Thursday, March 29, 2012

Feed the birds, tuppance a bag....part 2

It was such a buzz kill to be gathering birds around us at Trafalgar square and have a guy step up and say "not allowed!" Then he proceeded to use his little pincers to pick up every last piece of bread we had dropped (cue angry birds!) I said, well, I would have thought the birds would have cleaned that up....but I guess they don't want that. Don't want to encourage pigeons what with the Olympics and all. Still, disheartening. I had been building it up to the boys and saving bread.....Ah well, we'll always have Menlo Park.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is up with Scooby Doo, part 2

Now there is a relationship between Velma and Shaggy, with Velma as the aggressor. What the hell??? Now you can't have a kids show without romance? Perhaps this is why 3rd graders are having oral sex. Please let the innocence last a little longer! We have a long enough time to be worried or stressed or frantic about romantic relationships. We don't need to start in the Scooby Doo years!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Portobello Road

My eye has healed to the point where it now looks as if I have been careless in applying eyeliner. This means I can go about without getting sympathetic looks (except, I suppose, from make-up artists). But there is a lump where the laceration was as if something got trapped inside. Grit? Eyeglass part? Who knows. But I did get my glasses repaired and I picked them up the other day. They don't have the cool blue/green undertones but they do fit my face.

On Saturday morning I had a wonderful outing to the shops and stalls on Portobello Road. This is an open air market alongside regular shops where you can buy furniture or fresh fish, strawberries or slippers, jewelry and jubilee souvenirs. It was packed and a bit overwhelming visually for me so I didn't fully explore but it was a delightful melange. The people too: funky, sporty, casual chic, dapper, and tourist. I heard French and Spanish and several languages I couldn't identify but made me think of Polish or Russian and also Asian languages.

I found a wonderful store that I went back to on Sunday when the crowds were less pressing. I couldn't figure out at first what it was because there were products with only Italian on the labels and others with only Spanish. Finally, I figured it was basically a Mediterranean grocery. 'Swonderful! When I returned on Sunday, I got orzo pasta, marinated artichoke hearts, pork pate, lentils, salami (among other fun things). They had great big pourable containers of fish stock, but were out of chicken--dang it! I wanted salsa, but apparently that's more Mexican than Spanish. There was something in a tube called 'spicy ketchup' but I wasn't brave enough to try it. They also had a lot of octopus (frozen and fresh and tinned) and anchovies (same ways). Oh! And I got gaspacho in a pourable container! So delicious and convenient. Lots of beans and pasta and olives and smoked meats. I will definitely be back!

On my way home I happened upon a jumble sale. 20p admittance. Then, for 5 pounds, I got a sweater, a sweatshirt, a warm pair of socks (thinking Ireland!), a funky pair of wide-leg/side-zip black pants, and two Scooby Doo magazines for the boys! With awesome Guillotine finger trick!

And now for a moment of outrage. One can no longer 'feed the birds' no matter how many tuppence a bag. Wow. I understand that pigeons poop everywhere but geez. No feeding the birds? Dang.

Scooby Doo--updated

The boys have gotten hooked on Scooby Doo. I remember enjoying it also back in the day when one only got to watch cartoons on Saturday morning instead of on one of several all-cartoon all-the-time channels. That's not all that has changed! Velma has wifi and gps. They have a new song (Please! The old one was perfect!) Fred has a complicated relationship with his father. Daphne always was a lightweight, but now she's completely airheaded. Even worse: Fred and Daphne are engaged. They're supposed to be meddling kids but they've got a whole storyline now that feels like a disney princess rip-off. Luckily the boys are oblivious to that part of things. Shaggy still has stubble and Scooby is the same delightful little prankster. Fred still always suggests that they split up to look for clues.

Hob = Stovetop
Rocket = Arugula
Interwebs = Internet/world wide web

Bacon is an entirely different shape here. There is a lot more meat and it's shaped sort of like a pan with a handle. It's quite tasty but is more like a piece of ham.

I'm a convert to European appliances. The washer and dishwasher take a long time but they both work so well. Ditto the dryer. It has a condenser that you pull out to pour the water into the sink instead of the steam being blown outside. Brilliant! No hose to get clogged over and over. In California, a bird kept building a nest in the small opening to the outside.

Tracey and Richard, the friends we visited in Chiswick last weekend, have a home in western Ireland. It has a name, Rosmindle. Isn't that wonderful? I love a house with a name. We are going to visit for a week in April and are very excited. We will fly into Knock, which is too small for most maps and is in the independent part of Ireland. Rosmindle is in a farming and fishing community with sheep and fowl wandering about. It's at about the western most part of the west on the Atlantic. (Next stop is Newfoundland, Tracey says.) We will burn turf for heat! I'm sure we'll also eat lots of wonderful fresh fish and farm products.

Yesterday, while walking on Ladbroke Grove, the boys came up with a game. Lionel was only allowed to step on blue and yellow squares while Owen could only step on green and black. Me? I only saw grey concrete. But the boys were skipping all around keeping to their 'colors.' Love the imagination.

I love this line from the novel Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson: "She was not, herself, beautiful. Her moments were beautiful." The book, like that character, has beautiful moments but being about the Vietnam war is not, itself, beautiful.

The other day in the grocery store I encountered a man going up and down the aisles opposite of me--going up the aisle as I was going down the aisle and so on through the store. He was 50-ish, slightly rumpled, wearing heavy black glasses and, it's true, a Member's Only jacket. When I passed him by the yogurt, he pulled out a phone and I overheard this: "Mum. They don't have the Activia. Do you want....Okay. Anything but strawberry. Okay. Love you Mum. Bye." Next aisle; "Mum. Do you want the whole chicken or just the filets? Okay. I thought you'd want...Okay. The whole chicken. Okay. Thanks. Love you Mum. Bye." Next aisle: "Mum. Free range eggs. Does it....okay. Love you Mum. Bye." And on and on. I don't know why he ever hung up the phone but I found it hilarious and so lingered to hear his half of the 'conversation.'

Keith is off to Leeds today to give a talk for 500 quid. The bill he was advocating for passed, by the way, and he was instrumental in making that happen. He's been going in to King's college some days and also working at home on a grant for his center at the VA. He's not being paid by the VA, mind you, so he's a bit irked at the lengthy review process which keeps pulling him back in....just when he thought he had broken free.....

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Odds and bobs, part 2

So we had our first real touristy day. Took the tube to Westminster Abbey and climbed up the steps to see Big Ben looming over us. The boys keep thinking it's Big Bentley because that's what they called it in the Cars movies. We paid 16p per adult to go into Westminster Abbey and were completely (Keith and I anyway) overwhelmed by the weight of time. Seriously--glazed and painted tiles from the medieval era. Paintings from 1200. 1200! 600 years ago! 600! It's so marvelous that one can see these things and so think about perspective. I've been to Westminster before but the weight keeps growing. Darwin. Churchill. The Poet's Corner. The building is amazing just to be standing up---all that carved rock---what an engineering coup!

Grill = broil
Pok Shoi = Bok Choy

I caved and bought a knife. Can't go 4 months without a good one. The other things I had to buy: a measuring cup (yes, England does a lot of things by weight but there wasn't a kitchen scale or a measuring cup in this flat and I wanted to make rice accurately Also pancakes.) Measuring spoons. A nutcracker because the walnuts I ordered from grocery delivery arrived in the shells. Some small bowls for small boys.

I love that when I order tea here they ask if I want milk. No one tries to put honey or sugar or lemon or anything else. Tea how I like it---P.G. Tips with milk. I also love that one can buy long-life milk to store in the cupboard. This is especially useful since you can't buy milk in gallons (the fridge is too small anyway) and we go through a lot of milk.

For the first time I've seen women in full Burkhas. Don't know how to spell it and neither does Microsoft. One woman was walking down the street at such a fast rate I was amazed. I couldn't see how she was seeing anything at all. Lots of wrapped heads--makes me feel strangely naked.

At Trafalgar's Square the boys once again got themselves into some Asian photo galleries. There was a swarm of Asian women who stood next to the boys while another took pictures. One kept chucking Owen under the chin until he was completely annoyed and when they asked for another picture he said, NO! I generally accommodate people RE: pics, but this is the first time I've seen the boys get pissed off about it. Interesting.

Cars Do NOT STOP for pedestrians in this country! In the US, I am used to cars stopping when I approach a street, especially when I approach it with a kid in hand. Here; not so much. If I hadn't pulled the boys back a couple of times the traffic would have run them over. I'm holding on to them as the precious beings they are. Still Scary.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Odds and bobs

First let me correct an earlier mistake. They drive on the left here, not the right. I'm going to attribute that to jet lag.

Yesterday we rode a double-decker bus--on the top and in the very front so we were looking down on the rainy London streets and cars and umbrellas.

We were met in Chiswick by Keith's friend Tracey, a former reporter for the BBC, now a freelance writer of radio news and feature articles. She walked us through the drizzle to her home, gleefully pointing out where Colin Firth lives. She has seen him on the street but is chagrined to not be at her goal weight at those times.

I can't find broth in the markets. I've been told it's only called stock here and that I should check at a butcher shop. They make extra money selling stock made from leftover meat bits.

I can't find dill pickles in the markets. All the pickles are sweet--blech! I've been told to look in a Polish food shop. There are a lot of Polish immigrants and corresponding groceries.

Jelly = jello
Jam = jelly
Ear buds = Q-tips
Garden = yard

Kate Middleton has adopted as her charity a group focused on substance abuse issues. Keith is preparing a presentation for this group. Will he meet the latest royal??

Tracey (who is half Irish) served us lunch on St. Patrick's Day which concluded with a green jelly in the shape of a rabbit surrounded by white marshmallows and served with orange sherbet to mimic the colors of the Irish flag--green, white, and gold. This was the first time the boys had marshmallows and they didn't like them. This surprised Tracey who thought all Americans eat marshmallows on a regular basis. I was happy to diabuse her of that belief. I told her that in America people were drinking green beer on St. Paddy's. "Well, that's a bit extreme, isn't it?" she said.

She was quite proud that she had purchased a Betty Crocker cookbook and was experimenting with 'American' cooking. She had a friend from Connecticut send her some lima beans. She had never heard of them and didn't even know how to pronounce the word. Not my favorite food, but maybe better than marshmallows.

After lunch we walked in the drizzle to Chiswick house. We didn't actually go in the house because we ended up spending our time at the water so the boys could feed the ducks. The house was built in 1729 for some baron to display his art. Then it became a lunatic asylum. Now it is a public space. There was a Camellia festival going on but the tickets were expensive and we could see the flowers through the windows of the greenhouse. Lovely grounds although I'm sure it would be nicer in better weather and in full bloom. While feeding the ducks we saw an incredible display by the coots. They seemed to get angry and fluffed up their back wings into a shell to look bigger. Their feet were these bizarre elongated green things that have to be the equivalent of clown shoes for birds.

So,I'm going to have lunch with Tracey on Friday. Not feeling so lonely....

Friday, March 16, 2012


Things have changed a lot. One doesn't have to use cables. One doesn't have to wait weeks or months for a letter to appear from overseas. There is email. There is facebook. And still I feel lonely.

It's not just the voice on the line, although that is important. Right now, it's about actual alone-ness. Wait, I take that back. In reality, I am very rarely alone. Walking down the street with a boy holding each hand I hear stereo conversations while also dodging pedestrians, navigating, and avoiding traffic. At home with the boys it's a run of Uno, Go Fish, War, Concentration, and coloring. Keith has been working a lot---gone all day and home for dinner. This should change in the coming days although he does also have a couple of trips planned. Love my boys, but miss grown-up conversation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


This morning Keith stayed with the boys for a couple of hours and I took a walk around our new neighborhood. The weather was perfect for me---overcast (the best for my vision) and just a titch chilly. With a light jacket and a scarf I was perfectly comfortable temperature-wise and because of the favorable lighting I was perfectly comfortable navigation-wise. I strolled up to the Ladbroke Grove Underground station to purchase an Oyster card, which will allow me to ride the tube and buses easily and more cheaply. (The boys ride free!)

Then I walked up to Portobello Road, a street of shops and stalls selling fruits and vegetables, flowers, jewelry, clothes, bags, and other miscellany. I had tried the Portobello Road earlier and hadn't found the food stalls so was glad this time around to see all the fresh produce. I've been ordering from grocery delivery services, but it is so much nicer to pick one's own items. There were coffee shops and felafel stands. Several shoe stores. The windows of one clothing store were lined for almost a block and around the corner with old Singer sewing machines.

It was just a couple of hours walking through city streets and I felt so grateful to be doing it. Grateful to be exploring another country. Grateful that I could see well enough to enjoy it and to walk about by myself. Grateful for the few moments crossing a street looking at street signs and shop signs and people and feeling so present that time slowed down. I want time to slow down more often. But not too much because I am going home to a husband and two 5-year-olds, for whom I am also profoundly grateful.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tea time!

We had a couple of Keith's British friends over this afternoon for a spot of tea. I wanted to do it right, so of course I had crumpets on hand. However, being in a temporary kitchen, I had to improvise on some other things. I don't have a proper teapot, so I brewed the tea in a coffee press. I don't have a creamer or sugar bowl, so I offered those in small jelly molds. I put out preserves and butter to go with the crumpets....but I felt I needed something else. Voila! A yummy new bruschetta is born!

I surveyed my fridge and found some interesting things. I had a small container of bleu cheese cubes from a salad I had taken home as a leftover. I had some creme fraiche which I had purchased thinking I could use it like half and half (wrong!). I had some bacon. It was all coming together! I smashed the cheese and added the creme until it was nicely mixed. I cooked a couple pieces of bacon and crumbled that into the bowl. Then I chopped some scallions and added those.

I sliced the remainder of a loaf of ciabatta, spread my mixture on the slices, and slid these under the broiler for about 3 minutes. *Mwah!* Even better than crumpets!

"These Baronesses are so hard to keep straight." -- Keith

Keith is preparing for battle tomorrow in Parliament. He has been advising on an addendum to a bill about legal aid. The addendum has to do with forcing alcohol abstinence on people who have been abusive while drinking (primarily domestic situations). He's dealing with various MPs and Lords and Ladies and, apparently, Baronesses.

I am pleased to say that the boys are over their jet lag. They can't force themselves through it the way adults can--going to bed because it's dark and staying awake because it's light. Their little bodies just tell them what time it is and they react accordingly. For the first couple of days I was up reading to them in the middle of the night and trying to prop them awake during the day. Finally we have made it---last night they slept from 7 pm to 7 am even though California time that would be 11 am to 11 pm. With no wake-ups due to fever or stuffed animals with hot ears!

We have a lovely 2-bedroom flat with a small kitchen and combined living room and dining area. The boys have bunk beds (very fun--they switch turns on the top bunk every day). There is also a HUGE enclosed garden area out the back. Yesterday Owen met a girl named Katie who is making him smile. After running around for a while together, he picked a crocus and handed it to her. Quite the charmer. So far the only thing I really miss (beside people) is a good knife in the kitchen.

I'm trying to remember that not only do they drive on the right in England, they walk right! I was veering around on the sidewalks thinking I was being a good citizen and then realized I was making everyone move to the other side. Whoops.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Nighttime scene

Setting: The boys' bedroom at night. Owen, 5 year old twin in top bunk. His brother Lionel in bottom bunk. Enter: Mommy.

L: Ow, ow, ow, ow! My whole body is hurting.
M: Let me feel your head. Oh my. You're burning up. I'll be right back.
Mommy leaves, then returns with medicine and a cloth.
L: My body hurts from head to toe.
M: Here. Drink this. It will help you feel better.
O: I'm trying to sleep up here.
L: When will this ever stop?
M: The medicine will take a little time to kick in. Let's cool you off with this cloth.
O: Quiet please!
Mommy places cloth on Lionel's forehead.
L screams: Too cold!
O: Can I please get some peace and quiet?
M: Okay, okay. Just a little bit at a time.
L: Why is this happening?
M: You have a fever. It will go away in a little while.
O: I can't find Beary.
L: My ears are hot.
M: Let's put the cloth on your ears, just a little bit.
L: Ow, ow, ow, ow.
O: Beary? Beary? Where are you?
L: I'm tired now.
M: Okay, get some rest. I'll leave this cloth with you. Night night.
L: Night.
Mommy leaves.
O: Wait! Mommy! Beary's ears are hot.

And, SCENE! Well that would be nice. Actually the scene continued with such tiresome tropes as "I have to pee"; "How long until morning?"; "I need a drink"; "please neaten my blankets" and the ever popular "I have to tell you something."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We have arrived!.

Despite several setbacks...

On Sunday, the pods were delivered. These pods were to hold our household goods. The company would pick them up, store them at a warehouse, and then deliver them to our new address when we return to the United States. The expert from the pod people who estimated how many pods would be needed for our house was off by about 40%. We had 5 pods and these were full within 2 hours and the moving guys just threw up their hands. After negotiations with the pod people we learned that they couldn't deliver 3 more pods on Monday morning so we had to find a storage facility for the remainder of our goods. Monday was supposed to be a day of rest before flying out on Tuesday but now we had to drive back down from SF to Menlo Park, re-engage our movers, move the stuff into a truck, and into a storage unit. The rest of our stuff just *barely* didn't make it into one truckload. Then our stuff just *barely* didn't make it into one storage unit. So, we had to take two trips. And we had to rent two storage units.

Before the move we were trying to keep the boys occupied so we could finish washing linens and packing suitcases. There were no cartoons on TV, the computer and movies had all been packed, so they ended up watching an informercial. I thought the progression of their understanding was interesting. At first when I came through the room they would extol the virtues of the product, word for word, as the sales people had, very excitedly. Eventually they complained "they keep saying the same thing over and over." Finally, one of them said: "Hey! They just want to take all our money."

The night before we had to go back down to Menlo Park,I had a fall. I have a serious vision defect; I experience tunnel vision (no peripheral) and night blindness. I wanted a moment to myself after a chaotic day and so I stepped outside of our friends' house in SF. I didn't go far, just back and forth in front of two or three houses. However, on one of my backs or forths, I stepped on an unseen stick or piece of litter or human hand---I don't know---I couldn't see it. It threw off my balance, I over-compensated, and then I went down hard on my right side--knee, hip, elbow, shoulder, and finally, smack!, the right side of my face. The right arm broke off my glasses and my temple landed on the screw/hinge piece which caused a small laceration. My skull hit the cement causing swelling and an almost immediate black eye. I went to sleep with my face on a bag of frozen black-eyed peas (seemed appropriate) but the laceration opened up again during the night and I bled on the bag. Then, as I shifted and moved to get the cold parts on the ouchy parts, I smeared blood all over the side of my face and head. I woke up with a bloody, sticky face, blood caked in my hair and eyelashes. Yikes! Luckily the injury was not as gruesome as all that but I definitely looked like I'd been in a bar fight or the victim of domestic violence.

The next morning I felt my first earthquake! It was the first I've ever felt and it was a small one so it's okay to feel excited about it. It was about 4 in the morning. I hadn't been sleeping very well due to the eye issue so I was partly awake. When the bed began to shake, I said what made the most sense under the circumstances: "Is there a boy under my bed or is it a monster?" No one answered. The rattling continued. Stopped. "Hello?" I ventured. No answer. Hmmm. Not a honest to God earthquake! Cool! Keith worried that it would be followed by a larger one. So many things seemed to be going wrong and he was convinced there would more to come.

Sure enough. We left SF early so we would have time for any mishaps and to take care of a few loose ends before the movers arrived. At around 6 am, our friend Aina tried to back our car out of her garage, reversing up a steep incline. Normally, she zips our car out in a few seconds with excellent spatial relations and the kind of expertise that developed after years of zipping her own and others' cars in and out of this steep and narrow opening. This time she moved backward, then forward again. Backward part way up the hill, then forward again. Over and over. Finally she got out and told us there didn't seem to be any power. Is this it? Another catastrophe? With Keith and me pushing the front of the car, Aina was able to get out of the garage. We drove tentatively home hoping we wouldn't stall on the freeway or on any of SF's hills.

When we returned for the second day with the movers they cautiously checked out my appearance and finally one of them asked. I assured them that my husband did not beat me but that I had fallen. I hope they were convinced. I'm afraid Keith will be getting the stink-eye for the duration of my black-eye.

We finally got everything stored and handed our car off to our friends the two Toms. No more catastrophes. The earth didn't move, but the car did, We were all washed and packed and were dropped off at the airport in time to have lunch in the Admiral's Lounge. (Keith flies so frequently that he is a foofee-sashay high-falutin' Executive Platinum member with special services. We got to go along for the ride.)

The flights were mostly uneventful. On my first trip to the plane bathroom with Owen, I said: "Try not to touch anything with your hands." "No problem," he said. "I'll just use my sleeve." Well, you can't fly without some germs.... Later when they were experimenting with the musical channels on their headsets, Owen yelled from across the aisle, in the loud voice of someone wearing headphones: "Tell Lionel that channel 10 is groovy!"

They both managed to sleep 3 or 4 hours, despite turbulence. As we came in to land, Lionel suddenly had airsickness and threw up (in my hands). The seatbelt light was on. "Does anyone have a napkin? Do you have a sick bag?" First order of business: washing hands!

We took a taxi to Notting Hill where we were met at our flat by Lady Mimi Packingham. More tomorrow on settling in.