Wednesday, December 31, 2008

10 Years in London

As of 6:30 a.m. GMT Christmas Eve, I have been a London resident for 10 years. 10 years! It's hard to believe. It's trite but true-- time really does fly by when you're not paying attention. What was originally going to be a three-year assignment has become our home.

I've been mulling over this post for the last week or so (in between wrapping dozens of presents, cooking Christmas dinner, and doing dozens of other Christmas jobs, including having my annual nervous breakdown). I wanted to write something profound about what we've learned and how we've changed, but that's such a huge subject that I'm just not going to do it. 

Instead, in no particular order, here are some ways we've changed in 10 years:

• When we arrived, it was just the two of us. Now there are four. (Thing One, in 1999, at Greenwich Hospital (RIP); Thing Two, in 2003, at St. Thomas Hospital).

• I have a much better grasp of British geography, which isn't saying much given the very first time we visited London I had to look on a map to see where in England it was located. Ditto time differences (had to look it up) and celsius temperatures (which I now prefer. Here's a tip: to roughly convert C into F: double it and add 30).

• I can now use the words "brilliant" and "bugger" correctly and in context, but still can't say "blimely" with a straight face. The best use of blimey I've heard: When I was nine months pregnant with Thing One, my next-door neighbour took one look at me and said, "Blimey, you're big!"

• I can no longer face the array of choices in a typical American supermarket. (My friend Anne, who's been here nine years, agrees.) Too much choice really is a bad thing. Give me two choices, like in a standard British supermarket. That I can handle.

• I've completely grown to love the way a British pharmacy works, which I didn't at first. I liked the American way of stumbling through the aisles trying to find the best cold medicine out of the 50 on offer (see above). But now, I like being able to tell the pharmacist my symptoms and she will pick out my cold medicine from behind the shelf. I call that service.

• I'm completely out of touch with American reality television "stars". I can't name one winner of "American Idol" or "America's Next Top Model." And for that I am thankful.

• I now have a handle on how the British school system works. The same goes for the NHS. I learned about both the hard way: by using them.

• The Internet has completely changed the expat experience. When we first got here, I went two months (!) without a computer. Now it'll be a miracle if I go eight hours without checking my e-mail on some device, either on my lap or in my hand.

I know there are dozens of other things I could list here, but that's a good sampling. It's been a good 10 years here. We have made a good life here: friends who are as close a family, a lovely community and even (dare I say it?) Anglophile tendencies. 

Here's to our 10 years here, and may we have many more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Favourite Advent Windows

Last year, our favourite stop at Greenwich's Live Advent calendar was the "Let it Snow" house (see picture below). This year, it's another good one, called "A Star Leads the Way."

Here it is in the day:



Here it is at night:


For more information, or a map of the participating houses, go to: www.adventwindows.com.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Greenwich Advent Windows


For the first time last year, Greenwich had a "Live Advent Calendar" whereby every day a different house would decorate a window. So instead of opening a cardboard door to see a new image, like in a traditional Advent Calendar, you would need to walk to the next house to see that day's offering. It was brilliant.

We had a lovely Christmas Eve walking around to see all of the windows, and we plan to do so again this year. I wanted to post a picture of my favourite windows from last year. The theme for these window was "Let it snow!"

Today is this family's turn again, so I can't wait to see what they do. According to the website, which you can find here, their theme this year is, "Let a star lead the way."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Know Your Friends

Time for the annual update of "Know your friends."

1. What time did you get up this morning? 5:45 am
2. Diamonds or pearls: Diamonds
3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? A matinee of the new James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace" on my birthday.
4. What is your favorite TV show? At the moment, it'd be "Spooks" or "Lead Balloon" (since my friend Pete writes it)
5. What do you usually have for breakfast? Coffee, a banana and usually an apple too.
6. What is your middle name? Why do you need to know? And if you're my friend, shouldn't you know that already?
7. What food do you dislike? I really, really, really hate stew and the stringy beef that goes with it.
8. What is your favorite CD at moment? The Party Mix my friend Caroline made specially for my birthday party.
9. What kind of car do you drive? We don't own a car, but when we need a car, we use a Streetcar Volkswagen Golf.
10. Favorite sandwich? Reuben (just like Kathy, who sent me this survey)
11. What characteristic do you despise? Dishonesty and thinking that rules don't apply to you.
12. Favorite item of clothing? My stripy cashmere jumper [sweater for my American friends].
13. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
Tuscany, Italy.
14. Favorite brand of clothing: I can't say I actually think about it.
15. Where would you retire to? Hard to say, but maybe France or Italy (see above).
16. What was your most recent memorable birthday? Last week's, when I turned 40. I had a great day with awesome presents and people calling and stopping by all day (I felt like a queen) followed by a blow-out on Saturday with 80 people at the house that didn't end until 3:45 a.m.
17. Favorite sport to watch? U.S. college basketball. Go Nova!
18. Furthest place you are sending this: The World Wide Web.
19. Person you expect to send it back first? I don't actually care.
20. When is your birthday? Again, if you're my friend, shouldn't you know that?
21. Are you a morning person or a night person? I used to be a night person, but now that I'm old, I can see the value in getting up really early and getting things done. I might be at my most productive between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.
22. What is your shoe size? 10 US/42 European. Though I learned again yesterday that my calves are too fat for new boots. Bummer.
23. Pets? I have two sons. I think that counts.
24. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share with us?
Our company just got a big contract, which means I'll be working flat-out between now and mid-December. Oh, and I just got named chair-elect for the Board of Governors of our school. I suppose it's like being president of the school board (NOT the PTA).
25. What did you want to be when you were little? A doctor.
26. How are you today? Fine, but stressed (see No. 24).
27. What is your favorite candy? Reeses Peanut Butter cups.
28. What is your favorite flower? Roses
29. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to? Our Thanksgiving feast, celebrated the Saturday after Thanksgiving so we can spend the entire day eating and drinking, as the Pilgrims intended.
30. What's your full name? Again, you should know this if you're my friend.
31. What are you listening to right now? Traffic outside of my front window.
32. What was the last thing you ate: Some leftover Indian curry. Yummy.
33. Do you wish on stars? Absolutely.
34. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Red
35. How is the weather right now:Dark at 7:02 a.m. Winter-- and its six-hours of sunlight-- has arrived in London.
36. The first person you spoke to on the phone today? Are you kidding me? There's no one to talk to on the phone at this hour.
37. Favorite soft drink? I actually stopped drinking Diet Coke when we moved to London 10 years ago, but I did fall off the wagon on Election Night at the Embassy because I had to figure out a way to stay up until 4 a.m.
38. Favorite restaurant? Any place where I'm not doing the cooking.
39. Real hair color? It's probably getting closer to full gray all the time, but I wouldn't know because I haven't seen my real hair colour since I was 25.
40. What was your favorite toy as a child? Probably my doll, which I called, "Baby." I was a very literal child.
41. Summer or winter? Neither. I'm an autumn girl.
42. Hugs or kisses: Both
43. Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate
44. Coffee or tea? Coffee
45. Do you want your friends to email you back? I'm sort of hoping they'll have better things to do, but I do learn something interesting about my friends when they do send it back.
46. When was the last time you cried? I honestly can't remember.
47. What is under your bed? Boxes of photos and loads of shoes. Oh, and some Christmas presents since I already started shopping.
48. What did you do last night? Went to Covent Garden to return birthday boots to find out that my legs are too fat for any boot style. Bummer. Had to bribe to boys for above errand, so took them to TGIFridays as their reward, which I also liked because there's nothing like some wholesome American fried food. We got home and all collapsed on the sofa, watching the SImpsons together. By the time I got them off to bed, I was exhausted, so I watched my friend's show, "Lead Balloon" on BBC iPlayer since I missed last week's episode.
49. What are you afraid of ? Anything bad happening to my kids (ditto to Kathy)
50. Salty or sweet? Depends on my mood.
51. How many keys on your key ring? 3 (home) 5 (office)
52. How many years at your current job? Five months.
53. Favorite day of the week? Saturday: Pizza night!
54. How many towns have you lived in? I have lived in 13 towns in five states and two countries.
55. Do you make friends easily? I hope so (see No. 54).
56. How many people will you send this to? How many people read MarathonMum? Maybe two, if I'm lucky.
57. How many will respond? I really don't care, because this survey took way more time than it really had a right to do.

ESPN Does College Stereotypes: Painfully funny

Now that college hoops season is underway, and Villanova (my alma mater) is again projected to do well, my thoughts naturally are turning to my favourite spectator sport. Here's an article from USA Today about an ESPN advertising campaign that was cancelled. Find your alma mater, and nod in agreement or thump your desk in outrage. Frankly, I consider being called a "poor man's Duke [University]" a compliment.

I've edited the team list just to include Big East and other notable teams [Sorry Tommy, Dayton didn't make the cut]. To see the full story, go to here at USA Today.

ESPN drops ad campaign that was to portray college stereotypes
By Michael Hiestand, USA Today

ESPN canceled plans Thursday for a TV ad campaign touting its college basketball coverage after learning that the actors were to depict sometimes crude stereotypes of students at specific colleges.

A leaked memo from Anomaly, a New York agency that has produced past ESPN ads, described a casting call for actors in which it sought someone to portray a Tennessee student as "a slutty girl who would hang out at the cowgirl hall of fame" and a Notre Dame student who is "an Asian kid ... who's always fighting."

The concept of the ad was to have students working at an ESPN call center, representing their schools as they phoned people to try to get them to watch ESPN college basketball coverage.

The campaign was killed as soon as the memo leaked. "Our marketing department just learned of this casting call today," said ESPN's Mike Soltys. "The language and approach reflected in that document were not approved by us and in no way represent ESPN or the respect we have for the college community."

In the memo, which first appeared on awfulannouncing.com, the "defining characteristic" of the Marquette student is that "you don't really remember her." The Kansas student "takes great pains to point out that Kansas is very cosmopolitan." Syracuse would need a "Jewish kid" who loves college — "all you can eat buffets in the cafeteria, who knew?"

The Purdue student needed to look 14 and the Oklahoma student needed to be "wide-eyed, as naive as they come."

The content of the memo is reproduced below.

***

ESPN
Promo
SAG
PAY RATE: SAG PROMO RATE

Director: Matt Aselton
Casting Director: ERICA PALGON
Interview: Thurs 11/13 and Fri 11/14, Mon 11/17
Fitting: 11/21
Shoot: 11/24, 25
Location: New York

SUBMIT ELECTRONICALLY LIZ LEWIS CASTING PARTNERS

EVERYONE MUST BE STRONG WITH COMEDY/IMPROV. PLEASE WRITE ANY ADDITIONAL NOTES, IN THE NOTES PAGE, ABOUT ACTOR'S COMEDIC/IMPROV EXPERIENCE/TRAINING, THAT WOULD BE HELPFUL IN LOOKING THROUGH SUBMISSIONS

All roles are ages 18-22 yrs old. WITH THE EXCEPTION of PERDUE.

The concept: The spots take place in the ESPN College Basketball Call Center (CBBCC). All of these guys are there representing their schools, calling people on the phone to get them to watch more College Basketball. Basically they are selling college basketball.

SEEKING:

[ DUKE UNIVERSITY ]

MALE. Our guy for Duke UNIVERSITY is a smart, with it, young WHITE male. He's handsome. He's from money. He is, in short, the kind of guy, everyone can't stand. He is the kind of guy everyone wants to be.

[ NORTH CAROLINA ]

FEMALE. She's a Southern bell. She is the counterpoint to Duke. Being young and pretty everyone wants to be around her. She's charming. Not a dingbat, she's sharp.

[ TEXAS ]

MALE. Straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, Texas is a young man's man. He is the kind of guy that could field dress a deer and then take you to the debutante ball in 20. Polite, farm boy. He's good at everything. Except call centering.

[ KANSAS ]

MALE. Kansas is straight off the farm. However, he takes great pains to point out that Kansas is very cosmopolitan, as witnessed by their record, their burgeoning tech industry, and their hybrid corns (bonus: modified by fish genes!)

[ CONNECTICUT ]

MALE. Connecticut is all things Connecticut. He's a little bit older. He's a little bit thicker around the waist. He's WHITE. He's also competitive. Very. Waspy, blue blood.

[ VILLANOVA ]

MALE. Villanova is the poor man's Duke — he's not quite as handsome, he's not quite as rich, he's not quite as dapper. After 2 or 3 beers though, who cares? As he's friendly enough.

[ NOTRE DAME ]

MALE He's an ASIAN kid who is in to all things Notre Dame, ridiculously so. Oh, and he's always fighting. Every time we encounter him he always has some words or another, be it the faint traces of a black eye, or a scab or whatever. He epitomizes the fightin' Irish.

[ PITTSBURGH ]

FEMALE. Pittsburgh is a tomboy. She obviously grew up in the neighborhood and isn't going to take any guff from anyone and she'll wallop you in the eye with a crowbar if you suggest different. So don't. Think Tina Fey type.

[ SYRACUSE ]

MALE. Jewish kid from Long Island that is loving the college experience. It has opened up a world he never knew existed. All you can eat buffets in the cafeteria — who knew? To Syracuse, everything is a party.

[ GEORGETOWN ]

FEMALE. Georgetown, a 4.36 GPA who's lived in 9 world-class cities, but all the time in her sister's shadow (her GPA is 4.37). She's sort of the female Duke, except most people like her. Think Reese Witherspoon.

[ GONZAGA ]

MALE. No one knows what Gonzaga looks like because no one knows where to find him. He is still stuck in the grunge look, reckless, in from the wild. Flannel look. Chews tobacco. Guy that would go to school in the Pacific Northwest.

[ MARQUETTE ]

FEMALE. Marquette, on a scale of 1-10, she's a six. A B-, C in every category you can define a person by. Her defining characteristic is you don't really remember her. You're not breaking your arm to get to her, but you're not chewing it off to get away. She does have a winning personality though. Midwest, sweet girl.

[ OHIO STATE ]

MALE. He looks like Jim Tressle (head coach of Ohio State football) in the dress code. Red sweater vest. Always. Doesn't care for swearing either — of course we never really test this out as they are commercial advertisements and no one swears in them, but it's true nevertheless. A Republican.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

U.S. Election Night: The Hottest Ticket in Town

For probably the only time in our life, we had tickets for what the British newspapers were calling "The Hottest Ticket in Town": the Election Night party at the U.S. Embassy in London.

Given the time differences between the U.K. and the U.S. this party was not for the faint hearted. First of all, it didn't start until 10 p.m., which is usually only about half an hour before I usually go to bed on a weeknight. Second, you had to be committed to staying pretty late, given that the first results-- for Kentucky and Vermont-- were posted at midnight (GMT), but the results from many of the states wouldn't be known for hours later.

But in the end, staying up all night and still going to work the next day was totally worth it, not only because the party was fantastic, but also because our man won and made history.

As you can see from above, CNN's hologram technology was deployed so that partygoers like me and my friend Anne could get their picture taken with Barack Obama. OK. It wasn't actually a CNN hologram, but a more old-fashioned cardboard cutout, but I think the results are pretty impressive. They had cardboard cutouts of all the candidates so that partygoers could get their picture taken with them. As you can see from above, John McCain is peeking over Obama's shoulder (really he should have his Sad Grandpa face on), as is Sarah Palin. From what I saw-- since we spent most of the night stationed next to the cutouts since it was in the room with the large electoral map-- Obama was the most popular cutout with whom to have your picture taken, with Palin lagging slightly behind him. I don't know if this portents the 2012 election, I'm just reporting on what I saw. A few people, out of sympathy or perhaps irony, got a picture with McCain. But Joe Biden was like the ugly sister going to the school dance: nobody paid any attention to him, and by the end of the night, he had been pushed all the way into the corner: ignored and unloved.

Before the party, they said that many "celebrities" would be there, but I was pretty dubious. I said I'd only be impressed if I bumped into Gwenyth Paltrow. As it happens Gwenyth was at a film premiere in Paris, so I didn't see her, but I did see dozens and dozens of well known people. I spent most of the night staring at a person thinking, "I know this person. Where do I know him/her from?" and then mentally circulate through all the possibilities only to come to the realization that the person I was staring at was a member of cabinet or a television reporter, including former Cabinet minister Ruth Kelly, former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Nick Robinson, the chief political correspondent of the BBC and Janet Street-Porter.

At one point, when Anne had gone wandering through the party, I sent her this text: "I've just spent the better part of an hour standing next to an Oscar winner." Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who won an Oscar for "The Color of Money," whose last movie was "The Perfect Storm" with George Clooney but is now a London resident, was there with her husband, the Irish director Pat O'Connor. I couldn't remember her last movie, so handily Mr. MarathonMum had his iPhone, so we could IMDB her. I can't quite decide if doing an Internet search on someone who's standing right behind you is rude or resourceful, but we did it anyway. I never did get a chance to chat with her to talk about being from the Chicago suburbs, but let me tell you with authority: she looks absolutely amazing for 50.

Josh Hartnett, currently appearing in London in the play "Rain Man" was apparently there, but I didn't see him-- though I did see a picture of him the next day and he had been in the room where we spent most of the time. Perhaps I had been downstairs listening to a live set of Squeeze greatest hits sung by a member of Squeeze.

You read that right. Squeeze songwriter and frontman Glenn Tilbrook was there, singing all of my favourite Squeeze songs. Our friend Chris, who was a rock star in a former life, even got to go up on stage and SING WITH HIM. Later in the evening, as we were getting ready to go (at about 3:15 a.m.) I had a chat with Glenn and I told him that I really loved all of those songs, and they took me back to high school and university. He was lovely.

They did have some party food to nosh on, but the real culinary winners were the temporary franchises of Burger King, Subway and Starbucks set up just for the party and serving all guests for free. Burger King really did work its magic at about 2 a.m. when my energy levels were flagging-- nothing like a free Whopper to perk you up. The presence of Starbucks also insured that I DID get my free cup of coffee after all, so that was something.

The real highlight of the evening was watching result after result go Obama's way. We hung in there for as long as we could, but left after they called Ohio to Obama, figuring that it was now in the bag. When we got home at 3:45 a.m., we put CNN back on, hoping that more results had rolled in, but none had. We finally capitulated to the siren song of our pillow just after 4 a.m. (I now know that if I had hung in there for probably just another 10 minutes, I would have seen them declare Barack Obama the next president of the United States.)

An hour and a half later, it was time for Mr. MarathonMum to head to work. Not surprisingly, he had slept through his alarm, so he asked me to go downstairs to tell the driver he was running late. I got to the car, filled with joy because of the result, and told the driver-- who happened to be black-- that Mr. MarathonMum would be right there.

"No problem. That's OK," he said. "When I got to the house this morning, I knew you were a nice family because you have the Obama signs in your window. He won! He won! He won!" For the next minute or so, this stranger and I jointly celebrated the fact that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008


I'm aware that we live in London-- I only need to see the big red double-deckers, black cabs or red post boxes if I'm ever in doubt-- so I also know that putting up posters for our candidate will have little influence for voters in the U.S. But when Thing One enthusiastically put these posters up a few weeks ago, we also thought that there might be some random undecided American tourists passing by who would see our posters and think, "If Obama has supporters in London, he must be a good man. I will vote for him!" You never know. (Thing One certainly hopes that will be the case).

It's been a fascinating year-- or two-- to be an American expat with a passion for politics, both foreign and domestic. It was thrilling to have a choice in the Democratic primary, when I actually had to devote some time to picking the candidate I wanted to support, rather than picking the lesser-of-two-evils or figuring out who had the best chance to win. In the end, I decided to back Barack Obama in the primary, only because I wanted a different name on the ballot. In every presidential election I've voted in since 1988, there had been either a Clinton or a Bush (or both, in 1992) on the ballot. It was time for a change.

In late February, I sat down with Thing One, Thing Two and a newspaper and summarized the position of all of the Democratic candidates. Thing One was most impressed with Obama's environmental policy, so in the end he decided to back him. Thing Two pretty much does what Thing One does, so he backed Obama too.

Ever since then, they've been asking, "Has Barack Obama won yet?", which forced an explanation of the primary season and general election season. While listening to Radio 4 (England's NPR, but more impartial) yesterday, they thought that once and for all it had been decided. They were crushed when they learned we still had one more day to go.

So this is it. Oddly enough I've now voted in as many elections as an expat ('00, '04, '08) as I did as a U.S. resident ('88, '92, '96). Now I'm off to the U.S. Embassy in London (thanks to our awesome friends Anne and Chris who scored the tickets for us) for their big party with 1,500 people including some "celebrities" (I'll only be impressed if I meet Gwenyth Paltrow.) It'll be a long night, but I hope to have a full account of the party on MarathonMum tomorrow.

Happy Election Day, everyone.

Free Coffee at Starbucks!

If you are in the U.S. and are reading this, you can go to your local Starbucks and get a free coffee for voting today. Sadly for us, this offer does not apply to expats voting absentee. I even asked! ("No," said the barista. "We're not doing that here. But I would like to know who you voted for.")

Apparently, there's some other offers you can exploit in the U.S. if you voted. For a list, go to my friend Kavita's blog at www.bellevueblogette.com.

Here's a picture of me (voted absentee in Illinois) and fellow expat Tanya (voted absentee in Nebraska) enjoying our NOT-FREE coffee from Starbucks. We should look sad-- sincer we had to pay for ours-- but we're not. We hoping/thinking/wishing that our candidate will be the new president-elect tomorrow. And that put a smile on our face.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween (London Style)


Yes. This is an actual sign we saw last night while hitting the mean London streets for some Treat or Treating.

As I've said before, Halloween is not a British holiday, it's an American one. It's getting bigger, to be sure, every year. Our first Halloween here in 1999, when Thing One was just one month old, I couldn't even find a pumpkin in our local market to carve.

Things have changed, but it still doesn't feel quite right. Earlier today, our friend knocked on the door and asked, "So how do you do this whole trick or treating thing?" I answered the question by saying we would all go together. You can see from above that not everyone has embraced the spirit of the holiday. (Thinking about it, though, it's also possible that there's some mean people in the U.S. who also had "No Trick or Treating" signs. Did anyone in the U.S. see something similar?)

We kicked off our festivities by going on a Ghost Walk at the Old Royal Naval College, followed by the fanciest hot dog dinner I've had, or will ever have, in the Painted Hall. We wandered the undercrofts, stood in the old prison and heard tales of ghostly wanderings. Once we had polished off the hot dogs and took our annual Halloween picture (see below) behind the door of the Painted Hall, we were off for our trick or treating adventure.
To see the rest of the annual Halloween pictures, from 2002 to 2007, go here.

Joining us for the trick or treating portion of the evening was our friend Dave, for his first trick or treating experience. He's in his 40s, so that sums up the history of British Halloween nicely.

In the past, I tended to direct the children to go to the houses of friends. But this year, in a bold move, we decided to go to a particular street and see how we did (though we did stop at friend's houses along the way). It was a perfect Halloween night-- cold and crisp. We kept bumping into other friends trying to secure some Halloween treats. One family-- they're Russian, but they certainly got into the spirit of things-- gave out "poo" which I hope was chocolate, though I haven't investigated further yet.

A big group of kids and adults finished the night back at the house playing the Wii Fit and admiring our pumpkins. All in all, it was a wonderful day: distinctly British with a dash of American thrown in.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Walking the Red Carpet

Living in London gives you many, many opportunities to do and see amazing things on a regular basis. So much so that the extraordinary becomes the ordinary.

Take for instance, going to a film premiere. For most people, that would be something really, really special (unless of course you're an actor, in which case, it's just work). But Thing One and Thing Two now have been to two film premieres in the last year, both as part of the London Film Festival.

Last year, we got to see the U.K. premiere of "Bee Movie". It was exciting-- walking the red carpet, getting free water and chocolate at our seats, seeing the special Jerry Sienfeld introduction. After that, every time I told the boys we were going to see a particular movie, they would say, "Is it the premiere?" followed by disappointment that it wasn't.

On Sunday, it was time to walk the red carpet again to see "The Secret of Moonacre." Unlike last year, some of the actors, the director and the producers of the movie were there, which was pretty cool, but unfortunately none of them were Ioan Gruffudd or even anyone I remotely recognised (other than the guy who runs the quizzes at the monthly family funday at the British Film Institute, but that doesn't really count).

So again we got the free chocolate and the Icelandic water. We got to hear the director, the producer and the actors talk a little about the movie. And we got to walk the red carpet. Again.

I now will prepare myself for yet another year of the inevitable question, "Is it the premiere?" when we go to see a movie.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

There's No One As Irish as Barack Obama

Maybe this will change the vote of the Dad of MarathonMum!
It's also a nice catchy tune.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sea Monsters in the Thames!

I know. This doesn't look like much. In fact, it looks like this photo could belong in the "This is the Loch Ness Monster" collection or the "Look! It's Big Foot!" photo anthology. But maybe that's the point.

Today (Sunday) Thing One, Thing Two and I found ourselves on London Bridge at sunset (5:45 p.m.) and looked into the abyss below. The only thing we could see was the swirling brown water of the Thames, along with some of the associated flotsam that comes with city living. We patiently waited for a few minutes, hoping that the light would get low enough so we could see something, but alas, nothing. We had been promised sea creatures, and by God, we would see them, even if it meant hanging around the Thames all night. 

But we were hungry. So we walked over to the nearest Wagamama, which is probably one of our favourite London restaurants, to pass the time before we could see the creatures. After some edamame, green tea and some noodles we headed back to the northwest corner.

The sea creatures were shy, though. There was a small plaque explaining their presence, but you had to be patient. They didn't just show up. When they did finally appear, I started to yell, "Look! Look! There it is!" Luckily, there were only about six other people on that part of London Bridge, so I didn't look TOO foolish. The boys had fun looking, pointing, yelling, and then waiting some more.

I know the picture above doesn't do them justice. This was really something you had to see in person. If you don't live in London, sorry about that. If you do live in London, you've missed your chance because tonight was the last night. 

The sea creatures were magical. Sometimes you only saw a big head. Sometimes only a tail. Sometimes there would be long pauses between appearnces. But they were something to behold on a cold night in London. And in a city full of amazing sights, that's saying something.



Thursday, October 16, 2008

What You'd See at Google.co.uk today

To mark the visit of Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Google UK headquarters, Google put her in the title for today only. See it for yourself at www.google.co.uk, but only if you visit on Thursday, 16 October. Otherwise, you can see it here.

I'm sure this isn't that big a deal for a woman whose visage is on all the paper currency in this country (and some others), but I'd be pretty chuffed if it was me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Global Economic Meltdown Explained (or at least I try)

A friend of mine who's a journliasm professor wanted someone to explain the global economic meltdown. This is what I wrote. So for anyone who needs to have the current situation explained, here's what I wrote to her:

Paul Krugman, new Nobel Prize winner for Economics (and op-ed writer for the New York Times) wrote on Sunday:

"The details can be insanely complex, but the basics are fairly simple. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to large losses for anyone who bought assets backed by mortgage payments; these losses have left many financial institutions with too much debt and too little capital to provide the credit the economy needs; troubled financial institutions have tried to meet their debts and increase their capital by selling assets, but this has driven asset prices down, reducing their capital even further.

What can be done to stem the crisis? Aid to homeowners, though desirable, can’t prevent large losses on bad loans, and in any case will take effect too slowly to help in the current panic. The natural thing to do, then — and the solution adopted in many previous financial crises — is to deal with the problem of inadequate financial capital by having governments provide financial institutions with more capital in return for a share of ownership."

So basically what happened is this:
Historic lows in interest rates, while Alan Greenspan was chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, led to more affordable mortgages. Suddenly, people who never have been able to buy their own home were able to get a mortgage. Great, right? Wrong. The problem was that many of these "sub-prime" loans were based on the interest rate. Once the rate went up, many, many people could no longer afford to keep up with the payments. This led to foreclosures and bankruptcies.

The banks thought that they would be REALLY clever and bundle these "sub-prime" loans together and sell them as investments. Not a lot of people, including executives at the banks themselves, understood how they worked. But they appreciated that the returns were great, and so they didn't care. But just as people got caught out by the rise in interest rates and defaults started skyrocketing (see: Summer 2007), the banks realised they had worthless investments. These are the "Toxic Assets" that people keep talking about, and are now owned by the US government. The assets are worth something-- not a lot, but something-- but no one knows just how much because they were such a new and unusual investment vehicle.

(For more information, and a hilarious explanation of the sub-prime mess, go to www.businesspundit.com/sub-prime/)

Meanwhile, the banks who had the greatest exposure to these mortgage-backed securities were the ones that got into the most trouble (see: Bear Stearns, RIP Feburary 2008 and Lehman Brothers, RIP September 2008). But as these investment houses failed, the bigger problem began: banks began to be hesitant to loan money to each other. Banks loan money to each other every day-- this is how the market is financed. But when that line of credit froze, suddenly the banks found that they couldn't do all the trades that they needed to because they couldn't get the cash to do so.

(Still with me? I hope so)

Now, it's late September 2008. Governments realize that they have to do something. In the past, a central bank (like the Federal Reserve) could lower interest rates and that would get things moving again. It didn't work. Central banks could loan money to banks to get capital moving again in the markets. It didn't work. In cases of really dire circumstances, several central banks, like the Fed, European Central Bank and the Bank of England could do a coordinated rate cut to get things moving again. That didn't work this time either.

The equity markets are important for many reasons (and not just because it gives CNBC something to talk about), but they're important to most people because they're retirement savings are tied up there in their 401k. For people our age, it doesn't matter: we've got another 25 years of working ahead of us, so this decline in the last month won't hurt us in the long term. But for people like our parents, who have a lot of their net worth tied up in stocks, this is really bad news as it's unlikely to recover anytime soon.

After all those things that usually did work didn't work, the G7 had to take the extraordinary move to part-nationalize some of their banks. This cheered everyone up, and the markets had one of their best days ever on Monday, 13 October, posting 11 percent gains. While the equity markets-- like the New York Stock Exchange-- had this big bounce up, it remains to be seen if credit will finally be loosened up enough between banks to get credit moving again.

While all this was going on, people are still watching the economic reports to see what the overall economic situation is. Nearly everyone is in agreement that a global recession will take place. (Very important: While lots of people throw the word "recession" around the technical definition is this: You need two consecutive quarters of negative GDP (gross domestic product) to take place. That hasn't happened yet, but it will).

Things are dire, make no mistake about it. The big question is this: have we hit the bottom, or do we still have farther to go?

Friday, October 10, 2008

What the Economist cover SHOULD have been this week


(Sorry. MarathonMum has strayed somewhat from her "Family Newspaper" stance on obscenities, but this was far too funny not to post. Thanks Anne!)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Another Fun Morning Getting Ready for School


The weather has turned definitely autumnal here in London, and so Thing One and Thing Two insisted that they would need their winter hats. Thing Two, in fact, had found a Tigger hat that his grandmother had made him that he wore quite stylishly through breakfast and getting ready time.

But when it was time to leave, Thing Two found another hat that he wanted to wear just as much. So (as you can see) he's wearing both.

As we approached school, one our friends said to him, "Love, you look as though you're ready for the asylum!" I scolded her, telling her that he was only five and he could get away with sartorial misdeeds like that one. Besides, he looks great.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy 9th Birthday Thing One!


Today Thing One is nine years old. I know people say this all the time, but it really does seem like it was just last year that he was born. Time really flies. It was a morning much like this one-- beautiful, sunny, with a whiff of autumn-- that I found myself walking up and down our little road, stopping every few minutes, so I could double over, hug myself and moan quietly during contractions. (Mr. MarathonMum kept an eye on me during my walk, but standing at our front door, clutching a mug of coffee.)

Thing One hit a few new firsts this year: His first cello concert. His first sailing lesson. His first overnight camp-out (when I picked him up the first thing he said, after a weekend of camping, was "Please can we go home now? I'm tired of the outdoors."). His first (and hopefully only) Harry Potter scar.

It's funny how now that he's older, the milestones he reaches are much more subtle. I went back and read last year's happy birthday post and everything I wrote last year is still true. He still loves to read. He still loves Monopoly.  He still loves golf. He especially still loves all things electronic, especially the Wii that he and his brother saved up and worked for. 

But I think, as time marches onward, that what we're beginning to see what sort of man he might become through these subtle milestones. Every once in a while, he'll do something that will leave me speechless. Like the time we walked past a homeless man, begging for money, and Thing One turned to me and said, "Can I have my allowance early so I can give it to that man who needs something to eat?"

Undoubtedly, Thing One is growing up. No longer does he run out of school, throw his arms around me, and give me a big hug and a kiss at the end of the day. He's too cool for that. But he still (shh!) sleeps with his blanket and he still has select stuffed friends who he loves, especially Alex, our WWF polar bear we adopted.

Even if he is too cool to kiss me in public now, he will always be my little boy. On to double digits.

Happy 9th Birthday Thing One!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where in the World Will You Vote?


Today, a very special message from my good friend Gwyneth Paltrow. I mean, obviously we know each other and we're good friends, since all Americans in London know each other. We're both Americans in London! We both have children! We have so much in common! We meet all the time for lattes in North London. She said the fact that I live South of the River doesn't bother her. That's why I love Gwyneth. She's so open minded. 

In any case, I got sent this video from Democrats Abroad almost two months ago, but I'm just getting around to posting it now only because I finally sent out my absentee ballot request yesterday. Since I'll be voting Democratic in Cook County, Illinois, I expect they'll be sending me back two ballots, just to make sure that Obama gets elected. Just like they did for John F. Kennedy in 1964.

If you are an American living abroad and you happen to be reading this blog, please remember to request an absentee ballot for yourself. The website www.votefromabroad.org couldn't make it easier to get an absentee ballot. 

I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican (I happen to love a lot of Republicans, I'm just not one of them), just make sure that you vote.

Thanks, Gwyneth, for your contribution to MarathonMum today. See you next week for a soy milk latte.

The Education of Presidential Candidates

I got sent this e-mail by three different people, so I thought I might as well post it for all the world to see...

Dear Friends,
we all know that knowledge is power and power is strength.


Let's look at the educational background of the candidates and see what they bring to the job:

Obama:
Occidental College - Two years.
Columbia University - B.A. political science with a specialization in international relations.
Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

Biden:
University of Delaware - B.A. in history and B.A. in political science.
Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)

vs.

McCain:
United States Naval Academy - Class rank 894 out of 899

Palin:
Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in journalism

Now, which team are you going to hire to lead the most influential nation in the world?



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is it the end of the world as we know it?

The big topic at the breakfast table this morning, following reports on Radio 4 dubbing it Big Bang Day, was the possibility that the world as we know it will end today when scientists in Switzerland attempt to recreate the moments after the Big Bang.

I explained that some people thought that it was possible that doing so would mean that the world would come to an end. I kept assuring them that I didn't think that would happen, but it was too late. They were convinced it was ALL OVER.

Panic and laughter then ensued, and believe me, it's difficult to maintain both at the same time.

Thing Two ran down to the kitchen as I was making their lunches. "I just want to tell you something before the world explodes," he said. "Goodbye. I love you."

He then returned upstairs so he and his brother could continue their panicked screaming and laughter.

Thing One then popped his head downstairs. "Hey, Mom. Do you think I should prepare my last will and testament?"

Again, I assured him that while some people thought that the experiment would go awry, I, along with millions of scientists thought it would be fine.

However, as I was curious as to who would get what in his will-- despite the fact that we would all be dead in his scenario-- I asked him what he had to leave behind. Thing Two would get his Nintendo DS, which I thought was very sweet. I would get all of his stuffed friends. His father would get the Playstation. I then asked what would become of Blanket, which he still (shhh!) can't sleep without. "Oh, mom. Blanket is coming with me!"

While getting dressed, Thing Two said to me, "Mom, I want a smart shirt today. I want to look nice for the last day in the history of the world." And indeed he did, with his smart button down shirt and khakis.

We arrived at school, having managed to not do the hula, and to remember to wear our shoes, when I turned to the boys and said, "Have the best LAST day of school ever!"

I think they will be disappointed to learn that all went well in Switzerland.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Why Getting Ready for School Takes So Long, Part Two

A Play in One Scene

Characters: Thing One (age 8), Thing Two (age 5) and Mother (still stylish and funny and STILL in her 30s)

Location: Front hall of a house in London

Time: 8:45 a.m., in the last moments of preparation before school

Mother: OK? Everybody ready?

Thing One & Two: Yes

Mother: Did you remember your P.E. kits?

Thing One & Two: Yes

Mother: Do you have your lunches?

Thing One & Two: Yes

Mother: Do you have you backpacks?

Thing One & Two: Yes

Mother: Are your jackets on?

Thing One & Two: Yes

Mother: OK! Let's go. (She opens the door and they all start to walk out)

Thing Two: Wait! Hold on! I don't have my shoes on!!

-Fin-

Friday, September 05, 2008

Why Getting Ready for School Takes So Long

A Play in One Scene

Characters: Thing One (age 8), Thing Two (age 5), Mother (stylish, funny and STILL in her 30s, though not for long)
Location: A boy's bedroom in a London house
Time: 8:30 a.m.

Thing Two, who insisted on wearing a smart shirt for the second day of school, needs help with all of the buttons on his new Ralph Lauren shirt, so his mother is doing the heavy lifting. She leaves Thing One to do his own dressing for school, but then notices that he's doing something else.

Mother: Thing One, what are you doing?

Thing One: (who only has his underpants on, and is singing AND dancing) I'm doing the hula, of course!

Mother: Of course! What else would you be doing at this time of day?

Thing Two, now dressed, joins his older brother doing the hula. Scene ends with mother leaving the room, presumably to find some school clothes for Thing One.

-END-

Oddest Book Title Prize Announced

The Bookseller, the trade magazine for publishers, announced the winner of its Diagram of Diagrams prize for the oddest book title in the past 30 years. The winner is (drumroll, please) "Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers."

"Green Rural Postman" just pipped to the post, "People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to do About it" (sounds like a page turner). "How to Avoid Huge Ships" also was in the running for the top prize.

This story was broadcast on Radio 4 this morning, and just made me laugh out loud. The "winner" of the award, who Radio 4 tracked down, said the "Greek Rural Postmen" was meant to be a guide for philatelists as it was published by the Greek Hellenic Society of Great Britain. Hearing that makes the title seem less funny, especially since the author sounded like this very nice old man who probably worked very hard on the book.

If you're looking for a laugh, see the photos of the other finalists here

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Random Thoughts Upon Return of a Marathon Trip

Three days after returning home from our marathon trip to the U.S., I am now finally unpacking. Or, should I say, I've started unpacking but now I'm procrastinating while I post this entry. Statistics, photographs and even video will be coming soon, but in the meantime, here's some random thoughts about our trip:

• Our trip can easily be charted by the plastic bags in our luggage. We've got bags from Safeway (supermarket in Lake Tahoe, California), Kennywood (amusement park in Pittsburgh), the Crayola Factory (Easton, Pa.), Target (ubiquitous American chain, though we went to the one in Warrington, Pa.), Best Buy (where we bought our Flip Video in New Jersey), the Gap (in Doylestown, Pa., where we stocked up on school clothes) and Pirate's Cove, N.C., (where we bought T-Shirts at Hurricane Mo's). Just to make things interesting, I still have a few random plastic bags in there from previous trips: one from Pret a Manger, the British sandwich chain, and another from Difendi La Natura from Italy.

• Anecdotally, it seems as though Obama might have the edge: I saw about 25 "Obama for President" lawn signs during our four weeks in the U.S., to only one I saw for John McCain. However, as a friend pointed out, we literally flew over Fly-Over-Territory (everything between the East and West coasts), so it's possible that there's many more signs for the presumptive Republican nominee there.

• British Airways is still our favourite airline to fly when we have to go back to the U.S. Southwest is our favourite domestic carrier, even WITH the two-and-a-half hour delay we had to endure in Pittsburgh.

• Friends are friends, no matter how long it's been since you've seen them, and old habits die hard. I was sitting with my university roommate and her husband, and it seemed like no time had elapsed since the time I was living with her and he was her boyfriend who visited. The only difference was the six children sleeping upstairs who belonged to us.

• The flaws in your house are much more apparent when you return from a month away. I really need to get the holes fixed in our front hallway and bathroom. We REALLY need to paint the hallway-- how did so many fingerprints get up there?

• I very much enjoyed seeing the Olympics in two different countries. In the U.S., I could partake in all of my jingoistic tendencies, and in the U.K., I could take pride in Team GB's success in sports you only think about during the Olympics (sailing, modern pentathalon, cycling, canoeing).

• Michael Phelps is a God, and I only fell in love with him more when he said during an interview, "I couldn't have done it without my Mom." I have already started making Thing One and Thing Two practice that sentence for when they take home Olympic Gold. They don't need to bring home eight to make me proud. Just one would do.

• Generally speaking, Americans really have no mobile phone etiquette whatsoever. No, I really didn't need to overhear an entire conversation in Target about Lisa's problems with her in-laws. Thanks, whoever you were.

• The best thing about returning home is being able to sink the 1/4 inch deeper into your own sofa.

Statistics, pictures and video will be posted soon. Now back to unpacking.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Been there. Done That. Got the T-shirt.

Yesterday was a big(ish) day in the history of MarathonMum. For the first time in almost three years, I finished a 10k race!

This is huge for me, especially since in November 2006 my doctor told me I would never run again, due to my psoriatic arthritis. Frankly, I took the news that I wouldn't be able to run harder than the diagnosis. But even getting to the diagnosis was a long road: it took several doctors, lots of tests, an MRI and finally a Google search done by me to ascertain what was wrong with my foot. 

Needless to say, I was a basketcase leading up to the race. I kept trying to talk myself out of going, trying to find a variety of excuses as to why I wasn't free on race day. It was much like the scene in the seminal film, "Animal House" where he's got an angel on one shoulder telling him one thing, and a devil on the other, telling him the opposite. 

I didn't tell many people about the race, in case I chickened out. But in the end, I went because I wanted to prove that I could do it, but also for the merchandise. During a run with my friend Sam earlier in the week I admitted, "I really don't want to do this race. But I really, REALLY want the T-shirt." 

I nearly had a nervous breakdown while making my way over to the park and then while waiting for the race to start. Eventually I calmed myself down by doing three things: first, reminding myself that this race would be 20 miles shorter than the marathon, and surely my body would remember how to do it; second, by realizing that my first 10k was more than 25 years ago, so surely if a 12-year-old me could do a 10k, the 39-year-old me could do it too; and finally, the tried-and-true method of looking for people who looked as though they hadn't done as much training as perhaps was necessary (read into that whatever you want). 

The race was started by George Clooney's ex-girlfriend Lisa Snowden, so that distracted me too, because I kept thinking, "Sure, she's pretty, but is she as FUNNY as my friend Quigs? Surely not." 

My race strategy was simple: "Slow and steady wins the race." So while I was several thousand people away from winning, I didn't stop once, which enabled me to pass several people who would keep stopping to walk. When I got to the 8K mark, I thought, "2k left! The boys can do this!" Once I got near the finish line, I thought I was going to die, or at least throw up at the finish line, but I did neither. 

In the end, I got my t-shirt. It's enormous-- almost as big as the grin on my face when I finished.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sex Education

Thing One, just finishing out Year 3 (and yes, my American friends, we are STILL. IN. SCHOOL), told us during dinner on Sunday night, "This week we're going to learn about something, but I'm too embarrassed to say what it is." But having already read his homework, I knew that they were going to be talking about.... (drum roll, please)

Sex Education!

This morning, having heard through the mom's grapevine that they all watched The Movie yesterday, I asked him, "How was sex ed yesterday?"

"It was really good," he told me. "We learned all about the penis and the Virginia!"

(When I stopped laughing a good two minutes later, I told him that I wouldn't have a problem calling it the Virginia, even if it was the wrong name.)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Happy Independence Day (Whatever that is)

We were having our family "What's on Schedule This Week" on Sunday-- and believe me, since it's the end of term, there was a lot-- when our discussion turned toward Friday.

"Do you know what Friday is?" I asked Thing One and Thing Two. "I'll give you a hint: the date is July 4th."

"Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!" said Thing One excitedly. "I know this answer! It's on the tip of my tongue."

Thing Two had no answer. He waited patiently for his older brother to come up with it.

"Is it the day that the Civil War ended?" he asked. (We've been talking about the American Civil War recently. Don't ask me why. It's not as if it came up during school.)

When I told him no, it wasn't that, he had a few more guesses, none that were even close.

I finally put him out of his misery and told him that it was the day that the U.S. decided it wanted to be independent of England. This discussion is always tricky, because it leads to the inevitable question of why we live here in London if Americans want to be independent of England.

So how did we celebrate Independence Day yesterday? I'm sorry to say, not at all. I completely forgot to mention it to them. But don't tell U.S. Immigration: they might take away their American passports if they found out we forgot to celebrate July 4th.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Guided Tour of Lego Police Station


Thanks to his generous aunts and uncles in the United States, Thing Two was able to fulfill his long-held dream (OK, a dream for about a month) of getting into Lego law enforcement.

Here, for the enjoyment of those aunts and uncles, as well as for any Lego enthusiasts out there, is his guided tour. (The tour was filmed by Thing One, who you can also spy in the video.)

OK. I've tried to upload the video six times (here and at YouTube) without success. I may be tenacious, but I also know when to cut my losses and say it's not going to work. Instead, here's a picture of the boys at the aforementioned Lego station. In case you were wondering, yes, Thing One is doing the classic technique of holding out the camera to take a picture of him and his brother.

Believe me, the video is hilarious. You'll just have to imagine it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Newsround-mania

It all started last Thursday, when the teacher who I help run Film Club with said to me, "Is your hairdresser open tomorrow?"

Completely flummoxed by the question, I didn't know what to say. After all, I just had my hair cut, and I even recently purchased a HAIR STRAIGHTENER, which, believe me, was the source of much mirth and merriment in the house. In any case, my friend went on to explain that BBC's Newsround would be visiting our school Friday. 

The boys were beyond excited. You would have thought that Christmas arrived early. As anyone Of A Certain Age (read 8-14) in the U.K. knows, Newsround is the children's BBC news program broadcast every day. 

We thought about what we would say. We thought about what we would wear. I'd like to say that I brushed the boy's hair in anticipation, but we only do that twice a year on school picture day (whether they need it or not).

We got to our school's ICT suite at the appointed time and met Helen, the reporter, and Ushma, the camerawoman. They were incredibly nice, and seemed genuinely chuffed that the children were so excited to meet them. As a journalist, I have to say they were incredibly skilled in making sure that all the children got a chance to be on camera, and also had a really good manner with them all, while also getting the story done.

All in all, they spent more than an hour and a half at the school, filming interviews, reaction shots and introductions. Helen and Ushma carefully explained that even though they were there a long time, it wouldn't all be on newsround. As it was, the report lasted about a minute long (which in TV time, isn't half-bad.)

I didn't have anything to do with who they picked to talk to, but Thing One was interviewed and they used his response (see below). They also did a pretty cute shot of kids reacting to the movie, which included Thing Two, but they ended up not using that. During the shoot, I was busy trying to stay out of the way, while also fetching cold glasses of water and opening and shutting the blinds on demand. (As I actually used my hair straightener that day, I was somewhat disappointed that I didn't get interviewed. But it's all about the kids. Really.)

When the big day came, we....missed it. We only found out that it was broadcast Tuesday morning, when a boy from the school walked up to Thing One and said, "I saw you on telly this morning." His mother later told me she thought her son was kidding when he saw his schoolmates on TV. "You know how it is," she said. "You're trying to get them ready and out the door. I didn't actually believe him."

Since we don't watch TV on school days (that's right. I am a Mean Mother) I had no idea that Newsround is on several times a day. What do we know? We watch the news reports on the Interweb. In any case, my friend the computer whiz was able to download the video from yesterday. It'll be up on this site until the BBC lawyers find me. 

Needless to say, we were thrilled with our one minute of fame. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Young Love (or a story that will make you say, "Ahh.")

Thing Two's life is a constant pursuit to keep up with Thing One. So when Thing One's thoughts turned to love recently, so did Thing Two's. When Thing Two's friend Esme gave him a magnetic dinosaur for his birthday, his most favourite present of the day, that was nothing short of a sign to him that they were meant to be together forever. 

On Sunday, we were discussing our upcoming sojourn to the U.S., when talk turned to Kennywood. For the uninitiated, Kennywod is a fantastic amusement park in Pittsburgh. To our globe-hopping children, Kennywood is in the top three of the most wonderful places on Earth, with Legoland U.K. and Disneyland Paris taking the other two spots.

"You know, on the day Dad and I got married, we went to Kennywood in the morning, rode all of the roller coasters, and then went to get ready for the wedding," I told them.

The boys pondered this (with a great deal of pride, I'd like to think). Thing Two then pipes up, "You know, when I get married, I'm going to take my Esme to Kennywood so WE can ride the roller coasters."

"That's such a good idea," I said. "But does Esme know how you feel about her?"

Misunderstanding the question, Thing Two responded, "Esme makes me feel that when I look at her, it makes me happy."

That's a sentiment that's good enough for a greeting card.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Past Month: An Update


We've been busy, as per usual. But lots of things have happened that I wanted to write about, but haven't had a chance to yet. So to whet your appetites (or at least keep track for myself), here are some of the things I might get a chance to write about soon:

• We are proudly Car Free, and have been for more than a month. Long live Gazerbeam (that's what we called the old car). The sale couldn't have come at a better time, with oil inching toward $150 per barrel. But truth be told, we haven't missed him much, and we haven't neede to use the car club we joined yet.

• We got to see Bruce Springsteen in London! Utterly phenomenal, even (a) if the sound system could have used some work; and (b) we realized how old we were by looking at the OTHER people attending the concert. Bruce even played my most favourite song of all time, "Born to Run." (See the complete set list here.) Many thanks to our friend Zim, who alerted Mr. MarathonMum to the concert when tickets went on sale in December, as he knew of my previous disappointment.

• We had one of our nicest family holidays ever, in the Lake District. It had something for everyone: Beatrix Potter, boats, lakes, an Arts & Crafts house, mini-golf and LOTS of hikes. Fantastic. See picture above, of the boys at the Arts & Crafts house (Blackwell) and Lake Windermere behind them. We will return for sure.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

This is what I"ve been doing all day



There's any number of things I had to do today, but auntly duty called. Proving that ANYONE can have a blog, I present to you Flat Stanley Around the World.

http://stanleyaroundtheworld.blogspot.com

Friday, May 30, 2008

A (Pretty Amazing) Live Commercial.

This is so cool! Or another entry from Honda for the Advertising Hall of Fame. Last night, on British TV, they had a LIVE parachute jump for a Honda commercial. They didn't know ahead of time if it was going to work or not. But, if the weather was too bad, they did have the dress rehearsal taped so they could use it if they had to. We missed it because we were on a train, making our way back from Legoland. But in the age of the Interweb, you don't have to miss anything through the glory that is YouTube.

Watch it. Then go buy a Honda. Or not.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

File Under "Dedicated to the Job"

A newspaper photographer in Utah got speared by a javelin while covering a high school track meet. Not only did he take pictures of his own injury, which required 13 stitches, (click on this link; it's slightly too gross for a family blog like this one) but he went back later and finished the job.

Ryan McGeeney, the photographer who's an intern at the paper, said, "It was pretty embarrassing. I just felt like a jackass. I wasn't scared. You can tell right away when you're hurt really bad. I just knew I wasn't really injured."

McGeeney, who's studying for a master's in journalism, is a former U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan. When asked why he took a picture of his own injury, he said, "It just kind of seemed like the thing to do. It's one of those things where, if I didn't take pictures of it, I'd wish I had. Also, if I didn't, it would probably be my editor's first question when I got back."

I am impressed. Give that man a job.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy Fifth Birthday Thing Two

Thing Two is now five. When asked what this means, he says, "I'll use my soft voice and not yell. And I'll stop sucking my fingers!" We'll see about that.

Here are some of the things I love most about Thing Two as he reaches his fifth birthday:
1. The fact that he can't actually walk down the stairs, and can only jump, loudly, from step to step.
2. How he still loves a cuddle to start his day, and whenever we read a book together.
3. How he loves his big brother, and wants to do anything that he does. This also means that while he professes a love of "Dr. Who" he actually spends most of the episode out of the room, only occasionally checking to see if it's scary, and it usually is for him.
4. His continued love of movies, earning him the moniker of Mr. Move.
5. His optimism and jolly nature.
6. How he loves to help me make yummy things (cookies, cakes, you name it) and crucially, he's a good helper.
7. How he won't be swayed by other people's opinions. "It's my decision," he's said on more than one occasion.
8. How he still loves to hold my hand when we're walking.
9. His absolute and unshaken belief that he is a Superhero. When asked recently why he stopped doing yoga (a story for another day) he said, with all sincerity, "It took away my superpowers."


Happy Birthday, Thing Two. May you have many more.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fantastic Mr. Fox Saved!

Mr. Fox, (isn't he a cutie?), held by the nice man from the RSPCA with the big leather gloves.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep well on Wednesday night, as I was so worried that the fox would infiltrate the house, get into the cupboard and drink all of our cider (see "Fantastic Mr. Fox" by Roald Dahl, illustrations by Quentin Blake). But I am not a farmer. I am a city dweller. In fact, I thought more than once, isn't this why we moved to the city? So we wouldn't have to worry about wild animals (other than those at the pub after big football matches)?

I woke up at 6 a.m. and immediately went outside to check the window well to see if the fox was still there. He wasn't! Problem solved!! I thought. Our most favourite way to deal with difficult things: ignore them, and they solve themselves. But alas, about 30 minutes later I heard the barking again, so I knew he was still there.

Thing One and Thing Two woke up, and went outside to see him. But he kept disapperaring. We thought he was moving between our window well and our neighbours (there's a small drainage hole between the two properties), but at one point the boys were at her house, and I was at our house, and we didn't see Mr. Fox. Where did he go? A little while later, he emerged from his hiding place and the boys could use one of the dining room windows to see him running around in the window well. It was like the zoo! But in my house.

Once I got to school, I immediately saw two friends who I knew could help. They are the type of people who are incredibly capable and always know where to go and what to do. "Do I call pest control at the council?" I asked them. "Call the RSPCA. They'll be able to help you."

I returned home, armed with information. But before I could call the RSPCA, Friend No. 1 had stopped by to see the fox for herself. As it turns out, Mr. Fox was a big attraction. I could have charged admission. Of the five friends who knew about Mr. Fox, three of them came by to visit. Many also shared their fox stories. Everyone in London, it seems has a fox story. Friend No. 2 went up the hill to the butchers to get Mr. Fox something to eat. The RSPCA recommended water, chicken carcasses, boiled potatoes and green vegetables. I thought I could have just put one of our garbage bags out there and let him go to town, but then I thought of the mess I'd have to clean up later, so we gave him water and some kidneys (who doesn't like offal?).

Gavin, the man from RSPCA with big, thick leather gloves, arrived within an hour of having called them. By this time, Mr. Fox had disappeared again. I think he was suffering from performance anxiety because of all of the attention. But now I knew where he was disappearing to: there was a little hole under our window that he was using as his new home.

Gavin coaxed him out, and guessed he was about seven weeks old. This was bad news for Mr. Fox, because foxes don't get weaned until eight weeks. So Mr. Fox really needed to find his mother. Luckily, he was in pretty good shape: he didn't break anything in the fall down the window well. His nose was a bit raw from trying to climb up the window well for the past two days. Gavin took him back to the RSPCA van to clean him up and get a better look at him.

Upon returning, Gavin said the best thing for Mr. Fox would be to let him loose in the wild (read: our back garden) and hope that he can find his mother in the neighbourhood. The RSPCA does have a fox sanctuary in Kent that they do take rescued foxes to, but he said Mr. Fox should be OK. We let him have a good run around the garden [see below] and he was gone. I'm pretty sure he made his way under our fence into the wilds of Greenwich. I do hear barking in the back occasionally, but I'm pretty sure it's from other gardens.

So Mr. Fox was saved, and now he is gone. Good luck Mr. Fox! And look out for Boggis, Bunce and Bean!

Run, Mr. Fox! Be free, Mr. Fox! It was good knowing you, Mr. Fox.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

This story begins two nights ago, when Manchester United was beating Barcelona. As we live near a pub (who in London doesn't?) nights like this can get somewhat crazy and loud, so when I heard some incessant barking, I didn't give it much thought. I chalked it up to a puppy being left outside the pub. I heard the barking again in the morning. This time, I looked around the front garden to see if I could find the dog, but no luck. I forgot about the barking again.

Last night, while watching Kevin being voted off the British "Apprentice," I heard Thing One upstairs, and asked him if he wanted to come down for a bonus hug and cuddle. As he joined me on the sofa, he turned to me and said, "Mom? What's that barking?"

"I know. I know," he said. "I heard it first last night. I had a look around for the dog, but I couldn't find anything."

"He sounds like he's in trouble," Thing One said.

"Well, there's really nothing we can do about it," I said. "I don't know where he is. OK. It's time for bed."

A few minutes later, I heard a "whoosh"-- a telltale sign of a written message from above. (Thing One occasionally sends down letters to us when he really should be in bed sleeping."

The letter, complete with spelling mistakes, said:
"Dear Mom
I cant bare listning too the poor dog. I say we look for it because in the morning the bilders will be here. PLEASE!
Love Thing One"

How could I turn that down? We put on our wellies and went out to the front garden to investigate. The barking got fainter the farther away we got from the house, so I looked down the window well, remembering the time that our neighbour's cat accidentally fell down there. I couldn't see anything, so Thing One ran upstairs to get his torch [flashlight]. We shone it down, and there looking back up at us was a tiny, baby fox. 

Thing One, who always looks on the bright side of life [see below], said to me, "Well, that's good news and bad news. The good news is at least the fox isn't going through our garbage! But the bad news is how do we help the poor fox?"

Thinking that there wasn't much we could do at 10 p.m., I told Thing One that we'd have to leave it until the morning and then I could call someone who would be able to come and help the fox. Thing One returned to bed.

Now we await two things:
1. An opportunity to take Mr. Fox's picture
2. The arrival of the RSPCA, who will rescue the fox for me.

Watch this space.

Monday, April 28, 2008

We Can Call This Post, "Who Says Golf Isn't a Contact Sport" or "How Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining"

Finally, finally, finally it was warm enough after school to play outside in the garden. Thing One and his friend were playing around before the Cub Scouts had their annual St. George's Day Parade, as both were asked to fill the special role of flag bearers at the event. Unfortunately for Thing Two, the boys wanted to do their own thing and not include any siblings, as per tradition, so he and I were upstairs reading on the sofa when I heard a commotion downstairs.

"Quick! Get me some toilet roll or some paper towels!" I heard Thing One say. Intrigued by his request, and sensing something was amiss, I went downstairs to investigate. Upon arrival, I found blood pouring down Thing One's face, a wad of toilet paper smashed against his head and splatters of blood all over the kitchen floor. It was like a horror film, primary school style.

"What happened?" I asked.
"I got hit in the head with the golf club," Thing One said.
"One of the plastic ones?" I asked while my internal monologue was "Please. Please. Please. Let it be one of the plastic ones."
"No. One of the real ones," he replied, while I immediately thought, "That's a trip to the hospital, then."
Finally he showed me the wound. It wasn't long, but it was deep, and the blood kept on coming.

Thing One was so brave. He wanted to cry, I could tell, but he willed himself not to. His hands were shaking and he seemed a little dazed, though that's not surprising, given that it was a 9-iron.

When we got to the A&E (that's emergency room, for my American fans), I figured we were due for a return trip, since the last time we were there was two years ago. Thing One's last hospital visit was four years ago, when he had to get a 2.5" splinter removed from his foot. But that's a story for another time.

It didn't take Thing One long to realize there was an upside to the injury: A scar just like Harry Potter! (though unlike Harry, this scar will be right between the eyes.) The doctor at the A&E
didn't think he'll get a scar, but don't tell Thing One. He thinks it's the best thing that happened to him all year.

Like I said, every cloud has a sliver lining if you look for it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

London Marathon 2008: Another way to get a medal


In 2005, I earned a London Marathon medal by:
Training with Thing Two, then 18 months old;
Raising more than £4,000 for my charity, CAMFED; and
Running 26.2 miles on 17 April 2005.

In 2008, I earned a London Marathon medal by:
• Waking up at 6 a.m., walking up to the top of Greenwich Park, and collecting the bags of the runners. Oh, and Thing One, Thing Two and Mr. MarathonMum all got medals too (see above).

For obvious reasons, I LOVE Marathon Sunday. Since we live in Greenwich, we're at the start of it all. Thing One and I played a fun game on Saturday afternoon called "Spot the Runner." We'd look for the official London Marathon bags, and then pass along a "Good Luck" wish to the runner. By the time we were done with our short errand, we had seen about 10 runners and their families. Last night, we made "Good Luck" signs to hang in our windows, since many runners pass by the house on their way to the start. We were ready for the big day.

This morning we got up early to join the rest of the Cub Scouts at the TNT trucks to collect the bags. Thing Two really was too young to be any help, but when he heard that we would be going, and there would be Official Medals Involved, he cried so hard that I just had to ask if he could come along. (For obvious reasons, I think he feels a special connection to the London Marathon). To be fair, he pitched in as best he could and he wished all the runners he saw "Good Luck."

For me, I had very mixed emotions today. I was really happy and excited for all the runners, knowing how incredible the day is. I was thrilled to have already done it. But at the same time, I was a little sad that I'll never be able to do it again. But both Thing One and Thing Two said at least once today that they'll do the London Marathon when they get older (we'll see), so I'll be able to live vicariously through them.

It was a fantastic day: inspiring to see all the runners, heart-warming to see all of the supporters, and thrilling to see the finishers. Well done to everyone who finished, and well done to the 6,000 volunteers (like us) who helped along the way.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"My First Angry Mob!"


The Olympic Torch Relay ran through London Sunday, finishing at the Dome in Greenwich, and we were lucky enough to see it. But it wasn't quite the experience I thought it would be.

My only memory of an Olympic Torch Relay was in 1984, when the torch went across the continental U.S. before the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It was a very happy event, and people were thrilled to see the torch. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here.

Here in London, 24 years later, "Free Tibet" protesters lined the route and some tried to grab the torch, put out the torch, and otherwise disrupt the proceedings. I spent the morning and afternoon watching the afternoon with an increasing sense of dread: what if something really terrible happened at the end, where we would be? I told Mr. MarathonMum, "The Dome is either going to be the absolute worst place to be, or the safest."

As it happens, we were in an area outside of the Dome, and you had have a ticket to get in. I had won the tickets from Greenwich Council, which thrilled me to no end when I won them, but in retrospect, it wasn't that great of a prize. I foolishly thought there would be loads of other Olympic-type things to do before the concert and the torch arrival, like they did for Leap for London 2012, but they had nothing. So Thing One and I spent a lot of time (about two hours) waiting around on a VERY COLD day (it snowed earlier) for the torch to arrive.

The Sugababes (I know, Who?) were set to perform at the concert, but they cancelled. Apparently they were well enough to do the relay itself, but not the concert. Two very nice 20somethings next to me were VERY disappointed. I said to them, "Why can't they show up to lip-sync, which they undoubtedly would do?" So instead we were treated to three local bands we never heard of, and will probably never hear of again. So more waiting in the cold.

Finally, Ellen MacArther arrived on the boat with the torch. The people cheered, but I don't know if that was for Ellen, the torch, or that the waiting was over. They had all sorts of officials on the stage (Princess Anne, Sebastian Coe, Ken Livingston), and then the torch, now carried by Kelly Holmes, arrived.

A very smilely Chinese official, who I later learned was Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, made a speech. It was in Chinese, so I didn't know what he was saying. For all I know he was telling us, "And we will crush those who disagree with us on Tibet," all with a smile on his face.

Since our area was ticketed, there were no protesters nearby. Frankly, for me, that was a relief, since Thing One was with me and I was nervous enough as it was. Occasionally, we could hear chants on the other side of the stage, "Free Tibet! Free Tibet!". Another man behind us yelled, "Shame on you!" when Jiang Xiaoyu was speaking.

Then it was all over. All in all, it was very disappointing. The celebration was probably dampened by the ongoing protests throughout the day. At least the torch stayed lit through the day, unlike in Paris.

As we were leaving the ticketed area to get our bus home, we had to walk through about 100 Free Tibet protesters, who were chanting and waving signs. Thing One turned to me and said, "My first angry mob!"

One for the baby book, I suppose.