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.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Yarnton Manor Pictoral Tour

Several people seem to be confused about the manor estate; we do not actually live in the manor, but rather a cottage on the manor's grounds. Because of this, and because I can (hopefully at least; I've never done pictures before on the blog itself) I shall take my dear readers on a tour of Yarnton Manor's grounds.

Here we stand at the entrance to the Manor, just inside the gates, with Lydia on the side of the road. To the right, outside of the picture, is St. Bartholomew's church, although the only entrance to it is right outside the gates, so we'll quickly back up, and see it. The very small church grounds are filled with an ancient looking graveyard, although all of the decipherable stones are actually within the last century and a half. Today we at Yarnton Manor did a tour of the Cotswolds, which are a series of very picturesque and tourist over-run villages close by here, and at the St. John the Baptist church in Burford, the Verger told us how the graveyard outside his church, which was much more crowded than this one, if possible, was all full up (as this one was), and they had begun digging up bones whenever they would dig a hole for a grave, which they would just throw in the churche's crypt, but then the Town Council made them make a new graveyard, and that England actually has a law that when you start digging up bones, it's time for a new graveyard. Remind me to never be a gravedigger in England.

Our house is right behind the church tower, so the manor house is to the back and left of us (if you're facing the manor). Let us proceed up to the manor itself, built in the Jacobean period in the 1580s, then was expanded to lots o' wings, but then taken back to its original size. The original owner, Sir Thomas Spencer, was an ancestor of Princess Diana. In the English civil war it was used as a military hospital, and forty royalist soldiers are buried in the churchyard (they're definitely triple buried).

Now, there are all sorts of accompanying buildings; other cottages that the students live in, buildings (that are now houses for faculty, etc) with the delicious names of Appleloft and Orangery, and such functional (yet still made out of stone) other places, but I have to admit none of these shall be on the tour. Why not? Quite simply put, they didn't catch my fancy as much, and at the end of the day, all buildings began to look alike, even charming other century British ones. So instead, next up are the 'working' parts of the Manor, because for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, they have a complete set of gardens, fruit trees, and such, although they only serve food here rarely. Here's one of the two main garden parts. I'm sorry half the picture's in shadow, and half in sun. I know that you're not supposed to take pictures on bright, sunny days, and from the results of these pictures we can see why. Although I think it's quite a bit of effort to keep such large gardens, I'm glad they do, because it makes me feel even more like I just happen to be on a large Manor estate, perhaps in another century on rainy days, which I love. They also have several small greenhouses, with tomatoes, vines with very tempting grapes just hanging there waiting to be picked. Those who have lived near me recently will be very proud in my self control in not picking them, however. We are allowed to eat the windfall apples, from the several apple trees. And as Lydia and I walked by them, we took a couple to eat, as Lydia loves apples, and loves that to date we've had three apples (apiece) from random (public) trees on our walks. And unlike in America, these apples aren't the crab apples that are always available on public trees, but rather real, actual, good apples, tasting all somewhat like golden delicious, except for a certain tang only present in self picked (or picked up from the ground, in this case) apples. This garden and trees are parte of a large swath of tree dappled land to the right of the Manor. To the left of the manor is a barn-turned-library, where Avram will spend much of his time studying, seeing as he doesn't have to buy any books (a beautiful thing), but instead his books are kept on reserve, so he has to read them at the library.

Now, if your computer is even bothering to load the multitudinous photos any more, we will proceed directly behind the manor, where there is a beautiful green yard surrounded by a lovely flower bed. Wrapping the yard is a higher path of grass, over shadowed by trees, and reached by a series of stone stair-steps, this being the main one. Sadly, Lydia, like all under 16, are not allowed in this grassy area. A shame, really, but I think they like to keep it nice for events, as you can rent the Manor for weddings, etc.

From here the gate leads directly to this door, which although it's not hidden, looks like the entrance to the secret garden to me. I'd like a secret garden right now; for one thing, my main companion has a very limited vocabulary, although she is sweet. Behind this door (there are several of these along the back of the Manor) runs the back of the property, lined with trees and possessed with a certain air of possibility and unknown, perhaps because of the wildness of it. This narrow corridor leads out into the wilds beyond with this majestic gate, lying directly behind the secret garden door. The gate doesn't open now, although yesterday Avram, Lydia and I did take another route into the wilds beyond, and had a lovely walk through nature (note, don't bring a stroller on country walking in England). I wonder what this gate used to lead to, in the centuries past. Now there isn't even a specific path leading from it.

Thus we conclude our tour of the manor and grounds. Some memorable parts I didn't post pictures for are number one, a large pile of leaves, branches, weeds, and other such refuse, which was burning. And no one was even attending it! I've never been somewhere that burns its leaves in the fall, although it's mentioned in books, etc as one of the definitive smells of Autumn, so I was glad to finally experience it, and it did add a certain fall-ness to the air. Number two are lots of pictures of the side field/orchard. A lovely place, but fields look like fields, although this one has nice, comfortable grass. American grass always seems to be prickly, but the grass in England must be what grass is meant to be, because even in public non-mowed areas it appears, short and springy and ever-so-green. Number three are my pictures of walls with ferns growing out of it. It's very common here, but to me it's quite odd the amount and places that green growing plants appear; like at the top of a stone wall. Or the how the roofs, especially the older ones, are covered, or at least sprinkled with moss and lichen. Our roof is made out of slate, or at least a flat stone. All the old houses are here, and they must last a long time as roofs, because they each stone tile looks like it was hand carved, and didn't come from a machine.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My English Cottage

Here we finally see a picture on my blog, and yes, it is where we are living. Don't get too jealous, though; Our flat only encompasses the top floor, and thus the top three windows (as well as the small side window in the picture, which is on the stairs leading up to the top floor, but is nominally in our flat, and a kitchen window, which is in the back of the house and not seen in the picture). Our next door neighbor, as I previously mentioned, and as is shown in the left of the picture, is St. Bartholomew's Parish Church.

We have a one bedroom apartment, with rustic wooden beams running through the top of the bedroom and living room. Unlike American houses, these ones actually serve a structural purpose, and not just a decorative one. Also, being a converted attic, the ceilings slope a lot, like in the bathroom, where even my head hits the ceiling if I stand up in the bath. We don't have a shower, just a bath, so it's not really a problem. The kitchen ceiling slopes a lot too, and so there are only bottom cupboards, and none on top. This results in Lydia foraging into the cupboards, and taking food or dishes out and playing with them on the kitchen floor.

The whole apartment is heated by radiators, which us being dumb Americans couldn't figure out how to turn on for the life of us, and so spent the first two days here very cold. On Sunday Avram tried to follow the directions in the service manual on how to start the heating, which led to the water gushing out of the cottage, because unbeknownst to him the pressure was set to high. Luckily, in a way, the downstairs neighbors called Maintenance because of the water, and this led on Sunday to our heat being turned on, which we've been very grateful for, although not in the method we would have preferred. There was no permanent damage, though.

Our flat is clearly just a normal shared flat, and not meant for a married couple; there are two desks in the living room, a table with two chairs, two armchairs, and two lamps. In the kitchen there is a table with two chairs, and most telling of all, in our bedroom were two twin beds, with two twin comforters, although they had pushed them together for us. The first night we tried to sleep crosswise on the beds, so that we could feel more like we had a marriage bed, and less like two illicit roommates. Unfortunately the beds are on wheels, and so slowly throughout the night the beds separated, until at the end they were four or five inches apart, with our middles sinking into the crack. We couldn't just hop out of bed and push them back together either, because Lydia was in bed with us, and we didn't want to wake her up. So now we've resigned ourselves to the two twin beds, although still pushed together. The Centre does have a crib, or cot, as they call them, but it's actually a pack 'n play, which mean it's a glorified playpen. And Lydia hates to be locked into anything, and so after we got it yesterday, and the bedding today, I took the mattress out of the playpen, and made a bed for Lydia on the floor. It seems to work well so far.

Tonight we're learning another new aspect to our home; at 8:15 pm the bell next door began ringing very loudly and repeatedly. After ten minutes, we went outside to investigate, and could vaguely see someone ringing the bell through the old wavy windows, but this didn't tell us anything. Then I walked around the front of the estate, and there were several cars parked by the church, so it wasn't announcing a fire, or anything, because then people wouldn't know to be there. I guessed maybe the Queen was dead (by this point it was fifteen minutes), because I didn't know what else would cause such prolonged ringing. So we went back inside and checked all the news on the Internet, but nothing had happened, except that today was the ten year anniversary of the inquest into Princess Diana's death. Kind of a stretch, but this was her ancestral family chapel, so it's possible, I suppose. Meanwhile, the bell kept tolling, the only thing changing being the bell changed to a lower note.

So I had Avram checked the liturgical calendar of the Anglican Church; maybe today is a high holy day of some sort, but it turns out today is nothing at all, so that was a loss. Finally, a half hour in (now mind you, this is a very loud bell, and we are about fifteen feet away from church, so it sounded as if the bell tower were in our kitchen) I looked on the Internet for reasons why the Anglican church rings bells. This didn't turn up anything specific, but I did find FAQs about becoming a bell ringer, wherein I learned several new facts, like you actually could be carried up to the ceiling like all the movies show in bell ringing, but that bell ringers are carefully taught when to let go of the rope, so that doesn't happen. Or that the bells on the continent ring in a random peal of bells, and carillon bells are struck, and so are "dainty" (that's what he said), but that the Anglican bells are the only bells that are rung in a full circle, free hanging, while still being able to be played in tunes, scales, etc, etc. (US, New Zealand, and other places that inherited versions of the Anglican church also have these bells).

Finally near the bottom I found out that associations of bell ringers usually practice on a weeknight for Sunday services, which finally answered our question...of course, it also means that this will be a weekly occurrence. Around this time the bells started ringing up and down the scale, which confirmed my hunch.

I shall write more about the actual Yarnton Manor and estate another time, but this serves as a brief introduction into our life.

P.S Tonight I made homemade chicken noodle soup, and as I was putting the noodles in Lydia came over and started begging, so I gave her a piece of raw noodle, expecting here to spit it back out in disgust, but not only did she eat it, she also begged for more, and is currently eating a lot more with Avram. Weird.