February 22, 2015

52 Project: 8/52

Week 8
February 16 - 22, 2015

Top:  Swingin' in the rain.  February half term.

Bottom:  My sweet bespectacled baby.  
(It's okay to still refer to your 16-month-old as a baby, right??)

February 18, 2015

Greenwich Mean Time, the Prime Meridian, and Cutty Sark

It recently came to my attention that I have lived in England for over four years without knowing two important bits of trvia: firstly, all time zones in the world are measured in terms of deviation from Greenwich; and secondly, the Prime Meridian is based in Greenwich.  The story of why those two things are true is fascinating* (at least to me), so a visit to the Royal Observatory Greenwich became a must on my to-do list. 

A family divided by the Prime Meridian.
Kate, Nick, and Annie in the Western Hemisphere.
Ella (and Fluffy) and Aubrey in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Please ignore the fact that two of my three children are picking their noses in this photo.

Standard measurements of time and distance found here.

Nick's shoe is exactly one foot long.

Kate's does not quite measure up.

While the science and history of the Royal Observatory gripped Nick and me, the girls were not so enthusiastic.  After our photo was taken on the Prime Meridian, they pretty much mentally peaced out.  So we wandered down the hill to see the Cutty Sark.

Cutty Sark was one of the fastest clippers ever built for shipping tea to England from China.  She was built in Scotland and her first owner was Scottish, so it's fitting that she was named after a character from a poem by Rabbie Burns.  The ship recently underwent massive renovation and restoration, and the tour was excellent.

Nick and his valentines ready to board the Cutty Sark.

Ella strikes a pose.

Getting a feel for the pitch and roll of the sea.

Annie sits on top of a tea crate in the cargo hold.

Then she loads a model of the Cutty Sark with tea and wool.

Annie runs (squealing with glee) along the decks of Cutty Sark
while Nick trudges along behind her.

Good thing this kid is cute.
She wears us out, but we'll keep her.

Kate nailed it.

Cap'n Kate.
She begged us to buy her the ship in a bottle.
We said no.
If she had asked for the hat, we would have caved in an instant.

After Cutty Sark we strolled through the fantastic Greenwich Market and cobbled together a lunch of delicious ethnic fare.  Nick had a spectacular vegetarian feast (Ethiopian), I enjoyed every last bite of a fabulous lamb and halloumi wrap (Greek...ish), while our children had pizza (authentic Italian).  We ate in the park while we watched well-trained doggies frolic and our not-quite-as-well-trained children pop bubbles blown by a street entertainer.

My Ethiopian prince.

The best wrap ever.
It pairs nicely with the frizziest hair of all time.

Popping bubbles.

On our drive home from Greenwich google maps directed us by every major site in London.  We passed right by Tower Bridge, St Paul's, the Eye, Big Ben, Churchill's War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, the Natural History Museum, Harrod's and so much more.  Since this is probably our last trip to London for a few years, it was a nice way to bid the city farewell.

Catch you later, Your Maj!

*Rick Steves's fascinating, concise description of the complicated Longitude Problem can be read below.  :)

Around 1700 as the ships of seafaring nations began to venture farther from their home bases, the alarming increase in the number of shipwrecks made it clear that navigational tools had to be improved.  Determining latitude  the relative position between the equator and the north or south pole  was straightforward; sailors needed only to measure the angle of the sun at noon.  But figuring out longitude or their east-west position was not as easy without a fixed point (such as the equator) from which to measure.

In 1714 the British government offered the 20,000 Longitude Prize.  Two successful solutions emerged and both are tied to Greenwich.

The first approach was to map the stars in the night sky over Greenwich.  Then sailors at sea could compare the stars overhead to the Greenwich map and calculate their east-west position.  Visitors to the Royal Observatory can still see the giant telescopes  under retractable roofs  that were used to carefully chart the movement of the stars night after night.

The second approach was the create a clock that would remain completely accurate on voyages  no easy feat back then, when turbulence and changes in weather and humidity made timepieces notoriously unreliable at sea.  John Harrison spent 45 years working on this problem, finally succeeding in 1760 with his fourth effort, the H4 (which won him the Longitude Prize).  All four of his attempts are on display at the Royal Observatory.

So, how can a clock determine longitude?  For every 15° of longitude equals an hour when comparing the difference in sunrise or sunset times between two places.  For example, the time gap between Greenwich and NYC is five hours, which translates into a longitudinal difference of 75°.  Equipped with an accurate timepiece set to GMT, sailors could figure out their longitude by comparing sunset time at their current position with sunset time back in Greenwich.

Notice that both approaches use Greenwich as a baseline  either on an astral map or on a clock.  That's why to this day the Prime Meridian and official world time are both centered in this unassuming London suburb.

February 17, 2015

Another Day at Hogwarts

Almost three years ago my husband gave me the best birthday present of all time: a trip to Hogwarts.
Even though we all love Harry Potter, that day was totally for me.  Nick adores the Harry Pottah and Ella and Kate were very interested, but I was completely awe-struck.  It was an AWESOME day.

In the interest of full disclosure, I freely admit that I read Philosopher's Stone aloud to Ella and Kate much earlier than I had planned (ages 4 and 3...completely inappropriate subject matter...please don't judge me) just so they would get something out of that first trip to Harry Potter Studios.  I know that the idea of dead parents and a villain so purely evil would cause most parents to wait a few more years, but I rushed it for selfish reasons.

Whether I rushed it or not, they were hooked from the very first page.  Those girls have read and re-read books one through three multiple times each.  They have pored over those pages so closely that they frequently state trivia so obscure Nick and I demand that they state the book and page number to support their claims.  Example 1:  Kate saw the name Piers the other day and said, "Hey!  That's the name of Dudley's best friend!" (Philosophers's Stone 22)  Example 2:  Ella Mae pointed out recently that the sword Harry used to slay the basilisk belonged to Godric Gryffindor (Chamber of Secrets 245) as did the Sorting Hat (Goblet of Fire 157).  Neither Nick nor I had any recollection that the Sorting Hat was among the possessions of Godric Gryffindor.  We were totally schooled by our 7-year-old.

We've also gotten really into the Pottermore website lately.  As in we've all been sorted (Nick and I are Ravenclaw, Ella is Gryffindor, Kate is Hufflepuff, and we all suspect Annie is Slytherin), have purchased wands, and selected our familiars.  If you are a HP fan and haven't visited this site, get thee to Pottermore!  It is the only fan website authored by JK herself, so it's legit yo.  (Yes, that matters to hard-core fans.)

When our daughters realized we have less than two months left in England, they frantically requested a return trip to Harry Potter Studios.  We assented on the basis that now that they are 5 and 7 they might actually remember it.  So this weekend we took our kids to Hogwarts.  It was all about them, and we have the robes, ties, and wands to prove it.  :)

We skipped the beanies and vowed to knit our own scarves.
We spent almost £300 as it was, so we opted to cut a few corners.

We wanted these robes SO BADLY.
But we refrained.
Because we're grown ups.

My sweet Hufflepuff!
Did you know Hufflepuff is the only house to have never produced a Dark Witch or Wizard?
JK Rowling said it was so on pottermore.com.

Young Hermione Granger.
The resemblance is truly uncanny.

The PJ5 in the Great Hall!

Me and my girls.
Brown nosing with the faculty.

They fit right in.

This. THIS.

The photo above captures everything about why we went back for a second visit.  The people who work at Harry Potter Studios have my dream job are totally there for the little readers.  Kate and Ella were stopped at least a dozen times by various workers to chat about their favorite characters, the houses they were in (overwhelmingly the employees were from Hufflepuff), the wands they had chosen (Kate's comment when someone joked that her wand has a pizza on it was, "Uh...that's a RUNE"), and various other trivia (Hermione Granger's wand features a vine that grows in the month of September).  The employees made this visit even more magical than it is on its own.

Annie stands at the Hogwarts gates.
We're certain she'll be admitted in a few years' time.

Yule Ball!

Withdrawing memories for Dumbledor's Pensieve.

Ella is sure Snape is a good guy.
Kate — wand trained on Severus — is not so certain.

A scary surprise.
Malfoy Manor is much more frightening than it was three years ago.
The girls were freaked out by the suspended body, so we booked it out of there.
Proof positive we need to wait at least a year before we start Order of the Phoenix.

Another awesome thing about this visit was the "Animals of Hogwarts" special exhibit.  We saw one of the original Crookshankses, a descendant of Fang, a Scabbers look-alike, and too many owls to count.  It was awesome.  My little animal lovers were in heaven.

Chilling with Crookshanks in the Gryffindor common room.

Checking out Fang outside Hagrid's hut.

Annie was IN LOVE with these guys outside Eyelop's Owl Emporium.

Once again, the studio employees come through!  This owl handler was so happy that Annie adored his "who" that he brought this tiny owl over to her so she could see him up close.  We bought Teensa her own Pigwidgeon to remember this moment.

Family snap on Diagon Alley.

And outside of Hogwarts.

I hope our mutual love for Harry Potter is something we will always share.  I love how these big girls are so into it and how they cannot wait to introduce Annie to the magical world they love.

Enjoying some Butterbeer.

Annie is more interested in licking the handrail than taking a photo.
Fair enough.

My three girls!
You have to zoom way in to see Annie's face, but when you do it's totally worth it.  :)

After a tiring day at Hogwarts, it's normal to fall asleep with your wand out.
Constant vigilance, Ella Mae.

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

If my daughters learn anything at all from Harry Potter, this is what I would have them take away.

February 15, 2015

52 Project: 7/52

Week 7
February 9 - 15, 2015

Top:  A Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff, and...a handrail licker at Harry Potter Studios.

Bottom:  My littlest valentine.

February 9, 2015

Stoke-on-Trent: The Potteries

Stoke-on-Trent is famous for its pottery shops.  Wedgwood, Burleigh, Spode, Royal Daulton, and many other famous brands are based there, and nowadays you can tour the factories and browse the shops for bargains.  

My friend Laurie and I both have active little ladies who would make shopping for china a total nightmare, so we found a weekend day that worked for both of us and left our kids with our husbands.  An entire day chatting with my dear friend Laurie, enjoying lunch without children, and shopping for crockery at our leisure?  Yes, please! 

It was a fabulous day of conversation, deliberation, and procuration in Stoke-on-Trent!

First stop: Emma Bridgewater.

These raw goods...

...become these gorgeous products.

Burleigh was A-MAZ-ING.

In the end I came home with two platters, two giant serving bowls, a mince pies plate, various mugs, a set of mix and match dessert plates, and the coveted Burleigh Herritage pitcher.  Hundreds of pounds later, I regret the one thing I did not purchase: a tiered cake tray.  :(

If only I had time to make one more trip to Stoke-on-Trent before we move back to the US of A!  But since we're less than 60 days out, that's probably not in the cards.  Just another reason to revisit the UK in a few years' time!

February 8, 2015

52 Project: 6/52

Week 6
February 2 - 8, 2015

Top:  Walking to school in glorious powdery snow.  Ella suggested we sing "Let It Go" whilst flinging handfulls of snow just like Elsa, and Kate was totally on board.  Even Annie got in on the Frozen action.  

Bottom:  Teensa almost never falls asleep in the car.  (Probably because we rarely go anywhere in the car.)  When she does, it's adorable.