Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Time for a Break!

Well here it is…the long awaited spring break. Actually the months have flown since Christmas but I think everyone is ready for a change in schedule, break from the routine, fresh perspective, all that good stuff.

Today we take off for Austria for the week and are very much looking forward to it. In preparation we watched “Sound of Music” last week so we can burst into song as we skip through the countryside in true Maria fashion.

I did have a moment of panic when I checked the web site of the famous Lippizaner horses, which Claire is DYING to see in their fancy show. The home page splashed red words about “horses having a cough” and “show cancellation.”

At that point the cough hadn’t bled into our week so we’ll see if the horses are up and running next Friday…

Ava finished school Thurs. at 11:10; I do wonder about the effort expended to get teachers, kids, administrators there for 2+ hours of “instruction…” But alas she did go which allowed me to have my mammogram and ultrasound (routine stuff – the former wasn’t bad; just a squashy experience with a woman who I swear was a foot shorter than me and needs a lesson in what not to say aloud to patients…to the tune of “this is difficult because you’re so small…”).

On the school side of things, Ava is the first Weber to experience the London Eye. Since I was on a bus to Van Gogh w/ a bunch of “dare you to kiss…” 2nd graders I had to opt out of the Abercorn Eye experience.

The kids had a lovely, sunny day for it, enjoyed a picnic and playtime along the Thames and it sounds like they had fun seeing Big Ben from on high.

With the 2nd graders, I must say teachers probably keep Excedrin in business. We did not have the teacher on our bus so we had some very loud, daring conversations taking place…I did intervene when the dare you to kiss…business referenced “privates.” Eight going on 14 it seems.

The conversation then turned to burps and farts. Great stuff.

Van Gogh was fabulous, though packed full of people, mostly 50+, so some canes and wheel chairs thrown in. Picture that in small rooms with INCREDIBLE works of art that everyone wants to drink in… and an influx of 2nd graders with 30 minutes to do the entire exhibit.

Oh and we weren’t the only school group.

We (the parent chaperones) were hastily thrown kid worksheets and pencils and told to have at it…one kid in my group asked, no joke, after looking at the first painting if we could leave.

(Naturally she’ll be the one kid who becomes a curator in her 30’s.)

The exhibit is fabulous and I’m dying to go back.

However, tix online/via phone are sold out so the only option is to stand in line and hope you are awarded a day of ticket, which are limited in number so you could stand in line for two hours and walk away with nothing…

My friend Allison saved the day, though. She stumbled upon a restaurant giving Van Gogh tickets away if you enjoy a 2-course lunch SO I rallied two troops and we had a lovely lunch last week. Now w/ VG tix in hand we’re set to fight the crowds!

Among other things, I also recently got to enjoy a tour of the Fuller’s Brewery in Chiswick. Lovely town, Chiswick – quaint shops, antique stores and the like.

The Brewery is immense and near the Thames, so lovely area to walk, jog etc. behind it.

We started with a little beer tasting and lunch ordering, then followed our guide through the brewery, learning how beer is made, history of the business, its evolution, etc. Here’s the Fuller’s description:

Based at the historic Griffin Brewery in Chiswick,
between the serenity of the River Thames and the hustle
and bustle of the Hogarth Roundabout, Fuller's has been
brewing quality beers and running excellent pubs since 1845.

At the end of the tour we did a bit more beer tasting, comparing their family of beers and one special holiday brew. And while I’m not a big beer drinker, I did enjoy the tasting experience and one or two brands my find their way into our fridge…
Last, we had a good pub lunch (though I think Fuller’s is better for its beer!) and headed back for the school run.

On the art end of things I was able to join a group for a tour of the Old Masters paintings at the Wallace Collection. The museum is huge, free and has something for everyone, from armor and shields to kids events to famous paintings to porcelain collections, plus a nice café.

And that same day Joe and I tried a restaurant in Notting Hill – Osteria Basilico. Fabulous food, charming interior – one I would highly recommend!

The other restaurant of interest that I hit last week after a walk of the Jewish Quarter was Rootmaster, a vegan restaurant on a double decker bus. Bizarre, I know, but very good. The bus rocked everytime anyone came upstairs, where we were perched. RM is in an eclectic part of town, great fun!

The rest of my week was filled with doctor business and Ava got out of school Thurs, so we had some down time together. Friday we swooped Claire up from school and zoomed to the zoo for a preview of the updated Rainforest Exhibit. Great tours of the upstairs with lots of monkeys, sloths, birds, toads, etc. hanging out.

Downstairs low levels of illumination for the night forest creatures and another tour guide, who gave lots of insight on various types of rats, bats and other evening critters.

We then hit the carousel and Ava’s ballet class.

And now, off to enjoy Austria for a bit!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ava's birthday

Following was written on March 12 (I'm just a bit behind the 8-ball in getting this posted!)

Ava’s Birthday!

It’s a big day at our house -- Ava turns 5!

On the agenda: cupcakes at school. I went on a mission to find the mini-versions yesterday and low and behold, Marks & Spencer came through! They must be trying to make up for the return policy confusion that so did not make my day.

Now armed with vanilla and chocolate cake, the day can begin auspiciously.

Birthdays are or course huge here; I’ve noticed that at British birthday parties the slice of cake accompanies the party-goer home. So for example at the most recent party Ava attended, everyone had ice cream after lunch, then left with goodie bag and neatly wrapped up piece of dalmation cake.

I’m not sure we’d ever get away with the waiting.

Our life post Cinderella on Ice included more work on the inside of the house. Oh if only the handyman had listened when I told him I didn’t think copious amounts of rain coming in the house was normal, even if it was the rainstorm of the year…
That said, walls are coming along nicely. I did notice myself getting loopy on all the chemicals and dust from sanding last week as I attempted some writing. Maybe I should read back over what I wrote see if makes any sense.

Last Tuesday I took my 2nd cooking class at Divertimenti; this one was a fabulous two-hour course w/ an American chef who’s made her home in London for the last 20+ years.

Her recipes were fabulous (she fed them to us for lunch) and easily accessible, she was witty and engaging and of course I left with her cookbook. I’ve already used it (bonus) plus it looks good added to my rather wimpy selection of cookbooks here.

My Bronte class has now wrapped up with the last session a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Horace Walpole exhibit.

Apparently he was the most important English collector of the 18th century, bringing together and cataloging very carefully a wide range of objects belonging to people of power, fame or wealth. i.e. a hat worn by a Cardinal, gloves belonging to King Charles II, portraits of a number of the kings (he was intent on having one of each), etc.

This exhibit pulled together a representation of the original collection, which is dispersed among private owners and museums – so some of the things we looked at included tea cups, chests, suits of armor and swords, lanterns, curios, jewelry, letters, books, a vase his cat drowned in…

From Walpole we went to lunch at a lovely English pub nearby – ambience over risotto, I’m afraid.

And I then hustled it to ASL to retrieve Claire for the resumption of horseback riding lessons. Sadly, it was no warmer than our last one in December BUT one can only put off so long what one’s child’s heart is set upon.

Bouncer was in fine form, Claire worked with Miss Sarah, stable owner, and they only started 15 minutes late. So all in all, a good experience.

In other news, last week was ASL fund raiser wine tasting. Since Joe opted out, I joined a group of ladies and one token male (we made him team captain) in tasting and guessing at various wines. It was great fun and very un-pretentious, with our master of ceremonies for the night looking and acting like Richard Simmons in a red suit.

Lots of laughter, jokes and food, not much wine, so we continued the party at a neighborhood bar. And on Friday, in between grocery run and some writing work, I beelined it down for a tour of the Royal Academy of Music’s museum. It houses very valuable violins, pianos from the early 1900’s and, currently, photos and
memorabilia regarding Weber, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Richard Strauss. Our docent for the visit was a very dramatic music librarian who ooh la la’d and rolled her eyes at everything she shared with us.

That evening we ended the week with pizza from Papa Del’s, which I must say has again impressed.

Saturday Joe and I had a day-date to the matinee Love Never Dies, sequel to Phantom of the Opera. I loved it. Top notch talent, music is fabulous though not haunting like Phantom’s (this show departs from the ethereal main character). Afterward we had a glass of wine at a lovely little wine bar near the Adelphi Theatre. Very nice date and home for lamburgers with the kids!

School-wise, the past week has been busy – Ava’s 2nd teacher/parent conference, which went very well. She seems to thrive at Abercorn; the environment is cheery and nurturing and with 14 students to two teachers, she gets plenty of attention.

Claire had a Weather the Weather concert, wherein second grade sang a number of (you guessed it) weather-related songs. Great performance, fun music and intermingled were some video shots of kids reciting poetry related to weather.

The day after the concert I got to play math games with her class for an hour. Math is far more fun in her 2nd grade class than when I went to school, I think. The everyday math ASL uses makes it more approachable, at least at this age. I do hear conflicting remarks about the program as kids reach 5th grade but since I’m not in that space...

From the math games I hightailed it to the White Chapel for a quick visit to an exhibit of photography by Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi artists. Very well done.

After all that art and culture I may need to detox with some sitcom re-runs and coors lite.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cinders, Marks & Spencer Hates Me and Construction

Cinderella on Ice was engrossing, even if it did take a lot of creative license with the storyline. When did a lovely gypsy brandishing a crystal ball come into the picture?

We had great seats so we could watch in awe at the skaters’ moves. How, for example, do these men lift women and other men and whirl them around the dance floor for minutes on end in tight turns again and again? Repeatedly for two and a half hours? And whip out double and triple axles like there’s no tomorrow?

How is all of this done perfectly, in character, while looking absolutely effortless, incredibly graceful and in sync to the music? Let’s not forget the stage is small, with props here and there and others skating at the same time. Amazing. Some of the team are former Olympiads – all were beautiful to watch.

The kids seemed to very much enjoy it; the first scene, with Cinderella’s mother fading away, clearly got to Claire, but she didn’t shed any tears throughout the remainder of the performance.

We picked a great day for Cinderella, as it was cold and rainy.

Monday found me having lunch at La Fromagerie with a friend. I’d been dying to eat at the place, which is, as the name states, known for its cheese. The shop’s cheese department is in a climate-controlled room with a limit as to how many people are in there at any given time. Baby the cheese, baby.

Anyway, La Fromagerie offers lunch on wooden tables with stools in the back of its shop, so we dined on (appropriately) cheese plates. I enjoyed every cheese served. Frankly I haven’t met a cheese I don’t like yet, though I’d prefer never to encounter those plastic-wrapped orange things they pass off as cheese at Safeway. And Velveeta is best eaten in queso. Otherwise why bother…

From there I made a quick jaunt down to Marks & Spencer to exchange some items for Claire. Upon confirming with two clerks –not one but two – I sought out the right sizes and some dinner items, then got in line.

Eventually it was my turn, and after arranging everything on the belt, that insolent clerk informed me she doesn’t do exchanges. Wherein I said two ladies upstairs had directed me otherwise…

This would be the equivalent of waiting in a Walmart line, plopping your items on the belt and then being told you had to go to customer service for your issue. SUCH a pleasant shopping experience.

Here I received no apologies, just an emphatic, no, I don’t do returns. Take it to the 3rd floor.

I expressed my dismay, then asked which till etc. I was then told first floor.
At this point I was really annoyed; clearly no one knows who does what when where or how. Time was ticking and I’m sure the people behind me thought I would pull a uni-bomber trick, as I was rather irritated and not covering it up. Maybe next time I’ll instill more fear and tell them I’m from Montana.

Against my better judgment, I purchased what was on the belt (justification: one needs to feed one’s family), gathered up my three large bags and hit the escalator.
On the first floor I was told I needed the third floor; on three the lines were lengthy and I had to bail for the school run, bags and all.

Outside I watched as my bus went by, and with all this stuff I’d planned to return, plus my new items, there was no way I was going to be able to run to the tube and get to ASL in time.

SO I grabbed a cab, only to realize a few blocks later that I’d spent the last of my cash on that cheese board lunch. As innocuously as possible I pulled out my wallet and started counting coins while monitoring the meter.

When it hit 6.50 I told the cabbie to let me out prematurely on the pretense that it was such a nice day to walk. (Actually it was the nicest weather we’d had in months.) Too bad I had to shlep all these bags…

Naturally when I retrieved Claire she dumped her bag on me. At this point I was well and truly a bag woman, and hadn’t even gotten to Ava yet.
And may I digress for a moment and ask how in the world people who aren’t in shape parent? I feel like a mountain goat on the move most days.

So that was on Monday and I haven’t had the mental energy (or time) to return to Marks & Spencer. BUT Ava’s got a deadline; she needs a skirt in a different size for her 100 day party on Friday. Thus tomorrow is d-day at M&S. I’ll go in search of smaller black skirt/pink leggings and 100 small marshmallows. (And a clerk/till that will cooperate. Wish me luck.)

Re: Ava’s fashion plans - given she rarely gets to wear anything other than the uniform, the M&S skirt is REALLY important for Friday.

In other news, the builder did show up on Monday and has been taking paint off walls, patching things up, bringing in more and more wall fix-it stuff and generally making the guest room stink to the high heavens. As long as we can open windows and close doors, bring on the home improvement program! (Especially since the kids’ shelves got put up today, too!)

Yesterday I cranked on a bunch of house stuff and slipped out mid-day for a wonderful cooking class at Divertimenti. The chef: Jennifer Joyce, who made fabulous sausage lasagna w/ taleggio cheese, buttered shrimp, teacup tiramisu and a delicious salad. I liked the cheese in the lasagna so much I marched over to Waitrose afterward and bought some.

And because yesterday was another spectacular day, Ava and I met some friends at the park before retrieving Claire. I had big plans to do the same today but the weather turned pear-shaped again. I am reminded of last year; we arrived here in early March and I remember freezing all month. In fact, I’ve gotten a ton of use out of my long sleeved, long legged, insulated exercise gear that I purchased the first week I was here in 2009…

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India