. As we didn't know any of the neighbors, we addressed each of the invitations to the house or house number and then put them in each neighbor's mail slot. There are about 11 or 12 houses all located in a "close" or cul-de-sac. The invitations read:Dear Neighbour,
We are Ed and Erika from No. 4 and we would like to invite you to drinks at our house from 5 'til 6pm on the 31st December; a pre-pre-New Years Eve tipple.
I moved into the house a few months ago, but Erika has just arrived this morning (Christmas Eve - just in time). Everyone has been so welcoming, and we would like to start the New Year with our new neighbours.
Hopefully we will see you next Monday, but regardless we both wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year, and we look forward to getting to know you better in the year head.Yours,Ed an Erika
Throughout the week we received responses to our invitation in the form of Christmas cards from neighbours offering their regrets
. We hadn't actually asked people to respond, so it was a little up in the air as to how many people would actually show.
Ed, his parents and I planned to attend a Christmas eve Midnight Communion at 11:30 PM, so we relaxed and watched some television programs until we walked to the St Mary's Church (a beautiful church built in the 14th Century). There was a fairly full house, a regular church service, and many Christmas carols sung (some with the same words but entirely different tune that I am used to).
December 25- Christmas morning Ed and I woke to a stocking outside our door from "Father Christmas.” We all enjoyed a traditional Smith Christmas breakfast of cold ham, toast, cold pork pie, and tea. After breakfast we drove 40 minutes to David's (Ed's brother) house as he was hosting Christmas dinner. We opened gifts and relaxed (I fell asleep again in a chair). Ed, Gerald, nephew Edward and niece Esme all played a board game. David and Liz prepared a delicious Christmas dinner that included turkey, stuffing with chestnuts, bread sauce, roasted potatoes and parsnips, carrots, brussel sprouts, and cranberry. After dinner everyone gathered to play a lively game of Cranium (our gift from Johnny and Jane).
December 26- Boxing day in England, a day of relaxation - thank goodness because I was still very tired from jet lag
. Ed's parents came back to our home that evening and joined us for a tasty spaghetti and meatball dinner prepared by Ed.
December 27- We met up with Ed's Aunt Louise and cousins Lucie, Toby and Jake for a "cream tea" in the picturesque Cotswold village of Burford. That evening we drove 20 minutes to Johnny’s house (Ed’s brother) to give Marcie and Harvey their Christmas gifts (they spent Christmas day with Jane's family). We ordered a "curry" take away (Indian food) and enjoyed a nice meal together in their home.
December 28- I joined Ed for a half day at his office. He has an hour long commute, the first half through rolling countryside and various villages. The office is in a business center in the industrial town of Northhampton. I was introduced to a few of his colleagues as I sat in their conference room and sensed a very friendly and relaxed work environment.
December 29- Ed and I drove up to Ed's office in Northhampton to borrow their work van, drive up to Ed's dad's work warehouse and retrieve the 50 boxes we'd shipped from San Diego in October of 2011. The work van wasn't working, so we rented a van from Thrifty and continued on our way
. We arrived at the warehouse in 3 hours to Ed's parents working their way through opening the crated boxes in which our belongings had been securely shipped. We worked quickly and moved all of the boxes into the van within less than an hour. We went back to Ed's parent house and relaxed until driving 15 minutes to an elegant Chinese restaurant where we met Ed's Aunt Anna and husband Gordon for dinner.
December 30- We woke and joined Ed's parents for a traditional English breakfast with sunny side up egg, English bacon, sausage, mushroom, tomato, and toast with marmalade. We soon said our goodbyes and headed down the hill to drop in on Ed's friend Andy, wife Catherine and daughters Megan and Lucy. We woke them and they prepared us a cup of tea while we had a quick catch up before getting on the road back to Chipping Norton. 4 hours later we arrived in Chipping Norton, rushed to get the van unloaded and rushed over to Ed's new flat in Cheltenham (about 45 minutes drive away) to load the van with builders waste that had piled up from the various tradesmen after the dumpster had been taken away too soon to bring to the "tip" or garbage dump. We were able to load everything up before it was too dark, and then headed back to Chipping Norton.
December 31- We drove 30 minutes to the closest tip and placed the garbage in its various sections (paper, cardboard, wood, plaster/gypsum)
. It was an eye opening experience seeing where garbage goes. And emphasized the desire to re-use and minimize consumption. When we got home we started cleaning and preparing for our New Year's happy hour. The New Years party went much better than expected. I was not excited about the idea at the time... feeling like I wanted to get settled before having the neighbors over. But I am grateful that Ed was up to the task. After having lived here since October, he was ready to officially meet everyone. We met 5 of our neighbors. The first neighbor was a man in his late 50's early 60's, Keith. Keith and his wife Jill bought their home (Hill Lawn House) here 20 years ago. They have 2 grown daughters, one living in Ghana and the other in London. They happen to be the editors of the local paper as well as work at the local theatre, so he was the perfect first local to meet. Keith asked all about us and then told us about a contact list he has for the town, as well as a spare copy of the December issue of the Chipping Norton News (CNN) that had sold out. The next two neighbors that came by were the couple living in number 5 (we can see the side of their house from our front door). Tony and Miriam are in their late 40's early 50's. They lived in Switzerland for 10 years, he working as a ski instructor and she in a restaurant. The lady that lives in number 6, Gaynor, is in her early 60's and not sure but might be a nurse. She was having some work done in her house this summer, and the other two were asking how that went
. She expressed some disappointment in one of the tradesmen, and Tony the plumber commented, and then Keith the editor chimed in that he may be related to that person by way of cousin of his wife ...or something like that. There was a short noticeable silence and then Keith explained that many of the people in the town are related and can say they are 5th generation... so be careful what you say! It was good that they warned us, because even though it is a small town (population 9000), there is a lot of activity with many shops and restaurants, so it feels bigger than it probably is. As the invitation said 5-6 pm... everyone showed up just after 5 and then started looking at their watches and left just after 6. In fact, around 6 there was a knock at the door and everyone joked that whomever it is “is late” and not to be let in! It was Jill, Keith's wife, who had to work and could not be there, just popping in to say hello and goodbye. After everyone left, Keith brought by the contact list, CNN, as well as a note suggesting we get together for a walk and pub lunch soon! We were feeling very pleased about how well it all went and how nice it was to start the new year having gotten the scoop from our new neighbors! We spent the rest of the year going through the paper and contact list, discussing which clubs or groups we might consider joining… rambling club (hiking), easyriders (cycling), for example!
December 24- I arrived London's Heathrow airport early Christmas Eve morning and was greeted by my cheery husband who whisked my many bags and me away to our new home about 2 hours drive from the airport. Ed's parents were staying with us for the evening, but were out and about exploring Chipping Norton when I arrived. The house was much less suburban than I had pictured it, only a block from the "high street" or heart of Chipping Norton. Looking at it from the outside, it feels older than a home built in the 1980's, perhaps due to the moss covered rooftops and use of stone. I struggled to stay awake and ended up napping for a few hours in the afternoon and then joining Ed and his parents for Christmas eve dinner - venison stew prepared by Ed's mom. Ed planned to invite all of the neighbors around on New Years Eve for drinks. Feeling tired and shy, I was not enthusiastic, but I wanted to go along with my very socially proactive husband's plan. I helped Ed put invitations to the neighbors together