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.