Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Our last few days in England

Hello Readers,
We are almost done with our assignment now so our time has changed from enjoying the experience to closing everything down and wrapping up all of the loose ends.  Tuesday of last week our air shipment was packed and then Wednesday and Thursday the kids helped me clean the house.  Definitely not the most fun days spent over here but the time was well spent as we sailed through the house walk through with the owner in less than half an hour Sunday morning.  One more item checked off the list.

Final look at the houses across the road from our house.  When we first moved that area was an abandoned retirement home in various states of decomposition.  Now it is turning into a group of houses.  Kind of a bummer that we didn't get to see the completed transformation.

Our apartment dining room and family room for the curious.  It is a large two bedroom apartment so we won't be cramped during our last couple of weeks in Derby.  

A Helo model small electric heated dry sauna is included in the apartment.  I've used it a few times.  Since it is a dry sauna it is used in conjunction with a shower.  The temperature rises to 160 F and settles at 150 F so it is enough to sweat a bit. 
We have been looking for new sights or attractions the last few months and while driving in Derby last week we saw a sign for the Sikh Museum (website) so thought this would be something new for us.  We stopped by Saturday to check it out and it did end up being a new experience but not quite what we were expecting.  When I read the website it came across to me as being a "drop by and look at the material" type of museum but when we stopped by it was locked.  In the window was a sign telling us to go next door if it is locked so we did and asked a person if the museum was open.  She said it was and went to get someone.  Fast forward ten minutes and a person comes into the waiting hall to introduce himself.  Turns out he was a priest who gave us a tour of the praying halls while we waited for the person to come and open the museum.  We said sure as we weren't exactly sure what to expect and removed our shoes and put on the head coverings for the praying halls building/temple tour.
Two lions guarding a locked door.  The start of an interesting and unpredictable couple of hours.
In the waiting hall were a few paintings of actual Sikh historical events (read about Sikhs here).  One was of Sikhs sitting on a railroad track as a train runs them over which we found out was based upon them trying to prevent the British soldier filled train from stopping in Punjab, India.  Per our guide two Sikhs had their legs cut off from the train.  There was also a painting of a person being scalped alive (not sure what that event captured), a person being boiled alive in a huge pot (related to Indian Islamists trying to convert the Sikh Guru to Hindu - did not work) and a person being burned alive while hanging upside down (related to converting the Guru again).  According to our guide the last two paintings were related to the Islamists trying to get the 9th Guru to convert to Hinduism.  The Guru would not convert and was eventually beheaded.  I found this link if you want to read about the 9th Guru yourself.  
Also in the waiting hall was the Shaheedi Wall, a brutally realistic wall of posters and Sikh obituaries.

Here is one of the leaders killed in the Sikh fight for an independent state from India.

Hard to get more realistic than looking at someone's death picture.  No sugar coatings today.
In the temple our tour included an explanation of the normal temple layout.  You start at the shoe locker then walk through the rest of the temple which requires no shoes and a covered head which made Karl uncomfortable.  The second room was a kitchen and praying area where any visitors are welcomed to eat at any time although we passed on the offer.  The upstairs of the temple (think two story modern day conference hall building when I say temple) had a praying room where a lady was reading/singing out of their holy book and another hall used for weddings, funerals and baptisms.  About midway through the tour Lori and I figured out the museum wasn't a "drop by and look at the material" type of museum but a "guided tour of Sikhism required to visit the museum" type of museum.  It was okay once we figured it out but I have to admit we (Lori and I) felt a tad misled. 
The priest was extremely helpful and explained a lot to us on our tour.  A few Sikh religion items we learned:  The first Guru founded the religion in the 1400's in the Punjab region of modern day India.  He founded the religion under the idea that God is in everything - people, animals, and plants; and that all people including women are equal.  They do not eat meat, fish, or eggs but do not consider themselves vegetarians.  The 5th Guru compiled their holy book from many different religions, 20 if I remember correctly, and the book is 1430 pages long.  There are 10 Gurus and after the 10th Guru they made their holy book the Guru so that no more humans will be gurus.  The book is in poem form and all the lines are numbered so no modifications to the book may be made.  They don't convert people to Sikhism and allow anyone to pray in their temples provided they follow certain rules.  The baptized Sikhs have head coverings, an iron wrist ring, a ceremonial dagger, shorts they wear under their clothes, and don't shave their facial hair.  Although they don't convert people in order to become a Sikh you must pass a verbal test with the priest before they can be baptized.  He did seem to contradict himself a couple of times; once when I asked him if a child of a Sikh can grow and pray in the temple without being baptized he said no, they have to be baptized.  He himself was not raised as Sikh and his parents are not Sikh but he is Sikh so that seemed a little like converting to me so he did confuse us a couple of times.  Maybe he meant they don't actively scour the communities to recruit people to their religion like other religions do?  He said Sikhs live by three principles - pray to God (no idols or symbols in Sikhism), be honest in your life and dealings, and selflessly share with others.  He did tell us more and answered our questions but I forget the rest of the tour.  Extremely interesting although Lori and I felt a little sucked in.     
By now it was after noon and the person was there to open the museum even though the online hours say 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM.  The priest then walked us over to the small museum and talked some more before apologizing that he had to leave to attend to something else.  (He made the comment of having more time for us if we had booked a tour which reinforced to Lori and I that the museum wasn't as straightforward as it appears online.)  The three room museum focused on Sikhs in the World Wars, a few weapons, some cultural items like comic books, and a video on the attack on the Golden Temple Complex and its aftermath.  I only was able to read half of the museums as it was later than we had planned and the family was getting cranky and hungry.  For the record I was only hungry.

The Sikhs and British started out fighting when the Brits tried colonizing them (sarcastic surprise) then became partners.  80-some thousand Sikhs died fighting with/for Britain in the World Wars and Britain honored them by naming three vessels for them.

Also in the museum were boards of Sikh people who fought in the various wars.

India surrounded and attacked the Golden Temple (link) in search of a Sikh leader in 1984 killing thousands and enraging the Sikhs who responded by assassinating Indira Ghandi (Wiki link).  India responded by months of anti-Sikh riots that killed thousands of Sikhs.
Model of the Golden Temple before the attack.

One of the twelve or so hanging boards about 1984. 
Overall the free admission museum and temple tour was interesting and worth a stop in spite of us feeling a little suckered.  From what we saw, read and heard the Sikh history sounded very violent for a peace loving people.  Kind of reminded me of some parts in Israel.  One of the questions I was going to ask the priest but didn't since he was getting long winded and we were getting hungry was why was India persecuting them in the first place?  I guess India is not tolerant to other religions but I am guessing I would find a different take on the Sikhs if we were to learn about them in a Hindu or Islam museum in India. 

The final Facial Hair of the Month was maybe the most difficult one to select.  I did have some ideas that didn't make the cut - Monkey Tail (thanks but no thanks Dana), Two Face (from Batman comics), Reverse Beard (really unpopular with the boss), and Reverse Goatee (very tempting).  But ultimately I had a last second inspiration.  There isn't really a reason for my final style, I was just trying to do something different than the other winners.  The final facial hair is the Chin Guard, partly for my love of American football which I will be able to watch ALL THE TIME this season (yeah Lori!) but mostly from my laziness.  Us retired folks don't have a lot of free time to spend fashioning facial hair you know.

The Chin Guard relaxing in the apartment once our house was cleaned.

Happy Father's Day to all of the Dad's in the audience.  I had a low key day as the house turnover to the owner was late morning.  It turned out to be a quick inspection and then she signed off on the house which ended up going much smoother than I expected with all of the problems we had with her.  The house was much cleaner than when we took it over so we didn't anticipate any issues but she often surprised us so we are glad that is behind us.  In the afternoon Karl and I went to see Iron Man 3 since his birthday present this year was supposed to be seeing Iron Man 3 on opening night but Lori went home that week so we didn't see it.  The movie itself was a little disappointing to me, lots of talking and non-Iron Man armor action.  I mean, who goes to see Iron Man and doesn't expect to see the armor flying around shooting bad guys like in the first two movies?  There was also some social commentary themes to the movie which I didn't expect or appreciate in a comic book movie.  I don't mind social commentary in movies about actual events, I just don't think the film maker/writer/whoever should put their personal views in the story line of a comic book unless the movie follows a comic book storyline.  Karl liked it but I thought it was the worst of the trilogy.  Or maybe I am turning into a grumpy movie goer.  We finished off Father's Day going to carvery at The Cooper's Arms (website) with our next door neighbors from Washington state the Greggs.  Todd works at Rolls and was part of our American football watching group for my regular readers.  Heather is not in the BHC because there is another network of American ex-pats who are all RR subcontractors and unfortunately their meeting day is the same as ours so we were never able to connect the two groups.  Once again the company was better than the food which was pretty good.  We had an enjoyable evening discussing vacations, English living, American living and a list of other topics with them while the kids occupied themselves outside after eating their carvery.

Lori hadn't been here before until we pulled up and she said, oh wait I've been here before.  Apparently she was here for training with Kuk but didn't remember the name (typical for her).  Another reason why I am the vacation planner.

Dana Johnson Pic - My final English carvery.  Food tasted good although the Yorkshire Pudding (still just bread Dana) was in the shape of a muffin instead of a bowl which I didn't like.  I do like the bowl shape where you put the veg in the bowl then drown everything in gravy. 

Kalle, Mia and Hadley for the final time.  On our street there were four houses in a row where five girls would hang out together which Kalle will miss.  Besides us and the Greggs were two English resident houses rounding out the five girl group.  Unfortunately shy Karl never made any neighborhood friends while social Kalle did which made the experience better for her I think.  Hopefully they will keep in touch with the (sometime) blessing of modern technology.  
Dana Johnson Pic - Greek Salad with bread and a few dips.  Later in the week we met the Tim, Laverne and Megan for a Greek meal at Steliana's and Sapho's Greek Restaurant.  Food was pretty good, a few dishes tasted like our Greece meals while others were a little off.  They just came back from Switzerland and Germany so it was fun comparing our experiences since we did some of the same places on our trip.  Another fun evening of catching up with friends before we head across the pond for the final time.
Funny things you see in England.  This is the safe to walk green guy.

And this is the not safe to walk red guy.  I guess he is off kilter so the tipsy folks see him more clearly?
My final Better Halves Club lunch was at the New Water Margin (website), a Cantonese and Pekingese restaurant.  We were finally able to connect with the other American ex-pats here (thanks Luella) who are sub-contracted to a different division of Rolls so there isn't very much interaction between the two groups.  Hopefully they will be able to mix more in the future now that they have exchanged information and the first meeting is in the books.  The food was good (Kalle and I shared four Dim Sum dumpling and roll dishes) and it was nice to finally meet the people of the other group.  

Both of our groups, we were eighteen people strong including the kids.

A heartfelt thank you to all my fellow Better Halves Club members Stephanie, Yuka, Cindy, Becky, Sarah A. and adorable Anna, Sarah H., Mattie, Tracey and my little buddy Andrew, Kerry, Brittany, Christy and the best behaved two little girls I have ever seen, Luella, Kristy and happy Xavier, and of course Laverne and Shirley (who also go by Lori and Agnes).  I will miss getting together with them as I always looked forward to seeing everyone and catching up on vacations, local events, and just life in general.  The club was therapeutic as I transitioned to life in England and always a fun couple of hours once I settled in.  Life as the non-working spouse can be a little tough at times.  The working spouse maintains their work routine which I think is an easier transition than the non-working spouse.  Granted the work environment is different here but they still have a routine to follow that is similar to their life in America.  Most of the spouses had jobs in America but when they come over here they don't work, don't know many people including their new neighbors, and have to adjust to new schools/stores/transportation/etc.  The club was my support system (and hopefully the others felt the same way) which really helps during the low times of the secondment roller coaster.  Talking to other Americans that are going through the same pains and sharing tips to get through said pain was an immense help.  Thanks again to all of the BHC reading this - you made my experience here much more enjoyable and I'm glad I was able to share it with each and every one of you.  You are in good hands with Laverne who was "voluntold" that she is in charge of the group now that I am leaving you.  The most satisfying part of the club is that they want it to continue after I leave so hopefully it will be as helpful to the new and existing members as it was for me.   

This will probably be my last post until mid July as we are going to Iceland next weekend then will be flying back to America the day before my birthday.  The kids and I will be in the UP in early July so once I am back in Brownsburg after the holiday I will catch up.  Sorry for the delay but we will have a lot of settling in to do in Brownsburg and a lot of people to see in Michigan so catching up the blog will be a low priority.  Sorry for the delay and I'll see youse guys (practicing my UP slang) back here in a few weeks.

Thanks for listening,

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Time to start packing

Well Readers, our time is winding down so I am not sure how much sightseeing we will be doing until Iceland so the next couple of posts may be slightly different than my previous posts.  We have started selling our items as we transition to our temporary housing and need to clear out our house.  In addition to the household items I also sold my car to webuyanycar.com which was the typical car buying/selling experience.  I won't go over everything in detail but basically you fill in the car details, submit it on the website, and they reply back with a trade in valuation.  If you accept the valuation the next step is to schedule a car inspection appointment for them to check out the car then they deposit the money into your bank account.  Or so the advertisements claim.  The valuation was fair which made me curious as I expected them to offer a lower price but I set up the appointment nonetheless.  I knew something was up when I went there and the guy did the inspection then said he had to put the data into his program.  Yup, here we go.  The program valuation was ~400 pounds less than the initial valuation so we started the car dealing discussions.  He explained that the website has a tab that allows the user to select dents, dings, scratches, etc. that need to be fixed that will lower the value but neither Lori or I saw it so apparently we entered the data for a perfect condition car.  Interestingly enough, when we were going over the valuation he was taking phone calls (annoying and poor customer service I thought) and one was from a lady saying that she had a car with some small dents on it but didn't see on the website where you identify those.  The guy took her number and said he would call her back but that validated to me that this tab is either nonexistent or hidden, either way I now know why the valuation was higher than I expected.  So we dicker and he comes up a bit but not enough so I said I was going to shop the car some more as the offer wasn't high enough.  He then gives me the normal junk about the age of the car, no one will give you any more than this, I've been in the business 25 years, my job is to buy the car so what can I do, etc. etc.  We negotiate a bit more and finally end up roughly splitting the difference between the two valuations and I sell the car.  (FYI for the ex-pats who bought their own cars - you can take the tax disc with you and apply for the prorated refund yourself instead of turning in the disc with the car.)  We also cancelled the car insurance so we'll get a prorated refund from that as well.  We're swimming in money now folks.  Okay not so much but the extra money is nice as we transition back home.  And my car is sold so that is one more item off the checklist which more of a psychological relief than money relief.

My one and probably only Vauxhall car. 

A Carol Seppanen Book Update - I took a thick book with me to Greece and finally finished it.  Exile by Richard North Patterson, 708 pages, is a book centering on the Jewish and Palestinian conflict that I found entertaining throughout and occasionally captivating.  I picked it up because we have travelled to some of the book locations such as San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Masada, and Jerusalem.  I have been more curious of the Israel - Palestine conflict since our educational Israel trip and this book did a good job of explaining both sides of the conflict.  I am sure I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much if we hadn't been to the area and seen some of the issues first hand.  Overall a well told story with a few predictable twists that was easy to read.

On Saturday we sold some more items in the morning and went to the Henkles for a Greek themed dinner.  Our Greek contribution was Mythos beer.  Food was very good and we had a fun time talking about the assignment, vacations and a metric tonne of other subjects.  We really enjoyed the night and the kids got along really well in spite of (or maybe because of?) the age differences.  A great start to the weekend.  Thanks Jeff and Sarah!

The cute girls in the family room probably about to get into trouble.  You know how girls are.
The boys in the backyard kicking around the football (European not American) and just generally causing mischief.

On Sunday our buddy Steve organized a going away dinner for us at our favorite local pizza place, The Bull's Head.  This is also the gathering place for our quarterly Rolls Royce get togethers as they have a garden room large enough to sit big parties. 
My chair at the head of the table.  Hard to see since I am sitting in it but it is a heavy gnarled wooden chair you'd expect to find in a Canadian moose hunting lodge. 

Sarah Anderson Pic - Thanks to the Greggs, Henkles, McMasters, Freys, Kisers, Brandon, and Marlys for coming out and wishing us goodbye.  One thing we will definitely miss as we return home is these events where a bunch of us get together and catch up on life in general.  The experience can be a little isolating and home sick at times so talking with a bunch of Americans for a few hours in a relaxed atmosphere is always refreshing.  

Dana Johnson Pic - Wood fired oven pizza covered in ham, red peppers, pepperoni, mushroom, and cheese.  I'm not sure if the pizza was really good or if the night was that all around fun but this was one of my favorite Bull's Head pizzas.
Kevin Coleman Pic - My last Freedom 4% Alcohol beer in England.  Pretty tasty.  They also have a Freedom 5% but it tastes a little sharp for me so I prefer the 4%. 
Thanks Steve, we had a great time with everyone and really appreciated you organizing this for us.
This week is more packing, sorting, selling, donating, trashing, and cleaning.  We are in temporary housing for a couple of weeks and need to clean out our house in order to turn it over to the owner this weekend.  The air shipment in packed and on its way and our packed luggage is at our apartment so all that's left is to sell/donate our remaining furniture, throw out the trash or what didn't fit in the air shipment, and clean the place.  We were able to sell most of our furniture and donated a lot of clothes which helped make the final couple of months more smooth.  We also started sorting, donating and trashing about five months ago which was a great idea.  Still more work to do but I think we are comfortably ahead of the deadlines now.
More fun with the Henkles.  Yoda is guiding my X-Wing Fighter on the SatNav.  Sure makes my SatNav monster truck lame.  I borrowed their micro van (minivan by English standards, micro van by American standards) to move some items and Yoda companioned me the whole way.  In case you are wondering how big the van was, when I took the two single mattresses over to Brittany's house I had to put down all the other seats and leave the kids home.  The mattresses were actually pushing on me as I drove so I was leaning towards the window the whole time.  Just another one of those English memories from our adventure.

Thanks for listening,

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Manchester with the Stines

Hello Readers,
We had the pleasure of spending last weekend with the Stines in Manchester.  Lori and Christy are friends from their Michigan Tech days (all four of us were there at the same time but Dan and I didn't know each other then) and we would get together once a quarter back in the States.  Obviously we haven't gotten together since we have been in England but we did see Christy in Amsterdam (read about it here) and had a great time except for touring the worst tulip garden EVER.  This time Christy was over for work and they decided to combine in a family vacation which means we get to see Dan and the kids as well.  Quadruple bonus! 
We drove up Saturday morning and ended up beating all of them to the hotel thanks to early rising and their flight times.  Dan and the kids came over from the US so they were battling jet lag throughout the day while Christy came over from Europe so she was adjusted to the time change already.  After everyone showed up at the hotel and checked in we decided upon a plan of action - Liverpool.  Christy is a Beatles fan and we liked Liverpool (trip 1 here and trip 2 here) so Lori bought the tickets and we headed to the train station. 
Christy Stine Pic - Radio tower in Liverpool.
Christy Stine Pic - Liverpool Cathedral from Albert Dock.

Christy Stine Pic - The Three Graces behind the Albert Dock (link).

Christy Stine Pic - We went back to What's Cooking? to eat lunch.  Interesting place, it isn't quite American and isn't quite English food.  Sadie, Kalle, Karl and Ethan are all watching Christy's camera instead of mine.

Dana Johnson Pic - My pulled pork barbecue sandwich.  Only a couple more months and I'll get real BBQ.  I can't hardly wait Ma.
Christy Stine Pic - After lunch we went to The Beatles Story, a pretty good museum covering The Beatles from beginning to ending.  Beatles fan Christy gave it an "it was okay".  I'll try not to cover to much of it since I've covered it in the other posts.

Christy Stine Pic - Poor Sadie had a meltdown between the train and restaurant, slept through lunch, then ate her lunch before the museum (we couldn't bring food in so we waited for her to eat).  She was back to her normal self after sleeping and eating.  Here's Dan with his video camera quizzing her on her meltdown.  Isn't she cute?   
Christy Stine Pic - Beatles beginning board #1.

Christy Stine Pic - Beatles beginning board #2.  Sorry for the blurry pic.

Christy Stine Pic - This poster must be a collector's item now.

Christy Stine Pic - The Beatles and Billy Fury.  Fury was an English singer from the 50's - 60's.  We saw his statue on a previous trip.

Christy Stine Pic - Abbey Road, one of the many London places on my list we never made it to.

Christy Stine Pic - The death of Epstein meant the death of The Beatles as they became divided over personal versus group goals.

Christy Stine Pic - Eleanor Rigby background.

Christy Stine Pic - Eleanor's grave.

Christy Stine Pic - Lori and Christy in front of the Yellow Submarine.  It was great to see them again.

Christy Stine Pic - At the end of the museum was a brief area on their post Beatles life.  Here is Ringo on one of his movie posters.

Christy Stine Pic - Paul and Linda in the Wings days.

Christy Stine Pic - John and Yoko in NY.

Christy Stine Pic - George and the rest of the Travelling Wilburys (link).

Christy Stine Pic - John's Imagine room. 

Christy Stine Pic - After the museum was a stop at the Funky Shake Bar.  Mine was vanilla and very good. 

Christy Stine Pic - A look at the River Mersey.  Very windy and a little cold thanks to the clouds and brisk wind tag team.

Christy Stine Pic - Waiting for the pedestrian crossing light to change so we can continue on our way to The Cavern Club.

Christy Stine Pic - John and the kids. 

Christy Stine Pic - Move on, move on, it's my turn.

Christy Stine Pic - We had to stop by The world famous Cavern Club.  We missed free entrance time and it looked like a band was playing so I stayed outside with the kids while Lori, Christy and Dan checked it out.  They liked it as much as I did, one of my favorite unique experiences in England.  This would be a fun place to take in a band but not tonight.  Maybe on our next trip to England.

Christy Stine Pic - The Grapes, a bar across from The Cavern Club which was frequented by the Fab Four and was where Best supposedly drowned his sorrows after being fired from the band. 
After Mathew Street we headed to the train station and went back to the hotel as they were starting to fade.  We ate dinner at the hotel bar then Dan, Karl and myself stayed up a bit to catch up on lost time.  

Christy Stine Pic - Beer vending machine in the hotel.  Make sure you are 18 if you buy any. 

Christy Stine Pic - After the Stines slept in past 25 snooze alarms Sunday morning we made it to the train to check out Manchester.  We needed a close destination since we were heading home in the afternoon so Manchester fit the bill.  Note my lens cover on the bottom left, I feel like Jeff Peters. 
Christy Stine Pic - The University of Manchester.  We haven't been to Manchester yet so now we can check it off our list.  Actually was never on our list so STRETCH GOAL!  Thanks Stines! 

Christy Stine Pic - A clock tower on our walk to see Abe. 

Christy Stine Pic - Dan wanted to try an English Cask Ale so we stopped at The Old Monkey to try some Joseph Holt of Manchester Award Winning Cask Ales.  Thanks to the Sleeping Stines it was afternoon by now so well past British time for a pint.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Joseph's Traditional Ale was a little darker than normal ale and a little better than normal English ale.  Dan was not loving the ambient beer temperature which takes a little getting used to.  Christy tried another flavor (I missed the pic, sorry) that tasted a little like feet.  Everyone should share a pint with Christy once in their life. 

Christy Stine Pic - Manchester's Chinatown.  We did not venture through the gate.

Christy Stine Pic - Karl by his barber shop.

Christy Stine Pic - Manchester town hall.
Christy Stine Pic - Edward III standing guard over the town hall.

Christy Stine Pic - The mobile ice cream vans are almost as abundant as the sheep in England.
Christy Stine Pic - We stumbled onto Manchester Day Parade which included singers and other festival type attractions.  Don't ask me what or why, I was just happy to see a parade.  Bring on the dancing bears and penny farthing riders!

Christy Stine Pic - But before the parade we found Abe.  Read here for an explanation on why Manchester has an Abraham Lincoln statue in Lincoln Park.

Christy Stine Pic - We walked back to town hall to pick a spot for the parade but decided to move after checking the parade route.  So we moved closer to the beginning of the route and away from the thicker crowds.
Christy Stine Pic - I wasn't sure what to expect but they lead with a band and then a handful of floats.

Christy Stine Pic - What's an English parade without the TARDIS?  That is from Dr. Who for the uninformed.  Watching Dr. Who episodes was our cultural preparation for England. 

Christy Stine Pic - An interesting float with a spinning person on top of the flower.  At least they blew a bunch of bubbles.

Christy Stine Pic - Roller derby teams always make parades better. 

Christy Stine Pic - I think something is lost in translation with the giant pencils.  They also had bands, clowns, and local businesses marching in the parade which I expected.

Christy Stine Pic - Football is another English parade requirement.

Christy Stine Pic - They also had this huge Irish Wolfhound.  Shortly after seeing him we left early to beat the crowds to a restaurant.  No candy throwers, that must be an American addition.

Christy Stine Pic - The Braid Twins looked adorable.

Dana Johnson Pic - My smoked salmon, horseradish cheese, and sweet pepper pizza was very good.

Christy Stine Pic - We ran into the Wolfhound later so we all stopped to pet him.
Christy Stine Pic - A random street picture.  Manchester doesn't have a really good reputation as a tourist town over here but we enjoyed our day out.

Christy Stine Pic - Another random street picture.  By now it's time to head back to the hotel and our car to drive home.  It would have been great to spend more time with the always fun Stines but work calls Lori so we grudgingly called it a weekend and headed home.

And how can I see Dan Stine and not have a "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week" moment?  This one was easy.  Our timing was not great as Sunday was the end of the school half term break so all of southern England went to the Lake District or western Scotland for the weekend.  And of course we picked the busiest time to ride the motorway.  It took us an hour to drive the first thirty minutes in heavy stop and go traffic.  Once we exited the motorway and took the highways home traffic moved normally so we were only delayed half an hour.  A little frustrating but could have been worse I guess.  A fun weekend overall though.

The Better Halves Club met this week again.  I know time is speeding up for me as it seemed like we met last week (not that I mind as I look forward to our lunches).  This time we met at the Bean CafĂ© (link) and there were eight and a half members with a couple of guest daughters.  Kalle and Laverne's daughter Megan joined us this week to round out the table.  The food was very good.  The next meeting will be my last meeting which will be very strange. 

Since we will be moving into temporary housing next week I marked the kids wall heights.  I marked them on the wall when we arrived to see how much they have grown in our time here.  On November 20th, 2011 Kalle was 4'10" tall and is now 5'-1 3/4" for a grand total of 3 3/4" of vertical stretching.  Karl was 5'-4 5/8" on November 20th, 2011 and is now 5'-7 1/2" for a grand total of 2 7/8" of vertical stretching.  Our weeds keep on growing.

Thanks for listening,