Monthly Archives: January 2013

Climate Change

20130204-155132.jpgIt has been interesting for the kids to see the seasons here in Britain. When we arrived here at the beginning of August, it had been raining non-stop for about three months, I think. And three months can seem like three years when you’re waiting for some sunshine. All people talked about was the rain, and the disastrous and constant flash floods that were still affecting parts of the country even then. So much was the prevailing preoccupation with the wet weather that our oldest daughter subtitled her travel blog Travel Tips and Wellingtons. It seemed like we were destined for a month of waterproofs and wellies, and we were ready for that, but in fact, August was full of dry days and sunshine.
And I’m not even sure anyone noticed, actually, because I still hear people lamenting over the fact that it rained all summer. The amount and duration of the rain that had fallen from May through July completely overwhelmed everyone’s memory to the point that they have no recollection of the good weather! Another reason it may be so hard to remember any good weather is that all the seasons can really be much the same. There are not the extremes we see at home. Summer can pretty much just meld into winter with not that much of a variety in between.
The weather does seem to take on a life of its own, that’s for sure. It not only dominates conversation, but also seems to determine the relative “good”ness or “bad”ness of a day, a week, oreven a month. It’s not just raining, it is horrible. It’s not just cold, it is bitter. Even the weather reporters do it – it’s no longer just a fact, it has a value judgment attached! And to be fair, you can see why. It does rain a lot. And there can be very long stretches where you just don’t see the sun.
Anyway, the kids have made some interesting comments about the climate here in Britain. Here are just a few:

It’s weird, isn’t it, how you can have a sunrise and a sunset, but not actually have any sun?

There is no sky here. It’s just whiteness. Everywhere.

When you get muddy in England, you’re just dirty. But when you get muddy on PEI, you’re tanned!

And most recently, after a particularly frightening snow forecast:

Ha! This is hilarious! They forecast 2.6 millimeters of snow for tomorrow! At home they don’t even bother to mention it if its less than 3 centimeters!

Having said all that, we have been very lucky with the weather since arriving here. We’ve had a bit of everything – including sunshine! And when it’s – 35c at home, we’ll take this dull 4 degrees without many complaints!

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Movie Magic

I have been very excited, like many others I’m sure, for the release of Les Miserables this month on the big screen. But I had a special reason to be excited (other than the fact that I wanted to see it). Dev and I had asked my grandmother if she’d like to go see it with us for her 92nd birthday. I haven’t been around to celebrate many of my grandmother’s birthdays, but I know she always says she doesn’t want gifts, so this seemed like a great option.
You might not think this is reason for excitement, but here’s the best part: we asked her when she last went to the movies, and she said, “Well, I can remember going with Bill and my mum to that really epic film – I can’t think of the name of it…”. Turns out, she meant Gone With the Wind! And then she remembered a much more recent one that she had been to with my parents. Before they were married. That one was The Sound of Music, which was released in 1965.
So that’s why I was so excited. How often do you get the opportunity to give someone a birthday gift like that?! To let them experience something they haven’t experienced in almost fifty years!? I couldn’t wait to see her reaction, to hear her stories of what it had been like at the movies back then…
So, we went yesterday. Les Miserables in all it’s gruesome glory. She was amazed at the size of the theatre, the size of the screen, and the number of different theaters in the building. When we first got to our seats, she thought the cup holders were ash trays, and she told us how you used to be able to see the smoke curling upwards when the projection lights came on because everyone smoked. She told us how little and dirty the cinema had been, and how hard the seats were. How the sound would often disappear. How they had to stop the film to change reels. How they passed around sticks of rhubarb and a bag of sugar at intermission. She marveled at the amount of leg room we had, and how comfy the seats were.
It was fantastic. There is something very special about spending time with someone who has experienced the vast and unimaginable changes the world has seen over the past century. She was born four years before John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of television at Selfridges in London. Now people watch movies on their cellphones. It is amazing. She is a piece of living history, and we are so lucky to learn from her. It is so much fun seeing her reaction when we FaceTime her great grandchildren who are 3000 miles away. Or when she watches our nieces play on the Wii. Or when we show her pictures of herself on the ipad that we just took 3 seconds ago. I keep trying to think what other “new” experiences we can have together!
Maybe a 3D movie next time:)


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Diamond in the Rough

Sometimes places that might appear to have little going for them are actually housing a gem or two that would make a visit well worthwhile. As I recently flipped through one of the many Yorkshire brochures scattered throughout our room scanning for potential “field trips”, I noticed a Science Adventure Park that looked interesting. The thing about it that surprised me, though, was that it was in Rotherham. To put that in perspective for those unfamiliar with the area, there’s Sheffield, a thriving multicultural university city full of diversity, great little pubs, and interesting people (like Kim and Toby). And then there’s Rotherham. Which, as far I was aware, is just a place on the outskirts of Sheffield. I didn’t know there was anything there. In my head, I picture it gray.

Anyway, we decide to give the place a try, and depart at 9:30 on Friday morning en route to Magna, accompanied by our three lovely children and their whiny “but I hate museums” type comments. It is clear this day could go either way.
When we arrive, we sign up for the steel guide tour which starts immediately. This is a tour of the shop floor of the building, which used to be Templeborough Steelworks, one of the biggest steel recycling plants in the world. At its peak, it was a mile long, employed well over 10,000 people, and was producing 1.8 million tonnes of steel per year. Our tour guide is John, a very knowledgable semi-retired former employee of the steelworks. Needless to say, he is well qualified to show us around!
After that, we have four pavilions to explore on our own – Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, each full of interactive, hands-on science experiments for the kids (and us). We go from wind tunnels and fire tornados, to water wheels and rock demolition.
All in all, it was a great experience. (If you go in the winter, though, be warned – it is very cold. Wear your winter woolies!) The kids loved it. Each pavilion was better than the last, and five hours later, after a quick run around outside in “the best playground in the world” while we warmed up the car, we were on our way home. This time, all I heard from the back of the car was, “Thank you for taking us to Magna – it was awesome!”
I have a new respect for Rotherham now, and the whole experience has reminded me how ridiculous it is to assume that just because a place may not have the best reputation, it has nothing to offer. I listened to John speak with pride about how the melting shop is actually in the Guinness Book of Records for having recycled the most steel in one day, and how it provided shells for World War I, and parts for Rolls Royce cars and jet engines. It turns out, Rotherham itself has a history that dates back to medieval times when it was a thriving market town, and it even had a college that supposedly rivaled Oxford and Cambridge! It was the place to be in the 16th century too until Edward VI stripped its assets and left it a destitute den of vice…but that’s probably a story for another time.
Anyway, now it is a work in progress – an urban regeneration project. And it is home to 250,000 people. That’s more people than there are in my entire province.
Perhaps Rotherham is just a victim of circumstance, one of the many industrialized British towns crippled by the demise of heavy industry and one financial crisis after another. And at least it has done something productive with its abandoned steelworks.

Lesson learned. If you judge a book by its cover, you might miss out on an amazing story!






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Coast Roads

This is a tip for novice travellers based on our recent European road trip. When you look at a road atlas to plan your route, and you see a coast road that looks like it will be much more scenic than the more inland highway, do some further research before you decide to take it. As we discovered in Europe, many such roads offer you barely a glimpse of the coast, certainly not enough to warrant taking a slower road. Sometimes because of trees (but not often), other times because of how built up an area is (more often), and sometimes because of tunnels (most often).
Lets talk about tunnels for a moment. They are hateful. You can literally drive for hours with only fleeting glances of daylight as you exit one tunnel and enter the next. No views. And they are really long and dark sometimes. And crazy busy. Especially in Italy. Drivers in Italy are aggressive and fast, and that’s hard to get used to when you come from a small rural community in Canada, but combine that with a tunnel, and it can be a little frightening.
On the other hand, I guess the alternative to these tunnels would be aggressive, fast Italian drivers on winding mountain roads. That’s a little hairy as well. And in less cosmopolitan areas where there are still little mountain roads, the scenery can be stunning, but if you have my head for heights, you rarely appreciate it as you grip the car door handles and look the other way, hoping your husband doesn’t drive off the edge while he is marveling over that same stunning scenery.
I sound like I’m whining. My point here, though, is about expectations. I expected, for example, to drive from Genova to Cinque Terre on a scenic coast road, and instead we whizzed there through a series of tunnels. And when we actually got off the tunnel route into the part with the scenic coast road, the road was very different than I expected it to be. For example, I expected that it would be wide enough for two vehicles. And I expected there to be the odd guard rail on sections where there was a 500 foot drop if you happened to swerve off the road to avoid an oncoming vehicle or something.
Basically, what it all boils down to is this. I did not know how to read a road map. For example, I did not realize that a wiggly road on a map meant you would probably be meandering up, over, around, and through mountains. Or that a coast road was not necessarily a coast road. And my expectations were off. Purely because of my own naivety. In fact, my expectations of roads were based mostly on Atlantic Canadian roads (straight) and British motorways (also straight). And having never spent any time in mountainous regions, I didn’t realize….well, I didn’t realize lots of things. And let me make it clear that these are my observations only – not necessarily those of the rest of my family. Or any other normal people.
You know, what I really could have used on this trip is one of those great big plastic relief maps with all the mountains in 3D. You know the ones you could practically climb into. Like Joey on Friends when he visits London. That would have made things a lot easier!

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2012 in Review

This is the review sent to me by the WordPress Monkeys apparently. I don’t know who they are, but I picture a Santa’s Workshop type situation, but with monkeys instead of elves.
Anyway, it was kind of fun to look at (for me), given that I felt I thrived on “comments” and “likes”. Turns out, I didn’t get many of those, but I loved blogging all the same! And I was surprised at how many posts I had actually published in 2012! I have been super lazy with my writing lately, but I will resolve to begin again with the dilemmas and adventures of 2013. We are currently on dilemmas actually, as we try to negotiate travel arrangements for the next four months. I feel kind of like we’re starting all over again, and it’s taking up a lot of time and energy. That, combined with trying to cram math into the kids while cramming chocolate into my mouth hasn’t left me with a lot of blogging time. The Christmas chocolate is almost all gone, though, so I’m thinking my general productivity should increase as the pile of chocolate decreases. That’s the hope, anyway.
Happy New Year, Everyone, and thanks for reading! Here’s to a 2013 full of exciting educational adventures! (And hopefully a beach or two – they can totally be educational.)

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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