Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 4: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal for me.  I love to spend time with friends and family, remembering all of the blessings in my life and creating new memories.  This year was very different, however, since Thanksgiving is not celebrated here in the UK.  So Jon and I came up with a plan to make the weekend special: we would go to the pub down the street that has been advertising for their Christmas turkey dinner (served all month long), and we would get a Thanksgiving dinner for two with all the trimmings.  Then we planned to catch a ride to London with someone from church on Friday night and spend the weekend sightseeing.  Sounded like a fantastic, memorable weekend.

That is, until all of our plans fell apart.  First, the pub told us that you had to have FOUR people for the meal, and you had to book significantly in advance.  Then the hotel that we booked (significantly in advance) near Buckingham Palace emailed us to say that they had accidentally double-booked our room, and that there was no space for us.  In fact, there was no space for us ANYWHERE in London for under £120 a night (the equivalent of $187.22 per night).  Then our ride called and said he pulled his back and didn't know if he'd be able to take us.  REALLY?!  Could EVERYTHING fall through?!?  Yes, it could, and it did.

At first I thought I could run out on Thursday night, grab a chicken and some potatoes and pull together a Thanksgiving dinner for Jon and myself.  I quickly decided against that.  So this is what we did for our Thanksgiving dinner instead:

We went to YO! Sushi for dinner!  That will definitely make for one of our most memorable Thanksgivings ever.  Jon has been telling me for years about his years as a kid in Japan, and how the restaurants would have bowls of sushi going by.  He ate his fill and loved every bite of it.  As for Friday, we decided to brave the traffic around London, but did a completely different activity than planned:

We decided to go to the temple on Friday night, stayed in a hotel nearby (that didn't cancel our last-minute reservation!), and spent most of the day at the temple on Saturday.  It was definitely refreshing and renewing to spend a significant amount of time in the temple.  And the temple cafeteria even served turkey, mash (mashed potatoes) with gravy, and stuffing, which Jon happily devoured. :) (I opted for fish and chips.  I can't get enough!)  So even though it wasn't the glamour of sightseeing around London, it was a wonderful weekend.  And in all honesty, it is probably better that it worked out this way, since today the temperatures were below freezing and windy.  I don't know if our Floridian blood could have handled it.

So this Thanksgiving, I am very grateful that God had a different plan for us this weekend than we did.  I'm grateful to know that God is there and that He knows me (and all of us) individually, as His sons and daughters, and that I can turn to Him for guidance and strength.  I am thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it joins me together with people in just about every country in the world, of every background and culture, in a bond of faith and friendship.  There truly is so much for which I am thankful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 3

Jon and I had a lovely weekend here in Cambridge. We did one of the most touristy things there is to do around here: punting. Now, lest you think we went off learning how to kick an American football through a goalpost, I shall explain.

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat used in shallow canals, and is propelled using a long stick that pushes against the river bottom. It's an activity that is best enjoyed during the summer months, but since we are here in the winter, and they were offering the tours, we went for it.

It was really pretty along the river, albeit cold. The tour took us through several of the colleges that are around Cambridge (32 in all!), so we got a bit of education on the history and architecture of the area. It was well worth it.

We spent the afternoon walking around the city centre (that's how it's spelled here), and then in the evening we went to a free brass band concert at a church on our street. It was held at St. Giles Anglican Church, originally built in the year 1092!!! Most of it has been rebuilt, but they did keep some elements from the original structure. They had refreshments during the intermission, so we got to sample a traditional Christmas Pudding (it's pretty much coffee cake with dried fruit, nuts and a creamy layer in the middle). We had a great time.

Today we went to church and enjoyed the Primary program (little children are so sweet and HILARIOUS!), as well as a "munch and mingle" after church. We had some traditional, homemade English foods, like mushroom soup, carrot and coriander soup, Swiss rolls (okay, so I'm guessing that's Swiss), some sort of yummy sandwiches with cheese and dried fruit, as well as various breads with butter. We also got a chance to talk with several of the ward members and make some friends. Among them, we think we found the spiritual fraternal twin of our sister-in-law, Jessica (imagine for a moment that they have the same hair color):

Not only do we think they have some similar facial features, but they also have similar laughs and mannerisms. Being with our new friend, Esther, is very much like being with Jessica - which means lots of fun!

In other news, I am still trying to find a place to mail some letters. I guess I have been spoiled for much too long, because I assumed that I would be able to drop mail in an outgoing box near the apartment, or that there would be mailboxes or small post offices around. Alas, it is not so. I have been walking around Cambridge for almost a week with addressed letters, just waiting to find a place where I can mail them. I think I have to go all the way to the city centre just to mail them, but of course I didn't find the post office when I was there yesterday. So if you had a birthday recently and you don't get a card until mid-December, it's because I didn't find the post office until I got back to Florida.

We are just over 1/3 through our stay here in Cambridge, though it doesn't feel like we have very much time left. Hopefully we can enjoy some of the Christmas festivities coming up over the next few weeks!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 2: Day of Remembrance

This week I was struck by how many people here in the UK were wearing these little red flowers on their lapels.  I had no idea what they were for, until I finally asked a sweet lady in a pub.  She said that they were poppies, worn in honor of Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, to remember the nearly 20 million fallen soldiers in World War I, and those who have given their lives since then in military service.
The tradition of wearing poppies stems from a poem written by John McCrae in 1915, "In Flanders Fields."  It is said that poppies grew in great numbers near the battlefields and final resting places of the soldiers who fought in the town of Flanders, and the poem was written after the author witnessed the death of his friend on the battlefield.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

I was struck this week by how many people observed this holiday with deep reverence.  We call the same holiday Veterans' Day in the US, but we do not honor it in nearly the same way as they do here.  Even today during church, we observed two minutes of silence in honor of fallen military personnel.  There was a sense of patriotism and respect for service men and women who were willing to give their lives in the cause of freedom.  It was very inspiring, and an eye-opener for me about how we regard our own military personnel in the US.  People picket and set up demonstrations at fallen soldiers' FUNERALS in the US.  I hope that we can learn some lessons from our allies here in Europe about how to respect and honor those who are contributing to our security and freedom.

On a lighter note, we got lost today.  AGAIN.  Big surprise, huh?  A family was having some people over for lunch and invited us to join them.  We were pretty excited.  They told us to follow their car.  We were the 3rd car in the caravan.  We drove about 5 miles, and I assumed that the second car was going to the same place, until we got to a roundabout (curse them!) and the first car went one way and the second car went another!  We didn't know what to do, so we went around the roundabout and tried to find the first car (because we were going to their house).  We couldn't find them.  We drove for another 10 minutes, and finally we pulled over into a parking lot with some young military-looking cadets.  One of them let us use his phone to call the only number we had (the bishop).  No answer.  So after a 40 minute drive out into the middle of nowhere, we turned around and tried to find our way home.  Fortunately, we only got slightly turned around, and got back to our apartment in time for peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a nap. :)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 1

As I am writing this, Jon and I are in Cambridge, England.  His job sent him here for a month of training, and I was fortunate enough to get to tag along!  So I will be giving some updates about our experiences here.

Some important lessons I have learned so far on our UK trip:
1) It was good that I learned to look BOTH ways before crossing the street, especially now that the cars are coming from a different direction.

2) We should have gotten the GPS instead of adding me as an extra driver for the extra £10 a day.  Why?  a) Directions on Google Maps are useless because most of the street signs are obscured, and b) I am really not that great at driving on the other side of the road. (Which gets me really frustrated because I normally really like to drive.)  The result is getting lost.  A LOT.  But at least you can circle around the roundabouts as many times as you want to until you figure out which street you think is the one you're supposed to take.

3) I am thankful for my washer and dryer at home.  Every time I leave the country, those are what I appreciate the most.  It obviously takes an advanced degree to operate the one here in our little apartment, between converting the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit, then choosing which temperature at which to wash your clothes (because cold water is apparently only an option for wool), selecting the RPM at which your clothes go through the spin cycle, and the temperature and time of the drying (which happens in the same machine).  Even though I have previous experience with using one of these washers, I am no more satisfied with it now than I was at any other time.  After an hour and 30 minutes of washing (JUST washing), it took another THREE hours to 'dry' the clothes.  And the clothes still came out damp.  Grr.

My nemesis: the washer/dryer
Does a washer even need all these buttons?
Rack: the OTHER dryer

4) Don't listen to anything anyone says about food in England not being a good experience.  Perhaps I am biased because I really like food in general, but Jon and I have had some excellent food since we've arrived: Lincolnshire sausages and mashed potatoes (better known as "bangers & mash"), Yorkshire pudding (which is a type of bread), fish and chips, lamb meatballs with couscous, creamy penne with chicken and garlic bread, cream of broccoli soup with bread, bell peppers stuffed with couscous and eggplant with cabbage on the side...and those are just the main dishes!  Everything we've had has been very good.

5)  It is not customary in the UK to ask for your leftover food to be boxed to take home with you.  Doing so will result in the bartender (because you order your food at the bar) looking at you strangely, spending 5 minutes in the kitchen rummaging around for a container to accommodate your request, and your having to carry your leftovers home in a washed, oversized coleslaw container.  But on the upside, we got the equivalent of a tupperware container out of it, so I can store leftovers in the apartment now. :)
(It's definitely better than the foil and napkin we got tonight.)

6) Credit cards here in the UK come equipped with some sort of chip, whereas our cards in the US only have the strip on the back.  So beware when pulling out your University of Michigan Visa Signature card through Bank of America at the pharmacy, lest the pharmacist attempt to engage you (in an increasingly loud voice) about the recession, the housing crash, and how the Republicans and Tea Partiers in AMERICA (really loudly) HATE OBAMA.  Not really what I wanted to discuss while picking up some nail clippers and conditioner.

More cultural mishaps to come...