Thursday, June 26, 2008

The fun day with no photos

I took this picture of the girls last week at the park. This is to make up for the lack of photos from our most recent outing.

On Wednesday, the girls and I went to the Bank of England Museum. It's a very nice museum, with lots of great displays about the history of British money and how the bank worked in the early days. I found some of the early methods of keeping track of debts very interesting - like the notched stick - the more you owed, the longer the stick was and the more notches it contained. Some of the displays contained bank notes over 300 years old! There was a quiz sheet for the girls (actually, they have several to choose from, based on the age of the child). There were a bunch of questions for the kids to answer as they looked at the displays, with the promise of a prize if they finished it. Juliette and Katrina really got into completing the quiz, and when they finished, they got three prizes - a pin, a pen, and a postcard. The man who gave them the prizes said that the pens are only for kids who finish the whole thing. He said that most kids don't get the answer to one particular question at all - and they both did it without my help. There was also a display where you could try to lift a solid gold bar. It was well-encased in two nested plexiglass cases, with just a hole to stick your hand in through both cases. It was at just about the right height for an adult to use bicep strength to lift it. It weighs about 28 pounds, so it wasn't easy! I could lift it all the way to the top of the case (about 6 inches), but the girls could only move it a little bit. The bar was said to be worth over £160,000 ($320,000). Of couse, there was no photography allowed in the museum.

After the museum, we wanted to go to a discount clothing store that we heard about from some other Americans. So we went to the closest Tube stop to the store, then picked up some lunch from a grocery store and went to the park for a little picnic. It was a beautiful day, and the entertainment was provided by the pigeons, who walked from one group of people to the next, seeing if anyone would feed them. It's obvious that Londoners (at this park, anyway) are well conditioned to avoid feeding the pigeons intentionally, as these birds would come pretty close, but were not at all aggressive. When they didn't get what they wanted, they just moved on. They were very quick to visit a spot when a group packed up to leave, though. I'm sure they find plenty of crumbs.

The discount store was next. Oh my. Those who know me are well aware of how much I dislike shopping in crowded stores. This was like the day after Thanksgiving times ten! The crowds were insane, with lots of bumping into people. Nobody was rude; there just was no room to move about. But the girls came away with some great stuff for very good prices. The score - one pair of pants, three shirts, one jacket, two pairs of shoes, a sun hat, a satin robe, 16 pairs of socks - total price £37. I hope to never see the inside of this store again as long as I live, but it was something to do once!

Monday, June 23, 2008

County fair day

This weekend was the Middlesex (County) Show, so the girls and I decided to attend while Darrell worked. The day was bright and sunny, and very windy. The show was much like any county fair that I've been to in the states. There were rides and games, arts and crafts, and vendors selling all manner of things for the home. The biggest difference between this fair and one in the U.S. was in the sport and competition categories. In the U.S., we have tractor pulls and 4H kids showing off their prize livestock (among other things, of course). Here, there were ferret races, sheepdog herding demonstrations, lawnmower races, falconry exhibitions, and an amateur dog show.

Here are a couple of the parrots from the show put on by Polly's Parrots, a parrot rescue organization. Aren't they beautiful?

And here are the girls doing bungee trampoline jumping!

This is so random and strange, I just have to show it to you. The carousel horses all had names on their necks, and there were two named Darrell and Chris! No, the child in the second photo is not mine; I just didn't get a good photo of the horse with nobody on it.

And last but not least, the girls having fun on the ferris wheel. Hope you had a fun and sunny weekend wherever you are!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lots of nature today

We went to the Natural History Museum today. Though the day was still not anything you would call warm, it was very humid outside. And since the museum, like most everything here, doesn't have air conditioning, it was incredibly hot inside. We didn't end up staying to see the entire museum, but the parts that we saw were neat. Here's Juliette with her favorite animal, the jaguar.

And Katrina wanted to pose with the grizzly bear.

Once we left the stuffy confines of the museum, we discovered a special feature entitled "Amazing Butterflies", which was on the lawn outside the museum. We decided to pay for entrance to it, and it turned out to be the highlight of the day. The butterflies were inside a greenhouse containing all manner of butterfly-attracting plants. My camera is nothing special, but I was pretty happy with some of the photos.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Weather, money, and fashion

Friday's excursion was to the Fashion & Textile Museum in London. The fashion princesses both thought it sounded like a great idea. The museum was small, but nice. The current exhibit was "The Little Black Dress", featuring about a century's worth of gorgeous examples. Both girls were enthralled. I enjoyed it as well. Afterward, we ventured into the Borough Market next to the London Bridge train station. Wow, what a treat for the senses! Every kind of produce, fresh baked goods, meat, seafood, cheese that you can imagine - and more. The girls had some ice cream and we brought home some great bread as well. I would love to live near a market like this. I'd never set foot in a regular grocery store if this were available to me!

Okay, I'm not sure that I'm supposed to be saying this, but - YOU CALL THIS SUMMER??? I know that our perspective is a bit strange, since normal for us in the summer is up around 100 degrees, but honestly, it hasn't cracked the 70 degree mark since we've been here! I'm sure glad that I decided at the last minute to pack jackets for us, as we've needed them at least part of every day. I do enjoy the fact that I'm not walking all over creation in 100-plus heat, but I could do with about 75 or 80 instead of 65. (Yes, I realize that I'm supposed to be thinking in Celsius, but it just doesn't immediately register with me - I even click on the "show this information in Fahrenheit" button on the BBC Weather site. So sue me.) I'm hopeful that there will be a summer here eventually. School is still in session here until mid-July, so that's probably a good clue when summer is likely to begin.

We did have a gorgeous day yesterday. The sun was shining all afternoon, so the girls and I went to a playground at a lovely park a couple of blocks from home. The girls even let me take some pictures of them while we were there.

May I also show you why I'm slow at counting money? Here is the assortment of change that we deal with. There are eight different coins, instead of the four that we usually deal with in the U.S. (yeah, I know that we have half dollar and dollar coins, but mostly we use pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters). The coins in this photo are: top row - one pence, two pence, five pence, ten pence; bottom row - twenty pence, fifty pence, one pound, two pound. See how small the one pound is? And the two pound is just about the same size as the two pence. Counting this has proven somewhat challenging. I really notice the absence of a "25" in the counting. And we don't deal with "2"s at all in the U.S. I'm learning, though. I even counted out £4.50 today for a clerk without holding up the line!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Local wildlife

We are living in a two bedroom apartment in the town of Uxbridge. If you're looking for it on a map, it's about five miles straight north of London's Heathrow Airport. The apartment is much larger than I had anticipated, and it's plenty large for the four of us. Uxbridge is about 15-20 miles from central London, and is the last stop on two different Tube lines. We've found it very easy to get around, even without a car. Our place is an easy ten-minute walk from the center of town, the Tube station, and Darrell's office.

These are some of our new neighbors. There are canals all over the Uxbridge area, and our building sits right on one of them. There is a small island in front of our building, which is right outside our living room window. This family of swans has been here a lot. Since the mommy and daddy swan have five babies, Katrina has named all of them for her best friend's family, which also has five kids. The baby swans are growing up very fast. This photo was taken several days ago, and the babies are much bigger now. They left lots of feathers behind this morning as the babies are losing their gray baby feathers and starting to turn white like the parents.

Here's the sign of the restaurant/pub next door. It's called the Swan & Bottle (the name is very faint on the sign above the big gold "Chef & Brewer" words). You can see part of our building on the right. I'm thinking that ours is not the first family of swans to live here!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We're online again!

Yay! We finally have an email connection at home. We examined several options for broadband access, including Sky TV, which gets you tons of channels, though we have no TV here, and requires a BT phone line which we don't need - we have Darrell's office phone and two cell phones. Almost everything we looked at required 12 to 18 months minimum, and we only need less than six. The winner - a 3G wireless modem, which allows you to get pay-as-you-go broadband starting at £15 per month (about $30). And it works perfectly. Now I can get to my email more than three times per week. Good deal, since I was having major withdrawal symptoms!

Shopping is fun when the language is almost your own

The girls posed on the Millenium Bridge, which crosses the Thames right near the Tate Modern museum. The bridge is pedestrian-only, and is a suspension bridge with its cables mostly hidden underneath, which makes it nice, because you don't have a ton of cables and railings obstructing the view.

Want to go on a fun scavenger hunt? Go grocery shopping in another country! I've been having great fun figuring out the items on my list. We are shopping very frequently, because we don't have a car. The "big" grocery store is about 3/4 of a mile from the apartment; the little one is about 1/2 mile away. Last night, I decided to make some lasagna - it's a family favorite, and I have made it so many times that I know the recipe by heart. One of the things that I need is tomato paste. Check the aisle with the canned tomatoes - lots of chopped tomatoes, which I also need. But no sign of tomato paste. Hmm. Look around a bit, then see that there are more tomato items on the other side of the aisle. Still no tomato paste. Restort to looking at can sizes. Aha! There are some tiny cans. They're labeled "double concentrated tomato puree". Maybe? Buy them, figuring that they'll do even if they're not quite right. Get home and open them, and see that they're exactly perfect. Another shopping victory! And yes, the lasagna was excellent. Our other shopping fun this week was Bandaids. We scoured Poundland - like the dollar store back home, but twice as expensive. We searched the correct aisle and just started reading packages since we had no idea what they would be called. Mystery solved. Bandaids = plasters.

It's very interesting to experience everyday life in another country. Here in England, things are just familiar enough to be comfortable, but just different enough to leave us slightly off balance most of the time. I have long admired Kimberly and her family for being up to the challenge of life in China. I'm very grateful for a (sort of) common language during our adventures!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Walking in London

See, Shannan? I can use song titles for blog posts, too!

The girls and I arrived in London last Tuesday. I've been without a regular internet connection so far, so I'm at the mercy of DH to let me borrow his laptop to find a free WiFi connection. I'm getting to my email about three times a week so far, but hope to have a connection at the apartment soon.

Our first stop in London was a ride on the London Eye. What a great view! Here's Big Ben as seen from the top of the Eye. It's a bit on the pricy side (about $62 for me and two kids), but it was worth one trip. The wheel is huge and turns very slowly, so even though you only go around once, it takes about 40 minutes. Plenty of time to take lots of photos.

The girls are rapidly becoming experts on the London Underground, or Tube. They always want to choose our route, so I just hand them a mini Tube map and let them get us where we're going. There are almost always multiple ways to get somewhere, and it's fascinating to see which way appeals to them. I purchased an Oyster Card - an unlimited pass - about $88 for seven days. The kids (under 11) ride free as long as they're with me.

I'm feeling a bit like a kindergartener with the money so far. I get a big handful of change and have no idea what I'm looking at. It seems that you always have tons of change, because the smallest paper money is a five pound note. The (almost) most worthless coin, the tuppence, is huge, while the two pound coin is about the size of a nickel. More than once, I've had to throw myself on the mercy of a clerk and let them count the change out of my hand when paying. I'm slowly figuring it out, though. Most importantly, the one and two pound coins, though small, are quite heavy compared to the smaller denomations, which is a useful bit of information.

We visited the Tate Modern museum, which the girls loved once they got started. The first room or two that we entered were full of those huge all-one-color paintings that I can never comprehend why they're famous. But the cubists and the surrealists were fun. The girls both thought it was neat that there were school kids there sketching the paintings, so they decided to try it. Juliette (age 10) spent over 90 minutes sketching a painting, and did very well at it. Katrina (age 8) sketched a painting and a sculpture. When we left, Juliette found a postcard of her painting in the gift shop, so now she has proof what a great job she did on her sketch. I'll have to post a picture for you soon.

I had a lovely visit yesterday with one of my splitcoaststampers friends, Chris - aka Dashwood. She took us to a sweet little shop, S&D Card Crafts, which is located very near where we're living for the summer. I found several stamp sets that were previously unknown to me, and of course purchased a few! I would never have found the shop on my own, so having a local guide was wonderful.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The adventure begins

Great news! Darling daughter has had the fastest case of chicken pox I've ever heard of. She's all scabbed over and not contagious, so we can fly out on schedule tomorrow. I've sent ahead a selection of stamping toys, so there might be some stamping posts in the next several weeks. Or there might be a lot of tourist photos. Who knows? Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Absent blogger returns!

I'm back! Did you miss me? I have a million excuses for not posting for a month. But they're all lame, other than the small fact that I haven't actually stamped much lately.

I do, however, have a doozy of an excuse for this week. And you get to hear it, because I earned this pity party fair and square, and I get to whine to everyone who will listen. Yesterday was the last day of school for my daughters, who just finished 2nd and 4th grades. Today is the younger daughter's birthday. So we were happily planning end of school, birthday party, and the really big deal - an all-summer trip to England, where my husband is working for several months. We are due to fly out on Monday. So what could possibly throw a monkey wrench into the plans? Chicken pox! My younger daughter, the birthday girl, came down with them on the eve of the last school day. So now we wait and watch, rearrange our schedules, postpone the birthday party, get doctor's notes so that airlines won't penalize us for changing our flights, etc. This is just not the way I envisioned this week going! On the plus side, it has forced us all to slow down from the crazy pace we'd been at for the past two weeks. And my daughter is actually in pretty good spirits, especially considering that she's quarantined on the first day of summer break, on her birthday!

Okay, whine over. Here's a card that I made for a swap and was holding out on you until the swaps arrived at their destinations. I just love the Out on a Limb stamp set!

Details: stamps - Out on a Limb; paper - stampers select white, summer sunrise, lemon tart, bitty baby blessings; ink - chocolate chip (SU), spring moss, lavender moon; accessories - spring moss twill ribbon, Cuttlebug embossing folder Birds & Swirls, horizontal slot punch (SU), dimensionals