Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Harlaxton: Final Thoughts

We had a fantastic semester in Harlaxton. We would love to go again whenever Alan gets another turn (maybe in five or six years?).

The manor is a wonderful place to live, and the folks at Harlaxton run a good ship. The housekeeping and grounds crews keep the place immaculate. And we were all made to feel right at home—every detail was arranged for our arrival, including snacks in our apartment and children’s books on the shelves.

Food in the Refectory was ok. It was cafeteria food cooked to serve a large number of people. So there were inherently some limitations in quality. But definitely passable. Coop maybe wouldn’t entirely agree, but they always had a dessert, which was a big hit with him, and he ate a lot of yogurt. (I’ve convinced myself that yogurt is some kind of miracle food, and as long as he eats that, he’ll be ok...) Given that all of our meals were provided, we didn’t eat out much. When we were traveling, we usually found a local pub. And pub food is always yummy!

We liked living with (among) the students. I wasn’t sure we would; I thought it might get old after a while. But our room was tucked out of the way so we saw very few people and heard even fewer. The students were so kind to Cooper, which really helped. And they always had fun stories to tell about their previous weekend’s travels or their itineraries for the following weekend.

Alan’s classes (you know... the official reason we were there) went well. He greatly appreciated the quality of his students’ work. Most schools require a minimum GPA for a Harlaxton semester, so on average, this group of students was sharper than student body back here. His classes were small, which meant way less grading. And he had plenty of time in the evenings to work on some other projects. (Though he did miss his wood shop!)

My time in Harlaxton was great, though different from my expectations going in. I had envisioned dropping Cooper off at preschool, and then having a large chunk of time at the manor to read or exercise or walk the trails. But because preschool was in Grantham (10 minutes away from Harlaxton) and because we were tied to the school shuttle schedule, I spent all of my non-Cooper hours in Grantham, which put a damper on lounging around the castle and taking leisurely strolls through the woods. It worked out well, though. I camped out at a pub and got a lot of work done for my Judge in Kansas City. I explored town and found some neat shops (and some great bargains!). And then I had a lot of time in the evenings, after Coop went to bed, to read or catch up on email.

Cooper also did really well. At four, he’s adaptable enough to be at home anywhere. He slid right into preschool without much trouble. And he loved the attention of all the college kids! But we realized early on that we were placing huge expectations on him in a number of areas of his development.

Physically, we were asking Coop to walk more than he ever does at home—70 stairs from our room down to the ground floor, at least three times a day, and a half-mile from the shuttle drop-off to preschool (and back at the end of the day). Not to mention all of the walking we did while we were sightseeing. In some ways, he was at a bad age for this—too old to strap in a stroller (or carry) and drag wherever we wanted to go, too young to walk as far and as fast as we would like. But we quickly adjusted our travel expectations and learned to do things in bite-sized chunks, with lots of snacks in between excursions.

Socially and emotionally, we wanted Cooper to behave whenever we were around people (which was always). At dinner, we expected him to sit and eat and not hop on his chair or smear butter on the table or sing eleventy-five verses of Wheels on the Bus.

One stressor from the semester that I had not anticipated was trying to parent a four-year-old with 200 other people around. Mind you, everyone was kind and helpful and no one said anything negative (except for once, but I’m trying to block that out). Only a few times did we even get a stink eye from anyone (that I saw). But living in a manor with so many other people means that there’s always a pair of eyes or ears to catch my Bad Mommy moments. Oh well. We did the best we could.

And hopefully we’ll have a chance to do it again. On the slate for next time, when Coop’s older: more guided tours (like the Tower of London!), more time in Scotland, more walking the footpaths in the area, a trip to the Lake District, and maybe a trip to Ireland.  We'll keep you posted!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Heading Home

We spent our last few days at Harlaxton saying goodbye to our new dear friends.  For Cooper, that meant having a party (with cake!) at Puddleducks.  His teachers and friends waved goodbye. 
Cooper said something pithy like "Well guys, I guess you won't ever see me again."  And then he walked out.  He's apparently not one for long drawn-out goodbyes.

One of his favority teachers, Rory.

With Miss Mollie, a student at Harlaxton who babysat him quite a bit.

With Miss Samantha, one of Alan's students who was just generally lovely to Cooper.

 Zyggy, our favorite shuttle bus driver.

Miss Terry, the wife of a journalism professor from Illinois.  Miss Terry didn't arrive until mid-March (she was recovering from knee surgery), but even in her short month here, she won Cooper's heart.

So.  That's it.  Time to go home. 

We managed to get everything packed (disclaimer:  we sent two wheelie-bags-full home with our mothers!) and to the airport.

And we settled in for a nice long flight back to the States.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cooper's Tea Party

To raise money for charity, Harlaxton students auctioned off a chance to "pie a professor" (with a cool whip pie in the face) or to have a tea party with Cooper!  After the winners were announced, we arranged a tea date with the three lucky winners.

Coop served them all pretend tea with pretend cream and pretend sugar. 

But I didn't figure that would be good enough since they actually paid money for this, so we spent about an hour decorating cookies and drinking pink lemonade in the Conservatory.

I was pretty excited about the British plates!
We scheduled the tea party during finals week, so I think the girls were glad to have a break from studying.
Somewhere near the end of the party, Cooper said "gosh, I've had a lot of sugar."  Yes indeed, son.  Yes indeed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Photo Contest Entries

Each semester, the college has a photo contest.  As you can imagine, with so many people traveling to so many interesting places, the photos are outstanding.  Here were are entries (none of which won a prize):

"My Parents" by Cooper

"Puddles" by Alan 

"Supermen" by Emily

Monday, May 16, 2011

Here and There

As you may remember from Cooper's British accent videos, he's been playing book store in his room.  One day, we finally sorted through the inventory and tried to stack it by type:  sound books, pirate books, animal books, people books, tv character books, Mr. Men/Little Miss books, and board books.

And then we had to make Open and Closed signs for the store.  Except Cooper's really wordy, so just Open and Closed wouldn't do.  This was my favorite series:

Zyggy let Coop help drive the shuttle bus again!  Ack!

For some reason, Cooper wanted to make a rectangle on his sheets (with packing tape) and then he and all four "kids" have to stay in the rectangle at night.  I'm not sure how well it works.  We can usually hear him putting Baby (the fox puppet) in time-out for getting outside the rectangle...

A tea party with the kids:

A story for this next photo:  When we were packing for this trip, I decided to pack a cross-stitch project to work on (it's actually a Christmas stocking for Cooper; I started it in November 2007.  Heh.).  When we unpacked here, I stuck it in my nightstand drawer.  And promptly forgot about.

We've been trying to pack up some things in anticipation of the trip home, and I came across the stocking.  I was so hacked that I missed out on 3 1/2 months of cross-stitch, that I got it out and started it.  We'll see how much progress I can make in our remaining days here.

One morning, Alan and I took Jack and Cooper to Muddle Go Nowhere.

It's a lovely pub attached to this play place:
Brilliant idea.  Parents can eat lunch and drink beer.  Kids can run around in the giant hamster cage.

And we've been spending as much time as possible with our friends Jack and Abby and Tilda.

Abby painted Cooper's toe nails -- he loved it!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mid Lent Fair

Two weeks before Easter, Grantham held a Mid Lent Fair, open for four days along the Market Street area (where the Saturday market is held):

No craft vendors, just rides and games and food.

First up, food.  Donuts, always a winner with me:

Bulk candy (you could, for example, fill a bag of random gummies for a pound).  I like candy.  Again, I'm a fan.

But it sort of went downhill after that.  We grabbed a couple of hamburgers for dinner, but they must have been made with some kind of soy mixture because they tasted like veggie burgers that are trying to be beef burgers.

So we opted for a Toffee Apple to supplement our meal:
But it wasn't caramel or toffee really at all.  The outer coating was a hard, cinnamon-y flavored shell.  It was ok, just not what we were expecting.

Lots of booths had cotton candy, which they call Candy Floss here.  But otherwise, no typical carnival food that you would see in the States.  No corn dogs or funnel cakes or elephant ears.

I did see this booth that had corn on the cob and "hot peas with mint sauce."
We opted instead of extra M&Ms when we got back to our apartment.

Besides the food and the games (which we didn't try because we don't need a goldfish or a giant stuffed animal to try to get back to Kansas), there were tons of rides.  And lots for little kids.  Coop must have ridden on seven different vehicle things that go in a circle on a track -- helicopter, double decker bus, train, another train, school bus.

And then we talked him into the bumper cars:

Lots of fun!  But he spent much of the ride holding the back of his head.  Some of those bumps aren't so gentle!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Costume Ball

Every semester, Harlaxton has a Costume Ball.  Coop's been in costume much of the semester, so I wanted to come up with a new one for him.  After a trip to the costume shop, we settled on wizards.

Casting a spell:

Some of my other favorite costumes of the night included Kate Middleton and Jane Austen:

A formal apology:

And my all-time favorite, bowling pins:

Here's the seventh member of the bowling pin team, rolling down the aisle:


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Warm Weather and Signs of Spring

Every fall, Harlaxton students plant thousands of daffodils.  So springtime around here is gorgeous.

Cherry trees add to the landscape:

And I love the purple flowers that grow through and over the rock walls in the village:

Magnolia tree:

Fields of rapeseed:

The Bluebell Woods:

We took advantage of the warm weather (and the plethora of babysitters!) to walk down the drive to The Gregory for dinner with our friends:

The princess in the middle is our friend Tilda.  She turned 7 this semester and had a fabulous springtime birthday on the manor lawn.

We also spent one afternoon outside on the sports field learning to play cricket.

(I think it was the first day Alan left the room without long underwear!)