoon***

"We’ve just returned home from a good long walk along the beach followed by the greasiest fish & chips I’ve ever ingested. Did you know they serve something called a faggot, here? Faggots and peas; I felt like I needed to wash my mouth out with soap just asking what it was. My body has been completely overtaken by that wonderfully intoxicating comatose sensation you get after being cold due to a prolonged blast of strong ocean wind. I’m currently curled up on a couch in Catherine’s parents’ conservatory, warm and cozy, reveling in comfort as shivers go up and down my spine. We arrived at our destination just after 4:00pm; an old steel town in Wales called Port Talbot. The town has been around for centuries, but I believe the steel mill that was built on the water in the early 1900’s was responsible for the majority of its growth and development. Jonathan’s father was killed there when Jonathan was in his early 20’s. So many of the neighborhood streets here are lined with rows of long, skinny, identically styled, stucco houses that are literally attached to each other, with only a slight variation in color and landscaping. It’s actually sort of an incontestably more charming version of New Westminster. The Welsh are a very proud people and I mean that in the most commendable way possible. Never say to a Welsh person that Wales is not its own country; it’s like saying that Canada is part of the United States and we’re all Americans. One of the first things that Catherine’s father, David, said to me upon arrival was "I hope you know that Wales is its own country...", or something of that nature. I laughed at this because Catherine had just spent 10 minutes explaining it to me on the drive over. Basically, we all believe that Scotland is its own country, well Wales is governed in the exact same way; Northern Ireland, as well. Did you know that a Scottish person and a Northern Irish person can both be correctly identified as British? Did you also know that the queen rules England, but Charles "rules" Wales (hence, the "Prince of Wales") and when Charles takes over the kingdom, William will then begin his reign as the "Prince of Wales"?"

"I’ll be taking the train to Cardiff tomorrow morning on my own; which I’m really looking forward to. Cardiff is the capital of Wales and is apparently home to a lot of really beautiful buildings."

…to be continued…

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Old Finds and New Friends

I sat down to relax and twist around on the boys’ swing set the other day to absorb some sun and peace and quiet before Catherine got back from picking the boys up from school; you know the ones, with the see-saw and the slide on the end. It’s a child’s swing set, but I probably didn’t look all that out of proportion. These last few days have been scorchers so I had my capri’s rolled up and although the sun wasn’t terribly bright, the reflection off my legs was killing me. It sure was delightful, though; one of those "life is beautiful" moments. Later that day, we went to Box Hill; it’s a sort of war memorial that’s actually mentioned in a few Jane Austen books. Don’t ask me which ones, but I have read Pride & Prejudice and the name did sound familiar to me. I took some really nice pictures of the kids there. I realized recently that I can just delete the pictures that aren’t imperative when I need more room, so I posted a few more of the house and such.

Concerning my last entry, I bet there are a few of you who are thinking "You’re in bloody England, quit your griping!" Don’t worry, I absolutely agree with you. Unfortunately, you can’t always control your emotions, but let me just say that there’s a big difference between traveling through another country and living in another country. With that said, I’m settling in quite nicely here and every day that goes by, I find myself feeling more and more at home. Not that I don’t miss my dear friends and family, but it’s a welcome variation from all that I know and this place really is incredible.

I went for another walk yesterday; on one of the hottest days of the year. Most of the bridleways are shaded, but I walked a good 5 km’s to Ashtead and by the time I got back, I was absolutely exhausted. Catherine just came up (it’s just past 9:00pm) and brought me a cup of tea and the last of the cake that I baked yesterday; what a sweetheart, eh? Anyways, there wasn’t much to see when I arrived, but the pathway merged onto a residential street that really could only be accurately described as a lane. It’s common to see houses with names, but every house on this street had plaques on brick posts at the base of the driveways clearly displaying the names that were probably given to them a century ago when the houses were built; things like: "Drovers", "Fox’s Run", "Thirty Trees", "Little Orchard", "Long Reach" and my favorite, "Hawthorne Cottage". Beautiful houses too; it was really charming.

Today I met Martmarie, the South African au pair who lives with friends of Jonathan and Catherine’s. She’s absolutely lovely and it was really nice to have a conversation with someone in my own age group. We’re planning on meeting for "coffee" in the near future and hanging out when we get the chance; this made easier, as I already mentioned, by the fact that she has a vehicle at her disposal. She’s probably going to join me and Nina (my au pair internet friend from Finland) in London the weekend following the next. Speaking of Nina, she’s agreed that spending the night is a good idea, so we’ll be making a weekend of it. A friend of hers (another au pair that’s living in London) will also be joining us, so that makes four; should be a blast.

I went for a stroll through Bookham today too; it’s a really old, quaint little town near Headley. I spent some time wandering in and around a church there and while chatting inside with a local elderly lady, found out that it was built in the 12th century. I don’t know what it is about old and ancient cemeteries, but I just can’t get enough of them. Every time I pass a cemetery, I get absolutely drawn in and will go out of my way to spend time meandering through the headstones. I love reading the names and the dates, I love the way they teeter precariously and look as though there was never a time when they didn’t exist in that very spot; all grey, worn and moss covered (thanks to years of England’s dreary climate). They have such a wonderfully morbid existence, yet even the ones that aren’t standing straight anymore seem to have a certain poise and purpose; I can just hear them all chattering among themselves with their British accents saying things like: "Here comes another one, nosing around like we’re some kind an attraction; if they only knew what we’ve endured…", "Quit your jabbering, do you how many times I’ve seen the back end of a terrier this week?". I just love old things in general, I guess, and all that they’ve seen and being amongst them somehow makes me feel timeless...romantic. All the really old churches here don’t have separate plots of land dedicated to the dead and buried; the headstones are just planted densely and randomly around the property like reproducing lawn ornaments. Even the main paths to the front doors of the churches are lined with them; nothing like a dose of mortality to make those wooden pews feel a little harder on Sunday morning.

It’s always nice to end a post on a random note, so here you go: every other male child in this place is named either Thomas or William…it’s bizarre.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Cheese, please.

I’m finally making use of the bridleways (that’s British for pathways). The paths are all quite skinny and flanked mostly by old forest carpeted with ivy, canopied by a variation of relatively low hanging, plentiful trees, and littered with old, rusting metal fences. Along the way, the forests open up to expose the odd paddock, with either their adjoining estates off in the distance or an expanse of hills and the English countryside just carries on into the horizon. It’s beautiful. They’re actually used mostly for horseback riding, so at times I have to step off to the side to let horse and rider pass. The first time I went for a walk, instead of retracing my steps, I decided to carry on along one of the paths which, according to the signs I was following, led back to Headley road. What I didn’t realize was that I would be coming out a good couple kilometers from the Potters’ driveway. Remember what I said about the back roads? Remember what I said about their driving style? As there is very limited refuge outside the lanes in both directions, this was one of the sketchiest strolls I’ve ever taken. I stayed on the outside of all the corners and sidled up as close as I could to the bushes when cars would whiz past me, but I do admit to getting a few "Are you crazy?" looks from local drivers…won’t do that again.

As most of you might know, I am obsessed with cheese. At home, a typical day includes numerous trips to the fridge for a slice, a chip or a chunk of one of life’s many little pleasures. From day one, there was a noticeable "lack of" here, and this is something that concerned me greatly. Well, Catherine went grocery shopping and the degree of my yearning became evident when I opened the fridge to find cheestrings on the shelf and had to restrain myself from doing an Irish jig around the kitchen. It wasn’t until the day after that there came upon me the perfect moment. I went downstairs, removed one from the fridge as though it were something precious and forbidden and returned to my room, as I had no intentions of being disturbed. I sat down on the edge of my bed, facing the window, carefully removed it from its plastic casing and took the first, wonderful bite. I meant business, so it wasn’t until halfway through that I began peeling it apart and I continued eating it that way, oblivious of both the music from my computer and the boys’ playful screaming outside, until every last fragment was gone. Funny, the things you take for granted. Speaking of things that I love, I came across a great selection of antique books a few days ago which, if you really know me, you know how exciting that is. Upon mentioning them to Catherine, she informed me that they are fully available for my reading pleasure. I have every intention of taking advantage of that gracious offer.

I’m enjoying my time alone with God, but it’s so far quite short and I find that I’m easily distracted. After I read a few verses, I’ll spend some time praying and then a few minutes in silent contemplation; so far, I don’t find that aspect very fruitful. I have a lot to learn. I told you I would try to share what God’s been revealing to me, so here goes: I’m not going to lie to you; the first week had a couple lows. It wasn’t homesickness, mind you, and I never regretted coming here; or wanted to come home, for that matter. The way I was feeling forced me to see how little I saw God as a friend and companion. As much as we say and sing "you’re all I want, you’re all I need", how many of us can actually claim that as their truth? I felt alone; I felt I needed other people. I have been and will be taking this to heart and am working towards establishing a life dependant on God and no other. Read Psalm 63; it’s a good one. On a side note, thank you Angela for mentioning in your comment that you felt I was meant to be here. I already knew that, but it came at just the right time.

P.S.
This comment is just so irrelevant, it deserved a post script: My hair does not like hard water. Even with a trace of conditioner left in, I usually can’t wear it completely down without resembling a scarecrow.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pictures...finally!

I walked into the kitchen yesterday to find William up to no good. He raided the pantry and that white substance covering the floor, and the child, is flour.

Edward wandered into my room a couple mornings ago to see what I was up to. While he sat on my lap with my ridiculously large studio headphones on (thanks Dad, they sound wicked), listening to music and going through pictures with me, he proceeded to cause strange rumbling sensations on my leg and the subsequent odor was a little too much to bear after about 5 or so minutes of it. You laugh, but you didn’t experience it…trust me…lethal. I checked my leg after I set him down to see if he’d left anything behind. He was clothed at the time, but the kid just loves to be naked; any chance he gets. And if you don’t notice right away, he’s sure to announce it to you. That doesn’t happen very often though, it’s hard to miss; imagine a hyperactive naked 4 year old who’s still (I say still, but we all know you guys never grow out of it) enamored and infatuated with his extremities…never a dull moment.

I finally got outside to read and write in my journal (you don’t think I’m going to post everything that’s going on in this crazy little head of mine, do you?). I found myself a blanket and a sparse little tree that provided just the right combination of sun and shadow. Although we can hear the motorway from where we are, I can easily convince myself that the sound comes from a large flowing body of water rather than a large flowing body of cars. It was heaven; the weather’s been beautiful these last few days. I’ve finally started spending time with my Bible too, something I really wanted to make a point of doing while I’m here. I’m starting slow; a few verses at a time. I’ll try to let you know what God chooses to show me and feel free to keep me accountable because I don’t want a day to go by in the next two months that I don’t dedicate some time towards it. I also enjoyed a couple hours of gardening a few days ago. Catherine bought some flowers at a plant sale at Edwards play group that I offered to plant in the two large stone encased borders in front of the house. My back is sore, but the flowers are beautifully organized, which makes me very happy.

Did you know that the UK has their own "Big Brother"? Jonathan and Catherine watch it, so I’ve sat down with them a few times out of sheer morbid curiosity; like watching a train wreck. It’s on seven days a week, there a channel that feeds live footage from the house and you can watch 24/7 live footage on the internet; people are seriously obsessed with this show.

I’ve been successful at contacting another au pair in the general vicinity. Well, that’s kind of a stretch; she’s a 2 hour train ride from London in the opposite direction. She’s a 19 year old girl from Finland; she can actually speak 4 languages and, fortunately, English is one of them. We’re planning on meeting in London in about 2 weeks; the weekend after I get back from Wales. She takes the bus which takes about 3 hours so instead of her spending 6 hours traveling in one day, I suggested we make a weekend of it and stay in a hostel. I’m still waiting to hear from her on that. The weekend after that, I’ll be going to London with my family too, as Catherine’s brother is in town and they’re taking him sight-seeing; how convenient. I’m also going to be meeting another au pair this week; she’s a 21 year old girl from South Africa who’s been working for a friend of Catherine’s for almost 7 months now. She has her own car, so the benefits might be more then just her possible friendship.

You may have noticed I’ve added some random pictures to the posts. Well, that’s simply because I’m very limited on space when it comes to hosting the photo’s online, so I thought I’d share a few random, and not so random, photo’s this way. And now, finally, for your viewing pleasure, just click to see the house, the horses, and three of the kids. I was waiting until I had a good picture of all the kids, but they’re never still and Henry’s idea of smiling is puckering his face like a 90 year old woman. I’ll add Henry when I get one. There’s so much more of the house that I’d love to show you, but I guess I’ll just have to wait until September.