Disturbance in the Neighborhood

I was the disturbance in the neighborhood. David worked late, and the two Johns were in Tennessee. When I went out to get the mail, I smelled something awful. It was a chemical smell like nothing I had ever experienced before. Our common odors are liquid fertilizer applied to surrounding fields and the paper mill in Canton. This was far worse. Going back to the computer, I realized the smell was invading the bedroom. In fact, it was in every room, as well as on the porches and the deck. I texted four (yes, FOUR!) neighbors to ask them what they thought the smell was. Bless their hearts, all of them stepped outside and sniffed the air. They didn’t smell anything amiss.

Following is the message I sent to these wonderful neighbors:

“Thank you all very much for sniffing the air two days ago. Because I had a head cold, I went to bed early, not waiting up for David and the Johns to get home. I asked the first one up what he thought the smell was.

“Asking like I was a mental patient, he questioned, ‘Do you still smell it?’

“’Yes!’

“He said, ‘Well, there isn’t any bad smell here. The others didn’t smell anything, either.’

“A few hours later the odor in my head went away by itself. In all my born days, I never had anything like that before.”

Have any of you smelled something that no one else could, and did it go away by itself? I need company here!!!

England 40 Years Ago — January 9, 1981

Sometimes questions are answered before one launches a full-scale investigation. This happened to me about the custom of left-road driving. Kate read it in her reader from school. It said, “During the Middle Ages much of the traveling was done by knights and fighting men. When a group of knights saw other horsemen coming along the highway they could not be sure whether they were friends or enemies. If they were enemies the two groups would fight. Since most men held their swords in their right hands, the travelers liked to meet sword hand to sword hand. A custom grew up of riding on the left of the road, so that the sword hand was free.”

“In America goods were carried in enormous wagons. These wagons had no seat for the driver, who walked beside his horses, guiding them with a whip and a single rein. He used his right hand, so he walked to the left of the horses. When he passed another wagon, his wagon moved to the right of the road so that the drivers stayed in the middle. In this way Americans began keeping to the right of the road instead of the left.”

So much for that. Does anyone know why other Europeans use the right hand side?

We came to the right country for shoes! How I loathe white shoes for babies! They are pristine white only once — before they leave the shop. In England, they have the right idea and don’t even have white shoes. $ was offered a choice of blue, brown or red. Saleslady: “You don’t want brown yet, do you?” We correctly chose blue. They are the cutest things with holes punched near the toes for decoration and buckles to fasten them on. I’d say they’re for girls in the US, but it’s what all the boys wear here. The saleslady exclaimed over $’s narrow foot! All the rest of us have rather wide feet.

Blue shoes for J $pencer

$’s reaction was to stare at the shoes for a while, whimper, and then to sit in the push chair swinging his legs. After we got home, he tried to take them off, then kicked hard on the floor, shrugged and got up to play.

Early this week Kate and I walked to the Meadvale post office to maille the Braille. [I transcribed Lutheran Hour sermons into Braille using a stylus and slate. Postage was free internationally.] We found two new footpaths, one of which would make the steepest hill of Whitford Road seem almost flat. Whew! What a climb!

Lisa has spent much of this week trying to do her project — something like a term paper. I say trying, because she hasn’t really gotten much accomplished. I’ve spent more time trying to push her into a room to do it than she has spent writing. It didn’t help that she insisted on working in the dining room where she could spread things out, and Kate was adamant about playing with her Smurfs in the hatch, of all places! [The hatch was a cabinet with doors opening in the kitchen and the dining room.] It was most disconcerting to reach for a plate or mug and come up with a smirking blue face!

Girls in the hatch. No Smurfs in sight here.

Harold said his feet felt flat on the bottom after miles of walking the pavements of London. Today when Kate tripped and landed heavily on one of her feet smack dab on three of my toes, I thought my foot had been permanently flattened on the top. After this, no one can tell me she’s a shrimp — felt more like a whale.

We have now played the London game which the girls got for Christmas. It’s a tactical game with lots of mischance thrown in, made for tourists and should be sold to travelers before they get here. The board is simply the London underground map! Players have to visit tourist spots, avoiding closed stations and trying to block other players, and return to their starting railway station. At times it is as frustrating as traveling the real thing might be.

We went to the H’s for coffee one evening. They are the parents of Alexander and Marianne and live two doors up the street. I knew Carol had been a stewardess with Pan Am years ago, but didn’t know what Robert did. He is a maize broker and works in London. They have been to Normandy and loaned us some brochures about the area.

Sometimes one asks the right questions of the right person. That night I asked if they would say which pub was the best in Reigate. Robert took a deep breath, seemed to keep himself from rubbing his hands in anticipation, and launched into a description of several. He said he loves going to pubs! He said the best London type is the Red Lion on the round-about on the way to Redhill. The absolute best country pub is on a bad road near Reigate Heath named the Skivington Castle. I was intrigued. Just had to drive out to try to see what it looked like. He was right about the road — it was appallingly awful with huge craters in which you could see whole bricks sticking up. There was no place to turn around. Finally found the pub at the back end of nowhere with one little settlement of houses close by. It was not impressive to look at — appeared to be more of a little club for the neighborhood. How on earth could one do a good business there?

I knew some day it was bound to happen, but not so soon. I mispronounced a French word in front of Lisa, and she simply keeled over laughing. Every time she almost sobered up, she said the word again to fresh gales of laughter. I’ve had this problem all my life of recognizing words on paper and never hearing them pronounced. The funny thing about this one is that I knew it one way on paper (mispronouncing it in my head) and understood it when hearing it and never put the two together! My pride suffered terribly, but it brought knee-slapping mirth to my daughter.

We spotted some tiny Wellingtons for $ and bought them. They are the cutest little red boots I ever saw. He is walking more than crawling right now and will soon need dry feet outside.

I realized today that the birds are singing much more than they were for the past several weeks. I’d say by the sound of them, they think Spring is here. Birds aren’t singing much in the US, are they? I’ve decided both birds and people don’t believe in winter over here. In looking for the date of re-opening of school, I found the term that starts January 13 is called the Spring term! The last one was Fall, and the one after, Summer. They conveniently omit winter!

England 40 Years Ago — January 4, 1981

Got the date right the first time! [January 1 was a Friday in 1981 and 2021.]

All last Monday was taken by the driving home from Rotterdam. We did get home a little earlier, though, than planned. When we drove up to the ferry terminal we found the ferry was just about to disembark for Folkestone. Took that rather than wait for the Dover one; landing point was just a few miles south. The boat shoved off just minutes after our car was stowed. That’s the way to do things!

$ and I had a quiet day when everyone else went to the Tower of London on the 30th. I don’t think there were many tourists there, so they got good views of everything. That evening we celebrated Harold’s birthday. He had been given the choice of no dessert or the dessert of his choice. He picked a pecan pie and then keeled over laughing when we brought it out. I thought the candle stuck in a pie was funny-looking and was surprised he shared my feelings. When he could talk after all the laughter, he said what got him so tickled was that he suddenly reached the age of one candle. It must have made him feel ancient. It isn’t very funny in the telling, but we did get a kick out of it.

I can tell Christmas is almost over. Just looked over at the train card holders and see the caboose has collapsed its rear wheels and is sitting down like a recalcitrant mule.

New Year’s Eve Harold went to London alone to do more sight-seeing while John diddled around here. Kate, $, and I walked to town. I was planning to get something at Knight’s, but it was closed. We went to a grocery instead and stocked up on the cheapest peanut butter in town.

We didn’t plan any festivities to see the new year in, just stayed up talking. Shortly before midnight we turned the TV on and saw the camera positioned on Big Ben. The shows of various parties and entertainments continued soon after. They had no instant replay like we do in the states! The bells of St. Mary’s [the church we go to in Reigate] were pealing away on the windy, frosty air. That was one of the nicest sounds of the day.

I don’t know where in the world the new year was coming in when it was almost 4 AM here, but $ got up to celebrate at that time. Thank heavens he went back to sleep. He would not have had good company with me that day if he had stayed up!

During New Year’s Day Kate said, “I’m going to Royal my Smurfs.” ??? We watched to see what would happen. She made a paper hat for each one and crowned them. Now we know.

We know of nothing that was open on the first, so just stayed home. Poor Harold said he was suffering withdrawal symptoms because there were no football games on TV. He used his energies to play Monopoly with Lisa.

On Friday a family from church was here for dinner at noon so their whole family could come. Normally their girls, 4 and 6, eat their last meal of the day at 5 or 5:30.

P. explained that the older girl had asked her to tell me that she never eats much at noon. Her napkin never came off her plate! However, she did the thing most grown people don’t know to do when not eating, she sat and entertained us so that no one noticed that she didn’t eat. I was slightly shocked that neither girl would drink milk but would ask for and gulp soda. The parents are both medical doctors.

I’d been dying to ask A. if he started out in his medical training intending to write, and he said no. He was planning to practice, but along the way edited and wrote for medical magazines in school. After all his training was finished, he did practice for three years. He said it was terribly frustrating because he was not given enough time to treat people as he wanted. P. echoed that saying that she was given double time when she first started practicing because she was new. They allowed her six minutes per patient in general medicine instead of only three. She said it was faster to write a prescription for a cold than to try to explain to people that they would be better off to go home, drink fluids, and rest. They both talked as if they’d love to practice in the states but wouldn’t make a move, at least a permanent one, because of all the family ties here. [The last time I asked, probably in 2007, John said there was a book or so by Dr. S. on the shelf at Borders.]

Yesterday the girls and John took Harold to the airport. They were disappointed to find long lines and to learn that the computer was out of order. The good seat Harold had reserved was no longer his. We just hope he didn’t get stuck in a middle seat.

Also yesterday Lisa went to a party at Pippi’s house. The invitation said “fancy dress”, so Lisa had asked her if that meant a party dress. Pippi made some reply that Lisa took to mean yes. Turned out to be a costume party, but they said she could just be Alice in Wonderland in her graduation dress and with long hair. Don’t think it bothered her. She had not been feeling well, but we coaxed her to go anyway. Were we glad! Many of those invited had called up to cancel because of illness. She had a great time.

John brought pizza home for the rest of us last night. He began to feel worse and worse with the cold $ so generously shared with us. He went to bed before the girls and didn’t get up until 10 this morning. He kept $ while the rest of us walked to church.

About half an hour after we got home from church, John commented on how dark it had gotten. I looked out to see a very gray day. Soon we saw rain, hail, and snow coming down all at once. Not much later the sun was shining again, the sky was blue, and there were fluffy white clouds hung in the sky. Kate and I took $ for a walk up on Redhill Common, exploring some of the paths and finding a bricked pond on the north side. There was a fantastic kite flying with the longest tail I’ve ever seen. We all came home with frozen ears.

Now John has driven the car to church for choral evensong. I’m eager to find out what that is like. The rest of us are home listening to $ try to tell us it is tea time. Must stop and feed him.

Bed time for one and tea time for others. We’re thinking of all of you at the beginning of this year and hope to see as many of you as possible during the course of it. God bless you.

England 40 Years Ago — December 30, 1980

Editor’s note – When I read this in 2020, I realized I must have written it by hand in the hotel room. I was afraid of forgetting details.

After Christmas 1980 We started our trip before dawn on the 27th of December and watched people’s lights come on all the way to Dover. It was lovely.

The white cliffs obediently shone for pictures – think Harold got a shot of the moon and the cliffs from the ferry. There was just enough movement of the water to make walking a matter for conscious, careful thought. We began to realize we’d left home country when the announcements were unintelligible. Harold and I had a few uncertain moments when a waiter looked at our English money and mumbled lots of French to himself.

We were thankful to have Harold in the navigator’s seat, both to read maps and to remind John to drive on the right side of the road. He only headed left once. It took six hours to drive from Calais to Rotterdam. We couldn’t believe how absolutely FLAT the land is. The roads are marvelous – wide, fast and empty. We’d be willing to trade these for a few roads in England!

The situation of the Hilton couldn’t be better – overlooking a huge round-about for cars, trams, buses and bicycles.

Tram tracks are on the inside of the circle.

Last night John got us settled in our rooms and went to the ship (the excuse for our being here). He came back around 2 a.m. The rest of us watched the drama of traffic from nine floors up. There are special lanes, slightly divided from car traffic and pedestrians, for bicycles only. The reason – they are very well-used, attesting to the statistics of bike-riding in Holland.

We watched a heated argument between a policeman and people involved in an accident. From the motions being made, we think one car nipped another in the fender and drove off. We thought the man doing most of the talking was the driver, but someone else drove off as he walked on down the street. There must have been 15 spectators on the sidelines at one time!

We ate breakfast together and then split up. I elected to keep $ close to the hotel while the others went to the ship. If everything goes as planned, they’ll be on board while the ship moves from one berth to another. I took a two-hour walk and saw where a ship is on display, saw lots of barges, ships, yachts and beautiful sailing vessels and walked in a museum that was free. I thought $ and I would benefit from that free warm air to get thawed out. One can certainly speed through a museum when the language is foreign!

After that we walked to the Euromast – a building on a needle. There is an observation place and a rotating restaurant. I might have been tempted to go in if I’d had someone to share the responsibility of $. He began looking rather red, so I hoofed it back. Saw large umbrellas set up on the sidewalk sheltering hardy fishermen. There are apartment buildings built right in the water with barges tied up alongside. Must be some way to get there because cars were parked under the buildings.

I felt I could manage a meal at McDonald’s – golly! In the hotel room, I heard a little thump, and turned to see $ crawling away from the crib where he’d been. I mistakenly thought he might sleep. Don’t know how he climbed out. Anyway– back to the hamburger story. The place was two-story, and I couldn’t manage a baby, the stairs, and the food. Luckily there were high tables on the ground floor so that I could park $ underneath and throw him morsels as I ate. He put away all the meat and cheese from a cheeseburger!! His first McDonald’s hamburger ever – in Rotterdam!

One of the buildings $ and I passed while walking

The rest of the gang came in having eaten a hearty meal aboard ship and spent time in the recreation rooms. The ship did not change berths – may do so later when John and Harold are back there.

The Dutch people decorate their homes and apartments for Christmas in a more elaborate fashion than I’ve ever seen before. Lovely. Through almost every window we saw trees, wreaths, decorative hanging things, and white frosty designs on the windows.

All of us plus one Norwegian wife rode on a tram. You pay on the honor system! No one checked tickets at all while we made the round trip on Route #5, though John said they do spot checks at random as on British rail. We were amazed at the numerous canals and waterways all over this city. Amsterdam must be something special if it is noted for canals, because Rotterdam has plenty without that fame.

A view from the tram

We ate again in the hotel restaurant. When John $ got antsy, Lisa offered to take him to the room. John left because his taxi was waiting, but Kate was still eating and I had to sign the bill. Lisa suddenly appeared without $, saying breathlessly, “John crawled out of his diaper and it’s lying in the hall. Come quickly!! THE JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD! I think she’d left him with a Norwegian boy, but I’m not sure. I sent her back with instructions on how to put on a disposable one. Rushed up to find a Norwegian teenage girl coming out of my room. She may have done the job. It was on backwards, but that covered the problem. Might add there are two other families from Gotaas-Larsen having a total of seven rooms in a row. The seven children (not including above streaker) are having a grand time. I think they’re playing Uno in the hall. Must check.

Supposed to return to Reigate tomorrow.

England 40 Years Ago — December 26, 1980

Thought I’d start the letter early this week because we are planning to go away tomorrow. In the excitement of going to the continent, I may forget all about Christmas!

The recording of the lesson and carol service was not good. John wanted to keep the recorder out of sight so as not to distract worshipers, but it was too muffled. Too bad.

We began celebrating my birthday by getting up early. Thanks for all your cards, one of which arrived on the very day! I had an extremely quiet day with only $ for company, the others going to London and doing a bus tour with a good look at Westmister Abbey afterwards. They may have done other things; can’t remember.

Playing musical beds could be dangerous. So often if Kate comes in, I mumble something about getting her pillow and stumble into her bed. The thought hit me one morning when waking in her room, what if she had been sick all over the bed? What if she thought she saw a burglar in her room and I went down the hall to bump into something very real? I must remember to ask questions next time!!

We all went to Hampton Court Tuesday. What a marvelous place! And we had it to ourselves! Nobody in their right minds would be sightseeing the day before Christmas Eve. All the outdoor things were closed for the winter, but just seeing the inside was almost overwhelming. The guards had nothing to do but watch us, so they spent their time entertaining $. There was wood carving that I thought looked like the work of Grinling Gibbons, and sure enough, it was. The paintings, tapestries, beds, etc. were so elaborate.

The family from across the street came for dinner Tuesday night. Luckily we had set the time for 7, so I was able to get everything together after we got home from Hampton Court at 2:30. They didn’t know what to make of cornbread and pecan pie, but they gamely tried it. The information I gleaned from the evening is that barristers and lawyers DO wear robes and wigs in court! Both Gillian and John trained in law, though she does not work at present. She has a wig, too! Traditionally the wigs are made of horsehair, but most modern ones are of nylon. It lasts a lifetime if you take care of it – care being to flick the dust off and store it in its little container.

After cooking for that crowd, doing Christmas Eve and Day dinners for just five was a snap. We had roast pork the 24th and Christmas pudding steamed for hours — moist, and topped with brandy butter that Gillian had brought for us for the holidays.

On the 24th John and Harold went to London to see the Tower, but found it closed. They walked miles and miles seeing all kinds of interesting things and ended up at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards. A retired guardsman picked them up as affluent tourists and told them all the details of the change and where to stand for the best pictures, also pointed out the Queen’s bedroom windows and offices, Prince Charles’ several offices and bedroom suite. He was a gold mine of information. In return, they treated him to lunch at his pub. It was probably a fair exchange for all the pleasure he brought.

Meanwhile, the girls and I went to Co op for a last shop before the stores closed for four days. $’s cashier friend handed us wrapped gifts for each of the children! I thought she might have something for $ because she kept asking if we were coming Christmas Eve, but I never dreamed she’d do something for the girls, too. We had given her birthday cut-out cookies for her birthday December 1, but we did not get her anything for this holiday. She gave the girls a doll in a little bottle (like ships in a bottle, but more appropriate for girls) and $ a shirt with a tiger printed on the front.

Harold offered to keep John $ while we went to the service for children at 5 Christmas Eve. I hesitated to let him, knowing how the little one can act when tired, but he insisted it would be fine. Wasn’t that kind of him? Harold still had his good-natured grin on his face when we got back, but $ had cried a lot. Harold claims he likes to be around children every once in a while just to strengthen his resolve to remain a bachelor. I’m afraid he got good reinforcement that night!

The service was alive, in fact, crawling with activity. All children were asked if they would like to take part, and those wanting to carried big puppets of the holy family in procession and shouted the correct responses. The organist preached the sermon! A good one, too, based on Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. He is a reader in the Anglican church, so has had some training beyond that of normal laymen.

There were children of all shapes and sizes there. The one that got our attention most was a streaker – a little girl two months younger than $ that ran up the aisle on all fours every time the mother tended the two other LITTLE tykes. The funniest expression was on the face of the man in the pew ahead of the baby when she sneaked under his feet, picked up his hat, and tried to put it on her own head. The hat was being returned to the rightful owner when she nipped to the pew behind and tried to pinch the kneeler. For the sake of the organist-preacher, it was good the mum gave up and took all three out. Lisa told us later that their last name is Butcher, so guess that’s why they are cut ups.

We walked to church Christmas morning – a lovely blue-sky day. What a packed church! We were 15 or 20 minutes early and had to find chairs separately. $ was good due to mouthfuls of dry cereal. I think that’s the first service he’s made it through since we arrived here exactly six months ago. After the main service at 11, there was communion at 12:15 for those who wanted to stay. John and I stayed while the others walked on home. We moved up to the choir stalls along with about 20 or 30 others. I imagine most of the congregation had taken it at the midnight service. Harold and John started out for that service, but the car had been left out in the rain too long and wouldn’t start. By the time they had spent ten minutes trying to start it, they wouldn’t have gotten seats in church had they walked. They watched two services on TV instead.

This toy is still in our garage in 2020!

Today, Boxing Day, is another glorious day. It’s nice not to be rushing off anywhere. Couldn’t anyway, because we HAVE to get some washing done. All the stores are closed, anyway.

The children are enjoying playing with their new things and fighting. They must enjoy fighting because they do it so much! Harold has told them they can fight all they want today, but WATCH OUT when we all get squeezed into that car together! He’s good to have around.

White Christmas!

A forecast of snow usually means nothing will fall from the sky. On Christmas Eve, the outdoor carol service was canceled because of rain. We went to the indoor service at 5:30 and left the church in heavy rain. A mile down the road, rain turned to sleet. A few minutes later the car was engulfed with blinding snow. John could tell where the road was, but no lines were visible. It was a tense drive. We came home to a lovely wintry scene.

Our house on Christmas Eve

Before we went to bed, a text came that the Christmas Day service had been canceled. We had a leisurely breakfast on Christmas morning. I wanted to begin the day photographically, because we were going to have no guests. As it turned out, this was the only picture of me from the whole day.

At noon my view of the mountains was clear. During the afternoon more clouds came, and we had a few snowflakes drifting down.

Roads were white on top and icy underneath. On a hunch, John checked with neighbor Shawn. Their children and grandchildren could not get here, so we would have a party after all! What might have been a humdrum meal was transformed into a real celebration. Their food, added to ours, made a proper feast. Spirits were high, and we enjoyed being together.

Accidental video with my raspy voice giving directions
Shawn, Bob, Logan, John $, John, David

John found our table fidget toys, magnets that we thought Logan might enjoy while adults droned on. He read a book, but Shawn built a nice tower as we all talked. Several times she turned it for me, and it fell down. The last time, I got the shot as she concentrated on turning it. Bob tried his hand at it, too.

As we continued to visit at the table, Logan settled in the living room to read a lovely short story I’d printed out for him. It was The Bright Lights of Christmas by blogger Darlene Foster. See her post here. Logan said he liked the story.

Logan rejoined us for the flaming of the Christmas pudding, our standard dessert since we lived in England 40 years ago. The fire didn’t show in my photo, but Logan was using a phone to record it. The thing that looks like a leaf sticking out of the top was part of the pattern of the table runner.

Logan asked for permission to bring over his big Christmas gift, a hover board. He showed it to us at the table and headed out the door. I ran for my winter coat, made sure the camera was in my pocket, and joined him on the street. He had amazing balance and could totally control it with his feet. I think this was the first time he had it outdoors.

I had to retreat to the warmth of the house on that cold, cold day. Logan came with me, stopping to look at the icicles that stretched from the car to the stones of the driveway. He is always very cooperative about posing for the camera.

When Shawn and Bob went home, John watched the movie Home Alone with Logan and grandson David. Sharing Christmas was a blessing for us and one we will remember vividly.

Unto Us a Child is Born

My dear friend took a selfie of herself with her newborn grandchild a few days ago. Age-old emotions of love and adoration are written on her face. Surely our faces would be like that if we looked at the baby the shepherds saw – Emmanuel, meaning God with us. In this stressful year, God is still with us, surrounding us with everlasting love and grace.

May the love of the Christ child fill your heart with peace and joy.

Merry Christmas!!

My Birthday

While John and I were walking to the creek, son John $pencer cooked my birthday breakfast. It was marvelous to come back in the house and smell it cooking.

He made sandwiches with croissants, a choice of bacon or sausage, cheese, and scrambled eggs with dill. He added a hash brown patty on the side. Oh, my! What a treat! It was even more special to me, because only the croissant was allowed on his diet.

John snapped a photo of me with $ and grandson David.

The photo day started well, but I forgot to get a snap of John and me at the Sweet Onion restaurant having lunch. That was another culinary treat. We gathered at the home table again at 10:30, after John and David came back from a long taping session for the Christmas services. That explains John’s suit and tie. Doesn’t the cake look large? It wasn’t. It was about four inches across, but it was our choice to have a small dessert in this season of abundant sugar. We ate half of it and will finish it tonight.

What doesn’t show here are all the electronic greetings, cards, and phone calls, which I loved. How blessed I am to get so much attention three days before Christmas! I always expect nothing and am blown away by thoughtful well-wishers. Thank you all very much.

Logan’s Church Program

Neighbor Logan and his parents were involved in the service of lessons and carols at their church. Below, nearest the camera, was Shawn singing in the choir. We were watching it on John’s monitor.

I should have taken a photo showing the sanctuary, beautifully decorated by Shawn. The church uses her artistic skills throughout the year. The music was wonderful – well-chosen pieces sung with precision. The choir and accompanists did a great job, despite all being masked. I can’t imagine singing while wearing a face covering.

Bob’s role was off-camera, recording Logan’s reading the second lesson on our lawn. Below is an old-fashioned screen shot taken with my camera. Logan was the only child in the program, and he read with clarity and expression. We were proud of him. The service was a lovely worship experience.

England 40 Years Ago — December 21, 1980

Merry Christmas! We’ve started out the week in fine fashion with [John’s first cousin] Harold’s arrival. He landed almost an hour early and didn’t have any hassle with customs. He breezed in laughing and joking, and we’ve been having a great time. John is relaxed after almost clearing his desk Friday, staying until 10 and getting home after 11. The girls are so happy to be out of school and able to stay up later.

Cousin Harold — unmarried here, now 40 years later the grandfather of four

I bought a certain green vegetable in the freezer store by looking at the picture. I had the funniest feeling I suddenly couldn’t read. The label had three languages: Passierter Spinat which sounds like a cross between a football player and a piano, Epinards Haches which could be Innards Hatching and Gehakte Spinazie which sounds to me like you are rushing down to the pawn shop to hock something. You linguists will recognize Spinach.

Everyone has heard of New Yorkers, Riplians, Memphians, etc. but do you know who people are from Liverpool? Liverpudlians!! What do you do with Charlotte, Monroe and Stony Brook?

John $ had a cold early last week; he was like a time bomb. You didn’t know whether to run for cover from the fallout or advance like a bomb squad protected by a tissue vest.

The school Christmas program was marvelous. Kate’s form sang two long carols and used rhythm sticks. The second form also sang two selections, and then the upper three forms did a mime program. I think most of the performers were in the third form with the fourth and fifth doing all the choral work. There wasn’t a hitch in the whole program – everyone moved precisely where they were supposed to. The children acting out the Christmas story were so well-behaved; you could tell at times they found things amusing, but the giggles seemed to start rising, get to the throat, and were firmly pushed down again so that the face never cracked. The angel costumes were clever, and Gabriel had a more elaborate set of wings. I had a hard time with Gabriel, though, because she looked just like Big Bird when she folded her wings. The music was wonderful – interesting composed songs all done from memory with excellent diction. Discipline and hard work were certainly on display.

Christmas is a good time for homes to be broken into, especially if a lighted tree is visible with gifts under it. Here places are not burglarized, but “burgled.”

The greatest toys are free. $ likes potatoes! He sneaks into the larder at every opportunity to grab a couple. I must remember to look through them to see if any have teeth marks. He mainly likes to juggle them or use them as stilts for the hands when crawling.

The handwriting book arrived on Wednesday, the 17th, the day school was out. Thank you ever so much for sending it quickly. Kate has done 12 lessons so far and is doing very good work. Think the influence is going to help Lisa’s writing and mine! Please let me know how much we owe you.

The home group Christmas party was fun. Barbara C did baby sit for us, so we could be the last to leave and not worry. They wouldn’t assign us something to bring, so I took a fancy Christmas bowl full of pecans newly arrived from Tennessee. What a hit they made! One person had heard of the nuts before, but most had never known about them. We had a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, sprouts, carrots and steamed pudding. There were several other things, but we understand that sprouts are the mandatory vegetable. The pudding was very moist – I must steam mine just before serving and do it for hours. Penny says she steams hers five hours the first time and five hours again the day it’s served. We also learned how to serve it; it should be flamed, cut in tiny wedges and smothered in cream and brandy butter.

The girls and I went to the open air market that is held every Thursday in Redhill. What a sight! People were milling about the stalls until we almost couldn’t move. Some stalls were nothing more than a make-shift stand while others had material stretched on a frame over and to the sides of them. It had the flavor of an old country fair; some of the merchants were actually hawking their wares, keeping up a running chatter to lure in customers. I think you could buy almost anything there from hand-carved coconuts for birdhouses to carpets. We saw sheets, numerous places selling jeans, a butcher!, two fruit stands, jewellery (I’m right on that English spelling!), antiques, handbags, materials, candy, toys, and even shoes.

It used to be a step up to travel by air while others crawled on the ground. $ found the airport to be a step up – the Fischer Price airport, that is! He pushed it to the sink and stepped up to see what he could see.

I was commanding Lisa to cease and desist saying, “Cut it out!” I couldn’t continue my anger when she solemnly looked me in the eye, raised her hand to eye level and made scissory motions and sounds in a half circle in front of herself.

We went to the party at toddler play group so I could play carols on the piano for them to sing. Don’t know what I would have done without the girls. Lisa had to hold the music because there was no music rack on the piano, and Kate held onto $. Penny, who runs the thing, had asked the girls to help Father Christmas by handing him the gifts. Penny saw my good carol book, browsed through it, and was excited at finding the Polish carols. She asked to borrow it to copy those pages because Andy’s father is Polish and she wanted to try to learn some for him. Penny brought the book back that afternoon, came in for a cup of tea, and we talked for several hours while my girls entertained her little girls. We all had such a good time.

$ is taking two to ten steps at a clip now. His trouble is that he’s trying to run before he learns to walk! One day he stooped to pick up a toy and was able to stand up again.

My walk has changed since we folded up the play pen – it’s a shuffle so as to avoid tripping over toys, with a quick flick to right or left to propel toys to the sidelines. There are no rules in this game!

John and the girls put up the tree last night. John said it looks German/American. We certainly haven’t seen any Christmas trees here pretty enough to write home about!

Harold slept while we went to church this morning. We ate dinner, went for a drive in the country and had tea. Now all but $ and I have gone to church for the service of lessons and carols. It is supposed to be like the one at King’s College. I may not miss it entirely because they took our brand new tape recorder!! If they are in a good spot, we’ll save it for the rest of you to hear.

Hope all of you will have had as wonderful a Christmas as we are going to have!!