We’re all fae somewhere – The Refuweegee Story

I know you all were expecting the next chapter of our trip to France, but I have decided to insert, instead, the highlight for me of our trip to Scotland. With all of the negative, depressing stories in the news recently, I did not want to wait for several weeks to publish this story. It is a tale of people doing good for those in need – people too often demonized and abused when they desperately need the Good Samaritans of this world.

When planning our European trip, one of the countries I decided to visit was Scotland, since my son-in-law’s ancestors had come to the United States from that country, though it was unclear from which part they came. The only cities I had heard of in Scotland were Edinburgh and Glasgow, and not knowing very much about either one, decided on Glasgow just because…..and I am so glad I did.

Upon researching Glasgow, an article popped up about an organization called Refuweegee, and it is a fascinating story of how one person with a desire to help can make a difference. In this instance, that woman is Selina Hales. Deciding that I wanted to find out more about their work and meet these wonderful people who were helping those in need, I sent in a donation by PayPal and asked if we could pay them a visit and it was agreed that we could visit on July 19th. And so Brenna and I went shopping for teddy bears, toiletries and stationery to donate.

We arrived at the address, donations in hand, at the appointed time, but were slightly confused as we didn’t see a number displayed on the building, and once inside were met by Selina and Sarah MacPherson. We were guided upstairs to their office, crowded with computers, correspondence and donations.


Selina Hales and Sarah MacPherson in their tiny office

      People all over the world have heard about the crisis in Syria – families fleeing the violence of war and ending up on the shores of the island of Lesbos and from there living in camps in Lesbos and Calais.

With young children and a job, Selina could not pick up and go to the camps, but instead thought of ways in which she could assist the refugees who came to Glasgow, and so Refuweegee was born.



noun – A person who upon

arrival in Glasgow is embraced

by the people of the city, a person

considered to be local

see also Glaswegian –

We’re all fae somewhere


The way in which the new arrivals to Glasgow are helped is through welcome packs, in which the community of Glasgow is highly involved. These welcome packs consist of toiletries, clothing, toys and stationery.


welcome packs

What makes these welcome packs personal and special are the “letters from the locals.” These consist of letters and cards written by individuals to welcome the recipients to the community – much nicer and more heartwarming than a typical form letter.

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copy of one of the special  “letters from the locals”

      In another room is the bulk of the donations – wall-to-wall and practically floor-to-ceiling donations of clothing, bedding, toys, toiletries, cosmetics, and just about anything you can think of.

     Since I had worked with refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa and knew the emotional toll this type of work can take on the caregivers and volunteers, I asked her how she handled it. Selina told me that she did not solicit information about what they had gone through to get to Glasgow nor what horrors they had faced in the home country. Her mission was to help them cope with the different world in which they now found themselves.

She simply asks what they need and then tries to help with those needs. Perhaps they need clothing, toys and toiletries, but they might also need lodging or help with language skills, and she does her best to accommodate them.

One anecdote, which I could definitely appreciate, regards learning the English language. The Glaswegian accent can be quite difficult to understand, even for a native English speaker like me. I had the darndest time trying to understand our taxi driver, so I could just imagine what non-English speakers would go through. Selina said, considering how strong that accent is, that they would concentrate on teaching the Syrians plain English to start.

With many places throughout the world demonizing refugees who are simply fleeing violence and looking for a safe place for themselves and their families to live – with all of the hate speech and suspicion, it is wonderful to see the people of Refuweegee and the people of Glasgow doing so much to create a safe haven for these displaced people.

Recipients of the welcome packs are encouraged to write back and share their stories, and this project has been such a success that their help has extended beyond just the Syrian refugees.

Refuweegee thank you letter

“To Refuweegee,

     I can only imagine what a magically beautiful gift life would be if the world was only filled with such compassionate souls.  I am speechlessly heartened by such a nice and unexpected act of love and humanity in my moments of despair.

     I am forever indebted


M  “

Visiting this wonderful place and hearing all about their caring and compassionate work with the Syrians, and the response of the people of Glasgow to the needs of the strangers in their midst seeking safety is going a long way to restoring my faith in humanity. I am so glad to have stumbled upon the information when researching Glasgow and for the opportunity through this blog to share their good work with all of you.


Selina Hales, Sarah MacPherson, Brenna and me

To read more about Selina and Refuweegee, you can click on these links:



and click here to donate:

we’re all fae somewhere

Paris, France – again

When I last wrote about my European adventure, I was heading back to New York after attending my nephew’s wedding in France.  This next part began a long-promised trip with my 16-year-old granddaughter, Brenna. At 16, both she and her mother did not want her traveling alone, especially since she had never done this before. It can be complicated navigating through airports, so I agreed.

I had been trying for a while as I was planning this trip to go to Spain instead of France. I kept saying, “Don’t you want to go to Spain? I speak Spanish.” No matter how many times I asked, the answer was always the same. “No, I want to see Paris, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.”

And so it was Paris, but for a short time. I speak Spanish, not French, so I only booked the hotel for two full days and two half days.

And so, with a tearful (on her mother’s part) good-bye at the airport, we were off to Paris.


I had been told that she was also nervous about flying. I was concerned about her, but she handled it very well. Inside, I was also nervous, as usual, but tried not to show it, in spite of having been a student pilot in my 20’s, with 80 hours in the air and 40 of those hours solo.  I knew all about the physics of flying, but still emotionally it was hard to have confidence that such an immensely large craft piloted by someone other than myself could actually climb through the air and fly….

I closed my eyes, tried meditating, and once we were moving along for a while, turned on the screen to monitor our flight. I always enjoy watching that screen, when I am not distracting myself by watching a movie or trying to sleep.


This flight had two legs and our first stop was in Reykjavik, Iceland.  I have heard that Iceland is a great place to visit, but this trip was already planned and we were going to visit 7 countries in 4 weeks, so a longer visit would have to wait.

Looking out the window, I could see flat land and purple vegetation. I never did find out what that vegetation was, but it was very pretty. Brenna was hoping to have her passport stamped in every country in which we landed, and so she received her first stamp when we disembarked in Iceland and waited for our connecting flight.

And once again, we were back on Icelandair and heading towards Paris.


I managed to get adequate sleep, but I am not sure how much sleep Brenna got. In addition to that, I had just returned from Paris, so my body clock would not need as much adjustment as hers, so I knew I would have to take that into account when we arrived.

So – we arrived in Paris, and since I had already researched ground transportation, we found the booth for the Le Bus Direct shuttle bus and headed towards our hotel. Poor Brenna – when we landed in Paris, there was no passport stamp to be received. We were still in the European Union, and so no stamp was necessary since we had received one in Iceland.

When we arrived at the hotel and went up to our room, there  was a pleasant surprise waiting for her. For part of the trip I saved money wherever I could but for Paris and the Eiffel Tower, I had booked a hotel just two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and we could see the tower from the balcony of our room.



Unbeknownst to me when I was planning this trip, there was also a triathlon about to begin when I arrived. Across the street from our hotel were numerous tents set up, selling anything and everything the athletes might need. There was also a very long tent with a very nice selection of dried fruits – more delicious than any I had tasted before – so, of course, we had to purchase some.

Naturally, the first attraction we visited was the Eiffel Tower – the Tour Eiffel.

If you’ve only seen it in photographs, you really have no idea how immense this structure it is. Quite a feat of engineering. From what I’ve read, the French hated it, calling it the metal asparagus – but it turned out to be a good spot to place antennas and it is certainly great now for tourism.

And so we went to visit the tower – easy to find, as you can see from the photos taken from our balcony. Since I had not pre-ordered our tickets, I inquired as to when the ticket office opened, and we got there ahead of time. Still a long line, but not nearly as long as it would have been later in the day. We passed the time chatting with a Canadian couple behind us who were there on their honeymoon.

When we finally got to the ticket window, there were no ticket to go to the top of the tower, so we consoled ourselves with tickets to the second level, which turned out to be quite high.


One of the lines to buy tickets. Note the size of the base of one foot of the tower compared to the size of the people



Ascending inside the elevator

While looking down the tower at the elevator’s machinery, I also saw this. Took me a moment to realize it wasn’t a real person:


Maybe this is how the elevator was controlled originally????

   So there was quite the amazing view from this level. There are also restaurants here, but you need to reserve your tickets an insane amount of time beforehand, and that is just as well, as dinner for two at the Jules Verne would run around $1000 USD.

The Eiffel Tower is lit up at night, and starting around 10 or 11 pm, depending on when it gets dark, the tower sparkles for about 5 minutes every hour until about 1 or 2am.  I apologize for the sideways sparkling video, I turned my camera sideways to fit it all in, and now cannot figure out how to rotate the video. If anyone knows how to do this, please enlighten me in the comments section. Thanks.

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It was hot and we were tired after our Eiffel Tower excursion, so we went back to the hotel for a nap before continuing our sightseeing. And since this post has already taken up quite a bit of space, I will end here with more photos of the Tower and continue with the Louvre and Seine River cruise next time.

Au revoir!!!!!

views from the platform

elevator machinery and stairway




A Break from the European Trip for a Serious Discussion

I am interrupting my train of thought right now to discuss something that happened two years ago, after realizing that I had left out some important information. One month after moving here in January 2016, my mother passed away in the U.S. I had written two posts about this – one which detailed the reactions of my students and neighbors here and one a general discussion about health care proxies.

This morning I was emailing back and forth with a friend from New York, describing my blog, detailing how I not only talk about my adventures but also include unexpected situations in which ex-pats might find themselves and how I handled those problems. Then I went back and re-read my posts and realized I had forgotten to share the legal aspects of having a relative pass away when you are living in another country.

Back in Maryland, my youngest sister had been taking care of my mom – her daily activities, her needs, handling her financial stuff such as paying bills, etc. Perhaps any arrangement was made null and void upon her death, but, being the oldest child, I was held legally responsible for making any necessary arrangements after her death.

Because my sister had been handling everything all along, she was more aware than any of us about all aspects of our mother’s life, and so I wanted to let her continue to be in charge. For this, the lawyer in the U.S. stated that I had to give written permission for my sister to continue with these duties legally – and they needed to have the original, notarized forms in their hands, not a copy or fax.

So first my sister scanned and emailed me the forms, which I printed,  and filled out. In the United States, this would have been a very simple procedure. For where I had been living in New York, I would have driven 5 minutes to my bank, told them I needed a document notarized, shown them my ID, signed it and then the notary would have also stamped and signed it.

Well, no, it does not work that way here in Mexico.  First, a notario here is a lawyer, so my friend Anilu helped me find a notario and together we went to Colima to his office. When it was my turn, we explained the situation and they said, no, this document has to be translated into Spanish, so we went away and Anilu translated it for me and typed up another document.

When we returned, they asked me for practically my whole life story – besides name and date of birth, my marital status, occupation and any other question they could think of. That done, they said – OK, come back in 3 hours.

Three hours later, we returned and everything was signed and witnessed officially,  including a 2-sides-of-a page document that THEY had drawn up – and I had to pay….. well, I don’t remember exactly how much but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 pesos, more or less (in today’s pesos, that’s about $30 USD).

Now I needed to send the original to the lawyer. Mail from Mexico to the U.S. takes anywhere from one month and I’ve had mail arrive up to three months after mailing. It takes the same amount of time in the other direction as well. So we headed off to the FedEx office to FedEx the documents to the lawyer.

So what would have taken about 5 minutes with no cost except a postage stamp to mail the document to the lawyer ended up taking 6 hours with unexpected twists and turns. I am grateful it didn’t take longer, as it would have if I didn’t have my Mexican friends who knew where to go to get everything done.

And so I will end this post, and you can add it to the list of unexpected occurrences in which travelers might find themselves and my experience in handling it. So hope you all have a good day, and my next post will continue to share my European trip.

In case anyone is interested in my earlier posts about my mom and about health care proxies, there are two articles which were posted in March 2016.  Take care, and adios until next time.

Oh, snap – one other things regarding documents that I might as well talk about while we’re here. Voting in U.S. elections. The year 2016 was Presidential Election Year and I wanted to make sure I voted. Before leaving the U.S. I signed up for an absentee ballot. At the proper time, the Board of Elections emailed me my ballot.

I printed out the ballot, filled it out and now it had to be mailed. First, as I said, it takes 1 – 3 months to arrive at the U.S. address, which means it would have arrived way after the election. Second, the address of the Board of Elections where I lived was a post office box, and FedEx does not deliver to PO boxes. Third, the ballot had to be placed in a sealed envelope addressed to the Board of Elections.

So this is what I did:

Printed out the ballot and filled it out.

Placed it in a sealed envelope with a U.S. postage stamp and addressed it to the Board of Elections PO box.

Went to FedEx in Colima and placed it in a documents envelope to be sent to my sister.

Sister received it, opened the FedEx envelope and then dropped my addressed, stamped, sealed envelope into the mailbox on her street.

And this is how we ex-pats do it……

Now – ‘bye-‘bye for real this time……………… Adios!

A Wedding in France

So, we’re back again in France. After our visit to Mont Saint Michel, we returned to our bed and breakfast and prepared for the wedding. Before the festivities, we met with my nephew and he swore us to secrecy about where they were staying. As it turned out, after the wedding they would be staying at the opposite end of the hallway in the same bed and breakfast where we were staying. No explanation given as to why this was a secret, but we swore not to tell anyone.

The day before the wedding, we had a gathering at the bride’s parents’ house, which was like a meeting of the United Nations. Some people spoke English, there was also Italian and French spoken. I was the only Spanish-speaker, and while I had minimal difficulty speaking with patients who only spoke Italian back in New York, having extended conversations with an Italian-speaker here proved more than I could manage. Maybe my limited references to pain, etc. with patients was the extent of the similarities in my previous experience.

However, it was a very pleasant day.  Her parents’ business was in the flower industry and I was captivated by the plants and flowers growing on their property. One thing I was not prepared for was the length of the day. We were in the west of France and as the evening wore on, the sun was still brightly shining in the sky even 10:30 at night. I had to keep looking at my watch to remember what time of day (or night) it was.

The next day was the actual wedding, which started much as a regular church wedding would. The bride arrived at the church in a flower-covered car.



inside of the church

          People lined up after the ceremony with baskets of rose petals


which were then showered upon the bride and groom as they exited the church


Before everyone dispersed, we were entertained by a family friend, playing a lively selection of tunes on the saxaphone:

After the wedding, we retired to her parents’ house again, where there were tables set up with food and drink and a flower-filled canopy


There was also a board and camera inside the canopy for something which I had never seen before, but which I think is a good idea to create fond memories. The idea is for guests to take selfies with a polaroid-type camera and then post it on the board.

And after a while, we all headed to the site of the party celebrating the wedding, and here start the events which separated this wedding from any I have experienced before.

First the venue – which I had heard was a palace at one time. I certainly could believe it, with the extensive manicured grounds, decorated pools of water, hedges and canopies of trees over the pathways. The building itself was old but quite impressive.






The inside was just as, if not more, impressive, with white roses everywhere and each table was identified according to a different type of plant/flower rather than numbers.


Of course there was music, toasts, a slideshow showing photographs of the bride and groom from infancy until the present time. There was no head table, such as you see in many weddings.

Neither was there a traditional wedding cake. Instead, there was a tower of small pastries. Stuck into this tower were candles, which I have seen on birthday cakes here in Mexico. They are less like candles and more like sparklers on steroids. The candles were lit and two people carried the tray into the room – quite a spectacular sight!


By this time, it was quite late, and my sister and I wanted to go back to our room and go to sleep, but we were told that we needed to wait – that the tower of champagne glasses was coming next.

And it really was a tower of glasses. Champagne was then poured into the top glass and the glasses were so well arranged that I never did see a drop spill onto the tablecloth below.



It was quite a night and my sister and I were now more than ready to retire, and now is when we found out why we were sworn to secrecy about where the bride and groom were staying.

It is the custom after the wedding and the celebration for friends to go knocking on doors to find out where the newly-married couple are staying and offering them onion soup. It is also the custom to repeat this activity every 10 years on the anniversary of the wedding. At that point, I said to myself that if they come knocking on my door, the hotel better be on fire before I get up.

Well, apparently the partying went on until about 7am, but at 5 am the friends decided to find the bride and groom’s room. I don’t know if they knocked on my door, but I heard that one of their friends was sleeping so soundly, he resisted the revelers’ attempts to wake him up.

The following day, we went back to the palace for brunch and sampled what was left of the famous onion soup. Unlike what I have seen in the U.S., the broth is in a tureen, and the cheese and the crusts of bread are in separate bowls, so the cheese and bread go in your bowl first and then you ladle in the broth.


And so ends the tale of the French Wedding.  After all was done, we returned to Paris and spent the night in a hotel right in Charles de Gaulle Airport and from there we went our separate ways. This is the second hotel of which I am aware that is actually INSIDE an airport. So nice to just wake up and not have to worry about travelling and getting to the airport on time – you’re already there!

From here, I flew to New York to pick up my granddaughter, and the next part of the European adventure will begin in my next post…


au revoir France


Whirlwind Tour – Seven Countries in Six Weeks

Greetings once again after an extended absence. During the six weeks beginning the middle of June through the end of July I was quite busy with family. First was the wedding of my nephew in France, followed by a whirlwind tour of France, Denmark, Wales, Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland and Mexico with my granddaughter.

Needless to say, there is a mountain of photographs and videos, plus tons of notes to be turned into blog posts, so the next few weeks will consist of articles regarding our travels.

First up will be France before the wedding, which will include unanticipated events – and unanticipated events will follow me through several of the countries as you will see.

The wedding trip was planned for months, and my sister and I decided that since we would be there already, might as well do some sightseeing.  Tickets for the plane, train, car rental and bed and breakfast hotel were booked WAY in advance.  And as the time approached, the first kink in our plans happened – Air France and train strikes!

The distress was somewhat eased by the fact that it was not a continuous strike; it did not have a start date and continue every single day until resolution. The public was given a schedule of which days they would be on strike and which days they would not. Fortunately for me, my days of arrival and departure were not affected. For my sister, her day of departure from France WAS affected, necessitating and change of airlines.

So, I set off from Mexico, landed at JFK airport in New York, we met up within the airport and flew to Paris together. From there, we met one of my nephews and took the train to Angers and from there we rented a car.

I had not been anywhere in France, except for Paris for a day or two in transit to other countries, so I was open to anywhere they wanted to go. We decided on visiting Mont Saint Michel – quite a unique place.

For those that don’t know, Mont Saint Michel could be said to be on a hill during low tide and is an island during high tide. My sister said there used to be parking lots around it, and people would be warned to go back to the mainland before the tide came in, but now there is a parking lot on the mainland and a shuttle bus and a horse-drawn vehicle to transport you there.


We were there during low tide and did not stay long enough to see the complete transformation from hill to island, but it was still quite impressive to see the edifices rising in the distance, surrounded by the beach.



There were many groups of people as well as individuals enjoying the beach in their bathing suits with backpacks set down above the water line.

Construction was begun in the 8th century with the building of an oratory by a bishop who had a vision of the archangel St. Michael, became a pilgrimage center, suffered a fire, and through various transformations eventually became the UNESCO site that it is today.

It amazes me to think of these ancient structures built so long ago by people living at that time, the construction dependent on the tides. I cannot imagine this at the very beginning when the first stone was set down on what was just a rocky island. There was also the danger of quicksand, but with the construction of the 3000 foot causeway it is much easier and less dangerous to make the journey from the land to the island.

You can read more about the history and geography of this amazing place here:


Here are some photos taken from inside the structures: (you can see each picture in a larger form by clicking on it)

As well as views of the outside. There is a small village on this island, as the pilgrims needed a place to stay as well as food to eat.

And so, we departed the island to continue our adventures.


Next stop – a real French wedding !!! See you later!