Autumn (or as I prefer to call it – gravy season)

The leaves and the temperatures are falling; the flower beds are raggedy; the days are getting shorter. It must be Autumn. Time to harvest and store for winter. Our yearly reminder that all life must end.

But fear not. Spring will come again! Life will be renewed.

But until then, bring on the sweaters. Pile on the blankets. Light the fires. And please pass the gravy. Or stew. Or soup. Or meat pie. And lots of stuffing and potatoes and more gravy please.

gravyOf course here in the United States we will be celebrating Thanksgiving soon. And in the true spirit of that holiday we give thanks for our abundant blessings. Traditionalists share a meal of turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and corn and cranberries – all foods native to North America. We will  celebrate and remember the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. And we top off our meal of thanksgiving with pumpkin pie (which is sort of the gravy of desserts – no chewing is required).

I suppose sumptuous meals lessen my seasonal depression. I don’t like cold weather. I don’t love snow. I find winter bleak and dreary. So when the occasional gravy-smothered meal is served it eases my loss of blue skies and warm weather. And bulky sweaters assist in covering up an expanded waistline. Seasons change. Weight fluctuates. It’s the circle of life.

However this year I’m determined to not board the “gravy boat”. I will maintain a healthy diet. I will resist all temptation. I will face those cheesy casseroles and warm muffins and gravy-laden delicacies with resolve. I will say no to the extra helping. No to the second dessert. No to the cup of hot cocoa with those adorable tiny marshmallows. No to the warm puddings covered in cream. No, no, no!

But who am I kidding? If God had wanted us to starve all winter he wouldn’t have created Autumnal foods in the first place. Mmmm – meatloaf! Even the name sounds decadent.

So pull up a chair and pass the platter. And please excuse me while look for my favorite pair of loose-fitting jeans and that bulky sweater with the gravy stains.



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,


Storybooks, Legos and Baby Dolls

Our home office is actually a multi-purpose room. It’s truly a third bedroom that was converted into an office and now serves as the toy room, the art supply room, the nursery, the occasional spare bedroom and whenever possible is actually used as an office. I often find my center here. I pray here. I blog here.

OfficeI love this room because it is full of reminders of all the love in my life. This room is comfort and joy to me. And even when it’s a little messy – toys or books or art projects strewn about – it is still a place of repose. Sometimes when I’m alone I read the grandkids’ books to myself, like “You Are My Wish” by Maryann Cusimano Love – “I am your soft lap; you are my climb. I am your story; you are my rhyme.” – what poetry! it just tugs at my heart!

Sometimes this room is full of activity with three grandchildren happily playing or creating some new works of art. Sometimes this room is still except for the soft breath sounds of Noah while he is napping in his crib. Sometimes music is playing through the speakers thanks to a handy son-in-law. And sometimes it’s just me clacking away at the keyboard of my computer and then proofreading and deleting (and re-typing and re-reading and deleting again). It truly is a multi-purpose room.

And the love abounds. It’s found in the favorite toys and books. It’s in the little mementos of our travel abroad. It’s in the photos of friends and family. It’s in a note from Deb of little importance (except it’s written in her beautiful penmanship). It’s in the small plaque that reads, “God Only Knows What I’d Be Without You”.

Office2This room will never be featured on HGTV or shown in House Beautiful. It’s cluttered and a bit haphazard. It’s full of Legos and storybooks and baby dolls. It’s relatively small and it lacks any real style. But it’s our room. And it’s our life. And it reflects our love.

They say that home is where the heart is – this room might just be our soul.



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.



Santa and The Wise Men

My two-year old grandson Noah likes to have Santa stand alongside The Wise Men at our nativity scene. Noah knows that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. He also knows that birthdays are lots of fun. And Santa is the fun Christmas guy so why not make him part of the celebration? So we mix our fantasy with theology here. Or is it the other way around? Either way Santa has “come to adore Him” at our house.Santa and The Wise Men

Christmas is always a mixed bag. We embrace the secular (you know because we actually live in the world) and we exchange gifts and write letters to Santa and leave cookies and reindeer food and all the rest. And we go to Mass and sing and pray and shout the joy of our Savior’s birth. We we are a bi-celebratory family! If Noah is a little confused about where Santa belongs, it’s not surprising. And it’s also okay with me. Santa, a guy who is spreading love around like mad, is welcome in my home.

Our family usually plays a game on Christmas Eve called “Rob Your Neighbor” – everyone brings a few small gifts (some are gag gifts and some are treasures). All the gifts are beautifully wrapped, concealing their simplicity or beauty or hideousness. After all the gifts are doled out and unwrapped revealing their value or lack thereof we then roll dice to see who can “rob” the most from their “neighbor” until the time runs out. When the bell chimes what’s left is what you get. Often there is fevered excitement trying to obtain the few treasures amongst the cache of gifts.

This year we toyed with the idea of changing the game to “Love Your Neighbor” with the idea of giving the treasured gift(s) to another but that seemed a little lame for our family. We like our mercenary little game of theft and avarice. And there is always plenty of laughter while we’re fighting over the treasured items. And in our game we are loving one another in our own slightly twisted and aggressive sort of way.

This morning at Mass, Father Joe reminded us that God is love and that we will find that love in those sitting next to us in the pew. I looked at my family and I saw God there. Then Father Joe told us that God is in us. That was a little harder for me to imagine until my four-year old granddaughter Anna looked up at me and smiled her sweet innocent smile. I suppose she might have seen a little glimpse of God in this tired old sinner. And now I have a new responsibility to her and her brother and the rest of the world. God is in me??? That changes everything.

Tonight it occurred to me that if Santa can hang with the Wise Men and if God is in me then our silly little game BELONGS on Christmas Eve. It’s a celebration of our love. Everyone takes part and we all leave a little richer for the experience. God made us imperfect so that we can be perfected by His love. And if we play a few silly games along the way, so be it…



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?




I’ve always been confused by the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. I’m home after two weeks of traveling – first to Mexico City and then to Madrid and I’m very happy to experience ‘the familiar’. Don’t misunderstand me, I love to travel and even when things don’t go swimmingly (thanks JFK Air Traffic Controllers for the nearly two-hour delay after an already long day of traveling from Spain!) I still consider travel a bit of perk with my job. But more wonderful than experiencing new people and new places is the joy and comfort of coming home. Home is where my life is.

There’s something about this house that just embraces me when I’ve been gone for a while; it puts everything right. I know it’s not the house actually. It’s the home. It’s the love. It’s the family. It’s what helps define me.

I love coming home to Deb. I love catching up on everything that’s happened in my absence – hearing about the latest things that Anna has said and finding out what Noah’s now doing and what’s going on in Charlise’s ever-expanding world of ‘big girl’ school. I realize everything’s not in ‘freeze-frame’ while I’m gone but sometimes I wish it were. I’ll catch up on what’s going with our folks and hear about a friend’s visit and a family funeral that Deb attended in my absence. Life goes on…

My Office. My Home. My Place.

This morning I’m up early, because of jet-lag I suppose, and I’m wearing my ‘favorite shirt’ and I’m about to have some blessed ‘American Coffee’ (no cafe con leche, por favor) in my favorite coffee mug and allow the day to unfold in its normal ‘familiar’ way. And I will relish the experience.

At heart I’m just a Midwestern boy. I miss country music and black coffee and small town gossip. I want to travel to castles and palaces. I want to see ancient artifacts and historically significant places. But more than anything I just want to come home. I guess that makes me a homebody and that suits me just fine!

“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home”.