Thursday, December 24, 2009

London Christmas Magic, Part 3

Royal Albert Hall,


Santa, an orchestra and Christmas trees,



and two enthralled little girls.



Merry Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

London Christmas Magic, Part 2

7:36 am this morning...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

London Christmas Magic, Part 1

Pink wellies are the footwear of choice for the four year-old ballet-going set

The London Coliseum

Goofy Devil

Devil said "Why is he scared?" Good question...

After a stellar job sitting mostly still for two hours, she was worn out.

I remember going to see the Nutcracker with my mother as a kid and loving itso it was great fun to take Dev to her first ballet. She did amazingly well, managing to a) not fall asleep, and b) not meltdown into a massive puddle of extraneous energy. It was a lovely way to start the Christmas celebrations.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Sunday

8:45 am: wake up to Boo, clad in a pair of red and pink striped wool socks and a tutu. Nothing else. Almost fall out of bed laughing as she proudly prances around the room.

10:15 am: untangle Christmas lights as girls pull out Christmas tree decorations and scatter them all over the room. Hang said lights and decorations.

10:47 am: tell girls to leave the glass Nutcracker ornaments alone.

10:48 am: ibid.

10:53 am: ibid.

11:45 am: start making lunch.

12:13 pm: Remove Nutcracker ornaments from tree, launching wails of disapproval and regret.

1:17 pm: leave house in blinding yellow jacket to go for ride.

2:34 pm: return to house in time to eat chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven. The best post-45-degree-and-raining bike ride snack ever.

4:16 pm: pack crazed children into car because we have no milk, no bread and nothing for dinner or breakfast.

4:23 pm: realize that Boo has fallen asleep.

4:28 pm: arrive at grocery store to discover that Devil has also fallen asleep. Turn around and leave.

4:39 pm: take advantage of sleeping children to launch expletive-laden diatribe against the gentleman on Radio 4's Open Book show who holds out the fact that Dan Brown's latest book has sold over a million copies in hardback as evidence that the publishing industry is alive and well, and that new authors have nothing to worry about. Headdesk.

5:10 pm: Boo still asleep on couch. Uh oh.

5:40 pm: Boo semi-awake on my lap. Himself drags children upstairs for quick bath before we go to friend's house for last-minute dinner.

6:05 pm: arrive at friend's house. Children start to bear a striking resemblance to grizzly bears on speed. They refuse dinner and instead embark on a mission to see how high they can bounce on the couch cushions.

7:10 pm: we leave friend's house with amphetamine-crazed children. Shortest dinner date ever.

8:15 pm: put girls to bed, and flee downstairs hoping for a miracle.

8:25 pm: I go back upstairs and replace both girls in their respective beds.

8:37 pm: Himself goes upstairs for relocation assignment.

8:51 pm: I return upstairs and am greeted with "Mama, I need a drink" from all quarters. Said drink is procured. Devil has some water, but Boo, upon being offered the glass, lies down on the bed and turns her head away. I leave. Boo erupts in wails - "I need a drink!" I go downstairs and get my own drink.

9:05 pm: Boo still going.

9:13 pm: I get sick of the yelling and go upstairs. Boo finally takes a drink. I leave.

9:42 pm: The pitter patter of little feet tells me that a certain small wingnut is still awake. I go upstairs, replace Boo in her bed, consider the pros and cons of duct taping her to the mattress and leave.

10:00 pm*: all's (mostly) quiet.

10:36 pm: finally venture upstairs to go to bed. Girls are asleep. Unfortunately, they don't stay that way (2:30 am, 3:30 am, etc).

This morning: Boo managed to rouse herself enough to eat some breakfast, and then slept all the way to school. I do not envy them One. Little. Bit.

* ETA: payback is sooooo sweet. Tonight, 6:37 pm, sleeping Boo. Wiktory, but I'm not sure it was worth it!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day!

Or as I am telling people here, "Happy day when my ancestors fled oppression by your ancestors so we could oppress other peoples' ancestors."

May your Thanksgiving be full of family, friends and good food.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How do you know you've settled in to a new city?

When you walk in to the lovely small bakery/coffee shop around the block from your daughter's school, and the lady behind the counter knows what your drink is.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A real autumn

It's been fun watching the girls experience their first real autumn. And by real, I mean with leaves and rain and cold weather and everything! They seem to be enjoying it*. A brief pictorial essay:

Off to the dinosaur museum.

That's an evil look...

Yup, pure evil.


Leaf angels, not as satisfying as the snow variety.

Whee squared!

Miss. Diva Boo at B&Q (Home Depot equivalent)

Trip to B&Q coupled with the grocery store was too much.

Provisions. Himself was worried about the impending Guiness shortage scheduled to hit the UK Any.Minute.Now.

Now we're gearing up for an attempt to indoctrinate some British friends into the calorie consumption binge that is Thanksgiving, and the impending arrival of all grandparents and one set of uncles/aunts for Christmas time. We will have ten people in the house at one time. It's going to be amazing!

* Although Devil did say to me yesterday morning that she wanted to go back to Houston because it was warm there**.
** This from the child who refuses to wear tights*** and therefore goes to school every day with bare legs.
*** She would wear tights to school if she could wear the pink ones, but she can't so she doesn't. Sigh.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The exchange rate

I can tell I've been here a while, because I've started forgetting to recalculate prices in my head.

This is particularly dangerous when making purchases of things needed, but readily obtainable cheaper in the States. For example, this past weekend we went to the bike shop to get Himself a set of good lights for commuting, and some new glove for me. While we were there, I was encouraged to check out the jackets. Since its been almost a decade since I've lived anywhere with a real winter, this seemed like a good idea.

I found a really nice one, spent a few minutes struggling with the idea of buying a new jacket, and bit the bullet. It's a great jacket - it converts into a vest and is lurid enough to alert even the most unobservant of drivers. In fact, if a driver can't see me while I'm wearing this thing, I would predict they are legally blind and, as such, shouldn't be on the roads anyway.

To try and put this color into perspective I have to share a childhood story about my brother. When we were young (maybe 6 and 8 or 7 and 9), there were a couple of summers when Boston experienced a major infestation of gypsy moths. We were alternately fascinated and horrified by the caterpillars that were absolutely everywhere. My brother and I discovered that if you stepped on one end of a caterpillar, bright fluorescent green guts would squirt out the other end. Truly disgusting, and guaranteed to be a hit with all the neighborhood kids. Of course, my brother went on to collect the caterpillars in old beer bottles filled with water and keep them in his room, but that's another story.

Anyhow, this jacket is that type of bright fluorescent color, but yellow instead of green. Beyond retina searing, and perfect for cycling in a city with lots and lots of traffic. I wore it on a ride on Sunday and was amazed at how much more room I got from passing vehicles, just by virtue of being an insult to anyone with color vision. Awesome.

However, the jacket was quite pricey. £68 in fact, and my thought process when buying it ran something like this: "$68 is a lot of money, but it's a jacket and a vest in one, and the color will be really good, and I don't have a good riding jacket, so what the heck." The only problem here being that it is actually a $112 jacket.

That sound you heard was my little tightfisted Puritan heart breaking. One hundred and twelve dollars for a yellow piece of plastic you can ball up in your fist? My sainted ancestors are spinning in their graves as we speak type. Shocking!

However, if it keeps me off the pavement, it's worth it. Thankfully I can wear sunglasses and not blind myself while I'm wearing it.

Heinous jacket

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This would never happen in Texas

So last night, Himself and I were enjoying a lovely evening of sitting on the couch, drinking beer and watching bad TV (actually we were watching Airplane, but bad still applies). And suddenly a bomb went off.

It wasn't actually a bomb, it was our neighbors setting off elaborate fireworks in their backyard. Serious fireworkers, that whistled and screeched and sent off showers of sparks. After deciding that no, the world wasn't coming to an end, and the kids weren't waking up, we were somewhat perplexed. What was going on?

Our neighbors are Indian. And I once, long long ago, lived in New Delhi for a brief stretch. One of my lingering memories is of all the houses in our neighborhood illuminated by hundreds of tiny oil lamps lining the walls and rooftops. So I ran in to our handy dandy computer and discovered that, lo and behold, yesterday was Diwali, the Festival of Lights, a major Hindu holiday. Often celebrated, even in London, with lots and lots of fireworks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I have a new toy

I spent an inordinate amount of time last week trying to get a new phone, and I finally succeeded. So now I can take candid photos whilst out and about with all and sundry.

D practicing her numbers

Boo at the grocery store, stocking up on important supplies

The Natural History Museum

Boo assessing the duck situation

Devil prospecting for gold. Or digging to China. Who knows?

I guess she got tired of digging.

I'm looking forward to being able to engage in some kinnearing in the near future. London commuters be warned!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Um. Wow.

Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this later, when I've had time to process a little bit, but the first thing that jumps to mind is:

How do you like them apples George?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Where oh where has the last month gone?

Somehow, while I was busy running around, a whole month has gone by and it's officially autumn. This week we've finally gotten our first taste of "typical" English weather - it's been grey and drizzly and cool all week, after a glorious weekend.

So what have I been doing? Well, let's see...after a quick week of half-days, Devil started up school full time. Well, the 8:30-3:30 version of full time that is. She loves it. Absolutely adores her teachers, her classmates, and the whole kit and caboodle that is school. She even has homework (!), which she does happily. Of course, since her homework basically consists of reading books with me or Daddy, and occasionally doing some flash cards for words, it's not too strenuous. And she has a whole host of little jingles for each of the letters of the alphabet that are slowly but surely driving me insane (damn you Jolly Phonics!). My mind still boggles at the idea that she will be able to read and write by the end of the year, but she is on her way.

Yesterday was our first experience at a school production for parents - it was her school's Harvest Festival. They typically have an assembly every Tuesday morning, but this week, parents were invited and each class (including the Nursery kids!) stood up and sang a song, or did a little presentation about a autumn celebration. Devil's class did the Chinese Moon Festival, and they each recited what they wished for (she wants a wand, no surprise to anyone there). Then all three of the pre-prep years (Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, aka: kindergarden, first grade and second grade) sang a song about conkers, that I've been hearing in bits and pieces for the last few weeks. It was nice to figure out what the damn thing was actually about, since D insisted on pronouncing it "conkiss". Which I suppose is what it sounds like with an English accent, but it's hard to interpret as an American parent.

Boo is still enjoying daycare, blithely running downstairs every morning to show off her latest animal. Her teachers, bless them every one, continue to act suitably impressed when she proudly shows off her giraffe for the umpteenth time. And always the precocious one, she's decided not to wait until February to start acting like a three year old. Little shit*. So life with Boo now mostly revolves around asking her to do something, watching her float away ignoring me, and then wrestling her upstairs to her room as a consequence while she screams at the top of her exceedingly well-excersized lungs. Fun times. The only up side to this is that I have evidence that this too shall pass. It just might take a couple of years.

Himself is enjoying work, and is currently in Italy looking at rocks. Life is very tough sometimes. I'm back at work on a part-time basis, which I'm really enjoying. I can take the girls to school, go into the "office", have 5 hours to get things done (which requires me to actually be productive) and then I pick them up and spend the later part of the afternoon with them. It's working out quite well. I'm not getting paid yet, since I'm still waiting for my British Social Security number, but I'm enjoying being back in the lab/science world and having somewhere to go every day. However, life is about to be horribly disrupted by Devil's half-term holiday in a week and a half. She'll get to come in with me!

So that's it, in a nutshell. My commute is providing me with many entertaining observations on English life, and I promise it won't be another month before I tell you about some of them.

* And I mean that in the most loving way. Really.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wait a minute. When did this happen?

Somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, this one got old enough to start school. How's that for attentive parenting? As you can see, early this morning she was not all that convinced that school was a good idea, thankyouveryfuckingmuch.

Her sister, on the other hand, having been back in daycare for all of four days, was completely nonchalant about the whole thing.

Post-school, it was a whole different story.

Her teacher, clearly wise in the ways of four year old girls, was prepared with princess stickers. The first thing Dev told me about was sitting on the floor in a circle and talking about the rules. She was very excited to be able to put up her hand and contribute "No fighting!" to the discussion.

Who do you suppose her father is? This apple has surely landed smack dab right under that particular tree...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Things that I miss and things I don't

Brought into focus by our trip home for a family wedding.

Things that I miss:
Salsa. I know I'm spoiled, having spent the past ten years living in either Space City or the Old Pueblo, but the lack of decent and/or vaguely affordable salsa is really starting to cramp my style.
Along similar lines, I miss Chipotle chicken burritos like you would not believe

Things that I don't miss:
American accents
American drivers/traffic
Sticky summer weather

It was a bit odd to go back so soon - it's only been three and a half months - and I was surprised at how jarring it was. After beings asked how we like living here, Himself said something along the lines of "London feels more like home then Houston ever did", but upon reflection we've agreed that it's not London that feels like home, it's the lifestyle. We live in the city, not the suburbs, and get to walk everywhere or use public transport. For someone who was riding the T by herself at age 11 or so, and used it to get to every single day of high school, this is what I'm used to. And a 5 min jog takes us to a huge green space where Himself can go off running and explore for long enough to wear himself out, which is more like what he grew up with. The girls have embraced the "walk everywhere" mentality, as evidenced by our hiking in Scotland and France, and the fact that today they walked the better part of a couple of miles, interspersed with bus riding.

But people asked what we didn't like about living here. So far there are a couple of things that have been tough to get used to. One is the driving, which we have a pretty good handle on by this time, but there are differences beyond just driving on the other side of the road. The biggest issue is space: the tolerance for close passing/close following/tight quarters is immeasurably higher here then in the States. Roads that Americans would have as two lanes are three here. The drivers here are "better" overall, in the sense that they are much more aware and attuned to what's going on around them (which may be dubious praise given how oblivious most American drivers are). But that's taken some getting used to.

The other, bigger, issue that has taken some getting used to is the constant monitoring of peoples' everyday activities. There are CCTV cameras everywhere, and if they chose to, The Powers That Be (whoever they are) could trace back my every move for at least the last week, if not longer. Most of the time I don't think about it (and anyone who wants to follow me around for a week is going to be seriously bored), but it's omnipresent. My understanding is that this system grew out an attempt to increase bank security, and I imagine was also influence by the Irish-British conflict, but now it seems to be tied in to terrorism. I have a hard time envisioning a scenario in which this kind of constant surveillance would ever be implemented in the United States, much less accepted. So that's been an interesting thing to get used to.

But now we're back, we've mostly readjusted to the time change (boy is it ever easier to go west then to go east!), Boo has started daycare, and Devil starts school on Monday. Which must mean that I'm starting work soon. Yikes!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The end of an era

I was clearing out a box of my old papers in my parents' garage this afternoon, and I came across a framed letter that I had saved from 1990. It was from Senator Edward Kennedy, congratulating me on receiving the John and Robert Kennedy Book Award, which I vaguely remember was for being a science geek. In light of his recent passing, it was all the more poignant to find a letter from a man I had never met, wishing me success in college, and saying "I know that this honor, and all the others you've received...are well deserved,...,and I'm confident you have a very promising and exciting future ahead of you."

Having spent most of my childhood in the Boston area, Ted Kennedy was one of the political figures never in doubt. Regardless of what you may think of him, his politics, and his somewhat tumultuous personal life, he was a great and effective legislator, who accomplished remarkable things. It is a tragedy that he did not live to see a health care bill passed, but I hope that it won't be by very long.

Thank you Teddy.

* Cross posted at the knitting blog as well.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What I did on my Summer Vacation, Version 2.0 - France

Last week saw us packing up and heading to the train to go to France. We spent the first three days in Paris, where we hit some of the key tourist sights, and the girls happily chased pigeons at each one.

We ended up not bringing a stroller and hauled Boo around in a handy backpack kid carrier. Devil got to walk. Alot. And she was an absolute trooper - it was amazing. I think it would be a hard thing for most four year olds to walk around a foreign city for 4-5 hours a day, but she did amazingly well.

On our last day, we (along with 18 bazillion of our closest friends who happened to be in Paris that weekend) headed down to the Champs Elysees for a momentous occasion:

The final stage of the 2009 Tour de France. Total cycling geeks that we are, Himself and I were bouncing up and down waiting for the peloton to arrive. Boo was asleep and Dev sat down on a bag on the ground, surrounded by other peoples' legs, and wondering when it was going to be done with. She got into it a bit more though as the parade started and the riders started coming by.

It was a good stage to watch; since they go around a loop eight times, you get to see them come by over and over, so it's not just a 10 second flash as they go by. We saw Lance and Contador and Thor, and watched the Columbia team try to catch a breakaway. I always thought that at least the first lap around was a slightly more mellow affair, but not this year - they were hauling ass from the first lap. Amazing to see.

Monday, we headed to Geneva and picked up a car before heading back into France. We went to Combloux, and stayed with the parents of a friend in a lovely house with a view of Mt. Blanc. It didn't suck...

Again, we forced Dev to spend a lot of time on her feet climbing mountains. We think it's really important that the girls get out and enjoy the outdoors, and we're not above bribing them to help ensure they have a good time. Or at least so they associate chocolate with hiking! We went through a couple bags of peanut M&Ms, several chocolate bars and a bunch of cookies over the next few days, all of which did wonders for getting the girls uphill.

We headed back to Paris on Friday before heading back to London on Saturday afternoon, tired, with bags full of stinky clothes, and some serious suntans. A good trip all around.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation, Part 1C

It's a suitably rainy English summer day, so it's time to finish up the Scottish interlude. From Portree, we headed southeast, over the bridge and on to Eileen Donan.

This is the quintessential castle. Perched on an island looking out over a lonely loch, mountains all around, isolated in splendor. It was almost completely destroyed in 1719, and rebuilt 200 years later. It's now a major tourist attraction, and you can actually go inside and walk through many of the rooms and hallways.

From there, we headed inland a bit and drove up the Great Glen. We looked for Nessie, but the only signs of her were the stuffed monsters we saw in numerous gift shops. So we decided to visit another castle - you can never have too many!

This beauty is Urquhart Castle, on the west side of Loch Ness. In stark contrast to Eileen Donan, Urquhart is a ruin. But you can still imagine what a massive beehive it must have been when occupied.

It was a suitably rainy Scottish day, so the girls took advantage of the drizzle to get quite wet and grubby.

We spent that night in Inverness, and the next day we headed up to Chanonry Point, north of town. By this point, we were all feeling a bit worn out, so we spent most of the day throwing rocks into the ocean and watching the dolphins playing in the surf. Himself got some photos:

These don't do them justice. There were two, and they started off maybe 200 meters off shore. By the time they were done however, they'd come in to maybe 50 feet away, and had treated us to some spectacular full-length displays as they leapt out of the water. Just like at the Aquarium the wild.

After some good time sunning ourselves, we headed back towards Inverness. Miracle of miracles, both girls passed out in the car, so we took the opportunity to go to the National Heritage Site at Culloden, site of the final stand of the Scottish Jacobites in 1746. The Visitor Centre there had a phenomenal display of the history of the Jacobites, and the events leading up to the disastrous last stand on Culloden Moor. Fascinating stuff. The moor itself is an eerie, eerie place. They are in the process of trying to restore it to it's "original" condition, complete with the marshy sections that played a big role in the failure of the Jacobite charge. We had our own reenactment of sorts when Boo decided that it was a good place for a meltdown.

It seemed like a good time to head back. The next day, we headed southward again, and made it to the airport by the skin of our teeth. A short hop back to London and home. One trip down.

Now we're gearing up for our next trip: to Paris on the train to see the last stage of the Tour, then off to the Alpes so Himself can throw himself up a mountain on his bicycle. I've been waking up in the middle of the night trying to recall my (almost 20 year old) French, without much success. It should be...interesting!