Thursday, June 12, 2008


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

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Hard Day's Night...

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

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

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

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

You'd think.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Number One Thing I'll Miss About England

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

What I'll Miss About York

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

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Top Ten Things I'll Miss About England

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

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

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

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

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

Catching Up: Edinburgh and Filey Beach

The last few weeks have been a blur of activity. So much to fit in and see and experience. So many goodbyes. I think I'll just share a few highlights for now to keep caught up.
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.
[In front of Edinburgh Castle.]

[Jamie and the kids climbed Arthur's Seat. It was so windy they were scared they would be blown off the hill!]

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.
At low tide at Filey, the water goes waaaaay out, leaving this "sprig" of rock jutting out into the sea, filled with tide pools.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Top Ten Things I'll Miss About England

Well today I'm going to have to do five things on my list to stay on track. starting with wearing a uniform.
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 mak
es 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 in
to 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.