Run Away With Me

Today I turn 60.

I’ve been thinking lately that my life is best described as a journey. Not so much one long journey but instead it’s been a series of many journeys. Some pleasant. Some mundane. Some exquisite. Some devastating. Some planned. Some unexpected. One journey after another. Another day. Another journey.

The constant in all this journeying is my beautiful wife Deborah. Over 40 years ago I asked if she would run away with me and she said yes. And that’s how it’s been ever since. Always side by side on this crazy ride. Pushing and pulling each other along the way, we’ve made the best of it all and never regretted the journey’s twists and turns. Sometimes holding on to one another in delight or terror. Still we’ve made our way.

I know that there are no guarantees in life (except that it will end one day) so I will take it one day at a time. It’s said that man plans and God laughs. I prefer to think that every step of our journey together, whether planned or unplanned, has been ordained by the mystery of God’s love for us. And I’m sure we’ve given God plenty to laugh about!

boatAll I know is I must have done something good along the way because Deb agreed to run away with me all those years ago and we’ve kept running. And the older I get the more I realize that where we’re headed is nothing compared to journeying there together. On those darkest days, when all seems lost, I look beside me and know that everything will be alright. When happiness abounds, I know that it’s because of the love she brings to my life. And once again I thank God.

I asked her to run away with me and she said yes! And the journey continues…

So today is my birthday but I don’t need to blow out any candles.

Deb, you already know my wish. Let’s go!

Peace,

Denis

 

Macaroons (and other cherished memories)

Three years ago we lived in England. One of the advantages of living there was our ability to travel around Europe. And April in Paris just felt right.

Traveling to Paris was a dream that we had shared for most of our married life. Paris the city of lights; the city of romance. Being there – walking through the streets of Paris is hard to put into words. I just kept being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it all. The monuments – Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, The Obelisk in The Place de la Concorde were all more impressive in person than what I had seen in photos. Notre-Dame Cathedral and The Louvre are simply magnificent. The River Seine was amazing. But my favorite memory of Paris will always be the macaroons.

Let me explain:

LadureeMy beautiful wife loves to cook and loves to watch cooking shows and read cookbooks and cooking magazines. Debbie learned that the place for macaroons in Paris is Laduree. People were literally wrapped around the block waiting to purchase macaroons there. It was a must-do! So we patiently waited and little by little wound our way into the shop. The cases were filled with thousands of macaroons in various and assorted flavors. Deb was thrilled beyond words while I was just coming to the realization that macaroons are cookies – beautiful, colorful cookies but cookies nonetheless. Of course neither of us speak French so, when we finally approached the counter, we panicked and requested an assortment. In broken English the young lady said that 24 macaroons would be 40 euro. Deb was still awestruck and nodded – OUI, OUI! I was quickly doing the math in my head – about $56.oo for 24 tiny macaroons! Now I’m not really a cheapskate, but because I figured that I could eat about three macaroons in one bite, I knew that this was going to be a pretty expensive snack. But as we say in Paris ~ C’est la vie!

When we left Laduree I told Deb I thought that 40 euro was a bit much for 24 macaroons. “Oh no!” “I thought she said 14 euro.” was her reply. We both had a good laugh and I told her it was no big deal that we could eat few each day and take the rest back to our home in England. Deb informed me that macaroons have a very short shelf life and that we would have to eat them pretty quickly. So after a long day of sight-seeing we sat in our hotel room with swollen feet and gorged ourselves on macaroons and laughed about how glamorous our time in Paris had become. God forbid we would waste one morsel of precious macaroon!

So that’s my favorite and most vivid memory of Paris. Laughing with the one I love about the macaroon mix-up while stuffing our faces. Hardly the romantic image of Paris I had expected to carry in my heart but still the one I will always cherish.

My love in Paris

My love in Paris 2012

I’ve traveled to some amazing places. I’ve been fortunate to have toured some magnificent castles and world-renowned museums. But my most cherished memories aren’t places. Instead it’s hearing a heartbeat next to mine, touching newborn skin so soft I could barely feel it, tasting a tomato just pulled off the vine, holding a tiny hand in mine, smelling lilacs in bloom, hugging someone so tightly and never wanting to let go, seeing a sunrise so beautiful it made me cry. It doesn’t matter whether those things happened in royal gardens or grand halls or sacred cathedrals or back alley ways.

You see, it’s not where or when that makes memories special. It’s who and why. And macaroons.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

If church could be like the beach, I would go every day…

Last week we were in Florida. Every year when we make our annual jaunt to the Gulf of Mexico I realize that I could very easily become a beach bum. I love the beach. I love the sound of the waves crashing. I love being in the water even with the occasional seaweed wrapping around my legs. Give me a sunny day on the shore with a Corona® or a margarita and a beach chair and I could be happy for hours (or at least until the drinks run dry or the sun goes down).

beachI think the best thing about being on the beach is that no one seems to care about how you look; if you’re on time; if you’re rich or poor; if you’re well-read; if you’re young or old; if you’re fit or a little flabby. Of course when you are on the beach you will see some beautiful beach bodies and some hideous creatures, too. I’d like to think that I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. But it doesn’t matter. Anything goes. The beach is the great equalizer. If you want to run along the shore that’s fine. If you want to lay on a blanket or a lounge chair all day that’s fine, too. If you want to build sand castles or search for sea shells or watch for dolphin sightings, or ride the waves on your boogie board, or just feel the sand between your toes, no one cares. No one judges what you do or don’t do.

Everyone seems to accept you as you are. And no one seems to be bothered to follow anyone else’s idea of what beach time should be. No schools. No rules. No fools. Just be yourself. And be accepted. The beach has room for all.

I’d like to think our church could be like the beach: Room for all. No need for everyone to be the same. Or have the same expectations of holiness. I believe that like the beach, our Eucharist is the great equalizer. We all come to the table from different places but we share in the love of Christ. God doesn’t judge us on our appearance or actions (or inactions) but what is in our hearts.

Like the beach, the church should have room for us all. And a little sunshine wouldn’t hurt once in a while.

Peace,

Denis

Why Is The Table A Woman?

I travel to Mexico frequently and I am desperately trying to learn some Spanish. (Yes, Sister Madeline – I should have paid more attention in Spanish class back in high school! But so far, “¿Donde esta la biblioteca?” hasn’t helped me much.)

What I find most confusing is the gender assignment of nouns. Who decided that the fork (el tenedor) is a male and the spoon (la cuchara) is woman? Also cats, dogs and horses – are all masculine (so I’m not sure how they get more cats, dogs and horses) while kitchens, tables and chairs are female but the plates resting on the table are male. My wife would say that once again the women are doing the heavy lifting in this arrangement.

Who assigned the sexes to nouns anyway? Probably some frustrated Spanish monk, locked away in a dreary monastary on some stoney coastline, tired of all the prayer and self-flagellation. He might have thought, “Hey, this could be fun!” “Let’s make tables female!” Otherwise it could all just be something very Freudian, hence el polo (the pole) and la copa (the cup). On the other hand, towers are femine and canyons are masculine. So I remain confused. 

It gets particularly interestings with plurals. Let me explain: nieto is grandson. Nieta is granddaughter. But grandchildren are nietos (the masculine). Often my director in Mexico City will ask about my grandsons, even though she knows that I have only one grandson and three granddaughters. The same goes for friends, who may be amigos and amigas but together they are all amigos. And on and on…

El AngelDon’t get me wrong, English is just as confusing for non-English speakers. What with our there, their, and they’re; not to mention, wind or wind, tear or tear and lead or lead. I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our language.

Still Spanish is my struggle and I find some amount of humor in all the gender confusion. No doubt I have provided much needed laughter to an overworked restaurant employee when I have asked for a table with a veiw but more likely asked if her legs could support two persons and would she mind if we sat on her while looking out a window.

In my defense, the most important monument in Mexico City, which is within view of my office – El Ángel de la Independencia (“The Angel of Independence”) is sexually confused. El Ángel – masculine. The actual angel on top of  El Ángel, well she’s a woman.

¡Dios Mio! Thankfully I have Google Translate on my iPhone…

Paz,

Denis

 

Miss Manners, Wherefore art thou?

Judith Martin gives advice on etiquette under the pseudonym of Miss Manners. Back in the day, when I actually subscribed to a newspaper, I regularly read her column. Sometimes I was amused by her responses, always delivered in third person. “Gentle Reader, Miss Manners does not approve”. Often I was confused by her archaic approach to modern situations. But lately I find myself longing for the kind of simple courtesy that Miss Manners holds in such high regard.

mannersI recently got home from a business trip. Encountering boorish behavior is nothing new. What’s surprising is that it seems to be more and more the rule rather than the exception. Here’s a sampling of some of what I witnessed:

  • A guy jumped in front of a group of us at the airport parking shuttle bus pick-up (we were huddled together in sub-zero temperatures desperately trying to stay warm and had been waiting in the cold for 15 minutes). As he shoved his way past the rest of us he explained to the driver that he couldn’t possibly wait for the next bus because he had overslept.
  • A lady at the airport security check point insisted her yapping little dog be “treated with respect” – her words. She was demanding this respect from fellow travelers in a very loud and angry voice. Apparently some other passenger had frowned at the aforementioned puppy.
  • A flight attendant told a beleaguered traveler that he would have to gate check his bag because “you people bring too much carry-on stuff “ and “it’s not our job to accommodate all of this!” In fairness it was a very full flight but the poor guy was just asking what he should/could do.

I know that we live in busy world. But can’t we be busy and courteous? Can’t we hurry and still be mannerly?

This is often my own struggle. And my great shame is that I could see myself in each of these individuals – the offenders; not the offended. My impatience, disregard for others feelings, and my self-importance was reflected in each of these actions. I believe that Miss Manners would, more often than not, disapprove of my behavior. What can I do? What should I do???

I’m going to start by remembering that simple courtesy is a luxury I can afford. I should be able get to my destination on time and also be kind to strangers. I believe that I can put others needs ahead of my own and still achieve my goals

 Gentle Readers, I promise to try harder to please Miss Manners.

Peace,

Denis

Man Cannot Live By Bread Alone…

Man cannot live by bread alone, or so the story goes. And of course it’s a metaphor for life but I love bread. And with a glass of wine, I’d be just fine. I love all bread (and if rice and pasta count) then my life is complete. I love Italian bread and French baguettes and Indian naan and New York bagels and big yeasty rolls and pita and biscuits and hard rolls and well, you get the idea. I LOVE BREAD.

bread-collageYears ago when we were in France with our family having lunch at a little outdoor café, there was a small (very small) basket of bread at my place. We were enjoying our meal and then someone asked if there was any more bread. I had eaten all of mine. It was then that I realized no one else had been given a basket of bread – because THE BASKET was for the entire table. Apparently the French are very stingy with their bread (others at our table thought that I had eaten more than my share but they were wrong).

My grandkids are big bread-eaters, too. I encourage this. I wish that there were more bakeries. I would like to see a campaign for bread like those milk ads of recent history. With athletes and celebrities shoving there faces into some doughy confection and extolling it’s virtue with a “Got Bread?” tagline. Nothing is better than a warm, crusty roll fresh out of the oven. Nothing smells better than bread baking. Nothing brings the same comfort as bread and butter. One of the joys of living in England last year was the multitude of bakeries near our village. We had fresh bread nearly everyday. And cheese – glorious cheese! Bread was always a part of each meal at our table and sometimes bread alone would have been enough (with the aforementioned glass of wine).

So why can’t we live on bread alone? Because we need butter, too. And wine. Even Jesus needed bread and wine. Metaphorically speaking we also need more than just bread. We need diversity. We need choices. Life would be boring if everyone was the same; if everyday was like the day before. I believe that the messiness of life provides the ‘flavor’. The uncertainty of life can be challenging at times  but it can also whet our appetite for more: more adventure; more opportunity; more joy; more love.

So I suppose as much as I love bread I still can’t live on it alone (or that I would want to) but I think that I could live on bread and wine and cheese and chocolate. Oh, and don’t forget bacon! Man might be able to live on bacon alone. But then again…

Peace,

Denis

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,

Denis

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,

Denis

http://www.stonesoupcottage.com/

Nearly a Near Death Experience

For several years now we have vacationed on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida with our daughter, son-in-law and grandkids. Last week was our week on the beach. The first full day it rained – all day! So when the sun came up on day two, we were ready to have some fun. Because of the storms from the previous week and the subsequent strong waves and rip tides, red caution flags were flying. My daughter and I were undaunted. We would ride the waves but do it cautiously. After a few minutes in the water it became apparent that we were too far from shore. It all happened very quickly.

My daughter Bess abandoned her flotation device (actually just a swimming pool floatee) and swam toward the beach. As I watched her make it safely to shore the waves pushed me further and further out to sea. I considered leaving my floatee and swimming but by then I was in very deep water and after fighting the waves felt too weak to swim. I held on to my floatee.

So much to live for...

So much to live for…

While I was being submerged by capsizing waves and being pulled by the undertow I came to the realization that I might not make it. My son-in-law swam out to attempt a rescue but the waves were too strong for him (and he’s a strong guy). Again I thought – I MIGHT NOT MAKE IT. I never felt panicky just tired and a little dizzy. I came to the conclusion that drowning wouldn’t be painful – I would probably just doze off and slip into the water – THE END. As each gulp of salt water came more and more frequently it was clear that this was bad – really bad. But I wasn’t ready to die. So I paddled with my arms and kicked with my feet and hugged my floatee for dear life. DEAR LIFE.

After what seemed like hours but was really more like forty-five minutes, through luck and nature’s grace, I finally fought the under tow and came close to shore. A kind stranger came out to help me in the last 20 feet or so. My family met me on the beach with cheers and tears and swears and I collapsed in a heap.

I joked that I wouldn’t need salt on my afternoon margarita and tried to downplay the entire episode. I apologized to my wife Deb who had “told me so”. And I promised to NEVER be so careless in the water again. And I silently thanked God for the grace of allowing me more time.

I don’t know how close my “close call” actually was but it was close enough. Of course I was in the water the next day and several more days after that but only when the red flags were not flying. I’m not afraid to die but I’d rather live (there’s so much to live for!)

Oh, did I mention I saw a shark in the water, too?

Peace,

Denis

Cuidad de Mexico Sin Mi Amor (Mexico City Without My Love)

It probably sounds cliche but what I enjoyed most about living last year in England was being there with my wife.

imageToday I’m leaving Mexico City on a trip that was mostly business but after 15 or 20 visits to Mexico (I’ve lost count) I finally visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Although the churches are beautiful – actually three – old, newer, and newest – and the rest of the gardens and plaza are amazing it was a bit of an empty experience without Deb. Such is the life of a traveling business person in love with their spouse.

Still in love after all of these years!

We’ll get to Mexico City together but until then I’ll have the memories of London, Edinburgh, Rome, Paris, and Madrid. And truth be told my best times with my wife are the days that are ordinary. Those days in which time seems to stand still; those days that are golden just because we can afford to waste time (which is never really a waste when we’re together).

imageSo today I was privileged to trod the steps of Juan Diego who in 1531 spoke with the Virgin Mary and witnessed the miracle that Mexicans still honor today. But while walking this holy place I was keenly aware of another miracle that happened in 1973 – Debbie loved Denis!

I’m headed home tonight. And after 40years the miracle continues.

Peace,

Denis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkoT1nZOexY