Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A day in Durham...

We spent some time in Durham's city center. This shopping area is built around the Cathedral, University and Castle; and it is quite a fun (and hilly) area to walk and shop.

This beautiful building is St. Nicholas Church to the right and the city civic center is straight ahead. 

Abigail was checking out the old pillars in front of this house-turned-restaurant.

I love the narrow streets and the old houses that were mostly converted to store fronts.

We also took some time to play at a local park. This park was at the top of a huge hill and provided an incredible view of the adjacent hill with the castle and cathedral. The kids also enjoyed the playground.

With all the hills, we did a lot of walking ... and carrying the kids.

And you gotta love the red British phone boxes.

There are a few more pictures of the park and more in the Durham City Center photo album.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Durham Cathedral

While we were in Durham for Darren's conference, we had a chance to tour Durham Cathedral, one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen. Construction on the current cathedral started in 1093 and was largely completed within 40 years.

This site has been a place of worship for over 1000 years, and the Cathedral has been in use for almost 900 years. The nave (pictured below) draws your eyes upward, and the atmosphere draws your heart to prayer and worship.

Photographer: Oliver-Bonjoch
I was quite intrigued by the continuous updates and renovations that have occurred in this structure. There are small shrines and chapels and altars dedicated for prayer and worship in memory of saints and many others. One I remember specifically was the chapel originally dedicated for prayer during WWI. This veteran's chapel has been used for prayer through both world wars and continues to be used by families of soldiers.

The kids were most interested in the stain glass windows. The entire front wall was covered in beautiful windows that told the stories of the gospels, the birth, life, death, resurrection and assent of our Lord. I was please at how this captured Joshua's attention, partly because he has never been in a church with windows quite this amazing, nor one where everyone has halos, but mostly because of the stories he has heard coming to life and dancing in the sunlight (yes, we had a beautiful sunny day, perfect for these windows)!

We enjoyed a beautiful stroll through the cloister. Of coarse, the kids just wanted to run around on the grass, but it was closed off and we decided that might not be appropriate.

I love this picture of Joshua and Darren, while daddy was showing Joshua the details of the cloister.

 The kids did have fun running around on the grass outside the large stain glass wall (behind us in the picture). I captured some moments of play in our photo album online.

If you ever in the Durham area, you should truly take the opportunity to visit this incredible Cathedral.
Enjoy the additional photos in our album: Durham Cathedral - Sept 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finished in 83 days...

For those of you who haven't been following my summer reading, I joined a challenge to read through the entire Bible in 90 days. This requires about an hour of reading each day and is a speed course on the Bible. Well, I finished yesterday, in only 83 days.

I have had several people ask me what I thought about this challenge and style of reading, so I am going to share some things I have been thinking about.

Let me start by saying that I highly recommend this crash course to everyone, at least once in your life, for a number of reasons.
  1. It gives an incredible perspective on salvation history and flow of God's action through Israel. You see more clearly the chaos and rebellion of Israel, and you see God's incredible patience and his holiness. This strongly plays into how you read the revelation of Jesus, the discipline of the church and the final wrath of God in Revelation.

  2. Because past books were so fresh in my mind, I began to see patterns and repetition that I had never noticed before, adding to my understanding of scripture.

  3. Reading through the entirety of scripture (whether in 90 days or over the course of a year) gives a better perspective for understanding the context of smaller portions you may read or study.

  4. This style of reading, in only 90 days, requires a serious commitment and significant sacrifice. In addition to the benefits listed above, the discipline, sacrifice and faithfulness required to complete this goal began to show me how many things I spend my time on that I really don't need to do. And it revealed many areas where my priorities are not quite what I want them to be.

Now, there are some down-sides to pushing through this reading so quickly.
  • I found that toward the end, I was just ready to be done -- this probably helped me finish early. It is very difficult to give up so much of my free time every day to read. There were many days when I had other things I wanted to do, but my reading had to take first priority. You may have noticed that I have not been blogging much during the last three months.

  • There were also many times when I ran into passages that really interested me, but at this speed, there really is no time to stop and ponder and meditate on what I was reading. I quickly learned to jot down references and questions for future investigation and meditation. I did, however, find myself thinking at random times of the day about things I had read, and that was enjoyable. But I really miss spending a little more time with a passage. I am looking forward to spending several weeks (or maybe even months) on a single book of the Bible. 
If you are interested in joining this type of 90-day challenge, they will be starting another reading on January 3, 2011. You can also look for a group in your area to read it with live accountability. Or start a group with your church.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Menu Plan Monday

    I can't remember why I didn't post anything last week except the menu. I'll try to spend a little more time on the blog this coming week. I still have tons of great pictures from our Durham trip. Stay tuned...

    Here's the menu for this week!
    Check out more great meal ideas at Organizing Junkie.

    Happy Monday!

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Menu Plan Monday

    Here's the menu for this week!
    • Monday -- Nachoes
    • Tuesday -- Broiled Cod Parmesan
    • Wednesday -- BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches
    • Thursday -- leftovers
    • Friday -- Homemade Pizza (love this quick and easy homemade crust)
    • Saturday -- Chicken Fajitas
    • Sunday -- BBQ ??
    Check out more great meal ideas at Organizing Junkie.

    Happy Monday!

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Trains, trains, everywhere...

    For our second day in Durham, Joshua, Abigail and I headed out to the National Railway Museum. This is the site of major advances in British Locomotion, and remained central to the design, building and repair of train wagons for over 100 years, closing in the 1980's.

    In addition to the historic buildings, there is a new train shed that houses historic engines and wagons and passenger cars. The kids loved wandering through the huge trains.

    We had another beautiful, sunny day for our visit, which was good because the walk out to the train shed is much longer than I realized. The pedestrian trail takes us down the train tracks, some of which still run the commuter trains, past some old steam engines parked outside.

    Joshua was quite impressed with the number of tracks and trains running outside the shed. He was also very interested in how they had paved around the old tracks in front of the building and used rubber to keep people from tripping, but can still use them to take the engines in and out of the shed.

    The trains were bigger than either of the kids realized. We explored all the huge engines. Joshua asked questions about the different types of engines -- he is now fixated on "high-speed" engines with the pointier noses. We also looked at the coaches (some of which look a lot like Thomas' coaches, Annie and Claribel), and the trucks and coal cars.

    Abigail liked all the stairs that you go up and down to see in the windows. I really appreciated the kid-friendly areas. Throughout the museum them have kids' stations, where they can take a break and learn in other ways. They have tables and pictures set up where kids can sit and color. They also have Thomas beanbag chairs where you can sit and read Thomas books.

    Joshua had to check out the buffers on the train. Again, they were much larger than he realized from watching trains on television.

    Scattered throughout the trains they have exhibits and "exercises" where you can shunt trucks to get them in the right order for hauling or pack a model freight car miniature with milk bottles and hay bales. These various activities helped keep Joshua and Abigail amused for quite a while.

    In addition to all the inside activities for kids, they also have a fun playground designed for a large variety of ages. Next to this play area are the picnic tables for eating outside. They also have a cafe inside, but you are not suppose to bring in outside food. There is also a well-kept sand box that the kids enjoyed.

    Check out our photo album on Facebook: National Railway Museum - Sept 2010.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Day at the Farm

    Last week we traveled down to Durham, England where Darren was presenting a paper at a conference. We decided to make it a family vacation together. For the first few days, the kids and I were on our own all day, while Darren attended the conference.

    On our first day, we woke up to foggy, overcast weather. We dropped Darren off at the University and headed out into the country to find the Hall Hill Farm for a day of fun together. By the time we arrived, the sun was out in full, having burned away all the fog and clouds. We had the most glorious weather all day!

    Our first stop was the baby chicks. These cute little babies were running around under the warm light. Joshua was so excited to hold this little chick. It peeped and cuddled up to him as he was sitting on his towel. Abigail was completely freaked out by her little chick, though, because it kept trying to climb on her. She did enjoy petting Joshua's chick, as long as it stayed safely on his lap.

    The next barn housed the guinea pigs and rabbits. Because both kids were a little nervous, the woman suggested they hold the guinea pigs because they sit still. Joshua was thrilled to pet this soft, little animal. Abigail was much more hesitant, but then she was asked if she wanted to brush the guinea pig. This was perfect for her!

    We had bought three little bags of animal food at the gift shop when we first entered. I wasn't sure the kids would actually be brave enough to feed any of the animals. After I demonstrated how to feed the goats and sheep, Joshua quickly became a pro at feeding the animals. Abigail was much more hesitant, but was happy to feed them along with me, her little hand on my hand as we fed them.

    But the best part of the feeding was holding the bottle for the lambs. We learned that a mother sheep can only feed two babies. If she has more three or more, she leaves the runt alone. These little lambs are bottle fed by the farmer until they are old enough to join the flock.

    The highlight of the day was the donkey rides. They are normally only for age three and up, but they let Abigail take a ride because she was so excited. However, when she finally got near the donkey (after waiting in line for half an hour), she was totally freaked out. I suggested that she just sit up on the donkey for a minute and that I would walk with her and the donkey. As soon as the donkey started walking, her face burst into a huge smile. She loved the donkey ride and wanted to go again.

    After Abigail's ride, Joshua boarded the donkey excitedly. He was also so thrilled with the donkey ride. Abigail and I walked around the field with him as he rode around.

    I was so amazed at how much Joshua has grown in the last year. There was a little farm in New Jersey we use to visit regularly. He loved looking at the animals, but would never touch them or go near them. Now here he was riding a donkey, feeding sheep and goats, and holding chicks and guinea pigs. My little boy has grown to be so brave and curious.

    We missed the milking demonstration, but the kids enjoyed the demonstration  cow. The cow was filled with water, and they had the pleasure of practicing their milking skills. It was smart of them to design the cow so that kids could milk it with ease.

    While we waited for our real tractor ride, the kids enjoyed the play tractors set up a big barn. There was a fun "race track" set up with hay bails. Abigail enjoyed the little tractors, while Joshua rode a bigger one with pedals.

    Finally it was our turn on the tractor ride. We all sat in the big trailer pulled by the tractor. We rode around the fields and looked at all the big animals -- highland cattle, Shetland sheep, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, and many more.

    We had a wonderful time at the farm! We were there for more than half the day and could probably have stayed several more hours. This farm has everything; if you are ever in the Durham area, it is well worth the visit.

    I have posted over 30 pictures of the farm on Facebook: Hall Hill Farm - Sept 2010.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Visiting Aberdeen Central Fire Station

    Saturday was Doors Open Day in the city of Aberdeen, where you can explore places that are normally closed to the public. As part of this celebration, the fire department opens up Aberdeen Central Fire Station to visitors. I was enjoying a girls-day-out, so Darren took the kids to the fire station for a day of fun. They were THRILLED!

    This beautiful, antique fire truck was on display.
    Joshua loved telling me about this "really old fire truck" he saw.

    The kids were given a full tour of the currently-used fire trucks. While sitting in the back seat, the fire fighter let them try on the hats and look at the other equipment. Then they moved to the front seat, where they were allowed to "drive" the truck.

    Abigail was so excited about this driving experience. The first thing she said to me when I arrived home that evening was, "Mommy, I drove the fire truck."

    Joshua had a long list of questions to ask the fire fighters ... mostly about equipment. He was excited to learn about their fire suits as well. They keep their trousers around their boots so that they are ready to go. You just step into your boots and pull up your trousers.

    This fireman's pole was a favorite for Joshua. He is always pretending that he is sliding down a fire pole -- the slide, the stairs, etc.

    And they each were able to try on the breathing apparatus. Currently the kids use sippy-cup lids as their pretend breathing units. So funny!

    There was a safety and fire demonstration that totally freaked out both the kids. There was a small "kitchen" fire set up; then the firefighter added some accelerant. The huge resulting fire scared everyone. Abigail told me that the fire was on her head... I think that was her way of telling me it was too hot.

    After the demonstration, the kids each had a turn to use the hose to put out a pretend fire in a little house. This was so much fun for both of them.

    Everything in our house has been about fire fighters this week.

    Today the kids ran around in their vests and hats putting out fires around the house. This afternoon, we had our own Open Doors Day at home. Joshua set up the entire house as a fire station. The beds were fire trucks. He showed me around his fire station and told me about his equipment. Then I gave them a tour of the kitchen and talked about the equipment in their (including the Fire Blanket used to put out kitchen fires.)

    There are more pictures from their day at Aberdeen Fire Station - Sept 2010.
    This was the perfect activity for a day out with Daddy. Everyone had so much fun!

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Menu Plan Monday

    Things were a little crazy last week, trying to recover from being out of town. But we had beautiful weather (in between days of rain) and we are settling back into our routine. There are several repeats on the menu this week because we just didn't get to them last week, opting for simpler, faster meals.

    Here's the menu for this week!
    • Monday -- Tacos
    • Tuesday -- Chicken Pitas
    • Wednesday -- Crockpot Chicken
    • Thursday -- Jacket Potatoes with broccoli and cheese
    • Friday -- Chicken Fried Rice
    • Saturday -- Chicken Tikka and Onion Bhajis
    • Sunday -- Chili and Cornbread
    Check out more great meal ideas at Organizing Junkie.

    Happy Monday!

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Stirling Castle

    Our next visit was to Stirling Castle (part of Historic Scotland), about a half hour down the road from Linlithgow Palace.

    These towers are part of the gate house and towers. The castle is built on the top of a hill and offers an incredible of view of the city.

    This unusual castle is really a collection of interesting buildings -- the King’s Old Building (built for James IV in 1496),  the Great Hall (James IV around 1503), the Palace (James V around 1540) and the Chapel Royal (James VI in 1594). 

    The kids loved the cannons that line the defensive walls. They came back to these well preserved cannons and balls every chance they could.

    The wall-walk was closed for repairs, as was the palace, but the great hall was impressive and gardens were beautiful.

    The thrones still sit at the high table in the great hall. The kids loved sitting in the huge chairs and posing for pictures. 

    Because the castle has been in use for so long, the buildings have been continuously updated and no longer feel like they are hundreds of years old.

    Yes, we came back to the cannons. Joshua is pretending to light the cannon, after putting a cannon ball into it. I think he was aiming for some tall building the city below.

    The castle garden was very beautiful and offers a wonderful view of the palace, one of the most striking buildings in the castle (at least from the outside).

    We had a nice time at Stirling Castle. It was a very different experience than we have had before. I strongly recommend purchasing a tour book and following it through your exploration of the castle (otherwise you may spend the first 20 minutes wondering around trying to figure out where to go... that might have happened to us).

    Check out more pictures at Stirling Castle - July 2010.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Jousting at Linlithgow Palace

    Back in July we visited Linlithgow Palace (maintained by Historic Scotland) during a hosted jousting show. We had a wonderful time, but I never got the pictures published from that visit (and a few other castles from July). Now I have a whole new set of pictures to edit from our Durham trip.

    In the mean time, here are the pictures from Linlithgow and the jousting tournaments. There are many more pictures in our photo album: Jousting at Linlithgow Castle - July 2010

    Linlithgow is an magnificent 'pleasure palace' used by royalty; it is truly an impressive structure, even in ruins.. It was the midway point and a welcome stopping-place for the royal family along the busy road linking Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. It is also the birthplace of both James V and Mary Queen of Scots.

    This front gate opens into the courtyard, with a lovely fountain that we newly restored. The great hall is amazing, even without the roof. We loved exploring all the passageways and staircases.

    The back of the palace overlooks a beautiful lake. We sat on the hillside to watch the jousting events on the grassy field below. The kids enjoyed the horses especially.... And climbing up and down the steep hill.

    The jousting events included horse-to-horse jousting, as pictured above. They also had face-to-face combat, sword fights, and other fun events. It was all staged (obviously), and we all cheered for the 'good' blue team and booed for the 'bad' red team.

    In addition to the jousting, the castle was full of people in period costumes telling us about the food, lifestyle, etc. of the original inhabitants. The kids enjoyed watching the juggler putting on shows in the courtyard.

    The back of the castle, overlooking the lake, if filled with windows to allow the inhabitants to enjoy the view, but must also have been colder, due to the extreme winds. While we were there, the wind was blowing constantly and the gusts of wind could literally knock the kids over.

    We had a wonderful time and would like to go back for a second look on a quieter day. Because of the big events going on this weekend, it took forever to navigate the small staircases and halls because there were so many people around all the time. But we did get to see jousting. This is an amazing palace that I would recommend to anyone looking for a unique castle to visit.

    Remember to check out the rest of the pictures at Jousting at Linlithgow Castle - July 2010.

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