Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Palazzo Rossa

As Dee mentioned, we are in Italy this week, staying at Palazzo Rossa, a 17th-cenutry farm where some of the the buildings have been turned into vacation apartments and guest houses. We are near the village of Longare, between Verona and Venice, and very close to Padua. It's absolutely delightful, and we've already fallen in love with Italy! Here I thought I'd just post some pictures with captions to let you picture where we are.We are staying in this section of one of the buildings; I believe this was a former barn. The hosts live in the left section and the guest apartment is on the right. Inside the arch is a patio with an outdoor pizza oven and two lemon trees. It's lovely inside, too.
The farm has 400 acres and lots of paths for walking. On Monday we walked across the farm, through the vineyard, and here you can see the main estate in the distance.
The kids love all the animals that are here: two dogs and three cats that all come to greet us when we come back. Here they're also taking in the sun.
The kids couldn't quite understand the Italian name for this cute little dog (he's our favorite), so they've taken to calling him by a Mexican name (!), "Paco."
Almost every day the animals leave little "gifts" on our doorstep. On this day it was a rabbit's leg!
This is the view from the boys northern window. Not sure if you can see it, but the snow-capped Dolomites are there in the distance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Towers and Spires

Our Cambridge/London/Oxford excursion was an adventure. I'm glad it's over, only because I was quite anxious about all the logistics for 14 of us--which pretty much came off without a hitch (well, a couple of hitches, but nothing too major). I think the students really enjoyed being in the big city last week. They've been enjoyed York, but I think visiting London at the halfway point meant they were ready for a change, and perhaps will also have new appreciation for York when we get back, too. A number of them enjoyed at least one musical or play, and a couple of the major football fans actually scored tickets to the huge Tottenham v. Arsenal game (bringing home some great stories about the adventure). The students are now on the Easter/Spring break, headed off to various parts of England and Europe. After a few intensive days with them, I find I miss them and, kicking into parental mode, am just a bit worried about them. I'll look forward to seeing them back in York in a couple weeks.

Thursday was our day in Oxford. Dee and the kids headed back to York, so I was a bachelor for the day. The weather was cold and windy, unfortunately, but dry at least. We enjoyed a guided tour by one of my former colleagues whose son is on the trip. He did his M.Phil. at Oxford and so could give us a bit of an insider overview. We went into Magdalen College (home to both Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis), as well as Christ Church (home to Ruskin, but perhaps now more famous for the dining hall which was transformed into Hogwarts' hall for the Harry Potter movies). After the tour, I first made a beeline to the Ashmolean to see the Pre-Raphaelite collection, but that section of the gallery was closed. (On Friday, however, I got to enjoy the Tate Britain's collection once again.) After the Ashmolean disappointment, I paused for a cream tea, then made my way to the famous Blackwell's bookshop. It's humble facade doesn't do justice to the vast stores of books inside--including a floor of used book. Fabulous. I treated myself to three books: the Oxford Classics edition of Walter Pater's Renaissance (which I've been looking for everywhere), Orwell's early novel, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and a collection of poems by Yorkshire poet, Ted Hughes.

I perused these over Indian food for dinner and then made my way to St. Mary's, the university church and epicentre of the Oxford Movement led by Pusey, Keble and Newman. We've been studying the Oxford Movement in my course at York so it was a special kind of pilgrimmage to be able to worship where they did. I was there for a Maundy Thursday service which was a Last Supper service followed by the Stripping of the Altars--a closing part of the service where the congregation antiphonally reads the messianic lament Psalm 22 while the priests and deacons strip the altar of all ornaments, banners, and colors in anticipation of Good Friday, leaving in silence. A very simple but moving service. Indeed, given that the Oxford Movement so celebrated the Gothic, one is struck by just how simple, even dark and puritanical, the space is in St. Mary's. It seemed very fitting, however, for an evening service looking ahead to the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

On Top of St. Paul's

On March 19, 2008 I Coleson Smith faced my fears and ascended the three hundred and something stairs to the tippity top of St. Paul's Cathedral. I was the only person in my family to go all the way to the top, but it was worth the climb. I got several great pictures of London that I wouldn't be able to get anywhere else. I was at the top of the dome where the beginning of the spire is in the picture. Can just see the balcony I was on in the picture. Even the stairs to top were scary. They were spiral metal stairs that were suspended by a few metal bars attached to the ceiling. They rocked when u walked on them. At the top there was a railing and about two feet between the back of the dome and the balcony. I could only stay up there for a couple seconds before I became overwhelmed with fear. And my fear did not subside as soon as i got off the balcony, because i had to descend those rickety metal stairs. But I'm glad that i went to the top because i could see almost all of London. I saw Tower Bridge, the London Eye (it's a big ferris wheel if you don't know) the skyline and the river Thames. By the time i reached the Cathedral's ground level my legs were still shaking with fear. Because i had just been on what had seemed like, the top of the world.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Greeting from Longare, Italy. We arrived today at a beautiful, restored farm house near Venice. Not much is open on Easter Sunday, so we picked up a pizza and enjoyed it with the local red wine our hosts left for us.
Christ is risen. May His victory over death encourage you and fill your hearts with joy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Guest Post from Jackson

When we arrived at King's cross Station to catch the train back to York, we noticed that we still had half an hour until our train left. I remembered that's where they shot part of the Harry Potter movie and so we went to find the Platform 9 and 3/4. When we went between platform 9 and 10 we started laughing because there's a sign that said Platform 9 and 3/4 and underneath it a trolley that was half way through the wall.
We went to the Tower of London(Which was my favourite stop) and I ditched my Mum and Dad and hung out with one of the students named Josh (he's cool). We saw the Crown jewels and it was pretty awesome. There was loads of diamonds and a massive solid gold punch bowl complete with an ivory ladle. Me and Josh stared at one of the guards for about 5 minutes and he stood stone still the whole time. Unfortunately, when I was with Josh my family got to see the changing of the guard without me. All the guards wear big funny hats. We went to the White tower which is an armoury inside the Tower of London. It has lots and lots of weapons. It had one of King Henry V armour. We also stood where Anne Boelyn was beheaded. That was one of King Henry the VIII's wives.

Going 'Home'

Today we left London for York. Traveling with large amounts of people stresses me out. So i was not in a very good mood. We got to the subway station (gross and dirty) and 2 escalators and a set of stairs later onto the tube (also gross and dirty, kinda like a giant tube of trash that moves at high speeds) My mother informed me that London also won this year for 'Dirtiest City in Europe' award. We are on the train right now in our rightful seats after much shuffling and looking for good seats. When we got to the train it was almost completely full, so we went down nearly the entire length of the train looking for seats that were by each other. We eventually found some. We had reserved seats but did not realize this until we were standing in the area between the cars (which is also where our large suitcase was situated) We were standing there and realized that we did have reserved seats, so Dee went to go kick the people out of our seats while we waited alongside the trashiest family on Earth. It was disgusting, they were shouting on their cell phones ("NO YOU'RE DRUNK!", "NO YOU'RE DRUNK") while she gulped on her Carlsberg, and he on his Stella Artois, their son shockingly was beer-less. The rest of their conversation was too explicit to repeat. We then went to our seats, which i am in now and they're quite nice.

My favorite part of London was the Nat'l Portrait Gallery, where there were 4 Andy Warhols.
My mom tells me to write more positive things, but i guess i'm not too good at that =D, she also was the editor for this entry because she is sitting right next to me analyzing each word, "great spelling" she says.

PS this was published a day late because the internet on the train stopped working.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

London Calling

Just a quick hello from London! This week we're down south, taking the students on an extended excursion that includes Cambridge (this past Monday), London (Tues & Wed.), Oxford (Thursday), then back to London for Friday. We are staying in the Bloomsbury district which is a very cool neighborhood in central London with a long literary history including Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and many others (a couple students and I enjoyed a "literary walk" early this morning to take in some of the sights).

Yesterday we went to Westminster Abbey, strolled past Parliament, then spent time in the Cabinet War Rooms--the underground bunker from which Churchill directed the British forces in World War II. Everyone really enjoyed it. Today it was over to east London for a morning at St. Paul's Cathedral (incredible, despite my distaste for Wren's renaissance architecture) and then the afternoon at the Tower of London. A very full few days!

Watch for more updates later.

(Oh yeah, then yesterday afternoon we went to the National Portrait Gallery [unbelievable Tudor collection] then strolled around Trafalgar Square (at left) a bit before head up Charing Cross Road back to our hostel.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Day to Day: Monday Ritual

As another glimpse into day-to-day life here in York, consider our Monday routine. On Monday evenings, York Evangelical Church hosts a Bible club for the kids (Maddie and Jack's age). Our friends the Jakemans very kindly shuttle the kids over there. In fact, they host a number of kids for "tea" (supper) beforehand, so that puts us down to two offspring at home on Monday nights. We take advantage of this opportunity to make the trek to the Sainbury's, our local big supermarket. Keep in mind we're here sans auto, so that means walking to then stock up on a week's worth of groceries for six. This requires a veritable transformation of the boys and I into little pack mules who come home laden with goods (Deanna somehow always ends up with, like, a bag of bread or something! ;-) We brought our Trader Joe's re-usable bags with us, as well as multiple backpacks; but an errand of this scale also requires us to enlist a luggage cart fitted with a big empty "crisps" box. Here you can see the boys and I languishing under our burdens, just about to the door.

Isabella Sophia McCann

Today we are celebrating the safe arrival of our precious niece and cousin, Isabella. She was born yesterday, on her due date, to my sister Jen and her husband, Luke. We thank God for blessing us with her and we can hardly wait until June to meet her,( though we do have a Skype conference call scheduled!)
Thank you Lord, for the hope you set before.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mothering Sunday

It seems I'm to be celebrated twice this year. This past Sunday was Mother's Day in England. It traces its roots to a time when families returned to their "mother" churches for Easter, and then shared a meal together afterwards. In recent times however, most have left out the church bit, and just returned to their mothers.

We had already decided to go to an evening church service for Sunday. We'd heard about a more charismatic meeting at St Michael le Belfry that gathered at 7pm. So when asked how I'd like to spend the day, a morning sleeping in, drinking coffee and reading the papers appealed to me. I awoke at 6am and could not get back to sleep. I finally got up at 7, reposed myself on the couch, was served my French pressed coffee with brioche and selected the first of my 2 morning papers. The children appeared at intervals over the next 2 hours, dropping kisses tinged with morning breath on my cheek (gone are the days of those sweet, baby kisses and squishy hugs, but so is the getting up in the middle of the night. I'll take the morning breath, they can brush their own teeth!)) and adding to my collection of gifts. I'd received potted primroses, and heart shaped toast with honey. When Grayson finally appeared, they presented me with a beautiful pair of silver earrings designed in Cornwall and a box of chocolates from right here in York. A gift for me and a gift to share!

By 11, they were all getting on my nerves. Jamie and Jack headed out for a hike and the other 3 to town centre to read magazines at Borders (much cheaper than buying them) and to spend the pound I'd given them. Yes, okay, I paid them to leave. It was worth every pence.

When the kids got back, they prepared supper -our usual Sunday night fare of warmed baguette with back bacon, onion rings and stilton cheese. We call it "heart attack on a bun", but it is so yummy. We then headed to church where the worship music soothed my soul and got my feet to tapping. We'll definitely return.
It was a lovely day. I can't wait to do again in May.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fountains Abbey: Wilderness Worship

On Saturday we had another excursion with the students, this time to Fountains Abbey north of York, near Ripon. The Cistercian monks who founded the abbey in 1132 had actually left St. Mary's abbey in York (the ruins are now part of the Yorkshire Museum gardens). They felt that the urban Benedictines at York had compromised themselves by getting comfortable--that they had become too much like the rest of "the world." So 13 monks trudged up to the wilderness to renew their commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience, settling in a valley on a river which provided an ideal location for a mill. At one point there would have been about 150 monks and 300 lay brothers who were part of the community. Sadly, as the abbey became wealthy from land donations and wool production, the cycle of assimilation and concern for comfort set in once again. By the time King Henry VIII's agents came to dissolve the abbey as part of the English Reformation, there were only 32 monks left and no lay brothers to be found. The stunning ruins of the abbey are a poignant and haunting reminder of a more radical vocation--and a testimony to our persistent penchant to fail to live up to it.

The building sort of narrates its own history: here in the nave --the older section of the church--the architectural grammar is very simple; in the later (13th century) chancel, the grammar becomes much more ornate and classically "Gothic." This was already a sign, in a sense, that the monks were becoming more concerned with prestige and visibility. (All of this was pointed out to us by a most able guide, Dr. Bob Whiting, a historian at York St. John who guided us through the abbey ruins both by his expertise and deeply Christian understanding of discipleship.)
Did we mention that there are quite a few sheep in Yorkshire? :-)
The kids are really starting to enjoy being with the students, and many of the students a very kind and attentive to them. It's a treat to be able to build real "flesh-and-blood" relationships with students outside of the narrow strictures of the classroom.