Monday, March 31, 2008

Cars

This mini was in our church parking lot on March Second, and I took a picture in honor of my friend Matt. I believe he just got a Honda, so he may no longer care about British cars, but I already had the picture and everything. Also, despite the fact that housing here is crazy expensive, cars seem to be cheaper, comparatively. Avram and I saw another original mini for sale, a red one all jazzed up with a red and white checkerboard roof and stripes and things for only 2,000 pounds. It could have been yours, Matt.

Friday, March 28, 2008

French Travel and Sights, Part Two

Here are the adventurers in our journey (this is us at Pierre's house, mentioned in a previous post).

This post covers Monday, March 17 through Wednesday, March 19. After having arrived at our hotel in Paris on Sunday night, we got up Monday morning ready and raring to go. I won't bore you with the details of every sight that we saw, but just the highlights along the way.

First we went to the Louvre, where we bought a museum pass so we didn't have to pay to any of the museums we went to while in Paris. For me I love them, because then every time we went to some museum or another I wasn't adding up in my head whether the short time we spent there was worth the Euros we paid. I think if I could do an all expense paid trip to Europe I would, because then I would know at the beginning how much money I needed, and could just pay it out all at once. My favorite (and practically only) sight-seeing I've done was on my Egypt study abroad back in Fall of 2004, where we did pay all up front. I never knew how much anything cost, from our trains/buses to hotels to food. And I loved that. Unfortunately, unless Avram gets to take a group on a study abroad at BYU to the Jerusalem Center, I won't have that experience again. Even then I may not have that experience; the one who arranged everything for our trips was our Program Director.

Regardless, there we were in the Louvre, at Avram's mercy. He was like a little boy on Christmas, so excited to see what he could. We went to the Egyptian part first, which had a nice selection of statues, but I have to admit I was disappointed a little in the exhibits. Of course, having visited a larger selection of Egyptian artifacts in my life than any other form, I suppose I'm a little hard to impress in this area.

We also went to the paintings sections that day. Of course, there are a lot of good paintings in the Louvre (duh.), and we enjoyed the renaissance and medieval ones a lot. In fact, we saw on Madonna and Child that looked as if one of our dear friends had posed for it. Any guesses who? Unfortunately, they''re in the same larger hall as the Mona Lisa (she hangs in a separate room off of it), and so the whole time we were in that section there were huge crowds flowing towards that Painting, completely neglecting any art that might have happened to be in their way, and then afterward directly leaving the area. Nothing against Leonardo Da Vinci, or that painting, but having seen it (admittedly from many feet back, over all of the heads that were stationed around it, probably a 100 at least), I don't think it's really worth only seeing, or worth more than most of the other paintings I saw. I know that many people like to see the most "famous" things in museums, and certainly the Mona Lisa is that for the Louvre (I will refrain from making jokes about The Da Vinci Code at this point), but it still bothered me. It reminded me of when I visited the Smithsonian, and among many other items saw the Hope Diamond. It was in its own separate room, on a rotating pedestal, and there were many people gathered around it taking pictures. When it was finally my turn, it was just a big blue diamond. I'd seen better specimens along the way (in the gem rooms; I love looking at gems).

We did our fair share of famous gawking, like when we saw the two slave statues done by Michelangelo, or Charlemagne's sword. And we were prepared to do the same for the Code of Hammurabi; unfortunately they had moved it to the special Babylon exhibit, and left only a small picture in its place. Although for the last two examples there weren't any crowds at all; in fact, there were hardly any people at all. That's a funny thing about the Louvre; some parts are chock full of crowds, and people, but then there are huge sections, like the Medieval Objects d' Art that were almost completely empty. We liked those places the best.

Lydia actually appreciated the Louvre (when she wasn't tired or sleeping) a lot; but not what most people came to see. In the picture (being held by her Papa) she's not asleep, she's staring at the ceiling. She couldn't get enough of the baroque ceilings, with their carvings and paintings, and spent a lot of time pointing them out to us, with commentary like, "Mama! Baby!"

We spent the most time in the Louvre in Paris, going back on Wednesday as well.

Another highlight on Monday was the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I wasn't prepared for how spiritual I would feel in it. We filed into the darkness and silence, and I almost started crying it was such a religious place. Which is weird for me; I don't usually cry at religious things. It's a good thing that we weren't supposed to talk, really, because I think I couldn't have managed it anyway. They had a treasury in there, where among a lot of reliquaries (various items where bones/and other pieces of saints are stored; a saints body is supposed to have power in it's very parts, and so, both in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and in Islam bits of saints adorn many objects and places. The oddest one I saw was in the Louvre; a medieval crown that behind the clear gems were slivers of bone from a saint.) were some amazing ceremonial robes. The most amazing thing about them were their embroidery. There were many people embroidered on these (saints, Christ), and the amount of detail amazed me.

Lydia's highlight of the whole trip happened Monday as well, when we stopped by a Carousel, and her and Avram rode it. Avram absolutely loves carousels, and so he went with Lydia. Before it took off Lydia explored every possible option of riding, from a model of a Renault car form 1900 to small and large horses. They ended up on the balcony of the carousel for the actual ride, and apparently she just loved it. She waved to the crowds (although never on the side I was on with the camera), and went "Wheeeee, Wheeee," over and over.

Monday evening we ended up at the Arc d' Triumph that Napoleon caused to be built to celebrate his military victories (although it wasn't even finished until long after his loss and death). We could see Paris from the top, and it was a neat little museum, but the best part came completely accidentally. Below the Arc France has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with an eternal flame they relight every evening. As we excited the Arc it seemed as if a special one were being done; there were barricades up around it, and policemen scattered about. We decided to stay and watch it, and indeed it was unusual. Now, we're not quite sure what the ceremony was for, but there was the Legion of Honour, with old veterans from different Legions, and there were military groups, and flag holders, but most unexpectedly of all, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy was there. I even have a bad picture of him; he's the one standing to the right of the man signing the book (it was getting dark, so I'm sorry for the low quality of the picture). (Also, it's your right as you face the screen; it was the book-signer's left). We watched the ceremony, and the singing of the Marseilles (which I found very moving, although I felt a perennial difficulty of knowing what to do with my hands, since the left one kept on wanting to cover my heart, but apparantly this isn't done in France as no one else was doing it).

In America I'm sure that if the President were at an activity, they never would have let gawking foreigners watch it was from about 15 feet distant, but I'm glad that they did; this one ceremony, although I'm not completely sure why it happened that day or what it was for, meant more than all of our sight-seeing put together. I think because I can always come back and see more of the Louvre, or more museums, but you can't put a glimpse into another country's patriotism and war memorials into a display.

As the President Sarkozy also dedicated a memorial for World War One at Napoleon's tomb on the same day, March 17, I can only presume that it was a continuation of that. More than at any other time in my life I've felt like In France I've partaken of unique cultural experiences while having no idea what was going on.

I know that the French aren't particularly celebrated for their military victories and prowess, but as I stood there on that cold Monday, I realized that this didn't in any way lessen the individual bravery and resolution of the soldiers who have fought for France in WWI and WWII. One of the flag holders had a metal leg and arm; it looked as if he had lost half of his body in WWII. Other ones walked with limps, while on others no obvious physical injury showed. But all had fought for their country. If nothing else from my trip in France, I feel like I've come home with a greater appreciation of France as a nation, both on an individual level, from all of the wonderful people that we met, to its highest and most formal circles, as I saw at the Arc.

On Tuesday we saw Napoleon's tomb, which unfortunately didn't carry the same weight as the previous evening's experiences had. Part of this came from Lydia. After we had settled in (on the floor; there were no benches, and at this stage in my pregnancy I can't stand very long), Lydia looked around her for a bit, and then started whimpering and asking me for chocolate. She soon went hysterical, screaming and crying for some chocolate, pawing my coat and backpack looking for some. Avram and I were baffled; we don't make it a habit at all of carrying around chocolate, or any candy, for Lydia, and we weren't sure where she had even gotten the idea of chocolate. We weren't sure, that is, until we finally looked atNapoleon's tomb while thinking about this.It's a little hard to tell in the picture, but Napoleon's tomb is made of velvety smooth brown marble, that to a little girl could very well look like a massive, chocolate chunk made just for her. So we left the tomb and went next door to the cafeteria, where, being the indulgent parents we are, we bought her some peanut M&Ms. It wasn't a tomb, but it did satisfy her sudden craving, so all were happy. Lydia and I then sat there for the next hour, while Avram went back to the tomb, and then the museum store. That may sound slightly martyrish on my part, but honestly it was just nice to sit down for a stretch in a warm room, with Lydia being happy.

Wednesday we had planned to take the all night bus back from Paris to London Wednesday evening, never realizing until we began the trip that this meant we would have to check out of our hotel on Wednesday morning, and then carry our luggage with us around all day. Providentially, a second cousin that my Mother had never met had recently been in contact with her over genealogy, and it turned out that she and her son and daughter-in-law were coming to Paris for eight days, and arriving on that very Wednesday. They had arranged to meet at the apartment that our cousins were renting very near the Louvre. So one Wednesday around 12:30 we showed up outside the address of the apartment with all of our luggage, hoping that they would not mind too terribly much if we asked them to hold our luggage for us until the evening, when we could retrieve it and go home (we wanted to go to the Louvre a second time). A man approached us, in charge of the building , who at first thought that we were these cousins, and then when he realized that we were waiting for them too, he let us in to wait for them inside. He was understandably confused as to why we were loaded down with luggage though (especially because it was a one bedroom apartment; definitely not enough room for seven adults and a two year old to stay), but didn't seem to mind, and I think he finally understood that we weren't planning to stay there, but were just meeting for lunch...with all of our luggage.

The landlady over the apartment, waiting for these cousins to arrive as well didn't comprehend nearly so well. Because they were late on arriving from the airport, she assumed that we were them, and proceeded to give Avram the grand tour of the apartment, and then started asking him for the deposit of 500 Euros for the week. Avram and Don tried explaining in French, but she either didn't care or didn't understand. All she knew was that the other Americans weren't there, we were American and were, and had luggage with us, so it looked like we were staying, and she didn't want to wait around any more and so wanted her 500 Euro deposit. Avram got so embarrassed and awkward in this that he came down to the main waiting place to avoid any more contact, while Don continued to try and placate her. Thankfully just a few minutes later, at around 1:10 the cousins arrived, the Landlady got her Euros, and most wonderfully of all they didn't mind (at least not so we noticed) us stashing our luggage in their home.

We all went to lunch, had a good time, and once again had a unique travel experience to bring home. I think that travel in the end is probably much more about these type of mind-broadening (ie, awkward at the time, but interesting to look back on) moments, and less about what you see. Of course, we did see some pretty neat things, and I didn't even mention the Rodan or Orsay (Impressionist Paintings) Museums, nor the Cathedral of St. Denis that Avram and my parents went to (I stayed home with Lydia. She had been a trooper throughout the trip, but had gotten fevers every night, I think because of teething, and so was continuously behind on sleep. On Wednesday morning she fell asleep during our morning scripture study, right before we were going out to see the Cathedral, which was only a five minute walk from our hotel (an unusual thing; we were in the far northern "ethnic" parts of Paris), and so we could see it Wednesday morning, and then return and check out in plenty of time. So I ended up staying and napping with her, while they went. I'm glad that we let her sleep; it helped with her mood the rest of the day).

So that was our trip; we had an uneventful trip back home (although be forewarned if you take a night bus from Paris to London, you'll spend most of the night awake, because the bulk of the trip time-wise is spent either waiting to get on the ferry, on the ferry (where you can't stay in the bus), or in customs surrounding the ferry, none of which are conducive to sleep.

So there you have it. A good trip; although tiring enough that we only went to see Oxford around here, and sent my parents without us to London, and just stayed home and rested ourselves.

(I just have to tell you, at church in Lille the sacramental bread was baguettes, and it was the most amazingly good tasting sacrament I've ever had).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Road to Fairy

I'm sitting here at the computer, alone. More alone than I've been in weeks. Avram is off at work, although he'll be home in forty minutes and then we'll eat lunch together; Lydia is asleep, after having fallen dead asleep in my lap around forty minutes ago, and my Mom and Don are in London, enjoying (I hope) their second day there; tomorrow morning they'll then leave directly from London to the airport and fly back to Utah.

For the past week and a half Avram has been on holiday from classes and partially from work as well, my parents have been visiting and staying in the living room of our one bedroom apartment, not to mention our six days in France, where I was never separate (after all, I had the least French in the group, including Lydia, I believe). Being alone feels almost un-natural, or a mistake, like there should be some people around me. On the other hand, it's nice to have nowhere to go, no promises to keep (and I'm certainly dappled and drowsy and ready for sleep). I could write the second part of our French trip, I guess, but that would involve thinking, and even more drastic, uploading pictures.

I finished Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell today, by Susanna Clarke. I highly recommend this book; it's well written, and all sorts of other positive superlatives that I can't quite dredge up out of the depths of my non-thinking brain right now. It's about English magic, and reading it while in England I feel that at any moment, if I were to venture outside, I could perhaps be enveloped by this same magic. This may seem a silly thing to say by someone who doesn't believe in magic, but having lived here for six months, I really feel that England is a much more magical place than America. I don't know if it's because the type of magical history that has always interested me (fairies, other worlds, animate flowers/trees) is centered in English folk history, but America feels positively prosaic next to the wild poetry outside my window. Not that America isn't beautiful; it's not that at all. More that there doesn't seem to be a dual world hidden within it. I forget who; Avram would know, but someone (perhaps Tolkien? Perhaps C.S. Lewis? Wait, it could have been Steven Lawhead, who wrote a great novel about the return of a modern-day Kind Arthur to England) said that something to the effect about England being both a nation of shopkeepers and Logres at the same time.

Often, all too often, the first holds true; Avram and I only come into contact with the Sainsbury's, with the bureaucracy, with the reams of paper and letters from Oxford University, with paying our rent, riding the public buses, making my midwife appointments, and for Avram going to work and classes. But at times, odd times, we'll suddenly be recalled to the kingdom of Logres in all of this, the Kingdom of Summer, Ye Merry Olde England, where fairy paths intertwine with solid English ones, where the bells tolling not on the hour may just be the church next door being off again, like it often is, or it may be bells from another world entirely, tolling out a message I can't quite make out. Where the wind that howled throughout winter around our windows and walls has a message to deliver, and the snow that fell on Easter morning, the first real snowfall of the whole year, a deference to Christianity by the Seelie Fairies, or perhaps an obstacle to church worship by the Un-Seelie.

We've felt this contrast since we first came to England, and have always been on the lookout for Logres in our movements; the more treasured because of their fleeting quality and occurrence. Reading Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell, besides making me ready to become a magician for my vocation, although patently once again I don't quite believe magic exists at all, brings the world of Logres all around me into sharp focus; the second England feels near and almost accessible even.

Sometimes I think if I didn't have Lydia, I could go wander the countryside, and commune better with the sprites and spirits, see better another world reflected in the puddles, like a mirror into a second sky. But although I cannot describe my love for my daughter in anything except for almost poetical methods, the reality of motherhood is filled with the shopkeeper side, the prosaic side of poopy diapers, putting her down for naps, and realities like Yellow Raincoats and strollers that however small and portable still need a cleared path to go down, limiting me to the roads of town. After all, who can see fairies while being a very concrete mother at the same time?

All this reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, and her youth when she believed in fairies. Or of when I was single and used to go out Tree Worshipping (or Tree Singing) with other young women of my acquaintance. Then I felt some of the wild power (although that was in America), the dual possibilities to the world. Now I'm sure even if Avram and I left Lydia with a sitter, and roamed the wilds in search of Logres I would be sure to bring up our finances, and the potential budget I had drawn up for the next three months, or discuss when we should go to London, and finally see the British Museum, and the pluses or minuses of spending just the day there, or finding a cheap hotel to stay in, for a two day trip.

Maybe my growing up has firmly tied my soul to this world. Maybe I'm a 'grown-up'.

I hope not. Although I love my duties as a wife and mother, and I love my child, and I even love my budgets and plans, I do so want to be able to see another world, to see fairy woods and converse with flowers and feel when it rains or snows or the bells toll that sometimes there is a message in there for me. That sometimes when I look out the window at night I may see the great hunt in the sky above me. That when I next wend my way through a foggy night I won't come out at Londis, the local convenience store so that I may buy milk or donuts, but instead I'll come out into a fairy court, into another world with dangers and possibilities I mayen't dream of.

For nothing else, I appreciate living in England for this, for re-opening the doors of fantasy, of never before had memory, of the Other that lies all around and within. Even if I will never wend those paths, or cross through the doors, if I'll never roam the wilds and speak to immortals, having lived where these existed as possibilities, having seen from the corner of my eyes the magic that my mind will still not accept I'm the freer and deeper for that.

Lurkers' Anonymous

Hi, my name is Thora, and I lurk on other's blogs. People who don't even know me. And I like it. Even worse, I have no real intention of stopping.

Now, I don't randomly surf the net, looking for other blogs to read all the live-long day, but I will occasionally follow links on my friend's websites, and the blog will happen to be so interesting/funny/applicable to my own life that return to it; sometimes often, sometimes only once a month, but read I do.

I've always felt somewhat guilty in this, which is funny, in a way, because I've always liked the idea of random people reading my blog; it makes me feel famous, or well-known, or something, even if they did only come to look up if eating corned beef while pregnant is safe. (The vast majority of Google inquiries that end up at my blog are looking up some form of this very question, because of my corned beef post of several months ago, I suppose. My answer to all of those people is that of course it's safe, if you're eating American corned beef that's a proper beef brisket. If you're eating it out of a can, it's never safe, no matter who you are).

But you never know when someone feels very private about their blog (which of course leads to the question of why they put it on the Internet for the whole world to see if they care to), and would be offended by my lurking. I never post comments on these other blogs, because I don't wand to be the cause of offense, and I always hope that unlike me they don't have Google Statistics, and can't tell that someone from Oxfordshire visits them often. (I do love having Google Statistics; it lets me know all sorts of not really useful things, like 12 times "Yarnton Manor" has been entered into Google, and then led to my blog).

Then this very week, my favorite (unknown) blog to read asked who was reading their blog from Oxfordshire. I felt very ashamed, but of course I promptly wrote a comment and assured them I wasn't a terrorist (they were concerned on this fact; for one thing this blog author is a better updater than most of my linked blogs combined, and so I check it every day or so, so it did have certain unsettling stalker-like tendencies), and that I wouldn't read their blog anymore if they didn't want me to.

I felt so embarrassed at being caught lurking that I almost thought of giving up my secret habit then and there. But then the author of the blog wasn't concerned at all that I was reading it, just grateful that I wasn't a wacko (my word). So now the lurkings continue.

I've long wondered if there are others out there like me. Surely among my many readers, known and unknown, there are those who enjoy reading about someone's life that they have never, or only very peripherally met. If so, step forward and let me know, and we can start a lurkers' anonymous together.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

French Travels and People; Part One

So I find myself wanting to tell everyone about our trip to France, but being too lazy to actually sit down and compose a blog. Here I have somewhat overcome the laziness, and I attempt to set down some sort of record, but I promise neither genius nor humor.

This post is a study in two subjects; first how through many travel difficulties and glitches Heavenly Father helped us manage to continue our trip without much interruption, and then second the kindness of the French people, especially in being the instruments that the aforesaid Divinity operated through.

Our trip started normal enough; we caught a bus to Oxford, than another bus to London. Here the normality ended; in the suburbs of London, Lydia (for only the third episode in her life since solids) threw up all over herself. Being the prepared mother that I am, I had absolutely nothing to clean her up with; even her wipes were down below in the luggage section of the coach. So I took some toilet paper from the on-board toilet and did my best with that. Then we stripped her shirt and cardigan off, and kept her half naked until we arrived in Victoria Station in the center of London, when we redressed her in a spare shirt (we had access to luggage at that point). I must admit in an entirely un-motherly way, my first thought when all of this happened is "why is this happening to me?" and not immediate concern for my poor daughter. Although besides the puke all over, Lydia still seemed in fine health. (As for the poor clothing, I ended up throwing them away a couple days later, when I realized they wouldn't get washed for another four days, and I would rather throw them away then deal with them at that point.)

All went smoothly from that point, until France. We took a coach from London to Dover (the White cliffs of Dover, which were rather more spotted with greenery than pure white), and then a ferry from Dover to Calais. Actually, there was a slight glitch. We planned to take one line, but when we arrived we found out that they had been on strike for sixteen days, but thought that it might end at any moment. The only other company that took foot passengers was 10 pounds more, and so since there ferry didn't leave for almost two hours, I had us all wait to see if the strike might happen to end before then. Miraculously, a short while later, the strike did end. Unfortunately, they were so backed up on freight that they couldn't take us anyway, so we ended up on the only other option. I bet the ferry we did end up on was sad to see the strike end; now they would actually have some competition again.

Yes, I know that two pounds more a person (so 10 for four adults) isn't much, but I'm notoriously cheap, especially when it comes to travelling. Not that this particular quirk of mine didn't get a large workout on our vacation; I think by now I may even be cured of it. Either that or a confirmed lifetime adherer to 'cheap is better'.

Once we arrived in France the comparative ease of our travel quickly complicated. We had planned to rent a car in Calais, and then drive it to Dunkirk for the night. When we disembarked all of the car rental companies were closed; in fact, the entire place was deserted. (France is an hour later than England, which we had forgotten. Also, I had left the French part of the trip to my Mom to plan, and she had been finishing up a mission and so had been distracted, although she had found us housing at least, but the car had never been researched out.) We went outside to see what our other options, and all there was was a public bus coming in an hour that went to the center of town in Calais, and that was it. By this point it was almost seven pm locally, we had been travelling since seven thirty that morning, and I at least was ready for rest, not for spending the evening stranded in Calais.

Avram and I went back inside the Ferry port place, to at least sit down, and noticed one lone place left open, so Avram ran outside and quickly dragged my Mom and step-dad Don in to talk to them. We soon ascertained that in order to rent a car from them, we would have to return to the same place, which wasn't possible for our plans, and so we were still stuck. That is until the friendly clerk told them something, and then came out of his booth with a scooter, and rode off on it. It turns out that he was in search of his sister, who could possibly give us a ride into the center of town, where we might be able to barely make a coach going to Dunkirk.

This was my first encounter with the French people, and I must say this was a very positive moment, going from abandoned at the port to a possible solution, from his and his sister's own kindness. He came back successful, so we hurried outside to where his poor sister was waiting, and shoved ourselves, Lydia, and all our luggage into her little car, and then she drove us to the bus station (don't worry, we did give her gas money, so hopefully she was left with a good reciprocal view of Americans). I can't even imagine Americans being this nice to Foreign visitors, and I must say provided a very nice introduction to France, and a much needed rescue from being abandoned in Calais.

We caught the coach in good time, and then made our alternate way to Dunkirk, about an hour and a half away. Then we went through the excitement of finding our hotel by public bus, through the means of asking all around us where they thought our hotel would be based on our map from Google and the street address. After being told many different answers, most of them conflicting, we tried one bus and went with it. Although the Lady waiting for the bus with us told us that our hotel was in a bad part of town, we persevered, and eventually the bus driver let us off, telling us to walk 500 meters 'that way' and we should come to our hotel. We booked Formula One, a very cheap hotel chain throughout the trip (except the first one, which was owned by the same people, but one step up and a lot more money), and so they were always by the freeway, since they advertise to drivers. Unfortunately, without our planned car to drive, we were always very far away from them when we arrived in a town, and had a hard time finding them.

We finally made it there (the neighborhood looked very safe; very American even), and crashed for the night, after I had experienced traveller's stress for the unexpected expense of the hotel (twice as much as I had been expecting, because it was the step up from Formula One). I thought at this point, despite the miraculous recovery at the port by the efforts of the French people and God that this trip was in serious danger of causing me a heart attack, by money spending if nothing else. Although in the end it really wasn't too bad at all for money.

The next morning our next glitch came when we still couldn't rent a car, because we didn't have a carseat for Lydia, and they didn't have any to rent us, but they couldn't rent us a car without one. The Hotel Clerk did call every rental company there was for us though, which furthered my opinion of the niceness of the French people even more. So we continued with public transportation, and took the bus back to the center of town, and then a train to Lille. The reason we had gone to Dunkirk at all was it was one of the areas that my Mother served in on her mission, but with the late arrival, and then trying to get any way to go to Lille, we didn't actually do anything there except for sleep and ride buses, so thus far except for broadening encounters with the French people, I felt like we hadn't yet actually done anything but spend a lot of money.

We never did get a car, and so made up on the spot a lot of public transportation alternatives until we arrived at Paris, where we had planned to return the car. Although we continued to have difficulties with transportation, we did agree that it was nice not trying to find our way around the roads ourselves. The hotels we booked were all by freeways though, so it was always an adventure to actually find the hotels from the center of town where the bus/train would arrive.

We proceeded on to Lille, sadly missing Flander's Fields, and safely arrived there, once again not knowing how to get to our hotel. We went to the connecting metro in the train station, and stood there lost, not even knowing how to buy a ticket, when I suddenly saw the Elders standing in the metro car that was about to leave. Like the Mormon that I am, I yelled out to them, and on seeing us, one Elder got off, but then before his companion could the metro took off, leaving the two Elders separated. Luckily the lost Elder rode back on the next Metro, and so they weren't separated too long, although I did feel bad to be the cause of breaking rules, even accidentally.

The Elders (who both spoke perfect English, although one was from Switzerland, and the other from Germany) then spent the next hour to two hours figuring out where our hotel was, and helping us get there by the public transportation. About this point I decided that Heavenly Father must really be looking out for us on this trip, because of all of the special interventions and Providential help we had received thus far. They not only took us there, but also called and arranged for the Ward Mission Leader to come and pick us up and take us to Church the next day as well.

The only sightseeing we did in Lille was to walk in a little parade/carnival thing on the way to Pierre's house that evening (someone my Mom talk and helped baptize, but is now inactive. We went to dinner at his house that night). The carnival was headed by an effigy or moving statue of a woman holding an armful of wheat, the middle was mainly composed of cross-dressed men with wildly painted faces, and the back full of parents with children and babies in strollers dressed up in Halloween-like costumes. The whole parade was probably about 100 people walking down the street, while policemen blocked off traffic. I took a lot of pictures, and walked along with them. I even had a girl dump a bunch of confetti on me. But I have no idea what it was all about. We just happened to pass it all on the bus, but since we were only a block away from our stop, we walked back to it after we got off and participated for a block, and then went back to our travels, while the parade continued on. There were no real spectators, but just the parade itself. We theorized that it could be something to do with Mardi Gras, but it was a month into Lent, so that seemed a little far fetched. And somehow it just didn't seem Easterish either. Any ideas? (Specifically RoseE, who might know something random about French culture). I've posted a video at the bottom, in case that will shed any light on the whole matter. Avram says that group is Les Buckenaires (at least according to the umbrellas they were carrying--his French isn't good enough to figure out anything from the websites a Google search leads us too).

That night we experienced our next travel moment anxiety, when the map we had of Pierre's house didn't match the streets we were walking on at all, after we had disembarked from the bus. A women whom my parents asked didn't know where it was either, but she had us come to her house while she called Pierre, and he came and got us. In America I would have expected her to leave us outside, but she had us come inside, got us chairs to sit on, offered drinks, gave Lydia chocolate, and she and her father chatted with us until Pierre came to take us to his house. Yet another example of the superlative French kindness I experienced there, as well as Divine help in our trip.

Pierre and his wife Claire were graciousness itself; they fed us, talked with us (well, not me really, but they tried to at least), played with Lydia, and were all that hosts should be. My parents gave them a photography book on Utah as a gift, and then they began giving gifts too; first a couple of cartoon books to my parents (Pierre had first introduced my Mom to Asterix when she taught him), Lydia got three stuffed animals, and Claire even emptied her vase of fresh daffodils from her garden and gave them to me.

The next day our foray in to the French people's lives continued when after (an all French) church we went to some member's house that my Mom had known and had lunch with them. We had Raclette (yummy French food where you eat melted cheese on potatoes with ham; you melt the cheese and cook the ham right at the table on a Raclette grill) and other good French food and once again enjoyed ourselves, although I still didn't know what was going on. Although in this family there were a couple of people who spoke English, so I got along quite well.

Finally, we were on our way to Paris; the Sister was driving us to the train station (we had bought our way too expensive train tickets the day before) to go to Paris, when my step-father realized that he didn't know where the tickets were. The entire half-hour drive was fraught with worry, while we imagined being stranded in Lille, or the cost of re-buying all the tickets. Up until now we had gone through several travel worries and moments of stress, but every time something miraculous had happened to carry us through; somehow we weren't sure how this could happen this time. Also, this wasn't a very funny mishap. When we arrived at the station Don went through the super long line, and found out that they didn't keep a register of tickets sold, so we couldn't go on the train. However, if he found the tickets, and had them there before 6:00 pm (our original train left at 5:00 pm, and at this point it was exactly 5:00) we could take the next train which left at 6:00. My mom went and called the hotel, and it turned out that he had left the tickets there, so Don, my mom, and the French sister went and jumped into her car to try and get to the hotel (on the edge of town) and return to the center of town in less than an hour, while Avram, Lydia and I waited in the station. After the most tense fifty minutes of my life, they arrived back at 5:50 pm with the tickets, Don and Avram waited in line and changed the tickets, and at about four minutes to six we ran onto the train, safely on our way to Paris.

I'm glad to report that this was the final glitch in our travel plans; either Heavenly Father exhausted his help, or more likely we finally got our act together and managed alright without the collective help of the French nation to assist us on our way.

I'll continue in my next post with our three days in Paris, where we actually started sight-seeing instead of just spending money to test God and the French Public's hospitality and pity (not to mention the French public transportation system).

Here's the video; if anyone can identify the song, please do so.
video

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In Which Thora Touches Upon a Plethora of Topics and Thoroughly Covers None of Them

After having checked everyone else's blogs multiple times each to see if they've updated, I've decided that it's finally time I update myself. There are many things to talk about, which perhaps explains some of my reticence; I've known that if I actually sit and and start to type, I'll be here until next Tuesday. Which all means that I won't give proper due to any subject I'll write about, for which I apologize beforehand.

Since finding out about Ohio State we've been very glad to finally have our future settled, both career-wise and where we'll be living among other matters. In many ways it's actually been somewhat anti-climactic; we didn't have a large party, or go out to eat, or do anything to really mark the event. For one thing, we're saving our money for our vacation (which I shall go into in more detail later in this post), and for another, we didn't have anyone to celebrate with. But we did do ridiculous window shopping on the internet, which I guess counts. For one thing, we looked up one-of-a-kind jewelry on Costco.com, where Avram found me a nice piece for a quarter of a million dollars. Then we looked at their caskets; we're going to go with the 18 guage steel ones, because quite frankly they're the cheapest, coming in at under a 1,000 apiece. I even looked at the funeral arrangement of flowers to match, and read the special instructions about ordering caskets, like making sure to let you know that if the Funeral Home says that they don't use outside caskets, they're lying, because they have to by law. Very interesting (and slightly morbid).

We've been doing some more productive planning as well (ok, I have. At least I like to think it's productive; many could see this as debatable). I dearly love to plan my life, and revise plans upon plans as of course things change. Once we decided to come to England, so for the past year, I haven't been able to plan the future almost at all because we didn't know much about the particulars of being here, and also since we would only be in England for nine months, it was (and is) really more of a sojourn than an actual move. So finally now I can think of the future, and plan our our apartment, budget, moving plans, etc.

We're going to move back in with Avram's parent's for the summer for about 2 1/2 months (from late June through very early September), and then plan on moving to Ohio in the beginning of September (around the 5th or so). School starts on the 24th, so that will give us about 2 1/2 weeks to settle in, and start the long process of becoming residents. Hopefully we'll be living on campus in Buckeye Village, so that we we don't need to go search for an apartment.
The apartments are townhouse style (for a two bedroom) so we won't have any neighbors above or below us, which will be nice. I'm also excited because although our last apartment was two bedroom, and technically the second bedroom was Lydia's, in reality it was the home of her changing table and crib, a library (or at least a room with a lot of bookshelves), and a storage room. This time the second bedroom will actually be a girls' room, for Lydia and Elisheva. I'm planning on decorating it Hunter Green and Pink, with cherry beds (crib and toddler bed).

There are provisions in the apartment for a washer and apartment sized dryer, so hopefully at some point we'll be able to purchase used versions of these. It'll be nice to not have to leave the house to do laundry, especially with two children. Also, we'll need to buy a lot of furniture (used, of course), being that we left most of it in Provo. When we got married and bought furniture, for the most part I didn't worry about the quality of it, or how much I liked it, because I knew that we would be moving in two years and leaving it behind anyway. This time we'll be in Columbus (although probably not the same apartment the whole time) for around six years, so I care a lot more about what we end up with.

We had some scary times before Avram received his fellowship. Like when I looked at potential career routes he could take outside of Academia. I like the Church as an employer, and so I looked at jobs that he was qualified for offered by the Church {meaning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints}. Specifically, he was only truly qualified for a custodial job in Elko, Nevada making 21,000 a year. Pretty sobering. And even they required a year of custodial experience, which he had aquired while working at DT at BYU. Of course, they don't list Seminary positions, or anything to do with the CES, and that's where Avram is the most qualified, anyway. That's the real problem; Avram loves to teach, and is (in my opinion) naturally talented in teaching. But getting a Seminary full time job is less likely than getting into a doctoral degree with funding, so it's basically a non-option. I also looked up civilian jobs working for the government, and based on both searches, I've come to the conclusion that the belief that there are many jobs out there that on entry-level only require a Bachelors in any subject is false.

There were many jobs that only required a Bachelors - but none that were open to an Ancient Near Eastern Studies Major. In the Government search, I only found an $18,000 a year position, that didn't list requirements that Avram didn't have. Of course, if he had majored in something that is taught to high-schoolers or at a community college, both of those would be legitimate potential career paths that could be highly fulfilling. But what high schools have you heard of that offer Hebrew?

Now, I don't write these things to infer that Avram's degrees have been pointless. Not at all. I think that a textual, historical, social study of the the Bible can enrich a spiritual study, and that events that happened millenia ago do still influence today (just think of the upcoming holiday) (and no, I did not mean St. Patrick's day). I suppose what I am saying is exactly how limited Avram's professional prospects are, and how grim his job prospects would be outside of Academia.

Of course, now he has been accepted to a program, and will have funding for at least four years of it. But nevertheless, these thoughts continue to percolate in the back of my mind. For one thing, on the far side of the doctoral degree comes that "fun" stage of applying for Tenure Track positions, with a lack of ever obtaining one relegating us back to considering Elko, Nevada as a future place of employment. All I can do is trust in the Lord that this is the path that Avram's professional life should take, and that He will not abandon us six years from now, just as He has not abandoned us now.
Holiday

Now, to the next part of my post. My parents are currently en-route to come and visit us. They will arrive tomorrow, and then the next day (Friday, March 15) we will be leaving for France. My Mom served her mission in Northern France/Belgium, and so we're going to visit two of her old areas, Lille and Dunkirk. Then, on Sunday night we drive to Paris for three days of wild sight-seeing. Currently up for tourism are the Rodan Museum, Napolean's Tomb, the Arc de' Triumph, the Louvre (of course; this is the heart of this side-trip), all the famous out-doors things like the Eiffel Tower, a river whose name escapes my memory at the moment (the Seine, perhaps?) and all the pretty buildings. Also we're going to indulge in (very cheap) good French food and pastries and just generally have an exciting time.

I don't speak a word of French, nor do I know the pronunciation rules, so I'll be completely dependent on my Mother and Avram (my Mom for the speaking; Avram only reads French. Which hey, is a lot more than I can do). Yesterday I had the opportunity to go with my visiting teaching companion, visiting teachee, and my companion's other companion and visiting teachee (besides having two sets of companions and visitees, she's also the Relief Society president, and just all-round wonderful, not to mention Japanese/Hawaiian/and now living in Britain for over half her life since she married a man from here. I love the internationality of my ward. Also, she combines the nicest aspects of all these cultures) to a French restaurant. It was the first French food I've ever had, and I was favourably inclined, but I did have to resort to point at the menu whilst ordering. And I thought that Fruits de Mer was some kind of fruit salad (It's fruits of the sea, or seafood).

This all reminds me of a huge faux pas I made while at dinner. We were discussing maternity clothes, because the sister sitting next to me is also pregnant and due in May. She asked me where I got most of my clothes from, and I told her that I brought them from America, that most were used (used clothing isn't really sold here), and such. Then I went on to tell her that the pants I was wearing at that very moment weren't even maternity at all, that they were just stretchy, so I could wear them anyway. Then the subject turned, and I didn't think anything more of it until a few minutes later this same sister said the word trousers, and it all came home to me.

In England, trousers are what people, both men and women, wear. Pants are underwear. Across the board. And although I had just been speaking to her, at that moment when I had made my comment, the whole table had happened to be listening. I suddenly understood why no one had really commented on my comment. I'm sure they were all thinking that was way too much information on my side. I then tried to explain my blunder, blushing furiously in the process, and then repeating myself again when another sister came back from using the toilet, she having missed my explanation, but not my blunder. Even thinking of it now, I wonder if people from neighboring tables heard me. Regardless, I'm not used to being thought of as the kind of person who discusses her foundational wardrobe at a restaurant table, especially with people she doesn't know too well. And in such a merry, almost proud manor (after all, at the time, I was thinking what a great thing that I had been able to wear a pair of pants that weren't maternity through my whole pregnancy here, when my wardrobe is already so limited).

Moving on....

My parents will be here for two weeks, so the second week we'll be doing some local sight-seeing, like Stratford upon Avon and Blenheim palace and London, but we'll also just sit around and talk, because I haven't seen them in over a year, and my mother is dying to see Lydia. Not me, of course. After all, I haven't changed that much since the last time that we met. But her darling grand-daughter certainly has. I don't mind. In fact, I kind of like the trump card of having a grandchild to pull for my parent's attention. Although almost all of my siblings have one or more of the same card. But they all work, because my Mother loves all of her grandchildren to distraction.

Regardless, I shall be absent from blogging and the Internet until next Thursday, so until then, Adieu.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Much Rejoicings

Avram got a fellowship at Ohio State, which means first year stipend and tuition paid and health insurance subsidy (plus it's usual for the department to provide TA-ships for the remaining years, so basically he has full funding) which means we're heading to Ohio in the fall. I'll post more later, when it's not late at night here and Lydia isn't competing with me for the computer. Thanks for all of the prayers and good thoughts in his behalf. We've decided that the Lord must want us in Ohio! So Columbus here we come!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Saturday's Warrior

Last night our family was stuck in molasses. We didn't have dinner until 7:30, we ate like sloths, cleaned up slowly, and then dinked around for a while. Which means it was after nine pm, and we still hadn't had Family Home Evening. Rather than just calling it a loss, we decided to watch something religious together (both Avram and are weren't functioning at top speed). So we turned to the trusty online BYU tv, where you can watch any of BYU tv from the last month. On Sunday, for Lydia's birthday, we watched some great short movies of the Old and New Testament. This time we found...Saturday's Warrior.

When I was a kid, we would always visit my Grandma Merrill for Easter weekend. Usually at some point during ethe weekend us kids would get bored/fall back on what kids nowadays always do, and want to watch a movie. My Grandma only owned two movies that were interesting to us; Clarence (the modern sequel to It's a Wonderful Life, which was funny, because I saw the sequel years before I saw the original), and Saturday's Warrior. I haven't seen it since those years, but I always fondly remember watching Saturday's Warrior every Easter.

Since we're (somewhat) close to Easter, we decided to watch Saturday's Warrior for FHE. Although as Avram points out there are a lot of doctrinal problems with the show (pre-set number of children for a family, fore-ordained marriages from heaven, people going to the pre-earth existence after death), I really enjoyed watching it again. I had the tape of the music in college, so the songs were all familiar to me, and the message was nice, and even the acting wasn't bad. I cried when the twin sister died, laughed when the elders showed their investigator a slideshow by projecting it onto the front of one of the Elder's white shirt, and just all round enjoyed myself.

Avram and I even had a thought-provoking conversation afterwards (We only watched one half of it, and then went to bed because Lydia was dead tired, but talked late into the night. Lydia and I finished watching it this morning) about whether we think we've known (whether in a romantic context or otherwise) people on Earth whom we knew in Heaven before. We decided that perhaps when people feel "love at first sight" for each other that they may very well have known each other in heaven beforehand, although not in a romantic context there. And we could see, given that extra feeling of familiarity immediately upon meeting someone as leading to marriage.

Do any of you have any thoughts on this, or for that matter on hokey (yet nice) Mormon movies from our youth?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

All about Ohio

It currently looks like we may be going (knock on wood) to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The update on our roller-coaster college application search is that Avram isn't in Johns Hopkins, leaving only Yale to hear from. Understandably, we're expecting a rejection from them. So, it's between Wisconsin and Ohio. However, Avram did not receive a fellowship from Wisconsin, and although he could still receive a TA-ship, they usually don't give them to first year students. So all our hopes and dreams are on Ohio.

Avram wrote an email to Ohio asking about his admission and funding, and heard back from them this morning (well, they wrote it yesterday afternoon). They sent a letter on February 8th, so it must be on the slow boat to England (ok, I added the last bit). Which is good to hear, because I had started to worry that maybe there was a glitch in their system, and we weren't really accepted at all (the month of February was not good for my paranoia). The email also said that funding isn't decided yet, but they'll let him know when they know. This is actually a very nice thing to know, because we know that the Fellowships haven't been announced yet, and so maybe since they don't know yet he's been recommended for a fellowship (crosses fingers, says another prayer). Having done some research on their website, I now know way too much about Fellowships at Ohio State.

Avram's department gets to recommend three people for a fellowship from the University, which recommendation (with all the forms in quadruplicate) must be turned in by February 8th (I may be off by a day or two). Every department gets to recommend people, anywhere from three for the small departments to 45 for the dentistry school. Then, a committee of 20 decides who gets them (it doesn't say what percentage of these they pick for fellowships), and this is available to the general school faculty by March 4. By March 7 the letters to the winners are sent out. So....if Avram was recommended, which we dearly hope he was, they wouldn't know about his funding yet.

For those who don't keep their ears metaphorically to the railroad tracks of academia to understand all comings and goings, I'll explain briefly what money sources I'm always talking about. Fellowships are a tuition waiver, health subsidy, and a stipend (they have two levels at Ohio, the 1800 a month stipend and the 1250 a month one). It's given for two years; the first year of a student's attendance, and the fifth year, which is usually when a student starts dissertating, so it lets them write full time. Fellowships have no duties attached, ie they give them to recruit people, and all you have to do in return is do well at studying. If you do receive a fellowship, then the department is required to give you a similar amount of money/waivers for your second, third and fourth year, although these usually involve TA-ships.

TA stands for Teaching Assistantship, and you work for 20 hours a week teaching or helping teach classes. When you're a TA you also don't pay tuition and get a health insurance subsidy.

Ideally (knock on wood and say lots of prayers for us), Avram would receive the fellowship and then TA ships for the rest of the time. Although even if they said that he would receive a tuition waiver and health subsidy and a stipend for cleaning toilets with a toothbrush, we'd jump at that as well. Because it's really the tuition, especially the first year when he's not a resident yet so the tuition will be around 25,000 for the year, that we really can't pay. Hopefully if he doesn't get a fellowship he'll still be given a TA-ship for the first year.

Anyway, all our hopes are on this, so pray a lot for Avram and funding from Ohio State. We've been praying a lot, and Avram fasted on Thursday (yes, we know that it's also fast Sunday on Sunday, but this matter needs a lot of fasting and prayer).

Regardless, this post was supposed to be about potentially living in Columbus, Ohio, until it was hijacked by my own worries and thoughts. So, back to business.

1. All about the city: Columbus, according to Wikipedia (who cites Money Magazine for this) is the eighth best large city to live in. It has a population of 711,470 as of 2000, and is the capitol of Ohio. It has a lot of deciduous trees (which will make Avram happy).

2. The University: The Ohio State University is the largest college campus in the nation (ie, most students: 52,000). Its colors are scarlet and gray, and these are its doctoral robes:

Avram likes them, as he doesn't like just plain black robes, but colorful robes instead. As he says, one of the cool parts of academia is the pomp and circumstance, one of these being regalia. I want him to get a tam, instead of a mortorboard. They are velvet, and either four, six, or eight sided. I like them, and think they are much more distinguished looking than a flat head hat. Of course, he wouldn't buy his official robes until he had a tenure track position, because they're ridiculously expensive. The mascot is a buckeye, which Avram kept on telling me was a nut, but I didn't believe him until he finally showed me a picture of them. I couldn't believe that a school would have a nut as a mascot, but it's true. Apparently they are good for throwing at people.

3. Gaming: It's Origins, and for $45 and the price of a bus ticket, Avram can go to the second largest gaming convention in the US (this is role-playing, miniature gaming, European board games, and all kinds of groovy things). It's every year at the end of June/beginning of July in Columbus. He went there before once, just after his mission, and has always intended to go back. Living in Columbus would make it really easy and affordable, and turns going from a huge vacation expense to something that's actually feasible to do.

4. We would probably live in Buckeye Village, the on campus family housing. Although houses are cheap in Columbus, we have no capital, hardly any income, and only a small credit history, so buying most likely isn't an option for us. On the plus side, they come with air conditioning, which is nice, because Columbus has hot, muggy summers. It's about two miles from Avram's would-be department, so a nice, short bike ride. And Columbus is flat, so that's nice too (I love the mountains, but I like to bike-ride on nice, flat surfaces).

5. The nearest temple is nine miles away. This isn't bad, although not quite as good as our Provo temple, which was only about a quarter to a half mile away (although people would still drive there from my ward...it's how you knew they were truly Mormon), but I doubt we'll ever live that close to a temple again. It's a small temple.
6. Columbus is a 7 1/2 hour drive from Mom and Dad Shannon in Virginia, so not too bad of a drive at all. Supposedly a one way trip between the two would only be $50 in gas (according to the AAA fuel cost estimator for a trip), which seems too cheap to me, but hey, would be nice if that's all it was.

That's all that I've found so far, really. It's funny because on the one hand we're trying to not get excited at all, because we don't know about funding, but on the other hand we so badly want to get the funding, that it's hard to not get a little bit excited, interested in where we'll hopefully be in the fall.