Monday, December 31, 2012

School Christmas Plays

J had his Christmas play for his reception class (basically, kindergarten). The school he goes to has two reception classes and the kids from both combined to put on the play. So it was 40 or so 4- and 5-year-olds working together to entertain their parents. The production was amazing for the age group. They sang seven different songs with choreography on most, had various traditional characters who all had lines, and delightful costumes. J was a shepherd and he had one line: "We're tending our sheep." But his real moment to shine came when he had to act surprised at the angels appearing in the sky. He widened his eyes and put his hand to his mouth to cover his gasp. He did it so well! And it's not just me saying it, other parents commented too! He had a great time and sang the songs on Skype to Granny and to Grandmama. After the second Skype call, he said he wouldn't sing them anymore. Though maybe next year...

The school had a strict policy that no photography or recording was allowed. This restriction is for various reasons, one of which is that parents can "opt out" of having their children's pictures taken at school. The crafty staff at the school did take pictures of some of the children (presumably those whose parents didn't opt out) and sold them for 50p (which is about $0.80 in US money) to parents. So we could be satisfied with a happy memory and a nice photo of our son.

J the Shepherd

For L's Christmas pageant at her nursery school, she was supposed to be a donkey. Things didn't work out though, because she and J caught the stomach bug that's been sweeping the nation. Too bad, because she had a cute outfit and had her line down cold, "Hee-haw!" Though maybe next year...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ripon Cathedral Pre-Christmas Visit

I know I should have posted this last week, but things were challenging. A stomach bug has been going around the schools. J and L had it and chose alternating days to throw up. So I would have posted this for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The spirit was willing but the stomachs were weak.

Ripon Cathedral was just gearing up for Christmas festivities, which included Lessons and Carols on the 23rd and 24th of December, the usual array of services for Christmas Day, and a procession from the Cathedral to Fountains Abbey on Boxing Day (which is December 26). The stomach bug kept us from attending any of these but hopefully next year we can do a few.

The main Christmas Tree

A side Christmas Tree

J went to visit his favorite part of the church, the crypt chapel. The crypt is the original Saxon church built by St. Wilfrid back in the 600s. It has a little window J loves looking through.

No stained glass back then

He went on to the choir section. He climbed up to look at the Bible in front of the lectern. He proceeded to give some prayers or a homily, I'm not sure which. He asked me to sit in the choir stalls while he did his thing. I had the opportunity to photograph some of the intricate and fascinating woodwork.

J at the lectern

Centaur with elephant carrying a turret!

Spooky monkey

Rabbit chased by griffin (said to be an inspiration for Lewis Carrol's Alice stories)

Not sure if he's stealing the door or bringing it for installation

The organist started up but that did not phase J at all.

The organ as the choir sees it

After J finished, we went upstairs to the Treasury, where many of the sacred vessels and other valuables are kept.

Assorted sacred vessels

A larger assortment of smaller vessels

Other valuables include the cathedral's library. Many different books on theology and pastoral care are shelved within easy reach of small hands. Luckily, the children weren't too interested. Not enough pictures, I think. The treasury did have a fun spiral staircase down, which we could not descend though we did see the Nativity set waiting to come out.

Let our people go!

In addition to the extensive library, several archeological artifacts are kept here. The Ripon Jewel has an ale named after it. The ale isn't very good though it is offered at the cathedral's gift shop (but only in bottles to take away, not for consumption on the premises).

Click to enlarge

Roman era finds; click to enlarge

Saxon era belt strap; click to enlarge

We finished our visit to the cathedral with a visit to the gift shop, where we found a replacement Nativity Set since ours has been misshelved after the move. We're sure it's in the house somewhere. This new set is very kid-friendly and L has been playing with it.

Looks like the angel is putting the star on Jesus' head!

The wood figures are nice and sturdy and less destructible than others we have seen. I remember fondly playing with our childhood nativity set. Since I was fifth of six children, the nativity we had was a compilation of a few nativity sets. Some of the figures were much larger than others. We had a sheep that was as big as one of our oxes. And we had at least five kings. Not all of them had their noses, but a chipped nose isn't enough to get you thrown out of the collection. Ah, those were the days. Especially when the Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures would join in the action!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lightwater Valley Dickensian Festival, Ripon

One Saturday in December we went to Lightwater Valley for their Dickensian Christmas weekend. Normally, Lightwater Valley is an amusement park (only open in the fairer months) and a shopping village (which stays open year round). The shops had stalls in front of them selling the typical Yule Tide wares. We had a fun visit to the stalls and the outdoors activities.
They also have mini-golf!

The first thing we saw after parking was a calliope that was re-themed for the holidays.

Throw Santa in the corner and put a Christmas tune on, you're all set!

Further on we saw reindeer. They had arrived ahead of Santa and were busily munching away on the nice golf course grass.

Hungry reindeer

J is hungry too!

I had no idea their hooves looked like this!

We went inside to look at the sales and such.

Entrance to the covered shopping

Dickensian sales folk

In addition to the various merchants, quite a few tombolas were spread throughout. The tombola is a sort of raffle where you pay money to draw a ticket from a hamper. If the number matches one of the items on display, you win that item. Typically, numbers ending in 0 or 5 are winners, though here we played one that only had 0s. That's when we drew 185 and were excited for less than a minute. L later played a tombola where children get a prize just for playing. J played a tombola that had concession prizes for the other numbers. Having drawn 228, he could draw a present from the 8 bin. So we won two out of three tombolas, which is a pretty good record.

L wins a gift bag!

L, J, and the bins of prizes

Further on was a craft activity where the children pealed off stickers one by one and put colored sand on the exposed sticky part. With a little patience and careful choices, we wound up with a very colorful alphabet!

L surveys her (and J's) handiwork

We went back outside for the arrival of Santa. He came on the little train that was running that day. He had a sackful of gold coin that he gave out to the children. L was more excited to find out the coins were actually gold foil-wrapped chocolates! She says they were tasty but wouldn't let me confirm it.

Santa waves to the crowd

The outdoors also has a birds of prey exhibit. Customers could pay to have an owl perch on them and get a photo. We did not spring for it since the children were not interested.

It would have been cool, though

A more interesting activity was pony riding. We asked the kids if they wanted a ride, assuming L would say "yes" and Ja would say "no." Surprisingly, the responses were reversed. J had his first pony ride on Pippin the pony.

J goes for his first horse ride

J has never ridden any animal before but he had a good time. I walked along with him and he chatted nicely with the lady leading Pippin. Turns out she is named after some children's story Pippin and not the Hobbit from Lord of the Rings. L and Mommy trailed after us. J was immensely happy.

After a fun ride, L shows signs of regret

We found some lunch and then headed out to leave. Just before we left, we saw a group of dancers performing a sword dance. L and Mommy were too cold and not fascinated enough to keep watching, so they went into a nearby shoppe to warm up. J and I were mesmerized and watched the whole rest of the performance.

Players and dancers

Sword play

We had a very fun visit to Lightwater Valley and will probably come back to try out the amusement park if the kids seem up for it. That won't be till next summer at the earliest.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Reading List Update

Last December, I wrote up a list of books I wanted to read in the new year. Now that the new year is almost the old year, how did I do?

Books on Writing:
  • On Writing by Stephen King--the one book I didn't get too, now a high priority in January
  • Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury--reviewed here; full of excellent advice (using examples from his own life) for writing
Books on Faith, where I focused on the Psalms:
  • Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis--reviewed here; a bit rambling but quite excellent; I may reread this in Lent.
  • Singing in the Reign by Michael Patrick Barber--reviewed here; fulfills the promise of a clever title.
  • The Psalms of David illustrated by James Freemantle--reviewed here; a book I intended to read and then donate but it is too beautiful not to look at again and again.
  • Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander--reviewed here and here and here and here and here* and here; an excellent fantasy series that I should have read when I was ten. My children will be encouraged not to make the same mistake!
  • Chaos Trilogy by John C. Wright--reviewed here and here and here; jam packed with lots of mythology, science, pseudo-science, adventure, and erudition. I know I didn't follow it all but I had fun reading it.
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien--reviewed here--a classic which is now available in theaters in almost as many formats as The Avengers on DVD (I did not get the 3D Blu-Ray/Regular Blu-Ray/Regular DVD/Digital Download/Extra-Special Packaging (ESP!) edition)...where was I? Oh yeah, The Hobbit is great as a book but I haven't seen the movie yet. Maybe a dual/duel review to come?
So I think I did pretty well, just one shy of what I hoped to read. I did read a lot of other books in addition to these. The best surprise of the year was reading Jane Eyre, which is a fabulous book and probably the best I read this year.

The new ambitions for 2013? I'll have to mull that over, though I am thinking of English classics and catching up on the zombie books that have been accumulating in my collection. And the birthday and Christmas gifts in the past two months have a lot of good stuff (including Robert Alter's translation and commentary of the Psalms!). I'll probably post after January 1!

*Okay, so this review hasn't posted as I post this post. But I did read the book in 2012 and wrote the review, just other more Christmasy things are being posted first!

Harrogate Christmas Market 2012

Right after Thanksgiving, we headed off to the Harrogate Christmas Market. 2012 marks the first year for such a market in Harrogate. The market included rides for the kids, shopping for all ages, a stage with various entertainments, and Santa with some reindeer (which I don't think were his!).

Entering the Christmas Market

When we arrived, the first thing the children wanted to do was ride some rides. They saw a few of their friends already on rides, so we couldn't resist. Naturally, J and L chose different rides. Luckily two parents were there so we were able to accommodate them.

L loves her bulldozer

J rides Thomas, blissfully unaware of the camera

After that, we wandered through some of the shopping stalls. A wide variety of items were on sale. One heated tent had more arts and crafts-type stuff. The outside wooden stalls ran the gamut from food (cheese, baked goods, stuff to eat right away, etc.) to jewelry to tchotchkes to toys to woolen products to various alcoholic beverages (my favorite named stall was "Mrs. Sippy's"). The lanes were a little narrow and a lot of people were there, so navigating was challenging.

The indoor sales area

The children rapidly became hungry. We thought about getting food at a stall, but we'd rather sit down and try to warm up a little.

The pizza train was tempting--yummy food and warmth

We looked for a local tea shop for a sit down snack. The nearest ones (i.e. across the street from the market) were full but we found one shoppe with an upstairs tea room that had a table for four. J and L perused the baked goods and chose what seemed to be a chocolate brownie. When the waitress came to take our order, she mentioned that the "brownies" had brandy in them. The kids were pretty understanding and settled for cookies instead.

We went back to the market to look for Santa. We found the reindeer display quite easily and admired the beasts for a while.

Bulking up for the big night ahead

We didn't actually go into Santa's grotto, since Santa's prices were rather steep. Just a picture with him was £3! The deluxe package, which included a gift from Father Christmas was £10. We decided to wait for another opportunity to see Santa and get the photo op. J and L aren't really clear on the whole "asking Santa for gifts" idea. At least they didn't seem so worried missing this opportunity. We'd get a better view the next weekend at Lightwater Valley, but more about that in the next post!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The First Gingerbread House

No, this is not the story of the invention of the gingerbread house (though I bet that would be an interesting tale). This is the story of L's first gingerbread house. Being lazy Americans, we used kit with prefab parts, much like those halves of houses trucks carry along highways. Construction was challenging enough without starting from scratch!

The kit had German and English instructions!

When we saw the kit in the store, we knew L would love it because building a gingerbread house combines her two main interests--art and frosting. Although I don't think she'd ever seen a gingerbread house before, she was eager to start as soon as she saw the box.

At first, we had to lay out all the components to make sure we weren't missing anything. The kit contained all the walls, roof, etc, plus candy for decorations and even little people to populate the house.

Decorations, check!

Walls and roof, check!

The kit included a pastry bag (but no tips) and icing sugar. We added egg white and lemon juice to mix up the frosting. L was very good about not eating any of the components while we built the house, but did start picking away decorations after the house was finished (and as soon as my back was turned).

The kit had a nice "tab A into slot B" system where you fitted the walls into the slots in the floor. Unfortunately, it wasn't a very tight fit, but we made do by propping up the walls with various baking pans while the "mortar" dried.

Bracing the back side is serious business

Without any pastry tips we couldn't achieve all the decorations as shown on the box, but I was pleased by how close we came. L especially enjoyed dusting the powdered sugar "snow" over everything once we were done. 

Then it was complete.

Finished product

We have not eaten it yet, though L is eager to try out that part of the project.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Celebrating Christmas by Rev. Jude Winkler

Celebrating Christmas by Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv.

This book is part of a series published for Catholic children. Celebrating Christmas is more of a cultural primer than a doctrinal download. Along with the familiar stories of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus, St. Boniface and the first Christmas tree, the first manger scene by St. Francis, etc., are other traditions less familiar or completely new (at least to me), such as the good witch Befana in Italy who does the toy delivery instead of Santa. It's interesting to read about different traditions around the world.

Some of it is a little dated, like the nowadays less certain assumption that December 25 was chosen by the early church to replace a pagan holiday. The art is so-so, not really bad and not really outstanding either.

If you have kids under ten and run across this, I recommend picking it up. It's not expensive and could inspire some new traditions in your home.

Christmas 2012

Just some quick photos from yesterday (Christmas 2012) for the family and other interested parties!

We got our tree late but had fun decorating it a week before Christmas.

Live Tree II!

L carefully attaches the bulb to the very end of the branch

Christmas morning was a lot of fun. We opened what seemed like four million presents and I forgot to take pictures almost completely. Here are some of the gifts:

L's new canopy (Thanks to the Y family!)

L's color-it-yourself castle (thanks to J and L!)

Clothes for the dolls! (thanks to N, H, A, and I!)

The best present of all was to see L and J play together peaceably!

New piano (thanks to Santa!); playing together, thanks be to God!