4 August 2007

Our Big Trip

On Sunday 29 July Peter, Claire and I with panniers and rucksacks packed, helmets and gloves on, hopped on our bikes and rode off to the train station in Richmond to begin our first biking holiday here in England.

It was a first for us. We had initially planned to head out to the youth hostel in Alfriston (http://www.alfriston-village.co.uk/) by train and then use the buses and our feet to get around. A few weeks before we headed out, however, we got the notion to get bikes and the other gear we needed to do the trip riding our bikes. A visit to the national cycling organization told us that there were bike lanes and trails around where we'd be staying. We were all set.

As the day to leave approached, we were feeling very wary. The weather has been cool and rainy for over 6 weeks, and we worried that it would simply carry on, and we would spend our holiday wet and miserable. Thankfully, the day we left was the beginning of sunny and lovely days, real summer finally having come to England. A quick ride to the train station, and a hauling the bikes down the steps to the platform and we were on our way. We changed trains two times, and came to a small station in Berwick (said "bear-ick"), donned our helmets, gloves and safety vests and set off on the narrow country lane that led to Alfriston, about 3 miles away.

The hostel didn't open until 5:00 PM, so we had a little time for a visit to a restaurant for a pint and a bit of a snack before we settled in. There was Deans Place Hotel and Restaurant at the edge of Alfriston, just before we headed up the hill to the hostel, with a wide lawn on which people were playing croquet, and in we went. It's an old building, with ferns growing out of the roof.

Alfriston overall is best described as a medieval village, much of it built in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is surrounded by farmland: wheat fields, cattle and sheep. Tucked into a valley, you look up toward hillsides dotted with animals, or rich with grain ready for harvest. The air was clear and fresh.

We didn't realise that everything in the village closed down (other than the restaurants and pubs) at 5:00, so Peter rode the three miles south to Seaford to buy some wine for the evening. He came back covered in sweat and breathless. The three miles were down a steep hill and then back up a long slow climb before getting to the town. And of course, on the return, he glided down the long hill, and struggled up the 10% grade back to the hostel. As I said, he was sweaty and breathless.

Dinner at a pub was not our best choice of the day. It was a lovely old rickety building, and we sat in front of the former hearth of the inn, wide and still sooty from centuries use. Unfortunately, the kitchen was amazingly slow and we waited for over an hour for a salad nicoise with salmon, chicken breast with brie and bacon and an order of cheese garlic bread. It was a lucky thing that the food was very well prepared and delish.

Back to the hostel and to bed in our bunks. Claire on top and Peter and I across the room from each other on bottom bunks.

The next day we took to wander through the village and see what we could of the neighbouring countryside. Wandering through the village, we went into various shops, looking for postcards for family and friends, checking out a trendy cookware shop, another with a huge number of ceramic cats (much beloved by Claire), and browsing through a lovely bookstore (http://www.muchadobooks.com/). This last stop provided us with our itinerary for the day as the American born owners suggested a walk to the Berwick village church.

We stopped for tea at the Badgers Tea Shop and had scones and cream in the garden whilst writing our postcards.

Then we set out to the north, trying to remember the directions that the bookshop owners gave us. Just out of the village, we saw a sign for a public footpath through some woods. Up for an adventure, off we went into the shady and muddy path. After a bit we came to a fence that had steps to allow walkers over the top easily. Through a hay field, eventually there was another fence and a similar way over.

We walked along a road for a short way, and then found a path that lead us toward the church on the neighbouring hill. The way led us through a wheat field that had a narrow passage for walkers. Gentle hills rose on either side of us. The road was far enough away that the walk through the field was quiet, just the wind through the heads of ripe wheat. Oh, and Claire complaining about the wheat making her itchy and wondering when one of us would give in and carry her.

The church was nothing particularly special from the outside. Many of them look about the same. There is a mound just outside the church that dates from Saxon time, and inside the church there is a font that likely also came from the Saxons. Along the bottom of it, you can see grooves made by sharpening arrowheads. The side windows of the church were blasted out during the bombing in 1944, and they've been replaced by clear glass. Most remarkable, however, is a series of murals painted by members of a colony of artists who lived nearby after WW II. My pictures of them don't do them justice, so I won't include them here. Suffice to say that it's quite a lovely church (which can be just barely seen in the distance in the photo just above).

We wandered down the street a bit to find the single pub in Berwick where we sat in the lush garden and had a snack and a pint. Then we headed back into Alfriston where we visited the parish church and sat by the Tye (the green near the river) and read for a while.

On the way home we found another walking path by the river. The walking paths across the country are quite wonderful and unknown to us in the States. This one led through a few cow pastures with gates to get us in and out. On the gate posts, there were laminated notices that told us to keep dogs close or on a lead because it was calving season, and the cows can be easily provoked. It gave lengthy instructions for how to respond to cows in case they began to charge.

The river here is hardly more than what we'd call a stream most places, but it apparently was bit enough and deep enough 60 some years ago to have a mine float up the river to the town. Blessedly, it was found and disarmed before it exploded. Had it gone off in the town, there would likely be very little of the town left. The diffused bomb is now used as a collection point to help support the town.

Another night in the hostel, and we got up and going early to head out to Brighton, a resort town about 15 miles away. We had to catch an early bus, because the next that came by was 3 hours later. Discovering that the busses are relatively infrequent, we were glad that we'd decided to bring our bikes since it gave us some freedom of movement. For example, the busses to Berwick only run on certain days.

Brighton is a fun seaside town. We visited it twice when we were here last year. Claire especially loves a children's play area that has sand, playframes and a wading pool. There's also a historic pier with an amusement park at the end. As well, there are seeming miles of small, mostly pedestrian lanes that thread along up the hill away from the Channel. We browsed through shops for a bit before heading down to the water. The most interesting shop was one that focused on spirituality. What made it most interesting is that the owner really did cover most of the landscape. Bibles and menorahs were alongside Qu'rans and garrish Ganeshes. There were crystals and pagan stars, books about angels and numerology. It was really quite amazing.

We had a long and lovely day with Claire paddling in the pool, window shopping, and the pier, and headed back on the train. We shopped for food in Polegate (a town big enough to have a decent market right across from the train station), and headed home.

Cooking dinner for ourselves in the self catering kitchen in the hostel was great. We got a chance to chat with folks from other areas of England, Germany, Italy, France, Australia, and even America. Hostels, it seems, are increasingly the way that families manage to travel here where accomodations can cost £100 a night for just the three of us. By our last night, we'd become friendly with an family with 4 daughters aged 8 to 14, and Claire played with the girls happily for several hours while we learned more about England from their parents.

Wednesday was all about Claire. We biked up to Drusilla's Zoo and Park, a well thought out full day of adventure and fun. There's a small well designed zoo with a path that carries you past all the animal exhibits. There's a farm section, pets exhibit, meerkats, prairie dogs, penguins, otters and plenty of other animals. Once you're through the zoo, there's a large play area with fun and interesting play frames and other climbing toys. A bit further along, there's an inflatable slide, a place to "pan for gold", a sandy area where you can dig for dino bones, miniature golf and an inflatable bouncer, along with a wading pool. They also have the occasional kid's celebrity, and the day we were there it was the "Tweenies", characters from CeeBeeBees, the BBC kid's channel. While it wasn't the top fun for Peter and me, he and I got some good time to talk. Peter attempted to go to the English Wine Centre next door for a tasting, but for reasons we couldn't discern, they turned him away.

I left earlier than Peter and Claire and went into Alfriston to an ice cream and fine food shop that had luscious looking frozen fish cakes. I bought a few, along with some frozen Irish mussels, and then picked up some veg over at the other little market in the village and headed home. We feasted that night!

Thursday was our last day, and we headed out on our bikes anticipating a long ride through the countryside. It was overcast and cool, but still perfectly lovely. We rode south along a country lane (not wide enough for two cars to pass comfortably), until we came to the Seven Sisters County Park. Misreading the map in the forest section of the park, we set out on what was described as a family friendly bike path. It took us through the woods, and wound around from here to there. We kept thinking that we'd shortly find the Channel and the white chalk cliffs. Riding up a steep hill, speeding down the other side, we found ourselves on a road that led into the country lane that we'd been on an hour before.

After we found the visitor's centre, we saw the easy paved path out to the beach. An easy ride with a strong breeze off the Channel in our faces, and we were out on a pebbly beach, with cliffs rising above us. It was time for lunch, so we wandered down along the cliffs and spread out our towels and ate with the waves crashing in nearby.

Peter and Claire played in the rocks and around the cliffs whilst I read for a while. Looking out and seeing that the tide was coming in fast, and it was getting colder, we packed up and headed back to the bikes, and then back into Alfriston to read by the Tye again, do a little shopping for dinner, and head back to the hostel.

We finished up our leftovers, and then sat in the garden for a long evening of conversation and wild playing children. We slept well on our last night, rose early, packed up, ate breakfast, and rode to Berwick to catch a train to Clapham Junction, and then one home to Richmond.

We were home by just past noon, which afforded plenty of time to shop and get most of our laundry done before dark (a critical thing as we hang clothes in the back garden to dry).

Though both Peter and I are aware that we need to build up our endurance and aerobic capacity again (neither of us have been exercising enough since we moved), we were glad to have this small biking holiday and are looking at other possibilities for biking next summer. We even thought about riding the length of Hadrian's Wall (150 miles for those of you who don't know such things). We'll see.

The best thing about all this is that we would never have thought of doing such a thing in the States. Tied as we were to our car, it might have occurred to us to bike somewhere, but it was unlikely that we'd actually do it. Living here is giving us all sorts of new opportunities. It's good.
(We've uploaded other pictures from our holiday here: http://picasaweb.google.com/pdteets/2007Holiday?authkey=qRn2mTFkpnY)

25 June 2007

Where did the time go?

Life has gotten busy and it amazes me that two months have gone by without a post here. Mid-April took the three of us off to the Annual General Meeting of the General Assembly of Unitiarian and Free Christian Churches, a lovely meeting in a lovely setting, though it was a little disconcerting to be at a gathering of Unitarians without knowing many people. Peter, as a member of the staff, was better known than I was, and that, too, was disconcerting. After that, it just seemed the one thing after another got in the way of getting here to update the blog. I promise I'll try to be better about it.

Our transition has been much more difficult that we had anticipated, and that's part of the reason for so little posting. Just getting through the days has been enough most days, and adding in extra tasks has been challenging.

One of our American friends here noted that everything here is just >---< this much off, it winds up taking an enormous amount of psychic energy to put everything to rights. We've been extraordinarily tired, and I think that's just the reason.

Even so, the shape of our lives is getting more form, and the rhythm of the days is settling in even better.

Some news and notes:

School Days

Claire is the most settled of any of us, I think. She is increasingly happy at school, and soaking up the culture and language like a sponge. Her accent is shifting, and she introduces us to new usages every day. She loves taking Italian on Fridays, and has sought in vain to teach a little to Peter and me. She has been known to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm in Italian for hours at a time.

After several days on which the bus service has been erratic (one day we waited 40 minutes for to get on a bus!), Claire has taken to walking to school. For most folks that wouldn't be much of a change, I suppose, but the walk to school is between 1 3/4 to 2 miles, and takes us just over a half an hour to walk. Admittedly, it is a lovely walk almost all of it along the Thames. We watch the birds, and Claire walks along the top of a couple of low walls on our way. Still, a year ago, Claire wouldn't walk more than a block or two without demanding to be carried by one or the other of us. The change in her has been startling.

Induction Service

We celebrated my Induction Service at the Church on 9 June. It was a lovely service followed by quite a delightful tea with plenty of sweets and savouries to eat. I rather stumbled through it without a lot of information how they work here. It was nonetheless a splendid time, with a charge to the minister offered by my cousin Andy Backus who came from the States with his wife Chris. Having family in town made the event even more special, and provided us with a nice touch from back home.

To the Dentist!

We're starting to get connected into the health system here. We registered with a local dentist and all three of us are getting checked out. Claire's visit was about 5 minutes and involved getting her teeth counted, and a little plaque scraped off. They don't routinely do x-rays for children here. She goes back in 6 months for another check up. And all her regular care is covered by our National Insurance.

My visit was a little different. They did do x-rays on me (with the dentist staying in the room while they were being taken, and no lead cover for any part of my body), and made a recommendation to replace a filling. The NHS would cover a gold replacement, but since it would be visible, he suggested that I go with a composite which would cost nearly £500. A thorough cleaning would cost me £60. It is a little more expensive than I had expected, but the care seems to be mostly good, especially for Claire.

That's likely enough for now! More soon!

17 April 2007

This and that

We're still getting back on our feet after being gone to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (the GA), and still have Claire at home on her term break, so I can't catch up too much, but wanted to put on a couple of observations from today:

Overheard on the bus

An older man got on with us carrying a couple of bags, one of which had a bouquet of flowers. An woman around his age got on a few stops later and greeted him warmly.

Woman: Oh, lovely flowers, are you going to visit someone?
Man: I'm to the cemetery to visit my wife, thank you. (Said with a great deal of love in his voice, and a smile on his face.)

Observed at the Cafe at the Zoo

England is starting to have the same sorts of obesity problems that are showing up in the US. Here's an example of why:

Lunch for three children:

2 plates of chips (fries, in the US)
1 plate of chips and beans
3 pieces of cheese pizza.


I'll have another post up with reflections from the AGM and more news about how our gardens grow!

7 April 2007

Easter face

We went off on another grand shopping day today. First it was to Kingston to look at sofas, buy some dishes and visit the farmer's market in search of asparagus.

We located our sofa at Marks and Spencer, a everything in one sort of store here in England. For more than we would have ever considered spending in the States, we bought a large sofa that will arrive in their warehouse in a month. It will take another week to two weeks to have it delivered to the house. We laughed when the saleswoman told us, and she was shocked that we would have expected delivery within a week or 10 days back in the US. She chuckled a lot during our interaction with us -- she told us that she found our accents charming, and Claire enchanting. We were amused by the whole interaction, and glad to have a couch on its way to us.

We bought two boxed sets of dishes -- four place settings each. At least that's what they were supposed to be. It turned out that one box only had three place settings. So we'll head back down sometime soon to return it for a full set. We're hopeful that our experiences with customer service don't continue to be challenging, and that the exchange will be handled without any difficulty. Keep tuned to see how it turns out.

The most fun of the day was that one of the mobile phone services had a woman doing free face painting outside their shop. Claire wanted to get hers done and it came out quite beautifully, as you can see. If it seems a bit difficult to tell, it is a bunny face, and she hopped away from the woman requesting carrots.

After a stop at home to drop off our finds, we were back into Richmond for a few last minute purchases. Peter and Claire went off to the farmers market to pick up a haunch of venison for our Easter supper, and I went off to do a little work for the Easter bunny. After finding a sweet mug with cats on it (that came with an chocolate bunny inside), and stoping at the market for a few household items (including picking up some Cadbury mini eggs), we're all at home having a bit of a quiet afternoon.

The house is still in chaos with piles of too much stuff, but we're finding our way through slowly and surely.

Happy Easter!

6 April 2007


It arrived yesterday -- all the belongings that we had packed away on January 19 were unloaded into our small house. Peter and I both marveled that we had thought that we had sold or given away almost everything we had, and still we are overwhelmed by possessions. Right now it's a matter of figuring out where things go and how we find storage for all of what we kept. Honestly, it isn't that much, but spread out all over the floor of the house, it seems like it.

Claire is particularly happy to see all her toys and clothes. She has worn about 30 different pieces of clothing since yesterday afternoon. Every now and then she'll wander out of her room and will have on a different shirt or trousers. Once boxes of her things started showing up in her room, she would upend them and shake out whatever was inside. "I'm never going to be bored again!" she declared to us. If today is any evidence, she's telling the truth. All her beloved stuffed animals are being taught school today, earning stickers and writing their names with lovely handwriting.

Like Peter and I, she slept in her own bed last night. This morning she reported that she fell right asleep now that she's in her own special bed. Hello Kitty sheets and comforter made for the perfect night for her.

I'm overjoyed to have my kitchen back: my favorite cutting board, my mother's cast iron frying pans, my good knife, bowls and US measuring cups and spoons. And my cookbooks. I haven't longed for anything in particular these last 2 1/2 months, but it's good to know that we can make our favorites again.

Another great relief is to have my books and study back. As with everything else, I thought I had unloaded a great deal of my books. In fact, I think I did, but there were more than I remembered I had. Because we didn't want to have to deal with the boxes and paper that everything was wrapped in, the three fellows moving us unloaded everything to the floor after they finished moving everything in. So my books were strewn across the study floor and some are still in the living room awaiting my sorting out. I'll get to it when I finish writing here.

We still have some things to get done -- we don't have our everyday dishes yet, and need a couch for the living room. Still we are feeling increasingly settled in our new home.

Oh, and an update on the television stand. It still hasn't arrived, and since it's a Good Friday the business that is supposed to deliver it is closed.

5 April 2007

News and notes

We're awaiting the delivery of our belongings -- finally they're coming sometime today. When we don't know, but it will be today. So whilst waiting, we thought we'd put up some of our impressions and notes about living here for 7 weeks.


There are an amazing number of song birds here. We have come at the time during which they are establishing territory and looking for mates, but they sing almost non-stop. At almost any time of day you can hear two or three calling out. It's quite lovely.


There are also scads of green parrots that live nearby us. I think they number in the thousands. They're pretty birds, but their squawk is rather ugly. It is odd to see them overhead or roosting on trees nearby.

Customer Service

We are spoilt Americans. We expect that people who serve the public should actually serve the public. Two examples:

*We ordered a television stand from Amazon.co.uk, and missed the delivery. The company put a note through the mail slot that said: "We missed you! We'll deliver on Monday." The word Monday was hand written, so it was clearly intentional. Monday came and went, as did Tuesday, as did Wednesday. Peter attempted to call the company. The number printed on the card was a fax line, though it clearly appeared to be phone line. After finding the real phone number on the company web site, he called and they said, "Oh, we were waiting for you to call. When would you like us to deliver it?" When he asked why it said they would deliver it on Monday, the response was, "Oh, it shouldn't have said that." Huh? Anyhow, we expect delivery today. We'll see!

*Peter made a trip to Ikea and bought us 5 bookcases and 6 chairs and various other items we needed. After finding that they couldn't take our Ikea Family Number manually (which would have allowed us some discounts), Peter finished checking out and went to queue up for delivery. One of the store personnel asked to look over his receipt and discovered that two items hadn't been rung up -- actually, one item had been rung up and then deleted by the clerk. Instead of just getting them rung up, they accused him of stealing, put him in a room while they reviewed the close circuit TV, noting to him that it would be easier if he just admitted that he was trying to steal. Twenty five minutes later, they escorted him (without a word of apology) to a check out to ring up the two items, and again he had to queue up for delivery. Once there, they charged him 5 quid more than he had been told on the phone and insisted on next day delivery (between 8 and 5!), not the 3 to 5 days that the customer service rep had said the night before. Had we not had plans for the next day that would have been preferable, but as it happened Peter had to wait at home for the goods, while Claire and I went off to church and then lunch out with friends. One more note: Three of the five bookcases were missing a peg each, so one is a shelf short. We may never go back.


You're much closer to the actual animals you eat here, and we have been enjoying different kinds of meat than we saw routinely in the US. Our local farmer's market has a butcher stand that has venison, hares and rabbits along with quails, pheasants, pigeons (!) and ducks. We've done a couple of venison roasts (delish, especially the day after with spicy British mustard). We haven't ventured into the hares or rabbits or the interesting fowl, but may get bold enough to do so. There's also a butcher about a block away from our house. The pork chops we bought there came with skin attached. Oh. My. And chickens from the supermarket (inasmuch as there are such things here) come with the lower leg portion attached.

Sticker Shock

Anyone who has traveled over this way knows that prices are huge. Almost everything looks like it should be in dollars, but the exchange rate is nearly 2 to 1, so prices are easily double. For instance, Abercrombie and Finch is about to open a store in London (their first). A sweater that would sell for $49 in the US will be 50 quid here (I don't have the little symbol for pounds -- a quid is a pound) roughly double the cost. Now, it is true that the price you see on an item is usually all that you pay -- stickers reflect all the taxes. Still, it is a costly place to live.

The Thames

It's wonderful being so close to the river. I walk along it at least 4 or 5 times a week on my way into or home from Richmond. Peter walks along it every morning on his way to catch the Tube into work. (He's discovered that there are times that it is faster to walk than to take the bus.) There are all sorts of water fowl to enjoy: herons, Canada geese, comorants, mallards, swans, and these funny little black ducks with a white bony sort of mask. People feed them, tossing great hunks of old bread into the water.

The river is still tidal here, so if you go at the wrong time of day, you can't walk along long stretches of the path by the river. Claire and I were going to walk home along the river one evening after she had a play date with a friend, and discovered the path was totally underwater.

We occasionally see people fishing, but can't imagine eating a fish out of there. It's none too clean.

There are also a fairly large collection of house boats moored nearby. There a motley bunch: some pretty posh, some under construction or covered with tarps.

That's probably enough for now. We are eager to get our things from home so that we can continue to get settled in here. And we are looking forward to sleeping in our own beds tonight.

24 March 2007


We are finally here and linked up to the internet. It has taken a full month to get that accomplished.

First lesson of moving here: everything takes longer than you can imagine. We have occasionally longed for just a little American efficiency, but find that it's better to just get accustomed to waiting.

Best example of needing to wait: all our possessions are still in customs, and it may take the removal (moving) company up to 3 weeks to deliver them once they clear. The people at the church have been lovely about being willing to lend us things, but what we're really missing are our beds and our clothes. We've only had this particular collection of clothes since January 19, and we're tired of wearing them.

Other than that, our settling in is moving apace. Claire started school on February 28, Peter and I began work on March 1.

The change in Claire's life has been quite profound. She went from attending school for a little over 2 1/2 hours a day to being in school from 8:55 to 3:20 every day. Her class expanded from 17 children in a spacious classroom to 30 in a small space, neighboring on another small space classroom with another 30 children. Her teacher reported that she commented that it was very loud. As the other children are reading and writing, now Claire is, too. She's a little behind her peers, but catching up quickly. On Friday she had a spelling test, and did very well. A month ago, she was only reading a very few words.

The two of us leave the house at 8:10 each day and catch the bus. We ride for about 10 minutes, and then get off just before the bus crosses the bridge into Richmond. We walk across the bridge and up the hill to her school, about a mile in all. We pass an all girls private school on the way where the girls all wear gray pinafores (jumpers in the US), with red and white checked shirts, red tights and gray shoes. They all wear the same style gray wool coat, and sweet little hats with a red and white ribbon around it. Claire's uniform is much simpler -- she wears a white polo shirt, navy blue skirt or trousers, a navy blue sweater or sweatshirt, and black shoes. She seems very happy to wear it.

Peter is getting well settled in his new work, too. He has been a bit startled by his new work environment. A hour for lunch every day -- that he actually takes -- during which he eats and goes for walks exploring central London is something brand new for him. He's always been a very efficient fellow, but here he seems to work at the speed of light. See above comment about how slow everything is. It's taken a bit to find the right combination of transport to get him to and from work, but he seems to have settled into a pattern that works. It's lovely that he is here to wake Claire up in the morning, but he doesn't get home until past 6 most nights. We're still finding our rhythm with that.

I'm still puzzling out how to do full time ministry here. It's very different from churches in the US where there is typically some sort of committee structure that a minister fits into. Here there is the single management Committee which meets once a month. Most of what happens in the church is at the minister's iniative, so I get to create program and direct what happens. Of course, that means I don't have much guidance, too. So, it's a challenge. It's also a bit of a challenge to be back to writing weekly sermons. (And even more challenging to do so without my library!) It will come in good time, I am sure.

What's good is that the people of the congregation are lovely and eager to help me succeed. That energy goes a good long way to making it a good experience.

29 January 2007

And so it begins

As I write this, the movers are in our home packing up the belongings that we will be sending off to our new home in the United Kingdom. Boxes are being sealed shut, furniture is wrapped tight, and the walls are strangely empty in all of our rooms. We are truly on our way!

I think I can safely say that my husband, daughter and I are stretched in more directions than we can count. While the promise of our new home beckons warmly for us, we are still in the midst of farewells and the grief of letting go of our home and life here in Olympia.

It has me thinking a great deal about loss and about grief. Over the last two months, we’ve had lots of "last times": the last time we’ll visit the local farmer’s market, the last time we’ll have Christmas in this house, the last time we’ll go to special places. We come to each last time with a sense of gratitude and loss, the emotions not quite conflicting, but surely gnawing at each other.

Christmas especially came with its own bittersweetness. Our dear dog, Susie, died peacefully and surrounded by her loved ones on Christmas night. Susie had been a part of our lives for 8 years. My husband, Peter, and I got her from a family who recognized that she wasn’t been treated as well as she should, so advertised her as a give away dog. We went and met her, and took her home that night. It would be weeks before she stopped barking at Peter when he came home, and it was more and more clear that she had been abused by men at some time in her life. We surrounded her with our love, and she became an important part of our family.

Our daughter Claire arrived a few years after she did, and was always taken by the buff colored noisy creature in her life. By the time she was able to talk, she called Susie her best friend. Over the last year or so, she had taken to putting her on a leash, and taking Susie out into the back yard to play. They were a good pair, Susie (mostly) patient and obedient, Claire the happy supervisor.

We had begun to prepare Susie for the trip over the England, though I worried that the stress of the trip might kill her. A week before Christmas, she began having seizures, and the veterinarian who looked at her suggested that she wouldn’t survive to accompany us to England. Then on Christmas night, her breathing became labored and after sitting in my lap for the last hour of a movie we were watching, she climbed down, lay down and quietly and peacefully died. While I miss her deeply, I was relieved to know that she wouldn’t go through the trauma of the move. And it was a good first death for Claire to experience: it was peaceful, and Peter and I have, I hope, shown her ways to grieve well. Before Peter took her to be cremated, we petted her and thanked her for being part of our lives and for all the love she brought to us.

It seems all of a piece of what we’re going through as we prepare to move: the work of always letting go, of learning to live in the moment, and always remembering the blessings of what we have had.

A wise friend sent along these words from Thubten Chodron:

"Although intellectually we may know that our body is aging every moment, our deeper feeling is that this body will last forever and that death won't really come to us--at least not anytime soon. Similarly, we see our relationships as being fixed, and when dear ones die, we are shocked. We wanted to be with them forever and clung to the hope that we would be.

"We can learn to live with impermanence gracefully, but this occurs only when we recognize the erroneous preconception of permanence and are mindful of the transient nature of people and things."

As I said, we are in the thick of letting go, giving thanks, and holding to the present moment.

As much as life is about the reality of impermanence, and the loss that we all know, it is also about adventure and new challenges, being present to possibility and wonder. So while we are focused on leavetaking, we’re also increasingly on our way to our new home. As the days pass, we step closer and closer to that reality with great happiness and expectation.