Saturday, March 31, 2012

T minus three months to my return to the States

So I get to move house again before I leave London in June.  Yes, that's right, I'm moving house less than three months before I move back to the States.  Not something I'm very thrilled about to say the least, but I don't really have a choice.  The London Mennonite Trust, who houses me, is in the process of property purchases in both Birmingham and Wood Green, which will enable them to move myself and others out of rented accommodation into something they own.  I'll be moving with two other couples to share the property in Wood Green.  The move makes complete sense from a financial perspective, it's just not something I feel like doing again given that I'm so close to my leaving date.  After I move out the room I will use will be used by the future Director (yet to be determined who) when he/she comes to visit London.

The route I currently cycle to work will then be quite different as I'll be traversing around and over the hill of Alexandra Palace and over about twenty or so speed bumps.  My trip will be slightly longer in distance and probably slower even if it wasn't because of all of the added speed bumps.  I cycle through the streets quick enough that they really do slow me down, which is probably their purpose.  It means I'm probably slightly safer (if you could ever be considered "safe" when cycling in London) for going a bit slower, but a bit more frustrated.  In other news, part of the route I currently use just got resurfaced (section crossing the north circular).  It just happened to be the worst junction that I go across (multiple lanes converging, poor lines on the street, lots of traffic, lots of cracks/potholes/uneven terrain).  So I now only have a few weeks to enjoy the smoothness of the resurfaced junction.  There isn't any less traffic, it's just smoother and better marked, which makes it feel slightly safer.

I also realised a few days ago that it has almost been five years since I graduated from Goshen College.  I can honestly say if I looked back to where I was five years ago I never would have guessed to be where I am today.  I've basically been a full-time volunteer since graduating (after one last summer working as a camp counsellor) and for the first two years stayed relatively put in Colorado.  I took up cycling and occasional long runs (15+ miles bi weekly/monthly) with a lot of hiking in altitude.  After traversing the Atlantic to London in September of 2009 I've worked on courses all across the UK and had holidays in Greece, France (twice), Italy, Belgium, Germany (twice), the Czech Republic, and Ireland.  In the UK I've had multiple trips to Scotland and cycled from Glasgow to London through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, York, Lincoln, Peterborough, Ely, and Cambridge.  In London commute to work by cycling and have only been hit twice so far! I've also been a regular attender of Wood Green Mennonite Church and have been lucky enough to accompany one member (who is a film critic) to over fifty screenings (ranging from big blockbusters to small independent films) and plagued another member by beating him at his own board games.  All in all a lot has happened over the last five years (and in particular the last three years).

Since leaving the States many of my friends and family have gotten married, had children, bought homes, "settled down," and/or gone back to school.  A few more have left the States, travelled across it, or have done a combination of the two.  My home state of Vermont was ravaged by flooding (compliments of hurricane Irene) including the workplace of my Dad being decimated (which has since been rebuilt and reopened).  My cat Flicker, who has been my parent's cat since I left for college, died at the age of 17, and has since been replaced by two rambunctious kittens (both of whom my parents adore).  They also gained an awning on their house, remodelled a bit of the kitchen, and added a second chicken coop which houses a guinea fowl (from four down to one).  A lot more has changed that I'm hardly aware of and will probably never catch up on.  Life just keeps going regardless.    

To end this post, a few pictures from the course I just had in Sheffield from the middle of March (just because they're pretty pictures).  I mentioned it in my last update, but didn't put any photos up.  These were from a few walks I was able to take.

Pathway between stone walls

Part of the "Sheffield round walk"

Hiking around Sheffield makes me really look forward to my walk along the coast of Cornwall (which happens in about a month's time).  I'm also going to head up to Coventry to see one of our co-trainers and her husband for a day or so just after Easter.  Another trip I'm hoping to make (very short one) will be to Birmingham to see the new location of the Mennonite Centre, but that will only be once purchases have been finalised.

Still a lot to do and only a few months left...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Overdue Update: Autumn 2011 - Winter 2012 Summary

So the last six to seven months (has it really been that long???) have felt very busy.  I've had a lot of incredible trips and a lot of meaningful work as well.  I'll attempt to do a summary of the last six to seven months and perhaps in the future give a more in-depth description of each.  For now, a paragraph for each point, and perhaps a few pictures.

Over the next post expect an update on:

  • Bridge Builders office move from 14 Shepherds Hill, Highgate, London to St Peter-le-Poer Church, Muswell Hill, London (beginning of Sept)
  • Recap of Transforming Church Conflict course in Salisbury (late Sept)
  • Visiting Scotland with my parents (mid Oct)
  • Mediating Interpersonal Conflicts course at the Ammerdown Centre in the West Country (early Nov)
  • Visiting Colorado over American Thanksgiving (late Nov)
  • Christmas in Durham (end of Dec)
  • Transforming Church Conflict course in Swanwick (early Feb)
  • Visit to Prague and Berlin (mid-late Feb)
  • Transforming Church Conflict course (for Senior Church Leaders) in Sheffield (mid March)
While I've had about 5 weeks out of the office since September, I've only used about a week's worth of holiday.  Which means 4 of those weeks were taken off in lieu because of my accumulation of work hours.  I'm very fortunate to be able to have done so, otherwise the last half year would have been quite unbearable at times.

Bridge Builders office move (late August/early Sept):  The move from 14 Shepherds Hill to the basement of St Peter-le-Poer Church (an Anglo-Catholic Church about 1.5 miles away) had about as many things go wrong as you might possibly imagine.  Over the course of the move: the basement flooded (the day before new carpet was to be installed), new wiring was done and re-done improperly, our email system wouldn't work (then did, then didn't again), all while we were continuing to run our normal courses.  In addition, I'd moved house (well I didn't physically move anything, but my belongings were moved while I was cycling with Isaac), so I was adjusting to a new area of London (Woodside Park).  

Transforming Church Conflict course in Salisbury (late Sept):  This course was in an incredible location, within the Cathedral Close of Salisbury at Sarum College.  My bedroom was situated so I had a view of the Cathedral (even when lying in my bed at night).  Overall, the course went off well, but was difficult in many respects because we were still recovering from our stressful office move.  A few other highlights included having communion in the Cathedral mid-week in the morning, being locked in the Cathedral Close at night (they lock the Close every night, which just changes the atmosphere as the only thing lit up is the Cathedral), and having drinks with the Dean of the Cathedral one evening.

 Me leading an exercise

 Sarum College

 Salisbury Cathedral

Visiting Scotland with my parents (mid Oct):  My visit from my parents was well timed and very much needed.  It had been the longest we've ever not seen each other in person (about 10-11 months) and I was still feeling the left-over stress from our office move.  I also had just completed a workshop in Grantham, which while successful, left me feeling very tired.  Our trip itinerary included seeing Phantom of the Opera in the centre of London, an overnight train in a sleeper car to Inverness, Scotland (for only £19, £19, and £29), visiting around Loch Ness, Fort William, the Isle of Sky, and Edinburgh.
My Dad on the edge of Loch Ness 

A neat waterfall out in the middle of nowhere in the Western Highlands 

Furry cows 

Some hiking near Fort William in the Glen Nevis area 

 Isle of skye

 Iconic castle

Edinburgh castle 

 Arthur's seat

Scotland was amazing and was great chance to connect with my Mom and Dad again.  We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of the countryside, ate some great food, and sampled some good whiskey.  If I could ever spend a week in Scotland again I'd head back to the Isle of Sky and/or the Fort William area (close access to hiking).  Too much to see and not enough time to do it.

Mediating Interpersonal Conflicts course at the Ammerdown Centre in the West Country:  This course took place over a weekend (Thursday to Monday) and was specifically for the Church of England Diocese of Salisbury.  Everyone on the course had been through our "foundation course," so many were people I knew (some had been trained on our foundation course before I joined Bridge Builders), which gave it a very relaxed feel.  The five days went quickly and almost immediately afterward I went on a trip to Colorado.  
Countryside near the Centre

Trip to Colorado (late Nov):  A big thanks to all of those whom I stayed with and/or visited while in Colorado including: the Mast family, the Fast family, the Shirk family, the Cox family, the Clement family, and the MVS house.  I really really enjoyed getting the chance to visit Colorado after being away for the last two + years and getting to visit and reconnect with members of BMC.  Perhaps the strangest bit for me was noticing within myself a different reaction to things in Colorado that didn't spark anything before.  Just a realisation that there are bits of me that have changed without me noticing it.

At a lake near Longmont

 Near a mine (that truck is MASSIVE)

Christmas in Durham:  I went up to Durham and spent the Christmas period with my colleague Colin and his family.  He had one of his son's visiting while I was there (who happens to be about my age).  We spent the time eating lots of yummy food, playing board games, and generally having a good relaxing time.  I slept in an extra room at the top of their house and enjoyed seeing the stars through their skylight and listening to the wind howl at night.  I haven't remembering sleeping that well in a long time.

Transforming Church Conflict course in Swanwick (mid Feb):  This course went off really well, but was bittersweet for me because it was the last time I'll be working with a particular training team.  

Visit to Prague and Berlin (late Feb):  My visits to Prague and Berlin made me realise I hadn't yet visited places that had been behind the Iron Curtain.  Both Prague and Berlin were under the rule of communism for various periods, each with their own unique aspects.  

Prague is apparently the only place which has a Jewish sector that Hitler didn't ravage... but this was because he wanted to leave it as a "museum for an extinct race"... not the kind of thing that's nice to be remembered for, but it's preserved, unlike many other places.  I also hadn't realised how much the Czech Republic has changed as a nation over the last century.  So many changes, both of rule and border makes it easy to understand how many people can be a bit confused about "where they're from."  I spent a couple of days there before taking a train on to Berlin.

Berlin obviously had a very different feel than the old city of Prague.  Since much of Berlin has been rebuilt, both since WWII and since the Berlin wall went down, it's a very different place to visit.  Still very rich of history and of memorials.  Berlin definitely doesn't hide any of it's sad moments in history.   

I couldn't really say which of the two cities I liked more.  Each had their own unique aspects and interesting features.  

Transforming Church Conflict course in Sheffield (mid-March):  This course was more work than usual because my main boss, Alastair, wasn't able to be with us because he was taking care of his wife, who was recovering from surgery.  This meant instead of there being four trainers for the week, we had three.  Although this meant each of us had to take on a bit more in terms of responsibilities, the course still went off very well and received our typical type of feedback.  

Over the next couple of months as I wind down my time with Bridge Builders I've got a few other trips planned.  I'll be going to Paris for a couple of days at the end of April and then immediately upon my return head to cornwall to walk part of the Southwest Coastal Path.  Then at the end of May I'll be heading back up to Scotland to see the Isle of Arran.  I'm excited for both trips, but saddened that my time in the UK is coming to a rapid end.