Just a test. Please ignore, unless you want to look at the kitty:
Just a test. Please ignore, unless you want to look at the kitty:
And, all of a sudden, we’re at the end. I’m typing this as I wait for a load of towels to dry. It’s my last task. Then one night full of anxiety dreams about missing my flight. Then tomorrow, we fly home.
This post is going to gloss over some stuff – like our fun trip to Bristol/Bath/Cardiff at the end of May. Or our too-short day trip to Brighton a few weeks ago. And basically the last two months. Sorry…
The last couple of months have been filled with lasts: last choir rehearsal and concert, last rent payment, last Oyster top-up, last drama/dance/piano classes, last lunch at Bone Daddies (actually, we’ve had about 3 or 4 lasts there. We keep going back. I’m going to miss it. But I’m told there’s a reasonable substitute at the University Plaza now, so that’s another thing to look forward to). Last time we went into the city. Last day of school. Last time I had to scrub that wretched glass shower door.
Vorlon just realised this evening that we’d never see the kitties again and wept. Some friends came over this afternoon to say goodbye. It’s been a bittersweet day.
I’m so looking forward to going home, seeing my friends and family again, and reclaiming my house. But I will miss London, and the UK, terribly. Big things, like being surrounded by history and iconic buildings everywhere, the amazing transit system, the greenness, and the people we met here. And little things, like the view of the city along the Thames as the train is pulling into Charing Cross, the greengrocer down the street who would occasionally give me free samples, Tesco’s weird ungrammatical motto, the heft of a £1 coin, the awesome stove in my vast London kitchen, the chips. And a zillion other things in between.
There is a lot I won’t miss. The aforementioned shower door. The littering. The bureaucracy. The fact that I couldn’t buy more than 200g of baking soda at a time (well, unless I bought 3kg from the Asian Cash and Carry).
Coming here was an amazing experience. I think we managed to find a good balance between being tourists and living here and getting involved in the types of activities we’d be doing if we were back home. Zebula said today that she’d remember this forever. That’s as good an outcome as I could have hoped.
See you on the other side of the pond!
It’s a crappy day out. Rainy, with a forecast high of 13 degrees. My friends back home are all talking about melting in the heat. The weather here is so changeable, even from hour to hour, it’s no wonder the meteorologists have a hard time telling us with any kind of accuracy what tomorrow’s weather will be. Apparently, we’re going back into the 20s in the next few days, so I can keep the heat off. But I still think I need to bake something to make the kitchen warm.
Speaking of warm (cheap segue, I know…), we went to Spain early last month! Dr. Thingo was asked to give a talk at the university in Granada, and since seeing the Alhambra has been a dream of his since he started his work with Islamic Art, he jumped at the chance. We decided the rest of us should tag along. So we took the kids out of school for a week, even though this was the middle of shortest half-term in the year.
It was wonderful! Exactly what I needed to lift me up after a bit of an emotional ride in the last couple of months. The weather was warm. Hot, even. One day, it even went up to 36, but I didn’t really notice (the only reason I took note is because I was feeling kind of warm, so I looked at the displayed temperature in one of the squares, and was shocked at the number). It’s dry and breezy, so it always feels good, and sitting in the shade actually makes a difference. Due to low humidity, as soon as the sun goes down, the air cools down too, so the nights are pleasant. Central Spain does hot better than Southern Ontario does, that’s for sure!
My high school Spanish class seemed a distant memory, but we managed ok. I’m fine to read things, mostly, but not so good with rapid-fire spoken Spanish, especially in the lispy Spanish accent, so we got by with a lot of miming and good intentions.
We found ourselves a flat via Air BnB*, and were super-lucky with the results. We were on the street looking out on the Rio Darro, the river that runs along the base of the hill on which the Alhambra sits. So this was the view outside our bedroom window:
Bedroom window wide open, listening to the activity happening outside (there was a restaurant terrace and a small square with a fountain just outside our window. Street performers would wander by and sing a few songs. Warm, with a breeze coming in through the window. It was absolutely lovely. I realise this was a pretty touristy part of the city, but it was nice to be there.
It took a while to get used to the pace of things. Stores do not open until 10:00, and then close for lunch (usually from 13:00 to 16:00) and reopen until 20:00. Supper is usually around 21:00 or 22:00. Some bakeries, though, open earlier. The flat also didn’t have any of the usual condiments that are usually available, as in the previous Air BnB places we’ve stayed at (oil, salt, pepper), so I didn’t do a lot of cooking at the flat, though we had a couple of lunches of bread, oil, cheese, fish and cold cuts, which were very pleasant. Which basically sums up the whole trip: everything felt very pleasant and slow.
Granada is in Andalusia, near the Sierra Nevada mountains (there was still snow on the peaks!), and was occupied by Moors until the reconquista in the 16th century. As a result, the architecture and food are both heavily influenced by Islamic culture.
The Alhambra, especially, was stunning. It started off as a walled town in the 11th century. It was occupied and built up by a sequence of Islamic monarchs (the first was Mohammed I ibn Nasr. I should have asked for the family discount.), and then the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. It fell into disrepair, and sometimes outright destruction in the 18th century during the French Domination (way to go, Napoleon!), and restoration started in the 19th.
It’s the most ornate place I’ve ever seen. I’m not usually a fan of too much busyness in buildings, but, somehow, this works. Maybe because everything is so huge, it never looks oppressive.
Another successful trip. Dr. Thingo’s talk apparently went well, and he was rewarded with a fabulous bottle of Spanish olive oil that we’ve slowly been consuming as a bread dip since we got back. Granada was our last non-UK trip as a family, though Dr. Thingo is heading to Berlin as I type to deliver another talk. We plan to go back to Canada on or around July 24th (if I can get decent flights. Someday, I need to get a non-bullshit answer as to why airlines charge almost as much (or more!) for one-way tickets as they do for return ones.) We’ll spend a few days visiting grandparents in both Ottawa and Montreal, before heading back to our Waterloo house. It’s less than two months away!
A lot more photos from this trip can be found here. A lot. Especially of Alhambra details. I went a little crazy.
* If you’ve never used Air BnB for finding travel accommodations before, I highly recommend trying. The prices are usually good and the facilities have been excellent.
Yes, we’re still here. It’s been a beautiful and moderately busy spring. I won’t attempt to catch you up to everything, but, instead, offer this photo series of the highlights since the last post. We also went to Granada, Spain a couple of weeks ago, but I think that’ll get its own post. Someday. Maybe.
Conspicuously absent is evidence from Carrie’s visit in early April, which was lovely.
It’s hard to believe we’re coming back in about two months. I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of stuff to see. And the bloom hasn’t fallen off the rose yet: I’m still in love with this city. At the same time, I’m itching to get back to my house, to see all my friends and family, and to be in my own space with my own stuff. And hopefully with gainful employment! But I will miss London. So much.
It’s spring in London. We’ve had a few days of beautiful weather. My freckles are back. I’m not chilly. The sun is out and the ground might actually dry. There’s a camellia outside my kitchen door, blooming like mad.
Sunday was the nicest day, at a sunny 16 degrees, so we decided to go to Hyde Park to soak up some rays. Half of London obviously got the same idea – it was packed! There was a lineup to get into one of the playgrounds with a sign “Playground at capacity” (have I mentioned Britain’s great love of fences? That’s a whole blog post by itself). It was a lovely, lazy day, even for Zebula, who was exhausted from the previous night (she was at a birthday sleepover. “There was a chocolate fountain!”).
So we went to Cambridge! Over two weeks ago! I should tell you about it before I forget!
Cambridge was lovely. It is very much a university town, and the parts we walked through that weren’t outright university grounds felt like university towns everywhere, but much, much older. Coffee shops, bookstores, kind of funky, but with an underlying feeling of ‘we’ve been here for hundreds of years’. It’s a nice place. The main geographical feature is, of course, the River Cam, which runs through the city. Cambridge was called Cambridge before the river Cam was called the river Cam (for real! The river was named Granta by the Saxons, and the city became known as Cambridge a little later. The river was renamed Cam to match the name. Thanks, Wikipedia!)
The University is really a collection of colleges, separate but somehow not. It’s nearly impossible to follow the river, as a large part of the riverfront in the city belongs to the various colleges, and there are fences and gates everywhere to prevent entry to ‘non-members’.
Still, it was nice to walk around. We managed to miss opening hours for most of the colleges and their chapels (PSA: don’t be a tourist in Cambridge on a Sunday), though we did get to wander around Queen’s College a bit, mostly to get onto the Mathematical Bridge. We even saw lots of students carrying around sporting equipment like tennis racquets and rugby balls. It was so wonderfully cliché!
It was hard to get a sense of what the lives of non-student Cambridgians are like – we only really visited the University parts. We ventured out to a park (Jesus Green!) for the kids to let off steam (their patience for my strong desire to see “old things” and walk around wears pretty thin eventually) and saw lots of families there, and their houses on the other side of the park. The most striking thing was the lack of ethnic diversity there. I’ve become so used to all the different cultures mingling in London that it was a shock to see a very stereotypically European-looking community, even at the university.
We’ll probably go back – a cousin of mine moved there a few days after we visited, and I’d love to go say hello, and pass on some kitchen stuff I’ve accumulated. Though time is starting to feel like it’s running out. Only about four months until we’re back home!
(Full set of Cambridge photos here)
Time to announce the winner of the Contest Whose Name Changed Every Few Days! I tossed my one-sided die, and the lovely aem2 is the winner! I’ll get in touch personally and we’ll discuss design etc. Congratulations!
aem2 blogs at Physics Girl on the Loose. Go check it out. She’s in the middle of a formal de-cluttering scheme that I like very much.
Next post, Cambridge!
Last day to Say it with Cross-Stitch! Comment on this post for a chance to win some bespoke cross-stitchy goodness!
Happy last day of February! It’s been an especially crappy winter for both Canada and the UK. March, despite its proverbial coming in like a lion, is the beginning of the end. Hang in there – summer is coming. We’ll be complaining about the heat in just a few months.
I put my back out today doing burpees. My knee hurts from an undignified injury I suffered about four years ago so I’ve stopped running. I feel like I’m about 80 years old.
We’re back to the usual routine this week. We had a last week off (half-term break for the kids) and had planned a day trip to Cambridge, as well as another country walk. However, Vorlon was sick and housebound for most of the week, so the walk was canceled and the trip to Cambridge* was postponed to the last Sunday of the break.
We had some friends over for dinner the first weekend – they’d generously offered to take the kids to see the Lego movie with their kids, so I invited them all over for dinner afterwards. It was nice to cook for a crowd, and to socialise. I’m slowly making friends at choir and the museum, and Dr. Thingo has found some squash buddies. Zebula had a friend the other day who was trying to convince her to stay (“What if all your Canada friends could move here too!”) and was invited to a birthday sleepover next weekend. Vorlon wants to stay for another year so that he can go up the O2 Centre (apparently, you have to be 10. I said if he saved his allowance for the next 10 years (both for the flight and for the ridiculous entrance fee), he could come back.). We’re leaving in less than 5 months, and finally starting to feel like we’re making roots. That’s how it goes, I guess.
We ventured out into the city last Saturday – it was a beautiful, sunny day, and Vorlon was feeling better, and we were all pretty antsy. We wandered around, with no real plan other than for Dr. Thingo to find the plaque marking the location of London’s first coffee shop, and ended up having a nice afternoon. Included were the aforementioned coffeehouse plaque, Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London, the park at St. Dunston in the East and a failed attempt to go to this park, which I hadn’t seen before, but which the kids had been to with Dr. Thingo and which they assure me is awesome (unfortunately, it was closed).
Please help me identify the following bird and plants.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started helping out a lady in my choir who has been teaching drama for a long time (she ‘retired’ 8 years ago). Her area of expertise is in what she calls ‘Reminiscence Theatre’, where you speak with elderly people and encourage them to remember their past, and act it out. She’s had great results and has done many plays over the years, and has toured them all over Europe. Topics range from people remembering what their mums did to keep their families running during World War II, to talking about how they found out about sex, to talking about what healthcare was like before the NHS existed. It’s very interesting. She still works with the elderly, especially groups with dementia, to encourage them to share their memories. She feels strongly that, while what she does is by no means a miracle cure, it does draw people out of what must be a great deal of frustration and isolation, and they keep surprising her by willingly and enthusiastically sharing their memories with her, and acting them out. She invited me to join in a training session she was holding for filmmakers who are working on the same kind of reminiscence project, both to get a sense for what she does, and to experience it for myself. I admit that I wasn’t that enthusiastic about going, but accepted anyway (this sabbatical is all about new experiences, right?). I’m not that fond of this kind of forced group activity (icebreaker games at so-called ‘team building’ events make me deeply uncomfortable). The workshop was this morning and I was surprised to find myself having a very good time. Her approach feels very natural and unforced. It was revealing and made me appreciate a little bit more what people with dementia must feel. She’s also invited me to join her for a session with some patients, and I think I will join her.
I still feel very self-conscious every time I open my mouth to speak. People are never mean-spirited or dismissive of my accent, but it still feels very conspicuous. And I still have a hard time with people with particularly heavy South London accents and have to listen very closely. I don’t know how long I’d have to live here for that to stop being the case.
All of February’s pictures are here
* Cambridge will get its own post. Someday.
Hello from rainy London. Because people have been asking: luckily, we haven’t been affected by the terrible weather and flooding in the southwest of England. It has been rainy (so much rain) and windy, though, but nothing near as bad as what’s happening there. Hopefully the rain will let up soon so that Somerset and Devon can catch their breath and start repairs.
We’ve taken it easy, tourism-wise, lately. Just short trips around the city for museums and monuments. My favourite was Lesnes Abbey (decommissioned by Cardinal Wolsey during Henry VIII’s reign, so that he (the Cardinal) could siphon the money from selling off the land into his new college at Oxford. Which is topical, because I’m finally getting around to watching the fourth season of The Tudors, which, of course, required me to re-watch the first three seasons again.)
I’m in a concert this weekend, so it’ll be a good week of singing (Women of the Blackheath Choir, with the Lambeth Symphony Orchestra. We’re doing Debussy’s Sirènes and Berlioz’ La mort d’Ophélie, if you want to come.) Speaking of singing, the choir I’m in has a workshop day every year on a Saturday in February. There are two singing workshops in the afternoon, followed by a potluck dinner and ‘party pieces’. The point is to branch out a little from the usual classical oratorio stuff. One workshop was by the leader of a pop choir, which was ok, but the other was by a man who’s been studying and performing Balinese gamelan music for years. It was basically a couple of hours of this (well, a lot slower…). So much fun! The evening was good too – several choristers performed short pieces, and, probably coincidentally, none of that was classical either. And I learned that it’s not only in schools that custard is used as a dessert gravy – just another reason to love this country!
I finished knitting a sweater
That’s the Striper Cardigan, by Amy Herzog, and the yarn is Rowan Pure Wool DK and Felted Tweed. I added bust darts, as usual. I’ll block it someday.
I’ve been doodling. Well, knitting doodling. I’ve accumulated a lot of leftovers, so I decided to make a Sabbatical Leftovers Souvenir Blanket (to replace the Leftovers Afghan of Love that I gave Mr. Thingo years (and year) ago when he left for Seattle to become Dr. Thingo that is very much looking its age). I figure knitted up yarn packs up better than a zillion little balls. I made a template square in garter stitch, and I’ve been doodling while watching the aforementioned Tudors. Garter stitch is good for this because two rows equals one stitch, so it’s easy to get all geometrical.
And I spun some. This is some two-ply, undyed BFL, woolen-ish spun. I think it’ll become a small-ish this.
Things sound ramp up, tourism-wise, in the spring. Craig’s been asked to give a talk in Granada in May, so we’re all tagging along. He’s giving another one in Bath at some point, so we’ll tag along for that too. He’s also been asked to give one in Germany, but I think we’ll have to miss out on that one, unfortunately. We’re swapping houses in May with the Orchard family, so we’ll see some Bristol/Cardiff goodness. I’d like to head down to Dover and Brighton at some point (my Country Walks book has a great 20 km walk that includes a dip in the ocean that the kids are psyched about!). And we should head up to Salisbury too. And Cambridge! And it’s already time to start thinking about getting back home! I’ve registered the kids for school (at least, I think I have – I need to call the schools today to make sure the packages made it). I’ve updated my resume after more than a decade of not doing so (hire me!). I’m looking at my pantry in dismay (time for Eat Down the Pantry 2014!).
Remember to comment on my previous post by March 1 to win the cross-stitched message of your choice!
Happy Groundhog Day!
It’s a sunny day in London, so, six more weeks of winter for us. Though they don’t have groundhogs here, I don’t think. I wonder if maybe they should use a badger. Six more weeks of dampness and rain. I’d say it was a dumb way to predict the weather, but given how changeable the weather is here, it seems as good a system as any. Anyway. Happy halfway mark between the solstice and the equinox!
I promised you this post a week ago. Sorry about the delay.
So, cross-stitching. Given my general dislike for hand-sewing, I’m surprised that I like cross-stitch as much as I do. It’s painting, with thread, for the artistically challenged who like their pictures all pixelly. Like paint-by-numbers, only less messy, and with the ability to fix your mistakes if you make them. I got back into it after I discovered Julie’s work through Dr. Thingo*, who asked me to make one for his office. Then another friend had me make one for his home (scroll down further in the same post). And I made bookmarks for the kids (even further). Another friend, while her awesome home office was being built, suggested, half-joking, that I should make her one labeled ‘Carrie’s folly’. I never took a picture of it, but you can see it in action (as it were) here. Dr. Thingo requested another one for his office (ever get the feeling that he gets a little stressed out at work?). This is what we settled on:
I love the combination of what was intended to be a wedding sampler, with roses and hearts and the initials of the newlyweds and the date of their special day, but with a less than loving message in it. It tickles my inner 12-year-old (who doesn’t lurk very far beneath the surface, I’ll admit). Dr. Thingo had initially wanted flames, befitting the message, but I like the irony of this one better.
I love working on these. I like starting with a blank canvas and slowly seeing the thing take shape. I have an idea that I’ll make a super-complicated food themed still life for the kitchen someday (haven’t found a pattern I like yet). Thing is, there’s only so much cross-stitch a person needs in their home so I can’t just keep churning these out. So…
… do you want one? Is there a message you’d like cross-stitched? Do you have a friend who’s currently undergoing medical treatment and you’d like them to know you’re thinking of them (warning, contains profanity)? Want to send a message to your coworkers that you’re not taking any more requests (‘NO’ in big letters on a background of lilies?). Feeling misanthropic? Or fatalistic? It doesn’t need to be rude, even. You could be patriotic. Or zen. Or frisky. Or lovestruck. Or poetic. Or all of the above. Whatever you like. Leave a comment on this post by March 1, telling me what message you’d like cross-stitched. I’ll pick a name from the list via random number generator and the winner and I will come up with a design together. I promise to deliver by the end of 2014. I have no issues with profanity (and be warned, if you are not a fan, that people may put some in the comments), but I reserve the right to veto (ie. no name-calling, hate speech, sexism (in either direction), or love letters for Rob Ford, please). We can make it work! Go nuts!
* Yes, Dr. Thingo has started a blog,(well, started anew, after abandoning another blog after many years of not posting**) about the adventures of his rocket cup. Go see! He made a logo and everything!
** No, it’s not blank. But the letters have faded to white. He built in a Stagnometer ™, which slowly faded the text away, to shame himself into posting more often. As you can see, it was a raging success. If you really want, you can see the text by highlighting it, or go visit the archives, once you figure out where the link is on the page.
We landed in the UK six months ago today, which means we’re about halfway through. In honour of this momentous event, I give you my random, London-centric, completely subjective, statistically invalid, probably unfair, and utterly meaningless decisions on who wins between Canada and the UK. As George Carlin said, about something totally unrelated, “These are my rules; I make ’em up.”
Central heating and insulation, ventilation in houses: Canada
Public transit: UK (inexpensive, extensive, and frequent)
Current: UK (240V current means the kettle boils my coffee water in less than a minute! Though it also means that if you stick a fork in the socket, it will actually kill you. Which is probably why the sockets all have off switches)
Crisp/chip flavours: UK (I’ve had: prawn cocktail, onion and cheese, worcester sauce, roast beef and horseradish, haggis, roast chicken, sausage and mustard, and others I can’t remember. None of them were bad, though some were better than others)
Chip/fries: UK, if purchased from a chippy – I don’t know what they fry them in, but, damn!
Ridiculousness of bureaucracy: UK
Ease with which one can get a family doctor: UK
Food packaging: Canada
Labels indicating provenance of produce (and some dry goods): UK
Tea: UK (you might think this is a no-brainer, but I wasn’t much of a black tea drinker until I got here. I ordered tea while I was out, on a whim (and because I didn’t have the £2.50 required to buy a decent cup of coffee around here on my person). It was a revelation – it comes with milk here by default, and they kind of swish and squish the tea bag around in the hot milky water for about a minute before they take it out, when they decide the milk is the right colour. Who knew I’d be a fan of weak milky tea? But there you go! Now I have it every day at home. Which would be fine if I had cut my coffee consumption accordingly. My blood pressure should be good and high by the time I get back)
Postal service: UK (again, inexpensive and frequent)
Mayors with unfortunate haircuts: UK
Mayors with unfortunate personal lives: Canada
Number of cyclists: Canada – I was surprised. Then again, public transit here is pretty good.
Cured and/or smoked pork products: UK. I should do a blog post on this.
Access to haggis in January: UK
Access to black pudding anytime: UK
Dairy products: UK
Musical notation: Canada (Ok, this one’s a personal thing: I first learned music notation in French (ronde, blanche, noire, croche, double-croche, etc). Then I learned it in English in university (whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, etc). Here, despite the fact that they speak English too, it’s totally different (semi-breve, minim, crotchet, quaver, etc). And crotchet sounds like croche. It’s messing me up. Also, why is it a semi-breve when you hardly see breves anywhere. And what’s a breve called in North-America, anyway?)
Choral pronunciation of Latin: Canada. But only because I laughed at a choir rehearsal here when the director was telling the choir to please stop pronouncing ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ as hosanna-r-in excelsis. And also because she keeps telling us to stop sounding like we’re Alan Rickman. I’m sure my Canadian pronunciation of everything is equally hilarious to them.
Public radio: Canada
Public television: UK
Netflix: Canada (and that’s saying something…)
Cell phone plans: UK
Casual use of the word ‘fuck’ (in all parts of speech) in conversation: UK
Fences around city lots: UK – they love their fences. Parks have fences around them. And within them. It is unheard of for yards not to be fenced. It is impossible to walk through, say, an apartment building parking lot as a shortcut, because it, or the property it’s on, is fenced in. In a city where the roads are not in a nice, tidy grid, this can make walking annoying. By contrast, the countryside has rights-of-way everywhere, dating back hundreds of years, through which the public can walk, and even pet the cows, if one is so inclined and feeling adventurous.
Flowers blooming in winter: UK. This might be unfair, given my comment on the superiority of winters in Canada above, but the fact that the fuschias haven’t stopped blooming since July is pretty good consolation for the dreariness of the weather. My rules; I make ’em up.
Progress regarding gender stereotyping: Canada.
School year: UK – Only five weeks in the summer, but another seven weeks throughout the year. (In contrast with Canada, which has 9 weeks in the summer, and another three throughout the year. Same number of weeks, different distribution). This seems better for keeping the momentum going. Though I don’t know if it’s easier or harder to find care for your kids that often if both parents are working full-time outside the home.
Overall attitude towards healthy eating: Canada
Ability to buy alcohol: UK (why Canada (except Québec) still has such ridiculous laws around alcohol sales, I do not understand)
Acceptance and adherence to public recycling and composting programs: Canada
Currency: Canada, but only because they finally dropped the penny. However, I like that the bills here are different sizes. And! It turns out that Scotland prints its own money, which is interchangeable with British currency, but prints the heads of people other than the queen on it.
Parliament Buildings: UK
Enforcement of poop-and-scoop laws: Canada
Kids’ literature and magazines: Canada
Diversity of junk food: UK
Public libraries: Canada
People knitting in public: Canada
Number of people with donut buns: UK
Ok. That’s enough for today. Thanks for indulging me. Any requests?
* Day numbers were recalculated and I found I had been wrong in my previous posts. At some point, like when your children get too old to refer to their ages in months, I should just change to a different unit