Sunday, September 14, 2014

Memories for Me

This blog has served a dual purpose for me. Not only does it allow me to tell a wider audience what's on my mind, but it serves as a pseudo-journal for me to record memories and feelings. For the past month or so, I've been extra aware of my dwindling time left in this country, so I made a bit more effort to gather some memories from work.

A small boy I'll call David came into group looking really down. I stepped over to him and quietly asked him what was wrong, and he said that his dog Diesel was sick and was going to die. I asked him to tell me about Diesel, and David told me all about how big he was. I decided to try to turn his mood around, so I told David that when something is dying, it's okay to be sad about it. But! We should remember all the happy and funny moments that we've had. I asked him to tell me his favorite memory with Diesel. It was the first time David saw him. Diesel had run up and jumped on him, and because he was so big, he had knocked David flat on his back. After we talked and laughed about some funny memories, David was back to smiling again.

While I was with the babies in the morning, I had a 1 year-old boy sitting on my knee. For just a second, I felt him tense, and then I heard a big ol' man-sized toot rumble out. Becky, a co-worker, looked at me with wide, questioning eyes and just started laughing. Turns out she thought it was me just letting loose. 

I had the opportunity to work with the teens several times during the last two weeks of our summer programme. Way back before I was placed at Quaker Cottage, my hopes had been to work with youth in some format. Unfortunately, that didn't happen (but I'm not really complaining!), so whenever I had a chance to work with our teenage group, I took it. Several months ago, I was with a group and found it to be one of my most challenging days. Maybe it was me or maybe it the dynamics of the group that day, but the teens simply wouldn't listen to me or respect me in any way shape or form. It felt how I imagine a substitute teacher might feel in a rowdy classroom. This experience made an impression on me, and I was nervous to get back into the teen group again. But there was no reason to be nervous! The groups this time around were great! We went go-karting, and my competitive nature definitely kicked in. It didn't help that Rory, our teen director, was super competitive too. I went out on that track looking for the fastest lap, and if anyone got in my way, they were toast... Well, I maybe kinda sorta got a bit too into it because after losing to Rory on day one, I really went for it on day two and smashed into one of the teens. Afterward, she was complaining about a sore shoulder, and as it turns out, I may have sprained her shoulder with the impact. Needless to say, I felt horrible about losing to Rory again... (oh and about the shoulder too.)

All right, so this is a weird one. During the summer, I often wore shorts as most people do, and on occasion, the kids would notice something about my legs. They were HAIRY! AHH!! It was so funny to have 5 year-old girls amazed and simultaneously grossed out by the hair on my legs. They just couldn't quite figure out why it was there.

Now for the sad bit. This past week was a week of goodbyes. Not only was it the last time I would see most of the children, but it was the end of the year for one of the groups. Each evening, we had a leaving party for the children whose year was ending, and I said goodbye to them as well. David was particularly sad that I had to go. He had just started at Quakers four months ago, and we had bonded quite a bit over the summer. As he got on the bus and I said goodbye for the last time, he looked at me and asked "Why do you have to go?" And it hit me. The tears welled up in my eyes. I answered him as simply and honestly as I could, but there's not much you can say to help a 6 year-old (who maybe has had a number of people in his short life leave him suddenly) understand why it's time to go.

The other sad moment from all the goodbyes was on Thursday night. For whatever reason, our Thursday afterschool groups have always been the most challenging. The kids are just wound up tighter than a rusted bolt, and they are all too ready to unleash a wave of destruction. They have so many emotional problems that they just can't seem to process whether they are happy or sad or having fun. Basically, they're either manic or despondent. But for once, they weren't this way. It was obvious from the moment they stepped onto the bus. They were calm, willing to talk with us - wanting to talk with us. They were sad to be finishing, maybe even afraid to be finishing, their time with Quakers. My eyes filled up once again when they started talking to each other and saying over and over again how much they would miss them and me and everyone.

But the most heart-wrenching moment came from a 10 year-old boy. I gave him final hug, and he said, "You're my hero." (Now, he also said Phil [another co-worker] was his hero too, but let's just leave it as is.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Summer That Never Was

As the sun sets on another day, I am reminded of the passage of time. Time is constant, but to our mind, an hour can be as long as a day or quick as a second. My time in Northern Ireland is dwindling, and I am continually aware of the fact. Since the start of our summer programme a couple of months ago, my concept of time has drastically changed. It still feels like May to me. Where has summer gone?! As a kid, I remember summer being far too short, or too fast, or however you want to quantify it. I wanted more summer play, more time to play outside with my neighbors. I didn't want to go back to school! As a college student, it was the opposite. I couldn't wait to get back to school. The summer seemed to drag on and on while I worked. I just wanted to see my college friends again. But now the summer has gone too fast again. I am more aware now of the truth behind the saying "Time flies when you're having fun" than I have ever been, and every part of me wants to slow things down.

BUT ALAS! I cannot, so here are a few experiences I'd like to share from the blur of playing in parks, at farms, on the beach, and in the playroom this summer.

1. I have fully acclimated to the Northern Irish climate. There was one week that was hot from the start. I arrived home after days at the park and beach feeling sticky, grimy, and stinky. The sad part? It was never warmer than 80°F (25°C) and nowhere near the humidity as at home. Thank goodness I'm not coming back home in the middle of summer, or I think I might have refused to go outside.

We had to constantly remind the children to drink the water we brought along. Unfortunately, one of the boys drank his water too quickly and was sick. We were on our way home from the park, and his face kept getting more and more pale. The worst part was that we had just arrived back at his when his body erupted. Luckily, we were prepared with towels and sick bags. And then we returned him to his mum! What a state to get your child back in.

2. I have the skills to break up a fight. Actually, I don't think I can call it a skill. It was more of an instinct reaction. As I was setting up the seats for lunch, two boys, who were having some issues with each other that day, suddenly bumped into each other. A slight bump. That's all it took, and they were at it. Fortunately, I was just a few feet away as it started, so when I looked up to see them start shoving, I jumped to action. I put myself between them while wrapping my arms around the one closest to me, and then I just pulled him away as another volunteer pulled the other one away. No one landed a punch (whew!), and they made up without being forced to later on.

There was no thinking involved, and I'm pretty proud of that. It's not as if it was a knife fight or something dangerous like that, but I'm still pleased that there was no doubt in my mind as to what I needed to do. 

So I learned that in all one of the fights I've been exposed to, my first reaction is to step in and break it up. That's a 100% success rate!

3. Children remember. They look when you aren't looking back. They listen (sometimes) when they don't seem to be. They take a single instance, a passing remark, a subtle wink, and make it a defining moment. Whatever you do will be ingrained in their memory. When I first arrived in Northern Ireland, there were two wee girls in our afterschool program who I met just twice before their time at Quakers was over. During one of those times, I sat next to them on the bus, and I told them that I was wearing a wig. They didn't believe me, so of course, I showed them by moving my scalp with my hand (you know the trick). Nearly a year later, these two girls were able to come back on a daytrip with us, and guess what they asked me. "Andrew. ANDREW!" "Yes! What? What?" "Are you wearing a wig?" Children remember. After all this time, that was their memory of me, and it will most likely continue to be because we spent a good 20 minutes discussing why I couldn't take my wig off.

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I spent the past week on a retreat with my fellow European BVSers in Germany. We stayed just outside of Berlin in a lovely retreat center called Haus Kreisau. The view of the lake was nice, but I wasn't such a big fan of the rooster crowing outside of my window each morning.

It was a spectacular week for us all to come together, share our experiences, and have a bit of craic. Although we had multiple workshop sessions each day and plenty of other things packed into our schedule, I still found myself staying up until 1:00am nearly every night. I think that I've discovered that the most fun and memorable times come when you are desperately trying not to go to bed.

One thing I learned from our sessions is that I am not a social activist. My life does not involve any form of activism such as changing political landscapes or protecting refugees from unjust regulations. (Some might argue that my work is activism, and I would agree. Yet, I feel my contribution is on a more personal level rather than national or even local level.) I've never been one to follow the news closely in order to be well-informed about the Isreali-Palestinian conflict or what is happening in Nigeria, Syria, Ukraine, and so on. I've always been one to think that there is little I can do for those people and places. In fact, I still do think that, but after listening to other BVSers talk about this subject during one of our sessions, I realized that I can at least be well-informed about the situations. I can at least be able to take part in some informed conversations, help others understand what is happening, and hope that they will do the same. I may not be a social activist per se, but I do have a social responsibility.

I think I wrote in another post awhile back that I didn't think that I was a world traveler. Whatever I said in that post may have been true then, but I'm not so sure any more. I think when you hit three major cities (Berlin-Dublin-Belfast) in three different countries (Germany-Ireland-Northern Ireland) in less than a day, you might be a world traveler. So far in my time abroad, I've visited five separate countries, and by the time I come home, that number will reach eight. That's pretty cool to me since a year ago I didn't even plan on leaving the U.S. for my project.

During the retreat, we had one free day to do whatever we wanted, and the majority of us chose to explore Berlin. I was happy to find out that another BVSer, Emma, had a similar exploration strategy. Instead of planning out our day, we just picked a starting location (the East Side Gallery section of the Berlin Wall) and started walking. Surprisingly, we ended up finding all of the best sites along the way plus some extras here and there. Check out some of the spots we found.

Rotes Rathaus (Town Hall) & TV Tower
St. Nicholas' Church - oldest church in Berlin
Berlin Cathedral
Memorial to War Victims and Tyranny
Soviet Army War Memorial

Brandenburg Gate (way back there)
Brandenburg Gate
Berlin Victory Column

We also stumbled across a creepy (what looked to be) abandoned circus with children running around all over. And I can't forget to mention the playground we played on. It had a trampoline! Berlin was pretty fun to explore.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Act of Rejuvenation: Returning from the Mountaintop

Rejuvenate: To restore to a former state; to make fresh or new again.

If you had asked me how I was feeling two weeks ago, I would have told you that I was feeling great. Now I realize that I would have been lying. Without knowing it, my body, mind, and spirit had been suffering. It was nothing serious. Nothing beyond the slow, yet persistent, deterioration that arrives silently like a whisper.

All right...enough of the artsy-fartsy writing! I wasn't as good as I thought I was. You get it.

My heart has been heavy with concerns for my family. Some of the hardest, most faith-testing challenges are happening to members of my family at the moment, and all I could do was pray. My own struggles continued as I dealt with finding direction, and all I could do was pray. But on the outside, I was throwing myself into work and being with the children. Whenever I was with them, the rest fell away for awhile. Not a healthy way to work by the way.

Lucky for me, I had two weeks of holiday! Woohoo!! And it was jam packed with awesome!

The rejuvenation process started with my body through the cleansing air of an ocean breeze. Steffi, Becky, Jessica, and I were offered a stay in someone's beach house for six days. For absolutely nothing! What a blessing! It was incredibly relaxing to wake up in the morning, pull the curtain, and gaze out over the beach and listen to the waves. We traveled all along the north coast, and one day, we ended up at a wonderful beach called Downhill Strand. It was the perfect beach for me. As soon as we arrived, I set off on my own for a bit of adventuring. What was great about this beach was the rock formations. They were perfect for climbing on. Just safe enough to climb on without too many worries, but just dangerous enough for Mom to get the wigglies in her stomach if she had seen me. So I climbed and climbed and climbed, and I was a happy boy!

Now, my other favorite bit from this portion of my holiday seems strange to me. There are many people who love to run. By themselves, with a group, whatever. That's not me. I used to be a runner, and I loved it because of my teammates and the competition. Now, there's just running for the sake of running, and that hasn't been my thing in a long while. But then I ran at the beach house. I ran along the beach, and I ran past some sheep. I ran along the cliffs with the waves crashing below me, and I just kept running. It was so...perfect. I didn't expect running to be a favorite part of my holiday, but in that place and at that time, it was exactly what I needed. I ran every day that we were there (until I stepped in a rabbit hole and twisted my ankle, but that's another story).

And so ends part one of my holiday. With less than a day of rest, I set off for a much anticipated week. Summer camp! Even across an ocean, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a week of camp, diving head first into a God-filled environment. There is absolutely nothing better than summer camp. I grew up attending Camp Mack each summer, and although I missed my own camp, Moyallon was as good a replacement as any. I guess it doesn't quite matter where or how camp takes place. The magic of summer camp is in being surrounded by like-minded people. A friend and I were discussing this and came to the conclusion that camp removes the feeling that any pretense is required. All artificiality drops away. I borrowed a book from this friend and read this relevant passage: "Jesus says, "Ye must become as little children." For little children do not compare; they receive direct enjoyment from what they have without relating it to something else or someone else" (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God). Forty young adults gathered for a week to worship, learn, explore, cry, heal, love, laugh, and simply be - together. And this was how my mind and spirit were rejuvenated.

The message that I took from camp was Longing for God. Before camp, my faith was at a standstill. I'm aware now that I wasn't really trusting God. My prayer life had all but come crashing down because of perceived unanswered prayers. Camp provided me a chance to be reinvigorated. I watched and listened carefully for moments of God speaking to me. And He came through (like He always does). He put me in the company of one of the wisest, most humble and faithful guys I've met. (That's you, George.) And I was given loads of resources to look into as I continue to ask questions. Another passage stood out from that Tozer book, and it was perfectly fitting for the camp theme. It read, "How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers. Everything is made to center upon the initial act of 'accepting' Christ (a term, incidentally, which is not found in the Bible), and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls." "I am painfully conscious of my needed further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire, O God." This message punched me in the gut. Where's my desire? What happened to my thirst for God? Have I become content with accepting Christ rather than actively seeking God? Not anymore.

After a week of camp, I'm still on that "mountaintop experience" high that always comes after camps and conferences. I've set out a gameplan for when the high fades and everyday life works its way back in. At the start of this post, I wrote about my family and personal concerns and about how I felt like all I could do was pray. Now, I am two weeks removed from that time and feeling, and the situations are the same. But one thing has changed. Before, all I could do was pray, but now, all I can do is pray. That little change in emphasis and a newly rejuvenated spirit make all the difference.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Programme

Let’s start with a funny story. There’s a girl, around five years old. Cutest, smiliest little bumblebee you will ever see. She’s playing away with all the other kids when she asks if she can use the bathroom. I tell her yes and continue playing cards with the others. After a few minutes, my ears perk up because I hear odd sounds coming from the hallway. It sounds almost like a soft shouting, as if from a distance. I excuse myself from the card game to go check on her. “Why would she run downstairs?” I wonder. As I step into the hall and make my way for the stairs thinking I’d find her dancing away in a place she shouldn’t be, I pass the bathroom. The door is wide open. And there she is, sitting on the toilet, softly singing to herself. Caught completely off-guard by this (my face must have been priceless), I can only think to ask her if everything is all right. She smiles, says yep, and I head back to my card game. Ahh, the carefree days of singing joyfully as you poop!

Here's another chuckle worthy story. We hiked up the mountain a couple weeks ago with our preteen group. One of the girls in our group isn’t much of an outdoorsy person, and as we started along a path in an area with more vegetation, she exclaimed with what sounded like near distaste, “It smells like plants!” I had a good laugh after that.

On a trip to a park, I had the chance to play football (soccer) with one of the girls. This would be an activity that I imagine she rarely has the opportunity to enjoy.  I find her to be one of the more challenging children we work with, and our interactions don’t always go smoothly because she seems to enjoy being a thorn in people’s sides. If you ask her to not jump on the sofa, she hears an invitation to jump. Yet, behind the troublemaking, she’s the type of child that smiles and laughs a lot, but the smiles and laughter seem empty. Anyway, I was so happy today that I was able to play football with her. She was happy (and I mean truly happy) to be kicking that ball around. I let her score some goals on me and congratulated her on her incredible skills, and the happiness started leaking out of her ears. That look on her face… I just did a wee dance inside remembering that face. I’m blessed to part of an organization that can offer children the untroubled, cheerful moments that they deserve. 

I realize that I haven't shared many stories about my experiences with work these past few months, so hopefully I'll do a bit better moving forward. There should be more opportunities for good stories during the summer because we've started our summer program. The kids are all out of school now, so when it's their day to come to Quakers, the whole family comes up together. Normally, the mums and babies would come in the morning while the afterschoolers would come in the evening. Now, they all come at the same time. The mums go off and have excursions of their own. The babies go to parks sometimes, but the afterschoolers have the real fun. They all go out on trips to parks and beaches and farms and museums and Norway and outerspace and places like that. For the first three weeks of the summer program, I'll be with the afterschoolers. So far (just three days in), we've been to a beach, three different parks, and on a fire engine. As fun as all of this is, I'm already missing the babies. When we're not on our summer program, I would see the babies every day plus the afterschoolers three times per week. Unfortunately, when I'm back with the babies in a few weeks, I'll be missing the older children! I just want them all!

And to finish things off here, I have to make an announcement. I realize that I never told everyone what my decision about when I'd be coming home was. I had the choice to stay for a second year, but after months of trying to figure out what to do, I finally decided that I would just stick with my initial decision of one year. If I could both stay here in this amazing place with all these special kids and come back home to all you wonderful people, I would be so happy. But alas! I can't. So at the end of September, I'll be traveling to the Netherlands, Belgium, and France for a short trip before heading home to start the next adventure. Moving back in with Ma and Pa... Dun dun DUH!!!'ll be good though.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Working Title

I recently went on a trip to Scotland. I also recently learned that I want to go back to Scotland. Maybe it was just the few places we visited or because I was happy to be with good friends, but it was honestly the most beautiful views I've seen (and I'm living in a place with some pretty spectacular views). Driving along the road with the sea on one side and forested, hilly mountains on the other was just splendid. We stopped at Loch Lomond and took a boat out to a small island called Inchcailoch Island where we explored for awhile. The bluebells were in full bloom in every direction. Never in my life have I been someplace like this island. Although the flowers were beautiful, they weren't what made it special. I can't quite explain it. Something about the place just felt.....holy, I suppose. As I walked down the path, I felt some weight lift from me. It was serene. I simply wanted to walk in silence because I felt like if I were to talk, I would somehow soil or tarnish the peace of it all. It was the first time that I have ever felt the physical presence of God in nature, and boy was it cool!

Switching gears, I find it amazing that the kids still find ways of shocking/surprising me each and every week. That's why working with kids is the best thing ever! They keep finding ways to prove you wrong, make you look twice, or make you shake your head. In the most recent instance, a two year-old boy and I were face-to-face making funny faces at each other when suddenly he leaned in and licked my nose. Somebody has been taking notes because as many people know, I too am a licker. If something comes close to my mouth, I'm going to either smell it or lick it. Clearly, this boy and I have strong animal instincts.

There were plenty of times growing up that I was angry about something dumb. Well, when those moments arose, my parents had this wonderfully frustrating method of bringing me out of the funk. Rather than letting me stew in my anger, they would say or do something silly until, against my best efforts to keep the frown, a smile or laugh snuck out. And of course, this just made me more upset because I wanted to be angry at the moment, but as much as I hated it, it did help make me happy quicker. So now it's my turn! We have a boy who often gets upset over small things, and one day he was upset about something while we were on the way back to his house. I didn't want him to leave Quakers on a bad note, so as he was grumping, I TICKLED HIM! He fought it hard at first, and I have to admit that for a moment I thought I was only going to make him angrier. Then the switch flipped, and a smile turned it into a full-blown tickle fight for the next ten minutes. Thanks for teaching me the Happy-Angry Technique, Mom and Dad.

Oh and I ate haggis while in Scotland. It was okay.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Let It Go

"What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly." ~Carl Rogers

Maybe you're sick of this Frozen and "Let It Go" craze, or maybe you're still dancing in the streets trying to shoot ice from your fingertips. Either way, at least admit that the ultra popular song has a pretty good message.

It's a message that everyone already knows but needs to be said again and again. People should be more honest about their reality. It's such a simple concept. Seriously. Instead of putting on fake smiles and telling half-truths, we could just say what we're feeling. No need for hiding behind a made-up persona or pretending we have it all together. (Before I go any further, I admit that there are times when not letting people see everything is the better decision.) What I'm talking about is times when we are struggling or angry or embarrassed. Are you depressed? Don't keep that in. Are you mad? Tell someone. Are you afraid? Admit it.

None of us are rocks. We all have feelings, and we hurt. We have our insecurities and our shame. But we are pros at acting.

I feel like I do a fairly good job at times of appearing confident, but my reality is filled with second-guessing myself, running through various scenarios and conversations, and putting myself down for my mistakes. As much as I try to be open, I am also incredibly poor at letting people in. I bottle up all of my fears and anxieties until an outlet appears - good or bad. So, if I know that everyone else is most likely just as self-conscious or as insecure as I am, why do I still keep it to myself? Because we are supposed to be whole! No one is supposed to show weakness. We swallow our own insecurities and judge others for theirs because when we look at others, we almost always see the perfect life they allow us to see. It's only now-and-then that we catch glimpses of the real people around us. Social media certainly hasn't helped matters. Facebook makes it 1000x easier to filter what other people see and think of us, but that's an entire issue by itself.

The spotlight effect is real. We walk into a room full of people and totally overestimate how much they notice aspects of our appearance and behavior or even if they are aware of us at all. What we think others are thinking of us is most likely what we think of ourselves. I like the way Emma Brooke, another blogger, reacts to this. "If we can start to accept and be who we are, we just may realize not only that it’s okay, but that most other people think it’s okay too."

Back to the question. Why don't we open up and let others in? We don't have to share everything all the time, but if I admit my own insecurity/fear/anxiety, you might decide to share a word of wisdom with me because of a similar experience you've had.

We have a lot to share with each other. We just don't know that it needs to be shared.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bunnies and Clowns!!!

Wow! It feels like ages since we last talked! I guess it's true what they say: Time flies like the wind. Fruitflies like bananas. (That's a joke. It works better if you say it instead of see it. Now go use it on someone else.) There has been a lot that has happened in the last month, so here's a quick overview.

First up - Easter. Do you know what happens at Quaker Cottage during Easter time? The Easter Bunny comes to visit, that's what. It's actually really funny. The volunteers all fight for the chance to be the one to dress up, and this time, I won. Truthfully, it was a pretty easy fight because I was the only one who actually wanted to do it. The job was simple (or so I thought). All I had to do was don the costume and hop around briefly outside the cottage so that the kids could see me. What I discovered was the costume was like something out of a nightmare. First, I slipped into one of those white disposable coverall suits with the hood like what you would see at a crime scene except this one was torn and had dirt smudges on it. Then, I put on my giant cardboard ears. And finally, I covered my face with the most frightening bit - a hand-drawn bunny face mask. So yeah, it was creepy, but the best part was that due to unforeseen circumstances, I would be hopping around the garden of Belfast Castle - a very public space. The first time I did it was great (cough). I put on the costume and proceeded to wait for our kids to show up. This felt rather uncomfortable because I could just imagine what went through the minds of people on just a regular visit to the castle. They would come down the steps, look around for a bit, glance in my direction, and then stop. "Oh my goodness! Look at that creepy bunny man standing over there in the corner!" Thankfully, the kids arrived, and I started hopping around while at least six people took pictures of me. That was just the first day.

On the second day, I had a group of random kids who wouldn't leave me alone. They kept following me, saying things like "You're not the real Easter Bunny!" My costume must have had enough of this abuse because suddenly my face popped right off. The elastic band keeping my mask on had broken, and I had to rush to fix it before our kids showed up! I was able to fix it just in time for the kids and a double-decker bus full of tourists with cameras to arrive. Both days gave me plenty to laugh about, but my favorite moment was when I passed a bench where three good looking girls about my age were sitting. They pulled out their cameras, and I put on my best hopping pose. I expected at least one of them to give me her phone number, but I guess weird bunny guys aren't what girls are into these days.

The following week, I was extremely blessed because my parents and Shane and Amanda came to visit. The sun stayed out for nearly the entire trip which was phenomenal, so they really didn't get an authentic Irish experience. Unfortunately, Shane and Amanda went off on their own adventures, so I didn't see them for long. My parents and I went everywhere around the island and took in many fantastic sites. There are picturesque views around every bend of the road. I did have fun (not) helping my dad learn how to drive on the left side of the road. Although he did an excellent job, it was really too bad that I am still too young to rent a car. I could have at least given him a break from all that stressful driving. If you want to know more about our trip, either check out my picture album on Facebook or ask my parents or me about it directly.

I can't believe it, but it has already been four months since our last residential at Quakers. We leave for my third and last one on Tuesday. We all expect it to have some serious challenges particularly because of one family. But like always, we just work with what we've got and improvise when necessary. Sadly, because it's time for residential, it also means that we just finished our week of leaving parties. Another group has finished their full year with us, and heavy hearts were had by all. It's never fun saying goodbye to any of the families. It doesn't matter if the kids were horribly difficult to manage, they always leave a mark. I find it really neat to see how they children act on their last night up. Sometimes there is nonchalance or indifference, but it's absolutely heartbreakingly wonderful to see how much Quaker Cottage means to child when the tears flow. On Thursday, we said goodbye to one boy who is Tough with a capital T on the outside but is anxious and confused on the inside. More often than not, he is angry, but he's angry because he doesn't know how to be sad. Well, on Thursday, I saw a boy full of sadness who couldn't cry because he doesn't know how. That was hard. Like I say each time we say goodbye, I'm really going to miss those kids.

Have you ever played Chubby Bunny? If you haven't, you should, but only with kids, otherwise it's just gross. The goal of the game is just to fit as many marshmallows into your mouth as possible while still being able to say chubby bunny. We played this with our Thursday group, and it was hilarious! They started putting in the marshmallows one at a time, and up until about four marshmallows, everything was fine. At this point, many of their mouths were full, but they were wanted to keep going. I looked down at the really quiet, shy girl sitting next to me, and suddenly, an enormous stream of saliva comes dripping out of her mouth. It kind of shocked me, and I figured she was going to be completely embarrassed. But as the others started to reach the point where they could no longer close their mouths, the same thing started happening to them as well. Seeing them all sit there with bulging cheeks, marshmallows overflowing, and saliva dripping from their lips, I couldn't help but burst out laughing.

Yesterday, I was both punched in the shoulder by a clown using physical comedy and kissed on the cheek by another. The Festival of Fools is happening in Belfast at the moment, so Becky and I decided to check it out. We saw a silent clown called Fraser Hooper who was absolutely hilarious. I had tears at times. If by any chance you have the opportunity to see him live, I recommend it. Now, back to getting punched. I found myself in the front row for this act, and as the guy was searching the audience for someone strong, his gaze landed on me. He brought me forward to lift an object up to the top of a ladder for him, but to test my strength, he had me punch him in the shoulder. So I gave him a tap which clearly wasn't hard enough because he turned to me and gave my shoulder a hefty jab. He then proceeded to give me various silly tasks and had frolick and dance with him. I was in my element up there! Moral of the story is don't sit in the front row or else a clown will punch you.