Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Snow in London

Thing One enjoying the icy slopes at Greenwich Park on Sunday.
"It looks like my face has been warped," he said.
(Position in lower left corner due to slow shutter speed of the iPhone.)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving Turkeys 2009
Happily made by 24 Cub Scout Beavers in London
(Thing Two did the one on the right)

Last night, I had to go to Thing Two's Cub Scout Beavers meeting to talk to the boys and girls about the most exotic of things: How Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving.

I had done this, once before, for Thing One three years ago. Luckily, I even still had feathers left over from the last time, handily stored away in our Party Box. In any case, we made the above turkeys using apples, pipe cleaners, feathers, toothpicks (or cocktail sticks, as they say here) and tape. I was pretty pleased with my handiwork.

I started off the evening by giving the Beavers a brief history of Thanksgiving. Here's a summary:
"The Pilgrims left England. They went to Holland, but didn't like that either. They finally found two boats (The Mayflower and The Speedwell) to take them to the "New World." Only the Mayflower made the whole journey. There were 102 passengers by the time they landed in Massachusetts on 11 November 1620. One baby was born en route. November is not the best time to start a new life in New England. By the time their first year was out, 50 people died. Their brave commander was Captain Miles Standish. The pilgrims were lucky to have help from the Indians, who taught them how to farm and what they could eat. The first Thanksgiving in 1621, about one year after they landed, was a three-day feast. The pilgrims even drank liquor!! Thanksgiving became a national holiday when George Washington was president in 1789. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in 1862 that Thanksgiving will be celebrated forevermore on the fourth Thursday of November. FDR fiddled with it a little bit during the depression, to make it earlier in order to give beleaguered retailers a longer Christmas season, but public outcry led to a Congressional resolution which set Thanksgiving officially as the fourth Thursday in November. Americans have been proudly eating and drinking to excess on that day ever since."

Since we don't have the day off here in the U.K. today or tomorrow, we will formally celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday, when we can eat and drink to excess, as our Founding Fathers intended.

Hope you all enjoy my most favourite holiday of the year.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween 2009

Max from "Where the Wild Things Are" and Einstein get ready to party.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Taking a Chance in Lisbon

Mr. MarathonMum and I got to go away to Lisbon for a "dirty weekend" (as they say here, and I have to say, I do love that expression). The weather was sunny and hot, the people were nice and the legendary custard tarts at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, were, quite simply, one of the best things I ever ate.

It was our last night there and we wanted to have a really special meal. Our less than impressive hotel, which came with our British Airways package deal, recommended a local restaurant. Mr. MarathonMum was skeptical, but I told him we should try it. It was late, I was tired, and I didn't want to spend my night tromping around the streets of Lisbon looking for a restaurant.

But Mr. MarathonMum was right: the restaurant was awful. I think it's safe to say that if the menus are laminated and you're not in Denny's or a diner, it won't be a good dining experience. So for the first time in our life, we made our apologies to the waiter and told him we wouldn't be eating there after all, and walked out.

On the way to Disaster Dining, we passed a pretty unassuming restaurant that proudly displayed its fresh meat and fish in its front window. It looked promising, so we decided to go there, after rejecting two other restaurants on looks alone on the way there.

It was the best decision we've made this year. Although they didn't speak much English, they spoke enough. Not only were the menus not laminated, I'm not sure they had menus at all-- instead the waiter just told us what was fresh and good for the day and then they grilled it for us.

This restaurant would probably never make the cut for a guidebook. (Though I was amazed to find it on the Interweb.) It was truly a local restaurant for local people, and the food was delicious. It was one of the best meals we've had all year.

Almost 10 years ago, I went to Rome with my friend. I remember walking about 30 minutes to get to a restaurant that was recommended in our guidebook, and I distinctly remember saying to her, "It's possible that we're passing loads of restaurants that would be just as good. We're slaves to the book!"

I know that travelling can be daunting and sometimes difficult. It's just easier to rely on the words and advice of people who have been to the cities before to figure out where to go, but especially where to eat. But as our experience in Lisbon shows, sometimes taking a chance can be the best decision of all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thing One Turns 10!

Thing One with his birthday Ferrari. (He wishes!!)

Ten years old! Double digits! Now that is something else, for both Thing One and his parents. It's such a cliche to say, "Wow, time has flown by," but honestly, time really has flown by.

He's so big now, I was left wondering yesterday if I could still pick him up. After all, he's only a head shorter than me at this point-- so last night I tried to do it. Luckily, I can still pick my beautiful boy up, but only just. He's all limbs and angles now, so it's not nearly as easy as it was when I bundled him up in his bear snow suit in 1999 and carted him all around London.

Usually on the birthdays of Thing One and Two I like to summarize the things that they've accomplished this year, and the things they love to do. Thing One still loves science, aerospace, Boy Scouts, swimming, Lego and all things electronic. This year, to his delight, he won the paper airplane flying competition at Science Night at school, he also passed his first cello exam, among other accomplishments.

But the thing he did this year that makes the proudest doesn't come with trophy or a certificate. One Monday, one of Thing One's best friends told me that their cat, Nelson, had been run over by a car during the weekend. His friend, who has got to be one of the toughest boys I know, started to cry. Later that afternoon, Thing One and I started to talk about death-- of both people and beloved pets-- and what that means for people, and how sad it can be.

Thing One gave it some thought, and then he suggested that maybe we would want to get his friend a stuffed cat that resembled Nelson. I said that might make him even sadder, so then Thing One suggested that we stop by the bookstore and get his friend a funny book to cheer him up. We did that, returned home and then Thing One got busy making his friend a card.

Thing One wanted to deliver the gift straightaway, and luckily his grandpa was here from the U.S. so they could walk over together. I don't know what the card said, or what transpired when he got to his friend's house. All I know is the next day, his friend's mother came up to me in the school playground and said, "Your son is unbelievable. He has got to be one of the loveliest boys I know."

I couldn't agree more.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thing Two Loses First Tooth

Thing Two has been telling us for weeks that he has a wobbly tooth. However, given his propensity to liberally engage with the truth, I did not post a Wobbly Tooth Watch, as I did with Thing One. But even the Boy Who Cried Wolf eventually did see a wolf, and, so Thing Two really was telling the truth.

Thing Two, who we also call Mr. Movie for his love of things cinematic, was, appropriately enough, at the movies watching "Night at the Museum 2" when the tooth finally fell out. It obviously had been wobbling for quite a while because there was no blood at the scene.

Sharp-eyed readers also will notice that he is wearing is Gryffindor tie. This is not because he wanted to look smart for the tooth fairy, but because we were attending a reading awards ceremony sponsored by the library, which Thing Two won.

So all in all, a big day for our little man, who is one step closer to growing up.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Banksy in Bristol!

Waiting in the queue in the pouring rain, which thankfully didn't last for the 2+ hours we were standing in it. The garbage bags were an impulse buy at the beginning of the storm, which I happily distributed to others around us who also lacked proper rain gear (although Thing One and Thing Two had rain jackets on underneath).

The main things we learned at the Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibition, which closed today:
• Art can be funny!
• Undoubtedly, there is no nationality better at civilized queing than the British (see: Wimbledon and this exhibit, where people were waiting in a queue up to a mile long, according to news reports)
• A treasure hunt for Banksy pieces through the Bristol Museum is the only way you would ever look at its exhibition on British china in the 18th century or geological formations.
• A two and a quarter hour wait for the Exhibition of the Year (if the national press is to be believed), is nothing if people in the final weekend were waiting up to eight hours during the last weekend.
• Knowing the name of an anonymous artist is only valuable if the name means something to you. As we don't know anyone from Bristol, I don't really care what Banksy's name is.
• If you follow your child's enthusiasm for some things, it may develop into your own enthusiasm. (Thing One liked Banksy first, and it was his idea to go to Bristol for a trip to see the exhibit. We're glad he did.)
• Our friend, Charming Baker, is a more talented artist. And it's *possible* that Banksy may have attended one of his shows. But we'll never know for sure.

But the best way to talk some more about this is to show you some pictures:

The lion was hungry! The poor tamer...

The speech balloons say, (left) "Does anyone actually take this kind of art seriously?"
(Right) "Never under estimate the power of a big gold frame."

If you're interested in seeing more Banksy pictures from the exhibition, or just need a laugh, go to this BBC slide show or to this collection on Flickr. My pictures don't really do it justice.

If you'd like to know more about Banksy, the British guerilla artist/millionare, go to his very exhaustive Wikipedia entry.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

For U.S. Girls Living in the 1970s

If you were a little girl in the U.S. during the 1970s....

You had that Fisher Price Doctor's Kit with a stethoscope that actually worked.

You owned a bicycle with a banana seat and a plastic basket with flowers on it. (I didn't have one of these, but my best friend down the road did and I was jealous. I got my brother's hand-me-down Chopper, which, in retrospect, was FAR COOLER.)

You learned to skate with actual skates (not roller blades) that had metal wheels.

You thought Gopher from Love Boat was cute (admit it!)

You had nightmares after watching Fantasy Island .

You had either a 'bowl cut' or 'pixie', not to mention the 'Dorothy Hamill'. People sometimes thought you were a boy.

You had rubber boots for rainy days and Moon boots for snowy days.

YEAH! You owned a 'Slip-n-Slide', on which you injured yourself on a sprinkler head more than once.

You owned 'Klick-Klacks' and smacked yourself in the face more than once!

Your Holly Hobbie sleeping bag was your most prized possession.

You wore a poncho, gauchos, and knickers.

You begged Santa for the electronic game, Simon.

You had the Donnie and Marie dolls with those pink and purple satiny shredded outfits, or the sunshine family

You spent hours in your backyard on your metal swing set with the trapeze. The swing set tipped over at least once.

You had homemade ribbon barrettes in every imaginable color. (Oh yeah!)

You had a pair of Doctor Scholl's sandals (the ones with hard sole & the buckle). You also had a pair of salt-water sandals. (Nope. My mother wouldn't let me get these. She thought they were bad for the feet.)

You wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder really bad; you wore that Little House on the Prairie-inspired plaid, ruffle shirt with the high neck in at least one school picture; and you despised Nellie Oleson!

You wanted your first kiss to be at a roller rink! (But mine wasn't. It was in the closet of my kindergarten class.)

PONG! ('video tennis' ) was the most remarkable futuristic game you've ever heard of AND it was AWESOME.

Your hairstyle was described as having 'wings' or 'feathers' and you kept it 'pretty' with the comb you kept in your back pocket. When you walked, the 'wings' flapped up and down, looked like you were gonna 'take off' .

You know who Strawberry Shortcake is, as well as her friends, Blueberry Muffin and Huckleberry Pie.

You carried a Muppets lunch box to school and it was metal, not plastic. With the thermos inside some were glass inside and broke the first time you dropped them.

You and your girlfriends would fight over which of the Dukes of Hazzard was your boyfriend.

YOU had Star Wars action figures, too!

It was a big event in your household each year when the 'Wizard of Oz' would come on TV. Your mom would break out the popcorn and sleeping bags!

You often asked your Magic-8 ball the question: 'Who will I marry. Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, or David Cassidy?'

You completely wore out your Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and Fame soundtrack record album.

You tried to do lots of arts and crafts, like yarn and Popsicle-stick God's eyes, decoupage, or those weird potholders made on a plastic loom.

You made Shrinky-Dinks and put iron-on kittens on your t-shirts!

You used to tape record songs off the radio by holding your portable tape player up to the speaker.

You had subscriptions to Dynamite and Tiger Beat. (Nope. Mom wouldn't let me.)

You learned everything you needed to know about girl issues and life from Judy Blume books.

You thought Olivia Newton John's song 'Physical' was about aerobics. (?? its not??)

You wore friendship pins on your tennis shoes, or shoelaces with heart or rainbowdesigns.

You wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer.

You drowned yourself in Love's Baby Soft - which was the first 'real' perfume you ever owned.

You glopped your lips in Strawberry Roll-on lip-gloss till it almost dripped off.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kid Fun: What to do in London with your children

Unfortunately, this scene was from last summer, when you could ride in a leaky plywood boat on top of the Hayward Gallery and get this phenomenal view of Big Ben and the Eye. But I liked this photo so much-- and I never posted it last year-- that I'm using it here, since it does tie into this post.

My friend Kavita, who I haven't seen in forever, is coming to visit us with her family in August. She wanted some suggestions for things to do during their five-day visit. I prepared this last year for another friend who was visiting London with her 13-year-old daughter, so I'm posting it here, so I can share my tips with those trolling on the Interweb. My knowledge for the following is hard won: having been a London resident for more than 10 years AND the mother of two boys who have done everything on this list. But I don't know everything. If you have any suggestions, or places I have missed, please add them in the comments section.

Quinessentially British: Things Every Tourist Should Do
1. See Big Ben. Every time I see this, and from every angle, I get a thrill. But one of my favourite ways to see it is by boat, which you can take from Greenwich up the river to Embankment, which will leave you right next to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
2. Go to the Tower of London. Yes, it's full of tourists and it'll be very crowded at the height of tourist season in August. But where else can you see the Crown Jewels, not to mention the place where they beheaded Anne Boleyn and the tower where they kept the little princes?
3. Ride the London Eye. Built for the Millennium, this is a great place to get a bird's eye view of Big Ben and the rest of the city. You only go around once, but the ferris wheel moves pretty slowly, so you get your money's worth.
4. See the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. I guess I am not yet "quinessentially British" since I still haven't gotten around to seeing this properly, even after 10 years here (though I did see a bit of it from the back of a black cab in September 2001). But I understand that it is pretty cool, but only if you like parades and uniforms.
5. Visit the British Museum. I think they have one of everything here, but the highlights are easy to list: the Rosetta stone, the Elgin marbles (see them before Greece convinces the British to give them back and put them in the new museum), the mummy collection, an Easter Island statue ("Hello, dum-dum. Got any gum-gum?") and more. They say this is one of the best museums in the world, and I believe them. (Great Russell Street, WC1, Tube: Holborn, Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road)

Best Free Museums
1. Science Museum (Exhibition Road, SW7, Tube: South Kensington) Fantastic hands-on exhibits. You absolutely should go to the Launch Pad on the third floor. The best thing for kids to do in London.,
2. Natural History Museum (Cromwell Road, SW7, Tube: South Kensington) Dinosaurs! Natural disasters! Animals! Fantastic and free.,
3. Tate Modern (Bankside, SE1 Tube: St. Pauls, and then walk over the wobbly bridge to the museum). Lots of fun big modern art. The boys love this place. There’s a family activity pack that’s free and available on Sundays from Level 3.
4. Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) (Cromwell Road, SW7, Tube: South Kensington) Girls in particular will love this museum because they have a fantastic costume/fashion collection. Beautiful. On Saturdays they have kids activity backpacks that you can borrow that have things you can do around the museum.
5. Royal Observatory/National Maritime Museum (Greenwich Park, SE10) The Royal Observatory is free, and they've got several rooms full of interactive exhibits for children explaining space. The Peter Harrison Planetarium at the Observatory isn't free, but it's got great shows that are well worth a visit. The National Maritime Museum has some interesting exhibits about the changing environment and the history of maritime exploration.

Best Parks for Kids
1. Greenwich Park (Obviously! But I'm biased) Paddle boats near the playground are really fun. Also, the Observatory at the top of the hill is free. If you go all the way to the top corner, you can see deer in the deer enclosure. Impress your children by telling them that Henry VIII used to joust here. Also, the presence of the Meridian Line allows you to gracefully cross from the Western to the Eastern Hemisphere easily, not to be mention to truly be able to site GMT (Greenwich Meridian Time).
2. Kensington Gardens: Beautiful lake in the middle populated by swans. Also home to Kensington Palace (very pretty) and the Diana, Princess of Wales Playground, which is great fun and free.
3. Hyde Park: Great for a hot day, as there are paddle boats, but also the Diana Memorial Fountain. You’re allowed to put your feet into the fountain (but not walk around it), which would be good for a hot day. You can also swim in the Serpentine for a small fee.

Shopping! (Even if you don’t buy anything, these shops are legendary)
1. Top Shop on Oxford Circus (Tube: Oxford Circus) Allegedly Kate Moss shops here. Apparently, a teenage girl’s version of heaven.
2. Hamley’s on Regent Street (Tube: Oxford Circus) Seven floors of toys, and lots of demonstrations throughout the store. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s worth seeing.
3. Harrod’s: (Tube: Knightsbridge) Perfectly ridiculous shop, but when I took my brother here, he couldn’t believe it—and he still talks about it. The food hall is something to see.
4. Portabello Road Market: Saturday flea market in Notting Hill. It will be heaving with people, but it's still worth seeing. (Tube: Notting Hill Gate)
5. Covent Garden (Tube: Covent Garden or Charing Cross) Again, lots of tourists go here, but there’s always a load of street performers to make it interesting.
6. Borough Market (Tube: London Bridge) Foodie heaven, which is held weekly from Thursday to Saturday.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Seeing Pure Pride and Joy

This picture probably best represents Great Happiness, but not Pure Joy and Pride. Pure Joy is the next step up from Great Happiness, and Pure Joy and Pride is the ultimate.

My mother has a brilliant photo of Thing One, aged about two. In it, he is pointing to something off camera, but his face is one of Pure Joy. What, pray tell, did he happen to spot? It was a DLR train coming down the track. Any parent of a two-year-old boy will understand why such a sight would provoke a look of Pure Joy.

Today, I got to see the ultimate expression: Pure Joy and Pride. Thing One, who has been taking cello lessons for almost two years, took his cello exam on Monday. Here in the United Kingdom, people who are studying musical instruments occasionally take exams. Each exam is a "Grade", starting with Grade 1, and going up to Grade 8. The students are graded by an independent judge, who compiles the score and then determines if it's a pass or a fail. This is all very official and systematic, unlike the system I grew up with, where you practiced when nagged, had a weekly lesson, and then finally abandoned all efforts once you discover boys (or girls, as the case may be).

Thing One had been waiting to see if he had passed since Monday. He was as cool as a cucumber leading up to the test, professing that he wasn't nervous. Upon leaving the examination room, he declared that he had done "brilliantly." But he was still waiting for the official word.

Today, he got it: He passed.

Thing One ran out of the school doors with the biggest smile of pride and joy you could ever imagine. He was justifiably proud of his accomplishment, which was entirely his. Once we shared a (very long) celebratory hug, he ran around the playground, looking for his friends to tell him the good news.

I'm just sorry that I didn't think to take a picture of it. Pure Pride and Joy doesn't come along nearly enough in life.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Tribute to Michael Jackson

Scene: Mom returns home after a long day at the office. Thing One and Thing Two are gathered around Thing Two's Acer (now the hottest computer on the globe), watching YouTube.

Mom: Hi! How was your day? What are you watching?

Thing One: Michael Jackson, of course.  (The sounds of Thriller rise from the computer.)

Thing Two: What's happening? 

Mom: Well, he's turning into a zombie.

Thing One: No, he's not, he's dancing.

Mom: Yes he is. Look at his eyes. He's become a zombie.

Thing Two: Look at that dancing! He's really good.

(The video has now progressed to the part where the zombies are trying to get to Michael Jackson's "girlfriend" in the abandoned house.)

Thing Two: What are they doing?

Mom: Well, they're trying to eat the girlfriend because zombies eat humans!

Thing One: But they're not eating Michael Jackson.

Thing Two: (with a great deal of confidence) They're not eating him because they like Michael Jackson's music.

Maybe that's true. R.I.P. Michael Jackson.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy 6th Birthday Thing Two!

Happy 6th Birthday, Thing Two!

Thing Two turned SIX on Friday, so we had a weekend filled with celebrations, Star Wars and, most importantly, chocolate cake. Those in the know will note his new Arsenal kit ("uniform"), which he proudly wore for his football party in Greenwich Park on Saturday. 

Here are some of the things I love about Thing Two as he reaches milestone No. 6:
1. His outlook on life in which his glass is always half-full.
2. His sunny nature, disposition and laughter.
3. His extra-large personality.
4. How he still needs a cuddle to start his day.
5. His continued love of movies, for which we still call him Mr. Movie.
6. When asked if he did something wrong (when clearly he did), his "I don't know" (along with funny intonation) response.
7. His willingness to help in the kitchen, whether it is to help pack lunches or make cookies.
8. His love of reading.
9. His continued inability to simply walk down the stairs, but instead, leap from step to step, which makes it sound as if a dinosaur were approaching.

Happy Birthday Thing Two. May you have many more.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

One for the Grandmothers: The Annual Daffodil Picture

Every year since 2003, when I was heavily pregnant with Thing Two, I have taken the boys over to the Queen's House to get their picture taken in front of annual blanket of daffodils. This is this year's offering, taken about 10 days ago when we had an unseasonably warm weekend (thus the shorts). 

To see past pictures, go to last year's post. 

Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Villanova Wins! The Road to the Final Four Continues!

This is What I Miss: Villanova students mob Lancaster Avenue (in the middle of the campus) to celebrate Villanova's last-second victory over Pittsburgh in the NCAA Tournament. The win meant that Villanova will be in the Final Four, the first time since its championship year in 1985. (Photo courtesy of the Inquirer, because obviously I couldn't get to Philly from London in time).

Villanova did it! In the last second of a pretty exciting second half, Villanova conquered Pittsburgh to win the East Regional and move on to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. (Editor's note: I know many of my British friends have no idea what I'm talking about here. I apologize). At some points during the game, I worried that I might wake up the rest of my family, given that it was 1 a.m. here in London.

As I watched the game's conclusion thousands of miles away, wearing my Villanova sweatshirt purchased in my freshman year in 1987, my first thought was, "Man, I wish I was in the Quad right now." Because this sweatshirt witnessed the last great victory of Villanova in the tournament, when it unexpectedly qualified for the Great Eight in 1988. When the game was over that year, we all rushed to the Quad and celebrated our unlikely victory.

But I also think, like many things in life, I didn't appreciate the experience in 1988. With all the bravado that immaturity brings, I thought it would be like that every year at Villanova during March Madness. It wasn't. Only in retrospect did I appreciate what a magical night of triumph and happiness that was. But now I do, and I'm sure many of my fellow 'Nova alums from that year know what I'm talking about.

This is why I suspect the Alumni Office knows it can charge more than $1,500 per ticket (after they have made a $500 obligatory donation to the Villanova Athletic Department) for Final Four tickets to its alums. Students won't pay that, because they'll think there will be other opportunities. But the alumni know how long 24 years feels, since that's how long it's been since 'Nova has been to the Final Four.

Go Nova!

Friday, March 27, 2009

'Nova Wins! We're off to the Great Eight, Baby!

March Madness continues, with Villanova University (my alma mater) rolling through Duke University last night to reach the Great Eight* of the NCAA Tournament. We now face Pittsburgh, one of our Big East rivals, and also the alma mater of my father-in-law.
* I know they call it the "Elite Eight" now, but when I went to school in the late 80s-early 90s, we called it the Great Eight. So Great Eight it will be.

Thanks to the combined glories of the Internet, broadband and Wi-Fi, we all got to watch Villanova beat UCLA (or Uck-La, as Thing One kept saying) on Saturday night in our dining room in London. Thanks CBS-March Madness on Demand! The exercise was an interesting one, not least because Thing One kept using English sports terminology to query or comment on the game. Some examples: 
• "I bet their manager is really proud of them." (Said near the end, when Villanova was winning decisively. I pointed out that the manager in basketball is called a coach.)
• "When is the match over?" (Matches are football contests, games are for basketball and other sports.)
• "How many free kicks do they get?" (No free kicks in basketball, my friend.) 

While I do love my Villanova Wildcats, my love has limits. This was evidenced last night at 1:57 a.m. when my mobile phone alarm rang to wake me up for the game. I thought to myself, "Just one more minute, then I'll get up," and then I rolled over and went back to sleep. But again, thanks to the combined glories of the Internet, broadband and Wi-Fi, the first thing I did this morning, from the comfort of my bed, was fire up my iPhone to see the results of the game. 

This is a far cry from my first NCAA Tournament as an expat in 1999, when I had to spend an ungodly amount of money to buy a day-old USA Today in the Rome airport, just so I could see the brackets. Even just three years ago, I could "watch" a text play-by-play of the games, but couldn't see the actual action. Last year was the first time in nine years that I was able to actually SEE a college basketball game, and I was euphoric. This year the games are broadcast in HD, so it's EVEN BETTER. 

I will be glued to my laptop on Saturday night at 11:05 p.m. GMT (literally Greenwich Meridian Time, since I live in Greenwich) to watch the Widlcats play the Panthers. Lucky for me, it does not conflict with Earth Hour, which we will be celebrating earlier in the night, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Unfortunately for me, I did not fill out a bracket this year. If I had, I would have had Villanova in the Final Four. Unfortunately for President Barack Obama, he had Villanova losing to Duke last night in his bracket. At least I'm not saddled with the quandary of having to sell a budget and yet another bank rescue plan.

Let the March Madness continue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day: A Play About Nationality

Who: A mother and two sons
What: Walking home from weekly swim lesson
Where: Walking past a pub in London fully decorated with shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day
When: St. Patrick's Day Eve

Thing Two (age 5): Why is the pub decorated?

Mom: Because tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. We have to wear green.

Thing One (age 9): Why do we have to wear green?

Mom: Because we're Irish.

Thing One: But we're not Irish, we're American.

Mom: Yes, I see what you mean. We are American. But your great-grandpa was from Ireland, so that makes us part Irish.

Thing Two (quite confused): But we're American, not Irish.

Mom: Yes, it is a little confusing. We're American. But in America, it's also about where you're from before as well as where you live now. So we're American, but your great-great-grandparents were from Ireland, Germany and Poland. So for tomorrow, we're Irish. Your great-grandpa LOVED St. Patrick's Day. He even had a special calendar for it.

Thing One and Thing Two say nothing, mulling over the explanation.

Thing One: I think I'm mostly English, with a little bit of American.

Mom: Well, actually, I know this is confusing. But you're not English at all. Except you were born here. And you live here. And you have an English accent. (She pauses, thinking about what she's saying, as it doesn't seem to make sense. Is he actually English? No, not possible. No English passport. Yet.). You are American (she says with less certainty).

Thing Two: I'm American!


Monday, March 16, 2009

We're Doing it for the Polar Bears: WWF Earth Hour

We're doing it for the polar bears, but you can do it for any endangered species you like. The World Wildlife Federation is sponsoring an "Earth Hour" on Saturday, 28 March from 8:30 p.m. in whatever time zone you live in. As this seems a somewhat flexible time, I say that parents can use whatever time zone the whole family can participate in, so for us, we'll be using European time (one hour earlier than London, making our Earth Hour from 7:30 p.m.

The idea is that we all switch off our lights for one hour to show that you care about people, wildlife and the planet.

Some 1180 cities from 80 countries across the globe have already signed up. In addition, a great number of iconic landmarks will be plunged into darkness, including Nelson’s Column, the Forth Bridge, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Eiffel Tower, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Table Mountain in Cape Town and Sydney Opera House. The London Eye, too, will be dimmed for the hour.

For more information about Earth Hour, go here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Say Hello to Our Paper Airplane Champion!

Happy Science Week, everyone. At our school, that means it's time for the annual Family Science Night Competition, which is always hotly contested.

The first year, the Spaghetti Challenge, I nearly had a nervous breakdown because Thing Two just wanted to eat all the marshmallows and I couldn't figure out how to do it. (Important Note: the point of the evening is that CHILDREN learn about science, not that adults do it for them. However, sometimes it's hard to not jump in.) Needless to say, we lost.

The second year, the Egg Challenge, went much better for us. When I say "much better" I mean we won it, which was awesome. The challenge was to create a container that would protect an egg when it was dropped from different heights. We did a parachute/double-cup with shock insulation contraption, which helped the egg survive the first drop, from 10 feet, the second drop, from 15 feet, and the third drop, from the school's first-story window. The competition ended there because the school doesn't have another floor. The winner was chosen by lottery from all of those that survived the third drop. So you might say that our victory was not a pure one, but a victory is a victory, I say. 

Last year, the Car Challenge, was a disaster for us. You had to make a car out of the materials provided. For a family whose favourite show is Top Gear the fact that we couldn't construct a car that would win, let alone get across the start line, is a cruel irony. The less said about the competition, the better.

Finally, this year, we had the Paper Airplane Challenge. Again, you had to use the materials provided to make a paper airplane that flew the farthest. But Thing One knows the value of preparation, and he had spent the previous day reading our book about paper airplanes to figure out which design would be the best. We tested several models, and then he reached his decision. "The Professional" is the one that works best. Thing Two then memorized the instructions, so he could do it for the challenge. We were ready, but I kept telling the boys we had already won once, so we didn't have to win again. 

We got to school, gave our team the name, "The Empire Strikes Back," Thing Two's contribution, and Thing One got to work. We had 20 minutes to get the plane done, but he had it all folded and ready to go in under five. (Here's a tip for future Paper Airplane Contestants: Good Folding means Good Flying). There were several heats and our little Professional kept on winning.

At last, it was time for the final three: Our Little Professional, a huge Concorde-resembling plane, and another that resembled a 747. The whistle blew, and off they flew. But the Professional and the Concorde seemed to flown an equal distance, so we replayed the final. I could barely take the suspense. Again, the whistle blew and off they flew, and when all the dust had settled, the winner was US! Whoo-hoo!

But I have to say the thing I loved most about this victory was the fact that the work and the victory was completely down to Thing One. He did the research, he memorized the design, and he flew the plane. He is very proud of himself, and I am even more proud of him.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is the Third Time the Charm? (In our annual 2K race, anyway)

It was one of our favourite events of the year: the Greenwich Park 2K Fun Run. This marked our third year of doing it, and I'm thrilled to report some vast improvement on our performances.

In 2007, our first year, Thing One burst off the starting line, but later realized he couldn't sustain the pace. Given that we were in Greenwich Park, were there are numerous benches to be found, he decided to stop and have a quick rest. Thing Two, who was then 3 1/2, put in a valiant effort after doing a face scrape across the pavement at the start, but finished after a promise of a trip to McDonald's. (Yes, I know. It's counterintuitive to promise fast food to finish a healthy activity, but that was the only way he was going to finish.) I was very proud of him, as it was a pretty bad fall. Thing One finished in 12:40 (118th) and Thing Two finished in 18:15 (159th and not last!).

In 2008, our second attempt, it was a beautiful Mothering Sunday and we accomplished much: Thing One didn't stop and rest at any benches, and Thing Two managed to get through the race without tripping and falling. No times are available for that year, but I know they improved.

Finally, this year, it was that time of year again. I emphasized to Thing One the family motto of, "No Sitting on Benches". Thing Two, now nearly six, was pumped and ready to go. He kept wanting to sprint ahead, but I told him to conserve his energy. That was probably good advice, particularly since he was clutching his chest and had a very red face about half-way around. At that point, we stopped for a bit. But then he wanted to race ahead again. Since we were holding hands, and obviously I was holding him back, he kept saying, "Mom, if you hold my hand really tightly, we can go faster!" Sadly, I think this will probably be the last year that Thing Two and I run it together, because I'm quite certain he will sprint ahead with his friends next year, like Thing One.

Both put in superlative performances. Thing One finished in the top 100 (99th, but it still counts) with a time of 10:22 (an improvement of 2:28 from two years ago), and Thing Two finished 206th in 14:14, a vast improvement of 4:01 from his time in 2007. Well done, boys.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Now I Can Feel Guilty About My Coffee

Did you know that it takes 1,120 litres of water to produce 1 litre of coffee? Taken further, that also means it takes a staggering 280 litres of water to make your morning cup of coffee. The water is needed for growing the beans, packaging them and getting them to your kitchen cupboard.

Now I have something else to add to my Things To Feel Guilty About In My Life list. It's quite long.

The Economist  published the graph above to show you how much water is needed for other everyday things you use. Read it and weep, and be sure to collect your tears to offset these thirsty products.

For the full article, go to this page on the Economist.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Night! (One Day Late)

For the first time in many years, I didn't pull an all-nighter and watch the Oscars last night. I know all five of you are disappointed. It's just that I couldn't face a day at the office after spending a whole night trying to stay awake. Let's be honest: the best thing about the Oscars is the frocks, and the occasional funny moment during the ceremony, for which you have endure four full hours of other stuff.

I did stay up and watch the red carpet, and I nearly relented and bought the special cable channel I needed at 1 a.m. so I could watch the ceremony, but I resisted. So now it is 24 hours later, I've studiously avoided all news outlets all day, and I'm watching the highlights show on Sky One, where they compress the entire ceremony into 90 minutes.

Here are my random thoughts, of both last night's red carpet, and tonight's results:

-How could you not love Slumdog Millionaire after seeing the six children who played the young Jamal, Latika and Salim? Though really I wanted to reach into my TV and smack Ryan Seacrest upside the head when he turned to youngest Latika and said, "I love your dress. Who's it from?" I'm just so sad for him.

-I just watched the "Those who've gone this year" clip job (a linchpin of every Oscar telecast) and it made me sad again when I was reminded that Paul Newman died this year. He got the honored "last one mentioned" slot, which went to Heath Ledger last year.

-I found myself intensely studying the body language of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick to see if their marriage really is on the rocks, like the magazines say. I couldn't figure it out, but I did notice that she didn't let him say who made his tux on either E! or Sky One. What, is he not allowed to talk about fashion?

-Who is Jessica Biel and why is she famous? Isn't she the one who's dating Justin Timberlake? That's all I know her for; I couldn't name one movie she's been in. By the way, I hated her dress and also want to know why it was too much trouble for her to wash her hair before the Oscars.

-Why do they treat Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie like royalty? I couldn't believe how excited the announcers where when they stepped out of their limo. What I REALLY wanted to see, but what wasn't in the highlights show (don't know if it made the full show) was a reaction shot from Brad AND Angie when Jennifer Aniston strode on stage to present the best animated feature.

-Mr. Movie (and the rest of us) all predicted that Wall-E would win, and it did. Justice has been served.

-I like how they got former winners up on stage to present the big awards. It really worked. But I don't know if this telecast was much shorter, as they hoped it would be.

-I'm with Camilla: what in the world is hanging from Angelina Jolie's ears? And I don't like her dress either. For that matter, I don't like Nicole Kidman's (her presenter) dress either. Though kudos to Angelina, but she seems genuinely pleased that Kate Winslet won. Then again, she is an actress.

-I'm starting to think this Highlights Show is the way forward. I would be on my fifth cup of coffee by now, when they present the Best Actor award.

-Michael Douglas has won an Oscar?? (A quick check of IMDB shows that he's won TWO, for "Wall Street" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.") Who knew.

-I'm glad Kate Winslet won. I wasn't sure about her dress at first, but it grew on me. Best of all, I loved her acceptance speech, especially when she asked her dad to whistle so she could find him in the crowd.

-I see that Brad and Angie got the "Jack Nicholson" seat: the one in the front row that the cameras always pan to. I guess Jack was busy.

-Why do they keep saying that "The Wrestler" is Mickey Rourke's big comeback role? Haven't they seen "Stormbreaker," released in 2006, when he played the baddie? (If you have any children under the age of 14, you should see it. It's James Bond for kids, and London looks GREAT in it.)

-I know Sophia Loren is beautiful and a legend, but she just looks really odd tonight. I don't know if she's been in the tanning booth too long or what, but she doesn't look good.

-I only saw two of the Best Picture nominees (but all of the Best Animated Features), but I loved, loved, loved "Slumdog Millionaire." I hope it gets everything, and the way it's looking now (with only two awards to go), it looks like it's going to be a romp for it.

-Gotta love that Danny Boyle channelled the "Spirit of Tigger" when accepting the Best Director Oscar. (That will make Mr. Movie especially happy, given that he is also a Tigger fan). Danny Boyle also swore on TV! He said Bloody! That's a bad word, Americans!!

-Why is Phillip Seymour Hoffman wearing a wool hat to the Oscars? Is it cold in Los Angeles?

-It's making me cry that they let all the "Slumdog" kids up on the stage when it wins Best Picture. Utterly fantastic. If you haven't yet seen it, go. It was so good (sad and horrorific and gut-wrenching, yet good at the same time), I was sad to see it end.

Until next year, when perhaps I will Live Blog the Red Carpet, but not the ceremony. Not when I can get it over and done with in 90 minutes.

Go see Slumdog.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow! Snow! Snow!

Surveying the slope.

A wayward kite gets caught in a tree.

This was on a gate this morning, but there's much, much more now.

Last night, when I didn't think it would last, we went on a snowy walk through Greenwich rather than doing our homework. It was a good choice, but only the beginning of the snow.

Superlative Snow Day

Our day started at midnight, with Mr. MarathonMum and me, sitting on the sofa cheering on the Steelers in the Super Bowl on the other side of the Atlantic. We were positive, cocky even, that the game would result in a W at that point. Three hours later, we weren't so sure. But after some fantastic work by Big Ben (the quarterback, not the clock) and the sure footedness of Santonio Holmes, the Steelers won. Before heading off to bed at 3:45 a.m. (that's some dedidation for Steeler Nation), we admired the snow outside, and it looked beautiful.

When we woke up, there was even more snow on the ground. We sang "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." I don't know who was more excited that school was closed for a snow day: me or the boys. We headed to the park and had a blast flirting with a trip to the A&E as we sledded down the steepest hill in Greenwich Park. Snow has continued throughout the day, so it's likely school will be cancelled again tomorrow.

In the movie "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray has to relive Feb. 2 over and over and over again. Can I relive this Feb. 2? It's been fantastic.

I don't know how long this fun will last, but for now, we're having a blast!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration Day 2008

Inauguration Day 2008 has come and gone. The United States has a new president, and the world waits to see what will happen.

But first, we must celebrate, and celebrate we did. As ardent Barack Obama supporters, this was a great day, albeit one that was thousands of miles away with an ocean between us from the center of the action.  Thing One and Thing Two both dressed for the occasion, with Thing One wearing his red-and-blue rugby and Thing Two wearing his red jumper with an American flag on the front. Thing Two planned to explain what it was all about to his Year 1 class, and I will forever remember him running to school, clutching a copy of the New York Times supplement with a picture of Barack Obama on the cover.

The pressure to have something to do was immense, given that nearly everyone I knew asked me what my plans for the day were. Lots of (British) friends also congratulated me, much like they did after Election Day, saying how great it was that the U.S. finally had an inspirational leader.

This was one of the rare times where the time difference actually was in our favour, since most events such as the Super Bowl and the Oscars test our allegiance and interest by making us get up in the middle of the night to watch. The BBC actually had full coverage on BBC One, but we ended up showing our national pride by watching CNN instead. With the swearing in scheduled for 5 p.m. GMT/ noon EST, that meant we'd be able to get home from school, watch the pre-game festivities, and then watch the main event. Since I usually work until 6 p.m. on Tuesday, that meant that I had to rearrange my schedule to do it, but I thought there was no way I wasn't going to watch this with them.

"This is history," I kept telling them. "You will remember this for the rest of your life." 

I thought the best way to imbed the memory would be to make them things that they loved, so I made inauguration cupcakes (with blue icing and red-and-white sprinkles) and we ate ice cream sundaes to celebrate once Obama finished his speech. 

The boys weren't impressed with the lead-up to the main event. "Why is that lady talking so long?" they asked when Dianne Feinstein made her short introduction. "Why is that big man talking?" they asked when Rick Warren gave his invocation. Finally it was time for a nervous Obama to take the oath ( Chief Justice John Roberts gave him the wrong line, making him retake the oath later) and give his speech. By this time the time the speech was over, the boys had well and truly lost interest, with Thing One figuring out how far he could jump, and Thing Two making a spaceship out of the sofa. But I loved every minute of it.

Will they remember this day for the rest of their life? I hope so, but I know I will.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Old friends

In doing some research this morning, I found this great quote from Grant Fairley:

"One of the greatest titles we can have is 'old friend.' We never appreciate how important old friends are until we are older. The problem is we need to start our old friendships when we are young. We then have to nurture and grow those friendships over our middle age when a busy life and changing geographies can cause us to neglect those friends.

Today is the day to invest in those people we hope will call us 'old friend' in the years to come."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Working Moms: What do you do all day?

A version of the "What do you do all day?" for the Working Moms (like MarathonMum) out there.

A man arrived home from work late one night after joining his colleagues for an after-work leaving drink. As he unlocked the door at 10 p.m., he found his children still awake running around the house. The husband didn't even have time to put down his suitcase before he was barraged with questions:

Child No. 1: Dad! We're hungry! What's for dinner?

Child No. 2: Dad! I have to hand in my poster collage on the ancient Olympics tomorrow. I haven't started it. Can you help me?

Child No. 3: Dad! I have P.E. tomorrow. Did you wash my shorts and t-shirt?

The father is perplexed. Why haven't the children been fed? Where is his wife?

Just then, the phone rings. It is his wife's boss. He has questions of his own. "Is she home? Why isn't the presentation done? I gave her a full two hours of notice. I know it takes an average person at least a week to get it done, but your wife is incredibly efficient. Also, has she organized the office gift yet for the co-worker who's leaving tomorrow?"

Having no answers for either his children or his wife's boss, the husband hangs up the phone and goes in search of his wife. He trips over school bags in the hallway, lunch boxes by the stairs, piles of dirty laundry in the kitchen. The kitchen still has dirty dishes from dinner the night before, as well as the breakfast dishes and coffee cups from the morning.

As he continues to stumble around the house, Child No. 3 approches him with a school lettter. "Dad? My class is in charge of the cake stall tomorrow and I need to bring in 40 fairy cakes. Can you help me make them? We need them first thing, and if I don't bring them, our class will lose the cake competition and it will be my fault."

With still no sign of his wife, he heads upstairs. The house is in total chaos. He reaches the bedroom, worried that his wife is gravely ill or unconscious due to a serious blow to the head. He opens the door, but there's still no sign of her. Eventually, he smells the faint wiff of a Jo Malone candle coming from the bathroom.

He opens the door only to find his wife blissfully relaxed in the bathtub reading Grazia magazine.

"What IN THE WORLD are you doing?" the husband thunders.

"I took the day off," the working mother replied.

What do you do all day?

For all the Moms out there. You can see from the post above this one that I've also updated this tale for all of the working Moms out there, too.

A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pyjamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog. Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess.

A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.

In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife.

He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door.

As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor.

Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.

As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pyjamas, reading a novel.

She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?'

She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?'

'Yes,' was his incredulous reply.

She answered, 'Well, today I didn't do it.'