The World According to Tiff Sniff

Meandering ponderings and wonderings on the state of things.


Last Thursday, we spent the day at Chatsworth, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. This is one of the largest and most beautiful homes in England, and I highly recommend spending the better part of a day there, if you're close.

This is also the house on which Jane Austen presumably based Pemberly, home of the unpredictable Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. The newest movie version of the story, which opens here in a couple of weeks, was partly filmed there.

We arrived in late morning, as it is a little bit of a drive from Loughborough. We got our tickets, and toured the house first. I'll be honest with you here. I was kind of bored. Chatsworth is breathtaking, that's true, and unbelievably opulent. But I'd been to Chatsworth before, and I've also toured Buckingham Palace, Windsor Palace, Holyrood Palace, Blenheim Palace, Powerscourt (where they filmed "The Count of Monte Cristo", if you care), etc. After a while, they all look the same. The two best parts of the house, for me, were (1) the bust of Matthew McFadyen used in the movie and (2) the stage theatre in the attic, complete with box seats.

The real attraction is the grounds. (And the cafeteria - I highly recommend the cottage pie.) Chatsworth has extensive formal and informal gardens around it, in a variety of styles. After a most satisfying lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the grounds. I wish you could have been there with us, to see how much fun we had. There are numerous sculptures and fountains, a rock garden, a coal tunnel open to the public, a hedge maze, ponds and exotic plants and miles of tended paths on which to see it all. There are also sheep, as Lara was happy to see. She spent a happy while chasing them with her knitting needles. When we were done seeing what there was to be seen, a couple of us went back to the cafeteria to end the day with a proper Devonshire tea, complete with clotted cream. Then it was back on the minibus and back to church.

That night was our last in Loughborough. We got fish and chips for dinner. So yummy. Kinsey was fussing about this and that, and finally Sheryl asked her what was really bothering her. She answered, in quite a tired voice, poor thing, that she wanted to go to her house and sit in her chair. Her parents gently explained that we were going to spend a couple of days more doing fun things, and then we would go back to Nashville. To which she answered, "No, I mean my England house." I want an England house, too.

The young adults came over to the building again, and we played Nerts and Mafia until, once again, Mark had to round us up and herd us out of the building. A lot of sad goodbyes were said that night, but the great news is, we were invited back for next year! That was a great feeling. Back at Angie's, we packed up and got to bed as early as we could - Friday began early, but ended in London. More later!

Okay, I have lots of fun pictures, but can't get them to upload today, for some reason. So instead, here is a link to all of my Chatsworth pictures, complete with (somewhat) explanatory captions!

Paul Walker

It's been a while since I had one, but it seems my celebrity-laden dreams are returning. Last night, I got to meet Paul Walker. He was REALLY cute, and modest and charming, to boot. I told him I was a fan, but the only movie I could remember seeing him in was "Timeline". I told him I liked it, but of course, he didn't believe me, because it was a bad movie. (Of course, I actually didn't absolutely hate it. I'm a huge fan of the book, and knew the movie was going to be bad. So I did enjoy the experience somewhat.)

Previous Dreams.

On to more of our England adventures:
Sunday morning, we joined the Loughborough Church of Christ for morning worship and a fellowship meal (aka, a potluck). It was so nice to get to spend some time talking to the people there, especially as many of them were headed out of town on holiday, and wouldn't be around for the rest of the week. Once we had eaten and cleared up, we jumped into our prep for the HBC (Holiday Bible Club, aka Vacation Bible School). We rehearsed our sketches, prepped for crafts and games, and went to the stores for food and supplies. That night, we had our official HBC kickoff. A short devotional, followed by an introduction to "Ripe" and "Rotten", the main characters of the week. Each day, these two would meet a Bible character and learn about his or her story. The theme was "Going Bananas" - the crazy things people do to please God. So we did Noah (who built an ark in a desert), Gideon (who went to battle against an army with only 300 men), and the woman with the jar of expensive perfume (who anointed Christ's feet with it, washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair, as well as wasting an entire bottle of perfume, just to express her love and gratitude for the grace he had shown her). The first night, though, was just a taste. After service, we again had some time of tea, food, and fellowship. The young adults group stayed for a while at the building, and we ordered Chinese food, again from Ming's Kitchen. I'm not kidding about that place. I wonder if they would ever franchise..... Anyway, we ate and played games and eventually went home. No ladies and highwaymen that night.

Monday was the first day of HBC. I have to admit to being a bit nervous about how it would all go. We had 18 kids, which was probably the perfect size for us. Large enough that we could do the planned activities (mostly), but small enough that each child got a lot of personal attention and play. I didn't get to spend as much time with the kids as I would have liked, since I was running around doing things, but it was fun, nonetheless. We taught them a bunch of new songs, the most popular being the camp version of "Singing in the Rain" and "The Coconut Song". If you don't know them, don't worry about it. Like every other camp song, they just get stuck in your brain for days at a time.

After we cleaned and ate lunch, we helped set up for Afternoon Tea. Each Monday, a group of mostly older church members meet at the building for (duh) tea and goodies, and usually a game or some sort of entertainment. We played a modified version of Trivial Pursuit. I was in heaven. I got to sit with Margaret and John, and with Stephanie, who is feisty and hilarious. After some free time before dinner, during which we were free to wander through town a little, we ate, and then the guys took of for Mark's house, where they spent a great night in prayer and devotion. Oh, wait, I mean watching football (soccer) on TV. Meanwhile, we met with the women of the church for their weekly Ladies' Bible Study. Sheryl led a great discussion on unexpected sources of light and understanding - people who had blindsided us with Christ's love. It was a long discussion, and we ended the night with hymn. There is something so sweet and beautiful about a group of women singing together. We grabbed some ice cream while in town, and went back to Angie's for another viewing of "The Lady and the Highwayman". Seriously, go buy it and watch it tonight. You will thank me.

Tuesday started with more HBC. Another day, another lot of fun. After lunch, we loaded up in the minibus (their equivalent of a 15-passenger van), and drove out into the countryside for some sightseeing. First, we went to Mt. Saint Bernard's Monastery. The "attraction" there is a Calvary Walk, which is peaceful and thought-provoking. After an hour or so of walking through it, we loaded back up and headed to Bradgate Park. Bradgate is where the family home stood of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen of England for 9 days, just before Mary, Queen of Scots (who got her nickname, Bloody Mary, for her unfortunate tendency to have her rivals beheaded, Lady Jane included). We spent a peaceful hour there. I spent the time mostly alone, listening to music and just thinking and praying. It was exactly what I needed at that point, as I was beginning to get a little touchy. Then back to the building for another amazing dinner, and the weekly Young Adults Night. We played fun icebreaker games, and had a great devotional on the nature of God's plan. Then, of course, more tea and snacks. After a quick but fruitless stop for milk, we headed home for the night. Andy, one of the young women from the congregation, was waiting for Angie to get home. We all went inside and sat around talking and praying until 2:00 or so. No ladies or highwaymen that night, either.

Wednesday was our last day of "work". We finished up the HBC, which was over far too soon. The kids really loved it, and we had a blast with it. After lunch, we split into two groups. One group stayed at the building and cleaned out the storage cabinets. The other group, which I joined, went to a local retirement home to visit with the residents. The women there (the only man currently in residence had recently been hospitalized) were sweet, and intelligent, and curious. They asked us a lot about ourselves, but shared plenty about their own lives, too. The house itself is beautiful. The lounge we sat in made me a little bit jealous. I'd love to have a room like that: nice, high ceilings, lots of big windows overlooking the garden, and a big, cozy fireplace. So nice. After some tea and cookies, we stopped at the library to try to use the computers to, you know, post to our blogs and such. Unfortunately, we had no luck, and headed back to the building. After doing a quick cleaning of the bathrooms and auditorium and such, we ate yet another fabulous meal. Oh, and before and after dinner, we shared the wonder of TLATH with our teammates. Kinsey, Phil and Sheryl's little girl, had a portable DVD player that went everywhere with us, so we popped it in for a bit. She later proclaimed it her "favorite movie". She's so smart.

Phil led the discussion in Bible class that night. Honestly, I remember that it was really good, and moving, but I don't remember exactly what we talked about. Kinsey fell asleep before church started, and I was holding her through class. I don't get to cuddle much (my boy cousins are too old for such nonsense anymore), so I enjoyed it. I sat with my good friends and praised God. It was a wonderful night. After class was over, of course, everyone stood around and talked forever. Finally, we loaded up and went home. That night, we watched the first half of "Amelie", but were all falling asleep, and so went to bed and got a full night's sleep for once.

Then it was on to more fun. Chatsworth, the place we went Thursday, deserves lots of time, as does London, of course, so I think I'll end this post here and come back to those another day.

England, Part One

Well, I don't have time to post too much, but I thought I'd tell you all a little bit about the trip. I'll come back and do a more detailed entry later.

After a fairly easy flight and train trip, we found ourselves in Loughborough Saturday just after lunch. Mark Hill met us at the train station and took us to the church building. After a quick potty stop, we walked to the city centre. Because it was Saturday, it was Market Day, so we all walked around the market for a while and ate lunch while we were there. Then we went to Mark's house for a short team meeting. Mark dropped me, Tracy, Melody, and Angie at Angie's new house. It was suppertime by this point, so, in honor of Michelle, we ordered Ming's Kitchen, possibly the best Chinese food I've ever eaten. At least the best I've had since the last time I was in England. Mmmmm.

Michelle had sent Angie a bag of presents, so I got those out of my bag and gave them to her. Angie is a huge Hugh Grant fan, so Michelle had included a movie Melody and I had found at Walmart a few weeks ago. In the $1 bin. Didn't know there was one, did you? So, we decided to pop it in and check it out. It is my new favorite movie. It's called "The Lady and the Highwayman" and is as awful as it sounds. The only positive thing about the film is that the main characters are reasonably attractive. The plot, the dialogue, the acting, the lighting, the editing, the cinematography - all of it is terrible. And wonderful. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Seriously, even if you only make it through the first ten minutes, it's worth a dollar. If you can make it through the whole thing, congratulations on joining the club. Seriously, it's awesome.
We had a great week, and really got to know the young adults well. The personality of our group meshed really well with the L'boro congregation. Every night we hung out with the young adults group, we were at the church until Mark told us we needed to get back to our hosts' homes so they wouldn't be up too late.

We also got to see some of the surrounding countryside, and really grew close as a

So, I'll try to post a full day-by-day journal as soon as I have some more time, probably tomorrow.

On the refrigerator front, you'll be glad to know it's gone. (I paid the trash people an extra $50 to clean it out for me, and I still almost threw up twice. I ended up waiting outside until they were done.) My apartment smells much better, although I now have to buy a new fridge. Still, I'm a lot better off than I was 24 hours ago.

Until I can post again, Cheers!

Home again

Trip was wonderful. I got home last night just after 9:00, completely exhausted. The only thing that kept me from just staying at my parents' house after they picked me up at the airport was the promise of sleeping in my own bed, in my own room.

So imagine, if you will, what you would hate to come home to after being gone for 10 days. No, my apartment hadn't burned down. No, I hadn't been burglarized. What did happen is number 3 on the list of worst possible things to have happened.

My refrigerator broke.

Now, it didn't just quit working. Somehow, the cooling/freezing function quit. But the motor has been running. So the temperature inside the thing is actually warmer than room temperature.

I'm a smart girl. Before I left, I took out the trash, and cleaned out my refrigerator of anything that would spoil while I was gone. However, I didn't feel the need to clean out my freezer. You should know that, because I live alone and don't eat here a whole lot, I tend to buy frozen meat and just thaw what I need. So my freezer is mostly full of chicken, a couple of stakes, and ice cream (which mostly just adds to the sticky factor).

So when I opened my apartment door, I was hit with an indescribable stench. My first thought was, "What is that? There's nothing IN this place that could create that smell!" Oh, my naivete.

I followed the aroma to my teeny kitchen, where the floor was covered with a coat of some reddish, foul liquid. Now dried, of course. I made the mistake of opening the fridge to see what was happening, since I could hear it still running.

Then I promptly called my parents and burst into tears.

This week was mind-blowingly fantastic, but I have been "on" for 10 days. I was one of two leaders of our group, but the other had never been to England before. So a lot of the decision-making and planning while we were there had fallen to me. Not a big deal, but by last night, I had nothing left to give. I couldn't even begin to think how to deal with it. I knew I couldn't sleep in my apartment with that smell, but the idea of getting back in my car and going somewhere else, or even of sleeping in another bed than my own, was just devastating. Not to mention, the fear that now everything in my place will smell like this for weeks to come.

My wonderful, amazing father came down from Nashville with buckets, rubber boots, trash bags, and cleaning supplies. He wet down the mess on the floor (oh my ew) and scrubbed it, then mopped it up with paper towels and threw them out for me. He went to the store and bought a bag of cat litter, to help absorb the smell, and spread it out over my kitchen floor.

In the end, we've decided to just pay someone to come pick up the thing, nasty insides and all, and get rid of it. It's old, and doesn't even have handles anymore (you have to open it by grasping the doors at the top), so it's not worth spending anything to fix, if it could even be fixed. Plus, that would entail actually dealing with what is inside, and frankly, I'm not up to it.

So, I had hoped to write a huge long post about my week (no internet access while I was there, or I would have been posting all along), and I might still do it later today, but first I'm going to exorcise my apartment of all things gross.

Happy Monday, everyone!

We are weak, but He is strong

Three months ago, I was appointed to represent a young mother in a child custody case. She had lost her baby at 36 weeks of pregnancy, because of cocaine use. Her one-year-old (the youngest of 8 kids) had been taken from her and put into foster care pending the outcome of the case. She was not at the hearing at which I was appointed, and another lawyer who has been involved with her situation off and on for several years told me that she has never once turned up for court. So I didn't spend too long trying to find her; it seemed like a pretty straightforward case of a woman who didn't really want to be a mother, and couldn't take care of her kids. Not much for me to do, really.

So imagine my surprise when, at the settlement conference today, she showed up.

Losing her unborn child seems to have really shaken her up and made her realize it's time for some serious changes in her life. Fortunately, the people in the Dep't of Children's Services (despite their reputation as an agency) are remarkable and committed people. Her case worker had worked up a plan for her, steps she can take to get her like back in order, and to eventually work toward regaining custody of her daughter. My client and I discussed it. She freely acknowledged her drug and alcohol problems, and wanted to do whatever she needed to keep her parental rights from being terminated. She told me that she is also bi-polar, but can't pay for her medications. Apparently, the last time she went through drug rehab, her counselor told her that if she didn't take her Depakote, she would "automatically" relapse. So, when she ran out of meds and couldn't buy them, what did she do? She did what her counselor told her to do - she relapsed. But this isn't about what a stupid thing that was for her counselor to tell her.

She teared up as she told me that she had had to check out of her hotel room that morning because she had been robbed. Everything she owned in the world is now gone. I strongly suspect she is prostituting herself tonight, to pay for her coke, booze, food, and to have a place to spend the night. In that order, of course. She is absolutely at the end of her rope, and was desperately hopeless. She thought she had already lost custody of her child. I talked her through the plan, and we discussed her options. We added a couple of things to her plan (namely, that DCS will help her get psychiatric treatment, and help her get TennCare so that she can get her medication), and went into the courtroom to wait our turn to tell the judge what we had agreed on

I watched the judges talk to dozens of parents who had been accused of various levels of abuse or neglect, and who had complied with their permanency plans to various degrees. I watched as they were treated with respect and encouragement by some in the court, disdain and condescension by others. I thought about the poor young woman I am representing. We legal professionals sit in this court, clean and soft and with no rough edges; she had nowhere to sleep tonight, and no way to buy food, and no way to fix either of those things.

I thought of the power the judges and lawyers have in these people's lives, and repeatedly thought, "No one is beyond the redemptive power of grace".

Eventually we entered our agreement, and picked our next court date. My client's DCS worker agreed to immediately start working on getting her into drug rehab, and I emphasized to her the importance of finding a way to call me and/or DCS regularly, to let us know where she is, if nothing else.

Tonight at church, Phil spoke on the nature of the Christian "mission". On what, exactly, we are called to leave behind when we follow Christ. The Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, condemns the rich for their oppression of the poor, and for their insistence on maintaining their wealth.

I couldn't help but think back to my afternoon in court. My client will never have what I have.

We sang "Jesus Loves Me" at the end of the service, and it had new meaning. It's a "kids" song, because it's a simple melody with easy lyrics, and because it's about Jesus loving the "little ones" - those who are "weak" while He is strong. I always thought, growing up, that it was about Jesus taking care of children as they grew up. That's true. But I guess I'd never had a chance to revisit the tune until now.

This song is about Jesus loving me, and it is about Jesus loving my poor, strung-out mother who lost her baby and is now facing losing her child and jail time. He loves us the same. He treats us the same. The Bible tells us so.

We are so quick to justify the challenges the Bible presents to the rich. My personal favorite is that the "eye of a needle" actually was a gate in Jerusalem, and not a literal eye of a sewing needle, therefore it's not impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, just tricky. Talk about missing the point! (No pun intended.)

In the end, I think it really does boil down to where our focus is. Forgive me if this is obvious and simple, but the demeanors I saw in court today clarified it for me. Some of the lawyers, and one of the judges, were quick to assume these men and women were "bad" parents, who needed to be punished, or made to take things seriously, or challenged. Other lawyers, and the other judge, recognized that these cases are the scariest things these people have ever faced. They commend them for their accomplishments, rather than chastising them for their failure to achieve certain goals. The focus on their humanity, rather than their behavior, can make all of the difference in their lives.

Christ calls us to see his children, not just blips on our radar screens. When we see, and I mean really see, the people around us, we cannot help but care. When we care, we are driven to act.

James hit it on the head when he said "faith without works is dead" - if your faith in Christ doesn't open your hearts and minds to the plight of the people around you - whether the homeless downtown, the broken-hearted colleague, or the searching friend - it's not the type of faith Jesus wants us to have. When we love people as He does, we can't ignore their suffering and pain.

PS - Shout out to Clark and his niece. Thank you for your comment tonight at church, and to his niece: email me anytime. I'll be praying for you and your job situation!

In which an amusing anecdote occurs

Mr. Woodard appeared in child support court today. He had a court-appointed attorney, who didn't show up. (This attorney fails to show up on a regular basis. He doesn't receive so many appointments anymore.) His situation was this: he had entered a guilty plea and had been placed on probation. Today was a review of his case, to make sure he was making his payments.

When his plea was entered, he gave the court his employer's contact information, and the court has been garnishing his wages. Mr. Woodard had the pay stubs to prove it. The problem was, the money had not been credited to his case. Somewhere, most likely, a number was transposed or written incorrectly, and the money has probably been going to another case. So the judge asked Mr. Woodard if he could talk to his boss, and get a copy of the wage assignment. That way, the court could figure out if the mistake was something the employer had done wrong, or something the clerk's office had messed up.

Mr. Woodard didn't understand.

Mr. Woodard was also visibly drunk. Or high on something funny. He was very vocal and emotive and demonstrative, and not very lucid. He kept referring the judge to his pay stubs, which clearly showed the money being withheld. When the judge replied that he needed the paperwork from his employer, Mr. Woodard thought he was going to go to jail if he didn't have it. It was an amusing exchange.

The best part, though, was when Mr. Woodard responded to the judge's question with, "Well, you can see there, bra, they been takin' my money like you said they was supposed to."

Bra! He called the judge bra. Not sir, not even man, bra. Fortunately, he was too intoxicated to realize the whole courtroom behind him burst into laughter. Somedays, I do actually enjoy my work.

Four Days, Fifteen Hours, Thirteen Minutes and Counting....

Well, after nearly ten full months of planning, our England trip is upon us. On Friday, a group of 12 adults (plus one adorable 4-year-old girl) will board a plane headed for London England. After we land Saturday morning, we'll hop a train to Loughborough, there to spend the best part of a week holding a Vacation Bible School, leading worship and Bible study, and just socializing and fellowshipping with the people there.

So many of you have prayed for us, have sent money, have participated in our fundraisers. Thank you for that. I now ask you to keep praying for our trip. For us, as we travel across the world; for the church there, as they prepare to host us and follow up on the work we'll do; for the people there who don't believe, that we can show them Christ's love in a pure and unconditional way, and so bless them and share the joy we have found.

I'm not sure what our computer situation will be, but I will try to blog about our experiences if I'm able. I'm looking forward to seeing friends I met five years ago, and to making new friends. I'm also excited about spending ten days with our group; we have a lot of fun together. I can't wait to get back to London, the other city I love and call home. It will be an adventure, no matter what, and I look forward to sharing it with you all as soon as possible!

I'm it again!

The Rules:

1. Go into your archive.

2. Find your 23rd post.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

5. Tag 7 other people to do the same.

My sentence is: (I only live about three miles from their farm.)

This was a post about my young cousins, how much fun they are and how much I love them, and what a terrible cousin I am for not seeing them more even though I live close to them. Here's the link to the post.

I'm tagging:

Actually, I'm tagging everyone and no one. I'd hate to tag the people I tagged two weeks ago, but I don't have enough regular visitors to tag seven others. So feel free to take this up and pass it on! It was fun to go back and re-read some old stuff.


Oh, my gosh, this was the funniest thing I've seen all week. Fans of Stephen King, Jack Nicholson, or horror films in general MUST watch this NOW. Oh, and you have to be able to have the sound on. No watching at work, slackers.

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