Dag Sinterklaas

One of the great things about living in a different country and being immersed in a new culture, is learning about and sometimes adopting new traditions. Belgium’s Sinterklaas celebration is something we have well and truly adopted and I suspect is a ritual we will enact for many years to come.

Our little Sinterklaas corner.
Our little Sinterklaas corner.

Last night was Sinterklaas eve and, just as we did in Belgium, the girls left a shoe by the fireplace with some treats for Sinterklaas, Piet and the horse known as Slecht-Weer-Vandag or Bad Weather Today!

Edie left a carrot, speculaas cookie and a juice box.
Edie left a carrot, speculaas cookie and a juice box.
Olive chose an apple, some speculaas and a bottle of beer for Sinterklaas.
Olive chose an apple, some speculaas and a bottle of beer for Sinterklaas.

Once the girls were safely tucked up in bed, Sinterklaas made his visit, polishing off the yummy nibbles and leaving a couple of treats for the girls.

Belgian tradition meets American tradition as Elf on the Shelf joins in.
Belgian tradition meets American tradition as Elf on the Shelf joins in.
Happy with their gifts from Sinterklaas.
Happy with their gifts from Sinterklaas.

Yesterday I whipped up a batch of speculaas cookies and the girls each took a tin to school today to share with their friends and even promised to sing the Sinterklaas song.

Speculaas cookies - a very important part of the Sinterklaas tradition.
Speculaas cookies – a very important part of the Sinterklaas tradition.
Off to teach her class all about Sinterklaas.
Off to teach her class all about Sinterklaas.
Edie spent much of last night practising her Sinterklaas song!
Edie spent much of last night practising her Sinterklaas song!

Adults who are reading, if you are interested in finding out more about Sinterklaas, and having a laugh whilst doing so, click here to listen to the wonderful American humorist and columnist David Sedaris giving his take on the Sinterklaas celebrations he observed in the Netherlands. It’s about fifteen minutes long but well worth a listen.

Take care everyone. Stay tuned for more festive fun!

Harpers Ferry

About a forty-five minute drive from Winchester in West Virginia, you will find the historic town of Harpers Ferry. This gorgeous little town – population 286 – is found at the meeting place of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and it’s also where the states of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia meet.

High Street, Harpers Ferry
High Street, Harpers Ferry

Richard’s colleague from New Zealand is staying with us while she does some work at Taura North America, so we decided to show her one of the numerous interesting places to be found in this part of the US. It was a great day to go as Harpers Ferry was all decked out for Christmas and there were Civil War displays, craft activities for children and even a visit from Mr and Mrs Claus.

The girls tried out some gingerbread from a little bakery.
The girls tried out some gingerbread from a little bakery.
And bought some candy from a shop specialising in all the famous "old school"
And bought some candy from a shop specialising in all the famous “old school” American sweets.

We wandered the streets enjoying all the historic architecture and took in the awesome views down by the river.

The Potomac river.
The Potomac river.

Throughout the town we saw people attired in dress appropriate to the Civil War era. Harpers Ferry played a vital part in the origins of the Civil War. It was home to one of only two United States armories, the other was located in Massachusetts. These two facilities  produced most of the small arms for the US Army. In October 1859, the abolitionist John Brown led a group of 21 men in a raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and it was this raid that was a catalyst for the Civil War. Harpers Ferry went on to change hands eight times between 1861 and 1865 and after the war arms production ceased.

Civil War soldiers outside the building which became known as John Brown's Fort.
Civil War soldiers outside the building which became known as John Brown’s Fort.
Civil War era fashionista with Kiwi fashionista.
Civil War era fashionista with Kiwi fashionista.

St Peter’s Catholic Church is another site of historic importance in Harpers Ferry. The church was built in 1833 in a Gothic style which it was able to keep throughout the Civil War – it was the only church in Harpers Ferry to avoid destruction. Inside the church we listened to a beautiful choir rehearsing for a Christmas concert later in the day.

Carols ringing out inside St Peter's.
Carols ringing out inside St Peter’s.

We could have spent much more time exploring this very significant part of our new neighbourhood, but we had to get the girls back to Winchester for a birthday party. They did have time, however, to stop and have a chat with these two…

Tourists from the North Pole.
Tourists from the North Pole.

We ended our weekend at the Wayside Theatre in nearby Stephens City to watch a production of Glory Bea! A Shenandoah Christmas Story. Our neighbours’ parents were hosting a special showing of the play for their co workers and friends, and they very kindly invited us  along. Our host was a member of the US Navy and visited New Zealand in 1964 aboard the USS Bainbridge. He was thrilled to learn that a very young Richard Croad, accompanied by his father and older brothers, drove from Palmerston North to Wellington for a chance to look at and step on board the vessel. After a long wait in the queue, five year old Richard was denied his chance to go on the big boat because he was too little, and stood crying on the wharf whilst his brothers got to step aboard 😦

Talk about a small world!

We have a busy week ahead as all the Christmas festivities kick into high gear. Richard’s Christmas work do, a visit to Santa’s workshop, our neighbourhood carolling party…moving to a smaller town has certainly not dimmed the lights on our social calendar!

Take care everyone and if you are keen to see some more of Harpers Ferry, click on the link to my Flickr photos.

Parade

On Monday night we wrapped up warm and headed into town to watch the Winchester Christmas Parade. One of the great advantages of living in a much smaller city is you can turn up to something like a big parade ten minutes before kick off, and still find a great place from which to view the action.

Stylish but warm outfits – check. Fashion model pose – check. Strange boy looking at us – check.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect – after watching the spectacle that is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade I had to lower the girl’s expectations somewhat.

The start of the parade. Definite lack of enormous floating balloons a la Macy’s.

One of the key parts of the parade were the marching bands from the city and county Middle and High schools. The marching band is not something that’s done in New Zealand schools so it was a great new experience for us. I for one loved seeing rows and rows of children and young adults streaming past, all in command of their instruments. There was a real sense of pride and spirit.

The band uniforms were quite something too.

Although we have only been here just short of two months, Olive and Edie have already developed a fierce pride for their future schools – Daniel Morgan Middle School and John Handley High School. Whenever we drive past the schools, especially the high school, there is always pointing and commenting. They were very excited recently to go and watch a show at the high school and when they meet someone new they always want to know where they go to school. If its DMMS or JHHS then they are ok 🙂 It seems that if Olive and Edie have their way, we will be living here for the next fourteen years!!

The band from “our” high school.
“Our” middle school band – perfect Christmas colours.
Many of the bands were preceded by some very impressive flag twirling.

Along with the marching bands there were scout groups, volunteer fire brigades, the Winchester City pipe band, 4H clubs, church groups, beauty queens…even a BMX club.

Needless to say Olive and Edie were impressed with the tiaras.
BMX Bandits!

Of course no Christmas Parade would be complete without that jolly big guy in the red suit…

unfortunately he just wouldn’t look at us 😦

The parade was a real reflection of the community and what is important to it, and we loved every minute of it. And it was just the start of a whole host of activities, concerts, house tours, Nativity plays etc. etc. that one can partake of in Winchester as we get close to Christmas. I forsee a great deal of photography and typing in my near future!

PS Richard has just come home from his run and reports that the light displays are growing exponentially around the neighbourhood. He has promised to go out one night and get some photos – I will endeavour to hold him to that 🙂

’tis the season

When we moved to the United States, I was well aware that we were in for a great deal of changes and new experiences. One of the more pressing was the inevitable raising of the bar when it comes to Christmas decor – both inside and outside the house.

It seemed that the Thanksgiving dishes had barely been cleared away and the Christmas decorations started to appear. Our first inkling of just how impressive things get around here was Olive shrieking just as it began to grow dark on Friday evening. She hadn’t fallen, had a fright or been harassed by her sister…no…she had just noticed the Christmas lights that had appeared on one of the houses across the street. Gulp! It was another one of those “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments.

Every day something new has appeared and it’s not just happening in our street. All over town an array of lights, wreaths, ribbons, garlands and beloved Christmas characters are making their appearance on windows, doors, front lawns…even letterboxes.

From stately and grand (not to mention enormous!)…
to comic and fun.

To appease the girls, we have added a modest array of twinkly lights to some of our bushes. Although if I am being completely honest, I’m pretty happy to have them there! I always knew a US Christmas was going to be so much more visually than what we experienced in New Zealand and in Belgium and I’m just going to climb on and enjoy the ride. Driving into town tonight to watch the Winchester Christmas Parade – blog to follow in a couple of days – Richard narrowly missed hitting parked cars several times as our gazes were drawn to the most dazzling adornments on many of the houses. And this is only the beginning!

I’m going to try and get some more photos but getting back behind the wheel of a car does hamper one’s photographic moments. I do miss the ease at which I could pedal along, stop my bike and whip out my camera. Sigh!

You may have noticed that I’ve been tinkering with the look and layout of my blog. I hope you like it. I took the picture of the sign post pointing to America when we visited the Frontier Culture Museum some weeks back, and I knew it had to be a part of the blog. I’ve also updated a couple of the sections under the Read tab and I’ve finally posted something under the Make tab.

Take care everyone and a very special Happy Birthday to my nephew Matthew. Have a great day – we miss you xxx

Giving Thanks

In November of 1621 an autumn harvest feast was held at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrim Colonists and the native Wampanoag people sat down together to celebrate the good harvest.

When the Pilgrims first arrived in the New World they endured many hardships, including a cold and snowy winter. After meeting the Native American, Squanto, and learning from him how to cultivate maize and other crops, the Pilgrims’ situation improved enormously. That Spring and Summer the Pilgrims worked the land, and learned how to fish, get sap from the maple trees and catch the turkeys that ran wild in the forest. When fall came, the harvest was bountiful and so the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag joined together at a special feast to give thanks for their crops and for the survival skills they had learned. This first Thanksgiving celebration lasted for three days and was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

Our first Thanksgiving celebration was spent at the home of one of our new neighbours, and their extended family. We enjoyed an incredibly warm welcome, lots of interesting conversation and, of course, all the traditional Thanksgiving food: turkey, cranberry sauce, squash, cornbread stuffing (which is actually referred to in the south as dressing), pecan pie and pumpkin pie.

Rather than taking along a typically New Zealand dish, I decided to stick with the traditional flavours of Thanksgiving in the United States. Our offering, once again thanks to Martha Stewart, was sweet potato cupcakes topped with mini marshmallows and candied pecans.

Our neighbour is an associate professor at Shenadoah University’s Conservatory of Music. The music programme at Shenandoah is highly regarded and students come from all around the United States and the rest of the world to pursue their studies. One of these students, who is in his final year of Doctoral study, was also sharing in our neighbours’ hospitality. After our meal we were lucky enough to hear him play.

It was a very special evening – one where we got to experience the true meaning and spirit of the Thanksgiving Holiday. My thoughts throughout much of the day were with our families in New Zealand and Australia. We do not have a similar celebration in New Zealand, and I think we are missing out. At no time do we come together as family and friends solely to focus on being thankful. Some would argue that Christmas is the time that we do this in New Zealand, but what I preferred about Thanksgiving was the absence of all the hype, consumerism and stress that unfortunately goes hand in hand with Christmas.

I am thankful that we, the Croad pilgrims, had such an enjoyable first Thanksgiving, and that we have wonderful neighbours who made sure that we got to share in what makes this such an important celebration in the United States. Perhaps it is a tradition we will adopt and carry with us, wherever we end up!

Air and Space

If you read any of the posts about our trip to New York City on my previous blog, you will remember how much the girls wanted to visit the Museum of Natural History. Not out of any great educational or scientific desire – no it’s because that’s where the movie Night At the Museum takes place! You may also know that there is a second Night At The Museum film, and this time the action moves to The Smithsonian – a cluster of nineteen museums and a zoo which can all be found in Washington DC. In fact when we broached the subject of moving to the United States with the girls, one of our big selling points was that we would be living not too far from the place to which Larry Daley ventures to save his friends from the New York Museum – confused yet?!

Larry’s trusty sidekick in the sequel is none other than acclaimed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, and during the film she and Larry head to the Air and Space Museum, home to the bright red Lockheed Vega 5B, which was flown by Earhart across the Atlantic in 1932. Last week Edie watched the second Night at the Museum DVD at least twice, so when we discussed making a trip into DC to visit one of the Smithsonian museums, there was only one option – “we have to go to the Air and Space Museum and see Amelia’s plane!”

In honour of the brave and dashing Amelia Earhart, us girls donned tight trousers, boots, scarves and leather jackets – the only things we were missing were flying goggles. Once we reached the Air and Space Museum we headed straight for the big red plane.

New Zealand branch of the Ameila Earhart fan club!

The Air and Space Museum holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world, and almost all of the craft on display are the originals. We spent a very enjoyable few hours wandering the halls, watching a 3D movie about the Hubble Telescope and having fun with many of the hands on activities.

The French hot air balloon which was the first to carry people up into the air in 1783.
Found some flying goggles!
Interior view of the museum.
Not quite flying goggles but they’ll do for a 3D film.
Suit worn by first female astronaut, Sally Ride.
We had a bit of a laugh when we came across these! It’s a Skyhawk as used by the NZ Airforce and, even funnier, their first year of manufacture was 1959 – same year as my bon homme Richard was born 🙂

We are very lucky to live close to DC and over the coming weeks and months we’ll be making more trips into the city to explore the other fifteen Smithsonian museums and the countless other sights, sounds and experiences on offer in the nation’s capital. I’ve subscribed to a blog called Kid Friendly DC and am already overwhelmed at the huge array of things there are to do with children.  And all great blog material too!

If you want to check out more images from our day at the Air and Space Museum, head on over to my Flickr page.

This week is a very important one in the United States. On Thursday Thanksgiving will be celebrated and our neighbours have very kindly invited us to join in their celebrations. It’s a time to focus on being thankful, and right now I am very thankful for the opportunity to have all these wonderful experiences and the opportunity to share them with you.

Take care everyone and stay tuned for a report of the first Croad Thanksgiving xxx

History Lesson

One of the reasons that I was excited to move to Virginia, is because of its pivotal role in the history of the United States. In 1607 the London Company established the Colony of Virginia as the first permanent New World English colony. Eight US presidents were born in Virginia and the Virginia General Assembly is the oldest elected government in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1619. Winchester itself was a key strategic position for the Confederate Army during the Civil War with many historians claiming that over the course of the war Winchester changed hands as many as 72 times – 13 of those changes happening in one day!

I was a history major at university and did a couple of papers focussing specifically on American history. I had a great teacher for both of these papers and as a result really enjoyed delving into America’s rich and colourful past. Virginia provides so many opportunities to experience this past and last weekend we took our first steps back in time.

About eighty miles south of Winchester you will find the city of Staunton – pronounced here as Stanton. Staunton is number 10 on the Simthsonian’s list of the 20 best small towns in America, is the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson and is home to the American Shakespeare Centre.

Our destination was the Frontier Culture Museum – an outdoor exhibition that tells the stories of the thousands of people who migrated to colonial America. These pioneers came to Virginia in the 1600’s and 1700’s from communities in England, Ireland, Germany and West Africa.

Ready to go exploring.

Many of the early settlers were farmers or rural craftsmen who were drawn to the American colonies by opportunities for a better life. Others came against their will – taken as captives to work on farms and plantations. To tell their stories, the museum brought examples of traditional rural buildings from England, Ireland, Germany, West Africa and America and reconstructed them piece by piece on the grounds of the museum. Other buildings were reproduced to accurately depict living conditions at the time.

Entrance to the West African Village. These buildings are reproductions created by the museum.
A little bit of housework – West African style.

From West Africa we travelled to England in the 1600’s. About 120,000 English migrants came to Virginia in the 1600’s. The farmhouse too came all the way from England and was rebuilt in the grounds of the museum.

A very colourful little piece of England.

One of the great things about this museum were the guides. Inside each of the houses was a member of the museum staff dressed in the clothing appropriate to the house’s country of origin and the era from which it came. They were happy to talk about the history of the building, its inhabitants and why they chose to leave their country…and answer any questions you might have. I got talking to the guide in the English farmhouse and literally had to be dragged away after about twenty minutes. It was fascinating and because it was a quiet Sunday at the museum, at every building we pretty much had a guide all to ourselves.

Checking out the English farmhouse kitchen.

The Irish part of the exhibition consisted of a blacksmith’s forge from the 1700’s which was brought over from Ulster. It had stayed in the same family and continued to operate as a blacksmith’s until the 1960’s. Inside we found a guide working on the hot fireplace, mending implements from other exhibits around the museum.

The Irish forge carried all the way from Ulster.
Watching the blacksmith at work.

Germany was the next stop on our tour. German migrants were the largest group of non-English speaking Europeans to settle in colonial America. We explored the farmhouse and buildings and listened to the guide explain the origins of the Appalachian dulcimer – a musical instrument that owes its existence to  the German scheitholt, a stringed instrument which was played by placing it on a table or one’s thighs and plucking the strings. The guide played for us the Elvis Presley hit “Wooden Heart” which is based on a traditional German folksong.

The German farmhouse.
There was also a reproduction of a Native American settlement.

The other part of the museum depicted the settlements that grew in colonial America and how, over the years, elements of all the differing cultures that migrated to America were incorporated into America’s own emerging culture.

An American farm in the 1740’s.
80 years later, farms in America looked more like this.
Hard at work in a school house from the 1850’s.
An American farmhouse from the 1850’s.

We all came away from the Frontier Culture Museum a little more knowledgable about the history of our new corner of the globe, and with our appetites whetted to find out more. It was a very enjoyable day and if you click on the link to my Flickr photos you can see many more images from our first foray into American history.

I’ve also added to Flickr a whole lot of photos that I took in Antwerp before leaving – places and buildings that I really liked. If you’re interested you can find them in the set called Beautiful Antwerp.

The very important holiday of Thanksgiving is just around the corner so I will be sure to write and share what we will be getting up to. I must be spending too much money at the supermarket because I have already qualified for two free turkeys!

We miss you all and send lots of love xxx