Category Archives: holidays

What I Will Recall About Norwich


England just fell to the United States in a World Cup women’s semifinal match as I write this. As an American, I’m OK with that.

But women’s soccer aside, it’s easy to love England. It’s a place where it an American can feel at home and in an alien place at the same time. I’m close to wrapping up a three-week visit with my daughter, son-in-law and their three children in Norwich, England. I’m not sure when we’ll see each other again—but soon, I hope.

Anyway, I will remember a lot about Norwich. We were lucky with the weather, but the reserved English people can also be quite warm, too. As my daughter notes, they may not make eye contact at first, but are curious and friendly once a conversation starts.

There were a lot of highlights this visit. Of course, the chance to spend them with family ranks number one. But there was a lot more to this visit, too.

In particular, the food has been wonderful, both that which we’ve eaten at local restaurants or from the neighborhood fish and chips shop, and that which my daughter and son-in-law have prepared.

I also enjoy that we’ve seen many new things—touring Blickling Estate, visiting the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, walking by the lake at Whitlingham Country Park. I rode a rented bicycle 20 miles into pretty English countryside on Marriott’s Way alone, and cycled to a nearby city with my son-in-law.

Norwich is a university town that is not that different in size than Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Both cities boast about 132,000 residents, for example. But Norwich seems more compact and is much older, however. The scale of things is all different here—sidewalks and streets here are much narrower than their American counterparts. Sometimes it feels a bit odd to me—sidewalks are so tiny here, and yet so much more used—walking is what many British people do. It’s nothing to stroll half a mile to downtown and to see hundreds of people at a time striding about.

When I rented a rode a bicycle here, I felt both safer and in more in danger than in the U.S. Bicycles are way more common here and used by a much larger percent of people as transportation, not just for recreation. Thus, auto drivers here are not so hostile to riders—bikes are too normal. However, narrower streets also mean way more proximity in traffic. To ride a bicycle on an English street is to be frequently, unnervingly close to both walkers and motor vehicles.

Well, I survived the experience. More than that, I really enjoyed it, all of it.

The reticent politeness of the English—strangers not making eye contact, but happily saying “cheers” if you open a gate for them. The odd assortment of fashion when parents drop off children at an elementary school on what seems to an Iowan to be a cool morning calling for a sweatshirt—some are dressed in business suits, some in winter wear, some in skimpy summer shorts. It feels like the parents were all collected from different climate zones.

Norwich! I’ve only really explored two English cities—London and Norwich. I did not make it to the capital during this visit, but that’s OK.

Norwich has been more than enough this summer. I’m not gone yet, but my departure for Iowa is only a few days away, and I honestly feel like I’m missing you already. Of course, it’s not just the place, it’s family, too. Time with my loved ones is precious and always too short.

The summer of 2019 has been one of diverse adventures—a wonderful trip to California followed by this respite in Norfolk. RAGBRAI is next, followed by “real” life.

Is there a point to this post? If so, I suppose it is to enjoy the journey if you are lucky enough to get the chance to travel. Let your family know that you love them. And never forget to try sticky toffee pudding.

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England Days 3-7: The Impact of Jet Lag


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Granddaughter and wife on stroll to school. We are going with her on a field trip.

I started off this visit with a short burst of energy that allowed me to write daily blog posts for the first two days of my English trip, but then jet lag kicked in. Each evening, I would edit and post a few images to Facebook, intending, after that, to write a blog post about the day.

And I failed each day. Except that today, when I checked my blog, there were three recent nonsense posts, one just the numeral 5, while the rest weren’t even words, just strings of letters.

Wow. Jet. Lag.

Anyway, the visit to England has been better than the blogging. Let’s see, what have I missed telling you about?

Wednesday, June 19—Walked grandkids to school, went to City Centre and arranged to rent a bicycle next week. Matt went on business trip and I borrow his bike—first short bike ride.
Thursday, June 20—We drove to a nearby village for book shopping and visit to nice outdoor gardens. Longer afternoon bike ride.
Friday, June 21—Audrey and I are “parents” on a school field trip, Lizzie’s Year 4 class walks to East Anglia University campus for nature hunt in green space by a river. Sunburn.
Saturday June 22 and Sunday June 23—We agree to watch the grandchildren so Matt and Amanda can celebrate their anniversary with a weekend getaway to London. It seems to be going well (knock on wood, it’s several hours before they get home). It’s not as much work as it could be, Juliet was gone for much of Saturday on a Brownie excursion to a zoo, and Elizabeth had a sleepover birthday party, but still, we get some good karma for being brave grandparents.

I complained about the UK a bit on my bike blog, because navigating the streets for a bicycle ride was more challenging that it should be in any organized universe. This post will be way more positive, because there is a lot to enjoy about England.

I can’t claim to be an unbiased judge of that. With my oldest daughter and three of my grandchildren living here, I am predisposed to have good thoughts about the place that pleasantly houses some people I love. Still, biased or not, I can judge when I want to, and isn’t that what a blog is for?

So here are additional good points of the UK.

First, the school system seems good here. I don’t know too much about it, but the Friday field trip was a positive experience. For one thing, it’s a bit of distance from the middle school Elizabeth attends to the university campus. Google maps says it’s 1.1 miles, but that seems like a lie, because that would be like waking from our house to the Collins Aerospace duck pond and back—and we walked a lot farther.

Of course, Google may not be accounting for the walk across the University of East Anglia campus to get to the site of the nature hunt, but that was not a great distance. I am not sure many American schools would walk four classes of fifth graders as far as we walked Friday—and that’s sort of a score one for England.

The day seemed mildly well spent. The teacher and aides seemed to know the children well and to anticipate and deal with issues. There was one allergic reaction to pollen, one girl with sunscreen in the eyes (luckily, not Elizabeth), and so on—normal school stuff, which was dealt with calmly. I imagine many American teachers and aides would have done as well, yet it was still good to see.

Rounders, by the way, looks like a drunk person tried to plan baseball and failed.

A second positive aspect of England is that walking and biking seem fairly normal here. On a weekend in City Centre, for example, there are crowds of people and hundreds of little shops open and bustling. The English are not hidden in their houses watching TV or playing video games, they are out and about. And using their feet and their pedals, many of them—auto traffic is heavy, too, but it’s startling how many people you just see walking downtown contrasted with what a comparable American city is like.

There is also the food. You can find plenty of bland and bad food in the UK—the British are known for it. But that has not been our experience. Of course, part of that is that my daughter is a much better cook than I am, and feeds us grandly. But the meals out we’ve had have been local, quirky and quite good. For example, on our art trip Thursday to the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre and the Alby Crafts and Gardens, we ate lunch at a tea room at the craft place.

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Tea room lunch. We were very pleased with it.

I got a chicken salad, as did Audrey, and we shared an order of fries at the table. It was a leafy, fresh salad with a tasty dressing—somehow, despite all of their reputation otherwise, it seems many Brits have learned not only to cook, but to cook well.

Granted, we made the mistake of buying store meatballs to feed the family Sunday for dinner, and they turned out to be very bland and made us miss American store meatballs—but that was a culinary exception. For the most part, eating here has a been a joy, and we haven’t even had proper fish and chips nor sticky toffee pudding yet.

England! I could eat you up.

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England Day 2: Art and Dead People


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Daughter and grandson on our cemetery walk.

After leaving the grandchildren off at school, my daughter suggested a walk through a cemetery.

We’ve been there before, but not this year. It’s a pleasant place to walk, an old cemetery with fading gravestones, at least the part we walked in. I understand it has modern areas, too, but this old part is part burial ground, part urban nature preserve, and it’s a peaceful, interesting place for a stroll.

At one point, my toddler grandson wanted me to pick him up so he could bat his hands at low-hanging leaves on trees. He has an infectious chortle, and we heard it sounding out a bit in the quiet among the dead. It was a good place to be alive.

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Another view of the cemetery.

Following the cemetery stroll, we decided to walk across town. Rain was in the forecast today, but not until later in the afternoon, and we gambled we could cross the distance to the rail station and return before the rain set it. It felt very muggy today, but was a bit cooler than yesterday, so it was a nice day for a walk.

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Art in the church.

Along the way, when we got downtown, an old church used as a civic center was advertising an art exhibit/sale, so we went in. It was nice to see the church, even if it being filled with contemporary art felt a little dissonant. Much of the art was several hundred pounds in price, which was one discouragement—and also was bulky enough that fitting it into a carry-on could be an issue, so we merely viewed the art and church and then moved on.

The walk across town felt like several miles, to me. I’m hoping it was good cross training for RAGBRAI—and being comfortable walking some distance isn’t just cross training, it’s also training, since RAGBRAI can involve a fair amount of walking, too.

We have a bold plan—we are to care for the grandchildren this weekend while our daughter and son-in-law enjoy a weekend alone in London. The walk today was so that our daughter could get her train ticket.

We also stopped at a bike shop downtown where I arranged to rent a bicycle for next week and also purchased a biking map of Norwich.

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One display in the church was a table set as “The Last Brexit Supper,” which was not exactly pro-Brexit.

Lunch was at a falafel eatery downtown—my daughter got us a group platter that could have fed four or five. The three of us, plus the toddler, gave it the old college try, but we ended up with a significant take-home box of leftovers, too. The platter was falafel and pita sandwich veggie fixings, including nice humus. It was filling and delicious.

We arrived still dry back at my daughter’s house about 2 in the afternoon, and I skipped the walk to school to pick up granddaughters so I could nap. I’m struggling a little to say awake right now, but the sunny walk today hopefully helped reset my bio clock, so I may not be blogging at 3:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. Knock on wood.

So today featured a long walk in a pleasant English city, including art and a cemetery stroll, a great lunch and the promise of future adventures—biking in the UK!

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England Day 1: A Pleasant Zombie Walk


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On the walk to school–pretty, familiar looking northern hemisphere sky, somewhat less familiar street scenery.

The luggage showed up quickly, and that was a blessing.

We flew from Detroit to Amsterdam to get here, and then from Amsterdam to Norwich. We had a fairly tight layover in Holland—but our overnight flight landed a few minutes early, and the connecting gate to our next flight to the UK turned out to be in fairly close proximity to our arrival gate.

But our bags did not make it with us, and we were not alone. At the Norwich Airport following the morning flight, there was a bit of a queue at the lost baggage desk. Sigh.

Still, entering the UK these days is pretty easy. There used to be an odd little customs card to complete, and a separate line for non-European passports that involved a bit more questioning. Monday, we were in line with all the British passports, there was no customs form and the questioning was concise.

We were picked up by our daughter, and met the toddler grandson who we have seen before, but mostly know via WhatsApp video calls. He was a little confused at first—those people from the computer can step out of cyberspace? —but quickly warmed up and even allowed me to carry him about the house a bit in the afternoon.

Our daughter had to leave on an extended errand, which was OK because my wife and I had at best only dozed on the long overnight flight, so we both took a 3-hour nap. And in the afternoon, we walked with her and the grandson to go meet out two granddaughters, who attend two different nearby schools. I felt a bit fuzzy headed on the walk—I’m afraid I was a bit of a living zombie—but the sky was pretty, and company pleasant and it was nice to be out. The strong cup of coffee my daughter made for me did not hurt, either.

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Bikes at school as we arrive to pick up granddaughter. It is nice to be in a country were bicycles are “normal” transportation.

I’m not yet used to the local geography. I sort of knew my way around Norwich before, from a previous house that my daughter and son-in-law were renting. They have since purchased a house. It’s in the same general neighborhood, but right now the streets are a bit of a confusing mess in my jet-lagged mind.

Still, despite being very tired, it was exciting to again see our Norwich family. The grandchildren didn’t appreciate my dad jokes, but nobody does, and that’s OK. After all, a dad joke (my oldest granddaughter is studying the Romans, which I suggested were named for their penchant for oars) is at best measured in a scale from “I don’t get it” to outright groans.

England is an interesting mix of familiar and alien. Roses are blooming here, as they are in Iowa. I saw bees among very familiar flowers—my son-in-law and daughter have very pretty foxglove in their tiny back garden, nice colorful blooms you can see from the kitchen window. At the same time, everything is different here. They speak English, but it’s not American English—you can understand them, but there is a bit of work to it. I suppose they feel the same about us. Their tiny row houses are all crowded together, which seems like a more space-efficient way to construct a city, but is not the familiar American ranch home on individual quarter-acre lots. When we were waiting at one of the schools, I looked out over a nearby hillside in view, and the rows of chimneys we could see looked very “Mary Poppins” or “Yellow Submarine.”

We were blessed with a nice day, warm and sunny, and are even more blessed with the warmth of familiar familial re-connection. The grandchildren are bigger and older, and I’m betting we will have some fun over this visit. The luggage, as it turned out, made the afternoon flight from Amsterdam and was delivered to a neighbor while we were doing the zombie walk to school.

UK! I’m tired, and I’m typing at 3:30 a.m., but that’s OK. We are here in Norwich, and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.

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A Short, Cold Walk in the Woods


Shadows of trees

I’m out of the yard, headed down to Dry Creek. I like the shadows on the snowy bit of grass.

After the annual New Year’s Day brunch at my sister’s house, I came home with my wife, daughter and grandson. It was nap time.

I woke up around 3, and worked for a while in the office, but when I looked out the window, a cold squirrel who was huddled in the tulip tree caught my eye. Right—I was going to fill the bird feeders this afternoon. It’s pushing 4, but at minus 4 degrees it’s as warm as it will get today—so I put on boots, coat, hat and mittens. And I also took my Nikon.

On the way around the house, I spotted a flock of small brown birds hanging out in a honeysuckle bush, as if waiting for me. “Where have you been?” I was inside where it is warm, dinosaur friends. Food is on the way.

I fumbled with the birdseed and feeders, and had to take off the mittens to deal with the anti-squirrel wire (it does not prevent them from eating, but from removing the feeders and taking them apart).

When I was done with my dino and rodent self-imposed duty, I was in no mood to go inside too quickly. It’s been bitterly cold in Iowa leading up to this New Year’s Day, and I was ready to spend time outside, even if just a few minutes. Dry Creek, in recent years, has rarely been dry, but I knew it had little water in it when the cold weather hit. Where there had been a bit of water, there would now be ice, anyway.

So I opened the back gate and ambled down to the streambed. I liked the quiet crunch of snow and sense of solitude, despite the occasional traffic noise from nearby C Avenue. Snapping images as I went, I headed under the C Avenue bridge, walking west in the bed of the creek.

Fallen tree arch.

West of C Avenue Bridge, walking west in Dry Creek bed. Passing under fallen tree arch.

Deer tracks let me know I wasn’t the first or only mammal to pass this way. It was bitterly cold, but very pretty as the late afternoon light turned golden and the cloudless sky was a soft wintery blue.

I saw a few skittish birds along the way, and passed under the arches of a few fallen trees. Maybe a quarter mile or less from home, I came to a tree crossing the creek that would have taken more effort to pass—doable, but a bit of limbo for an unlimber old man.

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Mammal tracks in snow. Deer, and an old man.

I had only one layer on my legs and not particularly warm socks in my boots, and I was feeling the cold, so I decided the tree was a convenient turn around point. Besides, I definitely planned to be home before the light started to fade—no rambling in the woods in winter twilight for me.

As I returned to my own yard, I caught sight of a woodpecker, a frequent feeder visitor, and snapped a few more images.

Then I went inside. My wife was awake, but the grandson was still asleep, so I did a bit more class work on the computer until he awoke.

School starts tomorrow. Winter term is only one course to teach, but that one class meets for a lot of hours a day—it’s a fairly intense teaching experience, and I have a large section this term.

So, it was good to take a 20-minute hike in nature, even on a bitterly cold afternoon. A Facebook friend posted the other day that we needed to remind ourselves of the good things about living in Iowa, given this extended cold snap. These pictures, I suppose, are part of my answer. Cold as it is, Iowa is still a quietly pretty place, and a quiet pretty place, late on a sunny winter afternoon. I loved the quality of light at this time of the afternoon–the golden sunshine and blue shadows and sky. See more of my images from this walk on Flickr.

And a short stroll in the winter woods was a good way to kick off 2018.

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And as a Bonus, Snow Started Falling


Cookies

Christmas cookies, baked by Katy, decorated by adults in a contest judged by daughter and son-in-laws who could not be there. I am sad to say that “Red Dwarf,” my thick, red star, did not win.

Merry Christmas, 2017—there are still some presents wrapped in the living room, so after Mass this morning, I’ll get to find out what my wife bought for me. For her, there will be less mystery because she was with me when I selected most of her gifts, and by “I” I mean “she.”

Still, we are going inexpensive this year with only a few low-key gifts, deliberately. We purchased a second vehicle this fall, and are counting the Dodge Dart as our main mutual Christmas gift. And there is one box that she doesn’t know the contents of—containing nothing of expense or of consequence, other than I wanted her to have at least some small surprises.

I hope you and yours are enjoying family and friends this holy holiday season, and whether you celebrate the birth of the Christ child, the secular gift-giving winter (or summer) school break or neither, I wish for you the joy of loving human connection this season of kin.

Although there are some presents still present in my house, our main Christmas celebration fell on Christmas Eve. Our oldest son and his wife were able to fly out from San Francisco for a week, and most of our local clan gathered—daughters from Dubuque, Marion, Monticello; and a son from Ames.

The house was full of noise and chaos on Christmas Eve, with the sounds of a few Christmas songs played on the piano by my oldest son mixed with jazz improvisations, especially when grandchildren decided to join in. Play was constant and boisterous. One son-in-law and grandson had to skip the party due to illness, which somehow seems true to family tradition, but it was good to have a full, loud house at this time of year.

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At the piano.

The youngest grandson didn’t get his nap in, and it did show by the end of the day, but that’s just life.

We had a full Thanksgiving-style Christmas dinner, with turkey and most of the trimmings (we skip the cranberries and other fancy salads, and had been snacking all day on Christmas cookies, so pie wasn’t in the picture, but otherwise it’s the full TG deal, cooked almost exclusively by my wife). After stuffing ourselves with stuffed turkey, it was time for the big gift opening, which involved a few presents for adults, but mostly the grandchildren’s gifts.

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Chaos of gift opening. Scooter, used as chair, is headed my way so grandson can sit on it and chat.

Several gifts were immediate hits. Two grandsons loved the remote-control spider that their grandmother found for them. A scooter for a 2-year-old from an aunt and uncle was mostly a pushed platform that performed as an impromptu moveable chair, but it was very much in use. A doctor kit led the daughters of a mother who is in the final stages of studying to be a nurse to become a medical team treating an ailing patient (said mom). Treating her included laying on her stomach and poking her face with various toy plastic medical instruments, and I’m happy to report she survived treatment, although it looked a bit dicey for a while.

The gathering was slightly delayed. For one thing, again true to Christmas tradition, we were missing a few items and there was a last-minute shopping trip. For another, Mother Nature made morning travel a bit hazardous with her own gift to us.

A White Christmas! We are in a mild drought in this part of Iowa, and true to form winter so far has been mostly dry, with just a few flurries here and there. The best chance of snow in the forecast was Friday, and while there were flakes in the air that day, it amounted to no accumulation on the ground.

But Christmas Eve started with genuine white stuff. Not a lot, maybe three-fourths of an inch, but enough to make it officially white out. As the snow ended mid day, it turned cold and will be bitterly cold today, Christmas Day, but only in a weather sense. Inside, we’ll look out on a pretty white world and think of a coming new year, of an ancient birth and its meaning, and of family—it will be pretty warm.

All in all, thanks Mother Nature. And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to us all and to you all. God bless us every one.

Eve Snow

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