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In which I swallow my pride…

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”-Proverbs 16:18

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This bible verse has been weighing on my mind for the past week or so.  After being so poorly for so long, and having to swallow my pride and ask for and accept help from others along the way, it seems only natural.

But it wasn’t the help that caused me to reflect on this verse.  Instead, it was the fact that I was set to run my third half-marathon last weekend.  Before I got sick, I’d been training well.  I was working out 4 days a week, adding yoga in to improve my flexibility, and keeping my long runs at a slow steady pace.  I was going to cut three minutes off of my personal best time for the distance.

And it was going to help prepare me for my first marathon, coming at the end of May.

It wasn’t just a race.  It was a much needed weekend away with some girlfriends.  An opportunity to relax and recharge and shop and sleep.  It was a much needed break before my birthday and after Marcus had been traveling for two weeks.

So getting sick sort of sucked.  I’d only gotten up to 8 miles in training (and that 8 miles was done when I first fell ill, and shouldn’t have done it).  And then I had to stop everything cold turkey.  No running.  Heck, hardly any walking.  No yoga.  I was a lazy sloth.  I was certain that I would not only not be able to run the half, but I wouldn’t be able to run a mile.

I proved myself right, or so I thought, when I started to run again 10 days before the race.  I had a disastrous 5K race.  I tried the 8 mile distance again, on a treadmill, and thought I was going to die.  I had a good 5 miler one day, but couldn’t be convinced that it was anything more than a fluke.  I was a mess.  I was fatigued and tired and still coughing.

Everyone (EVERYONE) told me not to run the Vitality Reading Half Marathon.

And that’s when pride crept in.

No. I can do it.

With every person who told me that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do it, I felt frustrated.  I could do it.  I wanted to prove them all wrong.  I wasn’t a quitter.  I wasn’t a failure.  I was smart.  I could do it.  I needed to do it.

All they wanted, really, was to keep me healthy.  One friend constantly reminded me to keep my eye on the real goal, the May marathon.  Let the half marathon go–it wasn’t my focus.  Everyone cared.

But I was prideful.

I couldn’t see their words as words of wisdom.  I saw them as discouraging.  I let my pride drive me.

When we got to Reading, the girls and I did the sightseeing and the shopping and the drinking and the relaxing.  It was wonderful.  I tried to put my pride to the side.  I could balance my desire to run the race and my desire to stay healthy, for everyone that cared about me and wanted to keep me safe.

God put my friends there with me that weekend for a reason.  Specifically, my friend Julie.  She woke up feeling a bit blah on race day.  “We’ll run it together,” she said. “We’ll take it slow.  Steady.  Easy.  We’ll plan to walk the water stations.”

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It wasn’t my plan.  My plan was to run and take it easy and to stop when I felt fatigued.  But with Julie by my side, I never got fatigued.  In fact, I probably ran the smartest race I’ve ever run.  And I was able to do it, thanks to her.  I know that I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful without her.  She saved me from my pride.

My time was a very respectable 10 min slower than my personal best.  I felt great at the finish and even now, two days later, I still feel good.  I didn’t overtax my body.  I played it safe. And honestly, it was probably the best race to have as I train for the marathon.  It was practical, safe training for a woman whose goal is to make it across the finish line at 26.2, not to meet a time goal.

I struggled to swallow my pride.  God sent me a blessing to help.  I am so thankful.

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In which we take advantage…

One of the things that we (I) love the most about living overseas is the opportunity to travel.  When we first moved abroad and I started the blog, I used it to chronicle many of our adventures for family and friends back in the states.  Of course, now there’s Facebook and iMessage and I don’t often take the time to sit down and record every abbey we visit or every new city or country we journey through.  Truthfully, it’s a bit of a shame.  The instant gratification has stopped me from pausing to reflect as much on these experiences that are shaping my family and the life that we live.  So I’m planning to take the time to slow down and journal about our experiences overseas a little more.  If I don’t, I worry they’ll be over and I won’t have anything to show for them but some quick pictures posted to FB while we were huddled in the corner trying to tap into the free wifi.

We recently took advantage of the kids’ half-term break from school to travel to Malta.  In case your curious, Malta is a country (I don’t doubt your intelligence…it’s just that I wasn’t so sure when it first popped up in my search for cheap tickets) between the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia.  Honestly, I booked the tickets having no idea what we’d see or do there–I just knew that we could get there, rent a car, and stay in a self-catering aparthotel for a reasonable price.  I figured that we could make the rest up as we went along.

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So we did.  And actually, we had a pretty great vacation.  I would probably not recommend Malta in February, but as we were restricted by the kids’ school calendar, we made the best of it.  If you can be more flexible, I’d suggest March–a little warmer, but still not crowded.  As it was, we skipped most of the beach/water activities (including the Azure Window and the full day boat trip to Gozo), simply focusing our holiday on historic sites and small local beaches and cities.

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At first, Marcus wasn’t very impressed with Malta.  We stayed in Sliema, which was crowded and congested and…well…a city.  Plus, the driving in Malta was a bit manic, and parking equally insane.  So I know that it stressed him out, though he managed it well.  However, the boats all left from the dock in Sliema, and we had fabulous views into Valletta.  In addition, the aparthotel was gorgeous, and there were loads of restaurants nearby, and even a mall within walking distance (which the girls loved…and so did I…there was a Cinnabon!).

We did loads of exploring, though our favorite cities were Valletta and Mdina.  Both were unique and gorgeous–and we could’ve spent more time just wandering than we actually allotted.  We never made it into St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, which I regret, but we did go into the cathedral in Mdina, which was just lovely.  Mdina is a walled city, and we ate at a cafe on the wall with gorgeous views of the countryside.  It was so incredibly clean–we’ve never seen anything like it!  Valletta was amazing when we were there–there was a parade and tons of entertainment for Carnivale, so the kids were well entertained.  We also got some wonderful views of the harbour and the water.

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In terms of sites, the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples were incredible–well worth the price of admission.  The small museum (including a video) that was at the site was also worth your time.  We opted to skip the Hypogeum, which I know is a very popular World Heritage Site for people interested in history.  However, Jessica was too young, you needed to book too far in advance, and quite frankly, Marcus wasn’t convinced the price (30 euro per person) was worth it.  However, I don’t have any regrets about that, as in addition to the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples we also took the time to visit St. Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat (skip the city, see the catacombs).

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As for beaches, we took the girls to paddle on Golden Bay and Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.  We went on different days, but actually, the beaches were only minutes apart.  The girls loved hunting for sea glass (a tradition we’ve quickly adopted from my friend Carrie), splashing about, and walking along the water.  Marcus and I kept our distance (50 degrees F felt warm compared to England, but still not warm enough for me to get in the water!), choosing to walk along the beach and watch the girls.

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We also built in time to do some kid-centric activities, which was the benefit of staying for a full week.  We weren’t cramming all of our activities into a few days, so we had time to do things that were focused on them.  The girls loved the Playmobil FunPark (though I’d advise it for children under 7, unless you have older children who are happy to play with the little ones, as my girls were).  We also went to the Malta National Aquarium, which was great!  There was an informative video about the coast of Malta and the sea life found there, and we got to watch them feed some of the fish, including the sting rays.  The girls really enjoyed themselves (though again, we weren’t that impressed with Bugibba, where the aquarium was located).  Afterwards, we let the girls walk along the rocky coast outside the aquarium.

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All in all, we had an incredible trip to Malta.  Really…

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In which I see the face of God…

The very first year that I taught religious education, the program director introduced a theme for the year.  She called it, “The Face of God,” and though we followed our regularly curriculum for the year, this was the overarching theme that we tried to weave throughout our lessons.  We discussed the Victor Hugo quote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”  Specifically, Erin encouraged the children, and us as catechists, to think about who has been the face of God in our lives.  

At the time, I thought briefly of others I’ve encountered through the years who’ve shown me the face of God.  People that have encouraged me to be a better Catholic.  Inspired me to become more involved in our church and our community.  People who’ve brought out the best in me.

But if I’m honest, I couldn’t think of any one person, or any one experience, when I truly saw or felt God’s presence in my life in a strong way.  There were times I felt very blessed.  Times I was grateful.  Times I was inspired.  But they were perhaps more fleeting moments, instead of life changing experiences.

Until now.  Over the past month, I’ve been sick.  What started as something flu-like grew and changed and hurt and I’ve got a chest infection that is only slowly starting to resolve after several setbacks.  Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever been this poorly (and certainly not for this long) in my life.  I’m only just barely on the mend.  And Marcus is traveling for work.

In the past two weeks, the love and compassion I’ve been shown by my friends has been so overwhelming.  I have had meals brought in every day.  I’ve had people pop round for lunch to check on me.  Friends have offered to do my shopping and my washing.  And most importantly, people have helped with the girls.  They’ve taken them to their gymnastics and diving lessons.  Taken them to school.  Picked them up from school.  Kept them for a few hours so that I can rest.  Taking them to and from play dates.  Changed their work and home schedules so that they can help, often without me even having to ask.  

And the girls have managed all the chaos so well.  They’ve been juggled and flitted from friend to friend with ease.  They’ve been well-behaved and gotten great reports from every parent and friend who’s helped with them.  They’ve made their own lunches and sorted their own uniforms when I’ve asked.  They’ve helped each other and me.  

So now, in this time of my deepest need, I can honestly say that I have been blessed to see the face of God.  It is every single person who has called or texted, cooked or helped, drove or hosted the girls.  It’s everyone who thought of me when they had their own busy lives and their own full diaries.  

I feel incredibly humbled by this experience.  I spent a lot of time feeling unworthy, and feeling that I couldn’t accept the help people were offering.  It was my friend Rachel who reminded me that when I don’t let someone help, I rob them of the opportunity to serve.  That has been on my mind constantly, as so many of you have served by helping me and my family.

So thank you, to everyone who has been the face of God for me over the past month.  I cannot begin to thank you enough.  

I am blessed beyond measure. 

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In which I forget…

I feel overwhelmed. The house is utter chaos. There are toys and clothes and lego (oh the lego) everywhere. The bathrooms are messy and there are cake tins cluttering up the kitchen counters that I work hard to keep clutter-free. The rug in the lounge has needed two (sometimes three) vacuums every day. My bedroom has no less than four loads of laundry folded on the floor waiting to be put away. There are four loads awaiting the washing machine. Every bed in the house is unmade. I did the dishes an hour ago…but they still aren’t done.

But in the midst of it all, I can sometimes, for a fleeting second, remind myself that none of it matters, not really. No one cares what my house looks like. And if they do, it doesn’t matter anyway.

When the girls are grown and gone I can have a clean house. If I want. And maybe I won’t even want one then. And that’s ok too. It’s ok to have priorities that aren’t a clean house.

I forget. Sometimes I get caught up in all the things I’m not, and forget all the things that I am. I am more than the state of my bedroom and the dishes in my sink.

And so are you.

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In which I write a Christmas letter…

Except, I didn’t. About 3/4 of my cards are in the post, the last 1/4 still waiting to be addressed. And none of them will have a Christmas letter in them. But the blog will, so pay attention! And I’m feeling festive, so it’ll happen in the form of the 12 days of Christmas!

In the Herdrich house this year, we were blessed with all of these…

12 day trips to castles, abbeys, and historic homes (maybe more!)

11 cricket sessions for Jessica

10 business meetings for Marcus (ha–more like 100!)

9 visitors to our house (Barbara, Kiki, Andrew, Wyatt, Nolan, Mick, Mercedes, Nancy, Amie)

8 swimming lessons for Jessica

7 races Kelly ran in (2 half-marathons, 3 10Ks, and 2 5Ks)

6 cheerleading practices for Samantha

5 knitting pattern designs by Kelly

4 trips exploring (Cornwall, Edinburgh, Germany/Bavaria, Hadrian’s Wall)

3 diving competitions for Erica

2 piano recitals for Samantha

And 1 happy Herdrich family!

Ta-da! #nailed it

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In which there are challenges and changes…

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.  -Fred Devito

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote recently.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking about it in the context of the Straybirds, a ladies’ singing collective that I helped start with a small group of amazing women.  Though my part has been small, I’m thrilled to say that I was a part of it at all, and was involved in the evolution of this North Yorkshire-based choir.  I have been challenged and changed.

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You may remember that I was singing back-up with a group of women on stage at the Tour de France Opening Ceremony for the Grand Depart just a few months ago.  Shortly thereafter, several members among us decided to branch out and try to form a new group.

I was scared.  I like things that are comfortable.  It was scary to step outside of a safe zone I’d created and be involved in something innovative.  Looking back, I’ve approached every change in my life with trepidation.  This was no different.  Move across an ocean with two young children?  Scary.  Leave my job to stay home with my children?  Scary.  Publish my first knitting pattern online?  Scary.  Publish my novel, which was, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my soul?  Terrifyingly scary.

By comparison, this should’ve been relatively simple. This was an adventure, not torture.  It was exciting and full of opportunity and promise.  It was a hobby, I was surrounded by friends, and clearly there are bigger challenges and changes happening every day all over the world.  #firstworldproblems

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I was scared anyway.  My mind rattled with what-ifs.  As we moved forward, I erred on the side of caution with every question we discussed or decision that needed making.  I didn’t want to take any more risks.

Luckily, I was surrounded by amazing, take-charge women who laughed in the face of a challenge!  Change?  They approached it with ease (or, they simply faked it better than I did).  With their know-how, we hired an amazing musical director, Neil Balfour.  He’s a gifted singer, director, conductor, and pianist with oodles of skills and a few extra hours a week to share with us.  I even approached his arrival with worry.  Was I, were we, good enough for him?  I was afraid.  I was comfortable with where I fit in our last choir.  In the back of my mind,  my self-doubt crept in. What if there was no room for me in this new singing collective?  What if where I fit before didn’t exist anymore?  It lingered, even after rehearsals rolled on and solos were doled out and we improved and grew and changed.  It lingered, though I was able to push that voice to the side more and more as time passed.

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And now, after months of risk-taking and challenging ourselves and stepping outside of proverbial boxes, the Straybirds have done their first gig. (Though I missed the gig itself while I was travelling, I practiced and rehearsed and worked alongside everyone else through the preparation stages.)  The feedback from family and friends and musicians we’ve worked with in the past was overwhelmingly positive.  The performance was impressive.  We made so many positive improvements.  We were a dazzling new singing collective.  We have challenged ourselves, and we have changed in a thousand positive ways.  I have changed in a thousand positive ways.

And there is no better feeling in the world.

I’ll try to remember that next time a new challenge crosses my path.

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In which we’re ready for the deep end

I spent some time scrolling through my blog recently, looking at things I wrote once upon a time, and remembering so many moments in time that I captured here. I was stunned when I came across this blog post from 2009 about Samantha and Erica’s first round of swimming lessons. I even had incredibly cute pictures of the girls’ first jumps off of the diving board in the deep end. It made me smile, looking at 3 year old Erica’s jump.

Erica, 3, contemplating that first jump

Erica, 3, contemplating that first jump


In she goes!

In she goes!

Why, do you ask? Because I am still filled with this amazing sense of wonder watching my girl dive, more than five years later. At eight, Erica dives on a squad, competing as a novice here in England. She can already do these amazing things that are little more than words to me (pike fall, tuck jump, straight jump, back tuck roll), all off of the poolside, the 1M, the 3M, and occasionally the 5M. She’s incredible. It’s easy to forget how far she’s come in just 7 short months–easier to see when you realize the change in 5 years.

Preparing for her first poolside dive

Preparing for her first poolside dive


Erica, 8, Diving at the Tynemouth Trophy

Erica, 8, Diving at the Tynemouth Trophy


Her favorite dive!

Her favorite dive!

But looking back at her first jump off of the diving board in 2009 really brings it all home for me. She still makes the face, with her hand in the mouth, when she contemplates a new challenge, working her way through it, deciding how to proceed. It’s funny what we forget with time.

I’m so proud of my amazing, talented girl. I was when she was three, and I am today.