Thursday, June 30, 2016

An American in England: How do you hold your fork and knife?

I'm in the middle of reading I Capture the Castle, a book published in 1949 by English author and playwright, Dodie Smith.  While I'm enjoying the plot so far, what has stood out to me far more is the way the main characters in the book--two English sisters and two American brothers--interact with the differences in the two cultures.  It's been fascinating to me because some of the conversations that take place in the book are conversations I've had with English friends.  We've made the same sort of observations and probably felt some of the same feelings, and that is made even more interesting to me since this book was written nearly 70 years ago!  For instance, I overheard a man in our church explain to another man about how Americans eat in almost the exact same words as this passage from I Capture the Castle.

"And it was no use trying to copy Neil 
because his table manners were quite strange to me.  
I fear he must have seen me staring at him once because he said:  
'Mother thinks I ought to eat in the English way--she and Simon 
have gotten into it--but I'm darned if I will.'
I asked him to explain the difference.  It appears that in America 
it is polite to cut up each mouthful, lay down the knife on your plate, 
change your fork from the left to the right hand, load it, eat the fork-full, 
change the fork back to your left hand, and pick up the knife again--and 
you must take only one kind of food on the fork at a time; 
never a nice comfortable wodge of meat and vegetables together.
'But that takes so long,' I said.
            'No, it doesn't,' said Neil.  'Anyway, it looks terrible to me 
the way you all hang on to your knives.'
            The idea of anything English people do looking terrible 
quite annoyed me, but I held my peace."

Just listening to the amount of time it takes to explain how Americans use their fork and knife makes me feel that Cassandra is right, "That takes so long."  But like the English Cassandra, who tries to change how she eats for a moment, it is extremely difficult and awkward to attempt eating in a different way, the way I feel trying to eat Chinese food authentically.

I was so intrigued by the gentle way Smith captured the meeting of two cultures with such accuracy that I looked her up and found that she and her husband had moved to the United States during WWII because her husband was a conscientious objector.  Wikipedia tells me she wrote I Capture the Castle in Philadelphia whilst feeling homesick for England.  Living outside your own country makes you think about all kinds of things you never gave a thought to before, like how you hold your fork and knife and why.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Everyday Creativity in the Kitchen

After any period of indulgence in one activity or another, whether it be food and drink, TV-watching, or spending, I usually feel compelled for a time to reign that activity in with a bit more discipline.  After our vacation I was feeling inspired to spend less in anticipation of more traveling expenses when we came home for the summer.  I started playing the game of what can I create in the kitchen with what's in the freezer and cupboard without going to the store for any extras.

There's a sense in which figuring out what to make for dinner is what happens every night in the kitchen, but a couple of weeks ago I was trying to approach it with more imagination.  It felt like a magical night in my kitchen, but that could have been because James was watching Ratatouille in the corner while I chopped onions, so the atmosphere bar was higher than normal.  That movie always makes me want to cook.

I don't have pretty pictures because I didn't know I was creating a masterpiece, a masterpiece not for it's beauty or refinement, but because my husband ate three bowls, and it brought us both back to a moment in our childhood and the vegetable soup our moms made for us, much like the food critic Anton Ego's experience with Emile's ratatouille.

My starting point was some lean ground beef I'd already cooked, left over from something else.  It's so easy for me to forget about things like that and end up throwing it away, and I was determined to do something with it.  Vegetable soup!  I knew I had some Knorr beef cubes in the pantry that my mom had used when she was visiting and making up her own stew.  I chopped an onion and sauteed it in a little olive oil, added some beef broth and sliced carrots to boil.  I thought I was in trouble when I realized I was out of potatoes but discovered some good frozen peas and sweet corn (or just corn as we call it in the U.S.) in the freezer and added that toward the end.  Salt, pepper, basil, rosemary.  Did I mention KJ ate three bowls?  And it proved a good way for even Ella to eat lots of veggies, too.

Since you're not going to find a buttermilk biscuit anywhere around here I've been practicing my mama's recipe more and more.  I've had varying degrees of success and non-success, but this night it all came together.  Was it using half unsalted and half salted butter because that was all I had?  I don't know.  Maybe I handled the dough just the right amount, but the results were fluffy with just the right amount of saltiness, just the right amount of southern comfort.

Not beautiful, not fancy, but I wanted to record and remember the way we ate in the kitchen gathered around the pot, with the ending strains of Ratatouille playing in the background.

What's your favorite throw-it-all together with what you've got meal?  We've since re-made this one on purpose.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Haarlem + The Corrie Ten Boom House

Perhaps like many of you, my knowledge of Holland (or The Netherlands) is very scant.  I knew they had wonderful tulips, and they used to wear wooden shoes.  And the windmills of course!  We ended up making our ferry journey from Hull to Rotterdam a couple of days earlier than we originally planned in order to avoid a spike in prices for the Halfterm holidays, so that left us with about three days for a little family vacation. We were just a couple of weeks too late to get a glimpse of the colorful tulip fields, but when I started doing a little research to see what was near Rotterdam I realized we'd be very near the house where Corrie Ten Boom lived, where she and her father and sister helped several Jewish people hide and escape to a safer place during WWII.  Ella was just about to start studying WWII at school, so it was a good time to introduce her to this inspiring lady.

We saw many windmills, old and new.  I don't know what the exact temperature was, but the word PERFECT comes to mind.  The air was sweet and cool and fresh.  Other observations from this day? Roads are really good and easy to drive on, even when in a British car with the steering wheel on the right side.  It felt really natural and easy driving on the right again.  The landscape was very flat where we were and reminded us a lot of driving through Florida.  You have to pay to use the restroom everywhere, even in McDonalds!  Our American selves were pretty shocked at that.

The Ten Boom family lived in Haarlem, which is a really beautiful and quaint city complete with cobbled streets, colorful houses, and a canal.  It was easy to walk in as long as you were mindful of the bike-riders and very quiet on the day we were there as older children were all in school.

This church towers over the old streets filled with restaurants and shopping.  The strangest store we passed there?  Foot Locker.  Sometimes it's funny which stores migrate to Europe.

As has become our travel custom, we walk by all the pretty cafes and all the restaurants with fun names towards the familiar and the known.

But even the familiar and the known is wrapped in an old and quirky building with the fun roof shape we began to recognize as distinctively Dutch.  KJ says he is happy to accept that we are not the adventurous-eating kind of people that others might be while traveling.  We've also come to love ordering off the self-order touch screens at foreign McDonalds.  It gives us time to figure out the menu differences without feeling like we're holding up the line with awkward exchanges when we forget and ask for French Fries.

There's some wooden shoes!  A lot of signs were in English and Dutch, as you can see, and that made it fairly easy to get around.

Members of the Ten Boom family no longer operate the jewelry store, but the name has been kept. There are still beautiful and well-made watches being sold here.

"They died in faith believing that the best is yet to come."

I remember reading The Hiding Place in college with a feeling of half-dread and expectation knowing what was coming, that eventually they would get caught.  I learned a few more amazing details to the story as told by a lovely older Dutch woman in the Ten Boom living room that day.  She told about how the Nazis searched the house for the hiding place for two days and never found it, and of the police officer(s) who knew about what the Ten Boom family was doing and managed to be there to let the what must have been the so frightened and hungry people hiding for two days in that small space out when the Nazis left.  It gave me such a feeling of admiration for the courage not just of the Ten Boom family but for all the Dutch people who bravely risked their lives to do what was right when their country and lives had been invaded by an evil regime.

The hiding place was constructed by putting a false brick wall in Corey's bedroom.  A hole has been put in the wall so visitors can see it and even crawl inside it themselves.  Corey's bed would have been against that wall, and the Nazi soldiers never found the hiding place since it had cleverly been constructed of brick and didn't sound hollow.

The very bottom panel of the wardrobe can be pulled up from the inside of the hiding place.

The small little rooftop terrace was the only safe place for the Jews living with the Ten Booms to get a little fresh air and exercise.  I met a girl from Daphne, Alabama up there who was studying at the University of Amsterdam.

We left Haarlem a bit abruptly with certain members of our family feeling a bit seasick from the ferry ride the night before, and certain members suffering from what is called Hay Fever here, but it was a beautiful and special visit I'm really thankful we got to make.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Franco Fridays: Days with the Dels

It's been nearly a year since our friends the de la Hoyde family moved to France, and we were all excited about reuniting for a few days.  It rained and rained almost the entire time of our visit, but we didn't really mind it at all.  It made a good backdrop for slowly sipping hot drinks and long conversations in the kitchen in the midst of all the work they needed to do and taking kids to and from school.  

I decided to put together a brief little video of our time together, mostly because the video clips really capture the energy of our kids when they're all together.  As far as video quality goes, I made a mistake cutting out the music during a clip of Del speaking, but I really like the end, even though the parting ends in a few tears.  Tears are good because they mean love, and we love these dear friends.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


KJ will be the first to tell you that before moving to England his idea of a good free day was one spent at home.  Living in new surroundings that are not only new to us but often breathtakingly beautiful has made him more apt to suggest leaving the house when we have some free time.  And if we have to drive somewhere?  Guess who studies the map first to see if there is anything historical or beautiful to see along the way.  That's right:  this guy.  

As we were planning our trip to visit friends in Paris, we originally thought the cheapest way to get there would be to drive south and take a ferry across the English channel from the southern tip of England, but a new visitor to our church made the suggestion of taking the ferry from the Yorkshire coast across to the Netherlands and driving into France from the other direction as being an easier journey.  After doing some research it seemed more cost effective to take her advice, as well as giving us some time to explore and see a few sights in the Netherlands.  It was the best travel scenario:  travel and sleep overnight, awake at your destination.  It also offered a new experience for everyone.  Sleeping on a boat was highly exciting for the kids.  Our room was down a long, long hallway.

It was a tiny space, but we were happy to be there, and while the views leaving England were dark and drizzly, the morning as we pulled in to Rotterdam was bright and fair.

In other early morning news, James and I found a children's soft play area conveniently located by a Starbucks, and that's when it officially felt like we were on vacation.

Europe is filled with many old and beautiful things, but I find that I'm most interested in places that mean something personal to me.  Most of the time that means it's been a setting in a book I've read or a movie I enjoyed.  When we found out we had a couple of days to enjoy together in the Netherlands we settled on visiting Corrie Ten Boom's house in Haarlem, but since the ferry was landing in Rotterdam I did a quick Google search to see if there was anything I'd be interested in that would also be enjoyable for the kids.

I learned that most of Rotterdam was destroyed by bombs during WWII, but there was one part of the city spared.  In that one remaining preserved part stands a church built in 1417, where our "Pilgrim Fathers" as we call them worshiped one last time in the Netherlands before sailing back to England to board the Mayflower and build a new life in a new world.  That was enough historical significance of both the patriotic and Christian for me to want to make a quick stop.  And aren't those rooftops so fun?

This little pilgrim was feeling tired after going to bed slightly later on the ferry.  Walking was just too hard.  Thankfully, a nap in the car after this stop cured his ills.

The church sits overlooking a canal.  We knew it wouldn't be open the day we were there, but it was enough to walk down the old brick road and look at all the colorful boats and think about the people who had walked on that road before us.

Baby ducks all in a row are always fun to see.

All in all, it was the perfect 30-minute stop to begin our journey.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Franco Fridays: Statue Speak

An unexpected highlight of our trip to the continent was KJ making up captions for the various statues we passed.  Because it was France, most of the jokes involved a theme of trying to figure out what happened to their clothes.  Whenever we rounded a corner upon yet another naked statue the kids would immediately ask, "What's that one saying, Dad?"

Maybe you had to be there, but there's one of these that makes me erupt into laughter every time. Some of that may be the offhand way KJ would just throw out captions as we walked.

"Just go anywhere."

"Just checkin' my Facebook, waiting on my laundry to dry."

"I think I'm gonna be sick."

Thursday, June 9, 2016

{Almost} a Picture a Day in May

May 1 - Precious Little Feet, growing bigger every day

May 2 - Sunny evening at Maypole practice

May 3 - Pretty Carrots from the Veg Box

May 4 - Longer days mean pretty evening light in the conservatory.

May 5 - Bubbles in the Backyard before Bed 

May 6 - He still fits in the baby seat.  I'm not sure for how much longer!

May 7 - Pink Spring Flowers, White Spring Lambs

May 8 - Pink Flowers, take 2

May 9 - Ella and I watched a YouTube tutorial and practiced using her watercolor pencils.  It was so much fun!  Best of all, Ella was convinced I had good watercolor skills, which really means something to me because she definitely has artistic genes that I do not!

May 10 - More Spring Flowers (It's hard to get tired of these.)

May 11 - This is our first spring living in this house, so we're discovering what's been planted in the past as it springs up each week.

May 12 - I've noticed that not all spring leaves are green here.  

May 13 - This girl wants to do things by herself in the kitchen lately, and I confess I find it hard to stop trying to do things for her.  It feels like such a discipline to let her do it when I know I can do it faster.  

May 14 - Toothless Boy at the Playground

May 15 - Tamsin teaching James about rocks - He started a rock collection, and it was great to have a friend who could tell him all about how they were formed!

May 16 - Our caterpillars arrived.  They should be appearing as Painted Ladies soon!

May 17 - I saw so many early mornings in the month of May.  Here's to a little more sleep in June.

May 18 - With KJ's help, I designed this printable with one of Anne's most famous quotes.  I'm thinking we could do a whole series of quotes from books.  I love his sketches.

May 19 - Ella-Girl singing in the school choir's Spring Concert

May 20 - Ella picked these beautiful "weeds" out of the back garden for me.  They very persistently pop up in the grass immediately after having been cut.

May 22 - Between Ella's stomach virus and various church engagements, it was a stay-in anniversary celebration for us.  I'm actually a big fan of stay-in anniversary celebrations, though.

May 23 - Getting into bed at 9:30 and thinking it was 8 p.m. because of how light the sky still is.

May 25 - Ella's Chalkboard Art Celebrating our Journey

May 26 - Naps in the Car Forever

May 27 - The time I ordered a hamburger at a McDonalds in Germany and didn't eat it

May 28 - Sitting in the shade, waiting on Dad, because it was 68 degrees, and we started to sweat, and it was such an unfamiliar sensation to our bodies now acclimatized to English weather

May 29 - These two friends had such a lovely time together.  Four days wasn't enough.

May 30 - Kisses in the Kitchen

May 31 - Taco Tuesday with kids who get REALLY excited about Taco Tuesday