Monday, December 26, 2011

Mr. Kim blogs: Mrs. Kim's Gift

I try to be a story teller in this blog, and when I don’t have anything to say that would be entertaining or at least a bit tawdry I just keep it to myself. I mean, who wants to read that I got home from work and balanced my checkbook or collapsed in front of House Hunters International, or some similar nonsense?

But this blog entry is not given to storytelling and it is not really entertaining at all. It’s more of a snapshot to memorialize this Christmas season and the tremendous gift my Bride gave us all this year. Kim’s readers here all know what a huge deal Christmas is around here, with the Christmas Eve bash and all the house decorating and gift wrapping and, some years, even church attendance during Advent. (Clearly not often enough, as every time I attend I am greeted as a visitor at the door and asked to introduce myself.)

My job is a pain in the arse for someone who is as much into the celebration of the season as we are. In the best of years I work 60-65 hour weeks beginning September 1 and extending all the way up to December 20. It’s the nature of the business (state governmental budgeting) and they pay me to do what I do, so I shouldn’t complain. But I do, loudly. The nights and weekends always make it hard to squeeze in college football (season ticket holder) and all the preparations and shopping for the holiday season, and there is a lot of wasted time nights and weekends trying to get decision makers to focus. This year was most definitely not “the best of years.” The budget season was, for various reasons best not put into writing, very difficult. Instead of the usual 60 hour weeks they were closer to 80. Weekends this year were just days, and all of them were spent at the office – not one full day off between Thanksgiving and December 22, and not one full weekend after Halloween. Even the nights I got home before 8 or 9 PM, I was simply exhausted.

Yea, I know, poor me. Get over it. But if it had depended on me, Christmas was not going to be pulled off in its usual manner in our home in 2011. All my energy reserves were depleted, no sense of organization or motivation, my usual to-do list in my head was buried under vanilla pudding. All good will toward men was overcome with resentment toward the job and the impact it was having on our life. I mean, I derive my life’s joy not from my career, but from the time I am able to spend with Kim doing the things the job gives me the means to do. And the job became the instrument that prevented all that. And no thank you, no apology, just expectation. And the statement to our faces that we, experts in our various areas each with decades of experience, were lucky to have a job.

Thank the goddess for my Bride. She stepped in and took over the 10% I usually contribute to getting us ready for Christmas. Let me be honest, it’s usually her making things happen anyway, but I am usually engaged and try to be helpful and try to at least appear to be part of the process. But I was nowhere this year. And while she would have been completely justified in being resentful of the burden, or in cutting back on what we do, or in making it clear how much she hated my job and demanding change, she did none of those things. With an almost eerie calm that had me scared for a while, she methodically made sure everything got done. If I was on the sofa flopped out, she kept cleaning. If I was working, she kept cooking and buying and wrapping and making lists and checking them twice. If my schedule changed at the last minute to accommodate the whims of power brokers and bureaucrats instead of what we had planned to do, she adjusted expectations. She told me where I needed to be and when, and mashed and squeezed and bundled everything into place.

The result was the best gift of all for me. She made Christmas for us when all I could do was watch and feebly wrap a few gifts after midnight on the 24th. Even the Christmas Eve dinner party we always throw for family and close friends went off without a hitch on our part – even though 22 of 58 invitees pulled no-show-no-calls, and most of the remaining 38 showed up between 45 minutes and 3 hours late for a hot meal. Even then, my dear Wyfe remained calm and, for the sake of the season, didn’t kill any of the late arrivals.

Gifts, meals, trees, carols, candles, centerpieces, and decorations both familiar and new, all because of her. I would have missed the season, as important as it is to us, without her flying solo for all of us. What a wonderful gift for me and our family. And I am so very grateful.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mr. Kim blogs: Valuable lessons

I have learned several things today.

1. Never get coffee from a Starbucks that usually serves its java from the brewer but is today serving from twenty gallon portable urns.

2. Twenty gallon portable urns full of coffee cool faster than three gallon brewers that are constantly refreshed.

3. Coffee from a 20 gallon urn is likely to be cold.

4. One should taste one’s coffee before leaving a Starbucks to see if it is the right temperature.

5. A cup of cold Starbuck's coffee does not magically get warmer after a 10 mile drive to the office.

6. Starbucks cups, even when full of cold coffee, will nonetheless burst into flame when placed in a microwave.

7. Flaming coffee cups, when grabbed by bare hands, can leave a mark. A very painful mark.

8. Grabbing a flaming coffee cup does not in and of itself prevent now-hot coffee from spewing all down your hands from the deteriorating cup.

9. Standing still and screaming in an office break room while holding a deteriorating flaming coffee cup form Starbuck's does nothing to improve the situation.

10. Folks in my office find the strangest things amusing.

No, the moment was not captured on video. Stop laughing.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Daughter is Trying to Kill Me

I have no idea why The Child is trying to effect my demise, but it is obvious that she is. Evidence:

1). The move to an apartment in the city

2). The creepy alley entrance to said apartment

3). The multiple car accidents.

4). Gallivanting off by Herself to New York City.

This is the scene of her latest attempt:

This is the Sun Trust building in downtown Richmond. It is 25 stories high. And this:

is The Child’s bottom coming over the top of the building. The baby that I carried for more than 9 months is on the edge of that precipice and I am on the ground holding a camera.

The Child’s middle name is the same as my maternal grandfather. This was decided long before she was born. And it is apt. She is as fearless as he. She also has the same soft heart that he hid behind gruffness and bluff. This was a fundraiser for Special Olympics. She raised over $1100 and came down carrying a picture of our adorable cousin Luke. We were equal parts terrified and proud. Both emotions clutched our throats and filled our eyes.

She fills me with awe. I wonder where she came from. She is somehow so much more than I have ever been – braver, stronger, smarter and so very, very bright.

The author Elizabeth Stone said: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” How my heart could have been in my throat and coming down the side of that building at the same time is a conundrum, but it was.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 8 – England/Paris Trip - By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea!

(Mr. Kim's comments in italics)

(Internet picture)

We started our day with the standard hotel breakfast (fruit, toast, yogurt, granola, tea) in the not at all standard dining room at the Red Lion:

One of the features of the dining room was the large clock in the middle of the picture, big enough to have been visible from the lobby window. A sidebar on the menu drew attention to it and explained that at some time in the distant past, Parliament had levied a tax on clocks, making them even more of an unaffordable luxury for most homes than they’d be otherwise. It fell to public establishments to keep time for everyone, and this clock had stood as a public service to passing locals wanting to know the time of day.

It is just beautiful – sunlit and quiet and gracious and filled with antiques. Like these ancient tomes:


After breakfast, I was sitting in the lovely courtyard finishing my tea and reading a newspaper while Mr. Kim ran upstairs to get something. In case you somehow missed it (or have forgotten) May 21, 2011 was the day that the world was supposed to end, according to some whackaloon and it was all over the newspapers and television (why exactly, do we give these people publicity?). A nice lady, noticing my paper, asked me if I’d read about the apocalypse. We agreed that sitting in that gorgeous courtyard having a G&T was the perfect way to see it out.

Salisbury Cathedral was our first opportunity to just wander in one of Europe’s great houses of worship. We went to St. Paul’s for a service and saw what we could in that amount of time, wandering about afterwards wasn’t encouraged. And at Westminster Abbey, the incredible crowds just swept one along. At Salisbury, we could take our time and savor the experience. As an aside: I’ll probably refer to it more when we get to the Paris posts, but I found the French cathedrals to be more ‘spiritual’ than the English ones. There was a greater sense of majesty and quietness to them. More contemplative, I think. The English cathedrals are a little more ‘bustling’ and…comfortable in a homey way, I think. Priests wandering through on errands, ladies dusting and arranging chairs, choir masters checking music. Being Episcopalian, that seems natural to me, in some ways. The French cathedrals were Roman Catholic and the English were Anglican, of course. From what I’ve been able to see, the Roman Catholic religion seems to stress the mystery of faith and Anglicans the community of faith. I remember when The Child was christened (at age 3- scandalously late), the priest walked her down the aisle doing the traditional introduction of the world’s newest Christian to her new fellow parishioners. At one point, she walked over to her littlest cousin, Jennifer and insisted that she, too, accompany them on the walk. Father said, “Well, we just told her that this is her church – she’s being a good hostess.” That, to me, typifies the Anglican Communion. It’s God’s house, but we are the caretakers. We don’t let priests get too terribly uppity, either. I’ve been in a couple of churches where the congregation, sadly, chased out a good priest.

I do not disagree with your observation. Put another way, the Catholic settings seemed to be much more imposing as houses of prayer, while every Anglican setting had the hint of a museum or even a community center, plopped in the middle of a grand ancient building. This is not to denigrate the Anglican churches; it was just a different atmosphere.

One docent approached me as I was contemplating a long-dead bishop’s tomb inside the sanctuary. He told me the story of the location of the cathedral. It seems there were two bishops in the area, and one we’ll refer to as John had title to the land the cathedral now sits upon, and was content to hold the land as it was. The other bishop that we’ll call William wanted to build a grand cathedral but had no suitable land and brought pressure to bear from across the country to try to force a sale. In true Christian soldier fashion, they agreed to each hire a champion to duel to decide the issue. If John’s champion won, William would cease his efforts to coerce and manipulate circumstances to obtain the land. If William won, John would sell the land to him at a stated price. So William secured the services of a local noble to represent him, and they came to Salisbury for the Holy Fight. At a feast the evening before the battle, they were introduced to John’s champion, a real ringer brought in from the devil-knows-where, a huge brute with a reputation for great prowess in battle. William’s champion retired for the evening, probably contemplating his expected demise the next day. The next morning when the two champions took the field, William’s champion appeared with parchment covering his armor, from shoulders to thighs. John demanded an explanation. The underdog champion responded that he had been up all night praying to God for deliverance, and that he had written his prayers down and brought them into battle. He said that he knew that he could not defeat John’s knight, but that he hoped his prayers would lead God to protect him. John was so moved by this man’s piety that he declared that he could not order his own knight to put his blade through the other’s prayers. He conceded the fight, and agreed to sell the land to William.

So there you have it. If the story is true, Salisbury Cathedral exists only through the whims of a wager and a mighty bluff.

Salisbury is astonishingly lovely and while being impressive and imposing, still has the feel of a real, working church. A lady with a duster came up to me and introduced herself, wondering if I had any questions. We began to chat and exchange information. It turned out that she was the wife of a retired priest. In order to travel after he retired he became a bit of a locum – filling in for priests on sabbatical. A number of these were in the US and one was actually in Charlottesville, near “Mr. Jefferson’s University”, as she charmingly put it. When I told her that Mr. Kim had attended UVA, it turned into old home week – trading stories about Town vs. Gown, the lovely churches in Virginia and The Child’s attendance at an Episcopal pre-school there. She pointed out some interesting things about the Cathedral – the spire (which is the tallest in the UK) actually tilts slightly, something that you can readily see when it is pointed out:

This ‘little old lady’ rather proudly drew our attention to some of the modern additions to the Cathedral, including a very modern, but lovely font and the stained glass addition to the Trinity Chapel called “Prisoners of Conscience”. Glowing in vivid blues, the window honors both Jesus and 20th century prisoners of conscience. Mrs. Father genteelly pursed her lips a bit and said that SOME people had rather objected to something so untraditional, but that MOST people appreciated the beauty and message of the window.

The font:

(Internet picture)

Prisoners of Conscience:

In a Cathedral built in the early 13th century, at great expense, one finds much splendor and costly materials, of course. There are tombs and statues and memorials donated by wealthy families. These are all beautiful and awe inspiring. However, I was utterly touched by this:

I have no idea who Bill Adams was, but I’m imagining a sexton or verger. I love that his modest memorial, funds raised by his family and friends possibly, is given a prominent place within this ancient and solemn building. This memorial clock (which is telling the correct time, by the way) isn’t hidden in some inaccessible place that we came upon, but between the ribs of one of the soaring columns in the nave.

Some favorite pictures of the Cathedral:

In some of the pictures, you can see a little bit of something that surprised me – all the color. I don’t know why I was surprised – I knew that originally statues and other stonework was painted - but I was. We saw this again and again at Westminster and Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur and each time it was unexpectedly exquisite.

Passing out of the Cathedral you come to the cloisters and the chapter house.

The cloister is a lovely, peaceful place with the cool, dim corridors of the arcade looking into the square of green, sunshiny grass.

The chapter house, basically a meeting room, is just gorgeous. There is a central pillar that opens up like a stone umbrella over the ceiling and a stone frieze that runs around the octagonal room depicting scenes from Genesis and Exodus. The lovely lines, windows and tiled floor are unfortunately marred by the inclusion of a clumsy, modern display housing one of the four extant texts of the Magna Carta. I’m all for the preservation of important documents and have an almost religious regard for the written word, but I wish they could have found a better place for the display than in this architectural gem. I will let Mr. Kim talk about the Magna Carta, because that modern wooden hut it lives in made me grumpy.

I think it was just the need for lunch that made you grumpy.

The Magna Carta was in amazing shape. That only four originals still exist sort of surprised me – not the sort of thing that would seem to be easily misplaced. Still it dates back centuries before the US Bill of Rights, and three of the thirteen originals of that iconic tome have gone missing in a mere 200 years.

Crowds thronged to see the Magna Carta. Trying to get a glimpse was akin to fighting a crowded maternity room viewing window – lots of bodies trying to get up close, some few having as much trouble getting OUT of the throng. I got to the front, and recognized that I was gazing at something important. Not important in the mystical sense like Avebury, but important on an intellectual level. And being an intellectual item, it was impressive to know that it existed and that I had seen it, and impressive to know what it stands for, and impressive that it sits here and not in Parliament or some government protectorate. While it did not stir an emotional reaction, it nonetheless impressed with its sense of permanence.

I agree with Kim on the setting. The friezes around the room were impressive, and the displayed centuries-old silver pieces and bishop’s rings & miters & communion bowls were in themselves impressive museum pieces. But the document itself was out of place. I don’t know, maybe it was the whole church vs. state thing that is so peculiar to US culture and that is somewhat indistinct in the UK. But it just seemed weird to find it on display in a side room of a church.

Salisbury didn’t chase us off, but I was in a fever to get Mr. Kim to the sea. I’d done most of the internet research and knew that where we were heading there was the sea and white cliffs and villages that seem to tumble down to the water and KNEW that Mr. Kim would love all of it. I wanted to see his face when he saw all of that. The tiny little Cotswold villages, as much as he liked them, were for me. The tall cliffs and staring across to France were for him. We are a lucky couple – we mostly like the same things: churches, scenic vistas, ancient graveyards, quaint towns and pleasing one another.

Driving from Salisbury to Dorchester the landscape and even the buildings begin to subtly change. Going from inland to the shore is another place where I wish we had taken more pictures. It was evident, but hard to describe. It was a beautiful drive – miles and miles of fields and hills. Where I’m from, you can tell that you are approaching the ocean when the landscape flattens out. Not there. The edge of the water where we were going is ringed by high cliffs and we began to see evidence of this.

There were a couple of small villages along the way. We needed to put a little gas into the car and that lovely breakfast was feeling far, far past. As a matter of fact, we were getting a little desperate – the Nabs in the emergency packet were starting to look pretty delicious. Jeeves found us the nearest petro station and just a few yards down the street was a convenience store. I wandered down, hoping to find something to assuage our hunger until we found a restaurant of some kind – cheese or boiled eggs – some kind of protein. I perused the sandwich section without much hope. They were the typical convenience store packages – triangular shaped hard plastic with a sheet of cellophane to cover. But they looked different….kind of good. And we were starving. So we took a chance. And they were different – and good. Really SURPRISINGLY good. Mr. Kim got the ham, Cheddar and pickle (British pickle – kind of like chutney) baguette. Mine was the most ordinary sandwich in the world – egg salad and ham – on white bread. But the egg salad tasted really fresh, the ham was REAL (not slimy deli ham), and the bread was firm and actually tasted of bread. Another interesting thing is that there was both egg salad and sliced hard boiled eggs on the sandwich – I’ve never seen that before and I’ve been having my egg salad sandwiches like that at home lately. It seems ridiculous to go on and on like this about convenience store sandwiches. They weren’t the most amazing sandwiches ever. But they were good – if 7-11 had sandwiches like that, I’d probably have them once a week for workday lunches.

On to Dorchester, where we were staying for two nights (staying in one place for two nights during a long trip becomes the utmost in luxury – you can actually unpack a little and get your things organized). Our hotel was the King’s Arms – another Best Western. The building dates from 1720 and is just beautiful on the outside:

I won’t bother showing pictures of the room – it was completely renovated and modern. It was huge, though – even the bathroom. I came to England expecting tiny little rooms everywhere and we never saw an uncomfortably small room (until Paris).

Dorchester was the place where I almost got punked by Tut. As we drove up the High street to the hotel, I saw a huge sign on the side of building advertising the Tutankhamen Exhibition. You have to understand that I am a HUGE ancient Egypt aficionado. I will read anything, watch anything, go see anything that has to do with Tut, pyramids, etc., etc. One of the regrets of my life is that I missed the Tut exhibit when it came to Washington years ago and I was stunned and so excited that a little bitty town like Dorchester rated such a show. I will probably never go to Egypt. While I dream of touring the Valley of the Kings and Luxor, I am frightened of that area of the world. All of my ideas of touring Egypt come from Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters. If I could motor with Hercule Poirot through Cairo or ride down the Nile on a dahabiya with Amelia and Emerson, I’d go in a minute. But today? Nope. Anyway, Mr. Kim saw my excitement about the exhibit (and knows my proclivities) and he insisted that we make time for it. I needed a lot of convincing, since we had a pretty full schedule planned. I fell in with his idea, though, because we had two days in Dorchester after all and we came on this trip determined to not let ‘the itinerary’ rule our days. However, when I looked up the exhibit online, I realized that it was not actual artifacts from the tomb, but a staged recreation of the burial site. We were decidedly NOT wasting time on THAT! I was imagining some boardwalk version of Madame Tussauds, one of those third rate ‘Believe it or NOT!’ “museums” that litter every tourist destination in the US. Actually, now that I’ve done some research on the exhibit, it looks pretty cool. It’s been used in movies and documentaries and is supposed to be very well done – an exact replica. But I’m still glad that I realized in advance and that we didn’t give any of our precious time to it.

We dumped everything in our room and hit the road south. We weren’t really heading anywhere in particular, as long as we got to the shore. We ended up in Weymouth on Weymouth Bay:

Looking across to France:

We drove over into Weymouth proper and spent a little time on the ‘beach’ – really a rock strewn stretch of land next to the water called a shingle. Beaches like this really illustrate the British trait of making do and carrying on (not carrying on in the Southern sense, which - now that I come to think of it - means almost exactly the opposite of the British version). I understand that this is a very popular Fun in the Sun destination in the summer:

Mr. Kim couldn’t resist:

I had read in my Frommer’s about the village of Chideock, about 25 miles west of Weymouth. On the way there, along a narrow and winding road that climbed up and up, we passed through the charming little town of Abbotsbury:

We stopped way up high at a layby and when we turned to see the view, we literally gasped:

Mr. Kim’s reaction to the surprise that I’d planned was everything I’d hoped for.

In Chideock we once again were rewarded for our penchant for deliberately getting lost. We found the village and a likely pub for dinner and decided it was a little early to eat. We took off for a little wandering, confident that Jeeves would rescue us if necessary, as usual. Down one tiny lane, we found what looked like a small parking lot – perfect for turning around. As we pulled in we saw this through the trees:

This hidden little church turned out to be our lagniappe, our serendipitous reward for our adventurous tendencies. We got out of the car to take a few pictures and were hailed from the front door by a rather scruffy looking old man. It turned out that he was the caretaker, locking up for the night. He invited us in, encouraged us to take pictures and gave us the grand tour. This was the Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St. Ignatius – a big name for a little church. This was also the only Roman Catholic church that we saw in England. Before we got in the door, the gentleman looked at me and said, “Ar ya got fifty p?” A lot of possibilities flitted through my mind as to why he wanted the money, from the improbable (Tour price? Too low. Money for the pub later? Maybe, but again too low.) to the more likely but still incorrect (Money for the poor box or for a candle.) Turns out it costs 50 pence to cut on the lights in the sanctuary when Mass is not in session. Literally – a coin box at the front door that you feed like a meter. Go figure.

The church was absolutely charming (as was our rough host) and actually had a fascinating history. The church started as a barn in the 16th century that was secretly transformed into a chapel where Roman Catholics could continue to worship as they wished. The barn was owned by a Roman Catholic family who lived in a nearby castle. Even after the castle was destroyed and the family left the area, people still used the barn as a place of worship. In 1802 a relation of the original family bought the estate for his son, who built the nearby manor house and turned the barn into a small chapel. Still later, it was transformed into the church that remains today.

The church itself is lovely and full of historical artifacts – traveling altars and bible boxes, a chair belonging to one of the local Catholic martyrs who was executed on August 19, 1642 and many of the remaining wall paintings from the original barn chapel:

He even showed us the access to the loft of the original barn where mass was held in secret. This was clearly not an area that was open to the general public, and it was a real gift to get to see it :

The combination of the artistic and truly beautiful nave and the heartfelt handmade signs on the treasured artifacts was quite lovely. Our guide even proudly showed us the adjacent village museum – filled with objects illustrating the history of Chideock including cannonballs, photos of 1920 football clubs and 19th century newspapers. When it was time to leave, he turned down a ride back to the village, saying that he had to lock up yet another memorial chapel that stands nearer the village. We hoped to see him in the pub and buy him a pint for his kindness, but he never showed. As we were leaving dinner, we noticed him in the back garden of a tiny house, hanging up a few bits of washing to dry, including the shirt he was wearing earlier. Somehow a bit of a poignant scene.

We had dinner in Chideock at the Clockhouse Inn – a truly proper pub:

You can’t see him, but under the table of the couple in the back is their gorgeous and impeccably behaved border collie (Europeans are so sensible about dogs – they seem to be welcomed everywhere if they are good. I’ve never been offended by dogs in stores or restaurants – wish I could say the same of CHILDREN!). This was very much the village gathering place – everyone seemed to know one another, they have a darts club and even a lending library:

The ‘theme’ of the Clockhouse Inn is clocks – they are everywhere in every possible design. Including this startling fellow:

Some second hand, huh? This figure actually exists in Dorset – as a 180 foot high chalk drawing carved into the side of a hill 400 plus years ago. So, when King James I (of bible fame) was on the throne, folks were carving this kind of thing on hillsides? So if he’s 180 feet tall, that means that the ‘second hand’ is 45 feet…er…long. Have mercy.

Anyway, dinner was delicious – shepherd’s pie for Mr. Kim and a meltingly tender braised lamb shank for me. Mr. Kim’s traditional potato topped pie came with a side of…fried potatoes. Be still my carb loving heart.

When we left the pub, it was still very light out (honest to goodness, it was like the Land of the Midnight Sun in England – we’d be tootling around and come back to the hotel a couple of hours after dark and it would be midnight. Very disorienting.) so we had a post prandial walk around the village.

Chideock was the first place that we saw two things: a preponderance of thatched cottages and a cat. I had expected to see cats all over England – on cottage fences, in windows, in shops. And, until today, I hadn’t spotted a single one. My first English kitty:

Gorgeous fellow, but a tad grumpy looking.

The lovely cottages and gardens of Chideock:

Something that we noticed everywhere we went in England was war memorials with remembrance poppy wreaths on them. It was the same in Chideock:

It seemed that every town and village, no matter how small, had some sort of monument to the sacrifices made by the men of their town. This was in May and Remembrance Day is November 11th. The poppy wreaths were still THERE. Not stolen or torn up or defaced in any way. It was heartening and touching all at once. So many of them are from WWI – The Great War – and they offered the hope and belief that it was, indeed, the war to end all wars. We don’t learn much, do we?

The light was finally starting to fail and we made our way back to Dorchester, sated, tired and thoughtful – to find a wild wedding going on at the hotel and no place to park! The manager sorted that out for us and thanks to those thick 18th century walls, we couldn’t even hear the faintest strains of Abba in our room.