Monday, September 22, 2014

Bits of Leeds, England

Here's two leftover bits from Leeds.

Leeds has a lot of arcades, which is not what I grew up with in 1980s America. My youthful experience of arcades involved Pac-man, Space Invaders, Gauntlet, and the like. English arcades are covered shopping streets, an important innovation in a rainy country.

Thornton's Arcade

Inside the arcade

We walked over to St. John's Church but were unable to get inside. It's the oldest church in Leeds, first built from 1632-1634. Local wool merchant John Harrison financed the church. He was a co-founder of the Leeds Corporation and also financed almshouses, a grammar school, and the market cross.

Jacob at St. John's

The sundial over the (closed) entrance

The other side of the church

Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Helen Stonegate, York, England

St. Helen's Church on Stonegate in York has a long history, dating back to Roman times. The site of the church was probably one of the gates into the Roman town of York. Stonegate heads right back to York's Minster where the center of the Roman fort was located. People speculate a Roman temple was here. The church's courtyard has been turned into St. Helen's Square with plenty of shops and historic buildings.

St. Helen's Square

St. Helen's Church

The church has been rebuilt several times over the centuries. The first stone church dates back to the 12th century. The baptismal font is one of the surviving features from that time.

1100s baptismal font

The interior took its final shape in the 1500s. The nave is simple with stone pavement in the center aisle and a simple wooden roof.


Main altar

Several statues adorn the church, including a fun little "peekaboo" Madonna and Child and some much earlier carvings.

Madonna and Peekaboo Jesus

14th century (?) carving

The church was the medieval parish church of the local glaziers guild, so naturally the church has a fine history of stained glass. Sadly, not much has survived from the medieval era, but one window recreates the coats-of-arms of the guild members.

Glazier guild member coats-of-arms

The aisle windows contains round panels that are probably of Flemish origins circa 1550s.

Good Shepherd from an aisle window

Maiden tames a unicorn?

The west window above the entrance door includes glass from 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, as well as more modern glass. The figures are St. William, Mary Queen of Heaven, St. Helen, and probably her son Constantine.

West Window

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Family Art

We finally bought some sidewalk chalk since we didn't find any unpacking (though I don't think we had any in England, we just used Grandmama's at Grandmama's). Lucy did a self-portrait as well as a still life on our front porch.

Self Portrait, Chalk on Concrete

Flower in Blue Sky, Chalk on Concrete

She has also crafted a small farm from PlayMais, which we discovered in Germany and have brought back with us. It's corn-based (which means it's edible) and easy to craft into many different things.

The farm

Farmer with chickens and one sheep

Everybody has heard about turning lemons into lemonade. I was lucky enough to turn spilled tea into art.

The Horror of Spilling Tea

Nicholas is too young to make anything other than cute looks.

Nicholas in the baby carrier

Nicholas the contemplative

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness by J. Layman et al.

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness written by John Layman with art by Fabiano Neves, Fernando Blanco, and Sean Phillips

Ash, hero from the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness franchise, travels through an inter-dimensional portal and winds up in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, one of the deadites also comes through and infects the Avengers, who begin eating everyone in sight, thus starting a zombie apocalypse. Ash races around trying to find the Necronomicon (the ancient Sumerian book of the dead that causes the dead to rise and feast on human flesh) and change the superheroes back into, well, superheroes. He gets assistance from Spider-man, The Punisher (though not much assistance), and Dazzler, though things go from bad to worse. By "worse" I mean Ash eventually works with Doctor Doom!

The story is a fun excuse to have Ash wise-crack his way through most of the Marvel roster. The humor is good if you like Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness (which, let's face it, is a taste you either have or don't). The gore is a bit gross but not as over the top as other zombie comics. It's a bit juvenile, not missing the chance to show scantily-clad heroines who rebuff Ash's advances. The book is really for Evil Dead fans more than anyone else.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

One Ingredient Challenge: Vanilla Extraction--Part I

The first of an ongoing series (three have been completed already (though not all posted) and we hope to do more) of cooking from scratch. That is, we cook something from basic items that don't have multiple ingredients (e.g. spaghetti sauce includes all sorts of spices and maybe other stuff too; we'd start with tomatoes and individual spices and add them together)...The series will be posted here.

My wife is a big fan of the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. She has about two-thirds of the recipes marked for trying. One such recipe is making vanilla extract from scratch. Anyone who has bought vanilla extract at the store knows how expensive it is, especially if you buy a name-brand version. This recipe is super-cheap if you do it right. There's only two ingredients--vanilla beans and alcohol.

In stores, vanilla beans aren't so cheap, but smart buyers go to Amazon and purchase much more affordable beans in bulk. The type we bought makes 2.5 batches of vanilla according to this recipe and cost about $16 (the price fluctuates, so the link below may have a different number). We invited a friend to make a batch with us and still have some beans left over for vanilla bean ice cream (which may be a future One Ingredient Challenge).

For alcohol, the book recommends vodka since it has the least impact on flavor. The author also tried the recipe with gold rum and dark rum, both of which had more rum flavor in the vanilla extract. Depending on what you are making, perhaps a hint of rum flavor would go well. At any rate, cheap alcohol is fine. I picked up at 750 ml bottle of vodka for about $12 at a local liquor store.

Ingredients (tea and ginger snaps not included in the recipe)

The recipe is simple. Take nine plump vanilla beans, cut them lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Put the beans and the seeds in a jar with a close-fitting lid (we bought some canning jars).

Prepping ingredients

Pour a cup and a half of alcohol on the beans. Close the lid and shake gently. Then put it in a cupboard for three months, shaking the jar once in a while.

Finished (sort of) product

We set a reminder in our calendar for when we will open the jars and try it out. We'll have another post in December telling how it went.

See you in December!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pittville Pump Room and Playground, Cheltenham, England

The Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham was built in the late 1820s after the model of the Temple of Ilissos in Athens, Greece. People came in the 1800s for the spa waters (the Victorian era had a big spa craze) but now the room is used for performances and festivals. When we visited, it was still early in the morning and they had some beer taps that weren't working, so the kids weren't very interested in visiting. Nor was I in taking them. We did use their toilets.

Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham

Entrance that was not entrancing for Jacob and Lucy

Nearby a couple of large cages had a make-shift zoo with some rabbits, chickens, and other small animals. We looked for s short while--so short that there are no pictures. Jacob and Lucy were drawn off by the call of the nearby playground!

Pump Room playground

Lucy in the big plane

Jacob tries out a swing

A British classic--train travel

Lucy swings on an easy swing (pump room in the background)

How did Jacob get up there (and how will he get down?)?

After a lot of playing, we headed back to our hotel to meet up with mommy who was running other errands. Soon enough we were off on other adventures.

Victorian era house now a B&B

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cheltenham, England--Again!

We visited Cheltenham once in 2011 and then went back a year later. Finally, here is what we did the year later! On this trip, we visited a local park with a nice walking trail and a fabulous garden.

We visited in April so the air was still chilly. We found a secret trail leading into the park under a road and over a bridge.

Secret trail

A picturesque bridge

The walking trail includes several physical challenges that were no match for my children. They took to the stepping stones and climbing webs like they were mere toys.

Big stones/stumps for a little girl

Jacob makes like a statue

Waves of webs are no match for him!

Tricky two-rope walk

Lucy aces the two-rope walk

Sharing a horizontal web

Sharing a vertical web

With those victories under their belts, they took a little rest before heading on to the playground proper.

Playground sign

Playground equipment

Who will get to the top first?

The challenge here is not to fall asleep

Jacob goes for a spin

Just outside the playground is a large lake that is fed by a small waterfall. Jacob is still fascinated by waterfalls so we had to take a peek.

One waterfall good for climbing

A slightly less good-for-climbing waterfall

Jacob by the ducks

The stars of the lake were the swans. We saw them almost close up. We wished we had brought some bread or other treats for them to eat. We've gotten better about packing something for pond and river visits.

Pretty close to a swan (thank you, zoom lens!)

Goodbye, swan!