Archive | January 2013

The Kind of Friend I Want to Be

I have been thinking a lot lately about friendship.  I have been blessed with many wonderful friends throughout my life, and I hope that I am as good a friend in return.  So, I started thinking: “what makes a good friend?”  I started building an idea gathered from what I would want from a friend, what I have seen from my own friends, & wisdom from the ultimate source, the Bible, and here’s what I’ve got so far:

A good friend is – loving, kind, accepting, forgiving, encouraging, honest, loyal

A good friend is not – self-centered, demeaning, indulgent

Let’s start with the nots first, since there are fewer of them.
Self-centered: I know that I am guilty of this.  I can easily get completely absorbed with my own issues – how I feel, what I’m thinking, what I need.  When I’m so focused on myself, I don’t leave any thought or energy to think of others, to think of my friends around me – how they feel, what they are thinking, what they need.
Demeaning: a friend should lift you up, not tear you down.  This is the opposite of encouraging, which I believe a friend should be.  I hope that I would never be guilty of this; it is not nice & very unfriendly.
Indulgent: a friend that is too tolerant is not helping to grow the other person.  How can you be iron that sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17) if you have blunted all of your edges to keep from hurting anyone?  You can see the fine line appearing to balance between accepting, forgiving, & indulging.  It is one that takes lots of prayer to navigate.

So that leaves what a friend is.
Loving: “A friend loves at all times” Proverbs 17:17  Loving at all times means infusing everything you do with love.  Love is the basis of friendship.
Kind: “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty” Job 6:14  That sounds serious.  Some of these attributes start to intertwine & overlap, but they are all subtly different & important.
Accepting: We are all made differently; we all have our own flaws, our own struggles.  A friend accepts your differences, accepts you as you are.
Forgiving: “Be kind & compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” Ephesians 4:32  Everyone messes up, makes mistakes, is wrong whether knowingly or unknowingly at some point in their lives – well, at many points.  We all need forgiveness, and not one of us has the right to withhold it.
Encouraging: A friend helps you see your good points, reassures you when you are uncertain, & lifts you up when you are down all through encouraging words.
Honest: A friend is straight-up with you. Thanks to the aforementioned kindness, the honesty is tempered with love and is therefore helpful & not hurtful.
Loyal: A friend is supportive, gives you the benefit of the doubt, and stands by you even through tough times.  A good friend does not abandon you.

In listing all of these things, I am giving myself a model to strive toward and holding myself accountable to it.  I’m not claiming to be all-knowing or even a good source for information; I’m just sharing my thoughts.  It hopefully didn’t become too sanctimonious because I am preaching to myself more than anyone else.  It’s funny how the mind can know all of these things, but they somehow don’t always make it through to our words or actions.
I want to live this out.
I want to be a friend worth having.
I want to be a great friend.


The People You Meet: A Day With Hot Philip

This past October, I went on a Mediterranean cruise with a fun group of ladies.  We had a blast exploring locations in Italy, Greece, & Turkey!  We had an unexpected treat at our second port, the Greek island of Corfu.

We didn’t have an excursion planned for this stop, but we did have a short list of things we wanted to see that we knew weren’t going to be walking distance.  Once we disembarked, we looked at the taxi tours offered from the port building.  We found a good deal: 2-hours including our main spots for 20Euro each.  The lady handling our transaction gave us a sly smile and told us she knew just the person to take us.  She says, “He’s very handsome. Just watch his face when he sees all of you!”  A guy walks up & escorts us outside, and I’m thinking he’s alright, nothing to fuss over.  Then, I realize my mistake as our driver emerges from the taxi – umm, what’s the Greek word for “wowza!”?  His shades kept us from seeing his reaction to us, but I’m sure we were conspicuously exchanging loaded glances.

The AchilleionOff we ride to our first destination: the Achilleion Palace.  Philip’s English is fairly good; he’s able to tell us about the surroundings and mostly answer our questions.  Sometimes, he pauses or stares for a minute as he processes what you’ve said, but the 4 talkative Americans keep the convo rolling.  We arrive at the Achilleion, and he drops us off right at the front gate and says “I’ll be waiting right here.”  Seriously, he just hangs out while we explore.  The palace is beautiful!  What else would you expect from our dear, Sisi.  We learned a good deal about The ViewEmpress Elisabeth on our EuroTrip, so we loved seeing a different aspect of her life here.  We decided we absolutely did not blame her for not wanting to be in Vienna when places like these were her other options.  The inside is lovely, but the courtyards & views are spectacular.  The atmosphere of the breezy, hilltop palace is so relaxing & lush.  I would certainly live there!

Next, Philip takes on a drive around the island, passing lots of gorgeous scenery & up onto the mountain where he points out the olive trees & explains the harvesting process.  He takes us to a shop on the hillside run by a family he is obviously familiar with because he goes around the shop  picking things & opening things up & having us sample all of them.  More ViewsHe shows us Greek basil, olives, kumquats & feeds us homemade olive oil on bread, canned olives, & wine, and packages of Greek almonds, figs, & sesame seed snacks, and probably some other stuff I can’t recall.  He then takes us to a spot with fantastic views & takes group pictures for us.  What a guy!

Next is an Greek Orthodox church on yet another hill with even more great views – are you starting to see a trend with Corfu?  Again, he waits as we explore & Lovin' It!take pictures.  After that, we drive down into town, so we can get gyros & shop.  He takes us to get gyros, orders for us, & makes sure we get plenty of tzatziki sauce – yum-oh!  Then, he drops us off close to town center to wander & shop, and again, waits for us.  We finally wander back, & there he is, ready to take us to the boat.  I’m fairly certain we saw most of the island as he drove us around for 5hours – that’s right 3 more than we paid for, he was like our own Greek god of tourism!  He showed us the many different sites of the island while sharing facts & history, pointing out local trees & plants, & even teaching us some Greek (including a swear on accident when someone pulled out in front of him!); it was much more than we could have hoped for from our time at port.  Plus, if our husbands ever frustrate us, we can threaten to go back to Corfu & find Philip!

Phillip & his ladiesIn all seriousness though, we had a fantastic day in Corfu thanks to this very nice Greek man who shared his time & his beautiful island with us.  Ευχαριστώ, Philip!





PS: My husband, who is completely certain of my love & devotion to only him, has approved this post.

A Winter’s Day Out in Kent

Sam & I had a lovely Saturday!  We had pretty exciting plans for this weekend, but one of Sam’s work trips got in the way – not an unusual occurrence, but hey, that same work has us living here in England, so no complaints.  We took advantage of our one good day together to explore more of England; so far, we have only really covered our local area (Suffolk/Norfolk/Cambridge) & London.  Taking some good suggestions from a friend, we headed in the direction of Kent – Canterbury & Dover, specifically.

The county of Kent is southeast of London & is the closest part of England to mainland Europe.  It is around a 2.5hr drive for us on mostly motorways, including the M25 ring road around London.

After dragging ourselves out of bed later than planned (it is so hard to leave a warm bed in the middle of winter), getting the all clear from Sam weather-wise (not that it was going to be nice, just that we should have safe driving conditions – have I mentioned it’s been highs in the 30’s and snowy lately?), and dropping the sweet pup off at the dog sitter’s, we were on our way!  Sam & I don’t mind traveling by car; we’re pretty experienced at it, having lived so many different places & traveling often with a dog.  So, we started up an audiobook & rolled on.  Most of our drive saw the same inch or two of snow covering we’ve had back at our place for a week, and it makes for lovely scenery from the warmth of your car.

Less than three hours later, we were parking our car in Canterbury right next to the city wall, founded in Roman times & rebuilt in the 14th Century.  This is so England: history right in front of your nose!  We paid & displayed (remember, parking isn’t free) and followed the signs to the cathedral.  Walking up the cobbled street, we passed shops, eateries, & St. Thomas’s Catholic Church, all with the charm of being old & still new – like a modern shop’s window display bordered by the aged wood accents of the original building.

We found the ornamented entrance to the cathedral grounds that lays flush with the line of Canterbury Cathedralbuildings on the street, like it was just another house, paid, & made our way in.  The massive Canterbury Cathedral has many claims to fame: it is the Anglican mother church housing the seat of the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury; it is where Thomas Beckett was murdered by knights of Henry II for giving the king too much grief; it then became a place of pilgrimage, setting the scene for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  That’s just the big stuff!  The church has tons of history & is a magnificent Gothic structure.  The arched ceilings soar over you and the amount of detail on every surface is overwhelming.  You follow the path marked out for you down the nave to the Martyrdom.  There is a surprisingly modern memorial to Beckett in the place where he was slain. Out “the oldest doors [Sam] has ever operated” to the Cloister & Chapter House of the Benedictine monks, then back in and down to Romanesque Crypt, once housing Beckett’s tomb & still housing In the Navesome of the oldest Christian wall paintings in the country.  You then climb back up & proceed through the Bell Harry Tower into the Quire preceding the Trinity Chapel.  The chapel housed St. Thomas’s shrine until Henry VIII demolished it, a candle now marks its place directly behind the Chair of St. Augustine for the “Primate of All England” (just click the link).  At some point along the loop, the hourly prayers were said over loudspeaker, ending with the Lord’s Prayer in which you were invited to join.  We then briefly explored the exterior in the lightly falling snow, as students of The King’s School (oh,  just the oldest school in England that was nearby) hurried past.  On the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral, I had what undoubtedly was the coldest bathroom experience of my life – I’m sharing this in case anyone else is planning on visiting here during the winter, so you can plan accordingly to avoid a potty break on the grounds where they do not bother with heating the fully enclosed St. Thomas's Memorialpermanent building.  You can exit through the Cathedral Shop, where they sell lots of differing souvenirs including your standard guide books, magnets, and shot glasses, but also small stained glass works, books by the most recent AoC Rowan Williams, different versions of the Canterbury Tales, completely unrelated home goods, and local products plus much more.  A quick note on my MO regarding souvenirs, I like to commemorate with purchases like any good tourist, but I don’t have just one thing I always get – I’m too sporadic for that.  I’m either in the mood to buy anything or to have to really like it if I buy anything at all.  It’s probably very high maintenance of me, but I can be very “I know when I see it” & sometimes I just don’t see it.  Most likely, I will walk away with a magnet, food or drink stuffs, or a book, but today we chose this cute little mug depicting some of the history Canterbury Cupof the cathedral.  Educational, useful, & presh – sold!  Sam also snatched some local honey.

On our way back to the car, we realized that an adorable place I had pointed out earlier was actually a tea shop with soup & sandwich specials posted on a chalkboard & pretty pastries in the window.  The Moat Tea Rooms has a slightly wonky facade with dark wood beams over off-white paint while the interior is rich red accented by the same dark wood & even more crooked-looking.  Pretty red & white polka dot table cloths add a bit of fun.  There are a few tables downstairs, but most of the space is used by the kitchen & displays on the opposing walls of loose leaf teas & coffee beans for sale.  We went up the narrow stairs to the front room to the right to sit by the window, but there is more seating in the room to the left.  I went for a full traditional teaMy Instagrammed Pic of The Moat Tea Rooms while Sam ordered the soup of the day & a hot bacon, brie, & cranberry sandwich.  My tea service was as expected with a pot of the loose-leaf Keemun I selected, cup & saucer, strainer, & cream (how else do you have a cream tea!).  My little tower held my cucumber sandwiches, scones (one fruit, one plain) with clotted cream & jam, and my selected cake, Victorian sponge.  It was all tasty & lovely.  This was my first Victorian sponge: the cake is similar to pound cake with a yummy crunchy crust, in between the two layers of cake were a layer of jam and a layer of buttercream, sprinkled with Our spread!powdered sugar – it was satisfyingly sweet, but not too heavy & overall delicious!  Sam’s leek & potato soup & sandwich were also very good; although, I may have actually preferred the sandwich without bacon (shocker, I know), but it may be that I am still not used to British bacon.

We put our happy tummies in the car & navigated our way to Dover, only around 30 minutes away.  As we roll into town, we pass a sign for the White Cliffs; we’re discussing going there before the castleOn the cliff path to best use our daylight hours when we realize the decision is made for us.  Dover Castle is unexpectedly closed.  A quick visit to the English Heritage site shows the weather to blame even though I’m sure no such notice was posted Thursday night when we were making our plans.  Next time, I guess, and now we don’t have to rush.  Off to the cliffs, we go!  We park in the spots just off the road & walk up to the information center.  A very helpful lady gives us a leaflet with instructions Sam & the Cliffson a good route to take in the current weather to give us some good views but not take too long.  We proceed as directed carefully along the cliff path in case there are any slick patches, thinking that we aren’t really dressed the best for our outing.  Warmer layers & tennis shoes would have been better, but we were fine in our warm, casual wear.  The cliffs are beautiful as well as the now matching white countryside leading up to them.  We make our walk around then down some stairs to a lower level then back up & on the higher path to return,Dover Castle stopping frequently for different photo ops.  It was an exhilarating, albeit freezing little hike in the brisk wind & snow.  The walk back afforded some views of Dover Castle on the next hilltop over.  There is much history in this little strip of land from being the first line of defense from invasion for early England, to being the first glorious glimpse of home for returning pilots in the World Wars, to the current use as a hub of transport between the island & France snow(which you can see on a clear day from the cliffs).  I’m in awe, & I can’t feel my legs.  I look forward to the chance to return in more favorable weather to hike further out to the lighthouse & explore the castle.  We pit-stopped back by the visitor’s centre which thankfully does heat its restrooms a little, and my cute husband wrote in the snow on a picnic table.

We ended today’s adventure on a funny note.  When we got back to the car, we quickly realized that it was stuck.  Some foreign people (I think French, but couldn’t really hear them) who had been eyeing us offer Sam some help as he gets out of the car which he refuses.  They look a bit incredulous, and I’m, of course, irritated, assuming my husband is just being a stubborn man.  He reassures me it’s fine & gives me directions to very easily reverse the car.  As I do, he literally pushes the car right out of its little hole like it doesn’t weigh thousands of pounds.  He then waves politely to the foreigners as he drives by and acts like it was no big deal even though I’m completely impressed.  He’s humble, he’s sweet, and he’s buff – seriously, I’m married to Captain America!

Things That I Miss & Things That I Don’t

Being home in the States for Christmas had me reveling in all the wonders of America.  I didn’t realize all the things I miss about the good ol’ USofA, but there were a small number of things that I don’t mind living without.

Conveniences make up most of the things missed.  Who would have thought that parking for free in front of a store would feel like a treat?  Parking…not the most fun in England.  Store hours, there’s another one.  Our ASDA (WalMart in the UK) has 24hrs in large print on all of their signs; they close at 10, 4 on Sundays.  In fact, nothing is open after 4 on a Sunday.  Shopping closes at 5 on weekdays.  I know of 1 drive-thru – one, that I’ve ever found, and it is in Cambridge & a McDonalds.  Honestly, some days I really miss WalMart. That might be very Arkansas of me, but it’s true.  You just want to run to one place & grab all the stuff you need – not going to happen here!

Lack of familiarity can get tiring as well.  Not knowing where to go to find what you need, or what places have good value for your money. Not knowing what to expect from things on a menu because things are just done differently here.  Speaking of that, not always knowing how to act in a social situation or not getting subtle cultural references.  Like commercials, I don’t often understand them here; I found myself just enjoying a chuckle at silly TV ads when I was home because I actually understood them.  I also found myself craving familiar tastes – not the best, or my favorite, just familiar.

I did, however, realize that there are something things that I just don’t miss.  Like Pitbull, he’s terrible.  I kept hearing him around New Years, & I am not a fan.  I don’t miss American drivers.  British drivers might be dumb for their own reasons (like stopping in the middle of the road), but they are much more considerate.  I remember being frustrated that no one had let me out yet at one point when I was driving at home, and then realizing that the almost excessive level of courtesy the English drivers show must have rubbed off on me enough to adjust my expectations.  Lastly, I don’t miss politics.  America is an unsettled place right now.  Lots of differing opinions over big issues, and you can feel the tension.  It’s almost too easy to be distanced from that right now.

So, if you are there, appreciate the many conveniences we are afforded, the ease & familiarity of American life.  And perhaps, tread carefully & respectfully during these times of change.

Traveling Tales: A True Turkish Bath

My mom has informed me that the best way for me to keep up with my blogging as per my resolution is to tell stories from my travels. I think her reasoning is that 1) I have plenty, & 2) she thinks most people read my blog to live vicariously through my experiences.  It makes sense really.  I do have plenty of stories; in the 8-months since we have moved to England, I have traveled off the Island 5 times, which is a good enough start without considering all the new adventures to be had just in GB.

I think one reason I have yet to blog about these comes from knowing that the Monica in me would try to demand that I methodically start from the beginning, go in order, & not leave a single thing out – which makes this seem a very daunting task.

Another part could be that I am unsure how to go about it.  I don’t want them to become methodical narratives of exactly what we did every day – that’s boring.  But I’m also not sure how to transcribe my normal method of storytelling which would involve impressions, multitudinous hand gestures, and likely veering off topic a few times.

So, I’ve just picked an experience at random and am going to give it a shot.

Back in July, my friend, Katie, & I took a last minute deal through Thomas Cook for a 5-star resort in Turkey.  It was a dual-purpose trip for checking Turkey off our lists & taking a beach vacation.  Sun & relaxation were the only agenda – so different for our normal super-tours of the “see & do everything” mentality.  Sun we certainly got, but to double-check the relaxation bit, we booked a traditional Turkish bath experience at the resort’s spa.

We had little information on what to expect beyond “scrub” & “massage” because at our resort English was the third language (German was actually the second language, apparently that’s what the majority of their visitors sprechen).  We left our cover-ups in lockers, mercifully getting to keep our swimsuits & towels (so glad this didn’t turn into another one of those stories like when I got a “massage” during my Paris study abroad; I’ll tell that one another time).  See, what did I tell you about side bars!

The bathing ritual traditionally involves getting sweaty in a hot sauna then getting good & clean afterwards.  We put in some preparatory steam time before being retrieved by our attendants & taken into the main area which is a lovely round room of all marble-like surfaces, a ledge circling the wall interspersed with sinks, and a central platform.  The room and surfaces are pleasantly warm.  This is our bath room:

Turkish Bath

The attendants had us lay down on the middle platform and began rinsing us with water of varying temperatures.  We were thoroughly cleansed with a coarse scrub front and back, and rinsed some more. Each time, they would walk the few steps between the platform & the ledge filling a small metal bowl with water that was sometimes warm, sometimes cold, sometimes hot from the taps.  I found myself anticipating the next gentle dousing.  There was something so appealing about the cascade of water over your sun-parched limbs.  The sunburn did lessen the enjoyment of the scrub, but less so than I expected.

The next part will be difficult to describe as I have never experienced anything like it before, and I spent most of it with my eyes closed, just enjoying.  They took strips of fabric that in size & feel I can best relate to if you cut a single leg off of a pair of hose, maybe just above the knee.  They dipped the fabric in soapy water, then waved them around in the air so they expanded, somehow, to the size & shape of a small pillowcase.  They then passed this soapy air-bubble over your skin, over and over, until they created a cloud of soap around you.  It was like being cocooned in fluff.  This must be what a latte feels like when it is topped with frothy milk.  Or in Fantasia when the baby horses fly through the clouds or Zeus pulls up a bit of them for a blanket.  It is its own singular sensation that is truly fantastic.

Rinsed again.  The experience ended with covering the skin in oil through a light massage.  We followed ours up with a not-so-light massage to work out the stress held deep in our muscles that our Type-A tendencies foster.  Before our transition to that, we were re-wrapped in our towels, feeling fresh & new like a baby, shown to a room of lounge chairs and cool wall tiling, and served apple tea.  Oh, apple tea!  It can be served hot or cold and is delicious either way.  The flavor is crisp and refreshing.  I brought some mix home from one of the shops in the nearby village, but it just doesn’t taste the same as apple tea made by a local.  It was the perfect closing note for our experience.

So, friends, if you ever find yourself in Turkey, I highly recommend a bath.