Friday, December 28, 2007

Seeing England

I've done more sight seeing in the last week than we had done thus far in England. Although sight seeing can be somewhat of a bother, and sometimes I feel like we spend more time in transit to sights, and dressing Lydia for the weather, finding somewhere to eat once we're at the spot, etc, etc, than we actually do seeing the sights, I know that in the long run what I'll remember is what I saw. I know this partly because after I came home from Egypt, and told Avram about places that I had been sightseeing there, it was usually punctuated by, "the Pyramids did have a toilet, which was a very good thing, but when I was in Palmyra (Jordan) there weren't any toilets, and I almost died. Then there were the marble squat toilets in Aleppo..." It was like that yesterday, but instead ran, "Our touristy cafe at lunch didn't serve tap water (grr, how un-British of them!), and we were too cheap to pay three pounds for it, and then I found some other water outside, but it was still two pounds, and inside the tower, I finally found a drinking fountain, the only second one I've found in Britain (the other one in the temple), but of course, drinking fountains are never very satisfying. Finally in the train station on the way home, Avram bought me a 2 liter of water, and I had great fun drinking out of it until Lydia backwashed carrots and PB&J sandwich into it..." But now I can actually remember the sights themselves.

On Christmas Eve, Matt and Sarah and us went to Blenheim Palace, the largest palace in England and home to the Duke of Marlborough, which family line also included Winston Churchill (his uncle was a duke of Marlborough). The palace itself isn't open for the winter, but we walked around the extensive grounds, for three pounds apiece. Shortly after we paid and entered the grounds, I noticed there were many people taking their dogs out for walks, and in a couple of instances their children in strollers (pushchairs) for walks. I was surprised that so many people would be willing to pay just to take pets/children on walks, but then I noticed a small door in an unsuspecting place, and when I came up close to it, and peaked on to the other side, my suspicions were confirmed. There is a hidden "porter's" door, that one can open from the outside, that the locals can use for free. At first I grew incensed that we had paid, between the four of us, twenty-four American dollars to walk around a palace's grounds when we could have done it for free. Gradually I grew reconciled to the noblesse oblige gesture of the current Duke, to let the common locals use his beautiful (and they are) grounds (they still have to pay to enter the formal gardens and palace). And now we've done our part to help keep up the costly place, and being that we are locals (Blenheim Palace is only four miles from our house), if we end up at Blenheim again to just wander the outside grounds, I will feel perfectly comfortable in using the porter's gate to do so. Because of course it's only for the locals.

We also visited Churchill's grave, for Avram and I the second time, and this time again Lydia screamed hysterically as we left it. Avram and I are beginning to suspect our daughter is a secret fan of the Bulldog. Either that, or she hates going back into here stroller and/or car seat after being let go to run free.

Then yesterday we went with the Purcells to London to the London Tower. Between the frailties of the train system and frailties of small children (Jonathon got tired, and Lydia got very heavy to carry around the many-staired exhibits) we only actually spent about three hours in the tower, but it was wonderful to go to, nonetheless. We saw the crown jewels, which I didn't care about seeing, but then were amazing to see, and medieval re-enacters that put my entire medieval history to shame. I desperately wanted to go up and talk to them, but their clothes were so well made, and their portrayal so convincing that I couldn't bumble up to them and stutter out, "I love your felted wool. How did you do it?" So I instead just worshipped from afar, and vowed to myself that maybe someday I could be a part of a group as amazing as they were. There was even a pair of medieval Jews, with the man wearing the Tembel cap, or the yellow pointed hat and both having the appliqued Decalogue (ten commandments) on their garments.

Also, we went through a Beefeater tour, which is a nickname given to the Yeoman warders who still live within the walls of the Tower, and do their warderly things. At first I thought that they were just glorified tour guides, but in fact they are still a military unit very much still in action. And there are, among the historical prisons and towers, whole rows of town houses inside where they live. These are historical townhouses too, this being England. Our Beefeater (so named because they were once given rations of beef), Bob, was funny and historical while still being extremely respectful, and having a carrying voice to catch over a hundred people's attention. The tour ended in a still working chapel (Bob's granddaughter will be christened there next year), where historically many of the famous people were unceremoniously buried after execution (mostly outside of the tower. Only six people were ever killed in the tower, and it was all during the Tudor's time, I believe). Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn, and Catharine Howard were among those under the stones of the altar. Most of the more "common" ones, like St. Sir Thomas More, were buried underneath the stones, but then in Victoria's time they were renovating the chapel, and moved the whole lot (we're talking the whole chapel was one large mass of skeletons) into a vault next to the chapel, where they still rest today.

Even writing about the trip yesterday, the things like waiting for an hour for the train to come, because there was some train that had block both north and south traffic, and so all trains were delayed indefinitely fade into the background, and the history comes alive in my head, and I remember why I sight see, to partake of the world that is out there, to touch the stones of the White tower, which was once the largest powder storage in England, or to stand where accused traitors, both true and false, once stood, and just for a moment, to be a part of their world, their lives, that is sight seeing.

On a more prosaic note, Avram and I have decided that when my parents come in the spring, we'll return to the tower, and this time let my parents take Lydia for the tour and the jewels (both of which are stroller friendly), and we'll go into some of the more stair ridden exhibits, so we can see among other items of interest where the boy king Edward and his brother were liably murdered by the command of his uncle, Richard III, and then their skeletons were discovered in a chest a couple of centuries later by a workman during renovations, and removed to Westminster Abbey, where the kings are buried, to be buried in Innocents corner.

It's exciting and tragic enough to make even I begin to care about the royal history of England.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Leisure Time

Avram brought a computer game with him, Civilization IV, since he could only bring a couple of role playing books, so that he would have some games to play. Avram hasn't played it very much at all (actually not at all), until on Monday, when he was getting him out, and I asked him if two players on the same computer could play, and it turns out they can, so we started a game together. I had him put on the Marathon setting (determines how fast or slow the game goes; marathon is the slowest setting).

Since Monday evening when this happened, I've spent the last five days almost incessantly playing Civ. IV. And I'd like to blame my husband for this, but I really can't. Yes, it's true that for the first time since I was in eighth grade, and spent my entire spring break playing Super Nintendo's Final Fantasy II as if it were a full time job, I'm addicted to a video/computer game. We're still only up to about 1523 A.D. (the game starts you out at 4,000 B.C). This sounds like we're almost done, considering the game only goes up to around 2200 A.D. (although there are many ways to win earlier), but after the 'middle ages' are done, which depends on your rate of discovery, so ours ended about a 1000 AD, the games slows down to one turn a year, as apposed to the previous 5-20 years a turn. So this is taking forever. I should have known; it said marathon, and it was right.

I was trying to finish our game before Matt and Sarah visited us, which is today (they're coming for a layover for a couple of days on the way to Qatar), but as you can tell, this simply isn't going to happen. And poor Lydia has been parentless. I mean, we feed her, and she likes to watch the game with us, and we don't play all of the time, but she does love to mess up the living room if we let her, and so every day we've had to clean up the remains of the Lydia tornado in the Living Room. Which is our own fault, or my fault, as Avram likes to remind me, because I'm the one who wants to play all of the time.

I make myself feel better by remembering that it is Christmas break, and there's time to do such silly things, but still. Anyway, that's why I haven't posted in a week; I haven't done anything besides sapping my brains out in front of the monitor. But we're not going to play again until after Christmas, so we can properly observe the season, so maybe my brains will come back.

Have any of you been addicted to games, so that way I can feel better about my shortcomings, since I hopefully have company?

P.S. I finished Lydia's stocking before this all happened, so that's done at least.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Long of It

My faithful readers may think that I've passed on to a better world, or perhaps a different, internet-less one, at least. Truly I've been thinking of you all, and of America, and I've even been on the internet regularly. Yet for the last couple of weeks Avram has been working heavily on his doctoral applications, and so the computer time has been at a premium, and thus my computer time has been limited.

Yesterday though he finished the second application that was due by December 15, and having written two letters of intent he isn't as worried about the remaining four due in January. So now he's applied to Berkeley and Duke, which is nice to have two done, very official like.

So...now it's up to me to fill in the last two weeks. Mainly while Avram has been working so hard (editing his writing sample, writing his letters of intent, making sure all of his other materials are in) I've been learning how to knit. I learned how two years ago, but being left handed, and trying to knit left handedly, although my teacher was right handed, meant that I never got very far, because every time that I made a mistake, she had no idea what I had done, or even how to fix it. This time, my visiting teacher, Sister Rigby (now isn't that British sounding?) is teaching me; she's a lovely older lady, who's teaching both me and her companion, who is Nokuthula, about my age and from Zimbabwe, although she's lived in England for the last five years. Over all we're quite the international group, which in a small aside is really very nice. I like how international the ward is here; today, for example, our closing prayer in Sacrament Meeting was offered in Portuguese, from a sister from Portugal. And there are several families from Africa, and then of course a large American college contingent, not to mention the native British members, and Scottish members, who have the best accent ever. I really like our ward here, and I just wish that I weren't so transient, so I could feel like we were adding strength to the ward, instead of just passing through.

Now that I've moved completely off topic, let me return to the subject at hand; knitting. So this time I got over my left-centricity, and just learned to do it with the right hand, and it's gone swimmingly. I guess I can't do everything with my left hand, although I can try. I've always wanted to learn how to knit or crochet, or be industrious with my hands, but besides being left handed, I've encountered two difficulties. First, I've never been very motivated to actually work on it on my own, but here there is very little to distract me, and I really have a lot of free time, so it's been very nice and refreshing to have something to do. Second, I'm a snob. I learned this through studying the middle ages, but I have a large pre-disposition towards natural fabrics; linen, cotton, wool, and, of course, silk (could silk even be knit?). I like wearing them better, and I certainly try to only sew with natural fabrics. But knitting isn't that easy; wool yarn is very expensive compared to acrylic, and it's also hard to find. So to knit I've had to reconcile myself to using fake material, which is sad, but necessary. For one thing, there is no way I could afford to knit if I limited myself to real materials.

There are good aspects to acrylic. True, I can't think of any at the moment. But I did buy myself some acrylic yarn, and am making Lydia a stocking for Christmas. It has a green stripe at the bottom and top, and then is red for the body with a felt Christmas tree I'm going to sew on. I've finished about 2/3 to 3/4 of it, so I feel confident in my ability to finish my first project. And I don't mind an acrylic stocking at all, so that problem rests for now. I guess because I'm not going to wear it, or more accurately that it's not a garment of clothing. I don't mind acrylic in other places besides clothing. At least not as much.

And I'm proud at myself for recognizing that the word knitting must be related historically to the word knot, because all knitting is is a series of knots, and of course they look the same, and Avram checked, and I was right. This may be old news to others, but I had never thought about it before, and it's nice to have a potential folk etymology be right.

Also getting into the Christmas spirit, we bought a small (fake) Christmas tree and put it on a table in our living room. Then we also got some small wooden (cheap) ornaments and they perfectly cover the tree. Avram and I both had ornaments like these on our tree; little painted people and things like Nutcrackers and drums. I showed them to a girl from Poland, and her family has them too, so maybe they're a worldwide phenomenon. Because we live in the country, and we can, we went out on two occasions to the wilds of nature behind the manor house and cut down some every green branches and ivy. Every time we've been back there, it's been the perfect English sort of countryside experience, to the point I wish that I had tweed to wear. Or wellingtons (they would be very handy in the extensive authentic mud). We wanted some holly, but apparently because of the flooding this year they had in Oxfordshire the holly has really suffered, and particularly the birds have eaten all of the berries this year. It's actually kind of funny, because every single British person we've even mentioned holly to has gone onto this tangent about them having no berries, and it's very disappointing, etc, etc. They care a lot about their holly and berries, I suppose. Lydia helped us carry the boughs home, one bough in each hand, in a very pagan fashion. Since then she's walked around the house with the greenery, singing lalalalala. A natural druid.

We've brought the greenery home and strung it around our house; it makes me feel like we've decked the halls, although we have a sad lack of red berries (blame the birds). Last week, in our continued merriness we attended our ward party, with tons of food and games. This ward party was more decorated, more fooded, more games than I've ever seen at a Christmas party before. Just the way I like parties. Lydia met Santa Claus, and sat on his lap to receive a present (a book) from him. She didn't cry, but she wasn't exactly happy about all of this, either. At the end of the party they had signs for every day of Christmas in the song "The 12 Days of Christmas," and every one in the room, even those like the Shannons, who were being lame and sitting on the side, were made to come and join in under a day (we were under day 10). Then in order we all sang the song, while sitting down, and each day's group stood up to sing their day's blurb. If the brother in charge thought that your group didn't do a good enough job, he made you repeat your part, too. As you can imagine, by the end of the song we had stood up a lot, and we were near the end. Apparently they do this same thing every year. It was fun, although tiring.

Then yesterday we had the Purcells, another American family over for games and lunch; we played Settlers of Cataan, which I had never played before, and was very fun. Also, it was the first social activity we had planned with another couple (or even another person at all) since we've been here, so it was a nice change in our regular life. And yesterday evening we attended a stake Christmas concert, which Avram sang one song in, and then had mulled juice and hot chocolate afterwards. I liked being somewhere with Mormons, where we could actually drink any drink offered. The concert was nice, as well, for one thing, most of the songs were new to us, whether because the choir sang mostly British ones or because they have a wide repetoire I don't know, but I liked it. And they sang the Coventry Carol, accompanied by a wooden recorder quartet, including a real bass recorder. Good times were had by all.

So that brings us up to date with Christmas time and our activities. Really, this Christmas is turning out to be a very nice time, and doesn't feel wrong or weird at all. Maybe because we're here as a family, maybe because we've been so busy doing Christmasy things, but Christmas feels right this year. The previous sentence sounds a little funny, but I've found as an adult that Christmas is a much harder holiday to pull off, because one's not dependent on someone else to "make it happen." Instead, Avram and I are the ones who are supposed to bring the magic in. Oh, I forgot, in keeping with bringing the magic in, we've also been making Christmas food. We started out with taffy, which neither of us had ever made, but we wanted to do Christmas cooking. We don't have thermometor here, and so are dependent on the dropping bits of your syrup in cups of water to determine how far along we are. Either we're bad at testing this, or the sugar cooks really fast, but somehow we overcooked the syrup, and when we started pulling the taffy it turned hard instead of being soft (and I got blisters in my impatience to roll correctly). So we ended up with hard candy instead. A sad day indeed, especially because neither of us are much of hard candy people. Lydia sure loves it, though.

Yesterday we made gingersnaps, which did turn out fine, and then this coming week we're going to make soft caramels, which I dearly hope work out better, because I love caramels, and then also Gingerbread men to decorate (they're easier than doing a whole house, which we originally wanted to do). Mmm, now that I'm thinking of food, I need to go eat. So I'll turn off the font of surpressed contact, and end this post.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lydia and Dancing

So, Lydia loves to dance. Especially to the Doors, of all bands. I thought I would try and include a video, for the first time. Avram also updated his blog with another video of Lydia dancing, but I didn't use that one because half of me is in the picture dancing, and frankly I look rather silly. This didn't stop my husband however, and Lydia is cute in it, so I recommend visiting his blog as well.
video

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mere Christianity

Lydia and I went and visited St. Bartholomew's Parish Church next door, today. Although we've been here for two months, we've never actually been to it, which is really kind of funny, because every town we've visited thus far Avram and I searched out the local church and saw it, but we hadn't even walked the twenty feet to the church next door.

I accidentally interrupted their Wednesday morning service, but thankfully they were almost done; it was peopled with about 10-15 older women (and one man), and then the vicar himself, who was an energetic younger man named Andrew. They all loved Lydia, and Andrew was very welcoming to us. As the women talked to each other and to us after the service, and then as they discussed upcoming social/church events, I suddenly felt a great urge to become Anglican. Don't worry, I didn't get baptized; although I love the social aspects of a church in ones neighborhood, and the traditional buildings of the Anglicans, the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints keeps me firmly.

But wouldn't it be nice to have a Christmas Eve Midnight Mass? Even if we are Mormon? And I think that lay priesthood is great, but wouldn't it be cool if our bishop wore robes every Sunday? Sometimes I wish we didn't save all of the the pomp and circumstance and cool clothing for the Temple, but spread it out to the rest of our meetings as well. Of course, I know the cassock and alb are remnants of Roman Secular Dress, and don't necessarily represent religious needs and ideas, still, they look cool. If our church ever does take up wearing the cassock, alb, surplice and tunicle, Avram will be ready to be called as a bishop; I've already made him a very historically accurate set of priestly clothing, although it was out of blue silk, and blue isn't one of the traditional liturgical colors.

Regardless, St. Bartholomew's captured my heart for the moment, between the building itself, the sense of community, and the sheer close location to my domicile. The building dates from the thirteenth century, with additions up through the seventeenth century, when the Spencer family built a separate chapel chock full of dead family members and the associate requisite statues and effigies. The pews and stained glass windows are 'modern,' coming from the early 1800s. Also there I learned that our cottage, which used to be the vicar's cottage until 20 years ago, dates from the mid-1600s. I had no idea I was living in quarters (granted, ours would have been the servant's quarters if he had any) dating that old. I think the oldest house I've lived in up to this point has been far under a hundred years old.

There's a firm history for the blending of the Anglican and Mormon churches, though. After all, C.S. Lewis, as we all know, although a technical member of the Anglican church, was actually secretly Mormon, and the sheer number of quotes from him in conference and other church meetings testify. So maybe I can be like that from the other direction; become socially Anglican, while doctrinally still Mormon...Mmm, I'm not sure I could get that one passed the bishop.

Speaking of church dealings, on Saturday we went down to Oxford for a festival of lighting the Christmas lights. While there we were approached by a young women with a thick accent, who introduced herself as from Hungary, and a nun looking for charitable donations. Well, Avram and I were feeling charitable, it being Christmas and all, gave her two pounds for the cause of nunnery. Then she gave us a complimentary book...on Yoga...from the Hare Krishna. I didn't even know they had nuns. Is everyone considered a nun? Regardless, we felt kind of put upon, because nothing against the Hare Krishna per se, but we were under the impression we were donating to a Catholic nun, for the cause of Catholicism, which we much more agree with.

So now we have this yoga book, which Lydia upon seeing all the nice colored pictures of Krishna, plus the book is small, so it's just her size, decided belonged to her. So our daughter now carries around with her a nice yoga book, and thumbs through it while talking to herself. I hope this doesn't make her grow up to become Hare Krishna.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approached this year, we knew we wanted to celebrate it, and after all, we had brought canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce for this express purpose. However, we knew we didn't have the money to put on an entire dinner ourselves, and at the same time didn't want to do a potluck thing, because telling someone from Germany, for example, do bring sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving might not bring the right sort of sweet, Thanksgiving-like sweet potatoes, and that wouldn't do at all. Thankfully, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (ie, the night before, but we always knew that we couldn't celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day, because we're given no holiday, and so there wouldn't be any time that day) Daniel, another American in the program motivated us to still plan a Thanksgiving, and than night sent out an email to everyone in the program, inviting them to a dinner on Sunday, to which they were also invited to RSVP, and pay a few pounds.

So come Sunday afternoon, Avram and I rushed home from church, popped a turkey in the oven, and began preparations, along with Daniel, for the Thanksgiving feast. I had actually made the pumpkin pies the day before, which part to me is the hardest part; I always stress out about pie crust, although mine always turns out okay, it still is a difficult thing to make, because despite what all the cookbooks say, when I add the right amount of water, it never turns into a dough, but just looks like shortbread cookie crumbs. Regardless, I muddled through the process this year, and turned out three pies; two from the canned pumpkin, and then one very large one from homemade pumpkin. The latter turned out well, although I didn't blend the pumpkin, because we don't have a blender, and so had to content myself with mixing it, and it did have small bits and strings of pumpkin in it. Ironically, it was easier in England to buy a cooking pumpkin, because in America they have so many others that aren't actually pumpkins, but blends of squash and here they only had the cooking pumpkins.

It only took the three of us four hours, with an hour off in the middle, to make Thanksgiving dinner. Writing that, it sounds like a long time, but really cooking for an afternoon isn't long at all. This was the first time I'd ever been in charge of a Thanksgiving, either for planning, but also for all of the food, but everything turned out well. The turkey didn't look like it was going to cook for awhile, or at least, not cook in an appropriate amount of time, but at the last stretch it browned up, and even remained tender, so we were happy all around. Granted, we did eat an hour later than planned, but honestly what Thanksgiving meal isn't a little later than the organized time?

We had thirteen people at our Thanksgiving, plus Lydia, and people from Hungary, Germany, Poland, Australia, Denmark, Canada, and then of course America, and they all liked our American food. In fact, the sweet potatoes didn't even survive to seconds, a first for any Thanksgiving I've been to (I tried a new recipe that didn't involve either canned yams or marshmallows). And the pumpkin pie was a hit, although people were a little nervous about it beforehand, most never having had pumpkin at all. And many never knew that cranberries were a new world food, so it was also an educational night.

I think that this is my favorite social thing we've done thus far in England; we really had good conversations, good food, and best of all, I didn't have to do any of the cleaning up, because I had done the cooking. Best of all, since the party was in our house (not in our apartment, but in the "common" kitchen and living room on the main floor) and we cooked, we also got all the leftovers, so today for dinner we had pumpkin pie, which in the words of Avram's father was calorically equivalent to a dinner.

Over all I had a very good Thanksgiving, although a few days late. It was fun being an emissary of American culture, and we inspired the two Polish girls to have a party this Friday for St. Andrew's day, where you try to find out who you're going to marry (Married girls can still come, though, I guess I get to see how Avram's measuring up), and I love celebrating as many holidays as possible, so I'm all for others in the program having parties as well.

As we ate, I had everyone tell in order something they were grateful for; I started us off, by saying I was grateful for my Family; Avram, Lydia, and then the new baby I'm expecting (they didn't know I was pregnant, so it was a fun way of announcing it, but also, I am truly grateful for all three). As well, I'm grateful even thousands of miles from home we were still able to celebrate Thanksgiving with the three main essentials; Food, Family/friends, and thankfulness to God.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Glitch in our plans

There's been a wrench in our plans for applications, at least at UPENN. Yesterday Avram emailed a professor at UPENN, and heard back from him this morning, and he's retiring this next year. So until they hire another biblicist, the program won't offer the right courses. The professor told Avram out right not to apply there. While we're grateful that he just saved us over $70 in application fee, it means that once more we're searching for another school to apply to, this time in the top tier. UPENN is in the Ivy League, and of the other Ivy Leagues, only Harvard really has a program with good biblicists (now a days it's very popular to do Dead Sea Scrolls, or Second Temple Judaism, which is passed the biblical period, so it can be hard to find people actually studying the bible itself in this field). Also, Yale does have a good program, but we're already applying there.

Berkeley is also top tier, so currently it looks like it's between Berkeley and Harvard, although Avram doesn't want to go to Harvard, so it's probably Berkeley. We don't want to live in Berkeley; for one thing, there we would definitely homeschool our children, because of what they teach in the public schools in the area around San Francisco. Although Avram should be getting his doctorate when Lydia is in second or third grade, so it's not like it's very long in homeschooling. But Berkeley is a very good school.

I should probably be worried that someone from Harvard will see that he doesn't want to go there, if he does apply, from this blog, but frankly I've tried looking my blog up on the Internet, to see how "famous" I am, and I can't even find my blog, and I know everything about it. When you type in Yarnton Manor on Google, Avram's blog comes up pretty quickly, and mine doesn't at all, although I've updated since we've been here, and mention it all the time, and he doesn't update his blog at all. Life just isn't fair.

Which brings me back to this college application thing. Anyway, this has certainly shown to me the usefulness of writing the professors ahead of time. Avram heard back from the Professor at Duke as well, and she wrote a very friendly letter, and even congratulated Avram on having the chance to study at Oxford. So we feel good about Duke, not that we didn't already; it's Avram's top choice, currently. They only let 4% in, according to her, because they cut back admissions, so that now they only let enough people in that they can fully fund. Good for those who get in, hard for everyone else.

He's writing the rest of the professors today, because we hadn't realized that Thanksgiving break starts tomorrow; we had forgotten until a couple of days ago that it was Thanksgiving this week at all, so he's trying to reach them all before the break.

Sarah - if it looks like we're stalking all of the places that you're applying to, well, we probably are.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Feeling Two foot small

Alas, a whole week since my last update; we've spent the last week looking at many schools, and generally beginning the glorious process all over again of applying to graduate schools. Having a year break between applications is a good reason to me for a two year master's degree, instead of only a one year one, but alas and alack, it was not to be for us.

Currently we're applying to: Yale(Connecticut), UPENN (Philadelphia), Duke (N.C.), Johns Hopkins (Baltimore), and Wisc-Madison (Wisconsin). We're looking for another school to add to this list, because we need another "safety" school, ie, a school that doesn't have a 4% acceptance rate for the department we're applying to (Duke) or even a 7% rate (Yale). We like Wisconsin's stats a lot more (58%). Partly it's more, though, because they don't have nearly as good of financial packages as the first four schools, which basically guarantee complete tuition payment, plus a stipend and health care (but for Avram only; I can dream), which means they can only let a very limited amount of people in.

Currently I just changed the music I'm listening to to "You've Got to Hide Your Love," by the Beatles, because the sentiment "feeling two foot small" aptly applies to the feelings of graduate school applications, although it could also be expressed as two inches small as well.

I must clarify here, that I'm actually not applying to get a doctoral degree at all; only Avram is. But I'm so wrapped up in it, and certainly my future is so affected by it, that I feel like it's "we" that's applying. Just like in a way, I usually tell people that 'we're having a baby.' Because Avram and I work differently, it's helpful to have both of us involved in the application process; I thoroughly read ever website for all of the small, yet vitally important information on applying, the program, etc, while Avram gets to fill out all of the forms. Also, he gets to write to the professors he's potentially interested in working with, and say inane things like; "gee, I like you. I think you'll like me. Please let me in?" Okay, so it's a good thing Avram has to write these emails and not me. They're important because in the application you're supposed to say who you want to work with in the department, and of course it helps if you've found out from that respective professor if they hate your interests, or are terminally ill, etc, etc.

Luckily, all of our applications are online, so we don't have to worry about the vagaries of international mail.

I'm sure all of my dear readers will be hearing a lot more of this subject over the next while; most applications are due the beginning of January, so we're not out of the grisly application jungle yet. And then comes the interminable waiting.... I just tell myself that by the time our baby's born, we'll know for sure where we're going to school. Then it doesn't seem so long. And somebody has to let us in, right? Actually, no. I know someone who did classics, and was very impressive as an undergrad, and he went through two rounds of applications to grad school, and didn't get into anywhere, and then he changed his tack, and applied for law school, and got a full scholarship at a prestigious place. I can't decide if this depressing story has a happy ending, or not.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Our Expedition

We did walk down to the appointment (sorry Jessica, I didn't see your comment until afterwards). Partly, we didn't really understand the bus system enough at that point to know what buses went where, and we'd have to switch buses too. At the hospital, though, they had these great pamphlets that had the actual bus routes drawn out in them, and we took one with us, so we finally have a handle on how to take the buses here. Online they don't have that (at least not that we could find), and so although we could see the names of the bus routes, the names didn't really mean anything to us. So we could never figure out what buses to take, or where they went.

We even got to our appointment ten minutes early, after walking for two hours. It's funny, because walking for two hours can seem like a lot, but then you think of the pioneers, and they walked all day long; after two hours of walking, that seems like an awful lot of walking. Or even when Avram and I were dating, we once went for a four hour walk that went all over Provo, even into parts I've still never seen since (up behind DI, on the way to Walmart, kind of, but still in Provo).

Anyway, the baby is fine, and breathing, okay, its heart is beating, I guess it's not actually breathing. I held my hands over my eyes, until the ultrasound specialist told me the baby was alive, because I didn't want the experience I had last time, when they discovered a missed miscarriage by ultrasound. But it was all good, and my ultra-technical due date is...May 8th. Which is what I had figured out on my own anyway. Hurrah for modern medicine.

Our specialist found out that we walked to the app. from Yarnton, which she was very impressed at, because she didn't know that Americans walked places. Of course, Americans don't walk places, as a general rule, which we did tell her. Also, that it was as much sheer stupidity and determinism that made us walk as much as admirable qualities. Be that as it may, she came out and told the receptionist about our walking there, and they decided they're going to use us as examples to people who come late or miss their appointment, especially if they live nearby, because no, we didn't miss our appointment, and it was at nine am, even though we started walking at 6:45 to get there, etc, etc. Also, they told us what buses went where that we needed, so that was good too.

We took a bus into the city centre after that, and meant to immediately take the minibus home, but then we passed Pizza Hut, and Avram suggested eating at their lunch buffet, which I was game for, because A. it's American, and B. I wanted to celebrate that our baby was alive, because I'd been very worried about that until now. So we did, and it was great. American pizza, Salad, Mmm, I was very happy. Although, of course they didn't have Rootbeer, which was sad, but expected.

So overall today I had a very good day; and all that walking really worked up an appetite for the pizza, plus with the money we saved from not taking a bus down we paid for at least one of our meals. Thus, everything is good.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wimin Folk Musings

Lydia and I are sitting here, listening to Bob Dylan sing 'Blowin' in the Wind,' waiting for our caramel popcorn baking in the oven to be stirred again, and just generally doing well.

Avram left us tonight for a Stake Priesthood meeting, but seeing as our stake center is an hour away, and how rides work, etc, etc, he had to take the 3:15 pm mini bus to Oxford, and won't be home until 11:00 pm (he is studying for a couple of hours in Oxford before he actually leaves for the meeting), so it's us wimin folk here holding the home fort down.

I love caramel popcorn, and I never got to eat very much from the party (also, it didn't properly caramelize, and so was more like fancy sugared popcorn; everyone loved it, but it disappointed me, who loves real caramel popcorn), and as Lydia and I were hanging out after our not very exciting baked potato dinner, I decided that although it was only us, why not make yummy food. Besides, Avram doesn't even like caramel popcorn.

So we did. Well, Lydia stood on her chair next to the stove, and played with items from the rack, while I did the actually cooking part. But she did taste test the caramel, and thoroughly approved. I can already tell that the sugar properly caramelized, so overall in my life I am very happy.

This is a good thing, because today in the mail I finally received my ultrasound appointment, and it's for Friday at nine am. And then I found out the the hospital is actually six and a half miles away. And except for taking a taxi, which would be eighty American dollars round trip, the other method to get there is walking. Avram wants me to call the relief society for a ride, but I already know that everyone who lives up by us works during the day, and also I hate being a burden on the church, and we already get rides every Sunday for church, as well as any church activities (see, but there they're already going to church, so it's not totally out of their way). So we're going to walk. Avram's coming with me, which is very nice. Overall it won't be that bad; a whole two miles less than the church walk was, although we do have to do a round trip.

Also, for two days in a row my mom has done a conference call with me and sisters of mine in America; today with Mary and Halley (who had a baby girl two days ago), and yesterday with Tali. So I feel very connected to my family right now, which is a very nice feeling to have. I miss living near my family; I always wanted to be one of those families that lived close together, and the cousins grew up almost more like extended siblings. To be honest, like the Steed family in the Work and the Glory; yes, I sure do like that imaginary family. A lot of my family does live in Salt Lake City, so it is a true dream, just not for me.

I still hold out the hope of moving back to Utah after Avram finishes his Ph.d., and having him work at BYU. Of course, we can't be sure about the future, especially future jobs, but I would love it if that happened. And I know it's "happy valley" that everyone makes fun of, but I loved living in Provo, and would love to do it permanently. I've even picked out my possible houses that I want to buy in the tree streets, which is where I want to live, because then we'll be close enough to BYU for Avram to walk to work, and I like them. Even the students that live there.

And then I would own a house, which I dream of doing. Then I could have things like a real Chrismas tree, full size even. And paint the rooms, because I love coloured walls. And have a flower garden, although based on this summer's garden it would be a fairly pathetic one. But it would be mine, and that's the important part in my imaginings. There are positive aspects to my stage of life, too. After all, if we did own a house, coming to England would have been nigh impossible.

Well, my caramel popcorn is almost done, so I'll end these musings.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Corned Beef

Yet another post about food. Do I ever stop talking about this subject? Upon reflection, no, I don't think I will. First off; a note. The party actually went really well; there were two rooms, and so the people who wanted to dance around in the dark and drink wine were in one room, and the people who wanted to sit sedately in chairs and talk in another room (guess where we were). The food went over very well, and I took pictures of it, but now I don't know where our camera is, so until I find it this post will be pictureless, but you should keep checking until pictures arrive, because they're very important to everything here. Especially the main topic, of which I took pictures of to document.

On to the post; Corned Beef. Lately, being pregnant, and so able to develop sudden irrepressible cravings for food I like, I decided that I needed to eat Corned Beef. I love corned beef, although I never had it until I married Avram, I have fallen fast in love with it ever since. It's so yummy with the potatoes and cabbage cooked in the corned beef water, and with homemade wholewheat soda bread on the side. Mmm, I love corned beef. People in America are always saying that Corned beef isn't really an Irish meal, although people eat it on March 17 a lot to celebrate St. Patrick's Day (which is hardly an Irish holiday either, so I guess it works out fine). And yet on the other hand, I've also always known that the British eat corned beef. After all, in the very British book Indian in the Cupboard, the boy brings his living Indian toy some corned beef.

It turns out both are true. The British do eat corned beef, sort of. It's all canned. Even the deli stuff looks like you dumped it out of a can and sliced it. So we got to the store, and had to buy canned corned beef to replace our lovely brisket I had been dreaming of. I made sure we bought the premium corned beef, so that it was made out of real beef and everything. (side note here; according to Wikipedia, the Irish when they came to the US started eating corned beef, because they couldn't find/afford Irish bacon (which if it's anything like British bacon is actually ham) and so found this cheaper alternative. Hence, it is an Irish food, just an exclusively American Irish dish).

We bought two cans, which together weren't that cheap, and brought them home with the best of hopes, and the worst of fears. A key is included on the side of the can, but we couldn't figure out how this was supposed to open the can. I looked on the internet, and found people who complained about how hard it is to open corned beef cans (they're odd shaped, kind of like a trapezoidal cylindar), but no one who actually shared the secret of how it's supposed to work, so we just pretended on our own. After fiddling with it for a long time, Avram finally succeeded in hopelessly breaking the key off, after opening one centimeter of can. So then we turned to a traditional can opener, which did the job just fine.

But then we realized our mistake; we had accidentally bought dog food, instead of actual corned beef. At least, it looked and smelled like dog food. Avram named it Rover's Royal Repast, but still we (I; Avram never had any faith in the beginning in this venture) held out our hope that it would at least taste right, even if it had the texture of expensive dog food.

I felt better remembering a story that Avram's maternal grandfather, Papa Juju, had shared with me. When he was a kid, during the great depression, and was staying with his uncle, a friend/salesman of his uncle dropped off a can for him to try. So his uncle opened it up, and to them it looked like scrapple (a pennsylvania regional dish of nasty pork parts mixed with cornmeal, molded, sliced, and then fried), so they fried it up, and ate it for breakfast. Juju said it wasn't great, but wasn't too bad. A while later, the friend came by, and asked what they thought of the dog food he had given them to try on their dog.

If Papa Juju could eat real dog food, and live to tell the tale, I could at least eat canned corned beef.

Avram sliced the corned beef, and started frying it, but it soon fell apart into all of its nasty bits. Being the good, kind and caring parents that we are, we let Lydia have it first. Lo and Behold, she loved it, and made yum, yum noises throughout eating it. At one point she even in her excitement dumped a piece of it into a bowl of milk that remained on the table from breakfast, and then fished it back out again and ate it. Avram and I, even making sandwiches with swiss, and mine with a lot of mayo, his with a lot of mustard, barely choked it down. Avram mused on this sort of reason being why England had developed such a strong mustard tradition, because in a seafaring nation, where the sailors would often had yucky food to eat (here I presume he meant the corned beef) they needed something to mask the flavour, and so developed biting mustards.

After our best efforts, there's still about a third of a can's worth left in the fridge, waiting to be used by us, not to mention an unopened can. I wonder if they have food banks we could donate to here....

I still crave corned beef, though. Yesterday I had Avram boil me some cabbage in water, but it just wasn't the same without the corned beef. I looked up ways to corn our own beef, but it takes seven days, and a lot of kosher salt and fridge space, and frankly is rather overwhelming. All of this searching did turn up Salt Beef, which is a preserved beef they have here. It doesn't have any of the same spices as corned beef, but Avram's mom is going to buy corned beef in America, take out the spice packet, and then send it to us, and we're going to combine it with this said Salt Beef, and see if we can't turn up something more edible than our last experiment.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Halloween misgivings

Tomorrow there is a Halloween party here at the Manor for the students here. It's being planned by students, and I'm doing all the food. We're a little nervous, though, because the two who are planning it are straight out of undergraduate, are both English, and both went to Oxford for an undergraduate. And one of them in Avram's class yesterday made a statement about how Halloween isn't a very pleasant holiday, and that people all get drunk and throw up, and how she was out partying, and saw a girl lying in her own vomit, and her friends calling and ambulance for her. So this would be a good sign for our party, right? That it'll be really tame. Except it's a bring your own bottle party, which they all are here, and the email for it says to come with an open mind.

I'm worried. For one thing, we're bringing a toddler to this party. Earlier in the term a married girl from Denmark had a party when her husband was visiting, and it was a byob party. But it was really very pleasant; there were some snacks, and I had water to drink, and we all just sat and talked about everything from the historical significance of the higab (the head covering in Islam for women) to the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice (which apparently is a worldwide phenomenon; girls from Poland to Germany to America were all swooning in that room over Mr. Darcy). It was the one of the first times I had really been around people drinking alcohol, but they were all so nice and adult about it; everyone who had brought alcohol had their drinks, but they drank slowly, and responsibly like, and no one was drunk at all, and overall I was very happy with it. For one thing, no one had any hard liquor, so it's a lot harder to get drunk.

But although this girl despises the over drinking on Halloween, she said she's tired of the first thing anyone thinks of when they think of Halloween is throwing up. To me this says a lot about the kind of company she keeps, because I've never thought of throwing up and Halloween in the same thought at all. I know I'm not an average American, but I've enjoyed many Halloweens and Halloween parties alcohol free, and had a great time. In England, though, the holiday is newly imported from America, and it seems they've only imported a couple of aspects; trick or treating and annoying partying by teenagers and early twenties. In America it's part of the culture at all levels.

This is why I'm worried; that having such a narrow view of the holiday, both personally and culturally, they'll plan a party that isn't at all the sort that I want to attend. But we have to go, because as I said earlier I'm doing all the food. This started because I had originally planned to throw my own Halloween party, and I had come up with a menu and everything, and then another movement began for a party (I hadn't discussed mine with anyone), and so I volunteered to help with that one instead, and these two girls had already volunteered, so I got the food, and they got everything else.

Really, the food is my favorite part of planning a party, and anyone knows who attended my parties back in Provo that food is really the main planned thing anyway, because I don't like party games, and my friends and I like to talk enough that that's a good party activity. The program gave us forty pounds for the party; I got 20 for food, and they got 20 for everything else. It had better be some pretty exciting decorations.

We've bought all the food, and I must say, I am excited about that. It's all American food, but this is an unapologetically American holiday, and I'm an American, so it's what they get. We're going to have Caramel Popcorn (homemade; everything is homemade in this list), Tortilla chips with a 'spiderweb' dip, ie like a mini seven layer dip, except the top layer is sour cream, that's piped out to look like a spiderweb. Also served with that will be mashed monster brains (guacamole). Then veggies and dip, which I don't have any cute names for. Then graveyard cake, which is like dirt cake, ie it has pudding mixed with whipped cream, and then layered with oreo crumbs and the crumbs on top look like dirt. We didn't buy gummy worms here, but we do have gummy snakes, and then I'll stick some butter cookies shaped like tombstones in the top, and voila, a graveyard. I wanted to get gummy skeletons and put them under each grave, but they are very short on Halloween candy here. Very, very short. Finally we'll also have butter cookies, which Avram likes more than sugar cookies, that will be hand cut out into Halloween shapes, because they don't have any Halloween cookie cutters here, with real buttercream icing (made with butter and cream, instead of nasty shortening and milk) colored to match the shapes.

I know this is like a laundry list, but it's what I've been spending my time on lately. For one thing, it's hard to find food that works here, for all of this. You're supposed to actually use cool whip instead of whipped cream for the graveyard cake, but they don't have that here. That's not really a loss, because whipped cream tastes better anyway, but then I don't have a mixer here, so unless something magically turns up, tomorrow I'm going to be whipping cream by hand. Our ancestors did it, so I know it's possible. And pudding here means a cake type thing, and so I didn't buy chocolate pudding, I bought a chocolate dessert mix you mix with milk, and I hope desperately turns into pudding.

I'll let y'all know how it turns out; hopefully well.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Forays into Social Medicine

I had my first appointment today, with a General Practitioner, who then recommends me to the midwives. I was really hoping for an ultrasound or doppler to check for the baby's heartbeat, mainly because last time I miscarried I found out at my first midwife appointment. This morning (before the app.) I was so worried about this that I could hardly function. Avram kept reassuring me, because I have been morning sick - or all-day sick, to be more accurate. I gathered up all op my courage, and went to the surgery (what they call the local clinics).
I met with a doctor, who filled out forms on a computer, and then told me that I would receive my dating scan (ultrasound) appointment in the mail, and that was it. No doppler. They don't even have an scanner at the surgery, which isn't really surprising, when you realize that in socialized medicine it makes sense to keep the more expensive equipment in centralized locations, such as hospitals. My scan will be done at the local Oxford hospital, which unfortunately is nowhere close to where the minibus drops us off in Oxford. In fact, it's about the same distance - four miles - to walk straight to the hospital from Yarnton than take the minibus. I guess it's good then that my normal appointments won't be there. And I do like to walk, at least. When I asked the doctor when the scan would be, he said, "Probably within a fortnight."

After I have the scan, then I'll have the actual first appointment. I can't really complain, after all, Britain is letting me have a baby for free here.
I do feel let down, though. At this rate I'll be able to tell whether my baby is alive by when it starts kicking, because I'll be far enough along. Since my appointment I haven't done anything useful at home, I think because it was all so anti-climactic and uninformative. I have made a sad sentimental song times playlist on my computer, with such songs as Hurry Down Sundown, by Peter, Paul and Mary, Desperado, the Eagles, No Smoke no Baloney, Tanglefoot (a rather obscure folk Canadian group, but I love them. And the song is all about breathing in the smoke and the bad working conditions in the steel plants in Sydney, the capital of Cape Breton Isle attached to Nova Scotia. Perfect for sad songs.)

They did give me a Pregnancy book, which the doctor pointed out would mostly be useful to me for cultural observations. Such as in Britain for pain medication during labor they have a lot more options, like Gas and Air, ie nitrous oxide. It makes me think of the Muppet Show veterinary hospital skit, where they're always breathing in the n.o. at the beginning. Or TENS, which is basically electrodes attached to your back that you control and give jolts to yourself during contractions. Weird.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What, Ho!

I developed a sudden case of productivity on Friday, and went and obtained a library card in Oxford. Unlike many things in a foreign country, getting a library card was desultorily easy; I didn't even have to provide proof of residence in Oxfordshire, unlike the Provo library, where I needed two letters addressed to me in my home in Provo for a card. Being that the library was confusing to me, in namely that I couldn't find the fiction section except for a small thing attached to the large nonfiction room, which consisted mainly of books in foreign languages like Urdu, I didn't really have much of a choice of book to check out.
However, they did have a whole shelf of PG Wodehouse, and so in memory of Matt (it sound like I'm about to go on with, 'the dearly departed') I checked out three Jeeves and Wooster books, although it turns out one book is actually only about golf, with no trace of Jeeves or Wooster. (It turned out to be a good thing that I only checked out a few books {I also got some children's books} because the library doesn't have any plastic bags, and I only had my purse, so I had nowhere to put the books. Lydia, who was late for lunch and her nap threw an holy tantrum when I tried to put her in her stroller, so I ended up putting the books in the stroller and carrying my hysterical daughter the three blocks to the minibus stop for the Manor while pushing said stroller as well. I felt like a walking ad for not having children, being the ladies that you wince as they come by with their hellion children).
Regardless, I've read both Jeeves books, and enjoyed them very much. In case Matt reads this, I read Thank You, Jeeves, and Stiff Upper Life, Jeeves. I've decided to focus on British books while over here, and this was a very nice introduction. Also, it was just nice to have something to read after having nothing for a month. I like Berty, and I also like trying to get all of his half remembered literary references (I'm afraid I'm less educated than even Berty in this). And it's nice to read books about people in England, because then I can be like, "Hey, I'm here too," although my life patently has nothing to do with anything that Berty's life comes into contact with. Berty is already a confirmed bachelor, and the sight of Lydia without food and a nap would not only cause him to continue to rejoice in this, but to eschew the very sight and presence of myself and daughter.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cottage Tour

Per Samuel's request, I am finally going to give a pictorial tour of our apartment. You enter our apartment on the second floor, and then go up another flight of stairs. At the top, past a baby gate (Lydia doesn't try to go down the stairs, but I was worried about her accidentally falling down them, because they're very steep, and there's a sharp wall at the end) and below a skylight you're on our front landing. To the right is our...bathroom! (Very exciting).
Not really much to say about it. Yep, it's a bathroom. The part of most note is the bathtub; notice that it has no shower. Avram, who has had a hard time adjusting to not living in America, and who misses America a lot (the physical land, by the way, especially the wide open places out West. This works out well for me, because I want him to apply to BYU to teach after his doctorate, and although Provo isn't exactly a wide open space on its own, it is close to them), says there are really only three things he doesn't like about England. It's worth noting, and he does, that none of them are actually problems with England, just with our specific experience of living abroad.

First, he doesn't like that we have absolutely no money. In America we were college students, and joked about being 'starving college students,' but really for the most part we were able to get along, between his half scholarship, Pell grants (I love Pell grants), and him working about 16 hours a week. Here, he has a half scholarship too (which is very generous; Oxford doesn't give out much money at all), but we have to also get lots of student loans, a personal loan from his Grandpa, etc, etc. Pell grants are only for undergraduate, so that's out. Why do we need so much more money? Everything is twice as much in England, and currently the American dollar is, as Avram puts it, tanking right now. In theory, we both agree with this, that the dollar should represent the money America actually has. In reality it's depressing to be abroad while this is happening. We have enough to get by, and everything, and we have plenty of food, but we just feel poor in a way we never did in America, and we don't like it. Hopefully we'll get a nice financial package for his doctorate, with a full scholarship and stipend, so that we can feel rich again in America.

Secondly he doesn't like grocery shopping, because the food's different, and Thirdly, he doesn't like taking baths here, because we have no shower. My problem with only baths, is I get in, and then never want to get out; less effective for being productive. Avram's problem is that they're a drag, ie, we have to fill them first, and he can never seem to get the right mixture of hot and cold water, and it makes his hair yucky, because the soap never comes out (this is all straight from his mouth). I tell him how the hot water in Egypt didn't go up the shower pipes, so you had to take a bath, but also the hot water heater was so small that in order to not have a mildly lukewarm to cold bath I instead just put warm water in a bucket and sponge bathed inside the bathtub, but for some reason this didn't help (one upping people, even if it's true, never does help).

If you go straight ahead on the landing there's the Kitchen:
Lydia just eats at the table with us, and sits on a little phone book. It works pretty well.
Then, to the left on the landing is hallway, and on one side of the hallway is our bedroom:
Notice the artistic rustic beams, and authentic sloped ceiling. Lydia sleeps on the floor, next to our bed. Sounds sad, huh? Here's the other part of the room. Small, but functional.
And finally, our living room, at the other side of the hallway.
It's the largest room in our apartment, although I do dearly miss having a couch. Lydia doesn't seem to mind not getting her own comfy chair (there are two of them).

And finally, one last picture:
Lydia saluting off and thanking you for your time touring, while getting comfy with her younger sibling's afghan, who is due around May 8 or 9th (which would make her Mama 12 weeks along, for the mathematically disinclined).

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Pilgrim's Progress (but not A Pilgrim's Obtainment)

Avram loves the Lord of the Rings. Not like post-movie fans, or even movie fans at all. He's loved the books for years and years, reads them about every six months, and feels that Tolkien has been one of the largest influences in his life. Over the Summer, when everyone was making the list of ten books that were the largest for us in our life, Avram never made a list. He told me recently that was because really the three books of the Lord of the Rings (plus the Hobbit), were really all that would be on his list, because they are such a larger influence than anything else, that they need their own list or tier.

Tolkien taught at Oxford; while in school he was in Exeter college, and then as a don he was in Merton College. (Avram now regrets not applying to be in Exeter, so he could have been closer to Tolkien). Also, he lived in a close village near Oxford, named Wolvercote, which is about halfway between Yarnton and Oxford. Avram found out that Tolkien was buried in the Wolvercote cemetary, and ever since he's discovered this, he's really wanted to go down to Wolvercote and see his grave, as a pilgrimage of sorts.

So on Saturday at noon we headed down to see his grave, and in general to partake of the English countryside and get out of our flat. We walked along the Oxford canal, along which a multitude of long boats are moored. Long boats are six feet wide and forty feet long, and seem to be a fairly common form of alternate housing around here, although they're kind of like living in RVs - mostly older, retired couples seem to live in them. They go up and down the canals, and even the Thames River. They made me think of my parents, who used to always say that they wanted to buy an RV and then travel around and visit all of their kids, instead of having a house. A longboat would be quite the retirement home, although I would think it would take a lot of upkeep.

About halfway to Wolvercote the trail leaves the canal, into a patch of woods that looked like the entrance to fairyland to Avram and I.
This led us to Wolvercote, with only forty five minutes of walking total, so really a nice, short route. Then we ran into our real problems; we didn't know where the cemetery in Wolvercote was. It seemed to be a fairly small town, so we decided to just look around and find it that way. We found the church easily enough, with the requisite surrounding cemetery, but all of the cemeteries attached to the churches have been filled up long ago, so we knew not to look in there. Besides, Tolkien was catholic, and the church was an Anglican one, of course, so we didn't think he'd be buried in there anyway. After completely encasing the town, we went over a bridge over the railroad tracks, and found that there was still half the town on the other side. Did I mention we also don't have a map of the surrounding area? It would really come in handy, I think.

We walked through the town, past the Trout inn, where the Inklings used to walk up to from Oxford to eat and talk, kind of like a separate Eagle and Child. It's was very crowded, and looks fairly expensive, now. On the other side of the Thames (a small river, much smaller than I was expecting) we stumbled onto this
Which is the remains of Gladstow Abbey/Nunnery. By this point we had given up hope of finding the grave, so we just contented ourselves with poking around these ruins. Avram and I both love religious history, and ruins, so old churches are great for us. Mainly just the outer walls remain, but the original chapel is still standing:
albeit roofless. The Nunnery lies in a small green space, where apparently (according to a sign we read) there has been free ranging cows since the 1100s. There still are, and as there are no fences anywhere, they come right to the abbey, and probably would go inside too, except we were there to deter them.
Lydia loves to make animal sounds, but seems somewhat confused. She thinks that pigs, cows and sheep are all sheep, and go baa, except when a sheep is sheared, and then she thinks it's a dog, so then it's ruff. She labels every dog we see as doggie, and then ruff, ruffs at them. She also baa'd at ever cow, although I repeatedly went moo.

I don't really like free range cows. When I was only three months pregnant with Lydia, Avram and I went camping. I'm cheap, and so wanted to go somewhere that was free to camp, and our boss at work recommended the mountain south of Payson (not Mt. Nebo), so we drove up there one Friday after work. While driving up we had the unique experience of seeing the car full of stupid teenage boys behind us, with the stupidest one of all saran-wrapped to the top of the car, so he looked as if he were body surfing on the car. Not one of the high points in my life in my faith in the rising generation. We eventually settled on a spot, but as this was free camping, there were no campsites per se, with nicely graded ground to sleep on, but rather the extremely bumpy Mother Nature at her best. Also, although we didn't realize this at first, the mountain is covered with free range cows. This provided us with plenty of 'buffalo chips' if we needed them for a fire, but luckily I was able to start a fire with just wood we found, and didn't need to resort to such pioneer-like activities. The cows didn't really bother me until the middle of the night, when they began roaming all outside our tent. Cows in the middle of the night can be very scary creatures, and I began to fear they would fall/sit on our little defenseless tent and squish us flat. Or maybe stampede us. I know I'm showing my ignorance here, but I did grow up in a city, to be fair. Also, being pregnant, I had to urinate in the middle of the night, and was so scared of the cows that I woke up Avram and made him come with me, because I feared them so.

By the grace of God we made it through the night with the wild cows, and ever since then I've always remembered my close escape from free range cows.

Of course, we weren't spending the night at the Nunnery, so it was alright. Apparently the Nunnery is considered haunted, so we wouldn't want to sleep there anyway, by the ghost of Rosamund, a mistress of Henry the II. She lived in this nunnery, and allegedly Eleanore of Aquitane poisoned her so she died, and she's haunted it ever since. Gladstow Abbey has quite a long history behind it; built in the 1100s, it existed as a strong abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries.

We decided to head home, sad in our lack of finding Tolkien's grave, and I had the bright idea of following the Thames river trail (which runs the length of the Thames) up to where the Oxford canal intersects with the Thames, and going home by that method. We went down a pleasant paved road, through a beautiful valley with sheep and cows grazing, a flock of Canadian Geese, and a breathtaking hill rising along the north/south, covered with trees. So I shouldn't go into description writing. Just let it be known that England is incredibly picturesque. Then we came to a series of locks (very common along both the Thames and the Oxford Canal), and past them our nice, paved path turned into a muddy morass of impassable (for Lydia's stroller at least) of churned earth. Lydia by this pound had fallen asleep, and slept calmly as we bounced her stroller up and down, her poor head hitting from one side of the stroller to the other. We had just decided to turn back when a couple of walkers came by, and took her picture. I'm not really sure why, but I think it was because it was so funny how she slept through her off-roading experience.

We asked the people at the locks where a bridge was to get to the Oxford canal, and they said there wasn't one, and the next bridge at all going up the river was in Eynsham, three miles away! There was no way we could get Lydia through three miles of that mud, so we turned back to Wolvercote in defeat. By this point we'd been walking for about four hours total, and are either getting old or are completely out of shape, because we were both dying. We slowly made our way home, though an hour later than planned.

Once home, Avram looked up the site of Wolvercote's Cemetery, with us assuming we probably missed it by only one street, or something. Well, no fear of that; it turns out the Wolvercote Cemetery isn't in Wolvercote at all, but actually about a mile away, in Oxford! So we never even came close to seeing Tolkien's grave. We do plan on trying again soon, with perhaps more complete directions next time.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Newcomer's Club

There is a Newcomers Club at Oxford for wives and partners ( I just want to jump in here and say that I truly hate that word. Although I do see Avram and I as partners in our marriage, to me the word is just a politically correct way of making it normal to not get married, and I don't like it) of students at Oxford. They organize many activities, most of which don't really work for me, since they are explicitly not for babies or young children. They do have a playgroup every Friday morning, which is for children up to four.

I've known about this since before we came here, but because I was sick, or needed to do housework, or plain felt overwhelmed at going into Oxford without Avram that I hadn't attended until today. Actually, today I barely made it as well. I needed to catch the minibus, but I also needed to take a bath, but Avram had taken a bath also, and we have a seemingly small water heater, so the hot water ran out before my bath was full enough to take. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until I had gotten in, so I lay in my cold bath, turning on the water every few minutes to catch the new warm water until it ran cold again in an attempt to warm up my bath enough that I wanted to take it. This method was probably very self defeating, as I'm sure the water got colder in the bath faster than it warmed up in the heater, so my bath wasn't progressing at all. Finally Avram came in and told me that I had fifteen minutes until the minibus left, so to just stop dawdling and take the bath, which I did, while he prepped everything else, and walked me out to the minibus, so Lydia and I would arrive in time.

But the important fact here is that I did make it, and Lydia and I were finally off to Oxford by ourselves for the first time. We arrived at the playgroup, where it cost one pound to attend, to pay for the tea, coffee, and biscuits (cookies). Thankfully they also had orange juice, so I felt like I got my pound's worth. The only play groups that I've attended before now were at my BYU ward, and so I already knew basically everyone there. This was very different, because there were many small conversations instead of one large interactive one, so I didn't really know where to begin. There was another woman from the ward here who's also from Utah; her husband is getting an MBA (or is it a MBA?) and she has a two year old daughter, so I sort of siphoned off her socializing for most of the time there. I met three women whose husbands are here for MBAs.

These are really rather intimidating people to talk to, because typically a person doesn't go back for an MBA until after they've worked for a while, so they're usually much more settled in life. For example, two out of the three have houses they own that they're keeping while they're in school here. Avram and I are just lucky to have a free place to stash all of our small amount of junk. Also, one American I met husband is planning to apply to jobs all over Europe, so they're pretty open minded about their future. I felt rather like a homebody; I didn't tell her, but Avram and I look forward to the day we'll settle down in America. Also, she was telling me that she didn't attend the Newcomer's coffee mornings on Wednesday because her days were so busy and filled up with other things.

I'm just not that creative, I suppose. Usually I lounge around most of the day, clean if I'm motivated, and take Lydia outside to walk around the Manor grounds in the afternoon, after I nap while she does. Man, that sounds pretty pathetic even to me, and I write the stuff (as well as live it).

Really, England has just been a little overwhelming, while at the same time underwhelming so far. Overwhelming, because everything is different, although usually in just small ways scattered throughout life, and underwhelming because England is...England. History is here, Logres is here, King Arthur was (maybe) here, or at least his legends are. All of my favorite nineteenth century books take place here, except for Laura and Mary and Anne Shirley's. And yet, most of the time I just play with Lydia, eat, cook, walk around, etc, and don't do anything in my life that alludes to all of these amazing things. That's very underwhelming, really. I mean up until now the most British thing I've done every week is go grocery shopping.

Today in Oxford felt pretty foreign, though. After all, the building are all so old, and they're just everywhere, so it's not like I have to search out a different look or feeling.

All in all, I liked the playgroup today, and plan to attend it every week. Lydia seemed to like it too, especially the biscuits part. At the end we sang some songs, starting with Head and Shoulders, but it was to a different tune than we use in Primary. Lydia normally loves that song, and alternates between touching her head and toes, and ignoring all other body parts mentioned, but this time she just stood there. Amazing what a different tune can do (as well as a whole group of strangers).

Oh, I must take a minute and comment on Lydia. She's been learning so much vocabulary lately, or more accurately using so much vocabulary that she already knows and recognizes. This morning for the first time she said I love you (in her slurred way she says everything. It really helps to know what she's already saying when she says a word, because it's mostly unrecognizable otherwise). And she says bread, and peanut butter (her favorite food in the world, I think), plane, bird, shoes, walk, thirsty (yesterday was a first for this one, and the next), drink, milk, Mama and Daddy (and uses them correctly), belly button (really only the button part), baby (perhaps her favorite word), Doggie, bark, baa, quack, etc, etc, etc. She's always been scared of animals, but learning the word for Dog and what a dog does seems to have cured this fear, at least for dogs, or anything that looks vaguely dog-like, because she calls them dog too (to date, cats, pigs, horses...). I'm glad, I was worried she would carry that fear into childhood.

Anyway, I know I'm rambling now, but lately I haven't hardly posted at all because I've been wanting to say something funny, or tell a good story, and I've finally realized that I should just treat this more like a regular journal, and just record often my life's happenings and thoughts. Less exciting to read, perhaps, but a lot more effective for know what's happening in my life on a more regular basis.

New Food

We tried two new English foods last night; crumpets and Jelly Babies. The crumpets were really very cheap, and so we bough twelve of them, because Avram wanted to try them out. They are very moist, at least compared to the American English muffins, and very good with butter. English muffins are nothing like crumpets at all. They do sell muffins here, and maybe those are more like Enlgish Muffins (they're flat, at least).

George Harrison's favorite candy was Jelly Babies, and so when Avram saw them in the store he became very excited to try them. They are soft, with the outside consistency of gummy bears. George's fans in Britain would throw them at him after concerts, and such. Well, in America his fans wanted to know what his favorite candy was, and because we don't have Jelly babies they threw Jelly beans at him. Jelly babies? Soft. Jelly bellies? Not at all.

I have a couple of questions about that. Like who would waste perfectly good candy throwing it at someone. Now, those who know me may be currently thinking of Tree Singing, wherein we bring skittles to distribute to the trees (for those who don't know about this tradition, this won't make any sense anyway). Actually I've always made a point of eating the vast majority of the skittles, with only a very few chosen to be spread to the trees.

Anyway, since hearing that story, Avram has always wanted to try them, so try them we did. They are a little larger than Gummy bears, with a softer inside consistency. Also, they're covered with what appeared to be a thin covering of powdered sugar. I thought they were okay, nothing to get very excited about, but I'm not much of a candy person anyway. Avram was rather disappointed in them, especially the black current flavor. Just as he was telling me this, Lydia, who had claimed a couple since she has way too much of a sweet tooth, walked over to Avram and deposited the gummy mess of a slightly chewed black current Jelly baby, so apparently she didn't like it either. I have to admit, the flavor tasted very...not American.

So out of two foods, one was very much a success, and one was...different.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Shopping Delights

As of today we have been in England for two weeks. In some ways it's surprising that it has only been a fortnight; we've settled in and Avram has begun school (at this writing he's completed his first week of classes) so life sometimes seems almost normal. Then the large truth rears its head in some small way, today in food, and I remember that I am truly in a foreign country.

I'm currently eating peach yoghurt with whole grains (barley, oats, wheat, rye and rice) added in, giving the yoghurt a 'lovely chewy taste' as the add copy proclaims. I meant to just buy normal peach yoghurt, and in fact had never heard of people pre-adding grains to yoghurt, or most premade food, and so only briefly glanced at the packaging and managed to miss the wheat stalks tucked between peaches on the container. Luckily I bought Avram and Lydia normal, grain-less raspberry yoghurt. Being frugal and also loving peach yoghurt, I'm having it anyway, and really very pleasantly surprised. It's not bad. Weird? Yes. But it's not bad. I don't think they cooked the grain, either.

I'm not really surprised I made this mistake; shopping here is a challenge, at least for us. In Britain they don't use American measurements, but neither do they completely use metric. Instead they use a hodgepodge of both, with a couple exclusive British measurements (stones comes to mind) as well. Sadly enough, although I spent four months in a country which exclusively uses the metric system, I never progressed beyond figuring that a kilogram was roughly equal to two pounds. Here I'm trying to be much better, but currently I'm still very lost. The first week Avram and I went to the grocery store found us spending a lot of time peering at the shelf, trying to figure out and compare prices.

One product would have price per kilogram, a different brand next to it price per pound, and something else price per gram (I finally figured out two days ago that there are a 1,000 grams in a kilogram, and so really this wasn't a different measuring system, it just seemed so at the time). Then there was a very similar product, at least to Avram and I, that had price per milliliters, and we really didn't know how to tell of all of these which was cheapest. As well, we still often convert the British pounds roughly into dollars, to try and see how expensive an item is "truly," so shopping has become quite the mathematical exercise for us.

This week we went to Sainsbury's online (the story we go to; it's where the minibus takes us), and preplanned most of our trip, so that we would know if they had the item we wanted. For example, we wanted pork sausage, but sausages here are preformed, and usually have very British seasonings. This reminds me of another food experience...last week I bought pork sausages, to have with fried potatoes and eggs. They come in casings, so you can't actually see the meat, but they were quite cheap (49 pence for eight, so about $1.10, really very cheap). This should have been a warning to us.

When we cooked them and opened them up, they were rather...odd looking. Avram tried them first, and said they had the texture of Jello. I tried them, and to me it tasted like pork flavored bread, or something. We looked up the ingredients on the package, and sure enough there was only 32% pork in them, the rest being things like flour (hence the bread flavour). Now, they're not bad, necessarily. They just don't qualify as meat to Avram and I, and certainly not pork sausages. That's another aspect of British food; it has a much higher range of quality. They sell amazing cheeses here, and if you buy 'swiss' you buy Emmentaler, the Italian cheeses are really from Italy (the Parmesan is around 18.00 British pounds per kilo. The cheddar (made in England) is 5 pounds a kilo). As well in addition to common fowl, the local supermarket also offers guinea fowl, duck, and turkey, which is unusual to them at least. They also offer many options of Lamb, venison burgers and steaks, and untold amounts of various sausages (although none are plain crumbly Italian sausage). To end my previous story very quickly, I ended up buying Pork mince (what they call ground), because at least I know it's real meat (and fat), and Italian spices, and we're going to make our own. I do admit to thinking of Samuel often as I walk up and down the sausage aisle.

In addition to the very high quality aspect of food, they also seem to have a much lower range of options, such as not-real -pork sausages. in America if it said pork, I would expect pork. In a lower range, at least to me, they have aisles and aisles of pre-made food. It seems to be very popular here, even more popular than in America, if possible.

There's a store brand, called Sainsbury's basics, that has incredibly cheap food. Then there's another store brand, Sainsbury's that's cheaper, but not even in the same league. For example, we bought a box of Cornflakes, good ones that are better than the American ones in my opinion, for 29 pence (70 cents). That's ridiculously cheap, especially because most food here is as much as twice as expensive. But then next to the plain white cheap box is the Sainsbury's brand of cornflakes with a coloured pictures that's around a pound. So why is is so cheap? Also super-cheap are Sainsbury's basics baked beans, other canned goods, tuna fish (17 pence), and lots and lots of items from meat, which isn't super cheap, to vodka, which to me isn't a basic, but I am in England.

Now, in closing I want to be clear that of course if a British person came to America they would be very confused by our methods of food as well, after all we use ounces, pounds, cups, liters, gallons, etc, etc. And we have some pretty low quality food, like hot dogs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

English Help

This very morning I have grown more endeared to living in England, or at least in Yarnton Manor. As part of our housing costs they provide two cleaning ladies, in my case Rose and Teresa, who come on every Wednesday morning and clean. Now, they don't do surface cleaning; picking up, washing dishes, doing laundry, but they do all the parts of cleaning that are the actual hard parts. This morning at nine am ( I was desperately hoping they would come later, or that we would be the last flat on their list, but apparently we're the first flat instead. See, I was sick these last couple of days with an ear-ache, and so our house had gotten a little messy, although Avram like a hero had been attempting to keep up with it, me and Lydia, and all of his school and manor obligations. So early this morning I woke up and began cleaning to prepare for them to come and clean. It's sad when your house isn't clean enough for professional cleaners to come.) they came, they changed all of our linen, they hoovered (vacuumed, but that's what they call it), swept and washed our kitchen floor, and most entirely glorious of all, they cleaned our bathroom, including our toilet.

I love England.

And they're going to come every week, and do these wonderful things for us! Unlike the erstwhile maid I had in Egypt, who couldn't clean to save her life, and we only hired her because her husband beat her, and she had taken their two month old baby and left him, and so we felt bad for her because she was very poor. My roommates and I dreaded her weekly visits, because she didn't actually do any useful cleaning, like mopping the floors, but instead would 'organize' our personal belongings, or throw our bedding around, in an odd attempt to air it out, I suppose, but really it only made our rooms more messy. At least once we gave her her weekly pay (25 Egyptian pounds, or 5 dollars American) and told her to go away; it was worth the money just to keep her out of our apartment.

Now, these women are wonderful, and efficient. Although it is a little weird to be in your house while someone else is cleaning it. It makes me feel like a lady, or well off. Except if I truly were well off, I'd have a larger home than a one bedroom attic flat, so I could go somewhere else while they cleaned, instead of sitting in the middle of it all, looking like a lazy good-for-nothing. In reality today I mainly tried to clean up around them; do dishes, pick up Lydia's toys, etc.

Speaking of being sick earlier in the post reminds me of yesterday, in a segue way from my wonderful life here. I've had an ear-ache for a couple of days now, deep in my ear and throat, but I haven't gone to doctor for two reasons. First, to be quite frank, I don't quite know how the health system works here, and although we're registered, I have a sneaking suspicion that I wrote all of our birthdays wrong, so that here they'll think I was born on the tenth of April, instead of the fourth of October (which reminds me as a quick aside thank you for all of the birthday greetings and wishes), and I'll have to clear it all up and they'll know I'm a dumb American, instead of just suspecting it. Secondly, Avram and I both read that anti-biotics hardly help with an ear infection anyway, because the stuff mutates, and also we have to pay for our own subscriptions, so I'm just waiting it out at home.

Yesterday was probably the worst day. I was trying to avoid milk products, because supposedly that can help, so I made oatmeal for Lydia and I for breakfast, instead of cereal. I also decided to take some pain medication, which while I was swallowing it I gagged on, and once I gag I often throw up, and so I went over to the living room window, and opened it up and leaned out, to get some fresh air, and while there, I knew I was going to throw up anyway, and I did, down the front three stories of my house onto the stones below. Luckily all I had ingested so far that day was water and the medicine, so I didn't have to go outside and clean it up. I went back into the kitchen, and while I was so busy the oatmeal had burnt, and smelt awful. I still gave Lydia the oatmeal, because she loves it, and didn't seem to care at all that it was burnt, while I had cereal, and so had milk anyway. Oh, well.

Today I'm really doing much better, and the pain isn't as bad. I'm often chewing gum, as that also relieves the pressure in my ear.

I'm going to become better at posting more often, so the little day-to-day activities become recorded, like our walks, etc. For now, this is the pampered, yet sick, Thora signing off.