Road Sage

I’ve come to a conclusion about bad drivers: none of them is ever me. RoadRage

I find myself screaming nearly every day on my commute to work: “What’s wrong with you?” or “Hang up your phone and drive!” or “Hey jerk, you just ran a red light!” or “What is your hurry; where’s the fire?” or “Why can’t you hurry up, I don’t have all day here?”

So many people to yell at; so many mistakes to point out. It’s exhausting! By the time I reach my office in the morning I can barely pour that first cup of coffee. I feel as if I’ve already worked half a day. Somehow I forge ahead confident in my superior driving technique. I am keenly aware of the bad drivers and can spot them immediately. Beware of the following:

The Radio Singer – this person is rehearsing for their big break on American Idol and they often forget that they are actually behind the wheel of a car. Sometimes they need a friendly toot at a stop light that has already turned green while they’re hitting their high note. Repeated honk-honk-honking can sometimes move them along.

The Bobber & Weaver – this person seems uncertain just what those painted lines on the freeway mean. They often bank their car from side to side in any (sometimes multiple) lane(s). Repeated honk-honk-honking makes them look around and only aggravates the situation.

The Slow Middle Laner – this driver only drives in the middle lane and annoyingly drives the speed limit. Apparently they have never heard of the 5-over rule; which of course means you can always drive at least 5 miles over the speed limit (even in the slow lane). In Illinois it’s the 10-over rule. Repeated honk-honk-honking only seems to strengthen their resolve.

The Braker – this guy hits his brakes every time he sees ANY tail light come on. It doesn’t matter if the illuminated tail light is a half mile ahead. This of course creates a chain reaction for other Brakers (and necessitates the use of curse words for the good drivers like me). Repeated honk-honk-honking just creates more braking.

The Tailgater – this person follows too closely behind the person if front of him (or her). Also known as “riding one’s butt”. This driver believes that they can accelerate the car in front simply by pushing them down the road. This rarely works (See The Slow Middle
Laner above). Repeated honk-honk-honking rarely works either.

The Cell Phone Talker – this driver is so enthralled in some conversation that they often SLOW DOWN to listen. Repeated honk-honk-honking can sometimes jolt them into consciousness and safe-driving.

The Makeup Artist – this driver is usually a woman (although not exclusively) who uses her morning commute as an opportunity to prepare herself to look lovely for the day. Repeated honk-honk-honking can really screw up her ability to apply her mascara properly.

Last year we lived in England. Sometimes I miss life there, with the narrow roads, left-hand driving, right-hand steering wheels. I knew there that I was the bad driver. It also recently occured to me that all the honk-honk-honking in the U.K. might have been directed at me.

Maybe it’s time for a foreign road trip. I could probably use a little humility. On the other hand, it’s good to be the smartest driver on the road.

Peace,

Denis

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.

Peace,

Denis

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

What Happened???

I’ve been told that there are three kinds of people:

Those that make things happen. Those that watch things happen. And those that say “what happened?”

Lately I feel that I have fallen into that third category.

Let me explain: We have just recently moved back to the United States after living in England for most of this year and are still adjusting to our new/old life here (and haven’t completely unpacked). Our son just got married last week to a lovely young woman and we are still on an emotional high from that beautiful day. We had a presidential election for which I had to vote an absentee ballot because Monday after the wedding I left for a week in Mexico City to help establish a new division for my employer. I haven’t even lost my British accent (I honestly never had one, but now I do say brilliant, keen and lovely too often) and I find myself voting for an American President and trying to learn Spanish (again) all at the same time. Dios mio!

I need things to  S L O W  D O W N  a bit.  And I need to get off of this emotional rollercoaster. I am happy to be home from England and sad to have left our lovely (there I’ve said it again) life there. I am thankful for the love that Tyson and Colleen have found and resentful that the Air Force cancelled his assignment at a nearby installation so that now they begin their new life together away from family and friends. I am proud to live in a country that allows me the freedom to vote my conscience and disillusioned by the bishops and priests of my Church with their thinly veiled vitriolic attempts to control my vote (“Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”). Clearly it didn’t work anyway – 51% of Catholics voted for the President. As far as my new assignment with our Mexican division, for all of the reported lawlessness in Mexico I find the people that I’m working with to be well educated, professional, and hard-working but government regulations make employing them a monumental task (plus my aforementioned poor Spanish skills which only adds to my frustration and a nasty case of Montezuma’s Revenge – ugh!).

So I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little lost(?). I’m sure I’ll catch up soon – on sleep, on correspondence, on social engagements, on our un-packing. But until then I suppose I’ll find myself scratching my head and asking, “what happened???”.

Peace,

Denis

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…

Peace,

Denis

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.”

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

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…

Peace,

Denis

Nothing Lost in Translation

Two of our grandkids are in England. They arrived here last week and they don’t leave until next week. That’s three weeks of grandparent time! Anna is now four and Noah will be two in September. For the record, they brought their parents along but this week Mommy & Daddy have taken a little side trip to Scotland. So it’s just Anna, Noah, Deb and me at home this week. It’s sublime.

My favourite times with them are the quiet times. Like when Noah sings “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or when Anna tells me, in a whisper, that she has been missing me very much since I moved to England (pronounced Ing-Gull-land). This morning I got Noah out of his crib and his sweet sleepy morning smile nearly made my heart burst. And last night Anna curled up with me on the couch while Deb got baby brother to sleep and gave me kisses that would have melted the coldest of hearts.

The active times are fun, too. Probably more fun for Anna and Noah. They are happy, loving, active children – with an emphasis on active. Noah is like a baby Houdini. He can escape any high chair or car seat and climbs, jumps and runs (even indoors). Anna is a girl who has a lot to say – a whole lot. She often engages in a running commentary and is very well-informed about things beyond most four year-olds’ grasp. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I cherish every moment of our time together. It’s just that I realize now why God gave us our children when we were younger.

Last night I was greeted in the garden by both of them running toward me when I got home from work. You can’t buy that kind of love. Tonight we played in the back garden while dinner was being prepared. It takes quite a bit of energy to keep up with these two. But it’s worth it. They’re worth it! I love them so much.

Angels at Winchester Cathedral

And they’re funny, too. In our family we say, “funny trumps all” and we have shared lots of laughs. Noah thinks it’s hilarious when I make a funny noise (and of course it’s only truly funny when he then mimics me). After being presented with “Union Jack” pinwheels, Anna informed us that they’re called “wind-blowers in her country.” And she thinks that English Olivia is very humorous (Olivia is an animated pig who speaks American English at her house and the Queen’s English on our telly here). This evening Noah dipped his little hand in the bird bath next door, made the ‘sign of the cross’ and started singing Alleluia. O holy Noah! Have we visited too many churches and cathedrals?

We’re having a big adventure with our grandchildren. And we’re all learning some new things. And confirming some things that we already knew. Like how much we love one another. And how it’s okay to be apart for a while because we’ll always be connected.

Nothing is really lost in translation. Love is universal and is not bound by geography, custom or language. Children are called by many different affectionate names in Britain. They might be called dear, dearie, flower, love, chicky, duckie, or wee ain. I like to call my grandkids ‘Tunia & Buster even if their given names are Anna & Noah.  After all, wasn’t it Shakespeare that said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?

Cheers,

Denis