Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A quiet New Year's Eve

We woke this morning to our first foggy morning since we've got here. On top of that, everything was covered with frost. The forecast is for temperatures to stay in the 30s.

I am still battling this head cold which sucks all my energy as well. Fortunately, Tim and Sierra have managed to avoid it.

We will try our trip to the Black Country Living Museum on Friday when temperatures warm up and give my cold a few more days of rest.

This afternoon we did venture out for a short walk to the big duck pond. The pond had a thick layer of ice on it. The ducks would come in for a landing and then skid across the ice with their webbed feet. It was a funny sight to see!

There is a group of 40 people staying here at Woodbrooke over New Year's. Woodbrooke staff invited everyone to a silent meeting from 11:30-12:10 AM to celebrate the new year. Then they will all go outside to the grounds and light a huge bonfire in the bonfire pit. Tim and I will stay up to see the New Year quietly in our warm room.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Leaving Clitheroe

We had a wonderful time at Ben and Wendy's. Sierra loved five days of continuous play with Florence. It was hard for both girls to say goodbye. Florence told Sierra she wanted her to come back.

I've added more pictures to the blog of their wonderful house. The woodwork throughout the house was amazing. The pictures don't do the house justice. There are a total of 7 rooms and 2 bathrooms in the house. They have a large backyard with trees, a garden and an eight foot rock fence for security/privacy. They have tapestries hanging throughout the house with many antique pieces of furniture.

Clitheroe is a great English town. I've included a picture of the castle. It has a lot of specialty shops from bread, toys, meat and chocolates. All of the roads are cobble stone, which is fun when you are trying to push Sierra in a stroller over all of them.

Today, Wendy drove us to the Preston train station which is about a half hour drive from Clitheroe. The train was 10 minutes late and it was very cold waiting on the platform. Once we got all our luggage on the train, it was a sporting event trying to get all three of us to our reserved seats. Tim had to ask people to move out of our seats. The train ride ended up being 2 hours long. Fortunately, Ben had packed snacks for Sierra, so she was content. We got into Birmingham a half hour late. Then it was a madhouse free for all trying to get out of the platforms and to a restroom. When we found one, it costs us 30 pence each (45 cents) to use the restroom. Even the locals were upset about having to pay to use the restroom. By then it was 2:00pm and we were all starving. We found a Burger King and eat chicken nuggets and burgers. (Ahh...the taste of America) We splurged for a taxi rather than trying to lug all of our suitcases onto a double decker bus. We arrived back at Woodbrooke at 3pm where we greeted warmly and shown to the same room as we've had before. It doesn't look like too many visitors are here. It may be pretty quiet here until after New Year's.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Meeting in Clitheroe

Today we went to the Clitheroe Friends Meeting House that Ben and Wendy attend. The meeting house is four miles outside of town. The meeting house faces Pendle Hill which is the hill that in 1652 George Fox had a vision while at the top and that experience was important to the early years of the Quaker movement. When meeting started, the children spent the first ten minutes with us though it was a challenge for them to keep silent for that length of time. I had a terrible head cold so it was hard for me to keep from sneezing and blowing my nose for an hour in silence. It was a small meeting but people were very welcoming. We enjoyed tea and cookies after meeting and talked with the attenders.

After a lunch of egg sandwiches, Wendy decided that we would try another version of a crumpet recipe that was a little more clear with the amounts of ingredients. We had better success with this batch and all the crumpets were eaten at tea time.

For dinner, we had a cheese and onion pie which was very tasty. We couldn't get Sierra to try this English dish. Instead our hosts spoiled her with black olives, slices of cheese and cherry tomatoes.

In the morning, we will catch a train back to Birmingham since Woodbrooke will reopen. I will try and post some pictures of Ben and Wendy's house and the Clitheroe meeting house when I get back to Woodbrooke. I am turning in early tonight and hopefully Sierra will go to sleep soon.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Making crumpets and other English culinary dishes

Yesterday, we were telling our hosts how much Sierra has enjoyed eating crumpets. So they pulled out their old English recipe book to find out how to make them. They have never made them before because they are only about 75 cents to buy in the grocery stores. Needless to say, the recipe was a bit vague about everything from the amount of ingredients to the temperature of the griddle.

Today, since the stores were finally open, we went to the grocery store to gather the ingredients to make them. We needed flour, milk, yeast and a pinch of salt. We deciphered amounts as best we could and had Sierra and Florence help mix the flour, yeast and milk. Somehow we were all covered with flour after the three and four year olds were done mixing it. We proofed the mixture next to the wood burning stove for 30 minutes. The batter doubled and we scooped it into metal rings that were heated on the griddle. After 10 minutes, we had to flip the ring and the crumpet to the other side. (That is quite a trick to master.) Last, we had to wiggle them out of the hot metal rings. The first 5 were doughy and flat. The next 10 were a little bit better but burnt on one side. The next 5 were thicker and had more bubbles in it which is a sign of a good crumpet. The final crumpet was the best looking by far and we joked it took the whole bowl of batter to get it right. Wendy expects me to perfect the recipe in the US and sell it for profit since you can't get crumpets in the US. We'll see....

While we are on culinary topics, I'll add a few more tidbits. Around tea time we headed directly across the street from their house to the coffee and tea shop. We went upstairs to the tea room and had lattes in BOWLS (no handles attached) and scones with clotted cream and conserves. Sierra munched on a shortbread cookie. All of it was wonderful.

For dinner tonight, we were served "Toad in the Hole." Wendy explained you make the same batter as a Yorkshire pudding and place sausages all over the pan. Then you bake it until the pudding puffs up. We had mashed potatoes and peas with it. Everything can be covered with a gravy, which is almost always on any English table for dinner. By the time the meal was done, we were all stuffed. Sierra loved the sausages and peas.

I'll be bringing home recipes for Yorkshire pudding, Toad in the Hole, crumpets and any other tasty things we've sampled here.

Sierra is having great fun playing all day with Florence, but is also realizing what it would mean to have a sister (sometimes ungracefully learning to share and not being the center of attention). I am sure when we go back to Woodbrooke she will be greatly bored.

Tim has spent the last two days working on his dissertation. He has crossed the 60th page, and will take the next three days off. As they say around here - Cheers!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

Today is a public holiday in England. The day was set aside to commemorate St. Stephen who was the first Christian martyr. Later, it became a chance for the rich to give gift to the poor and the working class, especially any servants in the household. When I asked our hosts, Ben and Wendy, how it was celebrated today, they gave a couple of different descriptions. One said it has become the biggest shopping day with many merchants opening their shops with big sales. (We noticed that most of the shops in town here did not open up today). The other said that because Christmas day was viewed as a holy day, gifts were not opened because it was a day for worship. The following day Boxing Day became the day which everyone would open their gifts. Now even that has changed and it is a day to go and visit extended relatives.

We stayed around the house today. It was sunny again but very cold. Temperatures are supposed to drop over the weekend, but no snow or rain for us. Tim worked on his dissertation, while Sierra and I played with Florence. I have a little sore throat that I hope will go away.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

We all enjoyed a good night sleep last night. We woke up around 8 AM and Sierra unwrapped a few presents from Santa. After a warm breakfast of porridge and toast, Florence and Sierra opened the gifts Father Christmas had left in their stockings hanging by the kitchen's fireplace. Sierra received her own pretend set of tea cakes, a wooden racing lady bug, some pony tail holders, a dragon fly whistle and a satsuma. She has been playing with them all day.

We bundled ourselves up to walk to the town's castle. It was sunny again but cold. Next to the castle was a children's playground. Florence and Sierra enjoyed swinging on the swings and going down the slides. We came back to their house to enjoy some hot coffee and a slice of the Yule Log cake. The rest of the afternoon we spent talking while the girls played with various toys and watched movies.

We had a simple vegetarian meal for dinner and then a slice of Christmas cake. One of Wendy's friends had made it for them. So we are full of cake!

We hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

We made it to Preston this afternoon after a very eventful morning at Woodbrooke. At 5:30 AM we were awaken from our deep sleep by a fire alarm. We quickly got dressed and scooped up Sierra and walked downstairs. The few Woodbrooke staff who were left directed us to the backyard of Woodbrooke in the dark. After about 20 minutes, the alarm was turned off. The alarm was tripped in an unoccupied room so they don't know what caused it. After breakfast, we headed back to our room to finish packing and once again the alarm went off. We bundled up again and now knew right where to gather with the rest of the staff. Again another false alarm in another unoccupied room.

The house we are staying at was drawn on a map in 1435. It has been updated to include three stories. The kitchen was added in the 1920s when the town got electricity. It has beautiful stained glasses windows as well. We'll try to take some pictures later.

Tonight, we headed to St. Mary's for a crib service at 5:30pm. Florence and Ben joined Sierra, Tim and myself at the service. They were ringing the bells as we entered. The church had a very large pipe organ as well. We sang many carols and watched the children put on a nativity play told from the animals' perspective.

Sierra and Florence have been having a grand time playing all over the house and getting to know each other. They were both ready for bed tonight at 8:00.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Laundry day

Today was a pretty quiet day. Sierra and I walked to the playground again to swing on the swings. Then we went to the bakery shop to pick up a yule log chocolate cake. We are getting ready to head up to Preston tomorrow with Tim's advisor from Woodbrooke named Ben. We'll bring the yule log along to share with his family. He has a four year old daughter named Florence so Sierra is looking forward to a playmate more her own age for the next five days. We spent most of the day doing laundry since we haven't done much since we got here. I tried taking a picture of the drying room set up with the rack and pulley. As you can see, the rack is filled with our clothes. Since they were slightly wet, they were much heavier and I had to have Tim help me raise it to the ceiling. At 5:00pm tonight, Sierra and I were trekking back to the laundry room to get out the last load of the day. We have to enter from an outside door to get to the laundry and suddenly my room key which opens all the doors at Woodbrooke stopped working. Sierra and I had to go tap on the library window to get Tim to let us in (not many people are left here due to the holidays). Come to find out, our keys were shut off at 5:00 because the administration staff thought we were leaving today. In the end, we got the keys working again. We have to repack everything and either take it with us to Ben's or leave it in Woodbrooke's locked luggage room. We will leave for Preston after breakfast tomorrow. It will give us another chance to see the English countryside.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Warwick Castle

We started our day with a bus ride to Birmingham and then a 1/2 hour train ride to the town of Warwick. It took a while to walk to the castle grounds but it was another sunny day. The castle grounds was filled with evergreen trees and we zigzagged our way through the maze to see a princess, a Christmas elf and Jack Frost. Next we entered the Great Hall of the castle which had a 25 foot Christmas tree and musicians playing instruments. On the walls hung all sorts of armor and weapons. A full size knight in shining armor sat upon his trusty steed next to the fireplace. There was a women in costume who invited all the little girls including Sierra to dance with her. Sierra loved it! We wound our way through many bedrooms, dining rooms, libraries, and a chapel. Each room had a wax figure of someone (both royalty and servants) from a different time periods of English history. The periods covered in the castle were the medieval age, the Tudor age, the 17th and 18th century (for the history buffs out there). We stopped to get some sandwiches on the castle grounds and then tackled the steps to the towers in the castle walls. We were able to make it to most of them - over 700 steps total - all small spirals. There were beautiful views of the countryside up there. Our knees will be very sore tomorrow! We took a break from climbing steps and went outside the castle walls and watched a presentation on falconry. Sierra sat on Tim's shoulders while we watched a handler discuss the sport and send a falcon back and forth over the crowd. Next we went to the peacock garden which had more live peacocks wandering around than I have ever seen in my life. Even the shrubs were cut to look like peacocks. They had a trebuchet (catapult) which I guess they launch in the summer time. By this time, Sierra was beginning to get a bit bored, so we headed to the kid's playground on site (not a part of the original castle). It was a mad house of kids. Sierra was just content to laugh and swing on the swings. After a small lunch and lots of fresh air, we were ready for some hot tea and cakes. We found a great tea room just outside of the castle grounds. I enjoyed a wonderful Santa tea. We shared crumpets, cream cakes and fudge cake. We caught the train back to Birmingham.

It was almost dinner time by the time we returned, so we decided to stay longer in downtown Birmingham. The streets were filled with shoppers and white and blue Christmas lights everywhere. After wandering for a while, we found Bella Italia. The place was crowded and lively. Sierra enjoyed a plate of spaghetti- no sauce. I had pizza and Tim had a burger. It was all very good. Right outside the restaurant in the street, they had a German market set up during December. There were many stands selling pretzels, chocolates, hand blown glass figurines, candied nuts, nutcrackers, hats and a huge lighted carousel.

It was a great day! It will be hard to top that one.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Going to meeting

We had an OK night of sleep. Sierra still woke up several times throughout the night. When I came to wake her up for breakfast, she told me that baby Jesus came during the night and put his hand in her mouth to take away her cold. Her cold has been gone for a several days now, but we thought that was an interesting remark from her.

Tim gave me the "day off" from watching Sierra so I could get a little time to myself. After breakfast, I walked to Bournville meeting house. The duck pond that we pass on the way there had small remote controlled sail boats on it. The ducks were displaced for a while with the little boats on the pond. When I arrived at the meeting house, I was greeted warmly. I sat with a lady named Margaret. Things were a little different than usual because they had a group of about 30 "young friends" (high schoolers) from various meetings across England staying there for the weekend in a short retreat format. Meeting began at 10:30 and was an unprogrammed or silent meeting. Four people shared out of the silence during the course of the next hour. The church across the street let its bells ring out every 15 minutes which seemed louder since the meeting was silent. The meeting room was very simple and beautiful with huge wooden rafters. After meeting, they had a short tea/coffee time in a small fellowship room. Margaret explained that usually the average age of attenders is in their 70s with one baby and one 3 year old for children. I had been surprised to see a large pipe organ in the main meeting hall. Margaret told me that Elizabeth Cadbury purchased the large pipe organ for the meeting. Other Quakers have referred to the Bournville meeting as the "Quaker cathedral" due to the ornate pipe organ. It was a nice walk back to Woodbrooke in the cold sunshine.

I made another trip in the afternoon to get some more groceries. Sierra needs a little more variety than what they can offer here. Tim also needs some extra nourishment, so I picked up some microwave meals for him. One of the "tea spots" has a stove top, microwave and small oven to cook food.

Today was the first time Sierra asked to go home. We wondered how long it would take for that question to come up.

Tomorrow is our trip to Warwick I need to get planning on transportation there. Take care.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nine hours straight - of sleep

Sierra slept nine hours last night with only a few times where she woke up sleep talking. I got about seven hours and Tim only managed two hours. He was dragging the rest of the day. As I write this post, he has already gone to bed.

We spent the morning wandering around Woodbrooke and playing all the imaginary games Sierra dreams up for us. After lunch, we headed back to Bourneville. We pass a large pond which has lots of geese and ducks that Sierra likes to watch. The next stop is the children's playground just outside of the town centre. While Sierra was swinging on the swings, a nearby church was playing Christmas carols through its large bell system. We headed to their small shops and explored those for a while. We visited the bakery where Sierra enjoyed a gingerbread boy cookie and I tried the traditional mince pies. The visitor's centre had a fairground organ which played carols. Sierra loved listening to the music and watching the instruments play as she munched on her cookie. They also had a small steam engine which reminded her of Trevor from the Thomas the train series. We promised we would return soon.

Tonight at dinner, Sierra was falling asleep sitting up while she ate her food. I will just keep her up until 9:00 and hopefully won't have any consequences of an early bedtime.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mean Parents, Shopping & Laundry

So today we have tried a new strategy. We woke Sierra up at 9am which means she didn't get much sleep last night given her sleeping pattern (see previous post). All day today we have ran her ragged, denied her a nap, and are now trying to keep her up to 11pm our time. We'll see if it works, but if it doesn't we are going tomorrow to give her to the local hobbits.

During the day time, Heather and Sierra caught a double decker bus (referred to Sierra as Bertie from her Thomas the Train collection) to downtown Birmingham and went shopping at the Bull Ring, a three story complex that was a mad house with Christmas shoppers (not unlike what you would see at any mall in America right now). They visited various toy stores and munched on sandwiches and fruit for lunch. Heather had a mocha from Pret a Manger despite the fact that the mall did have two Starbucks. Sierra saw her first bobby in his tall blue police hat turning out the riff raff of the mall. The ride back to Woodbrooke wound through more of downtown which was decorated with Christmas lights.

To keep Sierra busy, we tackled doing some laundry with the machines available at Woodbrooke. While waiting for the clothes to finish, Sierra and Heather discovered the "Art Room." Woodbrooke provides a large room filled with various art supplies to make all forms of art work. Sierra enjoyed cutting, pasting and coloring. It is a large enough room that she can run around without bothering others. When we returned for our clothes, we found they weren't dry yet and that someone else needed the dryer. So one of the handy man here directed Heather to the "drying room" which is also called the "tea spot." The tea spot has a small frig and all the supplies to make tea whenever you want. We have been in there several times and always wondered why it was so hot in there. Come to find out, the reason it is so hot in there is that they have a drying rack up in the ceiling which is lowered on a pulley system to allow you to dry wet clothes. Hence the name the drying room - mystery solved.

Tim spent the entire day in the library. He was excited to have reached the 45th page of his dissertation.

Sleep needed

Sierra continues to go to sleep at 8pm each night and wake up at 11:30pm. Then she stays awake until 4-5am. This is really becoming a strain on our sleeping patterns. Tim and I can't adjust until she does. Any prayers about this would be appreciated. Other than that, all is well. We'll write more tonight. Enjoy the snow! It is cold but sunny again here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Still jet lagging and chocolate

We still had a rough night of sleep last night. Sierra slept until 2 am before she was wide awake again. She fell back to sleep about 5:30am. Needless to say, we all stayed in bed until 10am and skipped breakfast. Hopefully the third night here is the charm and we can sleep soundly until 5 or 6 am. It was a cold but sunny day here today. Sierra and I explored the grounds of the Study Centre before lunch. After lunch, we all walked to Bourneville which is the village that Mr. Cadbury (the chocolatier) built for his workers. There was a lot of wonderful architecture around and they had a playground which Sierra loved. We walked into Cadbury World (the factory) but skipped the tour because we had been told it was expensive and boring for a 3 year old. We did enjoy looking around the shop that sold all the various chocolates they made there. We sipped lattes while Sierra munched on chocolate covered animal crackers. We walked back through several small parks with duck ponds and saw a variety of water fowl. At one point, the ducks started following us because I was holding a plastic bag of chocolates and the ducks thought I would feed them something from the bag. I will try to attach a picture we took of Sierra in front of their Cadbury chocolate egg cars. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jet lag, Christmas lunch and grocery shopping

Last night was difficult for all of us. Sierra slept from 8pm-11pm (thinking this was her usual afternoon nap) and then woke up for the rest of the night. Therefore, Tim and I were also up for the rest of the night. At 7 in the morning we rolled out of bed, having been awake for the last 8 hours. After a groggy breakfast we came back to the room and Tim and I just fell asleep on the bed without realizing it. For the next two hours we have no idea what Sierra was doing, but when we awoke, she was playing quietly on the floor.

As soon as we woke up we realized it was already time for lunch. Today, Woodbrooke was having their annual Christmas lunch (an event not to be missed around here). We received a huge portion of roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, little sausages rolled in bacon (pigs in a piggy blanket), carrots, salads and Christmas pudding. Each place setting in the dining room had their own "crackers." When you pulled on the two ends of the cracker, they made a loud pop and out came a paper crown, a small prize and a bad joke written on paper. So throughout the meal, everyone was making their crackers pop and donning their paper crown. Sierra had one piece of cracker fly across the room and land in her water glass (those wild Quakers...). After consuming the food, we all went into this large room called the Cadbury room named after the famous chocolatier. We sat next to the real Christmas tree and sang Christmas carols, heard solos and a Christmas reading from the staff at Woodbrooke. Sierra listened and clapped the whole time.

Sierra was wore out and laid down for a nap. Tim worked on his business stuff on the computer and I ventured out into Birmingham to find a grocery store. We had been told it was "just up the hill" from Woodbrooke. After walking a mile and a half, I stopped to ask a local where it was. He told me "it's just up on the RIGHT." So I turned right and walked another 1/2 mile passing the local hospital (now we know where to go if one of us gets hurt). I did not find any grocery store so I turned around and headed back. Suddenly as I looked across a major intersection, I saw the name of the grocery store in big orange letters. If I had only turned LEFT where I talked to the man, I would have found it right away. I hurried in and picked up some food that Sierra might like (not all English fare is to her liking) to eat. I returned to Woodbrooke to find that Tim had tried calling me several times because he was worried that I was taking so long getting, "just up the hill." Of course, as usual, my phone's volume was not turned up enough.

The rest of the evening was pretty quiet. Tim met with his advisor who gave him about 20 research books to read in the next month, we ate a quiet meal, and then retired back to our bedroom. It's currently about 9pm and Sierra is out cold (hopefully for the night...).

Monday, December 15, 2008

We made it!

Hi everyone! We are firmly planted on English soil after a very long day of traveling. Tim and I were apprehensive about how Sierra would do on her first flight. We were delayed an hour in Seattle due to our plane waiting for the rest of their crew members to arrive from a different flight. When the plane took off Sierra giggled and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We found out that the take offs and landings were her favorite part of the plane ride. When we arrived in Washington D.C. for our connecting flight, we had another delay for an hour and a half while they tested a cockpit window that was having problems. We had our dinner at midnight (9:00 Pacific time) on the flight. All of us slept for a few hours on the 6 and 1/2 hour flight. They served us a light breakfast at 10:00 AM Monday morning (England time). When we reached Heathrow at 11:30, we had smooth sailing through customs and retrieving our luggage. We stopped for sandwiches and wonderful lattes (no, it wasn't Starbucks!) at the bus depot at the airport. Next, we boarded a bus that took us to Birmingham. Sierra slept all of the 2 and 1/2 hours on Tim's lap. Tim and I slept a little while trying to stay awake to see some of the countryside. There were a lot of sheep along the way. Once we arrived in Birmingham, we changed to our final mode of transportation - a taxi cab to take us to Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. We have been here for three hours and walked around the building a little. We ate dinner and are now going to bed at 8:00 PM (England time). We hope to explore the grounds tomorrow after a good night's rest. The adventure begins......