English to English Translation

I’m learning to speak English (proper English) but more importantly I’m learning to understand it. There have been a few embarrassing moments (like when I asked a work mate what his brother’s medical speciality was upon learning he was an M.D. – turns out M.D. means Managing Director – I think he’s a real estate developer) but more often I just vaguely understand what is being said. So I am often dependent upon context clues but I’m learning some new words and old words with new meanings (to me anyway).

Here are a few examples:

Shortly after arriving here I was driving to work and listening to the radio. The traffic report warned of a bonnet on the Motorway and that traffic was being diverted to avoid it. I wondered aloud, “Who still wears bonnets?” “Maybe there’s an Amish community nearby?” “And why can’t cars just drive over it?” Of course now I know that a ‘bonnet’ is the hood of a car. Also the ‘boot’ is the trunk. Too bad – because “junk in your boot” just isn’t as poetic!

‘Cheers’ is not just a toast but means ‘thanks’ or ‘good day’. Sort of an all-purpose greeting. Like ciao or aloha.

‘Fancy’ means ‘I would like’ something. As in, “I fancy a cup of tea and a scone!” Whereas  something fancy is ‘posh’. As in, “My favourite Spice Girl is Posh Spice!” Besides, Fancy Spice sounds stupid. ‘Posh Spice’ just sounds a little dated and very 1990’s now that Posh is married to Beckham and they have little Spices and Becks.

‘Mad’ means ‘crazy’. No explanation required unless you’re mad.

‘Brilliant’ – everything and everyone is ‘brilliant’ or wants to be.

‘Keen’ means ‘I love it/I like it/I want it/I covet it’. As in, “I’m keen on Adele’s latest Album.” “Or I’m keen to see Season 3 of Downton Abbey.”

You should never wear a ‘fanny pack’ here in the UK or refer to one – ‘fanny’ means ‘vagina’ and this could be very embarrassing for all involved.

‘Knackered’ means ‘worn out’ or ‘tired’ but getting ‘kicked in the knackers’ means something else entirely.

A ‘bap’ in a bakery is a roll but don’t ask the woman behind the bakery counter if you can see her ‘baps’, that will likely get you a ‘kick in the knackers’!

A ‘bloke’ is a guy. A ‘bird’ is a young woman. A ‘duffer’ is not a golfer but a ‘geezer’. An old lady might be called a ‘twirly’ because they show up at the Post Office at half past eight and exclaim, “Am I too early???” (pronounced twirly)

Of course I’ve learned much of my new English from my work mates but the bulk of it is from watching English television. Probably not the best way to learn the language but at times it is very entertaining. My favourite adverts (they’re not called commercials here) are Aldi or Dulux. They’re brilliant!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssnxi2eDV9g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCKgCkubGc0

I must admit that the accents and regional dialects can be a real challenge. And it’s complicated further by the Welsh, Irish and Scottish folks that we encounter. Just about the time we think we have a handle on the language we encounter a shop clerk or neighbour that we can’t understand. Of course they probably just think that Deb is a ‘twirly’ and that I’m a ‘duffer’.

Cheers,

Denis

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Saturday begins a week of travel: London to New York; New York to Saint Louis; Saint Louis to Las Vegas; Las Vegas back to London (and then home to Oaksey). It’s a lot of travel for one week. And I’m not in any city more than 48 hours – barely enough time to catch my breath.

I’m not complaining. I’m actually looking forward to sneaking away one evening in Saint Louis to see my daughter, son-in-law and grandkids – even if it is for just a few hours. That one evening will help put the rest of the week into perspective.

Things are a bit topsy-turvy in my life right now. Home is now Oaksey, Wiltshire, United Kingdom. But “going home” means traveling to Saint Louis to see family. It’s a strange feeling. We love our new home and we are very glad to be here but Deb and I have both said it could only be perfect if our family and friends were here, too.

So I’ll grab a hug and kiss or two in Saint Louis and then go on to more business in Las Vegas only to return to England at the week’s end. Deb will be joining me on the return flight to London (she’ll spend the week with our family while I traipse all over the country).

I’ll be an Ambassador of sorts for my staff here in the U.K. Four of us will be traveling together and two of them haven’t spent much time in the U.S., let alone New York or Las Vegas. It should be interesting (and maybe entertaining) traveling together. Here’s hoping that our travels are pleasant; our meetings are purposeful; and our flights are on time. I feel personally responsible for how their perception of America will be shaped by this whirlwind week of travel.

Things that I’m dreading:

Television coverage of the GOP primary

Rednecks

Tourists in New York – “walk with purpose, people!”

All-you-can-eat buffets (Americans are considered grossly over-fed by Brits)

Rude taxi drivers

Drunk and disorderly Vegas revellers (particularly if it’s one of us)

Anyone wearing a Hawaiian shirt

Hoping to avoid all these things, but I can only do so much…

Peace,

Denis

To Market, To Market…

I love nursery rhymes. I loved them as a kid. I loved reading to my kids. And I love reading them to my grandkids. I’m heading to the market this morning and this keeps banging around in my head…

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig;
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

It was only until moving here to England that I’ve realised that so many words used here are from those beloved nursery rhymes. I pass signs on the Carriageway that bring them to mind.

Gloucester…

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain,
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again.

And York…

The Grand Old Duke of York,
He had 10,000 men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And Surrey, and Leeds, and of course London (where Pussycat went to visit the Queen…)

Just the other day I was walking along a footpath and came upon a stile (a sort of stump that you use to climb over a fence) and immediately…

 “I saw a crooked man; who walked a crooked mile; he found a crooked six-pence; upon a crooked stile.”

A stile! A crooked stile! A bloody crooked stile!

We drove two hours north yesterday to visit a factory in Leicester and every sign seemed to trigger another rhyme in my head. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get these nursery rhymes out of my head? And I wondered if my work associate could tell when I was drifting in “nursery rhyme mode”. I can’t seem to stop myself!

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. There’s so much new here (or old if you will) and trying to absorb it all is a bit overwhelming. New words, new phrases, new places, new foods, new people. So perhaps the nursery rhymes are my comfort zone right now. It brings the familiar to an unfamiliar place. Maybe it’s not madness; it’s just a way of  processing tons (spelled tonnes now) of information.

It has helped with some of the melancholy; I imagine I’m sharing those nursery rhymes with Charlise or Anna or Noah. Or back in time with Tyson or Bess or Blake…

Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy and Bess,
They all went together to seek a bird’s nest.
They found a bird’s nest with five eggs in,
They all took one, and left four in.

And somehow it all feels right.

Peace,

Denis

 

Cleaning Out Closets

This week we’ve begun cleaning out closets in anticipation of our move to England. We’re desperately trying to organize our lives. And with each closet comes a new discovery or re-discovery perhaps. Some of this has just been grunt-work; pulling stuff out, boxing it up or trashing it and moving on to the next pile. We’ve already given away tons of clothes and household goods but we find some things cannot be so easily tossed aside. I believe that there’s a reason most of that stuff is still with us (and not just because we’ve been too lazy to toss it out).

Our closets seem to me to be like a little microcosm of our 36 years of marriage. There are treasures packed away for sentimental reasons and safekeeping. There are mistakes (regretted purchases, unwanted gifts, ill-fitting clothing) jammed into the dark recesses but not quite forgotten. There are the everyday items that are always needed (and sometimes taken for granted until they don’t work or fit or simply wear out). There are the ‘surprises’ – things long ago forgotten but now given new life and purpose.

I think marriage is like that. We often hold on to our treasured memories and locked them away for safekeeping. And our regrets and disappointments are very likely shoved into the dark recesses of our consciousness. And of course the everyday experiences; probably taken for granted and rarely given the respect and appreciation so rightly deserved. But then there are the ‘surprises’; those special moments when your love is rekindled and you see one another in a new light or experience something about your life-partner for the first time (even after all these years).

So take some time to ‘clean out the closets’ of your marriage. Clear the cobwebs; get rid of the junk; pack up your regrets and let go of them; treasure your golden memories and make some room for the new ones. And don’t forget to appreciate the everyday experiences – the smile; the warm embrace; the shared laughter; the love delivered in so many ways…

Peace,

Denis

Sneezing, Runny Nose, Itchy, Watery Eyes…

My cold medicine claims to relieve my sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, etc. I guess the key word here is relieve. Relieve the systems not eliminate them – ugh! Why can’t I feel better now? And what about the pounding in my head? And what about my (nearly) constant coughing?

It’s a perfectly beautiful autumn day here; The St. Louis Cardinals have just won the World Series; The Green Bay Packers are headed to 8-0; Last night was our ‘Dinner Club’ and we shared a fabulous meal and lots of laughter with great friends; Halloween is tomorrow (and my grandkids have the most adorable costumes) and I can’t stop coughing my fool head off! Poor me! Why me? WHY ME??? Come to think of it, Poor Deb, she’s got to put up with me. I’m not a very patient patient.

None of this makes any sense. I’ve gotten my flu shot. I take (mostly) good care of myself. I eat right. I get a reasonable amount of exercise and rest. And yet here I am, fallen by the common cold. “Cough, cough, cough.” “Sniff, sniff, sniff.”

But somehow I’ll muddle through. And please don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve already got that covered. I just need to find the remote control, my Puffs Plus Lotion® tissues and my Vicks VapoRub® and settle down in front of the T.V.

“You know Deb, a cup of that peppermint tea would be nice.” “Deb?” “Deb?”  “Cough, cough.” “Sniff,  sniff.” “Deb!!!”

Pray for me! This might be a long recovery…

Peace,

Denis

Rule, Britannia!

We’re back in the States after a whirlwind two weeks abroad.

  • Week one: meet new employees, new suppliers, review new office/warehouse space, work, work, work…
  • Week two: Find housing for January move, attempt driving on the left, explore Wiltshire/Gloucestershire.

Now that we’re home, and recovering from jet-lag and the time change, I’m trying to mentally digest all that we experienced. I have to admit it’s all a bit overwhelming. It feels a little like the reverse of walking through a dream – you know that you’re dreaming but it all seems so real. In this case, you know that it’s real but it all feels so dream-like. But it’s a good dream so far (although I’m sure we’ll have our share of nightmares, too).

Adding to the surreal nature of it all is the fact that, our favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, are now in the World Series and our favorite football (the real kind) team, the Green Bay Packers, are now 7-0! All we saw on T.V. for two weeks was soccer (football) and the Rugby World Cup with a sprinkling of Cricket now and again. That’ll take some getting used to.

Aside from “televised American sports withdrawal” and missing our grandkids desperately(oh and their parents, too) our time in England was great. We found a place to live. I really like my work associates. The area that we’ll living in is steeped in history and is really very lovely. And we found some great pubs and fun places to shop. Not to mention a countless number of places to visit/tour upon our return.

Just a stone’s throw away

The people that we encountered were very friendly and hospitable. The food was excellent. And the housing (although initially disappointing) proved to be very nice. We will be moving to Cotswold Park an area of nature preserves, trails, lakes, bike paths and parks which is set on the border of Gloucestershire/Wiltshire. Because we were looking for a furnished house/apartment our options were limited. This area is about a 20-30 minute commute to work and a 20 minute drive to Cirencester which is a lovely town with much history AND a Catholic church. We will also be just a ten minute drive from Cricklade, which is a 9th Century Saxon village. Our new home will be completely furnished and equipped (dishes, glassware, linens, appliances). We just need to decide what else to bring – bicycles, personal items, clothes, etc.

I’m convinced that our time in England will be fine – not just fine – fabulous!

I’ve always loved English history and now is my chance to be completely immersed in a new place. I hope to make the most of it. Why just last week Wootton-Bassett a town not far from where we’ll be living was named Royal Wootton-Bassett by decry of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II because of the way the community has honored the fallen British military fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were parades and honors and Princess Anne was there to join in the celebration. This is the first time a town has been so designated since 1909.

It was all so very British!

Peace,

Denis

Peanut

Seven years ago my granddaughter was born. I didn’t know then that one tiny little creature could possess such transformative powers. But then I became a grandparent for the first time. And although my life had been blessed up to that point, nothing could compare to the joy I have experienced as a grandfather. Charlise was born in Florida; she was a month early and weighed only 3-1/2 lbs. Deb had made a quick trip to Florida shortly after her birth but I couldn’t get away from work obligations as quickly. We had planned to travel after the baby was born, so we went back to Florida together near what should have been her birth date. By this time she was nearly a month old. I will always remember “meeting” her for the first time.

When we arrived at their house my daughter-in-law was at the door. She greeted me with the most beautiful words that I have ever heard: “Would you like to hold your granddaughter?” My granddaughter! She was so tiny. So beautiful. So precious. She was my Peanut! And I was her grandfather. Her granddad. Her grandpa. That memory is permanently imbedded into my psyche. I was forever changed.

Of course in time I became Pawpaw, Charlise’s word for Grandpa, and it has stuck. I love being a grandfather no matter what the name. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that Charlise is now seven years old. And I love her big girl ways. She’s all about school and friends and clothes and the latest movies and fads. All things 7 year-old girls love!

But there are times when she’s still my Little Peanut. Sometimes when she spends the night she’ll still crawl up on my lap and watch one of her favorite movies – one that she’s seen so many times she has memorized most of the dialog. We eat popcorn and laugh at the same lines over and over. There’s great comfort in the familiarity of it all.

And on those special nights sometimes I remember that day seven years ago when I held her for the first time and I fall in love all over again…

Happy Birthday Peanut!

Love,

Pawpaw

Don’t Be Fooled By Her Size

When my wife was a little girl she wanted to be Barbie® – tall and blonde and all the rest. But instead God decided to make her Midge® – Barbie’s best friend. Midge is short and brunette and NOT BARBIE. But even though Midge (Deb) is ‘vertically challenged’ you shouldn’t be fooled by her size. She is larger than life. Her circle of influence is boundless. She dreams big. She has more class in her little finger than most folks have in their entire body. And she has more friends today than I have had in my entire life.

The best things do come in small packages

Most descriptions of her include phrases like: big heart; generous spirit; huge smile; hearty laugh; giving friend, loving mother, and caring daughter. These are hardly the images of a mousey little Midge. And Deb does things in a big way, too. Meals are an event. You’ll never leave her table hungry. Holidays are a time for elegant decorating and grand entertaining, and fabulous food.

And if you are in need, she’s the friend/sister/daughter/mother to call on. If you need a laugh, she will always deliver. If you need someone to hold or if you need to be held, her arms are always open wide. If you need to cry, she will cry, too. Debbie has this incredible gift of making you feel that when she’s with you, no one else is more important or more needed at that moment than you. You have her complete undivided attention. And she gives her entire self.

Her children and grandchildren will also tell you that she is a ‘force to be reckoned with’ as well. And most importantly, you should NEVER attempt to hurt one of her children or grandchildren – she’s like a lioness in her need to protect them. And I believe that she would “stare down the devil” if the need arose.

And for me, well when Deb walks in the room it’s like everyone else fades into the background. All the light in the space seems to be emanating from her. She just gets to me.  Deb always tells our granddaughters “that you have to be pretty on the inside if you want to be pretty on the outside”. And she lives those words, too. Her beauty shines through.

Barbie, you might be a statuesque blonde but you’re empty on the inside, I’ll take ‘ma femme petite belle’ over you any day!

Even though I’m over a foot taller than she, I know that she stands well above me in terms of heart and soul. But most of you are already aware of this.

Peace,

Denis

Deb, it’s been my pleasure and honor to “look up” to you all these many years. I love this life we share.  I love you, D

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cjgav6VXUxc

Modern Family

When Deb and I got married we were determined to have a ‘Modern Family’. We wouldn’t be confined to traditional roles and we would NEVER have the kind of marriage our parents had. After all, this was 1975 and times had changed and we were young and current and ready to embrace life head-on. We even toyed with the idea of me taking Deb’s last name. Instead of her becoming Deborah Wilhelm; I would become Denis Dobbs. But Debbie and Denis Dobbs sounded a little too cute. And besides we might then be inclined to name future children with double “D” names as well. Debbie and Denis and Durwood and Dolly and Dora Dobbs – yikes! Plus with brothers named Dave and Dean, I had spent my formative years being called David-Dean-Denis by my dad. So we abandoned the idea of me taking her maiden name and the ‘hyphen-thing’ (Dobbs-Wilhelm) seemed like too much trouble. Still we were convinced that we should work hard to be a couple that wouldn’t become the stereotypical husband and wife.
 
We were resolute in our desire to live equally as husband and wife. We shared the household tasks. We both worked outside the home. We had a partnership-marriage. Everything was 50-50. We made all of our decisions together. Our mantra was: Whatever we do MUST be good for both of us! There was no “me first”. I made a conscious effort to avoid terms like “the little lady” (although Deb is little and a lady) and I never expected her to sacrifice ANYTHING that she wanted for me or vice-versa. We both would bristle when people assumed that I would be the “bread winner” and she would be the content little “housewife”. Who did they think we were – June and Ward Clever???
 
Then we had children. And we adapted our ‘Modern Family’ in a way that I would have never imagined. Deb chose to work part-time and forsake a career. This was unthinkable just a few years earlier but looking at Tyson’s sweet face for the first time we knew we couldn’t place him in daycare. So we adjusted our lives accordingly. I worked days; Deb worked nights and we were blessed with a sister-in-law who would cover the overlap times (Aunt Pat is still adored by her niece and nephews). And then came Bess. And then came Blake. So we shared the load. We both changed diapers; gave baths; took turns with feedings; read bedtime stories; etc., etc.  For several years we took opposite shifts at home. Deb handled the daytime – breakfast, lunch, playtime, nap time; I took care of the nighttime – dinner, bath, bedtime stories & prayers. I believed then that my sons and daughter would benefit from having a dad that was ‘hands-on’. I still believe that today.

When I see what my son-in-law Travis does everyday for his kids and how natural Tyson is with his daughter it reminds me how much I loved those years when my children were small (even the dirty diapers). It was important for me to know that I could do it all – even though I never had to. Deb and I have a partnership. And although our goal was 50-50, anyone in a successful marriage will tell you that sometimes it’s 80-20 or 40-60. You carry your partner when you can because you know the day will come when you’ll need to be carried, too.
 
As the years flew by the children grew and jobs changed and we sort of (gasp!) fell into more traditional roles. I was on a ‘career-track’ and Deb continued to work part-time until the kids were in school. And even when she went back to work full-time her primary focus was still on the kids and the house. We had become what we were determined to avoid – TRADITIONAL.
 
But Deb loves to cook and family mealtime was important. Once our daughter pointed out that we were unusual as a family because we ate dinner together almost every night (at a table and actually speaking to one another!). We worshipped together on Sundays and prayed together at bedtime and at meals. I took care of the lawn. Deb took care of the house. From the “outside looking in” we were very much the kind of couple my parents were – except we chose our roles; they were not thrust upon us.

And that’s what makes us a ‘Modern Family’ today. I work. Deb stays home. She cooks. I eat. I mow the lawn. She cleans the house. We don’t do things this way because we’re expected to – we do things this way because we haven chosen to do things this way. We can both change our grandson’s diaper. We can both travel around the world. We can both lounge on the sofa watching football. We can both freely show emotion or wipe a tear or give a hug or speak our love.
 

The (almost) Dobbs

Today’s ‘Modern Families’ come in lots of different shapes and sizes – single parent families; same-sex couples; blended families; bi-coastal families. But love remains the same. Ultimately what role you fill or how you look to someone else doesn’t really matter. Family is where you can be you. Family is where you can refresh your soul. Family is refuge. Family is hope. Family is eternal. Family is love. I guess that’s not so modern after all.
 
God has blessed Deb and me with one another and with our beautiful children and grandchildren. Our ‘Modern Family’ might not look like the one I envisioned 36 years ago but I really like this one better. And the journey from there to here and beyond continues to be amazing…
 
Peace,
 
Denis

Made With Love

“What would you like for dinner?” That’s Deb’s usual request as I’m walking out of the house on my way to work each day. My response: “I don’t care” or “Whatever you would like” or some other non-response. I might as well say “I can’t be bothered with that right now!” And I’m ashamed of myself for doing that…

I’m not a ‘foodie’ but I love to eat. And I love to eat good food. But I can’t (won’t) cook and I don’t know what’s “in season” or what it takes to prepare most meals. It’s not that I don’t care; I just don’t care that much. This makes me kind of a rat-bastard because Deb loves to cook and she puts so much thought into each meal. And I (on most nights) just come home and wait to be served. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate it and I am always thankful but I don’t necessarily understand the ‘art of cooking’. It’s similar to my complete lack of regard for opera or ballet – never quite acquired an appreciation for either. I suppose that the ‘finer things’ in life are often lost on me.

But yesterday when asked, ““What would you like for dinner?” I thought about it and replied, “Something light or summer-timey”.  And away I went. I never gave it another thought.

To my delight when I came home Deb was preparing bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Now I don’t think that she needed Julia Child’s cookbook for this meal but to me it was as wonderful as if she had prepared Boef Bourguignon. The BACON smelled amazing! And the fresh lettuce and tomatoes, that she had ‘hand-picked’ at the produce market down the road, were perfect. Not to mention all of the other produce that she purchased: peaches, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries and carrots.

I savored that BLT! It brought me back to a simpler time. And the worry and stress of my day slipped away. It occurred to me (once again) why my wife is such a good cook. It’s because all her meals are made with love. She takes the time to plan most meals based on my half-hearted suggestions and then she goes the extra mile by hand selecting the ingredients to prepare whatever is on the menu du jour. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Veal Prince Orlov or Sloppy Joes she always adjusts her recipes to add a ‘dash of love’. And often a dollop!

Cooking with Nana ~ a living legacy

So when you sit down to dinner tonight and give thanks to God for your blessings don’t forget to thank the cook, too.

Bon Appétit,

Denis

P.S. Deb, I reckon that we’ve shared over 13,000 dinners together – that’s a lot of love!  I can never really thank you enough (but I’ll keep trying).