Space and Time

It is a quieter week on the Epic Vacation. We stayed an extra day in Salisbury just because, and gave up the car and ate at the hotel and did laundry in the sink. (Towel warmers, a lovely invention, dry clothes quite nicely.) There was no internet in the rooms so we all hung out in the lobby drinking Starbucks and cocoa. Of course, after we turned in the car Kelly discovered that crop circles were popping up each day in Wiltshire, one in the same spot I had been photographing a few days earlier. Here is the photo I took Sunday afternoon. Then the link to what showed up in the field Tuesday morning.
Crop Circle Connector

Besides having the oldest cathedral in England, Wiltshire is a spooky place - standing stones, chalk horses, and more crop circles than anywhere in the world.

Then on to Cardiff. We are getting more comfortable with train travel, so much so that Theo asked why we don't ride trains all the time. We easily got to our apartment, which is as large as all the other places we have stayed put together. Theo said, upon arrival, "Not another apartment!" (we didn't like the one in Paris) but then, once he was inside, shouted his love for the space. Each boy immediately found their own room, spread out their stuff, and camped out. After lunch Zane closed his door, Theo took over the living room, Kelly took a  nap upstairs, and I went out for a walk to Central Cardiff. (Maybe we have been in tight quarters too long.)

We are right on the border of a nice neighborhood and the kind that boards up at 6 pm. Bute Park, along the river, is about three blocks east. From there you can walk downtown to the Millenium Stadium and Queen's Arcade. We saw a magpie in the park yesterday and surprised a local young woman with our delight about that. Of course, she was more delightful than the bird - her hair was kelly green and she had silver sparkles on her eyelashes. I didn't have the nerve to ask to photograph her.

So during the day we walk through the park to Central Cardiff and at night we stay in and watch the Eurocup games. Tomorrow is a big day, however: Zane and I will take the four hour Doctor Who/Torchwood/Sara Jane locations tour while Kelly and Theo explore Cardiff Castle, that is, if we find a place to stash our luggage (I think we have that covered.) Zane and I have been big Doctor fans these last few years, and Torchwood is actually situated in Cardiff, supposedly on a rift in space and time. I think the rift is actually in Wiltshire, England, but BBC doesn't have a studio there, so Cardiff is more convenient.

Then we take a train to Coventry, late at night, so we can visit that castle, which is complete with a fake dragon. We continue our meander to Glasgow where, on Thursday, we part ways. I will go to Iona for about a week and the boys are flying home with Kelly.

Space and time keep expanding and contracting on this trip as it seems long or short, as our space seems large or small, as the world seems huge or close, as history compacts or stretches on.


Traveling with Children

When I wrote my Lilly grant, I was aware that I was going to have a very different experience than if my children were grown. Many people are hiking a pilgrim trail or some such thing. I am traveling through Europe with my husband and two sons aged 8 and 12.

So we have to take a pace they can manage. We need to try to find places to stay that are comfortable for them, at least a bit. (When we arrived in Cardiff Theo said, very loudly, "not another apartment!") (Although it turns out he is thrilled with having a room of his own.) We need activities that interest them, (there are only so many old rocks they will look at) and we need, we have discovered, to act like we know how we are getting from one place to the next. I doubt we will make the "a taxi from the airport/train station is too expensive; we can use public transportation" mistake again.

Our food is not as exotic as it might be - we have pizza once a day - and here we are in Wales watching the Eurocup in an apartment.

But what an amazing experience we are having as a family. We are getting to know each other really well. I am remembering how Kelly just does what is needed if I fall apart. The boys are learning a lot about their father's sense of humor. (Ask them about pudding.) Kelly and Zane had to amuse themselves for several hours while Theo and I went up the Eiffel Tower, chatting together. And we have had some very giggly evenings.

We have learned that Theo loves learning words in new languages. Zane is an excellent navigator and often knows the way back to someplace. He figures out the money quicker than the rest of us, and is more aware of when we are likely to get run over.

Before we left Zane asked why we were doing this long trip and I said it was my dream, and that this is just what families do, force themselves to be far from home with no one to bug but each other. Yesterday he thanked me for this trip. I knew it would be good to spend this time together, but I did not realize just what a gift this would be for us.

Another thing: the Lilly grant for clergy renewal is so amazingly gracious. To have a budget generous enough to see the things we want to see, stay in a variety of places, and to not have to scrimp on food has been wonderful. We have many memories of wonderful meals and experiences that we will talk about for years.

(If you want to apply for a lilly grant, I would be glad to talk about it. I think I am only beginning to understand what a grace it is.).


Religion and Tourists

Kelly drove me in to Salisbury so I could attend worship at the cathedral this morning. I left my camera home because I wanted to worship and not think about taking photos. As I walked up to the side entrance, intending to round over to the front, the greeter opened the door for me. "Shouldn't I go round the front?" I asked. "I open the door for late regulars," he replied. I was pleased to be mistaken for a regular.

Worship was wonderful. The procession of the boys choir, adult choir, various clergy and paraphenalia was impressive. The prayers were well worded, the music surreally gorgeous, communion was open and a woman preached. It is John the Baptist's day but she worked in the upcoming Anglican meeting and its struggle to consecrate women bishops.

The space is unbelievably beautiful. This is the cathedral that Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth is about, nearly 800 years old. The rows of folding chairs are surrounded by tombs, and you walk on gravestones when going up to communion. (How does it affect worship to be surrounded by the reminder of death?)

I spent the service looking forward at the stunning blue stained glass and up at the vaulted ceiling. After the service, while the organist played something by Louis Vierne, and the procession walked by, I turned to see the stunning light of the back window and walls. I heard water running somewhere so, after the organist finished, leaving that last note ringing through the building, I went to investigate. In 2008 they dedicated the most beautiful baptismal font I have ever seen. It is four sided and pours out water at each point from a mirror-like still surface, and on each side is a quote from Isaiah, "when you pass through the water...".

As I waited to greet the preacher the tourists poured in with their cameras. I will return with my good lenses tomorrow for photos.

This afternoon we visited Stonehenge, just a few miles away. It was a lovely sunny day. Theo was irritated that we could not walk up to it, that we had to pay, and that lots of people were there. (We were at Avebury yesterday in the cold rain alone. It is free and open.)

But it is an impressive thing. Who knows who built it (or laid out the chalk horse or built Silbury Hill or the Long Barrows) or for what purpose. Kelly tried to explain to Zane what the Druids think about it all. Anyway, we took photos like everyone else, ate some ice cream, and went back to our car.

As we got into the car we noticed a group of people gathering in very particular dress. The Druids were there for their worship. The lines of tourists were getting longer, but their worship would proceed in the literal midst of them all.

The line between worship and tourism is a little thin here. I spent today on both sides.



We rode the train from London to Salisbury today, not the same train the elegantly dressed hordes were riding this morning. Our crisis for today was Theo leaving his "rucksack" in the taxi. It has his little boy blanket, his games, and growing collection of stuffed creatures in it. The family portion of the trip is half over, but it is too soon for a little boy not to have his comforts! Zane directed us back to the train station, recognized the car, and the cabbie had it waiting for us. He said he would have driven it out to our hotel after his shift. I nearly cried.

Our hotel. Now, about that. We had a chance to stay in a guest house of a homeless shelter in Salisbury or a Holiday Inn dropped out by Stonehenge, complete with Starbucks and Pizza Hut. I asked the boys a few days ago which they would prefer. Guess where we are? The claim of free wifi is misleading, however.

Around 6:30 we decided to head up to Avebury, which is larger than stonehenge and free. I contained all my screams as Kelly drove the country roads on the wrong side in the crappy little Peugeot, and we arrived in Avebury in the rain. We stomped about awhile (amazing place!) and then escaped to the local pub for an amazing meal. The boys declined to try the spotted dick pudding but have been giggling for hours over it.

Some photos. There are three trees growing together covered with ribbons. This is just a few days after the solstice.

Tomorrow church at Salisbury cathedral and then Stonehenge.

Lovely London

Had a lovely day yesterday, just what I needed. I thought we should visit John Wesley's grave, located behind Wesley's Chapel on City Street. (I told Zane he would get some extra confirmation points.) We walked through the chapel, which was getting ready for a wedding, and out into the garden past several graves. Then we came upon John Wesley's grave and tears came to my eyes. That surprised me a bit. A grave over 200 years old tucked behind a chapel and near a modern building and carport moved me more than Chartes Cathedral Yet in the last 25 years I have become increasingly clear how important my Methodist theology and heritage are to me. Seeing his pulpit was also pretty amazing. I felt a little sacreligious but Kelly took a photo of me in it. I was impressed by the kneeling pad inside, obviously for prayer.

Then an hour on the pier while Kelly and Theo rode the London Eye. A successful day riding the underground, too.

After that we made our way to Sloane Square for dinner with Kathi and Steve Mahle, who are living here for awhile. Kathi has been an important mentor for me as a clergywoman and mother for many years, and to see her in the middle of this journey was a real gift. I left with a blessing for the rest of my journey and a reminder of what I am doing, traipsing about Europe for several weeks.

A few photos...



A few photos from the top of a tour bus in the rain. Amazing the boys tolerated it as well as they did. We saw much of London this way. I am amazed at how much of my culture (church, literature, TV) is from this place. I guess that is one reason I wanted to come. I also wanted to see the land of my ancestors. Except for a little Cree Indian and French Canadian, all my people came from the UK.

Again, these are hurried and unedited and taken in the rain.

The London eye from the wrong angle (the boys had no tolerance for mucking about at that point), Big Ben, and a Chihuly placed in the middle of everything.


I will have to write more thoughtfully when I have a better interface about my feelings visiting Chartes. It is a little like when I first saw the ocean. My younger sister ran up to it, screaming, which is an appropriate response, yet I felt she was not respecting the sacredness of that moment. So is entering Chartes, with the most wonderful labyrinth in the world covered with folding chairs upon which tour groups are perched.

Anyway, here are a few photos. Unedited. (It is frustrating me not to have aperture and my giant screen to work on.)


Achievement Get

We have had some amazing days in our first week of this Epic Vacation, but we have had some hard days. But we have figured out a way to talk about our challenges. I live with three gamers, so we started calling all our difficulties Challenges and all our successes Achievement Get, complete with Bonus points and Life Energy (sleep and food.)  I have a little chart with icons I have made for the major levels we have accomplished and the challenges met. (Theo likes this so much he is talking about minor events this way - like eating lunch, he says, "Lunch. Achievement Get!")

So here is our first week:

1st Level --
Airport MSP
  bonus: Elaine gives us ride and lines are short
  challenge: Kelly forgot camera battery on desk
Flying on the edge of night
  challenge: no sleep! except for Theo
  bonus: incredibly beautiful
  challenge: we understand no words and no road signs correspond to anything we have
  bonus: we land within 2 blocks of apartment and are able to find it and go to sleep immediately
  challenge: directions to Skogra geysir tell us not to go to Geysir, which doesn't go anymore, except Skogra is 100 feet from Geysir
  bonus: Skogra goes off often and boys are delighted
  bonus: we sight a humpback, which is rare this time of year
  bonus: we find an American style restaurant to the boys can eat
                low on life force: zzz and hunger points

2nd Level --
Finding Keflavik Airport
  challenge: map does not correspond with any road names, and road we must turn on has no sign, and it is 5:30 am
  bonus: best cup of cappuccino ever in the Keflavik airport
Flight to Paris
   challenge: train we were told to take is closed
Escaping Gare du Nord train station
   challenge: sleeping people, being accosted by petitioners and the mentally ill
Climb Montmarte Hill
   challenge: carry all luggage up Paris's highest hill; miss funicular by 2 blocks
Find apartment
   challenge: find enough cash to pay rent in full
   challenge: remember code for door and how keys work
   challenge: family only has one working phone
Tour Eiffel
   challenge: only one tower is working so line is 3 hours long
Achieve Rental Car
  challenge: rental car company moved day of rental; phone number does not work; no one knows where company has moved to
  bonus: information lady, on third visit, tells us where it is
   challenge: children are starving and tired of McDonalds
   challenge: credit cards do not work in any machines due to lack of chip
             low on life force: zzz and hunger points

3rd Level --
Dijon for the night
   challenge: need enough coins for toll road (American credit cards not accepted)
    bonus: truck stops hand serve espresso and pastries at midnight
   challenge: riding mountain road without throwing up -- achieve! with help of Jolly Ranchers
See Friends
   challenge: no common language
   bonus: everyone had lovely time
Eat a meal
   challenge: no credit cards accepted
   bonus: excellent meal
Escape Paris
   challenge: all roads near apartment closed for pedestrian day
   challenge: traffic and car wrecks

4th Level --
See Chartes Cathedral
   challenge: arrive one minute after it closes
   bonus -- eat fabulous meal
Hotel with Pool
  bonus -- ate three meals each (almost) and to bed before midnight!

Next Level --
Mt St. Michele

Bucket List Part 2

When we asked Zane what he most wanted to do in Europe, Kelly suggested we visit Sylvie and Thiery, whom we met in Bogota while we were all adopting our eldest sons. They live at the edge of Switzerland and we figured we could take the TGV train to see them while staying in Paris. Zane said yes, we should do this. So we found their address - thankfully they hadn't moved in 12 years - and wrote to them. We have very little French and they have very little English, just like in Bogota, but we planned a rendezvous.

Of course when we got here we realized how expensive it would be to ride the TGV so we rented a car (much travail involved) and left Paris late Friday night to drive to Dijon to sleep for a few hours before heading to Senarclens, Switzerland. They met us at the le Gare (train station) in Morgas. They look exactly the same, jumped out of the car and did the kiss on each cheek thing. Thiery told me we needed to do it trois times (3), not two. Their sons Clement, who is two months younger than Zane, and Justine, who is seven, kissed me also. Then we followed them to their home for an afternoon visit.

They live in this idyllic little village with a view of Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva out the front window and an open porch, swimming pool, and cherry trees viewing the hay fields in the back. The boys had no language in common but a soccer ball and their iPods, yet that was plenty. They swam, played football, and discussed Angry Birds and Minecraft together for hours.

I have a French/English translation program on my iPad (thank you, Apple) so we worked our way through conversation pretty well. We talked about the boys, their second visit to Bogota for Justine, how everyone is doing. They asked where Theo came from and I said, "Surprise!" and their response was joyous. We shared our memories of Bogota, like when we thought we had all been exposed to meningitis, and Thiery was so calm, and when Thiery was held up at gunpoint, and Sylvie was not calm.

After awhile Thiery's father came and we sat under the cherry trees drinking sparkling water on the perfect day while Zane, the boys, and some neighbor kids played football in the hayfield and the rest of us looked through photos and a map of the whole world sharing where we had been.

We left around dinner time, but not before lots of photos, kisses, and looking each other up on facebook. On the drive back to Dijon Zane asked lots of questions about our time in Bogota.

We were exhausted but what a wonderful, delightful afternoon we had. It is amazing how a connection can happen when you don't share language, but we did share an extremely important experience and memories. The connection is more of heart than words and that is enough. Perhaps how adoption is a connection of heart instead of body, and that is enough.

Bucket List Part 1

When I asked Theo what he most wanted to do in our European vacation (or Epic Vacation, as he calls it) he said, without a pause, "See the Eiffel Tower." So we did.

Friday (after a long list of vacationing-in-a-foreign-country-where-you-don't-know-the-language crises to solve) we took bus 42 downtown to Tour Eiffel. Only Piliar Est was open (the east pillar) so the line was several hours long. It threatened rain, but mostly held off. Zane and Kelly stayed on the ground and talked to some, apparently, boring folks from North Carolina while Theo and I stood in line with people from all over the world to buy our tickets, go up the car to the second level, go up to the top, come down to the second level, and to use the WC (toilet) (separate lines and wait for each item.)

Theo was finished with lines by then so we walked down the stairs from the second level, which is really quite high. My calves still feel it. Theo, however, figured out how to ski down the little flat part on the edge of the stair while holding the railing. When men, struggling for breath as they climbed to the second level (the ticket is a few euros cheaper if you walk up to that level) would see him sliding down they would grin as if remembering when they were boys.

It was amazing to see all of Paris from that height. I was able to discern why our walk up MontMarte, with all our luggage, the day before, had been so hard -- it is a rather high hill. And unlike the Sears Tower, at the very top you are actually outside with a grid surrounding the level. The wind is ferocious!

So here are a few untouched photos from Tour Eiffel, as Theo now calls it (the French version.)



3 things from the boys today:
Zane - ate his first chocolate croissant today; ate some great french bread; saved us at 5:30 am when we were lost looking for the car rental company to return the car

Theo - we saw a cathedral (Sacre de Cours); I saw the Eiffel Tower out the window; I got some candy

Me - this was a really hard travel day, pushing everyone to their limit (I started praying at one point -- "need some help here!! - and we do actually have a place to stay tonight, but I do hope Paris actually gets dark and I can sleep tonight...); I ate the best chocolate croissant I have ever had (why do we even eat them in the States? to remember, vaguely, what they are like here?); and, after all this, Paris is pretty cool. 



Fabulous day. Kelly and I were tossing around a few lame ideas for our day in Iceland, and I said, "too bad Zane has a cold. We could go on a whale watching tour." Zane piped up and said, "lets go!" One hour later we were on the Rosin. It was a beautiful afternoon, and after an hour the boat stopped we saw several Minka whales and one. Humpback. We watched them for an hour. I got a few decent shots-the circumstances were difficult. The boat was moving and rocking and the whales went from one side to the other, and so did we. Then we stopped at a puffin island on the way back. The crew were very excited because the humpback is a little out of season.

Wonderful, salty day.

Skogra Geyser and Lake Pingvallavatn

We spent several hours in the late afternoon and evening yesterday looking for the Skogra Geyser, not the Geysir Geyser. We were working with online maps that recached as soon as we left our guesthouse, and paper maps that did not correspond with any of the names we had. Kelly knew that Geysir no longer blew, but Skogra did often. Little did we know they are about 100 feet apart. We finally asked one of the impossibly tall, beautiful blondes that populate this amazing island and got real directions to Skogra. Theo (who only slept a few hours on the plane) was sound asleep for most of this adventure but woke up to see the "stinky geyser" which blew every few minutes. Here you see it gurgling just as it got ready to blow. Also Lake Pingvallavatn, which we drove around for much of the afternoon. And Zane in his awesomeness. And me in front of an unfocused, fissure in the ground near the lake. (Everything is on a fault line here.)

I can't see my photos too well on this tiny netbook screen (I'm used to my Aperture program and a gigantic screen to process photos on.) So they might not be fabulous. But this is the untouched version of what I saw yesterday.


Three Things

Every day after school I ask the boys to tell me three things about their day. I hope to do that each day of this trip. They did theirs in unison today (I think they are too tired to come up with more):

*they had fun wrestling each other all day (did I say they were tired?)
*they thought it was cool getting stinky geyser water sprayed on their face
*the volcano (Hekla) was cool

My three things:
*it was amazing to fly right on the line between night and day as it curves into the northern sky. It never got dark, yet I saw the sunrise (with Theo sleeping spread across my lap).
*I want to come back to Iceland. I haven't seen so much undeveloped space in forever. The landscape is stunning.
*even though our maps didn't have the street listed, our phones had no signal, and we speak no Icelandic, I got us within three blocks of our guesthouse this morning just by remembering the spatial relationship of the Reykjavik Peace Center to the Smarilind Mall.
(may I add a fourth? Pizza Hut is outrageously expensive here.)

Great day traveling. The boys were fantastic. Tomorrow we are hoping for puffins and hot springs. We'll see how lost we get.


Tinier transitions

I have moved 11 times in the last 25 years. I have had 5 appointments in 21 years of ministry. I get itchy after a few years.

So maybe it is good that, five years into this appointment, I get a transition without actually moving. I have a renewal leave. And because I will be traveling with my family for several weeks, the trustees decided to remodel the kitchen.

So I moved out of my office and put (some) of that stuff on my porch. The kitchen is in the living room. We are moving the living room into Kelly's office so it can be painted.

Boxes and disarray. Feels like moving.

And my congregation sort of said goodbye last week, and even though I am next door, I am not working for a short time. Sort of like that little window between one church and the next, without actually leaving.

So maybe I will trick that part of me that gets antsy and stay put for awhile.


Mama's Season Off

First day of three month renewal leave. I feel out of sorts.

I've had two maternity leaves (8 weeks each) over the last 21 years, but those have very definite, dramatic beginnings that leave you exhausted and completely distracted from the fact that you are trying to set aside the clergy role. This is different. Until we get on the plane, I suppose I am going to feel this vague - shouldn't I be checking my email or going to the office - thing.

Worship was lovely yesterday. The church gave me and my family a lovely sendoff. I could not have imagined anything more perfect. I moved out of my office last night. I did have a few piddly things to finish up today, and have putzed around trying to get loose of my work email. So I haven't _really_ had a day completely on leave yet. But I imagine this feeling will be with me for awhile.

Some of my discomfort, I think, is that awkward space inside as I try to set aside my role as clergy. One works so hard to pick it up! I've been joking about what I will find in my head when I set aside the long list of summer tasks, the worrying about everyone in the congregation, the constant pull of the next sermon.

I found one thing in my brain today - worry. I dreamt last night that I lost Theo on a train (like, for a whole day). We'll be traveling by train all over Europe in another week or so, and when Theo isn't on his ADD medication he gets a bit wandery. So Kelly and I had dog tags (literal dog tags, or cat tags, at the pet store) made up for Zane and Theo with our cell numbers on them. Then I came home and picked up The Daily Message by Eugene Peterson and read the June 4 reading, something in Philippians about not worrying but praying instead.

Not only do I not want to lose Theo on a train somewhere, but I need him here to remind me what I'm doing. He is the one who really gets this renewal leave idea. He asked me several times this weekend when, exactly, my time off began. We went to a street fair yesterday and had a picnic in the front yard this evening. He crawls in my lap and says he wants to cuddle until Middle School. He has been calling this summer "Mama's Season Off."

Nothing like a little boy to help you figure out what you are really supposed to be doing.