A Night at Oriel College

Last night we were invited to dine with one of Scott’s colleagues. It was at Oriel College, one of the many colleges here at Oxford.

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The dining hall awaits.

Oriel College is one of the oldest colleges at Oxford, and is very keen on its traditions. For instance, every evening the college serves dinner in its dining hall to the students and faculty, and has done so for 700 years.

Seven hundred years. Just soak that up for a minute.

The dinner is not only multi course, but multi-stage. This is how it went:

First we hung our cloaks in a cloak room and followed our host and his trailing robes to the dining hall. (The Oxford professors and students wear their school robes to dinner. Guests–like Scott and I–could come in a suit or dress.)

Just before we were allowed into the hall we chatted for a bit in a waiting room area. Here there was a long wooden board displayed on an easel. The board represented the High Table, and around the board were cards with names. That was how we knew where we were to sit once we entered the dining hall. I was (purposely?) not seated next to my husband.

We headed into the dining hall. The high, beamed ceiling arched above us and the walls were lined with paintings of past provosts and knights and The Queen. Our places were set with china, glass and silver goblets, and loads of shining silverware, expertly arranged on a long wooden table that was probably older than Columbus’s mother. The students of Oriel College sat at the student tables, and we sat at the High Table.

IMG_7853If you think of Hogwarts Dining Hall you will have the proper mental image.

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That bright portrait is of the Queen, watching to make sure everyone uses their best manners.

The presiding faculty member banged a gavel and a priest gave a prayer in Latin. I understood the word AMEN.

We ate by candlelight. First there was the bread. Then soup. Then a delicate slice of fish. Then the main course. Then an artistic dessert. Each course had its assigned cutlery and I was grateful for all those etiquette dinners I had as a youth, so pay attention kids. You never know, some day you might get to eat dinner at Oxford.

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When everyone was finished the presiding faculty banged the gavel again and we all stood. He said another prayer in Latin. We took our linen napkins with us and headed outside, across the chilly, starlit courtyard to another chamber.

We entered a large pink room with a blazing fire, two giant crystal chandeliers, life-size portraits, more candles, goblets and china (Now think Downton Abbey) and another table that was not quite as old as the first–perhaps as old as George Washington’s mother. We had assigned seats here as well, but we were seated next to new people, so all the conversations were fresh.

On the plate in front of me was a mysterious bowl of water with a lemon in it. I was not sure what I was supposed to do with it. Drink it? Wash my fingers in it? Gargle? So I just did what everyone else did which was move it to the side.

Then came the fruits. Beautiful platters of exotic fruits were passed around the table, some of them I didn’t even recognize nor have any idea how to eat.

Following the fruit there were three crystal decanters of alcohol in lovely shades of pink, rose and burgundy, which I passed on their merry way. A little tin box of snuff came next, which I also passed. Scott told me later there was also a plate of sweets which somehow didn’t reach me. Curses!

When everyone was finished we moved to another room: a drawing room-type place (think Jane Austen) where we were served coffee and tea (and for us Mormons, more water. I drank A LOT of water last night).

During this whole exercise (which took three hours) I was surrounded by brilliant minds. Over the years I have had many opportunities to talk with very intelligent and accomplished people (through Scott’s job). This used to intimidate me a little, but not any more. First of all, I love talking to academics. They are attentive, curious, inquisitive and enjoy explaining things as much as they like asking questions. They are very knowledgeable in their field and in some cases they know more about a certain topic than anyone on the planet. I love to see how animated they become when they have a captive listener who wants to know about their life’s work. But even they will admit that they know a lot about a little and they are always interested in learning something they didn’t know before. After all, is that not the very nature of academics?

For the first stage of dinner I sat across from a man named Mark who was a lecturer on The Classics. Now, to me “the classics” means Charlottes Web, To Kill A Mockingbird and Where the Wild Things Are. I knew enough to know I had no idea how to progress in a conversation with this man. So I said, “What would be an intelligent question to ask someone who lectures on The Classics?” He gave a broad smile and then we were off like a couple of race horses, having a fantastic discussion of Greek papyri and ancient Greek songs which I think we both found quite satisfying.

In the second stage of dinner I was seated next to another Classics professor with brown eyes. Thanks to my new friend Mark at the previous table, now I actually had some background in the subject and could ask intelligent questions on my own. Mr. Brown Eyes and I had a truly fascinating conversation about Greek love poetry while eating passion fruit with tiny forks. It is a good thing I’ve never been attracted to brown-eyed men.

These academics were just as generous with questions about my life. When I told them that my magnum opus is raising five children they were dutifully impressed and wanted to know more about my kids and how they were “getting on” in Oxford. We talked about many other things last night including Mormon handcart companies, British Parliament, the vastness of the state of Wyoming, 2nd Amendment rights of Americans, genealogy, the proper way to heat tea (NOT in a microwave), what my mother is doing with her life at 75, cougar hunting, and why so many Brits are wearing a poppy on their lapel this week (Armistice day/Veterans day).

It was a wonderful evening of food, conversation and tradition. To sum it all up: everyone is interesting. Everyone has a story to tell or knowledge to share and no matter how much you know there is always something to learn. How I love living in a world filled with so many wonderful and different people. Thank you Oriel College and especially Mike Devereux  for a lovely and unforgettable evening!

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U.K. Schools: Uniforms, Hymns, and Fish & Chips

With all of my kids in school now I can finally sit down and write about it.

They are LOVING it (not really) and I am so pleased with the way they are getting used to their new environment. At the very least they are getting their exercise! I walk Naomi and Levi about .5 miles to school every day, while Scott bikes with Dan to his school (2 miles away).

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Sophia and Syrena win the prize for distance–they walk 2.5 miles to school AND back. That is five miles a day for them . . . and if you include our Sunday trek Sophia and Syrena walk 30 miles a week.

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The main reason we wanted our kids to go to school here is so they could experience school life outside the United States and gain a broader perspective of the world. We came to the right place . . .  I went to a parents meeting on Friday and the parents were from Poland, Italy, France, Hungary, India, Japan, Brazil and Africa. The true Brits were actually in the minority, and I was the only North American. This is the nature of Oxford.  People come from all over the world to attend or work at this world renown university. (In fact, I just found out that Malala Yousafzai just started at Oxford this month! We will be on the lookout for her.)

My kids have noticed a lot of differences between their British schools verses their American schools, and we have complied a list. But first an important disclaimer: This is not a list to compare the quality of the education between US schools and UK schools. There are good schools and not-so-good schools here, just like their are good schools and not-so-good schools in America, so it would be impossible for me to compare the merits of the education as a whole (plus we are not here long enough to do that). This is simply a list of the minor cultural differences in every day school life.

  • There are no school buses here. Kids walk, bike, bus or are driven to school by their parents. I was told that British kids think our yellow American school buses are “cute” . . . probably the way we think red London phone booths are cute.
  • There is no such thing as paper lunch bags. We have looked everywhere for them. They don’t exist. Or perhaps they reserve them in the back of the grocery stores and only sell them to kids who go to the private schools. I have no idea.
  • Children are taught to do all of their school work in pen–no pencils allowed–even for math (or “maths” as they say here). Apparently British children do not make mistakes.
  • Many (but not all) public schools in Oxford wear uniforms . . . and some uniforms are more appealing than others. For the most part uniforms are not that expensive, unless you are buying for four children. I probably would have spent the same amount of money on school clothes shopping in the US as I did on uniforms. I’m sure some of the private schools here have more expensive uniforms. Also, not everything is “compulsory.” For instance, at the secondary school (high school) that Sophia and Syrena attend, the jacket with the crest on it is compulsory, but you don’t have to buy the sweater to go with it unless you want to. IMG_6656
  • In North Carolina the schools would sometimes have a fundraiser called “Hat Day” and if you paid a dollar you could wear a hat. Here, instead of Hat Day they have No Uniform Day and you can pay one pound to wear your normal street clothes and leave your uniform at home! Woo-hoo!
  • Recess is called “break” and my kids get a lot more “break time” here than their public schools in NC.
  • Naomi, Dan and Levi all attend church schools. Naomi and Levi go to a Catholic school and Danny goes to a Church of England school. During school they have prayers and sing hymns. At Naomi’s school they even light candles at the school, and every week “Father Daniels” comes and prays with them and gives them a little sermon. Even though Naomi’s school accepts Christians as well as Muslims, the children get little awards for memorizing things like the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues and the Apostle’s Creed. Naomi received her first award last week, proving she is on her way to becoming a good Catholic.IMG_6944
  • Kids seem to go on a lot more field trips here. Every other week the kids are going somewhere. Sometimes the school doesn’t even tell me. (The other day Levi *said* that he went on a field trip to an island and they handed out swimming suits to everyone . . . but I don’t believe everything Levi tells me about school.) Right now Naomi is in Wales on a school trip. She’s been there for a whole week! We will all be so happy to see her when she gets back.
  • Children start to specialize sooner here. If Sophia and Syrena were going to be here for the entire year they would have a chance to have work experience in a field that they intend on pursuing and all of their classes would start to focus on this field.
  • Danny goes swimming as part of school. On Wednesdays he spends the entire morning swimming laps. He doesn’t think it is great, but I think it is AWESOME.
  • They start kids a year earlier than we do in the US. That is why Levi gets to go to school.IMG_6947
  • They feed all the younger kids *free* school lunch. A friend of mine who lives here says that that is how the government gets the kids hooked on eating hot lunch. Some of the menu items: Yorkshire pudding (kind of like a German pancake or popover, but you eat it with meat and gravy instead of powdered sugar and syrup) and Dan’s favorite: fish and chips.

Those are few of the most noticeable differences. Since wearing a uniform is probably the biggest change for my kids, I will do a future post on the pros and cons of uniforms after my kids have been in school for a while. But for now I love love love love being here. I love walking my kids to and from school every day, I love that they are out of their comfort zones, and I love watching how they adjust to these new experiences and make new friendships.

 

 

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Walking to Church in Oxford

For four Sundays we have walked the 2.5 miles to church. At first we walked through the center of Oxford, but recently we found a less busy route. Let me take you with us.

First we walk through the streets of Jericho where we live, past the ales and fine food.IMG_6363

We cross a bridge and walk alongside the canal. (Oxford is called Oxford because it was a place where they would cross oxen through the Thames River. Swineford is another city where they would cross the pigs. I’m glad I live in Oxford.)

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We cross another bridge and walk under the train tracks. Often there is a train rumbling above us. IMG_6373Then over a rainbow bridge.IMG_6379

We keep following the canal. IMG_6381

We will soon cross that bridge up ahead and get onto Botley Road.IMG_6384Crossing Botley Road.IMG_6385Usually this road is very busy with traffic, but on Sunday mornings it isn’t so bad.IMG_6387.JPGAnother bridge.IMG_6388Another row of houses.IMG_6390

We pass by a loch where they raise and lower the water level to let boats from one canal onto another.IMG_6392.JPGYet another bridge.IMG_6393Then through a small grove and a meadow. Danny also uses this route to ride his bike to school. Danny’s school is just after this meadow. IMG_6397Another row of houses.IMG_6398

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When we pass the duck pond . . . we are almost there . . . IMG_6405But first we have to pass a steaming, inviting swimming pool. Come on, Danny!IMG_6406 And sometimes we see old men sailing little boats on the Thames.IMG_6408

Then down the straight and narrow path . . .IMG_6409And we reach our destination. We take off our walking shoes and put on our church shoes. Then after church we do it all again! IMG_6410

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And Then There Was One

Last night we found out some big news for Naomi: she will be going to the St. Aloysius Catholic Primary School. This must have been meant to be since she is always telling me that she wants to learn Latin. She will also be wearing a uniform which is welcome news for her since she has been coveting her older sisters’ uniforms.  Luckily, there was also a spot there for Levi, so they will both be there together, and when they come home they will be able to say secret things to each other at the dinner table in Latin.

Now that Sophie and Syrena, Naomi and Levi are all assigned a school and that leaves me with one: Danny.  But he does he feel left out? Ooooh no. He doesn’t want to go to school and he definitely does NOT want to go to Catholic School.  Mostly because they pray, and praying is one of his least favorite things to do. In that case, I told him, he needs to pray really hard to NOT get into that school.

Maybe after all of his siblings are gone and he is left with me all day he will change his mind.

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Danny, still imprisoned in the stocks of home school

So it looks like my home school will dissolve as of next week.  Doing home school for the past three weeks has been very humbling. I have a new respect for home schooling moms (although I had a lot of respect for them before). We had a lot of fun, though, and I *think* my kids learned some things from me. Here are a couple things we worked on:

I had each child memorize a poem by a British poet. I chose poems that went a long with their personalities, and I am very pleased with how much they enjoyed learning their poems. Dan and Naomi have their poems memorized, and Levi almost has his. Sophie and Syrena have been slacking (they each have a Shakespearian sonnet), but it is because I’ve had them do a lot of other things so it is okay.

The other major thing we did was “World Building.” Each child invented their own country. They drew a map of their country, made a flag, created a government, and today we discussed what natural resources they have to buy and sell with other countries. It has been a fun project, I think, and something to help fill up the time.

That has been the hardest thing–to fill up the time. There are A LOT of hours in the day!

 

I’m looking forward to next week and seeing most of my kids start schools. It kindles a little nervous feeling in my heart, but I know they will have an amazing experience. I’ll keep you updated.

Here are the photos of the week:

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The girls and I went to a choir concert this week at Exeter college. We found this piece of music on the pew left over from the boys choir that reveals Steven’s true feelings about this song. 

The following photos are of the Radcliffe Observatory that I can see from my bedroom window:IMG_6003.jpgThis is the ceiling inside the observatory:IMG_6013.jpg

And the stairway:IMG_6015.JPG

We got to visit several of the colleges. This is a dining hall. Remind you of anything? IMG_6076.jpg

 

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Home School, Bribes and a Ghost!

This has been a great week, if you don’t count the ghost.
But first I’ll tell you about school.
I started “school” with my kids and is how it goes: We sit down at the kitchen table and I pass out their journals. They spend some time writing about a topic that I have chosen for them. Then we do math, then penmanship, then some vocabulary. And then school is done!
This takes about 8 minutes.
As you might guess, my kids are loving this school. But I’m afraid their teacher is lacking. I have decided that my music/English degree did not train me for this and I am having a hard time coming up with meaningful projects. . . Naomi’s current project is to draw and identify every plant in the back garden.
But good news–! I found out that two of my kids will get into Oxford schools! Sophie and Syrena have been accepted into a very good school . . . and they will wear UNIFORMS. When I broke the news to them, Sophie and Syrena, who had been bubbly ever since we got here, became graveyard-silent. They didn’t laugh for 24 hours. We went to London the next day to sight-see and they walked around all day as if they were on their way to the gallows. There is a lot going on in those two heads right now.
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I think that if those two made it into school the others have a good chance, but we shall see. I will have a more clear picture this week. I don’t think Chelsea’s 8-minute school will last forever. . . but Naomi has already identified two plants!
Now . . . about the ghost.
Remember I told you that my closet door keeps opening when my back is turned? Well, so does an attic crawl space door above Naomi’s bed. At night. And it creaks.
Not only that, but a couple days ago I was on the phone and I heard a tremendous crash. Not just one crash, but a series of crashes. It sounded as if someone had fallen down the stairs with a mirror. But no one was on the stairs (either stairs) and nothing seemed amiss in the house. Danny thought it might have happened outside, but no one was in the alley. It was a mystery . . . until we went into Syrena’s room. And there, in a catastrophic heap on the tile floor, was Syrena’s collapsed desk and all of her books and pens and pencils and a broken mug.
No one was in the room when it happened.
At least no one . . . living.
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And speaking of living, on goes the struggle to keep my boys alive. I decided that boys are born without a common sense gene. I’m sure they develop it later, but they are definitely NOT born with it. Somehow they can’t comprehend that every time we go out for a walk we are inches from death with all the zooming cars. Scott keeps reminding me that the cars are only going about 20 miles per hour, but to me that is fast enough. 
Since the boys still resist holding my hand I have resorted to bribery. I keep a package of Skittles in my pocket, and every time the boys willingly hold my hand to cross the street I put one in their hand and say “thank you for holding my hand.” It is working grrrrreat. I make sure Sophie and Syrena also have skittles in their pockets.
Of course, Scott doesn’t need to have any skittles because the boys *love* to hold his hand. Grrr.
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Here is a parting shot of a street near our home and one of the sweetest kids I know:
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Our First Week in Oxford

When you only have a little bit of time and you have to decide whether you are going to write a blog post or write to your mother, always write to your mother.
But I will let you eavesdrop.
Hi Mom–
Please excuse the spelling and grammar of my letter. I wanted to send you some photos of our trip so far and tell you what we’ve been up do but I don’t have much time (Scott is down stairs streaming Indiana Jones with the kids). But now that we’ve been here for almost a week I wanted to write and let you know we are alive and things are going better than I expected.
We have a great house. It is super old (200 years?) but sturdy. The stairs slant and the floorboards have cracks and creak REALLY LOUDLY (good thing, too, because there is no lock on the master bedroom door). I also think a ghost lives in my closet because no matter how often I close the door it opens when I am not looking . . . but it is perfect for us because there are enough dents in the floors and walls that the ones we add will not be so noticeable. It is furnished, so we have everything we need, pots and pans and spoons and a washer-dryer contraption that I’m not sure I understand yet. We have enough beds for everyone, and most of the rooms are light and airy. I love the skylights! The rooms that are in the basement are not light and airy but at least they are cozy. There is a big sticker down stairs that says “IF YOU SMELL GAS CALL THIS NUMBER.”
That sticker keeps me up at night.
We live in a great part of the city–everything is walkable–the post office, the health center, all of the grocery stores, lots of restaurants, it is wonderful! Scott and I had a very romantic date at a nearby pub that claimed they made “proper hamburgers” which were absolutely delicious. I think we have walked about 15 miles this week. I am glad because this means I can eat more proper hamburgers.
. . . and Cadbury chocolate. YUM!
Church is a little out there–2.5 miles–but we did it anyway. I’m not sure that is sustainable, though. We might have to figure out another way to get to church. Or go to another church . . .the Scientology church is much closer. And the Quakers.
But going to church really was wonderful. I told the kids before church how you always told me that every time you go to church in a different country you feel like you are coming home. It felt like that here, too, only this church has an ELEVATOR. Danny was excited about that. Too excited.
It is so funny how small the world is. I met someone at church whom I knew in the BYU married ward when I was RS pres. That was a great surprise!
I am trying and praying really hard for the kids to get in school. Sophie and Syrena will be fine if they don’t get into school because they can do BYU Independent Study. But I MUST GET DANNY IN SCHOOL. Not for my sake, but for his. He needs a break from his nagging mom. But I am not trying to be naggy…I am only trying to save his life. (That is the only stressful thing about walking everywhere, is that 7 year old boys think they can walk across streets and not look both ways and that cars will just magically halt. Kind of the same way Dad thought, only Danny doesn’t old up his hand and grin at people. PLEEEEZZZ pray for Danny EVERY NIGHT.)
It has been so fun to have Scott around. Usually he is at work or doing church stuff, but he has been with us 24/7 and we’ve done so much–punting on the river, walking around parks and ran a community scavenger hunt (“orienteering course”) and it has been so great to have him around. He really is an amazing man. He is positive and optimistic no matter what. I know that this trip has gone so smoothly because of him. That will end tomorrow, though, when he goes to Oxford to work and I am on my own.
*trying to hold in the sobs*
I wish I could write more, but I have to get my home schooling stuff organized just in case I have to teach my kids. I can’t remember how to do fractions. Or division. Or spelling.
Did I mention you need to pray for Danny?
Love,
Chelsea
PS Mom, every time I see lace in the windows I remember how much you loved that. I wish you were here. It would be fun to go on a walk with you. Adelaide street is where we live. The street sign is much prettier than our front door. 🙂
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The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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