August 26, 2007
Chobham Common, August 2007
I thought I had posted about Chobham Common before, but Typepad (my blog hosting service) can't find anything of the sort for me. It's an open space preserve here in England, about 10 minutes from our house. We visited it for the first time last February, and had a nice hike, but I can tell you, you really need to see it in August to get the full effect: August is the prime time for blooming heather, and Chobham Common is mostly heathland. I have put up a bunch of new heather photos on flickr from our latest walk, yesterday. Here are a quartet:
Someone else's dalmatian was having fun running in the heather.
Wikipedia tells me Chobham Common is a 1,400 acre area of lowland heath, which is a globally rare and threatened habitat, in Surrey, England. It was formerly a freehold owned by the Earl of Onslow, and purchased for £1 by Surrey County Council in 1966.
As for wildlife, the Common hosts the "nationally rare" Water Vole, 116 species of bird, 23 species of dragonfly (we saw one), 33 species of butterfly (we saw a few), and it's the "best site in the UK for spiders, hymenoptera (bees wasp and ants) and ladybirds."
Have you seen the excellent and very touching movie Victoria & Albert? Queen Victoria in real life reviewed troops encamped on the Common, including the famous Light Brigade, prior to their departure to the Crimea in 1853. The Victoria Monument that was erected on the site in 1901 commemorates this event. Here's a sketch of the monument, which we saw on our first walk in February (but I didn't have a camera with me).
More about Victoria's encouragement of her soldiers:
10,000 troops were encamped on nearby Chobham Common during one week of appalling weather in June. The highlight of the camp was the review of the troops by Queen Victoria on the final day. The Queen arrived in an open carriage, but abandoned it to mount a horse and, accompanied by Prince Albert, she rode from regiment to regiment to inspect her troops. Then the royal party retired to a vantage point to watch a two-hour mock battle and finally a march past 8,000 men and 1,500 horses took part and the event was watched by 100,000 spectators who travelled by special trains from Waterloo.
We broke out the shorts
Just in time for a three-day weekend, God decided to give the UK some beautiful sunshine. I think it's the first time we've seen the sun in two weeks (ever since we got back from the U.S.). It really makes a huge difference in one's outlook on life.
We actually got to wear shorts and T-shirts (at the same time) this weekend (in August). Woo hoo!
August 21, 2007
UK County Maps
I've been looking for a drag & drop online map game of the UK, to allow me to guess where the counties are (like U.S. States, only smaller). Haven't found it yet - let me know if you do. I'd love to train myself. I can locate only a couple so far!
I've just been looking at some online maps at least:
This Great Britain county map allows checking and unchecking of boxes to turn each county blue or yellow, which is the most interactive sort of thing I've found so far. Pretty helpful, though not too fun. It also misses out some counties! I know, because I drive from here (Berkshire) to Staines in Middlesex County to go non-grocery shopping, and it's not even on this map.
This colorful Great Britain county map is much prettier and also more accurate as far as I can tell. Middlesex figures on it. The names are written in the county shapes, which is easier to ingest, I find.
In any case, from these two maps I have determined that the counties surrounding Berkshire are:
- Surrey (to the southeast; that I knew, since our school is in Surrey, and we're kind of in a dimple of Berkshire surrounded by Surrey, and lots of our acquaintances live in Surrey)
- Middlesex (nearest movie theatre is here; east)
- Hampshire (drove south through this to get to Isle of Wight last October, but didn't know it)
- Buckinghamshire to the northeast
- Oxfordshire to the northwest
- Wiltshire (visited some old friends here)
- and a tiny bit of Gloucestershire, it would appear (northwest tip of Berkshire just brushes it)
Biking in the Heather Under Grey Skies
August 20, 2007
Sometimes they look blue, sometimes they look green. All alone I find they look bright blue, but next to a cobalt blue water bottle such as they offer at Ascot Spices, Emily's fingernails look like the name of the nail polish: "Emerald Depths." Whatever else they may be, her nails are not boring. Grandma let her choose any color she wanted...and it did make her so happy.
Climbing Trees in England
The kids and I were out on a bike ride. I saw a nice-looking beech tree. I know from experience that beech trees are some of the best climbing trees, and I parked my bike on the grass beneath and climbed it. The kids wanted to get up, too. They were in the process when a lady pulled up in her car and looked up at us.
She raised her eyebrows and, in a voice dripping with disapproval, proclaimed, "...As long as you don't damage our tree..." and drove off. This tree was not in someone's yard, but it was in the middle of a big grassy roundabout at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. A biking/walking path goes in and out of the roundabout, and said path goes past our back yard farther off.
Being the conflict-avoider that I am, we got down and went home.
End of sad story.
Except to say that:
1) I used to eat lunch in a beech tree at school with my friends (we each had our own perch)
2) They have banned this practice at my old school now (no tree-climbing anytime)
3) Some day I hope we have a yard with a big, climbable beech tree that belongs to us, and I will invite everyone I know to come climb it with me.
Flying from the U.S. to Europe
Sometime during the second half of the flight (which typically takes place in the middle of the night European time), I begin to ask myself whether the travel was worth whatever we might benefit from it.
Once we've arrived and I've had a shower and (this is important) a 4-hour nap, I revise my dubious opinion and realize it was worth the temporary discomfort. This is a fairly common pattern for me.
On our most recent such flight, as we were leaving the airspace over Washington, D.C. and heading out over the Atlantic Ocean, the air traffic controllers reported to our pilot (as broadcast on channel nine of our headsets) that there were a bunch of blue and white ballooons floating around up near us. The pilot replied, "Happy Birthday!"
Later on I heard the air traffic control mention "a bunch of jumpers" - wow, busy sky up there. I never thought about commercial aircraft having to circumnavigate parachutists. That's crazy. Imagine you're there having a good time skydiving, and along comes a 747 headed straight for you?
Europe has generally better yogurt selections than the U.S., in our opinion. The newest offering we've found: Brazil Nut Yogurt. We've known about Hazelnut Yogurt forever, but Brazil Nut is a new one on us. It's pretty good. If you think this doesn't belong in this post, you're probably right. But we discovered this new kind of yogurt the day we took such a flight as mentioned in the title, so I'm letting it slide.
Days Since & Until
THREE DAYS SINCE I made the kids spend 8.5 hours with me completely reorganizing & cleaning their rooms. What an awesome accomplishment. I was so pleased that my 12-year-old was able to keep pretty productive on his own in his room, while I broke down the task into 25 smaller, doable tasks for my 9-year-old, who was quite paralysed at the idea of the entire job. Her stuff hadn't been organized since we moved here a year ago, and she tends to leave things out. I made a list for her with a big circle at the end of each task. When each one was completed, she got to choose a round sticker to apply to the circle. We were able to throw out a lot, recycle a lot, and give away a bag full of clothes that were too small. By the end of the day I felt coated with dust, and that shower was so welcome. I am happy both kids now have clean desks at which to do homework in comfort, and can start the school year feeling good about their dwellings, and knowing where everything is.
TWO DAYS SINCE
- our family of four began a 1000-piece puzzle
- my son and I baked an apple pie, whilst my daughter decided she would make her own little apple tart with the leftover dough, since she didn't care for the cranberries and walnuts we put in the apple pie. We didn't have any cream so she used milk, and we didn't have any lemons so she omitted the lemon juice. It still came out fine.
ONE DAY SINCE
- we met with Ascot Baptist Church for our third time (and I felt quite at home, so there's a tentative great thank you to God for what I hope might be the end of our search)
- we finished the puzzle in the afternoon. I was amazed we were able to get it done before school was upon us. It all started when I was the only one who had any interest in tackling a puzzle, so I just flat out asked everyone to give me 12 minutes of their time puzzling with me on Saturday afternoon. They all ended up hanging with me for an hour and a half. After that David and Jason both came back several more times that evening and the next morning and afternoon to keep at it, although Emily lost interest. The three of us were all there when the final piece was inserted. It felt great.
TODAY was just a work day with laundry, tidying, errands, grocery shopping, the usual. I also reorganized my own clothes closet a bit and cleared off our bedroom chair, which can get piled up a bit.
ONE DAY UNTIL my dear friend from kindergarten hopefully arrives for a day's visit with us. It will be her first time to our home in England, and her first time at any of our homes since we lived in Cupertino, California, in 1998 or so. She nearly came to see us in Sunnyvale, CA, back in 2004, but I had a horrible flu and she was about to drive across the country, so we thought it best for her not to catch it. We were in and out of France in a whirlwind. Anyway, I can't wait to see her.
TWO DAYS UNTIL Orientation Day at school. That means about 2.5 hours at school for each kid, picking up materials, finding out who their teachers are, etc.
THREE DAYS UNTIL school starts in earnest (for two days before a three-day weekend - kind of weird, but sort of nice, too), and I'll have one in 8th grade and one in 4th.
Early Autumn in England
We have a great CD called Autumn in New England. I particularly like the first track, "A Ship A Sailing." But that's neither here nor there. My point is that it feels like Autumn has already reached England. Old England, that is.
My husband is wearing flannel pyjamas to bed. My daughter requested that we change her summer blankets for her winter duvet/puff (a request we honored). I haven't worn shorts here all summer (though of course I wore them while visiting the U.S.). We did have a brief hot spell back in March/April. But I think summer has skipped us entirely this year.
The days here in the Southern UK this August are passing with a calm drizzle and grey demeanor.
There are several up-sides:
1) No sweat
2) It feels quite appropriate to be starting up with school already in two days
3) It's fine we don't have A/C
4) We get to wear cozy sweaters
I'll leave you with one more New Englandy CD recommendation:
New England by Piano, also by David Huntsinger. There are some repeats from the above-mentioned CD. My favorite new tracks are "Morning Weaves Through Irish Lace" (track 1), "Climbing Katahdin" (track 5), and "Autumn Daydream" (track 10). Thanks again, Aunt Willow! I've been listening to it in my car with zeal.
August 17, 2007
Iris Recognition Immigration System at Heathrow
I mentioned before leaving the U.S. that the kids and I would be trying out the U.K's new Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS) for the first time, to reenter our country of residence with more ease. Well, it was beyond fabulous. Unspeakably wonderful and awe-inspiring.
We got to glance at the snaking queue of maybe 200-300 people waiting to be dealt with by a border agent, ignore it, turn left into a lane without a single soul in it, stare into a screen for a few seconds, and walk on through, without so much as showing a passport or immigration card. There are only two drawbacks:
1) I felt badly for all the people standing in the lines and hoped they weren't resentful towards me, sort of cutting ahead (although I didn't use up any of their staff)
2) The luggage wasn't as fast as we were, so we had to wait for it to arrive for a while. But at least we weren't shuffling slowly forward for 45 minutes. Just standing in place for about 10 minutes.
I highly recommend this totally non-invasive, kind of fun, new technology that saves everyone involved a lot of time. I hope they install it at Washington Dulles very very soon. Who knows.
Update 18 Aug: Melene asked in the comments if the timing worked out for my husband and me to meet up at Heathrow, with David flying from San Francisco, and the kids and I travelling from Washington, arriving 15 minutes apart from each other and sharing a taxi home: YES! Very cool. Because of the IRIS smoothness upon arrival (and b/c our flight was slightly early), the kids and I had time to order a little breakfast at an airport café before David arrived. We had only just begun eating when he showed up at the table.