Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, June 20, 2009


What’s new with us…

Summer has started though it’s been a bit of a disjointed year so it doesn’t really feel like summer yet. Plus the weather isn’t HOT like Texas and North Carolina so I guess I keep expecting summer to come sometime down the road. (I’ll probably get into the summer swing in late August…)

With regard to weather, it’s been very pleasant here– sunny for the most part, 70’s and 80’s during the day, cool enough to throw open the windows at night, let in a few moths (no screens…Lord knows why not – they could help keep some of the dust and dirt, insects etc. out…)

It did POUR the other night, hail and the whole 9 yards, thus testing the roof. I’m happy to report it no longer leaks.

This past weekend Joe and I checked out a new part of town for dinner – Highgate. The UK Good Food Guide led us to The Bull, a popular neighborhood gastropub.
Great food, nice ambience…I enjoyed a wonderful slow cooked short rib, what Joe had escapes me.

On Saturday we took the kids to the Queen’s birthday parade, an annual event that is celebrated in June, though her birthday is actually in April.

It was a gorgeous day; we finally got to see the horses we’d spied several times out practicing for their part in the Royal parade.

The area of course was jam packed but we eventually lit upon a spot that we could perch the kids on a rail for viewing. Therein they got a decent view, we experienced what we could on tip toe.

As we waited we could see guards in their red and black outfits with tall black hats posted here and there. Several hovered at the end of the road the queen was expected to bolt out of w/ her entourage.

Eventually she did just that; a group of horses, dark brown and shiny clean with riders in regal attire came whipping out, followed by the queen in her carriage. She swept through quickly, dressed in bright blue, with a big smile on her face.

She was followed by more horses, dignitaries and a corps of musicians playing and riding at the same time. (That was the most impressive aspect of the parade: trumpeters making lovely music while maintaining formation in a most majestic fashion…on energetic horses in front of a huge crowd. Nothing like multi-tasking.)

The Queen then swept around the circle again, this time at a more relaxed pace, same entourage making the trip around a 2nd time.

This event is actually known as Trooping the Colour, held yearly in honor of her official birthday. (It’s held every June, the month of her coronation in 1953.) Since the early 18th century, each regiment's colours (two flags or banners) were paraded before its own troops so that soldiers would recognise and rally to them in battle. And this tradition continues, nowadays for the benefit of the Queen who then receives a royal salute. At the close of proceedings she returns to Buckingham Palace in a carriage and appears on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to wave to the crowds and watch a fly-past of RAF and occasionally other planes.

On the way home we stopped for a quick bite, then relaxed in our lovely communal garden and enjoyed the backyard grill.

On Sunday we hit Ava’s school fun fair, another lovely day to be outside. Face painting and all kinds of kid friendly activities.

And again, we took advantage of the nice weather and grill. (I’ve been told by Londoners that when the weather is nice, drop everything and get outside. We’re all over that. Who cares what state the house is in? It will no doubt be rainy enough soon enough that vacuuming and such will eventually get done. If not, who the hell cares?!?)

On Monday Claire tripped off to camp – outdoor recreational activities at a park used by the American School. I took advantage of the time to check out the Wallace Collection, a lovely private art gallery.

Tuesday I was on a mission to find shorts. And as any woman knows, as soon as one goes on a mission specifically to find clothing, it simply doesn’t happen.
(And no, I’m not dying of heat in London, but we will hit warmer climes later this summer so I’d like to have something comfortable to wear other than my Target jogging shorts.)

Wednesday found me at the British Museum for the Garden and Cosmos – Royal Paintings of Jodhpur. The exhibit features two separate types of painting popular in the Jodhpur region between 1725 and 1843. The paintings, created for the personal pleasure of the rulers of Jodhpur, represent the spiritual, political and aesthetic preferences of three generations of the Jodhpur court.

I enjoyed it very much, having seen many similar miniature paintings and demonstrations of these techniques in India.

The British Museum is immense – it will be a multi-year project to check the place out.

The other highlight of my day was dinner out with parents from Ava’s class. We gathered in honor of her teacher, who is getting married in July. Dinner was lovely, plenty of wine to celebrate the happy couple. And it was in a restaurant next to a wine shop I’ve discovered; they deliver if you buy a case (delivery is key for our urban lifestyle sans car). Thus it’s been fun to mix and match wines. And drink them, of course. Life is short.

Given her classmates are from various parts of the world, it's fun to spend time w/ the parents...people from Pakistan, India, Australia, the Middle East, Japan, Wales, England, Canada. I'm fascinated to hear various experiences.

On Thursday Ava had her concert, wherein she dressed as an elephant. She joined her elephant friends, monkey friends, lion friends, penguin friends and a couple of aliens to put on a musical show with poems sprinkled throughout. Very well done, cute and all kids – save one – seemed to thoroughly enjoy the performance. (It goes without saying that we parents were captivated.)

Yesterday I waited for the plumber to come – 3rd attempt to get the guest shower up and running. We’ll see if 3rd time is a charm when it comes to plumbing. The poor man is from the Czech Republic or Hungary or somewhere wherein I get some of what he tells me, but really, I'm not a pipe afficianado so I have a hard time reading between the lines to understand what he can and can't fix. Then when he just up and walked out the door without so much as good-bye let alone an update, I'm really at a loss.

All I know is this: all guests planning to use the guest shower better bring a hose to connect to the sink.

My big accomplishment for the day was to (happily) cut BT off direct debit; the company had set up 4 different direct debit programs into our account as a result of all their mistakes with our orders. Now we’ll see if they’ll cancel the extra charges for broadband that never functioned…

We ended the week with our Friday night date, this time met up w/ a friend for drinks at his house, then dinner at a busy, fun Greek restaurant. Great night out, and today our outing was to Covent Garden to just hang out and be entertained by street performers, eat jacket potatoes and peruse the market. A little paper-reading, R&R and the day is gone…

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Roof fixed?

Ok since I last wrote I believe the roof is fixed. (Haven't had the rain test yet.) The roofer who was supposed to come at 9 showed up at 11:45. But he did show up. This is always a good thing, especially on a rainy Monday.

I've decided construction/contractors/delivery people/plumbers/cable guys etc. are pretty much the same everywhere: on their own schedule. And even though they're generally very well wired -- more attached to mobiles than my husband is to a blackberry -- they don't bother to call. No reaching out to touch someone to let them know they'll be late...that they're leaving you high and dry, etc.

I will say this: I liked my dealings with the cable and phone people in the US better. (The roof guy, though late, was very polite, apologetic and seeming equipped to do the job.)

With regard to cable, three attempts at installation later, it still works. I do continue to wonder if good TV exists anywhere or if it will continue to elude me all my life. Maybe in heaven?

(I say that but I did let the kids wallow in TV for a couple days; why not? In India they could get Mickey Mouse in Hindi, and CNN just isn't that much fun for the 4 and 7 year old crowd.)

On the phone side, I signed us up for the 15 pound a month plan -- unlimited calls in the UK and many countries (US included) for up to one hour. (Hit 59 minutes, hang up, re-dial, free.)

So after burning up the phone lines (well let's be realistic here, I rarely call anyone, so that would be the J-O-E making calls) for 2+ months (yes the bill finally came, then gathered dust for a few days until I was able to get past my animosity toward BT to open said bill) I was more than vexed (great word, isn't it?) to find we'd been charged for every XXXXX'ing call to the U.S.

Again I found myself on the phone w/ BT, again they told me they'd have to look into the issue and resolve it no later than within 3 business days.

Now that 4 business days have passed, I took it upon myself to phone up old BT again and was told I may receive confirmation of crediting my account within 48 hours. Hmmm. I am not holding my breath.

Meanwhile I've once again ordered the "call the world 15 pound plan" (that would be my name for the thing, not BT's) and of course was told it would take 24 hours to take I'm scared to call my neighbors for fear I'll be charged for that too.

(Why do I persist w/ BT, you ask? Well, if I kill the phone line, broadband will go down, then there will be a big delay while I order phone from another provider and get my migration authorization code, then I'll have to re-order broadband, which will be another 7 business days...)

Stuff designed to make ex-pat spouses crazy.

In other news, Claire is done with school and the entire place is clearing out. I'm amazed at how many ex-pat families go to the US for 6+ weeks! Frankly I'm not going to live in the UK long, most likely, so I'd like to enjoy my time here when the weather is somewhat warm and the sun might shine. (Plus there is this detail about wanting to see my husband, having a house here, the opportunity to travel/sight see, not live out of a suitcase for 2 months...)

Now we will take advantage of summer to visit our families, as usual, in August. Best time to visit Montana (and Wisconsin...though one rainy week there a few years ago did suck).

On the banking front, I continue to be amazed at how "global" our world is...yet one can't get a check drawn in Indian rupees into a UK bank account.

The weather smiled on Ava today as she headed off w/ her class to the Hundred Acre Wood park. They all looked for Tigger and darn it all couldn't find him.

Ava cracks me up. Next week she has to dress up as an elephant (MaryJo, fly over and help me come up w/ a costume; I'm inept at this stuff). Claire's suggestion: borrow one of Joe's gray shirts to wear, then create a trunk using paper and gray paint.

Ava digested this suggestion and a while later told me quite seriously that "I am a small child."

This led to Dad being big, dad's shirt being too big and can she wear my gray shirt instead? Now this gray shirt did shrink in the laundry machine (though I've yet to figure out how since nothing ever gets completely dry in that contraption, despite it cycling forever...wonder how much electricity it eats?), but last time I checked it's not going to fit a 4-year-old that much better than her father's...

And on the topic of size, Ava equates larger people with strength. Thus one of her teachers is REALLY strong. And I'm happy to say she thinks Joe is much stronger than me.

Re: Claire these days...she's decided she'll never drive a car, will live in London as an adult and have at least one dog. Oh and she'll adopt a child, a girl, who is 6 years old. No babies. No siblings because they'd fight too much.

A voracious reader, the chapter she's most interested in in the Animal Kingdom book is the one on reproduction...isn't this stuff supposed to be covered in health class in 5th grade?

No other late breaking news on the Weber front other than tube strike was on yesterday and today, so Joe worked from home yesterday and cabbed it down to his office today. We'll see where the strike nets out tonight, as tube was supposed to be running at 7.

With the tube down, I just logged a couple more miles than a typical day, so of course I have calluses on top of calluses. A pedicurist's dream.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I’ve decided the calendar has taken on a life of its own. It’s now June?

Claire didn’t have school on Monday (sometimes it feels like there are as many days on as there are off at ASL…plus she gets out an hour early every Wed. So far I’ve managed to remember that one day a week I pick up at 1:50 instead of 2:50…I’m told nearly every parent has walked the walk of shame as their child waits patiently in the school office on Wednesday afternoon…)

But I digress.

Our teeth cleaning plans were thwarted (it’s been a while since we’ve had those babies scrubbed, so with recommendation for good hygienist in hand – though I’m told avoid the dentist in that practice like the plague – I’d made appointments).

Now it is worth mentioning that of course the US has the reputation for dentistry and orthodontics, and of course our dentist in NC (who I dearly love and who has 4 children and who filled one of my teeth w/ Ava sitting on my lap) did put the fear of God in me – which I must say takes an act of God as it is since I’m the antithesis of worry -- to only entrust our teeth to American trained dentists and whatever we do don’t let them put steel bars or fillings or some God awful things into Claire’s teeth has been ingrained…)

ANYWAY hygienist had a family emergency so we dropped Ava off at school and Claire and I went to Rascals, an indoor play area she loves. She played her heart out, we ate at McDonald’s (again Claire’s choice) and shopped.

That is, I shopped. There’s a great little shop whose window I pass and admire frequently. (It’s on the path to Sainsbury and Waitrose, the work horse grocery store and the upscale market, in that order.)

Anyway, today I was enticed to spend money.

And may I just say I had so much fun?!? Claire dove into 2 books we’d picked up earlier while I tried on clothes. The ladies in the shop, who always look so pulled together in a cool way, put me in a big room in the back and pulled out all kinds of mix/match casual stuff.

I tried tons of stuff on and actually got real feedback: “that would work great with XXX”, “that doesn’t do anything for you,” “this is a good color for you but if it’s not your style, bag it”…etc.

Quite a contrast from India’s dressing rooms, where it’s generally 18 year old men who provide assistance. And pretty much limited to “different size?” (Though once I tried on a fitted shirt – made in Germany or somewhere other than India – given most garments for women there aren’t fitted. Anyway, I asked the two women sales assistants what they thought and both immediately said the shirt was too small. I suppose in their way of dressing it was; they like everything blousy.)

Again I get off topic. This is what happens when you haven’t had enough coffee.

After trying on a pile of summer garb (stuff that can be layered because Lord knows London’s summer isn’t a Texas or North Carolina experience) I did extract a few items I liked and Claire and I went in search of duck.

Having never cooked duck, I decided it would be on the menu at Chez Weber.

Duck in hand, we went in search of Ava, who is generally all smiles after her big days at Abercorn, but en route to the house either picks a fight of falls apart emotionally from hunger.

She eats at the cafeteria for lunch but sometimes I think her declarations that “I ate my whole lunch” are a bit subjective in nature. That, coupled with the fact that she’s my hit and miss breakfast child (some days it’s two bites of toast and a piece of cheese, some days it’s a bite or two of a brioche), that her snack option for school has to be fruit or vegetable (which I applaud but hello no protein to hold a growing 4 year old down) and that she’s a growing, active little soul, leaves the poor kid ravenous at 3:00 every day.

After loading her up on salami, cheese and crackers (Mom, remember the same after school snack you gave us?), we again achieve some level of pleasant behavior. Though not always; sibling rivalry is alive and well in my house. Those people who say “my kids don’t fight” – are they normal?

So that was Monday.

Tuesday I had a cool outing – I met up with the St. Johns Woods Womens Club for one of two final hurrahs this week: viewing of a documentary called Goal Dreams. Produced in 2006, it follows the challenges of the Palestinian national soccer team preparing for a decisive match that, if they won, would qualify them for the 2006 World Cup.

The co-producer and co-director, Maya Sanbar, was on hand at the Covent Garden Hotel, where we watched the film, to introduce it and to answer questions afterward.

It’s a great work, provides a better understanding of the political issues and constrained way of life in Palestine while keeping one engaged through the universal language of sport. If you have a chance to see it, do.

(And may I also note I’m not the biggest documentary watcher, though I know there are, particularly now, many great ones out there – frankly I’ve watched so few movies in the last two years that I always feel like I just want to lose myself in some great light hearted American movie…) Not to worry. When I’m more homebound (doesn’t that sound inviting) I’m sure I can log some hours on the couch.

ANYWAY Goal Dreams is available on Apparently many universities in the U.S. have adopted it into curricula for greater understanding of the Middle East conflict. I love that word, conflict. Implies a disagreement between two people over what restaurant to select.

Maya’s produced other films, many award winners. This one received accolades at various film competitions and incorporates humor, profiles specific members of the team, using characters/situations as metaphors for what’s going on in the world at large.

That’s my ad for today.

After Goal Dreams I had enough time to zip down to Borough Market, near London Bridge, which I’ve been dying to hit since arrival (it’s a huge market that comes alive Thurs-Sat. – foodie heaven – surrounded by plenty of cafes, shops and restaurants).

Tues. was the last day of the Spanish Food festival, a spin off of the street fest we’d hit on Sunday. I wandered through, sampled some great cheeses, sausages, passed on the tongue soup – it just didn’t look that good, though judging from the line it must have had some pop to it – and had a late lunch of grilled sausage before picking up my children.

And preparing the infamous duck.

Which was a hit at our house. (Claire discovered a passion for grilled duck at the Crowne Plaza in India – Wildfire’s got good duck. And shrimp and beef and lamb and everything else. They should; their bills have “imported food flown in by private jet” written all over them.

Wednesday Claire had the infamous bug bash at school. ASL first graders all came to school in bug costumes to put on a bug-song concert for parents, followed by bug-related refreshments (think spider cupcakes and butterfly cookies).

Since it was my final day of Ancient Britain class (field trip out to St. Albans) I was missing from the bug crowd but Joe attended and ASL is naturally providing DVDs of the event. (The level of resources the school has astounds me. As does the tuition. Thank heavens Bank of America writes that check and double thanks for Joe’s hard work).

St. Albans rocks – it’s the oldest town in Hertfordshire, north of London. First it was known as Verlamion, a Celtic Iron Age Settlement (Verlamion means “the settlement above the Marsh”).

After the Roman’s conquest of Britain in AD 43 the town became known as Verulamium and was one of the largest in Roman Britain. In AD 410, when the Roman army departed, it fell into decline.

From its ruins the new monastic and market settlement of St. Albans was developed on the hill above the city, near the site of St. Alban’s execution (he was the first British Christian martyr). A Saxon settlement grew up and around the Monastery, which was founded in AD 900-950, by Abbot Ulsinus, founder of St. Albans.

The town prospered during the Middle Ages and into the 18th and early 19th centuries, with industries such as brewing and straw hat manufacturing. With the advent of the railway it developed into a modern city and was given that status (City) in 1877. At that time the Abbey Church became a Cathedral.

So that’s the overview on St. Albans.

Our first stop was the Cathedral, which is a really cool place to visit and has some beautiful features but is a bit of a mish mash (understatement of the year) architecturally so when it’s all put together, the effect isn’t one of great beauty, at least in my mind.

BUT it is very interesting, very big and clearly represents changes in art/architecture and leadership (both secular and non-secular) throughout the ages.
Our tour guide was a little old American man originally from Rhode Island but has been at St. Albans for 55 years. He’s now an Abbot at the Cathedral. His depth of knowledge on the place seemed bottomless.

A few highlights from our tour:

- The cathedral is built on what is believed to be the site of the martyrdom of St Alban. The hill upon which it stands overlooks the valley of the river Ver, beyond which lie the buried ruins of the Roman city of Verulamium.

- The Cathedral’s nave is the longest of any in England – 275 feet.
- An earthquake shook the abbey in 1250 and damaged the eastern end of the church – miraculously no one was hurt.
- St. Albans’ remains are believed to be at the Cathedral; they were removed to Germany by monks to preserve them and were later returned to the shrine.

From St. Albans we went to see Roman ruins – an ancient theatre. It was built in 140 AD, “the only example of its kind in Britain” -- a theatre with a stage rather than an Amphitheatre. Initially, the arena would have been used for anything from religious processions and dancing, to wrestling, armed combat and wild beast shows.

From about 180AD the stage came into greater use and the auditorium extended. By about 300AD, after some redevelopment work, the Theatre could seat 2000 spectators.

The ruins one can see today were unearthed in 1847. Subsequent excavations have revealed a row of shop foundations, a Roman Villa and a secret shrine, all thought to date from the First Century.

Post-theatre (which was surrounded by lovely green fields and a few sheep inhabitants) we headed to lunch at another great pub. (Our fearless leader, Alice, knows how to pick great lunch spots.)

This time it was the Red Lion, which had a warm atmosphere, plenty of woodwork and excellent lunch fare.

From there we hit the Verulamium Museum – self described as the “award winning museum of everyday life in the Roman city of Verulamium.” Of course it’s an award winner in the Verulamium category; how many Verulamiums are there?

Great museum, great day out with the Ancient Britain folks.

In other news, I spent Thursday waiting on the plumber. This would be the 2nd attempt to fix the water pressure issue in the guest bedroom. To no avail. Maybe 3rd time will be a charm.

Miracle of miracles, though, Sky broadband came through as promised on Friday. Without blood sweat and tears and dozens of calls. Let’s hope it lasts.

Friday I had a quick cup of coffee with the St. Johns Woods women as we prepare to part for the summer – several members are headed home or to other parts of the world, so it was a bit of a send off. From there I headed to the National Gallery for ‘Picasso: Challenging the Past,’ which was winding down its last days in London.

It’s a GREAT exhibit – I was there for 2 ½ hours – the gist: exploring the ways Picasso explored the Old Masters, creating his own works in response to their styles.

To cap off Friday Joe and I went to Les Miserables, one of the best theatre productions I’ve seen. It captivated both of us and I’d like to see it again. And again.

Sat. we hit the Science Museum, which is immense. Ava, Claire and I spent a couple of hours just in the basement, met Joe for lunch, then parted company as Ava had a birthday party to attend.

She and I nearly met with disaster as, upon entering the tube, the doors slammed shut between us. I stood there mute trying to figure out how I was going to reconnect with my 4-year-old in one of the world’s largest cities as the tube whisked her off to Lord knows where with a bunch of strangers wherein she wouldn't be able to communicate where we lived, phone #, there are only how many people named Weber in the world...

So there we were, Ava crying on her side of the dirty glass while I tried desperately to pry two doors that clearly cannot be pried apart.

My savior was a 30-some year old man with brown hair and glasses who scooped Ava up to comfort her as she’d bruised her arm in the door trying to get back out when she realized I wasn’t on board. He had the presence of mind to hit a button inside and as if by magic the door flew open, I flung myself in and poor Ava howled.

Let’s just say we made quite the entrance on that car.

Then as the train lurched and I crouched, comforting her, we both tumbled to the floor, unhurt. But again quite the spectacle.

Despite that moment of crisis, Ava had a ball at the birthday party.

And today was just a delightfully lazy, rainy day. We woke up to thunder and a heavy storm…and a leaky roof. One of those times when you're thrilled not to own the place, BUT it is still a bit of a problem when the hallway carpet is soaked and there’s a steady drip drip drip coming from the attic. I wonder what it looks like up there?!? Not to worry; builder has been summoned so will let him find out how wet it is (given we have nothing stored up there, my worry quotient is low).

On an aside: is it me or is storing stuff in the attic just a pain in the neck? It’s an act of God to get it up there, an act of God to get it down and climate control simply doesn’t exist. In my mind it's purgatory for stuff you don't need.

Here’s to a sunny day tomorrow.

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India