A new year

Obviously, I took the last couple of weeks off. From pretty much everything. After the year that was 2007, I needed it.

The Grady clan spent the two holiday weeks hermitting up in our compound in Northwest England, trying to not see anybody else for the most part. Squirmy experienced his first Christmas, and discovered the joys of shoving large bits of discarded wrapping paper into his mouth. Never mind the whirly, shiny, battery operated toy that Santa just brought. Please provide more of the paper for me to eat.

The Critter managed to accumulate a nauseating amount of High School Musical paraphenalia, including a detailed note from Santa's workshop regarding their efforts to create a High School Musical Phlat Ball that went awry, resulting in minor injuries to a reindeer and half a dozen elves, but would you please accept this High School Musical Cheerleeding Outfit? Because seeing you in a cheerleader's outfit at 5 years old will send your father into a panic that is a Christmas treat in and of itself. The Critter returned this generosity by contracting the Black Plague on Boxing Day and projectile vomiting for 48 hours. (along with half the country, apparently. Which prompted the National Health Service to close more than 100 hospital wards. "Please... no more sick people" says one NHS spokesperson.)

Besides clean-up detail, the best gift my Bride and I received, however, was that the kids didn't wake up before 9:30 nearly the entire holiday season. Including Christmas day. I'm not sure how it happened that we got two kids with the synchronized sleep patterns of a university sophmore, but I'll take it and not complain.

Now that our final departure from the land of Eng is looming out there on the horizon, we're also madly trying to cross off all those places on the List Of Things To See&trade. So last week, we knocked a couple of the easier day trips off our list. We drove up to York (the old one, not the new one) and saw the enormous cathedral there, a surprisingly good museum of the evolution of daily life in Victorian times through today, and a nifty little castle. Totally worth the outing, and a should-do on anyone's visit to the UK.

But even though there was less to actually see, my favorite outing had to be the trip to Hadrian's Wall. We chose the first day of snow that England has seen this season to set out, but it ended up being a perfect way to see the wall, I think, and certainly a view of the area that you don't often see in photographs. The wall itself was actually 80 miles long, and not being able to convince the others to try walking the whole thing, we had to be selective about what part we could see. So we chose the large fort of Housesteads, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the wall.

It was kind of hard to explain to the Critter why I was so fascinated by what's essentially a low hump of stones at this point, but she was distracted by first the sight of all that lovely new snow, and then the misery of the wind whipping over the bare hill and through her cape as we trudged up to see a few geometric piles of rocks.

But it was still totally cool.