Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

This comes from

The Boxing Day tradition began in Britain possibly as early as in the Middle Ages; with regards to its origin, there are two main schools of thought. Some historians maintain that it began as a holiday tradition where house servants, who always had to work on Christmas days, were rewarded the day after. Their employers would put gifts such as food, clothing, or money in “Christmas boxes,” which the servants would then take with them as they departed for family visits. Others say that Boxing Day is so named because churches collected money for the poor in wooden boxes and usually opened them to hand out alms on the day after Christmas. Today, Boxing Day is celebrated in most of the other English-speaking countries that include Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the United States being a notable exception.

The spirit of generosity surrounding this day is best exemplified by the fact that December 26 is also St. Stephen’s Day. St. Stephen was one of the seven original deacons in the Christian Church. He was stoned to death by an angry mob for his devoted piety and faith in Christ. As he expired in a slow and painful death, St. Stephen uttered a powerful prayer in which he begged God to forgive his persecutors. Many consider him to be the first martyr.

Boxing Day is therefore much more than a fun day at the mall; it is meant to be a day of giving and sharing, and of charity and appreciation in an extension of seasonal joy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Here we are with some of our Christmas crackers. Each one contained a novelty, a hat (Stylish, aren't they?), a motto (joke), and a snap. Only one of the jokes was specifically British:

Q. What happened to the hyena who swallowed an OXO cube?
A. He made a laughing stock of himself.

Happy Christmas, Everyone!


Monday, December 24, 2007

Ned the Donkey

Evenpraise is the contemporary service held at Woking URC on the 4th Sunday of the month at 6:30 pm. Last night Erin joined us for their Christmas Celebration, which included lots of carols to the upbeat sounds of the band.

The Christmas Eve Crib Service took place today at 4 pm, and featured Ned the Donkey. (Do you see Dave and Chris in the background?) We started in the car park, and then followed Ned into the sanctuary during the second carol. The service was short and informal - perfect for the youngsters. And when they were invited to play musical instruments during the final carol, Ned quietly made his exit.


Children (and adults) were encouraged to attend in costume. With a bathrobe, some cloth, and a piece of rope, anyone could be a shepherd. But I think it took a lot of work to be a donkey!


I don't know if we'll make it back to the Midnight Communion Service. After all, it just won't be the same as my second favourite service of the year back home. (Favourite? Easter.) And then there's the Christmas Day Service at 10 am. Looks like it will be raining for both of those, but what else would you expect in England?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Skating on Thin Ice

The Basingstoke Canal has frozen over. (That's The Lightbox to the right of it.) But it's a very thin layer of ice.


If skating is what you desire, seasonal rinks abound in London. This one is at Somerset House, located right next to where Dave works. By day it's pretty quiet, but at night it's very crowded.


And during the rest of the year, you can play in the fountains instead!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Solstice

With a sunrise of 8:05 am, and a sunset of 3:56 pm, it was definitely the shortest amount of daylight I've ever experienced. (Baltimore's day was 90 minutes longer.) I've always wanted to travel to Norway, but not at this time of year!

Today we walked to The Lightbox, located along the south side of the Basingstoke Canal. Woking's newest gallery and museum just opened on September 15, and we waited until Erin returned to visit the Animated Adventures of Wallace and Gromit. The French Market was back in town for the weekend, so we loaded up with a variety of cheeses from the town square, added a few more ingredients from the mall, and had ourselves quite a feast.

Tonight I returned to the town square to attend Christ Church's International Carol Service. Now in its 3rd year, readings and songs were performed in Xhosa, Mandarin, Japanese, Polish, Romanian, Persian, Armenian, Nepali, German, Urdu, and French. Wow! The congregational carols were sung in English. However, some of the tunes were different, including Away in a Manger and O Little Town of Bethlehem. By the way, we'll probably come back saying Beth-lee-hem....

Friday, December 21, 2007

Panto with The Fonz

Erin landed at Heathrow on Wednesday morning, and on Thursday afternoon we took part in one of the biggest British traditions - the Pantomime. It's a show with lots of slapstick and audience participation. This year's Woking production (there are numerous choices in and around London) is Peter Pan, with Henry Winkler playing the part of the "baddie" - Captain Hook. He had so much fun in this role last year at Wimbledon, that he came back for another season. Almost anything goes with panto, so yes, it included the Happy Days theme song, music and dancing from the '50s, and several classic lines from Fonzie himself.


Wasn't it nice of the theatre to place this cardboard cutout in the lobby? Several friends have seen Henry out and about in Woking (he's living right here in town until the middle of January), but we have not been so lucky...yet?


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Shop 'til You Drop

Not me. But there are plenty of opportunities here to do so. All on 1 level and roughly in the shape of a T, Wolsey Place has been around for over 35 years. It also includes a grocery store (Sainsbury's), which is the main attraction for us.

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Just next door is the newer kid in town. The Peacocks Centre is about 10 years old, and all 4 levels will cheerfully accept your money. And right now, you can even visit Father Christmas in his grotto at Debenhams!

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Finally, there are lots of small stores - including numerous charity shops - all around town. Happy shopping, wherever you are! Ten days until Christmas....

Friday, December 14, 2007

Something Old...

Something Old - Most post boxes bear the E II R logo of Queen Elizabeth II. But some go back to the days of her father, King George VI, who reigned from 1936 to 1952. Such is the case for this one, which is actually the closest letter drop to our flat, located about 5 minutes south of the train station.

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Something New - They were still working on this "gateway" to Woking when we arrived in the summer, and it was completed in the fall. While it doesn't do much for me, all of the solar panels in the roof make it quite environmentally friendly, and that was enough to warrant a visit from Prince Charles near the start of the project. It links the north side of the train station (left) with the south side of the town centre (right).

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Something Borrowed - This came from Nicolas, Helen, and their son Samuel for Shelly's visit. Nicolas works at King's College London, and they all live about a 30 minute walk north of our flat. Helen and Nicolas provided a wealth of information before our England adventure even began, and have been just as helpful to this day. Plus, they're really nice people with which to spend time!

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Something Blue - Signs like this are all around town. It's hard to get lost! From where I was standing, the town centre is to the left (west). What you can't see are the markers pointing north to the Basingstoke Canal, or south to the train station. Ready to draw a map of Woking?

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Thursday, December 13, 2007


The 8 days of Chanukah have just ended for 2007, so during that time period, this modern Menorah stood in Trafalgar Square. (Nelson's Column is on the left.)

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While I was in the area last week, I heard a passerby exclaim, "Oh look, it's that Jewish thing." I hope she took a closer look at the base of it and expanded her knowledge a bit....

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Seasonal Music and More

What's been going on so far this month? It kicked off with the Illuminated Boat Procession on Saturday the 1st. This took place on the Basingstoke Canal, which lies just north of the town centre. It was originally opened in 1794, and was then restored and reopened in 1991 - almost 200 years later!

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Events moved into high gear this past weekend. On Friday evening, Dave and I attended the Advent Carol Service at King's College London. It was a wonderful time of music, readings, and prayers - all by candlelight. (Good thing I splurged on those reading glasses from Target before moving here....) We had our first mulled wine and mince pies at the reception that followed.

On Saturday there was a live nativity in the town centre. Mary and Joseph didn't seem too excited about spending their afternoon on display, but the animals were quite content.

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To the left of the nativity was a steel drum band playing Christmas music. And to the left of the band was the mulled wine...and mince pies! (Did you know that mince pies are filled with mincemeat, which nowadays is a vegetarian fruit mixture?) All of this took place under cover, because it was a cold and rainy day.

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Sunday afternoon found us back at church, because this year it hosted The Salvation Army's "Carols for Christmas" concert. Brass music - what a great way to close out the weekend!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Operation Christmas Child

Our church at home is involved in mission projects throughout the year, with more activities than usual at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has been interesting to see what our church here does for others.

Globally, we participated in Operation Christmas Child in November. People filled shoe boxes with toys, educational supplies, hygiene items, nonperishable sweets, and things to wear. These will be distributed to children in need throughout the world.

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Locally, we collected toys for Newham URC in December. (Newham is located in London's East End, where the needs definitely outweigh the resources.) People brought their gifts forward during today's offering, and placed them under the large Christmas tree that now stands at the front of the sanctuary. I'm not usually much of a shopper, but it was fun wandering the aisles of Woking's Toys "R" Us! I bet there are more Doctor Who items on the shelves here than at home....

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Harry Potter

I love to read, but I never found time to get past the first 4 Harry Potter books. With more time on my hands here, I went back to the beginning and eventually finished all 7...but in the UK versions. (At least in the first few books, different words are actually printed - jumper vs. sweater, and so on.) As Dave and Chris have both pointed out, it's brilliant (great) to be surrounded now by the British vocabulary. We saw candy floss (cotton candy) at several fun fairs this summer, and often order pudding (dessert) when we go out to eat. Large items go in the boot (trunk) of a car, and I wear trainers (sneakers) on my feet. Plus, the Dursleys lived in County Surrey (as do we), and trips into London involved streets such as Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road (yup, been on both).

The British Library is located between the Euston and King's Cross/St Pancras Tube stops. Naturally, I chose the latter on my September visit so that I could pop into King's Cross Station.

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The Harry Potter movies have been filmed all over the UK. I stumbled onto some of these locations by accident. For example, when I visited St Paul's Cathedral in August, this staircase was included on the "Supertour" that went into places not normally open to the public. I don't remember this scene in any of the movies, but then again, I've only seen the first 2, and that was quite some time ago.

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And when I visited Durham Cathedral in October, our tour guide pointed out that the Hall (in the center) was used as a classroom in the first 2 movies, and scenes were also filmed in the Cloisters.

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On our recent trip to Oxford, I knew that a visit to Christ Church was at the top of my list - for the Cathedral, of course, but also for the Hall.

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When I first got there, the Hall was closed for a private function. It opened later just so people could get a glimpse from the entrance. Usually you can walk around the entire room and view the numerous portraits, but access was restricted because of an upcoming Christmas party. And that was good enough for me. Now I'll have to watch those early movies again!

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Conquest Art

Dave is here to work at King's College London, and Chris is here to study at Woking College. But what about me? Of course, there are endless sights to see in and around London. And frequent walks to the grocery store are necessary because of my limited carrying capacity. A single small load in the washer/dryer unit takes several hours, so there is always laundry to do. And you know how much I love to clean the flat.... But it would be nice to do something more rewarding.

On Wednesday afternoons I walk down to church when it hosts Conquest Art. Founded in 1978, its aim is to enrich the lives of physically disabled people. I help Joan set up before the others arrive, and then clean up afterwards. During the class itself I socialize (an important part of the program), and do whatever else I can. Numbers vary from 3 to 10 people, and shown below are some of the regulars. Gordon brings his wife Ursula, who has been in a wheelchair since her stroke. They both enjoy creating landscapes with watercolors.

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Helena (right) and her team bring a varying number of people from the nearby hospital each week. Chris is also a stroke victim, and he also prefers landscapes. Daphne (left) is the artist who can actually offer creative suggestions.

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Vera (left) and Betty (right) both add animals and/or flowers to their homemade cards. And as you can see, I took their picture after the usual tea and biscuits had been served! Joan has a group of church members who help with that on a rotating basis.

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So it's not much, but it's one way I've been able to get involved with the church and the community in a meaningful way. And it always renews my appreciation for my own health.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


No, not here. That would be highly unusual. I just received my first WBAL e-mail alert of the year, and learned that schools back home are closing 1 hour early today. By tomorrow morning there could be 2-4 inches of snow on the ground! That would be very exciting, especially compared to the forecast here:

Thursday - Rain/Wind
Friday - Light Rain
Saturday - Heavy Rain
Sunday - Rain

On top of that, today's sunrise was at 7:49 am, and sunset was at 3:55 pm, so the daylight hours are already very limited, and only getting shorter. But on the bright side, the sun really did make appearances both this morning and this afternoon! And that's more than I'm expecting for the rest of the week....

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy New Year!

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and thus the church year starts anew. At Woking URC, the four candles in the circular wreath are white, and the one in the middle is red. There are no Christmas decorations up in the church...yet.

This afternoon we finally enjoyed our first Sunday roast. Even the pubs that usually have age restrictions invite people of all ages to dine with them for these special meals. We headed across the street to our local hangout - The Sovereigns. When the railway came to Woking back in 1838, this building was called The Railway Hotel, and it was the first to provide accommodation of its type in this area. Today it still serves good food and drink, and if Dave chooses his table carefully, he has a direct line of sight to our flat and a connection to our Internet!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Charlie Brown Christmas

When Chris was little (Can you imagine that?), we always waited until December 1st to start decorating for Christmas. That allowed us to focus on his birthday and Thanksgiving in November. In trying to keep our rapidly accumulating "stuff" to a minimum, I purchased a scrawny table top tree yesterday. By the time we lovingly added garland and ornaments, it looked pretty cute! (Charlie Brown would be so proud of us....) Just for fun, I bought an Advent calendar at Legoland Windsor back in October, so the first box was opened today, and the little Lego character was assembled and added to the tree. Surrounding the tree are crackers - those will be new to us. We'll do our best this month to experience all that a traditional English Christmas has to offer!

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