Saturday, July 5, 2008

All That You Can't Leave Behind

We've been home nearly a month. We have been busy settling back in, catching up with friends and family and enjoying summer in Grand Rapids. My gardens are blooming, I've made strawberry jam, Coleson graduated from 8th grade, Grayson had a great time on his trip to Montana, Jamie is making progress on his "honey do" list and his book, Maddie turned 12, and Jack has been in video game heaven (when he's not at the pool or playing badminton). In all this craziness, it's been hard to process all that we left behind in England. Or maybe it's been a good way to avoid it.

It's hard to put into words just exactly what our time in England meant to me. It was certainly an exciting trip, a great place to visit. But if it was only that, it would not have been so hard to say goodbye. The friendships we forged made York a home and we were welcomed into a community that showered us with warmth and hospitality. We saw familiar faces on the street, Mrs Chippy nodded to us as regulars when we came in. I watched for birds in the garden and listened for the bells of York Minster. We had tea at 10 and 2. And very regularly, I could count on a text from Faith inviting us to lunch, or tea (which meant dinner) or perhaps a day out with the kids. Maybe even breakfast with pancakes and homemade bread. But probably what I treasure the most is that I'd found a kindred spirit. Faith was always up for anything. She always had a plan or suggestion. It almost always included a picnic or maybe lunch at a historic home. Sometimes only bits and bobs, but it was always fun. We introduced them to Friday night calzones. I'll never forget Ellie saying to me "Deanna, those calzones were really nice". I have since adopted the phrase. Our families just seemed to click. The kids were not all the same age (well, except the Jakemans, but that's only because they are triplets!) but they played so well together and all of the Smiths looked forward to get togethers with the Jakemans. I still have to remind myself that they are not just around the corner.

I miss them. I miss the life we lived there. That's not to say that I don't love my life here in Grand Rapids and the wonderful friends that I have, because I do. York will remain for me a respite. A timeout from the busyness that can consume our lives. Idle hours to wander the city or read a good book. Quiet moments to be still and grieve the losses of the last year. Wonderful adventures with my family that at times nearly filled my heart to bursting with joy. Moments of amazement at places I thought I'd never see. Dreams I'd never thought to dream.

I am so thankful. God prepared a place for us. He nourished us and loved us through the kindness of strangers, who then became cherished friends--and that you can't leave behind.

P.S. We'll keep updating the blog with things we didn't get to share yet.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Just FYI, we don't have long-distance phone or internet at home yet, so apologies for being incommunicado for a little while until we get everything reconnected. We should be up and running soon and then will look forward to catching up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Hard Day's Night...

Well, we are finally back in Grand Rapids. I'm not sure what sort of magnetism the Smith family has, but we seem to just "attract" challenges in transatlantic travel.

Things were going relatively well on Sunday morning. We all got up pretty promptly at 5am and we're ready for the airport shuttle at 6am. Faith and the kids very kindly got up early on a Sunday morning to see us off--which was a wonderful blessings, even if it also made it harder for us to say goodbye! We made it to Manchester airport without incident, including a stop for coffee and pastries on the way. Only as we were loading up the luggage carts did we realize that, in fact, an entire suitcase had been left in one of the upstairs bedrooms of our house in York! Well, at least we had each other, and our passports, all of which seemed most important. So we worked very hard at not being disheartened. Our flight to Gatwick was right on time, no troubles, and the same for our departure from Gatwick to Detroit. When we landed in Detroit 8 hours later, I quietly thought to myself: "Well, this has gone quite well." I didn't even say it out loud, as I didn't want to jinx things. Turns out just thinking it was enough.

After a long process in passport control (always a challenge since we're Canadians, living in the States, etc.), we emerged on the other side to still find the entire plane waiting for luggage. Apparently while we were all in the underbelling of Detroit Metro Airport, a thunderstorm had exploded over Detroit and shutdown the airport, including baggage handling. About an hour later, things were reactivated and luggage started to emerged from the conveyers that looked like black tongues rolled out from the ceiling. Slowly we collected our bags: 7, 8, 9...9...9...? As suitcases stopped coming down the black tongues we faced up to the reality: one of our suitcases (one of the BIG ones!) didn't make the trip from London. We started the day with 11; we were now down to 9. On top of that, the boxes containing my books looked like they had been transported from the plane by being thrown in front of the truck and pushed through the puddles with the front bumper.

OK, OK, we said: we're all safe, we haven't been deported, and we're only about 120 miles from home. Just one very short plane ride to Grand Rapids.

You'd think.

We made our way to the gate for our Grand Rapids flight. Not surprisingly, it was delayed because of the weather. And delayed. And delayed again. Until finally they very perfunctorily announced, around 9:30pm, that the flight had been canceled and that we should proceed to Customer Service for re-booking. A minor stamped ensued and we were informed that: (1) they would be very happy to book us on a flight to Grand Rapids at 9am the next morning; and (2) no, they wouldn't be providing complementary hotel accommodations. "Thank you, and have a nice day." Indeed.

I should say that at this point the cracks began to show and the meltdowns began: crying, anger, cussing. And the kids were kind of upset, too.

We found a discounted hotel room in the general vicinity of the airport and joined the herds of other stranded passengers making their way to these lodgings. After an hour fighting to get on one of the free shuttles. ("Fighting," I'm afraid, is not really a metaphor: there were so many people trying to squeeze onto these shuttle vans that as each one arrived you'd think it was a helicopter airlifting soldiers from heavy artillery fire.) We then were deposited at the Quality Inn & Suites with a crowd of others, only to waiting in line in the lobby for two hours just to get a room. (Don't ask: for the life of me I still can't figure out what took so long.) Having hoped to sleep in "our own beds" on Sunday night, we squeezed into various arrangements in the hotel room (Maddie on the floor, Jackson between us) for what sleep we could grab hold of. When we awoke at 5am on Monday morning, it hit us that we had no clothes, no toothbrushes, no deodorant, etc. But wait: Coleson had stick of roll-on in his backpack! Hurray! We circulated between us all, Coleson gagging with each shared swipe.

The rest was fairly uneventful. We made it to Grand Rapids and we're so happy to see the friendly faces of the Mulders (who, unfortunately, had also been at the airport the night before!). They kindly piled us into two vehicles as we made the pilgrimage back to Baldwin Street. We were home.

All that said, at least there was no vomiting on this trip... :-)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Number One Thing I'll Miss About England

1. football
Since coming over here i have been sucked into the football culture. At first i thought it was a bit boring, but i started watching it more and more and loved it. My favourite team is Chelsea, a London based team. the made it to the super bowl of Soccer but lost to Manchester United. It was a heartbreaking game. I tried to watch as many games as i could, but with our basic cable i could only watch a couple. Every Saturday and Sunday i look forward to reading about football in the papers we get. In my room here i had a whole wall dedicated to Chelsea. It had pictures and articles i had cut out of the papers, taped up on the wall. it got very large and spread to the wall next to it. I called it the wall of Chelsea. I also got a Chelsea jersey as a keepsake. I'm going to miss football very much. It isnt shown very much in the States but i'll watch as much as i can. I can't believe im leaving tomorrow. It has gone so fast.

What I'll Miss About York

Well, today's the day: our final day to drink in our adopted home for these past months. Here are some of the things I'm going to miss about York:
  • The Jakemans! Alastair, Faith, Ellie, Beth, and Tom have been such wonderful friends to us, a wonderful gift from a generous Saviour. Thanks be to God that we connected with them just a few days after landing in York, and that their proximity made it so easy to foster a friendship. They have been our hosts and local experts, our taxi almost every Sunday (and more!), our veritable dictionaries for all things British (as we would constantly be asking them, "What do you call this? Why do you do it that way? Where is such and such?..."). They have been so gracious us to welcome us into their lives and home over the past 5 months. (Indeed, all of the saints at York Evangelical Church have modeled the hospitality and charity that should be the central mark of the body of Christ.) It is going to be very, very hard to say goodbye. We hope it will only be "farewell," and that the Jakemans might be able to make a trek to Grand Rapids someday. (We'll have to start a "Bring the Jakemans to Our House" Fund!)
  • The Bells of York Minster: The Minster--the cathedral of York--literally towers over the entire city, and is visible from miles outside of town. But I have treasured another way that it makes its presence felt: through the bells. The chimes of the tower's bells seem to dance over the city in the evening and on quiet Sunday mornings, singing a song that is ancient.
  • Wood pidgeons and bird songs: There are a number of different birds here in York, including a large wood pidgeon that we don't have at home, which I found quite beautiful (in a feral sort of way, I guess). And our garden is also frequented by a kind of black bird (I think it's just called a "black bird"!) which, visually, is completely unremarkable. But I have often found myself captivated by its song. Since the spring, when the weather has been nice, I've moved a little table out into the back of the house and worked in the garden. But I would often myself pleasantly distracted by a black bird on top of the hosue who seemed to be a jazz musician, improvising songs and notes that I'd never heard before. It was like it could sing both Vivaldi and Coltrane, the mournful tones of heart-broken country & western or the light diddies of show tunes.
  • Mr. Chippy: Sometimes (well, pretty often to be honest!), Deanna and I would take a lunch break and walk to the town centre, making a stop at Mr. Chippy, our favorite chip shop near the heart of town. We'd be chips "open" (that is, in a tray to take away, ready to eat), and Dee would often have them smothered in gravy (and on days that she was perhaps lonely, she'd add cheese for comfort). We'd then sit together on a bench just outside a nearby church and watch the bustle of York go by. I'll miss the chips, but maybe I'll miss the time together in this setting even more.
  • The Little Shambles Tea Room: When we lived in England in 2004, we were zealous converts to "cream tea"--tea with scones, clotted cream, and jam. Here in York I discovered the Little Shambles Tea Room, on the Shambles, the most ancient street in York. A little hole in the wall, the shop has two floors. Sometimes I would take my work, climb to the second floor, and enjoy my cream tea while looking out the window that peered over the market.
  • The Indepent and the Roman Bath pubs: English pubs are not quite the same as American "bars." They have a sort of neighborhood, community feel about them that can't quite be translated. Each pub seems to represent its own little community, a slice of the city. Deanna and I would sometimes sneak out for a pint at the Independent, just around the corner from our house. Our we would walk downtown to the Roman Bath pub right in the heart of the city. I'm going to miss John Smith's Smooth, a cheap local brew from here in Yorkshire.
  • The medieval echoes: There is an ambience to York that is hard to describe, and yet very tangible. It oozes history, and the walls and Minster continue to give it a medieval feel that speaks to my romantic soul.
  • A pedestrian life: We've been shrinking our carbon footprint while we've been here since we've had no car. The result is that we walk everywhere, and York is such a pedestrian- friendly place. Pretty much anything that really matters is within walking distance. It is such a wonderful way to inhabit space. I hope we'll find ways to translate this back to our neighborhood in Grand Rapids even more than we used to (since the "mixed use" environment of East Hills certainly makes this possible).
York has gotten into our bones in all sorts of ways I'm sure we're not even aware of. I expect it will come back over us in waves when we get home: when the kids want to play with the Jakemans, and then realize they're an ocean away; when I'm craving a pint of John Smith's and can't find it anywhere; when we're sick of 28th Street and want to just stroll down the "snickelway" of the Shambles; when I happen to hear a church bell tolling through the din of SUVs and freeway traffic. I hope memories are enough.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Top Ten Things I'll Miss About England

2. Grocery Shopping: Usually when Madison and Jackson go to a church youth group on Mondays, Me, my brother and my parents go to Sainsbury's to get groceries. It is so fun. Usually we make a list and ninety percent of the time we forget it. So while we're there we have to remember what was on the list. It would be a nightmare if all the kids went grocery shopping so we go on Mondays so we don't have to take everyone. My mom is the slowest grocery shopper in the world. She will spend ten minutes in one aisle trying to find the right food at the right price. It can get very annoying especially if you have a impatient brother (Grayson). Grayson and I usually check the damaged goods aisle to see if there is anything cheap treats to buy. One time we got a four pack of the English equivalent of Gatorade for about one pound eighty pence. We usually buy food for Indian every week because we eat so much. We also get food for English dishes such as cottage pie or Guiness stew. And we even get Mexican food. ( I cook it). After we have our cart almost overflowing, we take it to the front to pay for it and bag it. Sometimes we get chocolate bars as a treat. Paying for the food and bagging it can take five to ten minutes. After we have everything in our backpacks and (reusable) bags we start to walk the approximately six blocks home, our backs aching the whole time. When we get home we put away the food and slump onto the coaches still sore. I'm going to miss going grocery shopping with my parents and brother. Since we have a car in Grand Rapids my mom will go in the day while I'm at school. But it's been lots of fun doing it for the past five months.
Check tomorrow's blog to see the final thing I will miss about England!
And by the way my dad totally copied me and my list is way better because it's like a cliff hanger. =)

Things I'll Miss About England: Dad's Edition

It was funny when Coleson started posting his "Top Ten" list because, unbeknownst to him, I had been compiling my own "What I'll Miss List" for the past few weeks. The similarities between our independently-composed lists are a bit spooky. This was cause for yet another round of the insider joke in the Smith family--that Coleson is just a "mini-me," complete with the all the neuroses and hang-ups, as well as the, er, "challenged" stature. (I tried to comfort him by saying this also means he gets my rugged good looks, but then he looked at my scalp and waistline and was doubly depressed.)

Anyway...we've all been thinking and talking about what we'll miss after having spent such a lovely time in York (while also trying to pretend that we're not leaving!). Here are my own little lists, one about England in general (today), one about York in particular (tomorrow):

What I'll Miss About England
  • The newspapers: I think the Guardian is one of the best English-language papers in the world, and I'll always cherish our Saturday mornings curling up with a coffee w/single cream to dive into the massive weekend edition which was an entire education in itself. The Review section was to die for. I'm already setting aside money to get an international subscription.
  • The BBC and British television: I would say that the intellectual level of the BBC has dipped a bit since we last lived in England in 2004, but I remain a fan. BBC news coverage makes any American international coverage look downright provincial. And there's a legacy of British documentaries and costume dramas that I still appreciate.
  • Fish & chips: tonight we told the kids they could each pick their favorite meal as a "farewell" dinner. I'm getting fish & chips from the shop just around the corner: haddock & chips, wrapped in newspaper which will be soaked through with grease by the time we get home with it. Hmmmm...the taste of decadence.
  • The coast: We fell in love with the east coast off the north sea, visiting places like Whitby, Robin Hood's Bay, and Filey Beach (just last week). There is a kind of rugged charm about the beaches that feels distinctly English.
  • Train travel: I love traveling by train. No long security lines, no two-hour pre-check-in, no mile-high detachment from the earth. Just walk up to the platform two minutes before the train leaves, jump on, find a seat with a table, sit by the window, and enjoy the countryside while somebody else does the driving and you read/doze/eat the whole way.
Tomorrow: What I'll Miss About York