Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Story of the Changing of the Guard

11:30. We just have to make it by 11:30.

  We rushed from the half priced ticket booth at Picadilly Circus (cheap seats to Wicked secured for the evening show!) toward Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard parade and ceremony. We started walking just before 11:00 and seemed like we would make it just in time. Suddenly, and surprisingly without warning, nearly fifty fuzzy hatted guards appeared immediately in front of us with instruments playing a miltary march. Following these redcoats were another two dozen guards with automatic rifles marching closely in time. 

Perfect timing. 

We walked directly behind the parade for the next quarter mile or so all the way to the palace. Needless to say, the streets were packed with people. By the time we reached the square in front of the palace, there were hundreds of people with cameras out hoping to get a glance of the changing of the guard. While we got a great view of the parade, we couldn’t see that much at the gate. So, I threw Bryce up on my shoulders and Denali scrambled on top of a fence to get a better view.

“Dad, what’s happening? What are they doing?” asked an obviously confused and slightly bored Bryce who couldn’t quite get his head around the notion of royalty, let alone the pomp and circumstance that surrounds said nobility in the UK.

“Well, Bryce, at 11:30 everyday, they change the guards in front of the palace to make sure the Queen is safe.”

“That’s what we’re watching?”

“Sort of…you see, after the parade, the guards all climb the side of the palace walls like Spiderman before putting on their red capes and mask that all guardsmen are required to wear.”


“Yep,” I said as the Canadian gentleman next to me looked at me in disgust.

“Then what happens?”

  “Well,” I proceeded to tell my kids, “you know that big parade we just walked behind? After they get to the palace, they all take a vote on who marched the best. Tha guard becomes the new ‘king-of-London-for-the-day.’ And then they take another, much sadder vote, on who marched the worst. That guard is ceremoniously stripped of his red coat and told he is no longer welcome in England. They immediately send him to Wales on a goat with his cape as a saddle. That’s where we get the term ‘scapegoat.’ Welsh people always put an ‘s’ before any word beginning with ‘c.’ ”

“Daddy, that doesn’t sound right…”

“Oh, but you’re missing the best part! After the vote, which must have just happened minutes ago, the queen comes out to grace us with her presence.”

“We’re going to see the queen?!”

“And how! The thing is, you’ll have to look up on top of the palace to see her. Each day, after the guard votes, she comes out of a window on the wroof. If she sees her shadow, she goes right back inside, meaning it will rain for the next 40 days and 40 nights…”


“…but if she DOESN’T see her shadow, then she reaches back into the window and carries her two great-grand children to the top of the flagpole on the place where she cries out in her high-pitched soprano sing-songy voice, ‘My People!! Behold, your future monarchs!!!’ At that point, she grabs the Union Jack, that’s the flag, with her teeth and parachutes down to the ground in front of the palace.”

At this point, the Canadian man and his elderly father realize I’m not entirely serious and nods over at Bryce, saying, “I love that part.”

“Can we see her do that today, Daddy?”

“I wish, Bryce, but it looks like we can’t see from here. Want to go see dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum instead?”

“Oh boy! Dinosaurs!”

Great Britain rules.


We went to Paris and London’s Calling

  Back on the train…It has been a long few days of exciting times in Grenoble and Paris. Without overstating the obvious, Paris should not be relegated to a 36 hour visit. That said, we were extremely pleased with all the sites we took in during our brief time in the City of Lights.

It’s probably better to back up a couple of days and finish off our account of Grenoble with the Family Phillips.

  We are saying it again to anyone and everyone who can hear us – we are so thankful for Keith and Sarah taking us in for five days and four nights. You know the saying about fish and houseguests? I’m pretty sure we overstayed our welcome but you would never have known it by the incredible hospitality of Keith, Sarah, and the boys. It was such a lovely visit and we are eternally grateful to have started our journey out this way. In addition to the shared meals, we explored the town of Grenoble, took a bus trip out to Lac du Laffrey, and even found a French babysitter to watch our kids one evening while the four adults went out for a decadent French dinner. 

  The food, wine, and company was exquisite.

It’s not much of an expereince if you can’t share it with others, is it? 

After enjoying a leisurely morning over breakfast and coffee, we departed Sunday morning by train for Paris. 

Train trips with children are always an adventure. Add in the requested screen time for ipods/ipads and you have a battle before the journey even begins. They are good children. Really, they are. But they are just as susceptible to the siren song of Minecraft and Harry Potter movies as the next kid. This delicate balance was rudely interrupted by a lack of battery power that we were unable to correct until reaching the hotel. Hallelujah! Keeping them off the handheld devices was a blessing. That meant they slept!

  We stayed at a Novotel by Montparnasse. We’re a bit lame in this way because our hotels in Paris, London, and York are all Novotels. The reason? The easiest hotel to find kid-friendly accomodations. 

Best decision of the trip.

The Novotel catered to families like ours with plenty of space, extra beds, and perks for the kids like a special morning breakfast for children that included balloon artists, face painters, and lots of children’s decorations. The meal was perfect and the ambience, while not the most romatically Parisian, was idela for our two little ones. In addition, the hotel gave the children stuffed animals, games, and toys as gifts for staying. Well done, Novotel. 

The first evening was spent wandering by the Eifel Tower before having dinner at what Bryce said was, “The fanciest and best restaurant ever.” Who said you can’t have a three course meal with children? They ordered in French, tried the food, and made the best of it. We were immensely proud and happy to be in Paris. We stayed out late and wandered through the neighborhoods with the children happily taking in the sights and sounds of Paris at night. Incredible night.

  The next day we tried to be realistic with our experiences. Hop on trains and buses without any real expectations and just see where the day takes us and what we discover. As a result, we saw many highlights but not all of the requisite touristy things. We did a boat cruise on the Seine, walked through Jardins des Plates in the Latin Quarter, explored the Natural History Museum, strolled along the Seine, and spent a lot of time in the heart of the city around Notre Dame. We ate and drank too much, indulged on ice cream and sweets, and stumbled back to the hotel around 8 to promptly fall asleep. Success!

  We are now on the chunnel train to London. We underestimated our travel time to the station and had to cancel some plans this morning in order to make our EuroStar train to the UK. No matter. Everyone is resting nicely on the train as we head to our hotel that sits in view of London Bridge. 

Thanks for taking the time to read. We are especailly thankful for Julie Pitsonis for watching our border collie Lucy, as well as all the rest of our church friends back home who are getting ready to welcome Rev. Malcolm Rooney this week as he joins the congregation as the visiting minister. I’ll be doing the same thing in Scotland in just a couple of days. Until then, we’re excited to see London and York!

Acro-Bastille Madness

And the worst parent award goes to..

  So we took a fantastic ride up to the top of the Bastille in Grenoble and while up there, signed four out of the five kids (sorry, Gavin…you need a few more years and a few more inches still) for a junior high ropes course. They absolutely loved it…but Denali REALLY loved it. Keith and I were planning on doing the adult course afterwards but Denali was stoked after the low ropes, kids only adventure.
“Daddy, can I PLEASE do the adult course?”

I’m not sure, honey. Let’s go check if you can do it. (I said this, knowing fully well it said 11 years old and up and our 9 year old daughter would not qualify, thus avoiding potential disaster).

“Daddy, here’s the measuring stick. You only have to be 140 cm and I’m over it!”

I was stuck trying to make a good decision instead and I decided teaching my daughter how to lie to amusement park.

You look 11, Denali. You can do it!

The key component to this equation was the presence of Rachell and me. We would also be doing the high ropes course with her, along with Ethan and Keith. So, we paid for our tickets and made sure the girl behind the counter approved of our decision.

“(in French) She is not big. She may have pull herself across the zipline if she does not make it all the way.”

No big deal! She can make it. We’ll be right there with you!

We paid and put on our wristband passes before casually asking, “Are my flip flops going to be a problem?”

“You cannot go in these. You are not allowed. Neither is she (my wife). Only you three.”

And with that bold move, Denali went off to the highropes Accro-Bastille course around Grenoble with Keith and  Ethan. 

She completed it and was great after…but the mountain climbing ropes course for the girl two years too young and obviously not tall enough was stres inducing for everyone.

She thinks she’s much older than she is. Is that a good thing?

Earlier in the day, we were at a park with all the kids playing when Denali came and sat down with the adults. She said she was annoyed by the way the boys were playing and wanted to stop. Instead, she walked around with me to a French coffee shop by ourselves where we ordered the perfect dark chocolate drink, an esspresso, and two macaroons. She took some pics while we were there:


 It was a great day. Rachell was a bit sick this morning but rallied by the afternoon and feels much more human again. A day and a half without sleep can do wonders to your body. Bryce and Liam picked up just where they left off a year ago, having a blast and playing together like the best of friends and we could not have been happier to hang out with Keith and Sarah. Tomorrow we are planning on visiting a mountain lake nearby and enjoying the sunshine. All is well from France. 


First views of Paris

The kids are taking themselves awfully seriously.

Only a couple of meltdowns this morning. The lack of sleep finally caught up to us.

We’re about to board a 3 hour train to Grenoble to see the Phillips family. Things keep getting better. 


“Everything is Hay in Hard Times”

We made it to Reykjavik!

  Best Icelandic phrase yet…no idea what that means. 

The first two flights went swimmingly. I’m happy to say the kids were extremely well behaved. The lady next to us even said, “Your children travel so well!” Rachell and I beamed with pride. 

Why is that something to be proud of?

I tried to brush off the comment with some self-effacing joke before she got curiously serious and said, “Don’t make jokes like that. Your children are gathering expereinces. That means something.”

Well put, lady from Florida on her way to Sweden for a family reunion via Iceland.

I think I like that part of traveling. You never fully understand who is going where and for what reasons. We are surrounded right now by people who are cooped up in the airport waiting for their plane (in an EXTREMELY Icelandic setup, I might add. I mean, check out the beanbag style chairs in the airport).

 We are passing by people we will never see again, on their way to things we’ll never know about, with people we have yet to meet. I know this sounds a bit obvious but bear with me. How well do we know our neighbors? The people in the cars next to us? Sitting next to us on the plane?

One conversation can change a stranger into a friend. 

Boarding call. On our way to Paris now. 

And we’re off…

In just a few minutes, we’ll be taking off for our 5 week adventure across Europe as part of my pulpit swap with the Reverend Malcolm Rooney from Kirriemuir in Scotland. Our trip starts with a flight to Paris via Boston and Reykjavik, Iceland. Once there, we’ll head south to meet up wiht the wonderful Keith and Sarah Phillips, plus kids Ethan, Liam, and Gavin. It’s been nearly one year since the Phillips clan moved to Grenoble for a year long sabbatical. We have missed them dearly and can’t wait to reconnect. After that, we’re onto Paris, London, Yok, and finally, Scotland.  

Thank you to everyone in advance for your prayers and well wishes. It has been a little more than two months since our house fire. Since the fire, we have bounced around in temporary housing as our home (the “fire house,” as Bryce likes to call it) is rebuilt, repaired, and restored. Everyone has been on edge and for a very short minute, we wondered if we should even go through with this trip we’ve had planned for nearly a year. Thankfully, we are still going! 

The kids are great travelers and seem pretty excited right now. They were bouncing around the car on the way down as their grandma and grandpa Monville picked us up to drop us off in Detroit. I love that they get these experiences while they are young. Will they remember these trips as much as Rachell and I will? Maybe?

Just about to board…it’s our first time on JetBlue before getting and Icelandair flight in Boston. Life is full, good, and joyful. We’ll be posting as we go. God bless Pastor Drew Filkins for taking over things while I’m gone. It’s nice to have such great colleagues to do your job for you!

Here we go…