Nov 15, 2008

Over the Pond (5), day 13 -- Comings and goings

Please bear with me -- I do have a couple of posts in the works about my academic progress while in England, and a couple other things. We have houseguests and our community's 10-yr celebration this weekend, and after that I'll get caught up.

I've been trying to decide whether is more enjoyable -- the journey across the pond or the journey home. In some ways I vote for the outgoing journey:
  • I'm excited about getting a break from childcare and having several days of uninterrupted adult time.

  • I've usually been working hard in preparation for leaving, so the relief of just sitting in the airport or on the plane is more acute.

  • I usually have several books that I've been saving to read while I'm gone, so breaking into the first one feels like opening the first of all the Christmas presents.

  • It's the beginning of the trip, so I'm just excited in general. That first day away feels like the first book -- the first of many exciting days away.

However, this time the journey home felt much more restful.

  • It's always more relaxing at the end of the trip. While I'm usually fretting over schoolwork on the outgoing flight, I tend to take a break on the way home, so I can read those non-school books or watch those movies with peace of mind.

  • The flight doesn't represent one "night" of sleep, so I'm less concerned about actually getting some sleep, and more able to relax with a fun diversion.

Anyway... coming home was so relaxing this time around. (Come to think of it, it was last March as well. Two blessings in a row!) I was somehow upgraded to Economy Plus, with extra leg room, and then I had the two seats by the window to myself, as the flight was only half-full. The plane was somewhat chilly, so I drank a glass of wine, snuggled under a blanket, relaxed on the window and let the warm morning sun shine on my neck and shoulders. It sounds silly to describe it now, but it was utterly blissful. I did the crossword, dozed, read parts of Stumbling on Happiness and Acedia & Me, and watched the X-Files movie.

Whereas I usually have a long layover in Chicago O'Hare, this time it was a mere 3 1/2 hours, which is actually the perfect length of time to accomplish the following:

  • deplane

  • get through Passport Control

  • collect my luggage

  • get through Customs

  • recheck my luggage

  • take the train to my next terminal

  • realize, once again, that I'm at the wrong terminal to get my next boarding pass; walk to that terminal, collect boarding pass, and walk back

  • proceed through security once again (since I left the "secure" area when I left the international terminal)

  • locate a Chili's on the way to my Lexington gate, have a burger and check email

  • get to my gate with 30 minutes to spare before boarding

This is very doable and stress-free. Which is good, because I inevitably crash sometime around now. By then, it's around midnight England time, and my body's ready to sleep, but I still have several hours before reaching home. But my shorter layover meant that I arrived into Lexington around 9:00, where someone was anxious to regain her mommy. Although I'd mentioned to Billy that they could stay home (as I was delayed until 9:45pm), he said that she was looking forward to "getting my mommy from the big airplane." They watched my plane taxi to the gate, and while Billy collected my bags, I was subjected to the delighted cries, kisses, and snuggles of a Wunchie. The best part of the trip home?

"I missed you so much while you were gone, Momma. So much. So SO much. And then you came back to me!"

No question about it -- arriving is better than departing.

Nov 12, 2008

Over the Pond (5), day 12 -- Hackney as bookend, and as a potluck of great experiences

As I often do, I spent the last day of my trip with the Turners in the London Borough of Hackney. Not much of a day, actually, as I arrived just in time to help get the kids from school. Rachel, her mother-in-law and I walked through the drizzling rain and collected the kids, with me marvelling at the intercultural nature of their school. For instance, there are 18 languages spoken in the various homes of Eve's classmates -- English, French, Spanish, German, Yiddish, Fante, Twi, Igbo, Yoruba, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Turkish, Tagalog, Arabic, and three others I can't remember.

After getting caught in a rainstorm on the way home, we made dinner for about 10 guests, families from the neighborhood. It was a great time, and I had a nice time cuddling with their 4-yr-old Eve. Then we put all the kids to bed, and I read a few pages before heading to bed. The next morning, I just had time for tea and toast with Andy and the kids before Rachel took me to Mile End Tube station, where I caught a train to Paddington Station and then to Heathrow.

It seems that I either begin or end my trips in Hackney; it's like a bookend to my trip abroad. And there's always something interesting going on, someone interesting to talk to. Here's a sampling of some of the things I've done while with the Turners in Hackney.
  • taking long, lovely walks through the Docklands and Hackney Marsh with Rachel, discussing all kinds of things

  • using too much soap in the washing-up, each and every time

  • eating takeaway curry and kebabs with Billy after Greenbelt

  • walking with Rachel to get the kids from school, seeing all the interesting sites in Hackney

  • sleeping in Jessie's room, sleeping in Millie & Eve's room, sleeping in the lodger's room, sleeping in the lounge, sleeping in the cellar

  • fixing tea (dinner) with Rachel -- for us, for the kids, for 10 dinner guests

  • sleeping late

  • watching Angela's Ashes and Notting Hill by myself

  • watching Doctor Who with Rachel and Millie

  • watching Starter for Ten with Rachel and her friend (whose name escapes me)

  • blogging

  • visiting the Tate Modern museum

  • doing laundry

  • chatting with their lodgers (boarders) -- Rachel, Matsui, Nathan, John

A few years ago I told a man who was considering moving in, "You'll never have a dull day in this house." Fortunately, I've always known that to be true. Until next time!

Nov 11, 2008

Over the Pond (5), day 11 -- Breast Pump Woman

Some of you may remember this post (and this post) from the first season of Over the Pond, July 2006. Well, thanks to this series of events, I have a seemingly permanent nickname in Harrogate -- Breast Pump Woman.

On Sunday afternoon in Harrogate, Pete and Catherine took me to a birthday party of a family from their parish. As we prepared to leave, Catherine said, "Oh, you'll have fun tonight -- this party is being hosted by Tim -- you know, Breast Pump Guy." Apparently, the story of Tim having to send part of my breast pump to me in London, back in July 2006, has garnered quite a following. (His wife, Sue, was also described as "the wife of Breast Pump Guy.") So, as we got to the party, Tim came out to greet us, and Catherine said, "Tim, this is our friend Maria - -you remember Maria, hee hee hee." Tim and I shook hands and laughed, and I said, "We meet at last." Oh well, I thought, at least that's over. Then as we entered the party and began to circulate, Catherine would reply to anyone who asked how we knew each other with, "Oh, she's a friend from the States -- and Tim had to send her her breast pump once." Talk about your raised eyebrows. At least their friends were all totally cool. It was great fun.

So that's me -- Breast Pump Woman.

Over the Pond (5), day 11 -- Filling in the corners

My Sunday in Harrogate was all about rest and recuperation. After our blissful, Enthusiast day in York, I got a lovely night's sleep, then awoke just in time to beg off of church and get a lovely morning's sleep. I woke, and dozed, and woke, and dozed, and slept, and dozed a bit more. It was just what I needed; I'd been rising early each morning to work on my writing, and was actuely aware of the luxury of resting until noon. In his books, Tolkien describes the hobbits concluding their meals by nibbling and nibbling, "filling up the corners." That's exactly what I did on Sunday, and it was wonderful.

After Pete and Catherine returned, each having preached that morning, Catherine and I drank tea and checked email and chatted by the fire while Pete fixed a yummy lunch of sausage and mustard mash, baked beans, poached eggs, and homemade bread. We all dozed in front of our computers before stopping by a friend's birthday party (more on that later). We then opted not to attend Evensong (Enthusiast malfunction) and returned to the house for more dozing, tea, and conversation.

They then went to dinner at another friend's while I remained behind. Catherine said, "You're not invited tonight, so you can stay home, rest and read." How did she know? Pete very proudly displayed the goodies he'd bought me for dinner -- tinned chicken curry and treacle sponge, the latter of which I decided to bring home and enjoy with the family. I stayed home, ate curry with cream crackers, apples and dates, talked to my friend Christine, and watched Fiddler on the Roof. It was a lovely day.

The next morning, Pete and I drove to Leeds, where he had a meeting and I caught the train to London. Although I wish these folks were still living in the States, I'm enjoying seeing another side of them, and another aspect of England, as they make their home in Harrogate.

In case you're wondering about my connection to Pete and Catherine, they are friends from the New Monastic network and are members of the Northumbria Community, which I've visited on previous trip OTP (see here, here, and here).

Nov 10, 2008

Over the Pond (5), day 9 -- Enneagram Sevens of the world, unite!!

I've almost lost track of where we are in OTP (5). What with blogging about the election, college football, and wayward bats, I've sort of lost the thread of the trip's narrative. Maybe we can get back on schedule.

I stayed in Durham longer this trip than I have any other time, Sunday evening to Saturday morning. It was really nice to finish work with Robert early Friday afternoon, then wander down to the Market Square for fish & chips, a bit of shopping, and some mental decompression. Then Evensong and dinner with Maeve, where we talked about our week and the ups & downs of doctoral work.

The next morning, I boarded a train to spend the weekend with New Monastic friends Pete & Catherine (see their beautiful faces above). They live in Harrogate but wanted to spend the day exploring York. We started with a lovely Thai meal, then a jaunt through the shopping sector; I wanted to find one of those denim miniskirts that young Brits wear with tights and boots -- it's a very cool look.

However, we had no luck, so for solace Pete took us to The Whisky Shop, where I purchased some 23 year old scotch for Billy. Here's the Whisky Shop -- can you feel the good vibes?

We then spent several hours at the York Castle Museum, which was lots of fun and very informative.

We stopped to recharge with chai and hot chocolate at Borders book store, then saw the movie Easy Virtue with Jessica Biel, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Colin Firth. It was great fun and the first time I've actually laughed out loud at the movies (several times) in quite a while.

We finished the evening with dinner and a pint at The Olde Starre Inn, York's oldest pub. It was well worth the 40 minutes it took to actually get our order straight!

It was a fun day, not least because it was full of interesting sights and experiences. And Pete and I discovered that we're the same enneagram type; we're Sevens, the Enthusiasts who love to experience new things and live each day to the full. As Pete was outling what he'd had in mind for the day, I kept thinking, "This is just the sort of day I'd plan if I only had one day in York with an overseas friend!" So when Catherine mentioned the enneagram, I knew Pete and I were both Sevens.
It's interesting meeting another Seven who's in ministry; it's not a very common type of person in this vocation. Soemtimes we end up a bit ashamed of our Seven-ness, wondering if our zest for life is really just superficial and shallow. (And we did end up reading bits of an enneagram book aloud once we were back in Harrogate, and googling bits online and discussing them.) But for Saturday, we celebrated our enthusiasm for life's exciting journey, affirmed each other, and enjoyed every bite, every minute, everything.

Nov 9, 2008

Over the Pond (5), day 10 -- Hey, BBC, if you can cover the election returns, why can't you cover this??

Why, why did I have to choose this week to be out of the country? Not only did I miss our historic national election, but I missed my alma mater turning out two decisive victories in their quest for a national football title! First University of Texas, now Oklahoma State!
The New York Times did a surprisingly fun article about the game and Tech's pursuit of the title, bits of which I've quoted between the pictures.

"It is not easy to get to this dusty West Texas outpost," says the New York Times. "Only three commercial airlines fly directly here, which may not be surprising considering there is not a building taller than 14 stories. But for the next two weeks, Lubbock will continue its improbable role as a college football hub. No. 2 Texas Tech blasted No. 8 Oklahoma State, 56-20, on Saturday, solidifying its status as one of the most dominant teams in college football. "

" So get used to tortillas flying in the air, a bandit Texas Tech tradition that was revived after Crabtree’s third score. And get used to Guns Up, the traditional Texas Tech symbol, and Leach’s entertaining sound bites. "

"And for now,' concludes the New York Times, "the Big 12’s road to the national title goes through Lubbock. No matter how difficult it may be to get here."

Amen, and get your guns up!

Nov 7, 2008

Over the Pond (5) -- Young man, do you have any idea what time it is? I've been worried sick!

The bat equivalent of passing out drunk in your front yard.

Over the Pond (5), day 8 -- A pictoral tour of Maria's favorite parts of Durham

I wanted to share a few pictures of Durham that reveal just a bit of its beauty. It's true that pictures rarely capture the fullness of what we see, but these do pretty well.

Here's Durham Cathedral as you're walking along the river Wear.
I've never been in Durham in the winter, but this might convince me.

The front of the cathedral.

The Galilee Chapel, where they occasionally hold Early Communion or Morning Prayer. It's cold, and quiet, and delightful in an understanded way.

The beautiful archwork inside

This is the Cathedral library, where you feel like you should be an extra in a Harry Potter movie. I studied (and snugged up to the radiator) in a window cubby, which you can see on the left, between the tall bookcases.

This is one side of the Cathedral Cloisters, which form a square between the Cathedral itself and the adjacent buildings (library, gift shop, cafe, offices, choral school, and others).

You can also visit this link to get a 360-degree view of the Durham Market Square, the hub of Old Durham activity.

Actually, here's a great website if you'd like to see more pics of the Cathedral. I'm such a groupie!

Nov 6, 2008

Over the Pond (5), days 7 & 8 -- I absolutely love Durham!

It's Friday night, and I'm winding down after a long, difficult, and productive week in Durham. I'm working on a post about some of the fun things I've done this week, but tonight I'm just too tired for concentrate enough to make it look good. I also have some exciting news about my academic progress, but again, that's another post. Let's see what I can manage.

Some things I learned this week in Durham:
  • Saying "absolutely correct" 4 times in a 43-page paper (as in "So-and-so is absolutely correct in stating that Plato...") is about 2 times too many. Get a thesaurus, Maria!

  • Eating greasy fish & chips once a week while in the UK is... just about right.

  • There is a wonderful library in the Cathedral Cloisters, which has most of the theological books I need.

  • The library in the Cathedral Cloisters, and other old stone buildings, are amazing to walk through, and freezing to sit in for more than a few minutes.

  • There is a clothing store where you can purchase locally brewed beer. I bought 2 bottles for Billy, a Monty Python brew and an award-winning "Cloisters Brew." Let's see if I can get them home in one piece.

  • Staying with a new friend is much better than staying at a bed & breakfast.

  • When a Brit says, "Yes, well, that certainly sounds like something that could be considered at some point," you should recognize defeat and move on.

  • Tuna steak and canned corn on a homemade pizza is not quite the same as pepperoni and sausage on a pizza of any kind.

  • Instant messaging with friends on Facebook can help when, despite all the great things about Durham, you're still feeling homesick.

I did this post last March, sharing some of the things I love about being in Durham. In fact, almost any post I've done while in Durham is full of things I love about this place. It's partially the studies, partially the grandeur of the buildings, partially the break from the daily routine.

Sorry if this post was kind of a dud. I thought of all kinds of witty things to say earlier -- honest.

Nov 5, 2008

The votes heard 'round the world

I found this slide show via a friend's blog, highlighting the incredible attention this election has garnered around the world, and underscoring its impact.

Nov 4, 2008


I can't help it, I'm sitting here crying. I realize that I have no idea, no idea at all what this means to millions of Americans. I can't believe I was able to be a part of this.


Nov 3, 2008

Over the Pond (5), days 3&4 -- A new twist on an old post

I was thinking today, "Should I even bother to post anything about my time in Durham?" It seems like it's always the same stuff -- the Daily Office at the Cathedral, fish & chips, study, blah blah blah. Is it getting boring? And wouldn't you know it, someone saved me just in time. I've been tagged with a letter-bound meme, and my letter is C. I need to list 10 things I love that start with C, and I'll see if I can make them all trip-related.
  1. The cathedral. I love, love, love the Durham Cathedral. It's marvelous. Just try and visit it and not fall in love. I dare you. Even visiting the Wiki site, you'll get a little crush.
  2. Chips, as in "fish & chips." They make chips (the equivalent of our fries) differently, bigger and fatter and less crispy, and just ready to soak up all that strong malt vinegar and salt.
  3. Cobblestone streets. They're all over the place here.
  4. Custard. It's not like vanilla pudding -- it's milder and thinner and usually quite warm. It's perfect on things like treacle sponge and spotted dick.
  5. Oh yeah, it's also great on rhubarb crumble.
  6. Conversation. It's so refreshing, and so energizing, to have a sustained conversation about my work with Robert, Maeve, other students. Studying alone is difficult, at least for me. And as a verbal processor, conversations bring life back to the work.
  7. Canonical hours. Making time for morning prayer, midday communion, and evensong has become important to me. It's easy to think that I don't have time for the daily office, but it usually makes me feel centered and rested.
  8. Cups and cups and cups of tea. They have great tea over here, and I usually drink lots of it.
  9. Connecting with my friends whom I only get to see in November and March, people like Robert, Margaret, Iona, Jamie, Maeve, the Turners, and the Askews.
  10. Calm. All the time I spend on trains and planes and in between studying gives me time to sit and think, or not think at all. It's refreshing. (And now all my mom friends are hating me.)

Thanks Janet!

Nov 2, 2008

Shane Claiborne in Wilmore on Election Day

Here is an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader about an upcoming visit from Shane Claiborne, member of the simple way and friend of the family. He'll be speaking in Estes Chapel at Asbury Seminary on Tuesday, Nov. 4th at 11am. You should go.

Billy and Miranda get to have dinner and spend the evening with Shane and our dear friend Chris Lahr on Monday. I'm jealous.

Nov 1, 2008

You're a mean one, Ms. Grinch

Here is an absolutely deplorable story about a woman who, when greeting trick-or-treaters, actually asked kids who they wanted for president. If they said Obama, they were turned away emptyhanded. She also had a sign posted stating, "No handouts for Obama supporters, liars, tricksters, or kids of Obama supporters."

When asked how she felt about making some kids cry, she apparently said, "Oh well, everybody has a choice."

Look, vote for whomever you prefer. Campaign, donate, whatever. But don't pull a stunt like this. Because it's just rude, and classless.

Watch the video here. Then, go eat lots and lots of candy to get the awful taste out of your mouth.

Over the Pond (5), Day 2 -- Norwich

You never know how travel will be from trip to trip. My flight to Heathrow was full but I was somehow upgraded to Economy Plus, with its 4”of extra leg room. It was probably the first overseas flight in ages where I haven’t watched a movie, as I was reading a new novel, Duane’s Depressed by Larry McMurtry. I’ve been on a McMurtry kick for about a year, the Lonesome Dove and Last Picture Show series. I was able to doze for a few hours, despite the plane being at capacity and my nagging backache. And whereas I spent over an hour last spring negotiating Passport Control, this time I breezed through in under 10 minutes. (I looked back and realized that our plane had arrived just before 2 other international flights, as I saw their passengers flooding into Passport Control as I was leaving. Timing is everything!)

I spent the weekend with some friends in Norwich. (Where’s Norwich, you ask? Here it is.) Mel and Hazel are the parents of longtime friend Sean Gladding, whom I’ve known at the Texas Tech Wesley Foundation, and again at Asbury, and again at Communality. They are gracious hosts and we’ve had a good time.

Last night, I was fortunate to see Martyn Joseph perform at the Assembly House. Billy and I met Martyn when Sean booked him to play at Asbury’s Kingdom Conference in 2001. His music reflects a faith that is vibrant and realistic and pissed off about the tragedies of our world, and it’s pretty amazing to hear. Plus he’s self-deprecating and witty and generally a nice guy. We spent a few minutes after the show catching up about our families and the busyness of life.

An unexpected treat was attending the show with Sean’s brother Lee and his wife Lynette. They are great folks, and Lynette and I had a great time drinking gin & tonic, discussing marriage and motherhood, and admiring each other’s sense of style. (Hers is better, hands down.)

Tomorrow I’m headed up to Durham on the train, and study begins Monday. After several trips where I’ve stayed by myself in a bed & breakfast, I’m looking forward to lodging with friends again. More conversation, less moping around by myself.