May 31, 2008

I'll Be Back!

Between car options, birthday parties, countertop issues, camp planning, flooring choices, field trips and kitchen cabinet selections - not to mention catching up with friends here in Canada - I've been running around like a mad woman. I've had no time to gather my thoughts, let alone write about them here in my lovely, peaceful corner of the bloggy world.

Until school's out and the renovation plans have been nailed down, I suspect life will continue at breakneck speed. I'll try to post every now and then, but please bear with me if I'm unusually silent during the next few weeks.

May 28, 2008

Just In Case You Wondered...



Christopher, please clean up your room. Your friends are coming over and this place is a pigsty!

Mamma, all boys' rooms look like this. Trust me. I know.

May 27, 2008

Fueling Fires

I'm looking to get a new car at the end of the summer, and after a long mini-van career, I really want to get a smaller car this time around. I'm not talking "Smart car"-ish, because that would be too small with two young boys, but something on par with the VW Golf we had in Norway, which I adored. I also want the car to have a diesel engine.

Most new cars for sale in Norway and the UK run on diesel, and yet I'm finding the selection of diesel cars in North America to be extremely limited. Diesel is vastly more efficient than gas, so how can it be that a car model is available with a diesel engine in little Norway with its limited population, but not here?

Furthermore, the selection of small-ish cars in North America is tiny (no pun intended) compared to Europe. It seems to me that while we've been away, the SUVs and trucks surrounding us have actually gotten bigger. Granted, the roads here are built to accommodate them, but why on earth do we need such gigantic vehicles on the best highways found anywhere in the world? There are no crater-like potholes to cross over, or dirt roads to traverse. The roads here are in such good shape, a normal car will do just fine.

It's almost as if we refuse to acknowledge the on-going oil crisis, and the need to conserve. A car sold in both Europe and North America will invariably have a bigger engine here. I know that bigger has always been better, but this is getting ridiculous. We cannot deny the fact that the oil price has cracked $ 130 a barrel. It will have consequences for all of us, whether we like it or not.

In the meantime, I will wait until the fall, since rumour has it that there more diesel cars are on their way to the North American market. Do you think I'll be disappointed?

May 25, 2008

Settling In

The house looked great when we returned.

There were a few oddities - like every single frying pan I own being completely burnt. Apparently the friends who stayed in our house while we were away are serious about avoiding under-cooked foods.

Another funny thing was that our house plants - all five of them - had been gathered in one place, apparently to die a slow death.

Which is fine, because I wanted to get new ones anyway - and now I can do so without feeling guilty. A win-win!

Therefore, the only thing we've really had to deal with upon our return has been the garden. And truly - it is a holy mess of crumbling brick patios, dandelions and peeling decks. We couldn't stand looking at it, so yesterday Mike sanded the decks while I proceeded to fill 4 bags with garden waste. I wouldn't be surprised if another 2 or 3 bags will be added to that number before pickup tomorrow. Flowers have been purchased, and more will be bought today to liven things up.

The grass really needs to be redone, but we'll have to wait until the fall or next spring to do that - there's just too many other projects on the go this spring.

Tomorrow, we are going to start contacting contractors to get to work on fixing up the mess caused by the leak last fall. This includes the kitchen, the dining room, the downstairs rec room and guest room, the boys' bathroom.

While we're at it, I'm planning to get the white tile in the main floor hallway replaced by something more dirt friendly. I am not a clean freak by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a hard time ignoring muddy footprints throughout the house. So what better solution than to hide them with a darker flooring? If anyone has any suggestions, I am all ears!

Our boys had a sleepover at a friend's house last night, and I am crossing fingers they slept for more than 5 hours. Mike's mother (my second mother-in-law - as Mike's parents divorced a long time ago) is spending the afternoon with us, after which we're going to our friends' house for dinner.

I'm pondering going away more often - I've yet to cook a meal in our house, seeing as how all our lovely friends are taking such good care of us. We are being incredibly spoiled.

Hope everyone's having a lovely weekend! I've been a bad bloggy friend, but next week will be better.

May 22, 2008

Arrival

When we finally unlocked the door to our house mid-evening local time on Tuesday, we did so to balloons and "welcome home" signs made by the daughter of one of my closest friends.

The fridge had been stocked with milk, bread and butter, as well as cheese, strawberries, grapes and other luxuries. There were flower baskets by the front door, and inside a huge bouquet decorated the kitchen island.

A big box of Twinings Earl Grey tea had also been purchased, in anticipation of the many afternoons to come, sitting around the kitchen table with a cup of tea, while the kids play downstairs.

Another friend had left a tray full of home-baked delicious cookies. Needless to say, they didn't last long.

Everything looked amazing. I was so touched.

Then yesterday noon-time, a third friend stopped by to pick me up for lunch. 7 of us chatted for 3 hours over the most amazing dim sum I've ever had. Some of the girls had even rearranged their work schedule to be able to join us.

How can you possibly express your gratitude for something like that?

The girls all looked wonderful. Better than wonderful, in fact. And it was easy to slip right back into the conversation - almost like I hadn't been gone at all.

Except that the dim sum tasted so incredibly good. Oh.My.Goodness. I'd forgotten how much I missed it.

My re-introduction to food groups other than meat and potatoes continues today, as a sushi lunch has been scheduled for noon. Then tomorrow, we hit Asian Legend.

Being of stoic Viking stock, I could never adequately verbalize how much my friends mean to me, but I am immensely grateful to have them.

And though I'm filled with conflicting feelings about being so far away from Norway, one thing is crystal clear: The best friends in the world - they are all right here!

May 21, 2008

Plane Pain

We got up at a decent hour yesterday morning, ate breakfast and drove to the local airport to catch the commuter plane to Heathrow. The airport was quiet, no line-ups while checking in, and we didn't have to pay any overweight fees!

Our flight landed ahead of schedule in Heathrow, we picked up our luggage and rechecked it onto our scheduled flight to Toronto. Again, no hiccups. Then we sat down to a final fish and chips lunch, spent our last few pounds on duty-free wine and made our way to the gate.

Judging from the line-up at the gate, the flight was full - primarily of families returning to Canada. Cute little toddlers were running around everywhere. We happily took advantage of the pre-boarding option for families and got settled into our seats.

People seemed to be boarding at a good pace, and when the captain came on and informed us that the winds were favourable and we'd actually be landing an hour ahead of schedule, it put a big smile on my face and made up for the fact that we hadn't lucked out with one of the planes with upgraded personal entertainment systems. The boys could make do with their GameBoys and movies on the computer for the next 7.5 (as opposed to 8.5) hours.

As the plane started taxiing out, I looked at my watch and registered with utter disbelief that it was doing so 10 minutes ahead of schedule. I mean, when does that happen? And at Heathrow, to boot?

I've travelled via Heathrow countless times, and I know that "Never" is the answer to those retorical questions.

Which is why, mere seconds after the purser had expressed his utter delight at the shortened flight schedule, the plane screeched to an abrupt halt.

Words like "...a bit of concrete flew into engine upon start-up..." and "...damaged engine blades..." started coming out over the speaker system, combined with lines such as "...need to call maintenance..." and "...unfortunately the paperwork will take at another 45 minutes to an hour..."

And so it was that we ended up standing on the tarmac for 2.5 hours, waiting for the plane to be fixed and re-cleared for take-off.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Air Canada making sure the plane is fit to fly, but it is beyond me why the paperwork should take longer than the actual work done on the plane.

Bottom line, our precious one hour of saved time turned into an added 1.5 hours of total travel time, even with those helpful winds. Ugh!

And those lovely families with happy toddlers running around during boarding? Not so happy after a while. Let's just say it was the longest shriek-fest I've ever experienced! Double ugh!

But we're here now. In our own house after 10 months away. It feels strange and familiar at the same time. But more on that later. For now, I must focus my attention on the piles of luggage that are literally blocking our front door.

May 18, 2008

It's Time To Celebrate...

Saturday's big Par-Tay went off without a hitch. 90 people gathered at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate to celebrate my parents-in-law. In return, we were treated to great food, good wine, and fantastic entertainment in the form of 'The Three Waiters' - three opera singers pretending to be a French, Italian and British waiter, respectively. It was a hilarious battle of the silly, much to the amusement of everyone present.

My boys were the only children at the party, and I am proud to say they were very well behaved (though I must admit to a little confusion -- I mean, how come they don't behave like that around the house?). They did get to sneak their DSes into the dining room, but played very little, preferring to socialize (another source of confusion...).

Family and friends drove from all over the country, and some flew in from as far away as Germany, Switzerland and even the US for the weekend. Most of the family spent last night at the hotel, which is how we were able to put the boys to bed nice and early (eh...11:30 pm), and still continue partying until the hotel closed us down at 1 am.

Sadly, some of us (cough 'Mike' cough) thought we could continue partying like we were 21 all night, so he decided to join his much younger sister and brother on the town for another few hours. He finally made it back into the hotel room at 4 am, making quite a lot of noise and annoying me to no end with his utter lack of consideration for me and the fact that I was trying.to.sleep.

It was only this morning I realized the extent of his..ehem...inebriation, as he suffered through the worst hang-over in years. Even his 25-year-old brother was in pain, and had to spend most of the day sleeping it off. Only Katherine stood proud, proving once again that women really are the stronger sex.

Today was spent at the house in Ripon, where my mother-in-law hosted those out-of-town guests who had not yet left at a casual garden lunch. I even had the opportunity to meet a childhood friend of Mike's, a guy he's known since he was 4. It was a pleasant and relaxed day, with everyone being tired and slightly run down after yesterday's festivities.

I'm thinking tonight will be an early night.

Tomorrow is the big packing day. We have to squeeze everything we brought to England back into the suitcases we came with AND add to that pile the things we've acquired during our three weeks here. Thankfully, we've limited our purchases here to necessities only (football shirts for the boys, name plates for their doors (very important, that), cooking chocolate to make delicious toffee shortbread, that sort of thing), so it should not be an impossible task.

What will be an impossible task, I fear, is getting through check-in on Tuesday without having to pay for the extra weight we'll be begging the airline to take home with us.

At least they can't charge me for the extra weight I've piled on around my waist this year.

We began our adventure with a big family birthday party for my mother in Norway last July, so it is only fitting that we ended it with another big family celebration this weekend. I feel as if we've come full circle.

Our sabbatical has been all about family, both immediate and extended. We've made fantastic memories, for our children, and also for ourselves. I can't wait to immerse myself in the wealth of photos we've amassed during our time away, to relive some of the experiences of the past 10 months.

But now it's time to return to our life and our friends in Canada.

I'm curious to see how Canada will seem to us after a year away. Have we changed as much as I think we have, or not at all? Will there be a period of re-adjustment, or will we be back in the old swing of things within days?

May 14, 2008

Liverpool and York

I've been a bad blogger lately.

I'd forgotten how hard it is living out of a suitcase, especially with kids in tow. I've also had quite a bit of work to do while we've been in England, meaning late nights and early mornings of work, plus daytime exploration/hang out time with the family.

In other words, no time for blogging.

Despite my distaste for suitcase living, I am so glad we've had this time with our British family. Not only has it made for a smoother transition from dreamland in Norway back to reality in Canada, but the boys and I have also had the opportunity to see many new sights in the UK.

Over the past week, we've basically travelled from coast to coast here in northern UK. I've already blogged about our trip to Whitby on the eastern coast, and last Tuesday we made the drive to the opposite coast, with a visit to Liverpool.

An added bonus in Liverpool was the service of a personal tour guide in the form of my lovely sister-in-law, Katherine. She's living the young and single life with a funky flat smack in the middle of town, and was more than happy to give us the grand tour.

The highlight of our visit to the birthplace of the Beatles, at least for the boys, was the voyage on the Yellow Duckmarine, an amphibian vehicle that tours both the city streets and the docks of Liverpool.



Sure, I may have noticed more than one Liverpudlian shaking heads as we passed them by in our duckmarine, but what the heck - the kids loved it, and we did get to see more of Liverpool than we'd have managed on foot.

In keeping with what seems to be a recurring theme on our English tour, we managed to squeeze in not one but two Cathedral visits during our day in Liverpool, both new - as in 20th century creations - which presented a change from previous Cathedral visits.

We saw the following Catholic Cathedral created by an Anglican architect:



And then we stopped at the Anglican Cathedral designed by a Catholic architect:



These cathedrals are within a stone's throw of each other, and I found their starkly different appearances and the fact that they were conceived by architects of the other faith hilarious. Any subliminal messages here, I wonder?

Today was spent in beautiful York, which is not a new city for me, but one I love coming back to. To entice the boys, we stopped by the Jorvik exhibit, taking us back to the time when the Vikings ruled much of England. The boys were more than proud to reveal their Scandinavian heritage to anyone who'd listen, and were fascinated by the extensive display of weaponry, skulls and bones dug up from an excavation site in central York.

Before dinner, we found time for a walk along the wall that circles York city centre, stopping for tea in a garden cafe along the way, before making it over to the fantastically beautiful York Minster.



For the first time ever, I was able to see the front of the Minster without scaffolding, as they have completed the repairs on that part of the building. It never ceases to amaze me how it was possible to create such intricate buildings on this enormous scale so long ago. The details are just astonishing.



Tomorrow is the day before The Party. And by The Party, I mean the big do planned for Saturday to celebrate the trifecta of my in-laws' 65th and 60th birthdays this year, plus their 30th wedding anniversary.

The weekend will no doubt be fun but hectic. And before we know it, Monday will be here, which is the day before the day we return to Canada.

The countdown continues...

Meanwhile, In Norway...


My crazy viking dad enjoying the spring in the Norwegian mountains

May 11, 2008

Coastin'

The last two nights were spent here:



In a traditional cottage in the tiny village of Cropton. The cottage is a funny contrast in mod-con and old-style housing. You have a brand spanking new kitchen and ditto bathroom, but you must remember to bend down to get from one room to another, lest you fancy close contact with a several foot wide plaster wall.

The local village pub provided two delicious dinners for us. And I don't mean fish wrapped in newspaper - apparently the Gordon Ramsey wave of fancy pub food has reached the upper north-east, as we had fantastic meals both nights. My only complaint was the North American size servings, which I felt compelled to finish.



Day one was spent looking for dinosaur fossils at Sandsend Beach:



And fish in the tidepools at Robin Hood's Bay:



Neither endeavour was crowned with success, though we did find several fossils of shellfish and a hermit crab for our troubles.

Lunch time was spent in and around the beautiful seaside town of Whitby, an old whaling town that is experiencing a big boost in tourism.



The town has a large and sandy beach, framed by small colourful shacks used by townspeople as their cottage on the water.



Day two was yet more exploration, much to the chagrin of the boys who seem to have a one-day-limit, before they need a day off to recuperate from sightseeing with their beloved DSes and perhaps a game or two of goof tennis.

Still, we persevered, visiting the white chalk cliffs by Flamborough Head, which are nesting grounds to millions of birds. This was quite a sight, even for cranky and hot kids, who were tired of walking.



Final stop on our way back to Ripon was Sutton Bank, which is the site of a massive white horse cut out of the chalky limestone cliff and visible from as far away as Thirsk in clear weather. Not realizing we could park directly underneath the horse, we parked some distance away, leaving ourselves a good hour long walk. The boys were not impressed, especially since as we finally got there, we couldn't really see the horse at all from our vantage point:



Fortunately, we had to walk past the grassy runway of a tiny cliff top airport, where glider planes were taking off, assisted by an equally tiny propeller plane. It was fun watching the gliders circle the hillsides in the beautiful weather, though the boys' excitement has me more than slightly worried about their future endeavours.



Today is the mandatory day of rest, as implemented by the kids, and tomorrow's plan is to pin Christopher down to get some of his shaggy do trimmed. This could be ugly - wish me luck!

May 7, 2008

Postcard from Yorkshire

We've climbed Harrogate trees...



...and Brimham rocks...



We've admired Ripon Cathedral in the sunshine...



...but decided we like the Fountain Abbey ruins better...



We've mini putted...

'

...and pitched the real thing...



Tomorrow we're off to the coast. Fingers crossed that the rain stays AWAY.

May 4, 2008

How Norsemen Conquered England



It takes more...


than a bit...


of rain...


to stop true Vikings...



from flexing their muscles...


Sadly, the same cannot be said for Englishmen...

Lincoln


We arrived in Lincoln just before lunch to see Mike's brother, Alistair, and get a quick tour of his renovated house. He's done a great job with it, making me wonder how we can come up with a way to entice him to Canada. You see, there's a certain house in desperate need of some fixing up in Ontario somewhere...

We'd planned to visit Lincoln Cathedral, grab a quick lunch and then leave the boys with Alistair for a special sleepover, while Mike and I joined my in-laws at a concert near Leeds.

The boys could hardly contain themselves - Uncle Alistair is one of their all-time heroes - but they were not very interested in seeing yet another old church, wanting to hit the park instead. I guess they've reached their fill of sightseeing for a while.

I can't say I blame them, but I wish we'd shown them Lincoln Cathedral first, before they lost interest in all things antiquarian. It is truly a sight to behold.



Interestingly, the Cathedral was used instead of Westminster Abbey during the filming of 'The Da Vinci Code' a few years ago.

After saying goodbye to the boys, we set our sights on Ripon, a little under 2 hours north. We arrived with plenty of time before the evening's concert, so Mike and I took the opportunity to go for a walk.

We were only just returning to the house when I saw my mother-in-law running towards us. As she caught up with us she prefaced her news by "Let me just start by saying the boys are all right."

Not what you want to hear when you've left your children in a town two hours away.

It turns out that Alistair had injured his knee while playing soccer with the boys and was now at the emergency room, while the boys were being looked after by a couple of Alistair's friends. He didn't think he'd be able to take care of them overnight, seeing as he wasn't able to walk on his injured leg or drive a car.

There was really no other option but for Mike and his dad to get into the car and drive back to Lincoln. Getting results from the hospital took a while, so it was closer to midnight by the time they returned, with sleepy boys and - as it turned out - a hobbling Alistair.

Alistair's knee is not as bad as originally feared, though he is still in a lot of pain. He'll be seeing a specialist within the next few days and hopefully will be able to recover without surgery.



My mother-in-law and I were obviously concerned about the guys, but that didn't stop us from going to the concert as originally planned. We spent the evening seeing a performance of Elijah at the recently renovated Royal Hall in Harrogate. It was a great distraction from wondering what was going on in Lincoln.

Today is a lazy day around the house. We all need to chill out for a little bit, and that's exactly what we're planning to do.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend!

May 2, 2008

Cambridge



My father-in-law is an Old Boy from Cambridge, meaning he is a graduate of Cambridge University (Trinity College to be specific). Today he took us on a tour of his old stomping grounds.

I tried to imagine myself studying in a place as beautiful as this:



And I'm honestly not sure I would have gotten a lot done, if I were surrounded by views such as these:



Or these:



But then again, if I started to feel guilty about putting all that tuition money to waste, I'd just send up a quick prayer to the powers-that-be, either here:



Or in this 'modest' student chapel attached to the college:



After admiring the old buildings of the various colleges, we finished our afternoon visit with an attempt at 'punting' on the river Cam (vaguely reminiscent of the gondolas in Venice, but really an art-form all of its own, as Mike quickly realized):





Having seen enormous abbeys, churches and chapels in both London and here in Cambridge, it is hard to believe there are bigger ones still to come, but that is just what we'll see as we hit the town of Lincoln this morning. The boys are stopping for a night there with their uncle, before they join us in Ripon tomorrow.

And so the adventure continues...

May 1, 2008

48 Hours In London

I was overly optimistic when I mentioned the sun peeking out yesterday morning. It did peek out - for about 2 minutes. Then it promptly disappeared, not to be seen again. It was also awfully cold - the bone-chilling cold that cuts through however many layers of clothing you've managed to put on.

Having said that, we still managed to have an excellent day of touring the city. We hopped on the double-decker, which was a stroke of genius in the cold and wet weather. Some of the buses have partially covered top decks, and much to their delight, the boys managed to secure front row seating.



We whizzed by the Parliament buildings, Big Ben looking awfully wet much to Little Ben's delight. We also saw Buckingham Palace (the Queen apparently in residence, but not available to wave to us), Westminster Abbey, Trafalger Square, Downing Street and Tower Bridge, before we stopped at Tower of London for a closer look.


(Yeah, it was cold!)

The Tower of London was a huge hit with the boys, for very different reasons. Christopher was enthralled with the collection of Crown Jewels, in particular the world's largest diamond. True to himself, he kept asking and speculating about how much money various crowns, ornamental swords, maces and staffs would be worth if sold. Here's a boy who likes his money! Sadly, the museum did not allow photography, but Christopher made sure to stack up on postcards before we left.

B boy, on the other hand, could not get enough of the Royal Armouries and its extensive weaponry displays. We spent a good hour just looking at swords, guns, cannons and armour, and by the end of it, he told me the museum was the best ever! Big words from a boy who wants nothing to do with museums of any kind.


(Rather anatomically correct body armour)

After a quick stop at the hotel, we made our way to the West End for a pizza dinner before hitting the theatre to see Joseph. The musical didn't disappoint. The stage production was fairly simple, but very funny, and we all loved it. The boys sang along to every song, and were thrilled to see Elvis perform twice. We even had a bit of drama when the production ran into technical problems part-way through the first half, but the issues were quickly resolved and the show continued without another hitch.

**********************************************************



Today, in contrast, has been much warmer and - dare I say it - sunny! We began our morning with a lovely walk along the river Thames, where street artists provided much amusement for the boys, especially B boy who couldn't decide which entertainer to support with his single coin.


(The chameleon was the lucky winner)

After a delicious lunch by the side of the river, we slowly made our way towards the London Eye, the massive ferris wheel assembled for the Millenium celebrations in London 8 years ago.



Despite Christopher's fear of heights, even he enjoyed the trip up in the capsule, with the most amazing views of the city of London.



Enticing the boys with promises of ice cream, we then proceeded to walk through St. James's Park towards Buckingham Palace. The tulips were out in full bloom and the floral displays everywhere lulled us into thinking that spring had finally arrived.



That is, until we were hit by a freak hail storm. Only in London will you find tourists sporting sunglasses AND umbrellas, all while taking refuge under trees because of massive and painful hail.



The hail storm only lasted about a minute, and shortly thereafter the sun was out in full force again. Odd, but I'm not complaining.

As I write this, we are getting ready to meet up with Mike's dad at Covent Garden for dinner. We have yet to have a bad meal in London, and I'm sure tonight won't disappoint, either. Not great for the diet, but oh-so-good for the soul.

Tomorrow we are off to Cambridge, before we slowly make our way up towards the Yorkshire dales. Keeping busy is the name of the game!