Thursday, February 28, 2008

Earthquakes and Tea Cakes

Yesterday we awoke to a gloriously sunny morning, not a cloud in sight. Over coffee, Jamie and I discussed how restlessly we had slept. We'd both been startled from sleep by a huge bang and then on and off again by what sounded like people up and about in the house. I got up once to investigate and encountered Jack up to use the loo, but nothing else unusual. The mystery unsolved, we set about our day. Jamie went off to work in his pajamas (we have casual Wednesdays here) in our bedroom/office and I decided to head to town centre for some shopping and browsing before my knitting group. As I tidied the kitchen I noticed through the window that many of the daffodils in the garden had lifted their little golden heads, as eager to soak up the sun as I was.

After arriving downtown, I encountered a sale rack in one of my favourite stores and slipped into the fitting room. While admiring myself in the mirror, I overheard a group of women discussing the earthquake that had struck our fair isle with a magnitude of 5.3. It was felt all the way to Norway! It was the talk of the town. From every news agent the headlines screamed of the first quake to have hit Britain in over 25 years. It was the kind of thing we'd expected in California, but who knew they hit here? I didn't even have my earthquake kit ready. I headed to York's central square and noticed that many of the cafes had set up tables and chairs out on the pavement. Considering this an invitation, I put in my order and pulled out my book. I sat quite contentedly, talk of the quake swirling about, sipping my coffee and munching my tea cakes.
P.S. It should also be mentioned that when the kids got home from school, Coleson told us he'd set his alarm for 2 am to get up and watch a basketball game on t.v. The "noises in the night" mystery solved, we banned all future middle of the night sporting events (well, most of them...).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Day to Day: Morning Rituals

While we've been blogging about all sorts of special trips and adventures, most of our time is characterized by the same quotidian rituals that characterize life at home: getting ready for school, days at school, kids' practices and concerts, grocery shopping, etc (oh--and washing dishes by hand!). But one of the treats of being abroad is to inhabit these sorts of mundane rhythms just a bit differently. So I thought some might be interested in some occasional glimpses into daily rhythms in York as they unfold here on Markham Crescent (our humble abode is pictured, right).

Mornings look a bit different here than they do at home, largely because all the schools start later--and because we're all fighting over one bathroom! When I have to be at the office, I roll out of bed early to squeeze in a shower before the rush begins. Then Grayson and Coleson shout and fight about which one of them is going to get out of bed first--beginning at 7:40am. (Back home, they caught the bus at 7:15am! So this is one part of England they're enjoying.) Gray and Cole throw on their Joseph Rowntree ("JoRo") uniforms (at right) and then head down for breakfast. By this time, Maddie and Jack have been added to the mix. The boys leave at 8:20am to catch the city bus that takes them just over two miles to school (they prefer to walk home in the afternoon). With their "YoZone" cards they can ride the bus for 50p. Maddie and Jack's school is much closer so they head out around 8:30, walk around the corner to meet some friends, and then it's just a couple of blocks to Park Grove.

By this time the silence inside the house is still ringing in our ears, so Deanna and I enjoy our own morning ritual before launching into the day. This is one of my favourite parts of the day. Since the house doesn't have a perk coffee machine, we are now zealous converts to the joys of French press coffee--dark and rich. And since there's no half-and-half cream here, Deanna and I substitute the indulgence of "single cream." This decadence is then topped off with a tasty bite to break our fast: for me, this is usually a little Devon scone with clotted cream and a dollop of jam; for Dee, it's a piece of yummy brioche (bread with chocolate chips). We watch the quail outside our window, listen to the bells of the Minster, and then head into the day, blessed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

All Aboard the Hogwarts Express!

The beautiful weather continued this half-term so we stole away another afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful day with our new friends, the Jakemans who have been such a blessing to us. Maddie has the Jakeman triplets in her class: Ellie, Beth, and Tom. We quickly learned that they were Christians and they quickly invited us to church at York Evangelical--despite the fact that this meant shuttling the 6 of us there each week since it's too far to walk! They always do so with a smile. The first Sunday they had us back for lunch and before we knew it, it was five'o-clock!
So Faith and Alastair suggested a wonderful adventure: driving to Pickering to catch the North York Moors steam train that chugs through the valley in the moors. Word has it that this was one of the trains and sites that was used to film the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter (though word also has it that every steam train in England makes the same claim).We took it north to a little village called Goathland (near the not-to-be-found Roman Road we mentioned earlier). There we disembarked and enjoyed a beautiful hike through the hills and woods (despite that it began with me promptly falling--quite spectacularly--in the mud).
We found a couple benches beside some laid back sheep who didn't seem to mind our presence and there, in the sunshine, enjoyed our picnic lunch.

We then picked up the path again to Grosmont where we caught the return train which chugged us back to Pickering. The day wrapped up with tea and hot chocolate in the toasty lounge of the White Swan Inn--warm fellowship with wonderful friends.

Remembering Sophie Sept. 18, 2005 - Feb. 15, 2007

As if we could forget her. Big brown eyes, fly away hair. Precious, sweet, beloved. We miss her, and wonder how big she would be. Would she be a chatter box or still quietly sucking her thumb. We wait, as those with hope, knowing that one day, we will see her again. In the mean time, we pray for God's comfort and strength. We receive it often through the kind words and the embrace of family and friends. We pray especially today, for Luke, Jen, Bailey and Zac. May you feel our love from across the miles and know our hearts our linked with yours.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Robin Hood's Bay

On our second day of adventuring, we headed back to the coast to a little bay nestled between Whitby and Scarborough. Again, it was brilliantly sunny and unseasonably warm. We aimed to get there at low tide and we were not disappointed. As we descended into the tiny fishing village, we were charmed by the sheer beauty of the steep cliffs. We headed down to the beach and combed through the tide pools where we discovered a few anemones and some small snail-like creatures. some people who were collecting them informed us they were called periwinkles and that they make delightful escargot. The kids were a little repulsed by the thought of eating them! We lingered for about an hour and then headed back towards the village to get some chips. By the time we had finished eating, a sea fret had arisen, and the beach was completely hidden from view. It was amazing how quickly it had come up.

Our tummies full, we got back in the car and headed out to the moors, in search of the Roman road we'd seen on the map. We exited the main highway, into a little hamlet called Goathland, stopping often to allow the local sheep to cross the road.The kids had us laughing when they rolled the windows down and began bleating at them. It must have been a pretty good impression, since the sheep would look right over at them. Following the signs, we continued into the hills, parked the car and then proceeded on foot. We were not prepared for hiking through the muck and the kids pointed out that we really needed farm shoes (I think they meant rubber boots!). We wandered a bit, crossed over the river, mingled with a few of the local sheep, (none of whom could point us in the right direction) but the Roman road was not to be found. We decided we would come better prepared next time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Auto Adventure in the Peak District

It is "half-term" across all of England--a week-long school break that sends children and their families scrambling for things to keep busy. Deanna found an outstanding deal on a car rental so we've "hired" a mini-MPV (basically a compact mini-van) for the week to do some day and afternoon trips. This meant trying to recall how to shift a stick with my left hand, and getting used to being on the other side of the car and the other side of the road. (It also required getting used to Deanna's squeaks, squawks, and iron-clad grip on my arm as sitting on the left-hand side seems to induce an automotive vertigo for her. (OK, OK, maybe I was tending to hug the shoulder a bit tight at first!)

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous here (apologies to those of you still digging out in GR): sunny, warm, and dry. So on Saturday we set out on a tour of the country just west of York, a bit south of Manchester. This first involved a pilgrimmage to the little village of Holmfirth which is a bit of a knitters' mecca since it is home to Rowan wool. (We couldn't stretch a dollar far enough to actually buy anything, but I think Deanna enjoyed just seeing the wool in its natural habitat.) After a fun picnic there, we set off south into the "Peak District," a region right in the middle of England with rolling hills, lots of trees, caves, and more. It was a treat. Here's a few pictures with commentary.
Dee and the kids, looking back across the valley toward Holmfirth.We stopped in one of the many little villages and market towns that dot the slow, winding roads through the peak district. This one had a lovely town square where we sat and enjoyed a coffee. The kids spied an Oxfam store (a "charity shop" like a Goodwill) so we browsed the books and found some deals on a couple kids' books. After ice cream, Jack curled up on this bench with his "Horrible History" book about the Stormin' Normans who came to England with William the Conqueror. We kept pinching ourselves that we could be sitting in a sunny green park in our shirtsleeves--in February! (Thank you global warming! ;-)Though I usually consider all driving to be a version of a NASCAR race, the goal of which is getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, the wending byways of the Peak District discourage that. So after some "animated conversations" about some "navigational challenges" (OK, OK: I did take the wrong exit!), we just took a leisurely pace and enjoyed stopping off at all kinds of view points and pretty spots. This one had a lovely gurgling brook with a tiny waterfall, with sheep grazing the hillside across the way.They've climbed so high you can barely see them, but this is Coleson and Jackson imitating the sure-footed sheep we saw all day long. Just before dusk we made it to the village of Castleton, which boast a number of caverns. This one was called "The Devil's Arse"! The ruins of a castle were perched on the left hill, and up inside the gorge there were flocks of black birds hovering and constantly cackling. It all felt rather Hitchcockesque. After this it go dark quickly so we made our way home through Sheffield and back to York.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday

Lenten greetings, all. We observed the beginning of Lent in a special way. On Shrove Tuesday, which in Canada (and elsewhere?) we know as "Pancake Tuesday" (that's about as wild as the carnival gets in Canada!), we enjoyed indulgent pancakes before launching into the austerity of Lent. Turns out "pancakes" here are more akin to crepes. And Deanna made some absolutely scrumptuous pancake/crepes for dinner (with "bangers" on the side). I was all for it as it meant I basically got to have dessert for the maincourse: crepe-like pancakes covered with nutella, fresh whipped cream, and chocolate chips, then rolled up and drizzled with just a touch of chocolate syrup. Sounds like mardi gras to me!

Then on Wednesday Deanna and I attended an Ash Wednesday service at the Minster based on the penitential service in the Book of Common Prayer: a service which is simple but moving. We both noted, however, that in secularized Britain, walking around all day with ashes on your forehead does make one a bit conspicuous!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mass Media

Some of you have asked what my days look like, with the kids off to school and Jamie working. Between the watching of soaps and the eating of bon bons, I have been knitting, reading and we've all watched some good movies. Following, are some selections.

On the plane over, The Jane Austen Book Club was showing and while I had just finished the book without liking it much, I decided to watch the movie anyway. I didn't love it either. I didn't think the casting was great and it actually increased my appreciation for the book. Karen Fowler (the author) had also included some interesting material about Jane Austen and some quotes about her from her family and other literary figures, which prompted me to rent Becoming Jane. Starring Anne Hatheway (who was delightful), this glimpse into the life of one of England's most beloved writers was both informative and enjoyable. The movie itself unfolded much like an Austen novel (most of which I've read) and even if only some of the material was accurate, she was a woman ahead of her time and to be admired. The whole family watched (some more willingly than others) and I was pleased when Maddie added it to her "favourite movies" list on her blog profile.

Next up was The Namesake, both the book and then the movie--a moving account of one family's immigration from India to America. The desire to make a "better" life, the wrenching heartache of leaving family and familiarity behind. The struggle to fit in but not lose who you are and to raise children that don't become so westernized that they can't appreciate their heritage. The book was beautifully written by Jhumpa Lahiri and the movie wonderfully directed by Mira Nair(Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding, Bend it Like Beckham, Mississippi Masala, all of which we've loved). Of course a movie can never enfold a book in its entirety and there is the power of the written word that stretches your imagination. I must say, I was often hungry while reading, could almost smell the spicy, fragrant currys. So much so that I dropped in to the library to borrow a recipe book on Indian cooking. Grayson and I have been busy in the kitchen perfecting our chicken saag. My mouth is watering even now! Anyway, I recommend both the book, then the movie. Gray and Cole both watched it and it prompted some good conversation.

I've also read Return to Holly Springs by Jan Karon. A little disappointing. I had quite missed my Father Tim (yes, I know he's not real!) who had shepherded me through some difficult times and introduced me to The Book of Common Prayer. Oh well. It was still good to see him again. Every body has off days.

A Travellor's Guide to the History of England was interesting and informative. Being a Queen is never easy. I tell Jamie that constantly.

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs--also being made into a movie I heard, starring Julia Roberts. These ladies were my first "friends" here in York. A likable bunch. Then I made new friends at a real knitting group I found at a great little shop called "Sheepish".

My Life in France by Julia Child, a Christmas gift from Jamie. He's declared himself not a good gift-giver, but this one hit it right on the nose. Not specifically because it was a good book ( which it was) , but because of the thought that went into it. I'd read Julie and Julia, a hilarious memoir (also being made into a movie) by Julie Powell chronicling her year of mastering Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I loved it. And of late, I've been dabbling more and more into the world of "cookery". That combined with the beautiful love story between Julia and Paul Child promised that, no matter the content, the gift was a treasure. It also didn't hurt that he'd written me a beautiful poem to go with it. That Jamie, he's a keeper.

44 Scotland Street. Another Alexander McCall Smith series, another fun read.

In the movie department, there have been some misses. In preparation for the forthcoming Indiana Jones prequel starring Shia LaBoeuf, we thought we should watch the originals. Our children laughed through the spectacular 80s special affects. The snakes and bugs still freak you out. But how about Kate Capshawe? Was she already married to Steven Spielburg?

Amazing Grace-loved it, loved it. Inspiring, convicting, heart wrenching, educational. Thank God for men like John Newton and William Wilburforce.

The older boys are completely hooked on Lost and are well into season 2. Maddie and I are into season 3 of Gilmore Girls and still loving it. Jack is bitter because there are no good kids shows on BBC and we are constantly ruining his life by depriving him of Sponge Bob.

Northern Exposure has also been added to the rotation. I don't know how I missed this one the first time round.

There you have it. It's amazing that I even have time to eat bon bons.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Roman York

"The history of York is the history of Britain," Macaulay famously remarked. Indeed, the story of British history can be well told through the microcosmic story of York. On Saturday we had a chance to consider one of the earliest chapters of this story: the presence of the Roman empire in Britain. After a first incursion in 43 AD under the emperor Claudius, the Romans later came to settle and expand more widely on the island. Quite early on, York became an important military outpost of the empire for quashing the rebellious Brits in the north (those darn fighting Scots again!). Thus a military garrison was erected at York (called Eboracum by the Romans), home to various legions over its history. From here Hadrian dispatched soldiers to build Hadrian's Wall to the north. And later, in the early 4th century, after the death of Constantine I, Constantine the Great was first proclaimed emperor in York.

The city is dotted with Roman ruins, particularly ruins of the walled defenses, with small bits dating from Hadrian's era, and larger sections from the late Roman period (300s). Here are a few glimpses:
This is a remnant of one of the corner towers of the Roman wall, now preserved just inside the walls that currently circle the city (which date from the 13th century, with Victorian embellishments). The Roman fort would have been square, with its central building ("basilica") standing where the Minster currently does.
We enjoyed the expertise of a guide (moonlighting from the National Trust) who gave us a two-hour tour of the Roman sites around the city. Here we are under Bootham Bar. (The quip you hear over and over again in York is that "Streets are gates, gates are bars, and bars are pubs." "Gate" comes from the Danish/Viking word for "street;" "bar" comes from the Norman/French word for a barrier or gate. So "Monkbar" is actually a gate; "Monkgate" is actually a street. And of course, what we know as "bars" at home are "public houses" or just "pubs.") Bootham bar, though dating from late medieval era, still stands where the Roman road and gate was.
This is known as the "Multangular Tower" and dates from a later Roman period, with medieval additions on top. Near here we also saw the ruins of a Roman oven, and inside you can see stone coffins dating from the Roman period (though moved here from a burial site discovered when the train station was built on the other side of the river).

Saturday, February 2, 2008

English Food

We finally started to eat some homemade English food. I had been getting some reheatable sausage roll things, but those weren't authentic English food. So the other night my mom made Cottage pie. I thought it was good and I seemed to be the only kid who did. The cottage pie had beef and carrots on the bottom and mashed potatoes on top. Grayson kept complaining because he says he doesn't eat beef (but he ordered a burger at a pub a few weeks ago) . And Jackson continued throughout the meal to make fake vomiting sounds because he didn't like the pie. Maddie just kept picking at her food with her fork. But finally when Jack heard he could get a cookie if he ate all his food; he asked mom how many bites he needed to have and ate them (but he was still complaining).

Also this morning Maddie, Jack and I had eggs and soldiers. Grayson was upstairs sleeping as usual so he didn't get any. The eggs were good as usual. And my mom said that they were British too. So my mom said that I should blog about it. And since I haven't blogged once, I decided that I would.

Friday, February 1, 2008

School Theater Trip

On Thursday my class took a trip to another city in York. It is called Bradford, it is very close to a more well known city called Leeds. We went there to see a play at the theater, we saw ' The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe'. It was pretty good but it was not a lot like the book. The children were much older than the characters in the book. Over all I quite liked it.The parts I really enjoyed were the parts when the White Witch appeared on stage a giant flash and a grumble of lightning sounded really loud. Another was when Aslan roared, It made my body shake because you didn't know when it was coming and was bloody loud.
The ride on the coach back to school was not so delightful. We were right behind the naughty boys in the class. They did stupid things like sing really badly really loud. It was actually quite funny rather then annoying . What also made me laugh was when my good friend Ellie who I have told you about kept on talking to me in a really high and like something was in her throat voice whenever she said something. In fact by the end of the trip my cheeks hurt so bad I couldn't smile the rest of the night. The not so delightful part was that one of the girls by me had a sick stomach so we had to keep clear of her and it was really hot on the bus, and it took about an hour to get back when it was only supposed to take half and hour.
Unfortunately I have no pictures to show you because I did not have a camera to post pictures with.
Talk to you later!