The Lesson I Learned Watching National Velvet

Recently two of our granddaughters spent the night. Part of the requisite for a sleepover is a movie. Usually it’s some Disney® or Pixar® animated “new release” but this time my wife suggested a classic: Elizabeth Taylor’s National Velvet.

What a treat! Not only was it a nice diversion from the usual fare but it is a beautiful film from 1944 that tells the tale of a girl who, against all odds, wins the British Grand National Steeplechase. Our granddaughters were mesmerized. First by the fact that they love horses; secondly by the fact that Velvet, the young girl played by Elizabeth Taylor, was disqualified because she was a girl (only boy jockeys were allowed in 1944). The girls were both delighted and outraged. They know full well that they can do anything boys can do.

My own little equestrian

My own little equestrian

But the message of the film was not lost on them. Velvet’s success in training and racing her horse and ultimately winning the race was what mattered. The recognition and prize money were less important. Velvet loved and believed in her horse and her reward was knowing that together they had achieved greatness regardless of what society deemed worthy or acceptable.

Of course I love my granddaughters but my pride in seeing them embrace a film that is not cutesy or Disney-fied is hard for me to put into words. They might have struggled with some of the British accents and some of the antiquated ideas from the 1940’s but they followed the story and cheered for Velvet and her horse. They both spoke later about how the important thing was that Velvet never gave up on her dream. Pretty profound for a six and nine year-old.

I’m guilty of sometimes dumbing-down stuff for my grandkids. I try to take some of the harshness out of reality. I want every day for them to be all sweetness and light. And I always want them to have rainbows and fairytale endings. But that’s not really such a good idea after all.

The girls taught me a valuable lesson the other night. I know now that they are tougher than I thought. They will be able to handle disappointment and heartache in life because they realize that they are surrounded by love. And they are capable of tremendous compassion. I’m certain that they will be winning their own “championships” someday and that their gains will be in character, faith and love.

It seems certain that there is much more they will be teaching me in the future. I can hardly wait…



England to Oklahoma and back home…

Last week I traveled back to England. It’s been nine months since we lived there and to be honest I’ve missed it quite a bit. Most things haven’t changed much in and around our old “stomping grounds”. Irish Anne is still the one-woman welcoming commitee at our wee Catholic church, St. Peter in Cirencester; the sea-salted chips at the Fleece are still the best I’ve ever had, especially when washed down with a Warsteiner; you can still get a decent pickle and cheese sandwich at Sainsbury for a quick lunch; Phil and Kirstie are still selling Real Estate on the telly; and Heart Radio relentlessly plays non-stop pop music (“Take me down like I’m a domino???!!!”).

EnglandThis was a quick trip: arrived on a Friday night and left on the following Thursday. Not nearly enough time to eat at all my favourite pubs or to visit all the museums, abbeys, and shops that we’ve come to love. This trip was solo, so of course Deb wasn’t there to enjoy it with me (or to make it more enjoyable for me). I was however able to reconnect with my workmates and share a pint or two and a few good laughs. (How do you know that the toothbrush was invented in Wales? Because if it was invented anywhere else it would be call the teethbrush.) I’ve heard that same joke here in the States – substitute Wales with Arkansas but it’s truly funnier with a English accent (and a pint or two).

CowboyOn Friday morning, after arriving on a much delayed flight the night before, we drove to Oklahoma City to visit our son and daughter-in-law and bring our granddaughter home with us for a two-week visit. On our 1-1/2 days in Oklahoma City we visited the National Cowboy Museum. It was more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined. I love it when fun stuff is educational, too. There is some amazing art on display in the museum as well as a running history of cowboys and Native Americans. There are also sections devoted to the rodeo and to movie and television cowboys (I still remember the boyhood crush that I had on Dale Evans astride Buttermilk – Happy Trails indeed).

We were back home last night. And I’m back in my office today. Still processing some of the culture shock (overload?). It’s hard to travel from blokes to Oakies in one week. Not sure whether to “give it a go” or “hunker down” today. Perhaps I’ll do a little of both. And catch my breath.

Oh, and for the record, the toothbrush joke is funnier in Oklahoma if you use Arkansas in the punch line.

Happy Trails,


It’s Good And Good For You

I’m blessed to be married to a good cook. Actually “good cook” is an understatement; great cook or fabulous cook is more accurate. It’s fair to say that we eat better than most. Our son who cooks professionally credits his mother for both his success in the kitchen and his love of food.

My standard line when served yet another delicious meal is usually, “It’s good and good for you.” Truth be told, the “good for you” might sometimes be a stretch. Someone much smarter than me once said, “Man cannot live by bread alone.” So occasionally we need a little butter or cheese or chocolate…

After living the better part of last year in England people often ask us if we miss our life there. The answer is always yes. When asked what we miss most, I usually say the food (and wine). There’s a common misperception in the U.S. that English food is bad. We found it to be quite to the contrary. The produce and meats and cheeses in our local markets were fresher and usually locally produced. And good French and Italian wines were inexpensive. English wine is lousy but this is made up for by the excellent cheese and goat butter.

Wild Duck Inn - Ewen, England

Wild Duck Inn – Ewen, England

Dining out in England could be at times challenging. There are plenty of ‘Fish and Chips’ shops and every village seems to have a Curry restaurant. Some of those places are a bit dodgy. But great restaurants can be found and often in unexpected places. Two of our favorites: The Wild Duck Inn located in a tiny village called Ewen and Cricklade House in Cricklade which is an old Saxon town. Both were just minutes from where we lived. Of course our best meals in England were served in Oaksey in our own cottage – thanks Deb!

I’ve never intentionally plugged a business in my blog but recently we had a restaurant experience that reminded us of some our best meals in England and Europe. We dined with great friends, which always makes a meal better, at a small restaurant just minutes from where we now live. Another amazing meal in an unexpected place. Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville, Missouri is without a doubt the best dining experience we’ve had since leaving England (with the exception of Deb’s kitchen of course).

Chef Carl and his wife Nancy have converted a small house into an intimate restaurant. The food is beyond spectacular and the warm and welcoming environment add to the charm of the place. In Europe when you dine out you “own the table” for the evening. No one would ever bring you the check until you ask. None of this “I’m just leaving the check, please take your time.” which translates into “Please hurry up, we’d like to seat someone else at this table.” In much the same way at Stone Soup Cottage we were allowed to dine at our leisure. Carl’s creations were exquisite and Nancy’s wine pairings were perfect. We thoroughly enjoyed and savoured every morsel.

Dining at Stone Soup Cottage is not inexpensive and it might literally take months to get a reservation but it’s worth saving your pennies and planning ahead. After all, sometimes treating yourself really is “good and good for you.” And Deb deserves a break every now and again.

Bon appetit,


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.



Back Home

Back home. It’s strange and wonderful being back home. We’re sorting through mountains of boxes and rediscovering some old things. And because time hasn’t stood still while we lived abroad, we’re learning some new things, too. We feel a bit like time travelers who have arrived one year in the future – time marched on and now we have to catch up.

Back home. Some adjustment is required. I must stop speaking the Queen’s English – saying carry-on, keen, or bollocks just produces blank stares here. I also need to increase my volume – Americans are loud (According to Deb that shouldn’t be a problem for me). I have to stop getting in the passenger side of the car to drive and I must fight the urge to drive on the left side of the road. This is particulary challenging in parking lots where lanes aren’t clearly defined.

Back home. Love is here! From the greeting at the airport Saturday night from two squealing grandkids to the special meal that our daughter and son-in-law had waiting for us to the extra tight hugs from my Mom yesterday, love has been abundant. So much lost time to make up. I know that they say that home is where the heart is but I realize that my heart needs to be here. Back home.

Happy days!

On Sunday everytime I left the room my two year-old grandson Noah asked, “Where did Pawpaw go?”  My four year-old granddaughter Anna said it best: “Pawpaw I missed you! You can go on vacation to England again some day but you can’t live there anymore, okay?” 

Okay Noah and Anna, I’m right here and I promise I’m back home to stay…



Time For This One To Come Home…

Does anybody remember the cartoon from the ‘60’s with Tooter Turtle and Mr. Wizard? Tooter would be granted some opportunity for adventure by Mr. Wizard only to have things go terribly wrong. He would then frantically call out, “Help Mr. Wizard!” With that Mr. Wizard would chant: “Frizzle, frazzle, frizzle, frome, time for this one to come home.” And Tooter would return home safely. The end.

Well like Tooter, I did ask for an adventure and was granted my wish: Life in England! Plus we’ve been able to travel to Paris, Madrid, and Rome. But unlike Tooter things haven’t gone terribly wrong – well a few things might have been better; after all, the economy here is in a shambles, Prince Harry was caught partying naked in Vegas, Chris Moyles has been sacked from BBC Radio One, Princess Kate has been photographed topless, the ITV morning news show ‘Daybreak’ has been revamped and it’s atrocious, Shirley MacClaine is pathetic on Downton Abbey, autumn has arrived and it’s cold & rainy & miserable and Henley’s (our favourite sweet shop) has stopped selling fudge. So I suppose “it’s time for this one to come home.”

Truth be told; we have loved our time here. But it is time to come home!

It will be nice once again to drive on the right side of the road (and on roads that are wide enough for two cars). Car parks – sorry parking lots – will seem luxurious with wide lanes and big spaces.  And even though television shows will be mostly reality stuff and stupid sitcoms they will ‘feature’ American accents (sadly no more Kirsty & Phil on Location, Location, Location; or Benidorm or Poirot).  And the adverts – sorry commercials – will be 99% political ads (which I kind of miss in a weird way). My radio will play country music (on several stations), NPR, oldies, real rock and R&B.  No more Olly Murs or Jesse J (I swear if I hear Domino one more time I might actually weep). We can have pizza – deep dish, or New York style or Chicago style, or St. Louis style. Cold beer, ice in soft drinks, free re-fills, ‘all you can eat’ buffets, and ‘Chik-fil-A’ are all in our not too distant future. And of course we will be home in time for the election brouhaha! We’ll be just in time for the debates. (Wonder how many friends I’ll lose this election year? Oh well, I suppose if they stop speaking to me because of how I vote they weren’t real friends to begin with.)

God Bless America! There’s nothing quite like it. I’m very happy to be coming home. I miss my kids and grandkids terribly. I need to be surrounded by the love of family and friends. England and our life here will always hold a special place in my heart but I need the comfort and security of home. “Help Mr. Wizard!”

“Frizzle, frazzle, frizzle, frome, time for this one to come home.”




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?



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…”



Heading Home

We’re off to America this morning. It will be a quick visit and then back here to England. I’m excited to see family and friends and catch up at with my associates at my U.S. office (the main purpose of my trip). Deb’s coming, too. And Bess and Travis and Anna and Noah will be on our flight. Sadly, it’s time for them to say goodbye to England.

It’s been a wonderful three weeks having them here but alas all good things must end. I will hold on dearly to the memories:

At Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire, England

Noah running to great me at Heathrow; jumping up and down while shouting, “Pawpaw, Pawpaw, Pawpaw!”

Anna loving all the animals at the farm; especially feeding the lambs and ‘bunny cuddle time’.

Bedtime rituals replete with prayers, kisses and tight squeezes.

Raincoats, umbrellas and wellies. And splashing in puddles!

Playing in our back garden; watching for tractors, trucks and airplanes.

Giggles and belly laughs.

Watching Anna and Noah trod on sacred ground and walk through historic places and hoping that some of this will be a memory for them one day.

Listening to Anna speak with her ‘English accent’ and wondering if she was even aware that she was. “Nana, would you like a cuppa tea?”

We’ve had some big adventures, we six. We’ve been to castles and cathedrals. We’ve toured big cities and small villages. We’ve seen some amazing places together. We’ve walked through history. But for me it’s always the little things that stick. And this morning I just need one more tight squeeze and one more special England kiss.  Make that two…



The Vatican Seems To Want It Both Ways…

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am Catholic (unless of course I’ve been excommunicated and haven’t received the paperwork yet). My conservative Catholic friends would say I’m not the average Catholic but I’d disagree. I’m probably more mainstream than they are – just more vocal.

Anyway, Catholic leaders mobilized earlier this year when the Obama administration announced that church-affiliated organizations would be required to provide health insurance plans that include contraceptives for women free of charge. Angry Catholics insisted that the ruling infringed on the their first amendment right to freedom of religion.

Can’t we all just get along?

Recently Pope Benedict stated: “Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.”

So now I’m confused. On this issue of contraception Church leaders say in effect, that government should stay out of our bedrooms. Because insistence upon government mandated coverage of contraceptives is a violation of our religious beliefs – okay, I get that. But then the Church says who we decide to share our bedroom with should be ‘Church sanctioned’. It seems that Church leaders want the government involved in this most intimate decision. That the sanctity of marriage should be defended by government; in essence the government should stay in our bedrooms. Therein lies the conflict.

So separation of Church and State is a “pick and choose” kind of thing? I’m often accused of being a ‘Cafeteria Catholic’ – one who chooses which teachings to follow and which to reject or ignore. Never mind that I have a conscience, my arch-conservative friends would be more comfortable with me if I would just blindly follow the hierarchy’s rules. But that’s too easy and an insult to the intellect God gave me.

Here’s what I propose:

Church take care of Church things. Exclude whomever you want. Make up whatever rules you want to impose upon your faithful. And deal with the fallout.

Government (read conservative politicians) stop pandering to the fears of the citizenry. People of reasonable intelligence can (and should) decide with whom to share their life. And when (and if) to have children. If the faith community that they belong to can’t embrace their love and life decisions; it’s that community’s loss.

Blimey, I’m even more glad to be living in England right now!