Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Shipment From Home

Our "unaccompanied baggage" has finally arrived. We were told back in America that these last minute items would go much faster than our household goods, probably flying over and being available within two weeks of their departure. They left our home back on June 16, which according to most normal math means they would be returned to us in England by the Fourth of July. The shipping company stated that July 13 would be the latest we would receive the shipment.

Luckily, we did not put any July 4 celebrating gear into the shipment, because it finally came last Thursday, i.e. July 28 for those of you reading this blog in the far distant future. I guess the shippers really meant it would be available two weeks after the last date they gave us.

The bloke who delivered our "unaccompanied bags" was a very nice guy with almost too much accent for me to understand. We chatted a bit while he brought the boxes in. Some were slightly crushed but their contents were in fine shape. He was apologetic about it and hoped that our household goods shipment wasn't packed by the same company. I said it wasn't and silently hoped they did a better job.

Lucky at dice, unlucky in shipping
Other boxes were okay and contained some of the games we thought we'd like to play before our household stuff made it. In the box was Zombie Dice and Zombie Fluxx. The guy commented on it and I said that we were into zombies. He said we shared a passion. He owned the whole set of George Romero's zombie movies and we had a long and delightful conversation about it. He liked 28 Days Later but didn't care so much for 28 Weeks Later. More budget did not result in a better movie. Shaun of the Dead is a favorite for both of us and he told me about Simon Pegg's cameo as a zombie in one of Romero's most recent films.

The moving guy already has his zombie apocalypse plan. He has two friends who are doctors, another owns about fifteen shotguns, and another is a weaponsmith who can make extra bullets in a pinch. They have a place up in the Scottish highlands where they can hunker down and wait out the chaos. Plenty of sheep and other wildlife exist up there, so they should be set for food. Or at least meat.

The whole experience of receiving the baggage was pretty good, even if it came ridiculously late. At least we didn't have to schlep that stuff from apartment to hotel to cabin to home. The bad thing was I forgot to tell the mover about this blog, so I've lost another potential reader. Maybe he'll come with the household goods and I can rectify the situation.

Our household goods, i.e. the "slow" shipment, have already arrived in country and are passing through customs. Hopefully they be delivered in the next two weeks. Where have I heard that story before?

Happiness Is Home-Grown

One of the unexpected challenges of traveling to England has been dealing with laundry. It started with the trip here which took four days. We had packed an extra set of clothes on our carry-on luggage. We didn't have two other sets, so we did laundry en route in New York City.

Arriving here, we were reunited with the rest of our luggage and were able to wear some different items. But not too many. Then we had to deal with the washer/dryer combo machine we had heard about before coming. It was alright for washing, but rubbish for drying. So we'd hang clothes around the apartment and set the oscillating fan on high, hoping for dry clothes by morning.

Since my wife's work would pay for laundry service while we were between homes, we thought we'd try a laundry service. We picked a national chain that looked reputable and dropped off three quarters of our clothes. The lady behind the counter said it would be two loads and gave me a price. Then we had a chat about when it would be ready. I dropped it off on a Tuesday afternoon and it wouldn't be ready till Friday afternoon. It seemed like a long time, but we were desperate.

We were even more desperate when we ran out of clothes again on Thursday! We managed to squeak by with slightly used clothes. We ordered take away [Editor's note: that's "take out" for you Americans] Chinese for dinner to avoid going out. We were pretty happy Friday afternoon.

We dropped off another load on Monday at a different location of the same company (in walking distance of the apartment). Our hopes for less than a three day turnaround were dashed, however. Then I hit on a brilliant idea. Why not drop off a new load of dirty clothes when I picked up the clean ones? I started a cycle of Tuesday and Friday visits to the laundry place, which saved some trips.

Then we got kicked out of the apartment and wound up in the charming cabin in the middle of the countryside. It too had a washer/"dryer" combo machine that did about as well. We started hanging clothes around the cabin, especially on the radiators. We used the radiators quite a bit for heat, so why not drying too?

Finally we have moved into our regular home. The house didn't have a washer or dryer but we were able to get a three-year loaner set. After they were hooked up and ready to go, I embarked on an eight-hour odyssey of washing and drying clothes. The washer works fairly normally. The dryer is ventless but is sensible enough to have a reservoir to collect the water from the clothes. In addition to cleaning out the lint filter, we have to dump out the reservoir after every load (or before a new load). Clothes magically come out dry!

Is it sad that I feel so great having clean and dry clothes in less than 24 hours? Maybe in hindsight it will seem pathetic to me, but now it seems totally awesome.

Alarming First Day

On the first day in our new home, I found a binder with information about the house and its accouterments. Of special interest right away was the instruction manuals for the hot water heater, the central air, the security alarm, and the oven. I started reading through the binder during the children's naps.

I read through the hot water heater and central air manual so we could get both of those running. Both run through one panel, hence only one manual. Both had been set to the bare minimum while the house was unoccupied. Normally in the Northern hemisphere in late July, one would think heating the indoors would not be an issue. We live in England, however. The house, especially the ground floor, was a little bit chilly. Getting both running was critical to a happy household. Reprogramming the timer was not too hard.

By contrast, this phalanx of wall outlets are pretty intimidating and manualless.

I started reading through the instructions for the security alarm. I moved on to the oven instructions. Suddenly, I heard an alarm outside. It didn't sound like it was coming from our house, but I rushed to check lest the children wake up. Checking our security panel at the front door, nothing seemed wrong. I went outside and saw that the outside alarm was flashing on the neighbors' house. No one seemed to be home. I hoped the alarm would go off soon. Luckily, the children's rooms are on the back of our townhouse, so they had some shielding from the street noise.

After about five minutes, I heard a police alarm in the distance. I worried that it would wake up the children when they arrived. The police car never showed up on our street so the kids were okay. After about ten minutes, the alarm mysteriously went. I hope this is not a usual occurrence in our neighborhood.

I went back to figuring out the oven. There's an awful lot of settings that are fairly inexplicable. The manual has names for the settings (like "economy grill function" and "MLTF function") but no pictures or symbols. The oven's dial has symbols but no names.

Any help from hieroglyphics experts would be greatly appreciated. We don't want the economy to be undercooked. More importantly, we don't want to ruin the baked oatmeal on Saturday! If there are any tragedies, you will probably read about them here. If there are any comedies, you will definitely read about them here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Skipton Sunday Strolls

We went to an afternoon Mass on Sunday, so our morning was free to explore. We drove to Skipton, whose main attractions are the medieval castle and the canal. We made plenty of other unexpected discoveries, too.

Driving by the castle, we realized that it wasn't open for tours until noon (being Sunday), so our original plan to see it at 10:00 had to change. The roads did not cooperate either and we wound up far outside of town. We saw a little train station called Embsay and thought they'd have a cafe or some spot to get a morning snack. No cafe could be found. There was a charming steam engine and a cute little station. Jacob really enjoyed looking at the engine, which was puffing out steam. Three or four guys were working on it so it would be ready for the next run at 10:30.

Not Thomas, but still cool

The station house wasn't open yet

Jacob was ready to find more fun quick, quick, QUICK!

Driving back to Skipton was not too hard though the roads misdirected us again and we wound up in a different part of town that we didn't recognize. It worked out for the best since we parked in the downtown area and could walk to any number of stores and attractions. The only snag was the time--still 09:30 on a Sunday, so not much was open. We found a coffee shop and had some snacks. I had another scone with the works, including clotted cream this time. Yummy!!

Clotted cream and a cute jam jar

Lucy enjoyed her chocolate treat

Another patron of the coffee shop had his wife and child with him. My wife asked about playgrounds in the area, figuring they'd be open no matter what. He directed us to one not far away. We walked down the road and over the canal to get there. Getting over the canal was tricky. As we approached the bridge a man came up, unchained it, and swung it around so that his boat could make it past. Jacob found this fascinating.

Hey, the bridge is misaligned!

Here comes the boat

passing through

All that work deserves an ice cream

Right across the canal was a park with the foretold playground. Lucy had a great time playing there. Jacob was unenthusiastic. It soon became quite warm (almost 20 degrees Celsius!). We decided to head back downtown along the canal. We saw many ducks, bridges, and boats, including one I wanted to ride.

Next stop, the Grey Havens

Getting to the heart of town, Lucy charmed some people into talking to us. They said we could ride a canal boat around the city and castle (including under the castle, which sounds very intriguing) for thee pounds. Unfortunately, we were getting close to nap time by that point. Jacob was starting to get cranky becoming uncharming. We decided we'd come back on a more felicitous day and see the castle and the canals from a boat.

Never grumpy, always fun!

It was a nice adventure, full of expected and unexpected surprises. We didn't get to see the castle but discovered canals and another fun playground. We made a few acquaintances and are ready to come back and appreciate the town even more.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Moving to Our Regular Quarters

We will finally be shambling into our new home in England tomorrow. Unfortunately, the internet is not moving in till next week, so posting here may be spotty to non-existent. I'll see if I can mooch off a neighbor, sneak away at night to a wi-fi hotspot, or find some other solution. Hopefully I can write blog posts in the no frills text editor that comes with the laptop and then just cut and paste them into the blog when I can. Wish me luck!

Stump Cross Caverns

After a couple of hours of playground and scone fun, we finally made it to Stump Cross Caverns.

Located in the rolling Yorkshire countryside, the caverns seem to be in a most unlikely spot. Then you find out that the area has hosted a lot of mining and quarrying industry in the past hundred or two years. The area is full of limestone which quite commonly has caverns.

We arrived on a fine sunny morning, paid our money, and headed into the darkness below. I did get a little claustrophobia as we donned our hard hats and headed down the stairs holding Jacob's hand. I don't know if I was keeping him safe or he was keeping me reassured. He definitely didn't seem worried about all the earth and rocks separating us from daylight. He just sang songs from They Might Be Giants and had a grand old time. After ten minutes, I was okay and enjoyed myself thoroughly as well.

Two blokes looking out for each other
There were many interesting and odd formations, like a cradle and a wedding cake. This cave also had an organ-like formation, but it seems to me I have seen one of those in almost every other cave I've been in.

Cradle formation

Creepy organ a la Scooby Doo
We all enjoyed being in the cave and would go to another cave anytime.

Hard hats were fashionably worn by Lucy and Jacob
I would say the hard hats are critical while down there. I must have bumped the ceiling at least a dozen times and my wife a half dozen. Lucy's dropped off a few times. She needs a bigger head or a small helmet.

The scariest thing about the caves was in the video we watched after coming out. In 1963, cave researcher Geoffrey Workman spent over 100 days in the caves without lights, watch, calendar, or anyone else with him. The only contact he had with the surface was a telephone for emergencies. He made a world record by staying down for 105 days. A record I am not interested in breaking.

One question often asked is about the name. Early records show the area marked as Craven Cross and sometimes Stub or Stubbe Cross. "Stump" is probably a corruption of the latter two names.

After the caves, we headed back to our cottage for a well deserved rest. What a splendid morning!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another Church on Sunday

We visited a third parish in England this Sunday. They were a little aggressive about signing us up as parishioners. Little do they know that zombies take a while to make decisions. Read all about it here.

On the Way to the Caves

With a fine Saturday before us (which is now behind us, since I'm writing on Sunday), we decided to go on an adventure to see some caves. Along the way, we stopped in a charming little hamlet in the Yorkshire Dales.

Jacob and Lucy voted to visit the local playground, which turned out to be quite the fun place to be.

In addition to the usual swings, merry-go-rounds (called "roundabouts" by the British), climbers and such, the playground also had a zip line. When Jacob first saw this contraption, he did not know what to make of it. Being the good and loving father that I am, I demonstrated how it works. He was totally agog and wanted to go right away. I helped him the first ten times, then he started riding on his own. Check it out:

With help from Daddy

First solo flight of the intrepid explorer
We even managed to get some video of the second and third solo flights:

Jacob had his own name for the zip line. He called it a "trap slide." We're still not sure what that means, but Jacob is consistent and insistent about the name.

Lucy tried it too, but we don't have any photographic evidence of that. We do have shots from the rest of the playground:

Jacob loves a tall slide!

Lucy was not so enthusiastic about the slide and didn't go down.

Jacob in a climber

Jacob looks back with longing to a favorite playground!

After such an extensive workout, we needed to recharge on calories. What better way to do that than stopping at a tea shop for a cup of tea and a snack. We found the Old Granary Tea Shop on our way back to the car and stopped in. Jacob loved the retro bathroom. Not only was there no hand dryer, there were no paper towels either! They had an actual towel hanging on a rack by the sink. If the toilet were any more retro, we'd be digging a hole in the ground. But I digress.

We ordered tea and scones and cookies for the kids. When the lady behind the counter asked me if I wanted butter, cream, or jam, I told her to give me the works.

Cherry scone with "the works"
I carefully put the butter on, then the jam, then the cream. This cream is not the famous clotted cream, about which I will blog one day, it was just regular cream. It was all so delicious, I forgot to take any after photographs. Eating it with a nice cuppa tea hit the spot. I went to pay the bill at the counter and discovered the shop was even more retro. No credit cards, only cash. After I paid up, we were ready to go on to explore some cave. I'll save that for the next blog!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Our Fifth Anniversary

It's time to celebrate another anniversary, not the blog's, but my wife's and mine. We have been married for five fabulous years. Unfortunately, it was a work day for my wife, so the celebrations started off with taking the children to a local playground. The playground is pretty awesome, with a wooden castle, a wooden plane, a wooden fort, many climbing/crawling structures, swings, tunnels, mini-golf, Frisbee golf, and oodles of other fun things to play with. The children loved it, as you can see:

Lucy poses at the top of a small climber with abacus

Lucy tries out a unique swing; too bad Jacob wasn't nearby to tri it out

Lucy peaks out of the fort climber

Jacob crosses a tricky bridge on a metal climber

Jacob peaks out of the castle climber

Wobbly stairs to the castle

During nap time, my wife and I signed a lease for a townhouse, so we are one step closer to moving into a place where we will stay for the next three years. We also did some shopping, including a shoe store, where we figured out our UK foot sizes, and the local comic shop, where I picked up the latest Hellboy, B.P.R.D., and Green Lantern issues. My wife went back to work and I to the cottage.

When the children woke up, we picked up my wife and headed to the local bowling alley for more fun. Jacob and Lucy had only bowled on the Wii till now, so it was a special experience for them. The bowling alley was very child friendly too. The lanes have automatic bumpers which you can assign to each player on the automated scorekeeper. When Jacob's or Lucy's turn came, they'd pop right up and then go back down when someone else bowled. The alley even provided special ramps for the wee ones to roll their balls down. The kids loved every minute of it. Check out these sweet pics!

Jacob shows how to use the automatic score keeper

Lucy bowls with bumpers and the ramp

Lucy celebrates her victory--touchdown!

Jacob's touchdown pose--must be a family trait.

Jacob loved the ball return too!

Fashionable feet
Lucy was the best cheerleader ever, as can been seen from this video:

The children have been asking to go bowling again. I think we have a family sport for the future. Sorry, cricket and soccer/football!

Dinner was pizza at the bowling alley. The kids were uninterested so they had chicken fingers. Everyone enjoyed their meal. I also tried Bulmer's Cider, which was wonderful. The only bad part was when Jacob asked to have a cookie for dessert. We went over to the cookie racks and they were all empty! Luckily, we had cookies at the cottage for them.

Angie's cousin stayed with the children after they went to bed. We went down the hill to the pub in town for dessert. We ordered two desserts: our favorite sticky toffee pudding and Tia Maria cheesecake. The sticky toffee pudding had the ice cream and the toffee on the side. This way of serving it seemed the best. You could make your own combination and the ice cream didn't melt right away. The cheesecake was great too. The crust was thick and crunchy and made a great contrast to the smooth and sweetly creamy cake. Both went well with our black tea and reminiscences of the past five years.

It was a great day and a fun celebration of our anniversary.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wandering Musicians of Durham

One of the oddball things we saw in Durham was a lot of bands in the streets. We never saw any signs or info that there was a festival or some other celebration going on. But it seemed like every square or open space had a band playing. Only now, with the power of internet-enhanced hindsight, do I see that we caught the end of the Brass Durham International Festival.

Near the main theater and cinema we saw a band all in yellow with about ten members. They played a lot of Latin-style songs. But the most amazing and worrying thing about them is how they would dance up to a member of the audience and make them dance along with the band leader. They always encouraged applause for their victims, I mean, volunteers. We didn't watch too long because they started dancing over towards us.

Another band in another square played more danceable tunes, by which I mean swing music. Unfortunately my wife wasn't around, so we couldn't dance to it. But they were great listening anyway.

When I was with my wife and children, we saw a band right after we ate dinner. They looked like this:

They were the best band and sang in Italian!

They sounded like this:

Sorry I don't have any of the names of the bands (except for the last band, La Clique Sur Mer), hopefully I'll be more attentive next time and use the camera more often than at the end. Or we will check the festival schedule ahead of time! Maybe we'll go back next year.

The Sign of Four

We seem to be running into a lot of fours on this trip to England. It took us four days to get here. There's four of us. Everywhere we've stayed so far has had a four in it.

Our first hotel was an extended stay apartment. We were in apartment 4, just like the song:

When we went to Durham, the pub/hotel we stayed at gave us rooms 2 and 4. When we got back and had to move temporarily to a hotel, we wound up in room 3004. Now we've moved on to our 4th place, a fun little cottage outside of town. Way outside of town. We are in herding country, with cows and sheep in every pasture (though they do not mix together). Our new place was originally part of a blacksmith's forge. Technically, we don't have a numbered address. We are in the part of the country where all the houses are named, not numbered. Hence this is on our wall:

At least we didn't have to prove our smithy skills to stay here

Inside is very cozy, with a lovely lounge area that seems like the original blacksmith's quarters:

Luckily, I took the picture before the toys took over.

The doorway is shorter than it looks, as my bruised forehead will prove.

We have a quite comfortable kitchen with a full refrigerator and lots of gadgets and doodads and other things we haven't quite figured out yet:

The stovetop is hidden under a giant cutting board.

I'm sorry to report that the wardrobes here are just like the ones in our first place:

Again with the pine wood and no Narnia?

At least this is snow white, like Narnia when you first read about it.

I'm glad to report the views are pretty spectacular from here:

Our outdoor picnic table. Not sure the weather will let us use it.

Lovely rolling hills

Lovely verdant pastures

Lovely cows

This charming cottage should be our last stop before our final resting place, a townhouse where we will be able to walk to most anything in town. And some less wonderful things, like our first apartment and third hotel. I guess fifth time is charmed.