Sunday, September 28, 2008

Camden Market, North London

On Saturday, we took a day trip to London to see the Corys before they returned to the U.S. I made a new rule (I am so good at that but it does come back to bite me) that the girls must do one cultural thing every time we go to London, so we started our day at the Natural History Museum. There was a time in my life when I liked to take my children to learn interesting things about the Earth. Apparently that time has passed. We spent way too much time in the geology exhibit, is all I can say. I am secure enough to say that I haven't found information about the planet or stuffed mammals interesting since about fourth grade. Sure, I fondled the obsidian and looked through the microscopes and pushed buttons to find out facts about volcanoes, but more because it's a museum that allows touching without being yelled at. That has been a problem for me in the past and it's mortifying, especially when you don't know you are leaning on the artifact. I think it is more fun to go around natural history museums with little kids, and I did mention to my family that I would not be returning to a natural history museum until I am a grandparent. They looked at me as they always do...with weariness and boredom. I became very discouraged in the human biology exhibit where we played interactive memory games to learn about our brain biology. I totally have early onset dementia.

The Camden Market is fabulous for the young folks. It's a bit of a hike on the Tube but it was worth it. Olivia and Ally had a great time shopping the stalls for overpriced, poorly made and yet darling garments while Anne and I carried the bags, bought them water and made encouraging remarks, like "That is so cute." and "It's your money, do what you want." It was insanely crowded so after an hour or two, we took our leave to a more civilized part of London, near Carnaby Street. There we located Liberty, a really unique and beautiful department store. As Anne is an avid knitter, she wanted some English yarn as a souvenir to work into a scarf for herself--a very nice way to remember her trip, I think. The great thing about haberdashery is there are lots of chairs for knitters, which we used to park our surly teens and bags while looking for yarn. Chip and Pat missed all the fun, in favor of a football match. We parted at Liberty with hugs all around, a fitting place for Americans to say goodbye. Liberty and justice and shopping for all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Cake Shop, Covered Market, Oxford

Draping the fondant
Beautiful tiny cakes
A whole array of treats

Fondant is a cream confection used as a filling or coating for cakes, pastries, and candies or sweets. In its simplest form, it is sugar and water cooked to the soft-ball stage, cooled slightly, and stirred or beaten until it is an opaque mass of creamy consistency. Wikipedia

I had never heard the word before today. Anne and I shopped the Oxford Covered Market and The Cake Shop is a tiny and very busy bakery within. There were at least five people working non-stop today maybe getting ready for the weekend. All stages of making and decorating cakes were represented simultaneously in the shop, from batter to box almost. The ease and speed with which they create figures and flowers and piping and layering and color coordinating the whole theme of the cake is a testament of course to their skill. Somebody could try to teach me, but it would be hopeless. I would never be that good. The man in the photo above worked so quickly and as if he was actually thinking about other things while he rolled out and applied the fondant to the cake. Truly impressive but herein lies the story.

Anne watches the Cake Network and was excited to see them using fondant. She continued to explain in great detail how the baker makes the fondant, and then rolls out the fondant and then lays the fondant on the cake and then uses a tool to smooth out the fondant to make sure there are no air bubbles underneath the fondant. You know how a word can begin to sound unreal and then hearing it becomes completely irritating once that happens? She was doing it on purpose to annoy me as I often think of most people and the things they do.

"Wow, that's awesome, now stop saying fondant, already. It's irritating. "

"You're just mad that I know something you don't know."

So, I took her to see the butcher.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Christ Church, Oxford

Old Tom

Anne, Pat and Chip view Tom Tower, aka Old Tom
Birthday boy
Dining Hall Christ Church
Head of the River
The Bear
Christ Church Chapel

The Corys visit us for a day in Oxford. The pub crawl starts at the Head of the River on the Thames. Then a trip to Christ Church to see where the Harry Potter Quidditch match was filmed and to view their Dining Hall which was the model for Hogwarts' dining hall. Pub crawl proceeds to the Bear, the Kings Arms and the Turf Tavern. We are pooped. Ends with birthday cake and presents at Kineton Road.

Oxford doors

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pedestrian crossings are not just to look at

My dad sent me an email today that said he thinks I am obsessed with my laundry. Awww...someone's been reading my blog.

Well, we had our quintessential American experience yesterday as one of us finally got hit by a car. I've sort of been prepared for it. I'm surprised it took this long. The paramedic diagnosed it at the scene. "You looked the wrong way, didn'tcha?" She can't remember. It was only her foot, nothing broken thankfully, but it's banged up pretty good. We did the obvious parent ranting about paying attention, could have been your head, that's what the pedestrian underpass is for, you must take personal responsibility, etc. It's a well worn speech. In the end, she will return to school with a very bruised foot and ego, but maybe safer in the long run.

These things used to COMPLETELY freak me out. The sinking feeling that comes from clear evidence that you must be a crap parent. Where oh where did I go wrong? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? Where can I get a self-help book that I can make Chip read and summarize for me? I must be getting old. I didn't freak out. She's hobbling back to school tomorrow per the doctor's orders even if it hurts and she'll figure it out as she always does. This injury was my second trip to the John Radcliffe Hospital in one month with a family member. I am sure Munchausens by proxy will come up if they ever see me there again. "There's that bizarre American woman again. She seems too calm, doesn't she?"

Tomorrow our friends arrive from the U.S. via London. We are so excited to show them around. The pubs.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Oxford weekend

I am literally walking my ass off in Oxford. I had to buy a belt last week to keep me trousers up. Now a new method of transport, Blue Bess! She's beautiful because she has a basket. It's a little harrowing traveling by bike on the narrow streets as double decker buses whiz by but I think I will just stay off the big roads as much as possible. Oxford is incredibly flat and makes cycling a breeze.

It's a beautiful weekend here in southern England so will post some everyday sights I am privileged to see each day. It's still summer here. Term hasn't started and it has the feeling of the last weeks of August right before students return but with an air of expectancy that soon things will rapidly feel different.

Took a walking ghost tour last night through the city. Really a historical walk with some legends thrown in. A bloody town and gown history here, though. One row between town and gown resulted in 200 dead in three days. The university is over 800 years old, so lots to discuss. And today I saw the filming of Inspector Morse on Queens Lane.

As you can see, somebody had to get glasses since we arrived. She's a beauty regardless, I think. Chip and I overheard the little brothers across the street. "Do you know how to spell Mum in American?" says one. "Yes, M O M." replies the other.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hay on Wye

Driving on the left side is scary and wrong. Nevertheless, we rented a car with the giant casualty insurance and Chip did a fine job driving us to the border of Wales to visit this wonderful little village devoted to books! Olivia's suggestion, thank you. There are books everywhere in this town. Old books, used books, new books stored everywhere, inside and out, in sheds, in metal bookcases, in boxes by the door. We had a great pub lunch in the Old Black Lion, which I kept calling the Old Red Lion by mistake. Teenage daughters hate that sort of thing, by the way. They call me "Nana". There is a book festival here in May every year and many writers attend. Jimmy Carter was in the Old Black Lion having lunch just four months ago.

The little man sitting outside his house was sort of propped as if to be able to enjoy the village from his doorstep. There was a picture of Winston Churchill in his window as we walked by.

We stopped and looked at some sheep, and I did think at one point that Chip was making sheep noises, so I told him to stop. It turned out to be the sheep making the sheep noises.

The other really fun thing that only I thought was fun was we used the rental car on Sunday to go the BIG AMERICAN STYLE grocery store in the suburbs of Oxford. Many bottles of wine and cans of coke were purchased so that my poor shopping trolley doesn't have to bring the heavy stuff home for a long time!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


We visited our friends, the Gaucis, on the weekend, just outside Oxford. Perry and Chip are old friends from Lincoln College-going back so far that Perry was a groomsman in our wedding. Their house is amazingly cool, pictured above--I think it would be a museum if it was in America. They are an excellent family for many reasons but mostly because both parents and children are huge High School Musical fans like us. I think High School Musical could bring world peace through its music and dance.

Monday, September 8, 2008

An American Idiot in Sainsburys

It is important for me to keep laughing at myself. I try to do my grocery shopping as early as possible in the mornings so as to have the fewest eyewitnesses. I might as well be shopping in Denmark for all the good the English language does for me in England. It takes me forever to find stuff first of all, because well, tomato sauce is called passata and zucchini is called courgette and translation takes time! The problem, though, really comes at checkout. I consistently get lured by this and that item not on my list and then find myself with too much to carry home. I do have my lovely little shopping trolley (which nobody under the age of 75 owns but me) but it’s no minivan. I start out always with the most streamlined of lists and good intentions, but then I see interesting little foodies and drinkies, like pain au chocolate and Cadbury bars and digestive biscuits. I fill my cart with list and non-list items and then start to make the hard choices between the heavy, the duplicate and the bulky items (Cadbury and bottles of wine always make the cut, make no mistake). A shopper’s Sophie’s Choice. Which one can’t I live without today? Persil or Ribena? I never put back enough, however, and the walk home is almost always not without casualties. I lost control of my trolley once on some cobblestone and broke half of the eggs that I carefully packed on top and subsequently went flying into the street.
I don’t think I have had the same checker twice so the American situation comedy that is ME, is fresh and fun for each employee. I generally have fifty items to everyone else’s ten. I load it all up on the tiny platform and try to get it all jammed into the trolley, shoving the lighter items in a bag I’ll have to carry, while trying to pay and use my own bags, and not break or crush anything. As for today, I try to pay with our debit card, which is how everybody pays for everything here, and realize I don’t have the PIN, so I take that back and give the nice lady my geeky UW Credit Union credit card. It’s all a big pain because the nice lady has to find a pen for me to sign the receipt, and meanwhile, all the stuff isn’t fitting in the trolley due to my greed…and then the bell pepper falls on the floor and rolls ten feet…and I am literally scrambling around on the floor of Sainsburys as the only other customer in the store patiently waits behind me with is respectable three items. I finally get it all packed in and start to leave when the woman at the register holds up my giant cucumber and says, “Is this yours as well?” She’s holding it like a boomerang. I fumble for my wallet, now buried beneath the fifty groceries in the trolley and the poor guy behind me, says “I will pay.” I tell him “oh, no, it’s not necessary, I just have to….” But he’s already paid the 50p because I think he felt sorry for me and had enjoyed the show. I thank him because at this point, I am exhausted and embarrassed enough to LET some random dude pay for my giant cucumber. I slink out of the store quickly and try to get myself organized for the long walk home, when the same guy walks past me and leans in close as he reaches his hand over my trolley asking, “Could I just have a bite of your baguette?” Very funny. Everybody’s a comedian.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Dreary English weather

We had some sunny days. And now the rains have come. It rains, but it stops. The sun comes out for twenty minutes and then it rains again. People dash around with umbrellas and many young people just get drenched, as they head off to the pubs I guess. Allison and I were caught today because we still cannot get it together to remember slicker and/or umbrella, which we should always grab no matter what the weather looks like as we step out of the house. My mom refers to this unfortunate lack of foresight as having "car ass". Interestingly, on BBC news last night, they predicted that Tropical Storm Hanna would affect England via the Gulf Stream sometime next week. I love weather.

Our internet connection is poor, as we are satellite dependent and I guess the clouds are just too thick. But I am through temporarily, and I hope it holds long enough for this post. Aside from the weather, we are enjoying one aspect of English life very much and that is afternoon tea. Tea is really hard to explain as it seems to mean different things to different people and you can either have a quick one or a "proper" one, which I think might just be dinner. It really suits all of us after school. We have tea and cocoa and cheese and fruit and a sweet generally. Our dinners tend to be lighter and later as a result and it's all just so civilized and relaxing. Of course we aren't running to soccer or dance or evening school events, which is probably why it's so relaxing.

So, I am posting a picture of a little girl in London on a sunny day appropriately dressed for any weather to come. We are going to adjust eventually.