Auld Lang Syne

The old Scottish song that is traditionally sung on New Year’s Eve can be translated into English literally as “old long since”, or as “days gone by”. So at each year’s end we look back at the “days gone by” and reflect on the what, when, why, who and how. Some years we’re just glad it’s over and we’re ready to move on. The best years are the ones when we’ve learned something or survived something or loved anew. In other words: We’ve grown mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

For us 2012 has been a year to remember. We started our year living in Oaksey, Wiltshire, United Kingdom. And ended our year living back home in Missouri, USA. In between there was a lot of mental, emotional and spiritual growth. We learned how to assimilate in England. We never picked up the accent but we do now know the difference between knackers and being knackered. I suppose that I looked English enough that I was almost always stopped for directions when touring villages in the Cotswolds (being pasty white helped). We also learned how to drive on the left side of the road with only one small accident apiece. Deb learned how to cook Scotch broth and I learned how to grill lamb on the barbecue. And we relished our trips to the butcher shop, the green grocer, the sweet shop and the bakery (with their lardy cakes).IMG_5277

We grew emotionally by realizing that we could be away (far away) from home but never really be gone from those whom we love. Six special visits from friends and family helped us throughout our extended stay. It was good to be ambassadors to our adopted country and discover new experiences with friends (and return to a few of the places we had already discovered). Mostly it was good to know that Deb could survive so much alone time just with me – turns out we still like each other pretty much! I’m a lucky man.

And we grew spiritually, too. Our little church and faith community in Cirencester, England was a respite. No threats of excommunication in England or denial of communion if we voiced support of a social program which was contrary to official Church teaching or voted for the wrong candidate. We were loved by our priest “as we were” and embraced by our faith community “just because…” No litmus test of worthiness required.

Mostly 2012 was fun and funny. We enjoyed being in the UK during the Olympics and Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee. We ate new foods (new to us anyway) and drank good French and Italian wines at bargain prices. We laughed at Benidorm and Father Ted on the telly as well as Aldi adverts. We laughed at our own foibles – like ordering 44 euros worth of macaroons in Paris because we thought the woman behind the counter said 14. Ooh, la, la! Or the (many) times we missed the round-about into or out off Cirencester (our nearest town. Or when Deb nearly got run over (three times) on Abbey Road so we could get the perfect photo. Or when we went to the ‘One Woman Show’ in Edinburgh that required audience participation (I still have nightmares about a big sweaty red-lipsticked kiss – don’t ask!). Or when we thought our 83-year old tour guide in Rome would be easy to “keep up with” but then Rinaldo nearly walked us to our death. Turns out that old Italians have more stamina than not-so-old Americans!

We loved our life in England and we miss it, too. But it’s true that there’s no place like home. Only God knows what 2013 will bring. But I hope that we can continue to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I hope that you do as well.

Peace,

Denis

Bittersweet

In October we will be returning to our home in the United States. This means of course that we have one month left here in England. Yesterday while in Cirencester, the market town nearest our home, I began to feel melancholy. It’s a strange range of emotion: so happy to soon be back home with family and friends and at the same time sad to be leaving the home that we’ve made here.

But time marches on. Now we must box-up and pack-up our life (once again) and head for our new (old) life in America. And even though we are moving back to what is familiar and what is “ours” nothing will be the same. Our lives have changed and our perceptions about life abroad have been shattered. This is all good. I now have an even greater appreciation of our place in the global community.

I imagine that England will always feel like my second home. I have loved (for the most part) my time here. We have been blessed with this experience and I believe that we have become better persons from having lived here. Certainly I have gained a greater appreciation of world events. On a more personal level we have made friends here and have shared times that will last forever in our memories. Of course there have been castles and abbeys and cathedrals aplenty but I think the things that will remain in my heart are the memories of the people: my work mates, our neighbours, the Sweet Shop Ladies, June  the lady who often shares a pew with us at tiny St. Peters Church and Ann & Mike who have given Deb nearly weekly tours of the Costwolds.

For me it’s usually the little things that last: the cup of tea made just right, the Steak & Stilton pies, the (countless) sticky toffee puddings, the fields of rapeseed in spring, driving down some unknown ‘goat road’ looking for someplace that Deb thought was “just around the bend”, learing what “nicked” and “nackered” means and ‘discovering’ the Tesco Super Store after driving past it for a couple of months unbeknownst to both of us that it even existed (inspite of repeated adverts on the telly).

I am also thankful for our visitors that have come to share part of our lives here and I will cherish those memories, too. Not least of which is Anna & Noah at a nearby farm playing with the bunnies, feeding the lambs and milking the goats and splashing in the mud puddles. I will relive that day time and time  again.

 

Of course we’ve had big moments here, too. We’ve celebrated along with everyone else the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and cheered on the athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. 2012 has been a great year for Britain and we have been here to enjoy it as well.

But it’s time to go home (and leave this home). So packing and goodbyes will soon commence. I’m sure that there will a tear (or two) shed but life goes on…

And isn’t it grand?

Peace,

Denis

London 2012 (Olympics British Style)

Welcome to London (sort of)

I find it a bit amusing that the Olympic Games are here in London and I’m in England and doing my level best to avoid it all. Traffic is being diverted or restricted. There are special “Olympics” lanes on the Motorway and on the streets in London. Heathrow has designated special “Olympics only” car parks. We are constantly being told via the telly and the radio to “avoid the games” or to “plan ahead” or “be prepared for long queues”. It’s not that daunting to me but I’m not English.

I love sports. I love the competition. I love the history. I love the National pride teams get to put on display. I love the celebration of it all. But I would be the odd man out if I got too excited about the Games.

I think it’s because here in the United Kingdom we are a bit too pragmatic. We (collectively) are convinced that for most of us the Games will be a bother. Things will go wrong. And it will cost the taxpayers money. Some of this is proving to be true. The security firm that was awarded the contract was woefully unprepared and understaffed, so British troops have been deployed to support the security effort. Delays with traffic and congestion at the airports is only being magnified by a threatened strike by the Public and Commercial Services Union (those joyless souls that stamp your passport). Somehow this will probably cost the public, too.

Now there have been some bright spots along the way, such as Bradley Wigguns winning a gold medal in cycling and strong swimming by Michael Jamieson. And a gold medal win for Women’s rowing. It was also fun to see Zara Phillips’ (Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter) Esquestrian team win silver. She’s the first royal to win an Olympic medal.

Of course the joy is dampened by reports of empty seats while there is still a shortage of tickets for events and the rain (literally). Not to mention controveries with Badminton and Gymnastics and the Chinese and South Korean teams and a fatal crash with an official Olympic coach bus and motorcyclist.

My workmates say things like, “I knew it would be a disaster” or “none of this is a surprise to me”. Always the glass half-empty! There seems to be some perverse pleasure from being right about things going wrong. I’m not sure if this is a British thing or not but it seems pretty prevalent with the folks that I’ve come to know here. It’s almost as if there is some honor in being able to suffer through and make do with disappointments – keep a stiff upper lip – if you will.

So yes there is Olympic pride and there is a great amount of patriotism but it will be tempered with the almost certain disillusionment that we will all feel when things go wrong. Then the only joy we will have is being able to say, “I told you so…”

Cheers,

Denis

Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco and clotted cream

Salad cream?

Grocery shopping in England is an adventure. We generally shop at Tesco because it’s close by and reasonably priced by UK standards. It’s clean and well stocked. Deb prefers the more posh Waitrose and I like Sainsbury near my office for quick pick-up items and great (and cheap) wine selections.

Onion marmalade - really?

Regardless of where we shop, I’m amazed (and often puzzled) each time by some of the products available. Our shopping trips are getting shorter but my attention span in grocery stores is shorter still and I am not as fascinated by the 17,000 varieties of olive oil as my dear wife.

In all fairness, Deb is an excellent cook and knows what she needs to prepare fabulous meals. The challenge is sometimes finding the proper ingredients, especially with me standing on the sidelines tapping my foot or grimacing. “Oh, for the love of God just pick an olive oil!”

Spanish, Italian, Greek, Israeli...

Because I’m bored and to “help” I have become Deb’s ‘advance man’ in the grocery markets. While she leisurely glides the trolley through the aisles, I run ahead like a dog in search of the elusive rabbit for the next item on her list, which I retrieve and return to her usually to find it’s “not exactly” what she wanted. Defeated I return said item back to its proper place like the sad pup that I am and try again.

This game continues throughout the store. Next item and I’m off in search of the ‘Holy Grail’ of vanilla paste or clotted cream or lemon curd only to have my hopes dashed again and again and again. But I can’t stop myself! Deb and I are like the tortoise and the hare of Tesco: me madly dashing from aisle to aisle while she calmly (painfully) examines each of the items and makes her careful selections. And she ALWAYS wins!

Of course this is further complicated by the multitude of varieties and British names of items on her list. Who knew grocery shopping would be so challenging? And so fun. I love my wife; I love my life. I’ll meet you at the till!

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