Friday, October 28, 2011

What boys do

When the boy cousins construct a brilliant, um, construction, and they don't want the other boy cousins to deconstruct it next time they're over, they hide it in Charlie's room.
Thinking that no one will find it.
Then they forget it's there and one day in the future I will take it apart and sneak it back into the bin.

This is what Jeff does when he wants to finish a brilliant Lego construction and doesn't want the little boy cousins to destroy it.
He hides it in his room.
And there it sits.
Until I get tired of looking at it and sneak it back into the Lego bin.

But maybe this time he will finish it, because these are my bags.

I'm packed and ready to leave early in the morning. 
Two measly carry-on bags.
Only three pairs of shoes and no laptop.
Stupid American Airlines.
Jeff will be alone for eight days while I am off ingratiating myself with the youngest grandchild, so who knows what wonders I will behold on my return?

Stay tuned for cute Elsie pictures.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Dying Year

Life has been really busy since we got home. 
Jeff and I were both back to work immediately. 
Then there were the tomatoes that had been picked by kind neighbours and were desperate to be roasted or canned. 
And the garden, though green, needs to be put to bed for the winter.
Come walk with me through the remains of summer.

The slugs are having a heyday with the hostas, which are fading fast.

The violet leaves are being shredded... the same dastardly critters.
Only I am the one with the slug bait.
I take a wicked delight in the slime trails that streak the damp ground the morning after I lay out the bait.

Seed heads abound. Some will be collected for next year, like the marigolds, but some will be left a while longer for the birds.

Hips are setting on the roses.
They're setting on me too!

The last of the rhubarb has been picked and used in rhubarb cake or frozen.
Why do I love rhubarb cake so much? I have made three of them in the last two weeks.
This year I decided to try covering the roots with the slug-eaten leaves.

Asparagus seeds are turning a lovely shade of crimson.
I found out why some stalks set seeds and some don't. 
Male and female.

I call this Grape-ageddon.
The last bunch has finally relinquished its juice to my tender mercies.

The week after we got home it rained incessantly and temperatures dropped.
The tomato plants did not respond well.
Be warned, the photos are not pretty.

This strawberry bed will be gone next year. Jeff has instructions to smother it with grass clippings.

The results of my canning efforts are sitting on my counter.
I have friends who do 50 quarts in a sitting. That has never been my style. A batch or two a day is my limit. 
My strategy is to leave them there for a few weeks so that I can appear to be industrious for as long as possible.

And the freezer is loaded to capacity with rhubarb and peaches and tomatoes.
And tilapia and sausage and chicken and....and...and....

In six days I will be with my little Elsie.
Oh, and Annie too!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cocoa: the cure for all that ails us

I had mentioned to Lynne that I wouldn't mind going to Bournville, the location of the original Cadbury's factory. They have created a factory tour that is a hybrid of the Tillamook Cheese Factory and Disneyland, part informational and part entertainment. So my new fairy godmother booked us tickets that allowed entry at 10:10 on Saturday morning. Efficiency to the nth degree.
We were ten minutes late, but they still let us in.
Our senses were accosted by chocolate on all sides. We smelled chocolate, we saw chocolate, and, at the end, we tasted chocolate. 
And purple was the colour of the day.

The Cadbury business model is unique and interesting. The story begins in 1824 when a young Quaker named John Cadbury opened a store in Birmingham. He sold coffee, tea, drinking chocolate and cocoa. He hoped that his products might provide an alternative to alcohol. His products were of the highest quality and by 1842, he was selling 11 kinds of cocoa and 16 kinds of drinking chocolate.
He was joined in the business by his brother and soon they had a Royal Warrant to provide chocolate and cocoa to Queen Victoria. 
John's sons developed a product known as Cocoa Essence, the beginning of what we know as chocolate today. They soon outgrew their facilities and moved the factory to a larger one four miles south of Birmingham. The factory and area became known as Bournvillle and had easy access to canals and the railway. 
Cadbury treated its workers exceptionally well. Wages were high, working conditions good, and there were many perks like a swimming pool, pension schemes, and medical care. They built houses for the workers and Bournville became a model community. The company was a pioneer in many areas, not just chocolate. I could go on, but go here if you want to read more about Bournville and the many innovations that  Cadbury developed for its workers.

Speaking of cocoa.
We were, weren't we?
This old label says it all.
Cocoa is complete nutrition, will make you smart, healthy, and give you stamina.

We rode in a little car through this. It was like It's a Small World, only with a slightly less annoying song. I never did catch the plot, but my grandkids think the pictures are cool.

We watched workers making molded chocolate by hand, which kind of explains the exorbitant price of the full-sized soccer balls. Fourteen pounds and 99p.

And there the little beauties are.

More Dairy Milk in one place than I have ever seen in my life.

Throughout the tour, several very nice workers gave us free chocolate bars.
Into my backpack they went.
One girl gave us extras.
Did I look hungry?
Then, when all was done, we got cups of liquid chocolate with a mix-in of our choice.
Cookie bits for me.

We had a few minutes before we had to leave to meet the rest of the family for lunch, so we walked around Bournville a little and look what we found.
The Bournville carillon.

I didn't really understand what a carillon was before this. It is a musical instrument comprising a minimum of 23 bells that are played from a baton keyboard. The keyboard looks like the pedals of an organ and is played with the hands, not the fingers. The carillon was installed by George Cadbury in 1906 and now has 48 bells. Carillons are common in Europe but are a rarity in the British Isles. A Carillon School has been established nearby to train the next generation of musicians.

We caught the end of a recital. It made me wish we had been able to hear the whole thing. 
And Lynne bought me a wooden mushroom because Jeff was too cheap.
Thanks Lynne! I think of you every time I see it.

I had been waiting eagerly for lunch. Not because I was hungry (all that chocolate!) but because I was seeing my beloved aunties and uncle for the second time in 44 years.
The food was delicious, the company incomparable.

I have been starved of extended family for decades. I felt like I had been living in a desert and suddenly found an oasis. I sat and watched and listened and soaked in all of that aunty-and-uncle-ness.
We all went back to Lynne and Richard's house afterwards and told stories. 
Well, Uncle Fred and Richard watched the World Cup and Jeff looked up genealogies on my laptop as we talked. But I loved it and every time Aunty Marg started to pack up her bag and leave I said Oh please don't go - I'll eat you up - I love you so! Or something like that. So she stayed longer. 

Here I am, with Connie on the left and Marg on the right.

Uncle Fred on the left. Lovely Uncle Fred, who remembers me for my giggle.

Aunty Pat, who was married to my Mum's brother, joined the group and we had a good giggle.

This is just to prove that Jeff was there and that the aunties approved of him!

I wish we had allowed longer for the family visit.
And this, I am sad to say, is the end.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Then and Now

On Friday, we left Jan and Steve's house to visit my old neighbour on our way to Birmingham. 
Our first house was in Alvechurch, about thirty minutes from the city of Birmingham. It was a semi-detached house, meaning that two houses share a common wall but everything else is separate. 
This is me, over fifty years ago.

Here is the house today, barely changed. 

Two doors away lived my favourite non-related Aunty Enid and Uncle Ray. As Enid tells it, I loved to spend time at their house and I particularly loved my Uncle Ray.

Ray passed away ten years ago, but Enid still lives in her house, fighting the good fight. She told me that the shed Dad built is still in the back garden of the old house, so I leaned out of her upstairs bathroom window and stole a photo.

We took Enid to lunch at the Red Lion in the village. 
While she was getting ready to go, Jeff and I took a stroll up to the top of the road to look at the old canal.
For some reason, canals loom large in my memories of England. 
Perhaps it is because of this painting that my Uncle Eddy gave me. It is loosely based on the canal that runs at the top of the road. You can't see it, but he put our names on the barges.
I love this painting.

This is the same canal, looking in the opposite direction.

The canal system in the UK dates back to Roman times, when the waterways were used for irrigation. During the Industrial Revolution they were used for transportation, but were abandoned until recently when they became popular for recreation. Old canals are being reopened and new routes are under construction. Today, there are thousands of miles in the canal network of the UK and you can travel the whole country without ever leaving the water.
This map illustrates the network.

Pardon my digression.
Back to lunch.
Enid told us stories about my Mum and Dad. She is as lovely as ever, if a little slower on her feet.

After lunch, we went for a little ride around the town and stopped at the old church.
Of course we did! Although I have a personal connection to this one, as I used to attend Sunday School here and also cut through the churchyard on the way to and from school.

As the story goes, Anne and I went to church for a while, but as our parents didn't attend, Anne used to cry for Mum. They eventually told Dad that I could attend but Anne would have to stay home.
This made my Dad really mad and he said neither of us would go.
I can just imagine his ire.
Papa Grizzly.

Locked up tight for the week, like most of the smaller churches.

We said our goodbye to Enid and drove to Birmingham to meet with my cousin, Lynne.
It was, at most, a 35-minute drive.
It took us about two hours.
Can we say Sue hates roundabouts?

When Anne and I were children, we adored our cousin Lynne and couldn't get enough of her. This was cut short by our emigration, of course, and I have only seen her once, just briefly, in the intervening years. So I was very excited to be able to spend some quality time with her.
This is a famous photo in our extended family. We call it "Hear all, see all, and say nowt".
Lynne is the one that isn't blonde!

We finally found her house and I was happy to relinquish all the driving to Lynne.
We went into the city and met up with Richard, her long-time partner.

They both work for a very well-known bank that is close to this old part of the city. 
The city of Birmingham has undergone a revival of late and is very hip and up-to-date.
This is the ground level of a big parking structure. How much fun is that?

One of the new buildings.

Lynne knows of my fascination with canals, so everyone indulged me and we walked along the canal before dinner.
It was Friday night and the pace was hopping. 
People everywhere, imbibing of relaxing beverages.
The unseasonably warm weather had brought them out in droves.
I can't figure out why more people don't end up in the canal before the end of the night.
This is The Mailbox, which used to be the Royal Mail sorting office for Birmingham City Centre. It was redeveloped and opened as a luxury mixed-use building in 1998. It houses hotels, businesses, retail, and residential facilities. And lots of restaurants that serve relaxing beverages!

Look closely and you will see that the geese are leading the barge.

Richard treated us to a very delicious dinner. 
We talked a lot.
And then we went home.
We talked some more.
And then we went to bed.