Scary year round nativity

The girls and I had lots of time to wander around Lisbon on Friday.  My priest had a meeting and we decided to explore.  His church is right across the street from a  beautiful  garden.  It is a large and diverse park.  Playground for kids, ponds, turtles, cafes…just lovely.  We always seem to get in the park and just stay there.  I decided to motivate my squad to go to the Estrela Basilica on the other side of the park.

We see this enormous and stunning church constantly, but we never go in.  We know that it was built by Queen Maria I as a fulfilled promise after giving birth to a son in 1779.  Sadly, the church was finished 11 years later, after the Queen’s son had already died of smallpox in 1788.  My girls found the entire history really depressing.  Yet, they were deeply impressed that the Queen was so excited to have a child.  Pippa wanted to know why I didn’t go to such lengths to celebrate my pregnancy with her.  Sorry kid, I guess things have changed in a couple of hundred years…plus, sadly, I am not a queen.

In the back of the church, behind the crypt of Queen Maria was a hidden room.  We saw a few people headed in that direction so we decided to follow them.  I will say having a priest for a dad, makes my children very comfortable in churches and exploring them.   In the newly discovered room was a huge glass enclosure with the largest and most detailed nativity scene I have ever seen.  Sure, it has the  manger setting…Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and the animals.  The three kings are there too, but then it goes a little wild.

It depicts scenes from everyday life and Bible stories.  There is slaughtering of pigs, people doing laundry, men gambling…you get the idea.  Everything is made from either terra cotta or porcelain, with cork pieces lining the ground as earth.  One scene severely disturbed my children.  It was the slaughter of the innocents.

Herod,  the Roman appointed king of the Jews,  order of the execution of all male children near Bethlehem so that the he would kill the newborn King of the Jews, as told to him by the Wiseman.  This gruesome story was depicted in all of its horror in the nativity scene.

Look closely and you can see children being cut across their throats as their mothers scream.  Babies are dangling by their hair as men try to kill them.  This was a crazy brutal and lifelike display.  My kids know this story because they have studied it in Sunday school, but to see it in this form was powerful.  A nun was watching my children transfixed by this scene.  She came over and tried to encourage them in broken English  to look at other parts of the sculpture.  She took a flashlight and highlighted some of her favorite parts.  The kids  humored her but they couldn’t get their eyes off of the dead or dying children.

Finding this nativity scene was purely an accident.  It is unlike anything I have ever seen.  My family isn’t likely to forget this visit anytime soon.  When my girls told their dad what they had seen, my priest was crazy jealous.  He had wandered into that church many times before, but he went to admire the architecture and the art…he didn’t go with an adventurer’s eye.  I love that my kids discovered this magical room. They ended up showing me one of the largest and oldest nativities in permanent exhibit in the world.  Pretty cool.

We became hashers.

A friend has asked our family repeatedly to join his hash group.  For those of you who are not British, a hash group is a running and walking group.

Wikipedia defines a hash group as this:

The Hash House Harriers (abbreviated to HHH or H3) is an international group of non-competitive running social clubs. An event organized by a club is known as a hash, hash run or simply hashing, with participants calling themselves hashers or hares and hounds.

Our group met on Saturday.   Members of the group do not go by their given names, but rather by names given to them by other hashers.  It was like entering a crazy foreign land, while living in a crazy foreign land.  The “virgin” members are asked to identify themselves.  My youngest daughter was sure to tell the whole group that she was pretty sure her mother was not a virgin.  Thank you for that Pippa.

The instructions are given by the hare.  He is the member who organized the day’s adventure.  There are loads of markings placed on the trail.  They are made from chalk powder and some are meant to just screw your over.  You walk down a long trail, only to find out that you are meant to turn around.  The kids loved the deception and trickery.  Our hash was 6 kilometers.  We were wimps or walkers.  The runners or rambos had a 12 kilometer run.  Intense hill climbs were everywhere.

The team meets every fortnight and the Lisbon group is made up of people from all over the world.  At the end of the adventure, the virgins stand in the center of a circle made by older members.  We had to introduce ourselves.  Then we were given cups of beer.  The girls were given water.  We had to chug the beer while the hashers sang a song.  If the beer isn’t done by the time the song ends, it goes on your head.  I proudly out chugged my priest.  He looked like a chump.  It was glorious.  To our dismay, Pippa is a really good chugger.  I fear that she may be the life of the party at college.  Maggie, a little dorky like her dad, didn’t finish her water so she had it poured over her head.  All in good fun.

We have to go on 5 hashes and then we are named.  The group meets and comes up with less than flattering names that identify you for the rest of time.

I loved these hashers.  It reminded me of my days at Trinity College.  A little initiation, a little beer, crazy names and lots of laughter.  Do yourself a favor and see if your town has a hash club.  It feels good to belong.

Being happy with what you have.

I am not always good about being happy with what I have.  When I was living at home (USA), I loved nothing better than going to Target.  I never needed anything, I just liked to wander the store and see if anything spoke to me.  Sometimes new bed linens would call my name or a gadget for my kitchen.  All items I could live without, but yet somehow they made their way into my basket.

My daughters have more clothing than they could possibly need.  Yet, when I saw a cute new  swimsuit for one of my girls, I would buy it thinking you can never have too many swimsuits, right?  Shorts and  t-shirts were spilling out of their drawers and still I would buy more.  I knew I was a consumer and I knew I needed to stop.

We moved to Portugal.  There are new stores here and even cooler “stuff.”  But, I have told myself that I have enough.  Enough clothing, enough toys for the kids…enough of it all.  I wanted to turn a new leaf and use what I have and be mindful of anything I think I might want.

Portugal isn’t a wealthy country.  The majority of people don’t make loads of money.  They make enough to live.  They make enough to enjoy a coffee out with their friends.  Many are conservative in what they buy.

On my run today, I saw this tiled wall.


The owner of the home clearly didn’t have all of the matching tiles to fix their wall, but they fixed it with what they had.  It looks messy, but it also looks beautiful.  They made do.  It struck me that at home, I always work so hard to make sure everything looks ‘perfect.’  Clean home, tidy yard, nice garden…when I need to worry less about what the outside world sees and more about what brings me joy.  I like dandelions.  I like wild flowers.  I liked running past this yard today where the owners let the flowers do what they wanted to.  It was  unkempt, but it was lovely.

I am on a journey to consume less and be happy with what I have.  Living in Portugal makes me appreciate that my friends here are welcoming and gracious and generous with what they have whether they have a lot or very little.  They never want to go on a shopping date, but would rather have a chat in their garden.  We drink coffee or tea and relax.  No pressure.  No pretense.

I am enjoying learning to live with less and I feel like a much happier person for it.  I still go shopping, but I purchase things we need, not just stuff.  I am also mindfully teaching the girls the value of money and the necessity of using resources wisely.  Showing the children that money is better spent exploring our new home or experiencing a new adventure isn’t much of a challenge when you live in a spectacular country that values history and preserving nature.  Once again…thank you Portugal.

My girls meet other Priest kids.

The conference we attended with my priest in Switzerland was for families.  It was about various things, but primarily for me and my girls it was about connecting with other clergy families.  My daughters have never met PKs (priest kids) before their same age.  The ones they have met are usually grown children and therefore my kids could care less about their advice or guidance.  At the conference, the kids got to be surrounded by kids like them.  Kids whose mom or dad is a priest.  They didn’t even realize it in the beginning because no one was in their collars.  They just thought they had new friends to hang out with.

There was a short church service everyday in the morning.  An awesome musician played the guitar and sang upbeat Christian music.  The kids sang with such joy.  It made me cry.  It was nice for them to be with other kids who weren’t too cool to sing along.  Kids who go to church regularly and know what to do and to some extent, enjoy doing it.

The rest of the time the kids were in a play group with each other.  They were crafting, playing games, going on hikes and swimming.  One night early on the Bishop came for a church service and the kids were complaining that they didn’t want to go to church twice in one day.  They  all kept saying, “we have to go to church every Sunday.”  Each one of them didn’t realize that the other was in the same position.  It was hilarious watching them come to realize that they were so similar.  Instead of going to church, most of the kids stayed in our hotel room crowded around my phone screen watching “The Lego Movie.”  Everyone needs a break.

Maggie and Pippa were so happy.  Happy to be in Switzerland.  Happy to meet kids like them.  Happy to be able to share how they feel and to talk about their crazy parents.  The kids were from all over the UK, the US and Canada.  Their parents had all decided to leave their homes and move to Europe to take up a church in another country.  The kids all had to either to go to school in a new language or to an international school.  Some liked it more than others.  The kids lived in France, Belgium and Holland.  They all had things they really liked (chocolate and food topping most lists) and they all had struggles.  What I liked was that my girls knew they were not alone.

When I married my priest, I heard from many people about the rebellious and crazy children of priests.  This was long before I even wanted children of my own and I just dismissed it.  My girls are a little wild, sure, but I think having a dad who has such compassion and faith has been a blessing not an issue.  In my opinion, kids today are so focused on themselves…they always were, but with the digital world crushing them daily, it is even more just about them.  I feel that going to church each week connects my kids to people.  They pray for the sick, they take joy in relationships with people of various ages, they think about people other than themselves.

The PKs I met in the Swiss Alps were nice kids.  They looked after Pippa when she fell.  When I caught Pippa in the snow with no jacket throwing snowballs, an older boy (12) quickly admitted it was his idea.  They were respectful of adults.  They were polite and they were fun.  It is possible to raise kids who are both.  It was good to see.  I know that my kids sometimes  want to sleep in on a Sunday morning.  Sometimes we let them.  I didn’t grow up going to church and before I had kids I went frequently, but not every Sunday.  Now, it is just what we do.   If my kids get even half of the positive messages that they hear at church, I am happy.

Having more people who love my girls, more people who pray for them and more people in their cheering section makes my heart happy.  Glad they have a church family too.  I think we all need one.

My observations on Switzerland 🇨🇭

Switzerland is expensive.  Crazy costly.  Where €2 in Portugal could practically buy me lunch, it wouldn’t even buy a coffee in Switzerland.  The coffee is decent, but the Swiss are not obsessed with the stuff like the Portuguese.  Nothing to write home about.

Chocolate, on the other hand, is a food group to the Swiss.  In my opinion, the best food group.  I was told kids have a bar of chocolate a day at lunch.  Not bad.  My priest was in heaven.  He wanted to try every kind, every flavor…twice.

Everything they say about the Swiss being organized is insanely true.  The trains and buses are perfectly on time.  The drivers are polite.  The grocery stores are pristine.  The workers seem happy.  Why are people happy?  Maybe because the Swiss get paid well.  They tried to pass a law where every worker gets paid a minimum of 4,000 CHF ($4300 USD) per month.  It didn’t pass, but most people get paid a minimum of $3,500 per month.   Everything is expensive, but I guess the cost is relative considering their high wages.

We were temporarily lost in Bern.  We couldn’t find the tram stop and we must have looked  confused.  Three people approached us to offer help.  Unsolicited.  Where does that happen?

Every image you may have seen of stunning landscapes and picturesque villages are all true.  It is breathtaking.    Go visit.