Saturday, July 5, 2008
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
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
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.
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
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.
- 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).
Friday, June 6, 2008
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. =)
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.
Last week, the kids were off school (again!) and we spent one day in Edinburgh. It was about a 2 hour train ride over the border into Scotland. It was a little cold and wet, but we managed to see all the major sights and Jamie and the kids hiked up Arthur's seat while I read in a cafe. Cole and Jack fit in with all the red heads and quite embraced their Scottish heritage. Jackson also enjoyed the Robert Louis Stevenson museum and picked up a copy of Treasure Island. We had a picnic in the park. Jamie and I had Stilton cheese and baguette and a mini bottle of red wine. Since we had no glasses, we had to drink it straight from the bottle. Classy.
On Thursday we joined a group of friends from church for a day at Filey Beach. Faith and Alistair organized rides for us so we didn't have to rent a car. (I can't mention enough how thankful we have been for their friendship. We have so enjoyed getting to know them and their hospitality seems boundless. In fact, we have been incredibly blessed by their family and the church family at York Evangelical.) We took along some portable BBQs and cooked up a feast. The kids played cricket, collected shells, dug a trench and a few managed a quick dip into the cold, North Sea. After a full day, we headed back to the Jakemans for some "bits and bobs" and spent a relaxing evening drinking mugs of tea.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
8. Wearing a uniform: While living in England I have had to wear a uniform to school everyday. A yellow polo shirt with a navy blue sweatshirt over top. Wearing it shows a sense of equality and belonging to the school. Nobody can say they are better than anyone because they have better clothes. Everyone is the same. Who cares about individuality uniforms help people get along a little bit better. I would wear my uniform everyday if I could. I hate to take it off when I come home. I hope my school back home starts uniforms now too. ( this whole article is a complete joke. I hated wearing a uniform. it was possibly the ugliest one on the planet. Not being able to show individuality is bad. I do not love to wear uniforms) =)
7. Ice pops: As some of you may know my brother and I have had to walk home from school everyday. On the way home there are a couple stores that sell candy, drinks and ice pops. These ice pops cost five pence. they are just the tube like, frozen flavoured ice pops that you squeeze to push of the frozen stuff up. they are delicious. people here buy twenty at a time and eat them as they walk home. the most I've bought at one time is 10. Personally I like the blue flavour and Tropical fruit (which is yellow). Grayson likes those flavours too. These ice pops are a little addictive. everyday my brother and I ask each other if they have any money to buy them. when we don't we go into a ice pop withdrawal and don't talk very much on the way home. When we do buy them we talk a lot as we go home. I'm going to miss those ice pops.
6.Walking everywhere and stores in walking distance: I have loved how walkable York is. Downtown is just a seven minute walk from our house. We go down there a few times a week to look at magazines at Borders or to go shopping. I usually go downtown to go look at Sports Illustrated at Borders or go to the Sports Store next door called JJB sports, (where I got my new Chelsea soccer jersey). Walking everywhere is also a much healthier way to get around than driving. Our whole family has slimmed down because of how far we have walked. (We'll probably put all the weight back on when we go back home because all the restaurants we want to go to) In Grand Rapids all the stores are far away and it takes a bus or car to get to them. Here they are just a ten minute walk away. I'm definitely goin to be walking more when I come home.
5. Fish and Chips: Fish and Chips are the best English food by far. The fish is usually dripping with grease and the fries are thick and hot. Gravy is the best thing to put on the chips. The fish is the best part. The crunchy deep fried batter on the outside, with the hot soft fish on the outside gives the dish a fantastic crunch. Just typing this makes my mouth water. Usually my dad and I are the only ones to get fish with our chips. My mom and siblings don't like fish so they usually just get a big order of chips. (by the way if you didn't know chips are fries). my mom usually gets gravy on her chips too. I hope that the Fish and Chip stores in America are as good as they are here.
4. Cathedrals and Castles:
England is home to the best Castles and Gothic Cathedrals. The York Minster is mind blowingly detailed. the stone and wood is carved and cut into such detailed shapes that you can't catch every detail. It is amazing that people five hundred years ago could build such giant and detailed buildings. I'm also going to miss the bells on Sundays ringing from the towers. I doubt that a building such as a cathedral could not be built the same today as it was hundreds of years ago. The cathedrals also show how old Christianity is. The people in that time believed the same religion (give or take a few rituals and rules) that we do today. Castles are found all over the country. Although usually not as extravagant as cathedrals, castles are still interesting because of the stories of knights and kings. The castle in Edinburgh even had a moat and draw bridge just like the stories I've read. I would love to see a castle as it was used when it was first built. To see the moat and the guards on horses or the draw bridge being raised or lowered to let people in. America has some castles such as the Disney land castle or the ones found in Las Vegas (= but I'm going to miss the Cathedrals and Castles of England.
3. Weekend Papers: In my opinion England has some of the best weekend papers. On Saturday our family gets the Guardian. The New York Times of England. It has very good articles and I love how small the paper is. Not small as in number or articles but the size of the paper. it is very easy to hold as you read it because of the size. On Sunday we get the Observer, the Sunday version of the Guardian. I usually just read the sports section. These papers got me interested in English football while I have lived over here. I hope these papers are available in America.
Check tomorrow's blog for the number two thing I'll miss.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Coming to England has been a great chance to use trains. Traveling by train here is extremely common. Back home it is not as common. I like to look out the window and see all the sheep and the countryside. It is also easy to fall asleep on the train because of the movement. It will be sad for me when I return to England to not be able to ride the trains.
Friday, May 30, 2008
For the next ten days I will be counting down our time in England by listing the top ten things I'll miss about England. Today will be number ten, sheep.
Sheep are extremely common on farms in England. On the various road trips that we have taken we have seen thousands of sheep. We were lucky enough to be here for when the lambs are born. We’ve see them jumping and running around in the countryside and they seem to come to their mother whenever she calls them. Sometimes they'll be walking in the middle of the road and you have to stop for them to cross. We have even seen a couple black sheep in the midst of the sea of white wool. I’ll be very disappointed when I take trips to Canada and all I see are horses and cows. (But I will be excited to see my family when I go.) Check the blog tomorrow for the number nine thing I will miss about England.
Monday, May 26, 2008
The trainer was an absolutely charming guy (Alastair remarked that this was a guy who had found his true calling in life and just exuded joy). He explained how the birds navigated wind and currents, and then set them to flight. It was amazing how he could communicate with the birds in the most subtle ways.This picture doesn't do it justice, but we were seated just about 10 feet from the birds, and seeing them take flight was absolutely incredible. First, they are massive; this vulture had a wing span of probably 7 feet. You could just feel it pump the air in the first couple of strokes, hunting for a wind or current that would lift it without effort. It was a particularly windy day, with swirling currents around the lake, so it was fascinating to watch the birds navigate these winds. And then seeing them come back in: often they would climb on a current to just over the take-off area, then fold in their wings like an F-16 fighter jet, diving to the earth, pulling up just before the trainer. Amazing.
whilst we were finishing up the people who went rowing beat us back to the church for eating lunch. When we finished our lunch we got instructions for a treasure hunt around Whitby, and then put into teams. The treasure hunt had eighty-two questions, so it took around two to three hours. Eve, the leader who organized the treasure hunt calculated our scores and my team won by four points. But we barely won I was holding the answers and we were on a really narrow alley with steps. I still managed to get past and sprint to the church.
You may think that was the last of our very fun day but we are forgetting one thing...FISH&CHIPS! So we went to the beach for a little while and made sand castles and did Frisbee and stuff,but then the tide was coming in quite quickly so we had to rush up the steps away from the sea that would have soon swallowed us otherwise. We vigorously tried to get sand off of us because when we were done fish&chips were awaiting us. They were awaiting us on the pier in fact. The leaders past out the stuff to the twelve of us, and us starving vultures dug in. Part way into to our digging Ellie (my friend) fell a plop on her head and froze, she was terrified! As you can probably guess it was bird poop right on her head by her ear. one of the leaders helped Ellie wash it off and she took a shower as soon as we got home.
When we got home we had half an hour to play or take a shower. Then we had another meeting continuing from the last one. Finally we watched Ice Age. It was hilarious we were quoting it all night.
When we woke up the next morning we had breakfast, started to pack, then got ready for church. when we were all ready we drove part way then since it was nice out, walked the rest. A little while later, when church was finished we had a nice English meal of shepherd's pie. And the kids could ask the leaders any questions they wanted. When lunch was finished, we finished packing, put our stuff in the car and since it was my last time with the group they gave me a card that everyone signed and we had cake.
Then we were finished at Whitby and we were all sad to leave but our time had come. We made a banner that said thank you to the people who let us stay in their house. And we were off. =( =)
Friday, May 23, 2008
Its been a while since I last posted. But I am now so be grateful. This psot is a bit late but, last Friday I went to a school disco. My friend Ellie came over after school and we got ready together and she got to try our famous Calzones. The disco was really fun. There was loads of screaming and dancing and singing at the top of your lungs. It was the year six’ last disco because they are the highest in the school. They apparently have two a year. All of us year six girls danced most of the night in a big huddle or circle doing crazy random dance moves. The room was really dark with flashing rainbow design lights. Mum stayed around for the first fifteen minutes to take pictures. We had an inside joke that was hilarious and I will explain the best I can. So on Gilmore Girls Luke found out that he had a daughter and it was really awkward between them, the daughter was going to her first boy girl party. Luke was trying to tell her to not kiss. But she was grossed out about it so he used the word juggling instead. So Grayson said, “Have a good time, make good choices and no juggling!”
We did the Macarena that was my favorite part of the night. The song went on forever and the room was really hot and it spelled faintly of B.O. I took my shoes of part way through because my feet were sweating. And the refreshments sucked because by the time I got there everything was gone. But overall it was really exciting! And I would love to go again.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Tonight we said goodbye to a group of good friends. Not anyone we've met in York, but a group we've been hanging out with since last summer. We had heard about these folks from Stars Hollow and were anxious to get to know them. And so began our Sunday afternoon get-togethers with the Gilmore Girls. Maddie and I decided to start right from season one, and by the end of the first episode, we were hooked. You'd hear us saying, okay just one more and then okay, just one more. Until the disc was done, popped back in the mail, the next one eagerly anticipated. With our trip to England looming on the horizon, I purchased seasons 3 and 4 to take with us. It became a family affair.
There's so many things I love about the show, it's hard to know where to start. The deep, abiding love between a mother and her daughter. The charm of a small town. The tight community of friends. The pop culture references. The romance. It all seemed to pull at something inside me. They invited you along to believe that life lived in meaningful relationships with family and friends, is life worth living. It was at times silly and maybe a little far fetched. Jamie thought the writing was sometimes "too precious" (but he did like the poster of Derrida, in Rory's dorm room). And really, like they could eat all those pop tarts, cheeseburgers and pizza and look that good. But these are petty complaints. To me, this was a show about family. About what it takes to raise a family and be a family and all the messiness that goes along with it.
Today, was Gilmore Day at the Smith house. We had chocolate pop tarts for breakfast. We saved the final 4 episodes of the final season to watch tonight. We got out our takeout menus and did it up Gilmore style. Pizza, cheeseburgers and Chinese with pie for dessert (which we didn't actually eat because we were so full). We ate our feast with eyes glued to the screen. We were not disappointed. We cried and wondered who could ever take their place. And then I remembered that in 2 weeks, we're coming home. We can put our t.v. friends away. We have our own tight knit community of family and friends and we can't wait to see you.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
2) Then on Monday night we had a final "banquet" of sorts at Jaipur Spice, an Indian restaurant just around the corner. We invited the students back to our place for some home-baked desserts that Deanna whipped up: chocolate bread pudding (an English treat) and strawberry tart.
4) And finally this morning was the tough part: We met the students as they boarded their coach headed to Manchester Airport to catch a plane to Chicago and on to Grand Rapids. Some of their British friends who have a band actually wrote a song about our group, and as the students emerged from the dorms, they serenaded them all the way to the bus, where a whole group of British students were there (at 6am!) to see them off. There were alot of tears and hugs, and I thought that the sadness was actually a wonderful testimony of how much the Calvin group had bonded with their new English friends, and how hospitable the YSJ students had been over the Semester. As they climbed on the bus, there was a reprise of the serenade as the bus rolled out of campus.
We were blessed with a wonderful group of students. They were always in good spirits (even for early morning departures) and were flexible and willing to roll with the punches when things didn't go as planned. They looked out for one another and were kind to one another, without retreating into any kind of "Calvin bubble" that isolated them from the British students. To the contrary, they seem to have been the highlight of life in the "halls" at YSJ and will be sorely missed. They also were a big part of our lives here--were always kind to the kids, who really came to value them, and were good friends to Deanna and I. It was also a treat to have a teaching opportunity that involved significant relationships outside of the classroom. In short, it's going to take us a few days to get used to them not being here!
Thursday, May 8, 2008
After our exciting week in Italy, we headed up and over the Alps, round the Matterhorn and into Switzerland. The border crossing seemed like something from an old war movie. Guards dressed in combat gear, urging us across in German, with the weather gray and drizzly. As we climbed higher towards the pass, we left the rain behind and were almost blinded by the brilliant sunshine bouncing off the snow-capped mountains. The temperature dropped dramatically and the kids had a snow ball fight when we stopped for a bathroom break. We were headed towards L'Abri, a Christian retreat center nestled in the little village of Huemoz. Jamie was booked to deliver some lectures and they were putting us up in one of their quaint chalets. I was a little stressed by the drive up the very narrow, very steep, very winding roads. In fact, upon arrival it would not be an overstatement to say that I had a bit of a meltdown at the thought of getting back into the car to get back down the mountain to find some supper. This, after the kids and I had to get out of the car so Jamie could drive up the lane way, because of how steep it was. Our stay was a bit of a disappointment. The weather was awful and prevented us from taking some of the hikes we'd been looking forward to. Okay, that Jamie had been looking forward to. (Although, I had gotten a new pair of hiking shoes, I hadn't planned on breaking them in on trails that would require yodeling upon completion) Instead, the kids holed up at the main chalet playing a few tightly contested games of Monopoly, and I did some reading and knitting in between listening to Jamie's lectures (and quite often during Jamie's lectures. How much "Science and Pentecostalism" is required of a good wife?!)
By morning the rain had passed and we headed out as planned to a village called Annecy, just over the border in France. Once there, we picked up some supplies at the market for a picnic by the lake. Eating baguette in France, along with some stinky cheese has to be at the top of my "favourite things I've ever done list". Only a bottle of red wine could have improved it. And perhaps the kids being in Canada with their grandparents!We'd planned on eating a dinner of raclette, a local specialty that we'd not tried yet, but we were foiled again by that late dinner hour. The restaurants did not open until 7:30. As it was only 3, and we'd seen the whole town, we started back towards home thinking we'd stop in Montreaux for dinner. Located on Lake Geneva, it is breathtakingly beautiful and, as we soon discovered, exorbitantly expensive. After checking around, desperate for at least something, and willing to shell out good money for it, McDonalds was the cheapest option, at $80.00 for the 6 of us. But it was not to be. They didn't take a card and we couldn't find a cash machine. I wasn't that disappointed, since we'd placed a moratorium on North American chains and the thought of spending $80 at McDonald's made me sick to my stomach before we ate the food. We hopped in the car, the kids complaining at record decibels in search of something to eat. I won't go into all the details, but it turned ugly. I'm not gonna lie. Let's just say it involved peanuts that needed shelling and tinned ravioli, and leave it at that. Tomorrow's a new day. And, it was my birthday. It was rainy and foggy and cold. More Monopoly, knitting, reading, and lectures capped off by a wonderful evening of fondue with Richard and Karen, the directors at L'Abri. They even surprised me with a birthday cake and a box of Swiss chocolate.The next morning, we headed back to Italy. It was an eerily, quiet trip back through the mountains. It was snowing. There were whiteouts. It's a miracle I didn't pass out. Kudos to Jamie. He deserved a medal for some of the white knuckle driving he did. And the kids have not been that quiet in the car since the time I gave them Dramamine on the trip home from California. Back in Italy, we stopped briefly at the shore of beautiful Lake Maggiore, once a destination point on The Grand tour of Europe. It was my idea to stop there for a quick look. By which I meant, park the car, stroll the Promenade, maybe get some gelato , you know, have a look around. But Jamie thought I meant pull over at the side of the road, roll the window down and take a picture, maybe go the the bathroom at the gas station. The rest of the drive to the airport was also eerily quiet.
We had plenty of time to kill at the airport (even before our flight was delayed) and it was a good time to reflect on the wonderful holiday we'd just had. It was a trip I'd never even thought to dream of as a kid. There is so much to drink up and see and explore. It makes you realize how big and extraordinary our world is, and that it is a gift to be taken care of. I returned to York with a full heart, grateful to have shared such an adventure with the people I love so much.
Monday, May 5, 2008
In sum, having moved away from Embro twenty years ago, I've come to appreciate what a Scottish island my hometown was. So it was a strange sort of homecoming when I had opportunity to visit Edinburgh this past weekend. This was our last excursion with the students, and it was a fabulous capstone for our semester together. While the weather had projected rain for both days (no big surprise), in fact the weather was almost sunny and warm. We didn't get wet even once.
After arriving at Waverly Station, and taking a lunch break, we all gathered at the Walter Scott monument to begin an afternoon exploration, up the Royal Mile through the heart of Old Town. We began from Holyrood Palace, residence of the monarch in Scotland, past the new parliament building (see below), then spent some time at the home of Scottish Reformer John Knox and St. Giles Cathedral, from which he engineered the Scottish Reformation. We also enjoyed the Lady Stair Writers Museum (dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and poet Robby Burns), then finished at Edinburgh Castle.
But perhaps the highlight came later that afternoon when we all scaled Arthur's Seat, a volcanic outcropping that towers over the city, offering spectacular views of the entire region. The climb was a tough slog (probably took us about 50 minutes to reach the top), but well worth it.
The next day some of the philosophy majors and I made a little pilgrimmage, first to the tomb of David Hume (a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment) in Old Calton Cemetery, then on to David Hume Tower at the University of Edinburgh, home to a Philosophy Department with quite an illustrious history. (It was fun to see that the Edinburgh Philosophy Dept has a "Norman Kemp Smith Room," whereas the Calvin Philosophy Dept has the "Jellema Room.")
Then as a group we enjoyed a tour of the new Scottish Parliament Building. Bit of a story here: Scottish Parliament was dissolved in 1707, after the Treaty of Union formed "Great Britain." However, the nationalist streak in Scotland--heirs of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce--grew increasinly uncomfortable with this, and only in the last 10 years (in 2000, I believe), a Scottish Parliament was reconstituted. They then built a new, very un-medieval Parliament building--nothing like Westminster or the Canadian Parliament. By a Spanish architect Morales, I found it quite impressive, including the way it blended into the landscape of the area. After tea in the Parliament cafe, I went to the Scottish National Museum, made a quick stop back at the Lady Stair museum to pick up a souvenir edition of Burns' Collected Poems, then had about 30 minutes to see the Titians at the Scottish National Gallery before heading back to Waverly Station to catch the train back to York.
Edinburgh is often described as the "Athens of the North" because of its rich intellectual (and architectural) heritage. I was charmed by the city, and by the rugged terrain of Scotland--which got me thinking about those ancestors of mine who made their way to southern Ontario. What made them leave such charmed environs? Was it with regret and sadness? Perhaps anger or despair? Were they driven away? Or did they leave with exhiliration and hope? (Granted, the rigors of life in Banffshire are probably a long ways away from the delights and comforts I enjoyed in Edinburgh.) Were they as eager to leave Scotland as I was to leave Embro? Hard for me to imagine.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
What I tell you?We didn't go inside because it was really expensive,so guess what we did?we got some pictures and left! The coolest thing about Holy Island is that you can only drive to it when when its low tide so that means you can't leave either!theres a road that goes to it at low tide and it can get covered up by water WHILE YOUR STILL ON IT!people have to get rescued from the water by like,helicopters and stuff it would suck to get stuck in the water.
Hadrian's Wall was pretty cool it is about...2000 years old! so wee did a little walk by it and got wet and muddy, over all it was cool,heres a picture.
After Hadrian's Wall we went home and went to bed.