Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Cheer (the Liquid Kind)

There weren't too many novelty Christmas beers this year, but I drank what I could. I'm sure I'll try something new for New Year's Eve tonight! Here's a few quick reviews...

First up is Bah Humbug from Wychwood Brewery. According to Jeff Drew, head brewer, "Brewed with the choicest hops and malt, lightly spiced with cinnamon, this is a rich ale complemented with subtle tones of dried fruit. To those who say the spirit of Christmas is a thing of the past - we say Bah Humbug! Don't be a miser - go on!...Enjoy yourself!"The flavor of cinnamon is dominate but not too overpowering. It's enjoyable but I like their Gingerbeard better than this, which is dominated by ginger. The flavor does have a nice festive quality. Half a liter is too much, this is best shared.

Second is Santa's Tipple from The Great Yorkshire Brewery. The label describes it as "A winter warmer from God's own country. A premium beer infused with vanilla, chocolate, orange and star anise." It is a very pleasant brew with great flavor. None of the flavors dominate, so the blend is good. A great drink for the cold weather.

Sadly, that's it for this year.

Christmas at the Library 2013

We went to a local library for their Christmas Carnival. It was right after the last day of school, so what could be better? We signed in at the front desk, where the children's hands were stamped and they were given tickets for the activities.

One activity was freeing stuffed animals from a cage. A child traded a ticket for a key to try in an old-style padlock.

Free the stuffed animals!

J gets King Henry VIII bear

L and the blue bear

Face painting was a popular activity, but not with J. L was glad to get a new butterfly on her cheek!

Getting face painted

Final results!

They also had a cake walk which L loved. She won the third time she played. Shamefully I was the one to draw the number--I drew my own daughter's number. No one accused me of impropriety.

L cake walks like a pro

Santa showed up halfway through the carnival. First he gave out little plastic elves. Then he read a story to the children. Finally, he had children tell him what they wanted for Christmas. When J and L told their names, Santa said, "Your feast day was a few days ago!" So Santa is definitely Catholic, I think!

Santa's story time

With Santa!

We had a great time at the library's Christmas Carnival!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christkindelmarkt, Leeds, England

Yes, you read that title right. We went to a German Christmas Market but did not have to leave the UK. The city of Leeds hosts their Christmas Market every year in Millennium Square. We visited on a brisk yet sunny Saturday.

Not a well-lit sign, probably better at night

Entering the market

We wandered through the little avenues, admiring the wares and looking for snacks. Lots of trinkets and bric-a-brac were on sale.

Christmas sales

Cuckoo clocks

Looking for food, not items!

We saw several snack options including exotic items like zebra burgers, mulled wine, sausages, etc. Our ultimate choice was satisfactory to everyone.

The mushroom stall, no sale!

Poffertjies are better!

More cooking...we'll be back!

Continuing on, we found the carousel which demanded to be ridden. For the first time, both children rode by themselves. It spun very quickly too, delighting riders and watchers.

J mounts his ride

L mounts her ride

J in action

L in action

Many other festive decorations caught our eye as we walked around the various stalls.

Alpine Lodge ready for fancy German-style dining

Who put that nice building back there?

One of many moose heads

Even the rubbish bins are festive

We visited the beer hall but didn't find any seating, so we decided to grab a sausage from one place and sneak off to the Leeds City Museum Cafe for lunch, where the kids could get some regular food. The sausage was delightful.

There's the museum, just past the green roof!

On our way back home, we visited the smallest civic playground ever!

J and L share the downtown playground

Ready for more action

The Three Towers, an inevitable Lord of the Rings "sequel"

The market runs from early November through mid-December and is definitely worth a visit!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Church of the Holy Trinity, York, England

The Church of the Holy Trinity in York is hidden behind a row of shops on Goodramgate. It's a little oasis from the hustle and bustle of shopping, especially when I visited in December.

Church of the Holy Trinity, York

The earliest record of the church is a charter from 1082 that was later discovered to be a forgery! There probably was a small church back then. The currently-standing church began in the 1100s.

Massive renovations happened in the late 1400s at the behest of Reverend John Walker, then rector of the church. The tower was completed in 1495-1496, but the most striking contribution is the stained glass Rev. Walker added.


Main altar with Walker's window

The font also dates from the late 1400s. The cover is oak and dates from 1787.

Baptismal font

The church's most unusual feature is the Box Pews. Such pews were common in Anglican churches but were mostly removed in the 1800s. These pews date back to the 1600s.

Box pews in the north aisle

Inside the box pews

A spot to entertain children!

The larger boxes in the nave

A double-decker pulpit was installed in 1695 so the preacher could see the congregation inside the pews.


At the back of the church are some Mayoral Boards, which record the Lord Mayors of York who had an association with Holy Trinity. The grandfather clock shape is unusual but nice. They hang on either side of the mayoral pew at the back of the church.

Mayoral Board

Just off the south aisle is a chapel dedicated to St. James. The chapel has several interesting features. The stone altar is a rare item to find after the Reformation. The wall has a piscina, a small stone basin used by priests to wash chalices and ciboriums. The hagioscope is an angled window that lets a priest saying Mass at St. James's altar to be in sync with the priest at the main altar.

Stone altar with wooden front


Festively-decorated Hagioscope

The chapel of St. James was decorated for Christmas.

Christmas tree and a wooden altar at the back of St. James's Chapel

Like many churches in England, it is undergoing a bit of repair. The yard is lovely and makes a nice place to relax.

Can't avoid the scaffolding!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

Frozen (2013) directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

We've finally taken the children to the cinema* to see their first movie on the big screen. We chose Disney's most recent hit, Frozen. We even went to a 3D showing, so they got the full treatment (except we bought chocolate instead of popcorn). Glasses are £1 to rent, so we've kept them for future cinema trips. The theatre even gave us child-size glasses!

Mommy, J, and L

I'm glad to report that the children behaved themselves quite well in the theatre (unlike some of the other children who were making comments quite loudly).

On to the review--Frozen tells the story of two sisters, daughters of the king of Arendelle. Unfortunately, there are two problems. First, the older sister Elsa has the power to make things freeze but not have full control of it. After a childhood accident where Elsa almost harmed her sister Anna, the parents have Anna's memories altered so that she doesn't remember her sister's special abilities. The girls are separated from each other and isolated from the rest of Arendelle in the castle.

The second problem is, after a few years, the parents go on a trip and die. The girls grow up in a rather austere life which is finally intruded upon by Elsa's coronation, when people are again invited into the castle. Elsa barely makes it through the coronation ceremony without her power going haywire. Meanwhile, Anna has met and fallen in love with a prince from a faraway land who has come for the celebration. He is quite charming and seems like such a good match that he proposes and she accepts. Ask Elsa for her blessing at the ball, to which she says, "You can't possibly marry someone you just met." Things escalate and Elsa's power go out of control. She flees to the mountains. Her power has caused a massive winter storm that causes perpetual winter in Arendelle.

Anna decides to go after her sister, eventually joining up with Kristoff, a mountain man whose ice-selling business is hurting thanks to the July deep freeze. They search for Elsa to bring her back home and end the storm.

The movie is quite delightful. The songs are good and the story moves along at a brisk pace. The animation is beautiful, especially the several snow and ice scenes. The 3D is fine though not remarkable.

Where this movie really shines is the relationships between the various characters, especially the sisters. Most parents probably agree wholeheartedly with Elsa when she forbids her sister to marry a man she's only known for a day. They've had a strained relationship due to their isolation from each other (which is partly Elsa's own choosing since she does not want to hurt her sister). They try to love each other but are unsure of what is best.

The theme of what is true love is well-explored throughout the movie. At one point, a group of pleasant trolls try to marry Kristoff and Anna to each other. They sing a delightful song about how Kristoff is a "fixer-upper," comically describing his foibles (both physical and social) that she needs to know about and put up with. As the song progresses, the trolls realize Anna needs some fixing-up too, and not just her dress. While highly comical, the song also points out that we all have our imperfections and that love needs to be more than idealistic romanticism. The theme is explored with a sort of depth rare in Disney princess movies.

I highly recommend the movie and my family enjoyed the outing.

*I had a bit of debate with J about the pronunciation of "cinema." He claims everyone at school calls it a "cinemer." Is it the Yorkshire accent or the fact they are young children?

St. Peter's Christmas Tree Festival 2013, Harrogate, England

St. Peter's is a church right in the heart of Harrogate. It sits on the High Street and faces the town square with a cenotaph dedicated to World War I veterans. Betty's Tea Shop, a famous chain begun in Harrogate, is across the square. The church is a natural gathering spot and uses its location to provide services to the community. They often feed the homeless in the church, especially on days when other charities close their doors. To raise money for Christmas meals for the homeless and needy, they've hosted a Christmas Tree Festival over the years. I visited the ninth annual event in early December of 2013.

The Poster

The Sample Tree

Businesses, civic groups, individuals, and even other churches are invited to decorate trees and bring them to St. Peter's. The trees are put all over and visitors can judge which they think is best. Entry is free but ballots cost one pound which goes to the meal fund. Dozens of trees fill the church. Here's a sampling of the good, the bad, and the ugly!

A Remembrance Tree, where names of the recently deceased may be added

A tree with wine corks as ornaments!

Traditional to whimsical

Whimsical to traditional

Odd, Less Odd, Least Odd

Yes, Less Odd is wearing a jacket!

My nominees for the worst and the best are these entries:

I don't think this needs any comment

Nutcrackers with the Sugar Plum Fairy at the top!

Plenty of other trees fill the (pretty wide) gap in between those two.

Messy Church is a under-ten-year-old group; the Daleys decorated with flags!

Some more classic types

Very traditional

Vanilli's Ice Cream Tree!

A small display by one of the trees reminds visitors of the hardships experienced even now by those living in Bethlehem. I visited Bethlehem with a pilgrim group in 2000 and did have to go through an Israeli checkpoint in order to visit the birthplace of Jesus.

Bethlehem display

If you'd like to donate to the Christmas meal fund, visit their Just Giving web page. The festival raised £1,500.