Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Parkers!

Christmas 2012
Dear Friends and Family,

Grace and Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ at the celebration of his birth!  Another year come and gone? Either I’m getting older or time is actually speeding up; wasn’t it just last Christmas a few weeks ago? My!  Well, what’s to report?  I think the theme this year is “Steady and Sure”.  This year, we only traveled to two countries as a family, we didn’t move, we had no other children, and we aren’t expecting any, either.  That’s kind of a banner year in the Parker family lately?  Instead, everything was just “steady and sure”.  Some of the highlights below:

Trip to Ireland.  Amelia and I made good on a lifelong dream and finally visited the Emerald Isle this past Easter.  With kids in tow, we drove to Liverpool for an overnight stay, stopping at the Beatles museum the next morning before jetting across the north of Wales to catch our ferry across the Irish sea.  By the end of the day, we made it to the west coast, just outside Galway to a cottage on the seaside.  We spent Holy Week there, picking shells and sea animals from the rocky shore, bracing ourselves amidst the ferocious winds, popping into Galway (traditional musicstreet performers; spotting live seals in the waterway next to us; at a local pub sipping my pint of Guinness beneath a local snapshot of Bono), driving along the narrow country roads of the Burren behind (slow) flocks of sheep, ruins and ancient tombs, and peering over the Cliffs of Moher, before finally ending our visit with a 3-hr church Easter service at a charismatic Anglican church in Dublin. A whirlwind of delights.

Receiving Visitors.  In April, David and Fran Roseberry from Christ Church Plano came to see us in Durham.  What a delight to get to show them our home and city, praying with them in the cathedral, spending time together!  We appreciate the love and support from them and from the church, so very much.  Later, in July, Amelia’s mom, Janet, came to stay with us for five wonderful weeks. It was packed full with both active and leisure time.  Highlights: visiting Chatsworth, the Lake District (the boys rode their 1st treetop zip line), Alnwick Castle, and seeing the Queen (60th Jubilee tour).  While she was with us, Amelia got to go with some friends to the Olympics!  (BTW, between the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics, one could feel the British swell with appropriate pride, somewhat despite themselves.)  She saw American beach volleyball, endless tennis, hung out in Hyde Park, and had some much needed time away from her 4 boys (refreshing!).  Later that August, my parents came to see us, and we made a week-long trip to Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands, including the Military Tattoo, Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness, dolphin gazing, and trout fishing (all from our cottage-base outside Dingwall/Inverness).  The boys especially loved Landmark adventure park, and we were all impressed by the Culloden Battlefield.  Nothing matches time with all the grandparents: hugs & kisses, snuggles & laughs, and making memories makes for rich living indeed!  In October, our dear friend, Leon Fillyaw came to see us, too!  We had great visits to York, Whitby, & London (National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, celebrity sightings in Leicester Square!), and hours of unbeatable conversation.

Back at it.  After such a busy summer, our whole family went back to normal with full force.  Amelia has taken up some part-time transcription work, on top of her weekly, free, intense exercise class.  Ewan (9) has markedly matured in his attitude and thinking over the year, is progressing in a much tougher gymnastics class (at Deerness gym), and is lately fascinated by space science.  Isaac (8) has taken up the violin and continues to devour books and stories (audio or written; often both at the same time!).  Graham (5) is in school 5 days a week now and is learning to write & read and is our resident artist.  Jude (2) has exploded with words in the last few weeks and is obsessed with Mommy’s new iPad, which, of course, he can navigate with a flourish.  All the boys are involved in our church kids program, for which we continue to be exceptionally grateful.  My part-time teaching has dropped off while my research (p.179) and dissertation-writing have increased.  The job search is on since I hope to graduate in 2013,but whether we move into church ministry or academic Bible teaching, here or elsewhere is all undecided.  We are praying and pursuing every lead at this point. Prayers welcome!

By His Grace Alone,
Jon (for Amelia, Ewan, Isaac, Graham, and Jude)

The Parkers (Ewan, Isaac, Jon, Graham, Amelia, Jude) at Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland
(August 2012)

And at Whitby Abbey (Isaac, Ewan, Graham, Jon, Jude, Amelia) (October 2012)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Homesick Texan - Kolaches!

Recently, my dear wife, Amelia (the principal author of this blog, though long absent from it), got a new cookbook: The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain (Hyperion, 2011) [check out here blog here].  Maybe I can convince Amelia to get back on here and write something about the book and how it makes her feel.

From my point of view, just owning the book makes her feel loved. Loved just by being known and understood in ways that any ex-patriot to their homeland can relate to, especially as it relates to food.  What is it about food that just grabs your heartstrings and yanks you 'home'?  Whatever it is, this book does it for my wife. And for me.  I am strangely weak-at-the-knees when I see full-blown pictures of 'Gorditas' and 'San Antonio Tortillas' and 'Brisket'....Yum. Mouth-watering, eye-glazing yum.

But this post is about yesterday's first venture into said cookbook, and what's on the menu is kolaches.

I can't say I know a lot about kolaches.  In fact, my first thought when I looked at these big pastries, was 'Huh, that's not what I had pictured in my head.'  Kolaches are Czech by origin.  Brought to Texas by that wave of Czech migration in about the 1860's (as I remember it; you can 'czech' my facts online, here or maybe here?, or chime in with your own link), the kolache of my memory is firmly rooted in West, TX, just north of Waco.  Anyone driving down I-35, will certainly notice the big signs at the gas stations by the roadside signaling, 'Kolaches For Sale'.  And while I'd have sworn I'd stopped and had one before I certainly hadn't had one like these.

So, a kolache is an almost donut-like, pastry with a big dollop of cream-cheese in the middle.  Amelia made these with just a hint of 'lemon' and they were good!  These were big and thick, but what I really liked about them was that they were just the right sweetness and just the right texture.  Not too sweet that I felt like I was eating a danish and not too flaky or spongy that I was eating a crescent roll or pound cake.  The experience was something in-between all these and it was nice.

Half of one was enough for me and even though our boys LOVE sweet pastries none of them ate the whole of theirs.  It was a bit too much for them.  So, maybe they could have been made smaller, but 'smaller' and 'Texan' don't go so well together, so I'll say they were just right.  Anyhow give 'em a try!

My parting note is less about taste and more about where this food 'takes me'/'yanks me':
My girlfriend in high school, her family hailed from this part of Texas, just a few miles north of West, from Abbott, TX.  She always spoke of Abbott like it was 'home' for them.  Catholic, small, and quaint; with a Truck Wash as its main highway presence.  I went there once with her.  You felt like everyone in the town knew you were a visitor and everyone knew I, at least, wasn't Czech.  (My girlfriend had blonde, super-curly hair that signaled her ethnic heritage, even if she didn't grow up there.)

But the key thing to know is that West and Abbott are joined by 'Willie Nelson Rd' for a reason: Abbott is Willie's hometown.  Now you know.  So, hey, if Kolaches are good enough for Willie, they're good enough for you and me, right?

They are if they're made this way, thanks to my wife and Lisa and Fain.  And if they're made a long way from Willie's house, they're even better still.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

As The Birth Approaches....

My mind is often swarming with many thoughts about this birth.

Other than the obvious "when will the baby come" I have been battling thoughts of fear and worry throughout the pregnancy. The other day I found myself rebuking fear and death in the name of Jesus as I was suddenly worried that the baby would die before labor started or during labor. Or that I would have another shoulder dystocia with a midwife that panics instead of facing it calmly. Or that Jon's thesis would not be done in time and life would feel even more stressful since he'd need to be home helping instead of finishing his thesis.

Now I have 9 days to go and I find myself praying that God would send the perfect midwife for our birth. I have no idea who will be coming to my birth. I have only met one midwife who may be on call and I do not want her to be the one for my birth. I don't trust her. She is nice and pleasant but I do not like the way she sees my past births. She made an offhand comment at my last appointment that I felt was unprofessional and unhelpful--and I felt it gave me a true glimpse on her perspective. I feel like if she is coming to my birth then she will be looking for any reason to transfer me into the hospital. (In the UK if you are having a homebirth with the NHS you are assigned a community midwife that is based out of the doctor's office you are assigned to. You don't rotate through the different midwives.)

I've been listening to the hypnobirthing cd for the last few weeks and that has helped me to stay positive about the birth. Ultimately I am looking to the Lord for his peace, wisdom, and comfort as I have been working out whatever emotional hangups I've been having with this pregnancy.

This pregnancy has been the easiest in many ways--I've gained MUCH less weight-about 20 lbs. instead of the 40 I've gained in the past. My body feels better, healthier and it is easier to get up and around. I think it has saved me from a lot of discomfort. I haven't had any Symphysis Pubis pain with this pregnancy and my back hasn't been a problem either. I don't find it difficult to sleep because my hips aren't bothering me at night either. Heartburn has been minimal as has swelling in the legs/ankles.

Truthfully, I want to get the birth over with and move on to the baby-in-my-arms-craziness because I'm tired of trying NOT to worry about everything. I think if the midwife I meet with was more encouraging and would take the time to look at my whole person I would feel much more peaceful about everything. It is for this reason that we have hired a doula. She is familiar with the system here and is a voice of comfort and encouragement to me.

I keep going back to the verses we've been praying for this baby and hanging on to God's promises.

If you would like to pray for us and the birth here are some specific things you can pray for:
  • The right midwife for the job would come to the birth.
  • Jon would be nearly done with his thesis by the end of this week. (He is halfway done at this point.)
  • Peace in my heart and mind (instead of worry) as I continue to prepare emotionally for this baby's arrival.
  • The kids will be emotionally ready to welcome another little brother into their lives.
  • The birth goes smoothly without any problems.
  • The baby won't be born on Ewan's birthday (July 31st). Due date is July 27th.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Strawberry Pickin'

We went strawberry picking on Thursday afternoon at a farm just a few minutes drive from our flat. We were there for less than an hour and picked a huge harvest of strawberries to enjoy. We've had them for breakfast and dessert and I have put several bags in the freezer for smoothies and other fun dessert nights. The scenery is absolutely beautiful!

Being 9 months pregnant and picking strawberries isn't really the most comfortable activity. I was on my hands and knees picking the berries and trying to avoid the stinging nettle weeds. Had I worn long pants it would have been a little easier on the knees but I still managed to fill my basket.

There is something so peaceful and fulfilling about being out in nature, picking your own fruit, and connecting to God's creation.

Our harvest. Plus Isaac's basket he's filling the background. It was difficult to stop picking berries.

Hartlepool (Pronounced Heart-lee-pool)

Today we ventured out to Hartlepool which is a coastal town about 30 minutes south of Durham. The porter from our building mentioned to me a few weeks ago that Hartelpool is a port for the Tall Ship Races sometime in late July or early August and also happened to mention that it had a pirate ship and fun marina to walk around. It sounded like a fun day trip AND like something we should do while the weather is still nice.

We ventured out with our friends, Orrey and Kristi. They were brave enough to join our family and the boys loved having some friends come with us on our little adventure. Graham has a little toddler crush on Kristi. He thinks she is one of his best buds.

Orrey and Kristi

Me, Kristi, and Graham walking along the coast

It turns out the pirate ship is actually a naval ship from the mid-1850s and you can (for a fee) gain entrance to the Maritime Experience and go aboard the ship to learn about how ships worked and what they looked like. The ship is the oldest floating naval craft in Europe (we think). After going on the ship, I gotta say that being a sailor must have taken some non-sensitive nostrils because this ship had only plastic/wax dudes on it and some parts of the ship smelled as bad or worse than the boys floor of a college dorm. I can only imagine 250 men working the ship. Stinky-ola!

The front of the ship

The back of the ship. The windows are part of the Captain's Quarters. It reminded us of one of Jon's favorite movies, Master and Commander.

Looking at upper deck of the ship. I couldn't believe how many cannons were on that ship!

Jon is teaching the boys about how the ship was steered.

We got to go to the lower decks of the ship and here Ewan and Isaac are looking all the weapons stored on the ship.
Orrey is checking the sick sailor in the infirmary.
The Captain's Quarters. His hammock is behind me and to the left.
The boys are checking out one of the cannons and how they could be adjusted to aim at other ships more accurately.

The Maritime Experience also has a marina set up with different shops that would have been around 18th century where you could learn about buying swords, trading goods, proper dress for naval sailors and the like. I learned that QUAY is actually pronounced KEY at the Maritime Experience. Who knew? I still want to look at it and say QWAY.

Need any pots or pans? Or baskets or buckets?

This is my favorite sign!

There were some exhibits that had some great hands on learning for the kids.

One of the boys favorite things was the AWESOME wooden pirate ship they could play in. I think it would be so cool to build something like this in our (future) backyard for the boys to play on. The inside had all kinds of rooms and places to run around. Unbelievably fun! It took them all of 10 seconds to start playing a creative role game.

After we left the Maritime Experience we ended up driving around the town and landed at the coastal front. There wasn't a beach but we did happen upon where the first soldier was killed on British soil in WWI. It was near the Heugh Gun Battery which houses military vehicles and artillary weapons. We didn't go in the HGB but instead walked around the coast and enjoyed being near the ocean and smelling the breeze.

Looking out at the ocean.
Me and Grahammy
Catching a smooch with the hubs!
Where the first soldier was killed on British soil in WWI.

Hartlepool is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. The marina in Hartlepool is apparently one of Europe's most modern marina facilities. Who knew? We didn't even get a chance to go to the marina and look at the boats currently docked. I don't think we will be going to the Tall Ship Races this year but I would love to go back sometime while we are here and see the ships come into port.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some Cultural Observations...

*Isaac working the obstacle course*

*Ewan in the running race*

*Ewan is skipping rope and being encouraged by a Year 6 student. It was a little chilly so he had on his sweatshirt over his house shirt.*

*Isaac is in the red hat in the middle being helped by a student in Year 6*

About a month ago Ewan and Isaac's school had a sports day (It is the equivalant of Field Day in the US). The kids had been practicing all sort of activities like skipping (jumping rope), running obstacles, racing etc. They were very excited about it because it also meant that they could wear shorts and their house colored shirt. Each kid in school is assigned a house (think Harry Potter and the different houses all the wizards and witches are in) that works together throughout the year to accumulate points. Ewan is in the green house and Isaac is in the red house.

All the parents were to meet at the school grounds to watch sports day and their children do some healthy competing. The children were sitting in groups according to their grades and the parents were facing them across the field.

When it came time for the events and the children set off for their races, all the kids were cheering for their houses. And here is the cultural difference....

The parents were silent.

No cheering, hooting, hollering, clapping--nothing. Everyone just watched the events. There were a few exceptions--if any particular child who was young or disabled was struggling then parents would cheer them on. But no one was cheering for their own child and encouraging them in the races.

Except me. I couldn't help myself. I cheered for Ewan when he ran and Isaac when he did his obstacle course. I wasn't a complete jerk about it but I did feel conspicuous.

In the US all the parents would be rooting for their kids and all their kids friends. It's just how we do things.

And language differences....

Remember that episode of FRIENDS when Jennifer Coolidge appears as Monica and Phoebe's old friend who is visiting from England? The one from Yonkers who went to live in England? They make fun of her fake British accent saying, "and she was like--Call me on my MOH-BILE...". Remember that one? Here is a link from youtube from that episode.

Well, when we were at Legoland I thought I left my cell phone in the cafe where we ate our lunch. I went to the nearest guest services and asked the lady behind the counter if anyone had turned in a silver cell phone because I thought I had left it laying on a table. She looked at me as though she didn't understand what I was saying. I repeated myself and then remembered that I needed to use the proper wording. So I said, "I think I left my MOH-BILE on the table in the cafe next door. Did anyone turn one in?" She said, "Oh right. What color did you say it was? Sorry love, no one's turned in a moh-bile."

It turned out that Jon had it the whole time and didn't realize he'd put it in the stroller (or should I say pushchair?). I had a nice chuckle to myself as I walked to meet the rest of the family since I promised I would never say moh-bile phone after seeing that episode!

Words I find are now in my vocabulary:
Mochas are pronounced Mokkas so when I order one I say Mokka
Pushchair is used interchangeably with stroller
Trousers for pants
Toilet for bathroom
Loo on occasion but toilet is much more common
Wonky for broken or messed up
Cheers for thanks (only when addressing other Brits though--not with my American friends)
Jumper for sweatshirt/sweater

The kids (additionally) now say:
Wee for pee (Mom, I need to go wee).
Football for soccer
Ladybird for ladybug
Tell or Told Off for getting in trouble with a teacher (i.e. So and So got told off today at lunch my Mrs. Teacher because he hit me)

And on meeting people:

I can't remember if I've written about this before or not but I have found it very difficult to connect with other Brits while we are out and about. Especially at the kids school. People here are nice--but not friendly like we are in the southern part of the US. People don't just start a conversation with you or really smile at you seeming like they are open for conversation. I gave up trying to friend the other moms at the kids school because everyone just seemed closed off. Jon said I should try to mention something about the weather when trying to meet someone because Brits love to talk about the weather. I've tried it a few times but have never gotten anywhere.

If however, you are introduced to someone by a mutual acquaintance, then you can have pleasant conversation and begin to get to know someone. I've decided this stems from the old custom from hundreds of years ago that it was socially taboo to talk to anyone whom you have not been formally introduced. Think Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins tries to speak to Mr. Darcy and makes a complete fool of himself. Even though this custom is not formally a part of the culture--it still has an impact on how people interact. I have found it much easier to talk with other international students from other cultures than with Brits.

Jon took Ewan to a birthday party several months back and stood next to two other dads for a good 30 minutes before either of them finally started talking to him. Since then, he has a comfortable relationship with one of the dads and they would chat when they ran into each other at school drop off. Two weeks ago Jon came with me to pick up the boys and he started chatting with his friend (Jason). Even though Jon and I were standing next to each other Jason would not address me in conversation until Jon said, "Jason, I'd like to introduce you to my wife, Amelia." And even though Jason and I have seen each other everyday for months at pick up time and our 2 and 3 year olds have talked he only now will smile and wave hi since the formal introduction.

Of course there are exceptions in all cultural behaviors but that has been my experience. I'm glad that I have a better understanding of how things work because it helps me in my day to day perspective.

At Ewan's soccer (or should I say football?) class there were two other moms (who were friends) in the gallery above the gym watching their kids in the class. I had Graham and Isaac with me and they were playing and/or doing homework while Ewan's class was going on. I finally decided that the American in my was going to come out and I asked them a question about some of the t-shirts the other kids were wearing in the class. I had another question about football leagues in the area and lo and behold we engaged in conversation for the whole time. And yes, we did talk about the weather. I was so excited that I got to talk with other moms and feel more connected to the community my kids are in. Time easily could have passed where they only talked to each other. I was glad I took the risk to engage in conversation.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So, It's been 2 months...

So, it's been 2 months since I've written any blog post.

What have we been up to?

March 20th-April 21st we went back to the States for a visit. We visited family and friends and even though we were there for a month we didn't get to see e
veryone we wanted to see. We decided that April is the BEST month to visit Texas because you get wonderful spring weather and get to avoid the dreary (aka cold and rainy) English weather for a whole month.

We visited Alnwick Castle (pronounced Annick) and thoroughly enjoyed the grounds and pleasant weather that day. The Duke and his family still live there. The gardens are absolutely beautiful.

Spring has finally arrived in Durham and all the trees now have green on them. The daffodils have bloomed and now the tulips are in bloom. Canola (here they call it Rapeseed oil) fields are in bloom and beautiful over the English countryside.

Graham is thrilled that he can wear his Crocs without socks. "I no not wear socks with my crocs, Mommy?" He was a little concerned about not having to wear socks.

Isaac has lost his first tooth.

Graham is now sleeping in a Big Boy Bed. Thankfully it has been a smooth transition--no Jack in the Boxing from him--yet. It's been a month now and he's been doing great! Next task is potty training. We're bracing ourselves for a more difficult transition. We'll start that in early June.

I'm 30 (almost 31 weeks) along in the pregnancy. The baby LOVES to kick around and do his alien baby moves every night from about 9:30-11:30. He is pretty active. Even though we are planning on this being our last baby--I'm ready for the pregnancy to be over. I know I'll miss all the baby kicks and it is easier to take care of a baby in my belly than on the outside but--all the extra effort of exercising so diligently, watching what I'm eating, checking my blood sugar is wearing on me. I'm trying not to worry about having another Graham sized baby but it is difficult not to. I won't be sad if the baby comes a few weeks early! I'm sure the next 9 weeks will go by quickly. Probably a little too quickly for Jon who is working on writing his Masters Thesis.

Jon is enjoying studying and working on his thesis. His goal is to finish before the baby comes. I hope that happens! The sooner he finishes the longer break he has before he starts working on his Doctorate thesis.

We've discovered our new favorite park (Riverside in Chester-le-Street--pronounced ChesterLEEStreet). We have to drive there--it only takes about 10 minutes but it is perfect for all 3 boys. It has sand to play in, lots of modern climbing equipment, swings, slides, fields for running, playing football or picnicking, and a river with swans to watch.

Ewan has started collecting Match Attaxx which is a British football (soccer) trading card phenomena. He is very excited about collecting and trading cards.

Ewan has switched from Year 1 to Year 2 in school. With the way British schools work, he should have started the school year in Year 2 (equivalent of 1st grade) but we asked if he could be in Year 1 instead since he didn't attend Kindergarten in the US. The school agreed to let him be in Year 1 with the intention of moving him to Year 2 at some point in the year. His teacher, the principal (or Head Teacher), and the Year 2 teacher all agreed that he was ready to transition after the Easter break. The transition has gone well and he enjoys being in Year 2. He is still not quite caught up but he works hard at school (at home is another issue) and is learning a lot. I'm amazed at some of the things they are learning already--like cursive! We've been doing a handwriting bootcamp of sorts at home to help him correct bad printing habits and will move on to a cursive bootcamp when he completes his printing one. Ewan enjoys math and science. Writing--not so much--but only because he struggles with writing. I'm hoping that the bootcamp will boost his confidence and ability to write down his (creative and wonderful) thoughts.

We've also discovered a farm that sells raw milk and the BEST ice cream in England. You can also purchase beef from their grass fed and very well taken care of cows. Why buy the crappy ice cream at the store that has VEGETABLE OIL in it when you can get homemade ice cream made from Jersey Cows? We've tried the chocolate (to die for), coconut, wild cherry, lemon sorbet, and wild strawberry. All wonderful--made with REAL ingredients. The farm has a parlour with an indoor preschool play area and a play area outside for running around. The name of the farm is Wheelbirks in case you are ever traveling in Northern England and want a cozy place to have some coffee and ice cream.

That's all for now.....Next stop London. We'll be taking a little vacay there soon. The boys are VERY excited about their first trip to Legoland. I'm excited about my first visit to London. I'm curious about the difference in the northern England culture and "The South" as it is referred to here.

One more is 9:38pm and still bright out. The sun starts shining around 3:30 (maybe earlier). How's that for a long day?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day in England? Just a Pinch.

Cultural Note:

So, yesterday I (Jon) was in class.  After noting the date I was writing into my notes, I remarked (before we started) to my professor (an Aussie who has lived most of this life in the UK) and the other students (2 from the USA, 1 from Canada, 1 from Germany, 1 from Australia, 3 from England) that today was going to be St Patrick's Day.

There was a very minimal amount of acknowledgment about the veracity of this statement so I followed it up with an observation,
"It doesn't seem like St Patrick's Day is celebrated as much here as in the US."
(I had noticed how there isn't green everywhere and big sales on Guiness or stuff like that.  No sign of an impending party anywhere!)

Professor Barton agreed,
"You might find more of it in someplace like Liverpool where there are more Irish immigrants."

"Hmm!" I said, "That's interesting!  I had never realized how much Irish culture has impacted American culture."
(I realized at that moment that the UK has cumulatively been through hundreds of years of war with the Irish, so celebrating their nation may seem a bit odd?  I think there are still parties here but perhaps this history tempers the excitement.)

(There was a pause--as there often is in British conversation--to weigh the merits of such a statement.)
Then, my fellow American, Orrey, spoke up [correct me if I'm wrong Orrey but this is the way I remember it]...
 "I guess you don't do the pinching thing here."

Prof Barton looked a little stunned and quipped,

"We have laws about behaviour like that!"

We all had a big laugh and started class.  I'm not sure the other non-North Americans had any idea what Orrey and I were talking about!  I wonder what they think of us now??