Thursday, 31 May 2007

Is Gas Expensive?

My father has always marvelled at how much we in the UK are willing to pay for a gallon of fuel. Nowadays, petrol and diesel are roughly the same price (at least in the UK). We pay £1/litre. There are ~4 litres in a gallon. That works out to £4/gallon. Given the current exchange rate that is ~$8/gallon. So stop complaining about $3!


Here is a funny little article about the price of gasoline in the USA and what you might be willing to pay (or not).

Sushi is a Favourite

I just read this article in the NYTimes (online edition). One Word: Amen!

We have friends who cook separate meals for thie children. I've never quite gotten that. I don't have time. And I won't pay for that. My children eat what we eat. If they don't like it, there is always breakfast. As a result, Sebastian's favourite food is sushi. Abigail likes spicy food. They both love tacos. Neither of them are fans of curry. Seb is a fan of lamb and Abigail loves fish (any and all).

We try to include them in the meal planning. So they choose spaghetti or pizza a couple times a month. But they eat almost all vegetables. With the exception of peas and brussels sprouts which I refuse to cook because I can't stand the smell or taste.

We have the occasional night out for Marc and I and one these evenings I serve up some fish fingers. The children do love them. But it is not the mainstay of their diet!

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Children in the Workplace

This week is half-term for school children. And my childminder took a week of holiday and went to Turkey with her family with a weeks notice. So, Marc & I are trying to juggle child care and work.

Yesterday I solved the problem of having meetings in the morning by taking Sebastian to my office with me. We packed up his little Power Rangers backpack with his Nintendo DS Lite and some games, some coloured pencils and some puzzle books. We dressed him in a smart looking shirt (blue button down) and chinos - the corporate uniform. We combed his hair so that it was flat.

On the drive to the office you could feel his excitement buzzing out of the back seat. Wish I felt that excited about going to work every day. We went through the "Behaviour Drill". These are the rules of best behaviour:

1. Remember to say please and thank you.
2. Use your inside voice.
3. Shake people's hand when you meet them.
4. Speak clearly and look people in the eye when they talk with you.
5. No running around like a crazy maniac.

I was just hoping for adherence to number 5. Although I would like to do that some days at the office.

He walked across the parking lot holding my hand. He was very impressed with the lift (elevator). He got to press the required button for my floor. He liked the idea of my security card access and thought we should put those on all the doors at home. He was super impressed with my desk. I was just impressed to have a desk that day.

My first meeting was just at my desk with one other person and Sebastian was happy to play with his Nintendo next to me. My next meeting was in a conference room with 10 other people. When we walked into the meeting room, Sebastian turned red and collapsed behind my chair. He was scared to death. I suddenly viewed the situation through the eyes of a 5 year old.

There were 9 big (tall) people (all men, not unusual in my company) looking very serious and self-important dressed in shirts and ties. Not a smile among them. No one was happy to be there.

I quickly got out his coloured pencils, grabbed some flip chart paper and sat on the floor with him. The meeting started and Sebastian sat on the floor happily drawing what he later described as a cowboy bear. He didn't interrupt once. Never said a word. And I conducted the meeting sitting on the floor. Whole new perspective!

I went to the next meeting with just 3 of my colleagues. One of my colleagues brought Sebastian some apple juice. Another colleagues gave him a chair and a place at the table. He drew for the next hour whilst we merrily conducted our business. Occasionally, one of my colleagues would shown an interest in what he was doing and he would politely (if a bit slowly)describe what he was drawing. Then he would carry on. And so would we.

The highlight of my day was when we went to lunch together in our canteen (cafeteria). Sebastian made friends with the cafeteria staff and he got some chips (french fries). I got a sandwich and some crisps (potato chips). We got our drinks. He showed me where the ketchup was. I never knew before!

And then we sat a chatted about the day so far. I never do that. I very rarely even break for lunch. Oh, I know everything I read says I should but quite frankly, there are a lot of things I should do every day that I don't. Like floss. Sitting there with my son and sharing his perspective on his morning in my office was exhilarating. He said I talk to a lot of people. And I sound really clever. He said it looks like I work really hard.

Mostly, I was just proud of him beyond belief. Today, I've gotten voicemail and email from colleagues who met him yesterday telling me what an extraordinary individual he his and how happy they were to meet him. Well, duh! What did you expect?

I think we should all take our children into the office with us periodically. Let them see what this place is that demands so much time and attention away from them. After my father retired from horse racing he drove a long haul truck. He delivered swinging beef from Denver to Chicago. Not sure what came back in the trailer. He took me with him once. I never realised how hard he worked til then.

But it was a dangerous job. Trucks are involved in horrific road traffic accidents. He was in one once where 3 teenagers died. He got mugged at gun point once in Chicago. Truck stops were full of dodgy characters and he didn't want to take me to the men's room and he didn't want me to go to the ladies on my own. I was angry with him for only letting me go with him only once. He took my brothers with him much more often. But he could take them into the men's room with him he said. I didn't get that then. I soooo get that now.

Luckily, my job is not dangerous, although those 9 men in the conference room certainly left Seb with the impression that it might be. Take your children (or someone else's) to work with you. Show them what you do. They will enrich your day!

Village Life

We live in an under rated and vitually undiscovered village that tends to be perceived as a place people drive through to get to Windsor or Staines. There is this really horrible straight road that is really quite sad looking. But if you stray on to either side of this road you find loads of wonderful places and a village teaming with life.

Our village was recently awarded some funding from the government to help us with some village renewal projects. Marc, along with our neighbour, Gill, is on the village committee for evaluating and allocating these funds to the various proposed projects. The trouble is Marc is easily the youngest member of the committee (probably by almost 20 years). Demographically, our village is skewed towards the older generation as over 60% of the population is over 60 but I just don't understand why more people with young families don't want to get involved. If I appeal to the greedy side of us, any estate agent will tell you the most important component of the value of your home is location, location, location. Isn't in your best interest to make your village the best it can be? I truly don't understand why more young families don't get involved. I know everyone has time demands on them but there are few other items that could possibly take a higher priority than your community and involvement in it. Or maybe I'm just a freak (entirely possible).

A pedestrian area was recently built next to some shops. Traffic has been routed around the area and yet on any given night you will see citizens (young and old) of the village ignoring the pedestrian warning signs and driving hell bent for leather right through the centre of our new pedestrian area. Why? Well, it might save them 4 seconds on their journey. Or they might kill a child crossing the road.

Next weekend is our Village Fair. There will be a donkey derby and fireworks on Friday night. The donkey derby is hysterically funny. On Saturday morning there will be a parade which Abigail's Preschool will take part in. She will be sitting on a float. I have to dress her up as a nursery rhyme character. Any ideas? What does Little Miss Muffet wear?

We go to the corner shop for a pint of milk and we know people. We wave. We chat. We complain about the weather. We have a bobby on the beat (police officer), Nick. We know him by name. He knows us. He knows our children. We made a point of it. That way, if he sees anything suspicious he can come to us....well, that's my reasoning any way. Windsor didn't have that feel to it. It was full of young commuters who got up in the morning at 5 am to commute into London and didn't return home until 7 pm. They were away on the weekends and didn't have gardens to work in anyway. So we never met them.

I love my village. And I'm glad we are involved in shaping its future. What have you done for your community lately?

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Grandmother's Cooking

Someone must be listening to my ramblings about missing my grandmother's cooking. Look at this webiste. Wish I had thought of that! I haven't tried any of the recipes but I have subscribed to the podcasts via iTunes. I'll report back on what I find!

Bounced Check

Shown below, is an actual letter sent to a bank by an 86 year old woman in the USA. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the New York Times.

Dear Sir:

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally answer your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on I choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate. Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, at MY convenience, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further.When you call me, press buttons as follows: IMMEDIATELY AFTER DIALING, PRESS THE STAR (*) BUTTON FOR ENGLISH!

#1. To make an appointment to see me

#2. To query a missing payment.

#3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.

#4. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.

#5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.

#6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home .

#7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated to you at a later date to that Authorized Contact mentioned earlier.

#8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7.

#9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

#10. This is a second reminder to press* for English.

While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, music noise will play for the duration of the call. Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous New Year.

Your Humble Client


Thanks to my step mother, Elaine, for sending this to me. I am still laughing!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Memorial Day (USA)

"That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion."
These iconic words delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg embody the true meaning of Memorial Day: to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. Each member of the Armed Forces swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution. The unspoken part of that oath is the willingness to lay down one's life to protect our liberties. Our freedom is not free, and the sacrifices of service men and women throughout history stand as constant, powerful reminders of the price. President Lincoln said, "to truly honor these heroes, we must steadfastly resolve to continue their noble fight against all who would threaten our way of life."
On behalf of the Joint Chiefs and the men and women of the armed forces, I join all Americans in paying tribute to those who gave their lives in service to our country. We are eternally grateful for their selfless sacrifice, and honored to carry on their precious legacy.
-Marine Gen. Peter Pace
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
5/25/2006

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Dad!

Science Museum



OK, first of all, let me say if you are trying to access my blog using http://www.ladawn.co.uk/ you are probably experiencing some difficulties. I apologise for this. We are in discussion with my domain hosting service and will be making a change shortly. If you have been able to get here you might want to book mark http://clare-panton.blogspot.com/. That proves a bit more reliable in the short term.

Secondly, here in the UK we are drowning. It has been raining cats and dogs since midday Saturday. there are several flood warnings and watches although the River Thames does not currently have any warnings and we are not at present in any threat of danger.

Thirdly, the weather is causing havoc for our 3 day weekend. We had plans to go camping but saw the weather forecast and abandoned that plan. Quite sensibly. We had hoped for at least some long walks. But unless we want to get soaked and chilled to the bone we have decided to give that a miss as well.

Yesterday we decided to go to the Science Museum in London. Along with a gazillion other people with children all descending on the capital city for a bit of diversion.
There was a queue to get in. We stood there in the rain with all of our brollies (umbrellas). the queue moved quickly. then we stood in another line for the SpyMaster exhibit. We paid an exorbitant fee of £28 (~$50) for the 4 of us. The exhibit was so crowded we couldn't really participate in any of the computer games. Most of the exhibit was targeted at older children so Seb and Abby were not impressed. We walked round the rest of the crowded museum and tried to enjoy ourselves.

Seb liked the oldest Steam Locomotive. Abigail was not impressed with the space rockets. We then found a patterns exhibit targeted for 3-8 year olds and this was nirvana. Seb spent his entire time trying out the solving puzzles with magnetic shapes. Abigail rain from place to place. She especially liked the dancing bit that showed your form with lights on a screen. I was amazed at how quickly she learned to operate the touch screen exhibits to make shapes and patterns on a big screen in front of her. Marc and I sat on a bench and just let her wear herself out running around!

We left exhausted and stopped for some sushi at Yo Sushi at Fulham Broadway (a groovy part of London). Abigail fell asleep in the car. Seb was shattered so we skipped bath time and they went straight to bed about 1/2 hour past normal bedtime.

This morning we awoke to more rain and gale force winds ripping through the garden. God only knows what we will do to keep from driving each other crazy!

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Making Friends

On Friday night, we went out for dinner at our local pizzeria. Sebastian had made quite a good friend with our usual waiter. he was gutted when we arrived to find out that the waiter no longer worked there. He got really sad.

The manager of the restaurant called over one of the other waiters who desperately tried to cheer Seb up by asking him about football. Seb has absolutely no interest in football so this simply didn't work. The waiter introduced himself as Nick and then he asked Seb if he wanted to make a special pizza.

Seb was no longer grumpy. He went back into the kitchen with Nick and got some pizza dough which he brought to the table. Nick brought over a bowl full of veg and showed Seb how to make the pizza dough flat.

And together they made a face. Out of pizza dough and veg. And our children had a blast! And Seb made a new friend. What a fab way to start a long weekend. Thanks for the kindness of the people at Punto's in Old Windsor!

May Photo Album









Cosmetic Surgery

I don't get the whole thing with cosmetic surgery or the obsession with appearances. Where is the obsession with a person's mind? Shouldn't what an individual have to contribute to a debate mean a whole bunch more than how they look?

Now, I know I will get it in the neck for this post. And I do differentiate cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery. Plastic surgery is that which is required for medical purposes. Severely disfigured people and even breast reductions to relieve back pain are wholly excusable. What I'm talking about here is cosmetic surgery solely for the purposes of looking better, looking younger, looking like gravity and toxins doesn't exist in your world.


Too often, we are guiltly of judging a book by its cover. We elect our politicians based on how they look. I have heard that JFK won the Nixon-Kennedy televised debate simply because he wore makeup and Nixon didn't. A lot has been made of John Edwards fussing with his hair for an extravagantly long time before a television interview. I would too, if what I was about to say wasn't going to be heard if a hair was distractingly out of place.


We are born. Our skin is soft and for the most part absent of blemish. We enter childhood and the sunshine adds freckles. We enter puberty and hormones add spots. Sometimes disease like chicken pocks leave scars. We run into things or get hit by things that add scars. As women, we become fixated with using beauty products to alter what we look like when we wake up in the morning. Some women are unrecognizable without their makeup.


And then we age. Women, and increasingly men, spend a vast sum of money on anti-ageing creams. I'm talking billions of dollars. This article talks about the green impact of all those beauty products.


What's wrong with showing your age? Doesn't the appearance of wrinkles indicate that you're not as naive and idealistic as you used to be? Don't the hands of an old woman make you appreciate all she has done with her life and the struggles she has survived? You'll see the caption on my blog profile picture says "Wrinkles are Wisdom". I believe this.


Whilst I appreciate the enthusiasm of youth, I tend to bow to the wisdom of experience. Besides I am very suspicious of these people who tell me they have no time for reading when they are immaculately groomed. Although I do have profound respect for those people who manage both! Looking beatufiul and young takes time, money, and dedication. Do you know how much a face scrub costs? And is it seriously painful. And the risks involved are enormous.


Imagine if all the money spent on cosmetic surgery in the US alone was sent to New Orleans, LA. I bet we could rebuild that city! Isn't that a higher priority?


We all have to die of something. Believe it or not, life is terminal. Sometimes the good die far too young. And the bad live way to long. We can't change that. It is what it is. We can strive to find cures for diseases and we can aim to live healthy lifestyles. But ultimately we are all going to die. The sooner we make peace with this, the better. And what is wrong with showing the journey of life in our faces, our necks, our hands, our bodies?

Friday, 25 May 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

Marc & I went to the cinema last night. We saw the second film in a 2 part series directed by Clint Eastwood about the battle on the island of Iwo Jima off the coast of mainland Japan during the second World War. We saw the first film, Flags of our Fathers, last month, which told the story from the American perspective.

Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story from the Japanese perspective and is entirely in Japanese with subtitles. Normally, this would be me off. Not that I mind subtitles. But my husband is dyslexic and he finds subtitled films really difficult and not enjoyable. Because we found so much satisfaction from the first film, he agreed to give the second one a go.

We were not disappointed. This is an incredible tale of the dehumanisation of an enemy during war. Soldiers are trained to forget that the people fighting against them are human being with flaws, fears, and families just like themselves. This was particularly interesting given the fundamental "banzai" notion of the Japanese military, ie, fighting until death is the only honourable action. it was this notion that kept the American forces fighting on the island for 35 days despite the Japanese being seriously under prepared and under manned. The Americans were technologically superior in every way.

But the Japanese resisted for 35 long days. In the end, the US Marine Corp suffered 6,891 deaths. But the Japanese had 19,788 soldiers die. That's almost 3 times!

The Japanese soldiers believed that to surrender would dishonour your family and your country. The American military allegedly shot soldiers who did surrender reinforcing the Japanese perception that the Americans were savages. So they fought to the bitter end.

The film is not as blood and gut gory as Flags of our Fathers was, thank god! You still need a pretty strong stomach but see it if you can. See them both!

Big Thanks to Gill (next door neighbour) for babysitting. Don't know what we would do without and can't imagine what life will be like after you move!

Menu Planning

Planning daily meals for my family is the bane of my existence.

We once tried to split this reposnsibility between me and my husband. this was an unmitigated disaster. he served up pork chops, sausages and bacon for a meal. Not a green vegetable in sight. the whole balanced diet just didn't sink in his brain at school. If we had been on the Atkins diet this would not have been a problem. but for small growing children, perhaps not the best choice. It might have been a rouse to keep me from asking him to do his share with this task.

I aim to make a nutritious meal every night for my family. One meal. One dinner time. Everyone eating together at the dinner table. Well, that's the plan. It doesn't always work out this way and lately I've been so busy and stressed with work I am finding that we are resorting to eating out and take aways far more than I would like.

I try to draw up a weekly menu plan. As I write the plan I write the shopping list. I only buy groceries we need to make the meals. this is a great way to save money and avoid wasting unused produce. This is not so good for dealing with unexpected guests or really bad days when i simply don't have the energy to cook or hot days when I don't want to turn on the Aga.

I am also struggling with what I call Dinner Fatigue. I am so bored with the same old, same old. There are our standards: Spaghetti Bolgnese, Hot Dogs, Tuna Casseerole, Orange Chicken, Lasagne. I try to move these around on alternate weeks. I can cook these from memory. In my sleep. With one eye closed. In under 20 minutes. But boy, am I bored!

I've tried the whole cookbook thing. I love cookbooks. I can get lost in them. And do! Which is exactly the problem. I get distracted by the possibilities. I can never get all the ingredients I need. And they double my preparation time. Not just the meal prep but also the whole menu planning, grocery shopping process takes twice as long when I get out a cook book!

Tonight we are having salmon (cooked on the bbq), rice and carrots. Maybe some green beans.....Hmmmmm, green salad might just make it. I need to pop to the shops because we have nothing in the house due to my work schedule the last couple weeks! and would it have occurred to my hubby to do a spot of forward planning grocery shoppng? Not even on his horizon!

Got any bold menu ideas for the long 3 day weekend ahead of us?

Notebooks

Secretly, I want to be a journalist when I grow up. Not so secretly anymore. I blame this desire for my obsession with notebooks. Janell waxed lyrical a few weeks ago about a gift of a blank notebook and all the promise it held. I soooo get that.

I've got notebooks all over the house, in my handbag, in the car, on my desk, in drawers. I've got notebooks where I collect all magazine clippings about far away (and not so) places I want to travel to and places I will stay and eat whilst I am there. Other notebooks collect my interior designing inspirations. Another notebook contains DIY and renovation project plans. Another for collecting quotes and poetry. Another for general magazine articles that I have ripped out to save and have no where else to put. I have one notebook where I write ideas for things to do with the children on weekends. The most used notebook is where I write books that I want to read based on book reviews or other people's recommendations.

I have a special cupboard in my house to store my notebooks.

Just this week I bought a beautiful black leather cover notebook. The purpose of this one is to collect the ideas for blog posts that burst into my head at random intervals. It also serves as a place for me to capture my impressions of events as they happen. I find that my eye for detail declines with the passage of time. Things I thought were really funny or clever at the time completely disappear from my mind. Wry observations become distant memories. This makes my great stories (in my head) turn out to be bland and boring. So my notebook is fast and furiously filling up with ideas for posts. No writer's block going on here.

I feel like a right proper bohemian journalist carrying my little notebook around. The other night I arrived at Cafe Rouge to meet Marc and the children for dinner. My train had arrived before they did. There I sat writing about what I thought about my day. It reminded me of films where you see the reporter writing a real poignant insightful article while the voice over tells you what they are writing. OK, that's not what is in my notebook. I'm simply not that insightful. But since there is no voice over in life, it doesn't matter. The contents of this notebook could change the world.....or just amuse you.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Pageflakes

You may be asking yourself what in the world is Pageflakes. So, go to the link and build your own page. If you add feeds like I did, you get all the updates for all the lbogs you read in one place. And you can click through. I've made mine public and will be sending email out to everyone so they can look at mine. This is seriously cool. I am such a nerd!

Blackberry Moment

If y'all don't know what a Blackberry is, then consider yourself way lucky. A Blackberry is a mobile device (little bigger than a telephone) that not only works like a telephone but also integrates with your Outlook desktop and delivers you your daily calendar and ALL your email everywhere you go. That's right, email follows me everywhere I am.

So far, I have done a reasonably good job of managing my Blackberry obsession. When I get home from work I may check it a few times if I know my team is working or there is an ongoing crisis that requires my attention but for the most part, when I'm home, I'm home.

However, since May has been a crazy out of the office experience, I have started using the Blackberry a whole bunch since it is the only way I can get my email whilst on the go. And since I was away from home it didn't impact my family.

Yesterday, I went to the train station for my trip into London. I left 1/2 earlier than the day before because I didn't want to be late again. I got to Slough no problems. Had 5 minutes to wait on the platform for the next train. I walked down towards the end of the platform fully expecting a long train to arrive. I made a couple of calls and started reading and responding to email. Just when I finished, I looked up to realise, that the platform was empty. All the other passengers had boarded the train that was now pulling out of the station.

I had missed my train! It was a shorter train than I had expected so I hadn't seen it pull up. Train stations are notoriously noisy so I hadn't heard it. And clearly the concentration of using the tiny keyboard sapped all the attention this little ol brain could muster.

Luckily another train arrived in the next 5 minutes which I boarded. Unfortunately, it was a slow train and stopped at every stop between Slough and London Paddington. Miraculously, I made it to my conference with 2 minutes to spare!

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

A Literary Event

Khaled Hosseini's newest book is on the shelves now. It is called A Thousand Splendid Suns. Listen to a recording by the author here.

If you haven't read his first book, The Kite Runner, then you need to read it. NOW!!!

If you have, then you will be thrilled to know that his new book is out now! I am so excited.

London (again)

May has been a crazy month for me so far. I feel like I've been to one conference after another. Every week I've been here, there, and everywhere. This week is the last of my conferences (for the year I am hoping). But yesterday and today I am commuting into London, again.

Missed the train connection in Windsor, and could only get the slow train from Slough to Paddington. Tube was delayed. Arrived at conference about 10 minutes late.

Ride home was a mess. Tube terminated at a station earlier than I needed. Had to change tubes to a sardine can (tube stuffed with people). Realised train from Paddington was not for another 20 minutes so caught train to Maidenhead and asked Marc to come pick me up. Tried to leave Paddington only to find out that the ticket I had bought didn't go as far as Maidenhead and the ticket man (what are they called?) was very nice and let me just pay the differential of £3 instead of the £20 fine.

Ooooops! Boy, did I feel a bit dim......geeesh, I hope today goes a bit better!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Chains & Karma

In Colorado, it snows. During ski season this is a mixed blessing. It needs to snow lots so that the skiing conditions are out of this world. It can't snow too much because too much snow closes the roads making it impossible for the skiers to actually get to the ski resorts.

I was 18. My then boyfriend, Troy, and I used to try to go skiing every weekend. We didn't have a lot of money. I was temping part time and he worked for his dad. We barely scrapped by and anything extra we had we spent on skiing. And skiing is expensive!

It was snowing a blizzard and we set off. We had to stop in Idaho Springs to buy a set of chains because the road reports said that the pass was closed to all vehicles without chains on the tires. Troy used his credit card and I picked up the box with the receipt on top and walked out. As we pulled out of the parking lot I handed the receipt to Troy for him to put in his wallet. We realised that I had picked up both copies of the credit card slip. This was back before everything was electronic and automatically porcessed. I had picked up both receipts including the part that the shop needed to return to the bank in order to process the charge. By this time we had already hit the highway and were motering towards a wicked day of skiing. Rather too quickly, we decided not to turn around.

We had a great day skiing. The snow was knee deep. We had to use the chains on the way home and Troy dutifully put them on. As we were heading down the east side of the mountain pass, looking for a place to pull over to take them off, one of the chains broke and flapped around. We finally got the car pulled over and surveyed the damage. The entire side panel of the car was beaten and battered. It cost him several hundred dollars to get the side of the car repaired. I just looked at him and said "We should have gone back and paid them for the chains."

One Word: KARMA!

The Celebrations

Saturday night, my husband and I met up with our friend Mike for a sushi dinner as an pre-birthday celebration. We seriously over ordered on the sushi and I probably drank more sake than I should have. Mike was in a seriously grumpy mood. I really enjoyed having some grown up time with my husband. We ate far too much sushi!


I'm not sure who was more excited about my birthday: Sebastian or Abigail. Sebastian made Marc help him hang some bunting in the lounge and they helped Daddy make my Eggs Benedict and bring me coffee and breakfast in bed. I opened my cards and pressies. I got one of those digital picture frame, where you load up some digital photos on to a memory stick and plug the frame in and it slide shows through the photos as it sits on your shelf. I saw one that Nikki & Kevin, Marc's cousin and her husband, got for their wedding and I have been yearning for one ever since.

Sebastian insisted that they decorated the lounge with bunting. It looked like party central. Sebastian was very cross that they didn't have any balloons.

We took a nice long walk along the river down to the weir with the dog. Bailey was fairly well behaved. It was cooling down and threatening rain by the time we were heading back and we made it home before the drizzle started.

After a relaxing afternoon, my husband made my favourite dinner: lobster tails. We had home made birthday cake (Thanks, Marc!) and ice cream for dessert.

A very civilised birthday celebration indeed.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Monday Mania

Monday nights are a little bit of fun and a little bit of chaos.

I pick up one of Seb's school mates, Hetta, at the same time as I pick up Seb on Mondays. I take her home and then pick up Abigail. Hetta's mummy, Sally, returns the favour and brings Seb home for me on Tuesdays. We race home and Seb has a snack and does as much homework as he can before we run back out the door to go swimming. Seb is taking private swim lessons as he hasn't come on quite as quickly as we would like in the school's swimming lessons. It's nice because Marc and I get in and play with Abigail one on one whilst Seb does his lesson. The second child never gets that undivided attention from mummy and daddy so she really enjoys it. She's getting to be quite good (better than Seb was at this age)!

Then we go out for a bite to eat. The children got to pick the spot today and they choose Pizza Hut. I don't normally mind this as they have one of the best salad bars in England (they are not big on salad bars in this country) and they are the only place I've ever found Blue Cheese dressing (my favourite). Today, the salad bar had no Blue Cheese on offer. They had run out. And they had run out of milk (Abigail's favourite dinner drink). Then the Supreme Pizza got delivered with 4 pieces of mushrooms, white onions instead of red, and yellow peppers instead of green. Heck, if I'd known they were out of food we would have gone elsewhere. In the end, we got the pizza for free and they only charged us for Marc's salad. I'm still afraid it might be a while before we go back!

The children are in bed, exhausted from the swimming. Marc has taken Bailey for a quick walk (in the rain). I am going to go put on my pjs and crawl into bed with my book! Night!

The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing

I gave up. I threw in the towel. I just couldn't go on. I very rarely give up on a book. You can see evidence of this in my reading list on the left. I've been reading The Plot against America for at least 6 months. And Human Traces has sat on the bedside since before this blog was born. Should probably add that to the bottom of the list.


My sister recommended a Doris Lessing book to someone. I thought to myself, "Gee, I've never read anything by this Doris Lessing person. Who the heck is Doris Lessing?" I mentioned this to a neighber and she picked up a collection of short stories by the author at the library for me.


I read the first story about two women who have been friends since childhood (5 years old or so). They marry, live just down the street from each other and have a son each. As the sons enter puberty and their late teen years, the women have misplaced their husbands and decide to exchange sons and take them into their beds. This sent me beyond the pale.


I thought the story was so awful I dreaded reading another. I started to read the second short story but when that started to be all a bit too strange for words I set it aside hoping that the time would soon come for the book to be returned to the library.


I have given the book back to the neighbour and thanked her for the thought. Don't think I'll be looking at anything else by Doris Lessing.


Steph - You been drinking the KoolAid?

Sunday, 20 May 2007

The Place I Was Born

I am 43 today. Phew, I said it...or rather typed it. The test will be if you are reading it. If I've really got it and practice what I preach I gotta hit that old publish button down below and tell the world (well, my readers, at least). Today I am one step further down the path of life. Not sure what that all means and I know I'm supposed to be older and wiser but today I'm just not sure I feel all that wiser. I certainly feel the older bit.

If you are a CP Family Blog fan and a faithful reader, you will know that my father was a jockey. My mother was a wee young girl of 18. My father was 23. And they must have been scared out of their wits. Mom had been in labour for hours and hours and hours and hours. She'd woken Dad up so many times to take her to the hospital he just didn't believe it when the time had really come. she had to go over to a neighbour's trailer (yep, we lived in a trailer park during those racing days!) and beg them to go get my dad out of bed.

Now my parent's are divorced and I soooo get that. I mean these 2 can't agree on which version of my birth really happened and they've been divorced for almost 30 years. I suppose the truth is somewhere down the middle.

I was born early in the morning in Omaha, Nebraska USA and I guess that was a good thing because my dad had to work that day. He was racing at AkSarBen Race Course. As a jockey you ride and get paid. You don't ride and you don't get paid. My father now had a family to support so he needed to ride. He was able to get to the race course just in time for his races. And he won.
When I asked Mom about my birth she says she can't remember. I get that, too! When I was pregnant and drilling my mom for her birth stories she would always say she couldn't remember. I was horrified. How could a woman forget the memories of the birth of her children? That's easy. We have to so that we have more children. If we could remember how much it hurts we would only have one and then we would tell the world how much it hurts and they would stop having children. And the human race would cease to exist. But I wonder how she felt on this morning 43 years ago.

43 years on and I can't imagine what an 18 year old does with a newborn baby. Heck, I was 36 when I had my first baby and wasn't sure what to do with a newborn baby. I know that my mother gave me loads of baths. She took me to the doctor when I was just a few months old with a red rash all over my body. When the doctor asked her if she was giving me any baths, she replied, "Yes, at least 3 times a day." Apparently, the doctor nearly fainted. The cause of my rash was way too much cleanliness.

So at 43, how am I feeling? Hmmmmm, my body ain't what it used to be! But I don't have any rashes. I don't party nearly as hard as I used to. Heck, who am I kidding? I don't party at all anymore! But I got a loving, loyal husband who makes me laugh and puts up with all my extreme eccentrencities. I've got the two most amazing children in the world. No, really! I've got a career that I am proud of.

My sister told me on the occasion of my 40th birthday, that a woman spends her 20s figuring out who she wants to be. Her 30s are spent becoming that woman. Her 40s are spent enjoying the fruits of her labour. That sister of mine is one smart cookie. I'm enjoying it so far. I like my life. I'm happy in myself. I think I'll just kick back and enjoy the ride for a while.

The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin was the first Lionel Shriver book I read. It is the scariest story a mother could ever read. But essential. In that book a mother is writing letters to her son who turned into a serial killer. I don't want to give too much away because the ending of this book is a real shocker. This isn't an easy book to read but I was fascinated by it. The author had been turned down by numerous publishers before finally finding one. Lionel Shriver is an American expatriate living in London. It took a brave woman to write a book about this subject. Our book group rejected it on numerous occasions as just too frightening of a topic to read about. In the end most of us have read it anyway and are glad we did so. I mean, have you ever thought about what you would do and feel if one of your children ended up being a mass murderer or serial killer? Doesn't bear thinking about, does it? Well, she did. And she wrote it down.

So when her newest novel, The Post Birthday World, was published I had to be one of the first to own it. I picked it up at WHSmith in Victoria Station and was daunted by the sheer heft of the thing at 600 pages. I needn't have worried. I couldn't put the thing down (although carrying it around was a bit of a workout. I even carried this book to Rome and back with me.

This is the best book I've read since The Kite Runner. It is thought provoking and mood altering.

The story is about Irina who has been with her boyfriend, Lawrence for 10 years. They are American expatriates living in London. One evening when Lawrence is in Russia on business, Irina reluctantly agrees to take Ramsey Acton, a friend more of Lawrence's than hers out to dinner for his birthday. Ramsey his newly divorced and they've used to go out as a foursome every year for his birthday. Lawrence doesn't' think now is the time to abandon his friend. That night Irina makes a decision: to kiss Ramsey or not to kiss Ramsey. The rest of the book is an incredible tale of the two paths of her life depending on which decision she makes. In alternating chapters, the book tells of the aftermath of that kiss. The other chapters tell the tale of her resisting the temptation and returning home to Lawrence.

At first I was afraid this was going to be a high moral ground tale. But this is Lionel Shriver and nothing is as you expect. Just like in her previous book, she never reduces herself to the trite and predictable. She never takes the easy way out and she is always brutally honest. She writes down and exposes thoughts that most people would never admit to having.

I loved every character in the book. Every single one of them is flawed just like all of us but their flaws are so like mine and my friends and my husband and colleagues. I cried and got angry and felt hurt and devastation as I read and saw how each of the two lives unfolded. I wished I could see the paths my different decisions could have taken me on. What if I'd married Glen instead of Marc? What if I'd never gone back to university? What if I'd never stayed in England and opted for Saudi Arabia instead? What if I'd never had children like I'd originally planned?

The book is a lot about forgiveness and a dissection of love and what it means and sex and what that means. I highly recommend this book but be prepared. The plot is tense and requires an emotional investment. I was glad to have long airport waiting and airplane journey time. My only regret is when I started crying during one part of the book. My fellow travellers must have thought I was bonkers. Well, I guess I am a bit!

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Fayre Slide Show

Remember a few weeks back I wrote about the St George's Medieval Fayre?

The school had a professional photographer on site and they've put together a Slide Show which really shows off the face painting and other fun activities. These pics are soooo much better than the ones I took. Go take a look. And watch for the family. I'm wearing a bright green shirt. Marc is behind or next to me in most pics and you can't miss the children!

Live Like You Were Dying - Tim McGraw




PS The baseball player at the end is Tim's father. I love this! Thanks, Janell!

Reporting (not quite live) from Rome

SURPRISE ENDING! Read all the way to the end........

Arrived last night home from Rome (hey, that rhymes!). Didn't have time or access to blog and thought maybe I could live without it for a few days. Hope you didn't mind. It was such a whirling dervish of a trip, I only managed to bring the children the chocolate left over from my pillows in the hotel.

The trip to Rome itself was uneventful. Amazingly, I breezed through the checkout, had a Cesear salad and a glass of wine and boarded the plane. My seat was in the very last row and very cramped. When will British Airways sort out their leg and arm room? The lady next to me and I kept bumping each other. I was reunited with my luggage and caught a taxi into the city.

Taking taxis in Rome is always a bit of a death wish. The drivers seem to be bit like polo ponies. They have only two speeds. Stop on a dime in 2 seconds flat and go hell bent for leather. I had landed right at the peak of rush hour traffic so the journey was long and tedious. But driving through Rome is a mini architectural history lesson. On your right are some ruins, on your left the Coliseum. The sheer antiquity of the city is breath taking.Or it could have been that the man driving the scooter whilst talking on a mobile phone took my breath away.

The weather was pleasantly warm and the sky was blue. I stayed at the Westin Excelsior which is a spectacular hotel on Via Vittorio Veneto. After unpacking, I walked down the road a bit for my dinner. I was shocked by how many Americans were in Rome, more than in London! The hotel was right next to the American Embassy but that wasn't the reason since it was so late in the evening.
I've always said that you don't go to Rome for the food. If you want the best Italian food go to Florence. This trip did not change my mind and whilst the meals I had were OK they weren't what I call moaning meals: Food so good you can't speak you just moan. I had a meal at La Ninfa. The table was on a terrace and I ordered the chef's specials. The tomatoes in my starter were delicious. Not sure how the Italians do it but the tomatoes are always sweet and crispy. Not until my dessert of lemon sorbet arrived did I start to feel a chill in the air. A short walk back to my hotel and I fell into bed.

Microsoft had invited me to speak at a forum for Utility customers from Europe. The speakers and attendees hailed from all over the world: Saudi Arabia, Germany, Hong Kong, Romania, Spain, Italy, Jordan, UK, USA. I was honoured to have to privilege to learn and share my learnings with these leaders. I was not scheduled to speak until the very last of the second day so on the first day I was able to focus on what everyone else had to say.

At the end of the day's presentations, we met up in the lobby of the hotel for a quick bus tour of Rome on the way to Al Pompiere. We had a 4 course meal and lots of red wine. I enjoyed speaking to both Jon Arnold and Larry Cochrane, both of Microsoft. Wow, these guys are clever, interesting and funny! Not techy geeky bores like I imagined all Microsoft professionals (except sales people).

Back on the bus and we headed off to a private tour of the Galleria Borghese. It was late (after 11 pm) and a bit spooky walking into this private building stuffed to the gills with sculpture by Bernini and paintings by Caravaggio. This art is occasionally loaned out to museums around the world but here I was looking at art that most people only see pictures of in books. What an amazing experience.

We boarded the bus well after midnight for the short journey back to the hotel. I awoke the next morning for an 8 am start not quite feeling like I had a proper night's sleep. In fact I'm sure I didn't sleep. You see, I woke up after a few hours in a wild panic that I had slept straight through my presentation. When I realised it was only 4 am, I tried to get myself back to sleep but one cannot sleep with one eye open staring at a clock.

After a cup of coffee (or several) I settled in trying not to psyche myself out totally. During the morning's presentations I was having a hard time concentrating because my stomach was doing flip flops and I felt like I was going to be sick. I was wired with the microphone and tried to calm my breathing to prevent complete hyperventilation.

I started and felt the voice tremble and raise several octaves. Not good, as my voice already sounds like I'm 10 years old. I needed to lighten the atmosphere more for my sake than anyone else. So, instead of standing at the front lording over everyone, I walked down into between the tables and started pretending like I was just having a conversation with friends and colleagues, people I know and who know me and trust my judgement and expertise. I made a couple jokes. They laughed (at the jokes not me, I hope). And then I relaxed and the presentation just flowed right out of me. The discussion during and following was lively which I believe is a good sign. I made people think and I hope helped them make some decisions about their business.

I'm really passionate about my current role at work. I think what my team and I do is important to our business and important to our customers. I think there is a huge potential to use technology to an even greater advantage. I hope this came across to all the attendees at the conference. I enjoyed presenting in the end and all that worry was for naught.

I had a quick lunch, checked out of the hotel and bundled myself into a taxi for the return trip to the airport. The taxi driver cranked up the radio, rolled down all the windows, smoked a cigarette, talked on the telephone, and drove 80 mph down the motorway wildly gesticulating to whoever he was speaking to. I'm not sure but I think he was driving with his knees. I simply closed my eyes and let the wind blow my hair everywhere.

The plane was an hour late departing from Rome. I knew the Marc and the children were coming to pick me up at the airport and I was worried it would be well past their bed time. I rang Marc on my walk to customs and immigration who reported that Seb had just vomited and was not feeling well. I told him I would hurry as much as one can hurry when getting through immigration and picking up your suitcase.

As I entered the baggage hall, I noticed people were staring in my direction. I turned around to see what they were staring out and couldn't see anything. As I turned back facing front I promptly bumped into the man in front of me as he had stopped walking. I task my disgust and reluctantly apologised only to realise everyone was staring at him. Then it dawned on me. I had just literally run into Jude Law. I mumbled another apology and kicked myself for using up my camera battery taking pictures of the Alps from the plane. I was having visions becoming a member of the paparazzi and selling my pic to The News of the World for £100K. But then I realised, the opportunity had passed me by and I just wanted to hug and kiss my hubby and children. Besides he was short and very skinny. Too skinny. That man got nothing on my husband. I bet my 5 year old son could do a better job fighting off a mugger than the wee stick of a man. Oh my, but his face is the stuff of Greek myth! Especially his eyes!

I refocused on capturing my luggage off the carousel and came out of the hall to the sounds of my children screaming "Mummy" and running across the airport to me. Nothing better than that mate! Ain't no architecture, no art, no food, no applause, and no celebrity that can beat the love of my children so unbridled!

Enjoyed the trip but thrilled to be home!

So, whatcha y'all get up to whilst I was away?
Disclaimer: All these photos were taken whilst either lurching on a bus, taxi, or plane. You're lucky I got anything to show you at all!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Italian Interruption

I am off to Rome in a few hours for a few days. I am hoping that this trip won't disrupt my blogging like my trip to Berlin did in February. But there are no guarantees. If I can't find a cyber cafe I will be out of luck!

I am going to Rome to speak at a Microsoft conference. I have been invited to talk about using collaboration to increase innovation. I hate public speaking. I don't mind speaking to groups of colleagues that I know. But a room full of strangers fills me with complete fear. I turn red and break out into a rash and my ears always feel like they are on fire. I speak so quickly I can finish a 40 minutes presentation in about 10. I have to or I might vomit. I am the last speaker scheduled for Friday afternoon. I am hoping that by that time I will have gotten to know some of the delegates at the conference and I can pretend that they are the only ones in the room and that they are mere colleagues. Well, this is my coping strategy. Wish me luck!

I have been to Rome before and after Florence it is my favourite Italian city. I just get absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer scale of history. I once dined at a rooftop terrace restaurant just across the road from the Coliseum. There were ancient pillars every where I looked and the Romans simply walked past them every day on their way to work without so much as a second glance. I suppose it is a bit like me walking past Windsor Castle every day and not taking any notice. Except the Coliseum is nearly 2000 years old.

I always miss my children and husband when I am away. I miss hearing my children tell me about their day and I miss sharing mine with my husband. It is getting easier now that they are getting older and technology is a wonderful thing. They can talk to me on the telephone with some understanding. Marc can send me photos of them having dinner or sleeping from his phone to my phone.

I love how their eyes light up when I return home and Friday night I should be back before they go to bed if there are no flight delays. Fingers crossed the mass migration back into Heathrow on a Friday evening will go smoothly and I will get home in time to tuck them into bed and have a lovely evening with my husband.

But I do love travelling. I travelled constantly for the first 15 or so years of my career. I used to fill up passports with stamps from all over the world. Now I'm lucky to get 3 or 4 stamps a year and those tend to be for our vacations. But with my new position I've travelled a bit more. And as my children get older it will probably increase again. There's a real vagabond in my shoes. I can pack in under 10 minutes for a 4 day trip! I will enjoy meal on my own and reading my book in the evenings (without interruptions).

What I am not looking forward to is the state of the house when I return. Marc and I have very different ideas about levels of acceptable tidiness and nutritious meals. So in my control freak best maneuver I have done the grocery shopping online (to be delivered this evening), made up a list of meals for the evenings, listed all the school/play activities for each day, made up a list of things he must do (eg laundry, run dishwasher, unload dishwasher, feed dog). He's got post it notes on the back door, on the fridge, on his computer screen.

Of course, he will pretend not to have seen any of them. This is what happened when I went to Berlin. Each night I called home and asked him what the children had eaten for dinner and he would report hot dogs. Every night. When I asked why he wasn't giving them what was on the menu he said they didn't want what I had written down.

Basically, I am expecting carnage. But it is carnage in my absence. So, I ask my self, does it really exist?

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Ruffles

My mom's dog, Ruffles, had to put down today. She was 17 years old. She had a long pampered life. She was my mother's baby after all of her children had left home. My mom will miss Ruffles tremendously!

5 Daily Blessings

5. My journey to work took less than 5 minutes

4. I am going to Rome tomorrow. Alone. No helping the children with homework. No making dinner. No dishes. No laundry. No tidying. No commute to work. The downside is no kisses and cuddles. Am trying not to focus on that part!

3. Today was payday!

2. I didn't want to scream and shout at anyone at work today.

1. The rain has stopped (for now) and the sun is shining. This won't last for long so I better publish this now!

The Job I Learned the Most From

Going to university was about a whole bunch more than academics. Not least because I had to work to pay my bills as well as study and go to class. But also because it is the time when I figured out who I was (apart from my parent's expectations) and what I wanted out of life (apart from spending the entire winter skiing).

Unemployed and feeling a bit despondent, I wondered one evening into my favourite jazz club in Denver. This club is located in lower downtown Denver. This was before the Colorado Rockies came to town, before Coors field was built for them to play in and before the gentrification of this area made it the coolest place to be. Back then (1986) this was probably one of the scariest place to be in the Denver. The buildings were old abandoned warehouses with all the windows broken. Those same warehouses are now the most sought after loft living spaces.

Jerry, the owner, was complaining that his wife was doing the waitressing. In a moment a weakness, I volunteered to help. He said "Great, can you start now?" I'd never waitressed a day in my life unless you count my stint at Wendy's when I was 16 which you can't. But, I thought how hard can it be?

Hard.....dang hard! That night I left the bar at 2:30 am, went to my car, and drove myself home. I returned the next night to find police tape all over the place. Apparently, the trumpet player from the band had been murdered, had his lips cut off and his ears sliced off. They found him in the dumpster in the alleyway behind the dumpster. But it didn't scare me. I needed the job. I needed the money.

The way it worked was, Jerry gave my $20 when I reported to work which I used as my bank. I paid for drinks out of that and collected the money from the customers. Anything I still had in my hand at the end of the night was all mine. I typically had about $80 in my pocket at the end of the night.

I worked Sunday through Thursday nights. On Sundays I started at 7 pm and we closed at midnight. The rest of the week I started at 8 pm and we closed at 2 am. I would be up at 7 am to get to my classes by 8:30. There were about 20 bar stools and 8 tables in the bar part (where the band played). There was a small restaurant serving Mexican food (some of the best green chili in the world!) with about another 8 tables. You couldn't hear the band so well from there but there was a pool table in the middle of the room and lots of customers just came to play pool.
The bartender got the tips from the bar stools. I got the tables in the bar and the restaurant and everyone standing in the aisle. I studied during slow nights (which weren't many) but what I learned from this job had little or nothing to do with my books.

If I called in sick, there was no one to do the job. Jerry had 3 waitresses. 2 of them worked Friday and Saturday nights but had other jobs during my nights. Jerry and his wife had a little girl so the child would have to sit in the restaurant if his wife needed to cover for someone. Only one night in 18 months did I miss work. And I didn't get paid. I never took any vacation.

All types of people, famous and barely hanging on. The biggest tip I ever got was $100 from Tom Petty. Famous people frequently popped in after a gig if they were playing in town. Nobody took a second look or gave them any special treatment. If the tables were full, they stood like everyone else. We had regulars and people on first dates. People in rags and people in ball gowns and dinner jackets. This place was riddled in history. Allegedly, it was a speak easy during Prohibition. We served 5 types of beer in the bottle: Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light, and Miller Genuine Draft. If you wanted a fancy micro brew, you would have to go someplace else. I never had to break up a fight there although one night a gang did throw a molotov cocktail through the front window of the restaurant. There are bars on that window
now and no one was hurt. I did learn to play a mean game of pool. I'm afraid I'm a bit rusty now but in my day......bit of a shark, I reckon!

I hustled. If it was a slow night, I got to talk to the band or the customers but if it was busy, I worked my butt off. I was the ONLY waitress. There was a very direct correlation between how quickly you take some body's order and deliver their drinks and the tips you get. Of course, there are some idiots out there thinking I could make beer appear out of thin air and they were too tight to tip but to be honest, this very rarely happened. When it did, it was the last round of drinks they got that night. Action/Consequence in action!

I got offered an amazing job with a software consultancy after 18 months working at the bar. One of the VPs at the company was a professor's wife. They gave me an internship and I worked for them for 12 years. I learned a lot there but I learned more at the bar.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Poignant Lessons

One of the best shows (I actually think there were 2 shows) that Oprah ever did was about a mother who was dying of cancer. She had a young daughter and she knew she didn't have time to teach and the young girl wasn't ready to learn all the lessons that a mother teaches her daughter over a lifetime. So she made videos. There are hours and hours of this mother talking to her daughter teaching her the important skills for life.

The lessons included:

  • How to put on makeup
  • How to shave your legs
  • How to put on panty hose (tights)
  • How to dance
  • How to dress for a date and a job interview
  • How to pick a college
  • What to look for in a husband
  • Clothing basics that should be in every woman's closet
  • When to splurge on quality and when to make do
  • When to respect authority and when to rebel against the machine
  • How to ask for a raise
  • When to quit a job and when to stick it out
As I watched this, I thought of all the things my mother has taught me. Some of these skills I use and some I have tailored to meet my own individuality. Some of it is no longer relevant (you don't have to wear gloves anymore)!

Thanks Mom!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Happy (USA) Mother's Day

Eurovision 2007

The Americans in my audience will have no idea what I am talking about. Or at least I know I didn't until I moved to Europe. "What is Eurovision?" Over here they take it rather seriously with Eurovision parties kicking off all over the place.

Last night was Eurovision 2007. The song that won was from Serbia and the woman looked like she had won a boxing match rather than a song contest. It looked to me that she had a bit of a mustache. With 100 million people watching, you would think she could have waxed but then again maybe that was part of the act. Brittany goes out with runners in her stockings! I thought Russia did the best and I was glad to see that they took a respectable third. What was distressing is that the United Kingdom who consistently delivers excellence to the music world, (eg Beatles, Rolling Stones, James Blunt, Lily Allen, Scissor Sisters, Arctic Monkeys - do I need to go on?) cannot manage a decent Eurovision entry. The last 3 years have been dismal performances!

Don't even get me started about Ireland's performance. This little country who has consistently delivered winning performances at Eurovision had a seriously off night! It was so bad I fast forwarded through it.

There was the typical "you scratch my back, I'll give you 12 points" going on, but that is no less entertaining. International alliances are made and broken here. You can see wars ending. OK, maybe not. I'm glad I've got SkyPlus (TiVo, for you Americans) as we fast forwarded through most of it but it was good for a laugh nonetheless.

Not According to Plan

Friday Sebastian came home from school with a bit of a headache. I gave him some ibuprofen, we wrapped a present and signed a card for the birthday party he was supposed to be at by 4:30. At 4:05 I got a phone call informing me that we had a problem at work that needed my immediate and undivided attention. I tried to call my husband for help. His mobile phone went straight to answer phone. I focused on the problem and managed to get a temporary resolution implemented by 4:50. I jumped in the car with a very upset little boy and we headed off towards Windsor. What is normally a 10 minute journey turned into a 25 minute journey due to really bad traffic caused by The Royal Windsor Horse Show (more about that later). I managed to drop him off with tears flowing down his (and my) cheeks. One of the mums sensed the panic of the situation and generously offered to take Sebastian home with her after the party so I could focus on work. (HUGE THANKS to Joy! What would I do without you?)

I returned home feeling like a failure at both work and home. At home I focused on the problem with work and until we definitely had a solution in place. Marc went and picked up Sebastian about 7:00. He now seemed to be running a low grade temperature but it wasn't bothering him. Off he went to bed.

Yesterday was The Royal Windsor Horse Show. This horse show is the premier equestrian event in the UK (maybe even Europe). It is set in the grounds of Windsor Castle (bascially the Queen's yard). It started on Thursday and we had tickets for Saturday. Sebastian had really been looking forward to this and he wanted to go no matter what. There had been lots of rain overnight and some in the morning but when we left the house and arrived at the Home Park the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Marc asked if I thought we needed the umbrellas. I declined saying I didn't want to carry them around. This, of course, meant it was going to rain.

We watched some jumping. Seb was absolutely transfixed. I've never quite seen him watch with such concentration. He was awed and fascinated. I think he appreciates how difficult it is to get man and beast to work togethr with such grace. We walked around for all of 20 minutes and then the rain started to fall. We ran for the Food & Wine tent until the rain passed (max 5 minutes). We did some more shopping with me admiring all the beautiful tack and saddles. Sebastian and Abigail picked out some gorgeous Lazy Jack riding shirts. We stopped for lunch. And just as we sat down, the rain started again. Marc ate sitting in the rain. I moved the children under an awning, sharing a seat. Sebastian wasn't hungry he said and wouldn't eat. Abigail ate her chunky chips (french fries). I ate my lunch standing up. Sebastian fell asleep in his chair. The rain stopped. We were wet and muddy.....very muddy!

We moved to the grandstand (which was thankfully covered) but full. We waited a while and found one seat. I sat down with Seb on my lap who promptly fell asleep despite his best attempts at staying awake to watch the jumping. Marc and Abigail decided to go walk around (she wasn't all that interested in the jumping and kept walking up and down the stairs). Seb and I finally got 2 seats next to each other. I sat down. He sat down. He feel into my lap and fell asleep. For 40 glorious minutes I watched some of the best show jumping I've ever seen. The riders were very aggressive and competitive. The horses were graceful, responsive and well trained. It was nothing short of poetry in motion. But people kept coming down our aisle which meant I had to keep waking up Seb to stand up and let them pass. Finally, Marc & Abigail returned and we decided that we should really just throw in the towel for the day and take this sick little boy home. I was gutted. Seb was gutted. We had been looking forward to that day for weeks. It is an all day event and we got stay about 3 hours! Seb was upset! We didn't even get to watch any carriage events. Dang!

We got home and he feel fast asleep for about 6 hours. Upon waking he went right to bed. After sleeping for another couple hours he vomited. Better out than in, I say! We cleaned up that mess and changed the sheets and his pjs, brushed his teeth and tucked him back into bed.

This morning he seems better and has managed to keep his breakfast down. At his insistence, Marc has taken him to his riding lesson. He is changing ponies this morning, from Manny to Penny. Penny is a bit bigger and has a smoother gait which should make his trotting a bit easier. He's been excited all week. Hope he doesn't vomit all over Penny.

I'm a bit afraid to make any plans for the day. Maybe I'll just take it as it comes!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

5 Favourite Home Cooked Meals

5. Lasagna (MCP recipe) - Lasagna in the UK is VERY different from lasagna in the USA. No ricotta going on over here. At first this bothered me. Now I actually prefer the UK way of doing it. It's closer to the lasagna I've had in Italy. I love a great big, huge glass of red wine (the cheaper the better), a big green salad with lemon/olive oil dressing and some garlic bread. And Wicked Uncle Mike's Tiramisu. Mmmmmm!

4. Two Alarm Chili (LCP recipe) - Served with grated extra mature (sharp cheddar cheese) and sour cream and a side of warm flour tortillas spread with a wee bit of butter. Washed down with ice cold Budweiser on a freezing Winter Sunday afternoon in the middle of a blizzard, preferably whilst watching an American football game. Go Broncos! Then bring on the Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia! Just give me a the container. Get your own!

3. Filet Mignon (or Prime Rib) - Cooked rare (and I mean rare, show it the heat and then put it on my plate). If you've stopped to ask me how I want my steak cooked, you've cooked it too long. Served with corn, baked potato (with butter, sour cream and chives) and horseradish and a great big Caesar salad (complete with fresh anchovies). Marc's homemade creme brulee sounds like the perfect ending to this meal!

2. Fried chicken - Made the way Nanny did it. Served with mashed potatoes, white gravy, green beans (with onion & bacon) and vinegared cucumber & onion salad. Root Beer to drink with Rhubarb pie for dessert (with homemade ice cream on top).

1. Steamed Lobster - Served with lemon butter, green salad and a huge baked potato (same fixings as above). This is best eaten in the summertime, on a beach sitting at a picnic table in the early evening of a warm still day with a huge group of friends. All washed down with either ice cold Corona beer or a chilled White Burgundy. No room for dessert!

Places I've Lived

Before I graduated from university I never never ever thought I would move away from home. Sure, I dreamed of visiting Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower and putting into use my 3 years of Jr high and Sr high school French but I never actually thought that I would get there for anything other than a holiday. I was born in Nebraska, grew up in Colorado, and never even saw an ocean until I was 18 and visited my friend, Susan in Seattle, Washington and then in Orange County, California.

Then I went to university and I went to work for a large international software consultancy and my life changed inexplicably in that moment. I worked for this company all through university (except the first year when I was struggling with figuring out my major and whether I believed myself clever enough to succeed at the academic challenge). Just before graduation they offered me a job and immediately after graduation I got sent to Dusseldorf ostensibly for a 3 month business trip. 3 months turned into 3 years. And that was pretty much the end of my life in the USA.

I found the whole repatriation very difficult. I loved who I had grown into and how much my horizon had broadened living in Germany. I had learned a new language and was fluent. Heck, I dreamed in that language. I was independent and not afraid to go out to eat alone. I learned to appreciate (although not embrace) a different culture, a different political system. I even learned to enjoy the peace and quiet during quiet time. (Quiet time is between 3-4 every day and all day Sunday when you are not allowed to do anything which makes noise your neighbours can hear, eg run the washing machine, hoover, wash your car. The idea is this is the time to relax and you better do it. Before I learned this lesson I got very stern words from a neighbour on the stairwell.) I learned to understand that crossing the road against a no walk sign is not acceptable just because no cars are coming. It is a bad example to set for children. I learned there are over 100 ways to serve pork. I sat in an office with Frau Panneck and Herr Porsche for 3 years and never learned their first names. I learned that some people in the world get more than 10 days vacation/year.

I saw London, Paris, Berlin (just after the wall came down!), Brussels, Munich, Dublin. I stayed on a US Army Base when I visited my cousin, Chris, who was stationed there. I nearly got run over by a car driving on the other side of the road. I saw that there are 100 ways to flush a toilet. I saw the Eiffel Tower. For real, in person. I touched it. I went to the top. I pinched myself and it wasn't a dream.

The funniest thing I remember my hick mind thinking was that it was so cute that German children speak German and French children speak French. I know this sounds so silly but the first time I saw a child speaking French I thought well, isn't that a clever child? And then I checked myself and thought, you idiot, what else would they be speaking?

When I returned to the USA I was a completely different person, I felt that everyone in my social circles hadn't had the same transformative experience. They were exactly the same as when I had left (for the most part). Duh! And they didn't really care about my experiences. They were polite (to a point) and smiled when I recounted stories of my travels. But they couldn't understand. They hadn't been there. They haven't a clue how difficult it is to get a room in a B&B on the Mosel River during the wine festival when you don't speak a lick of German (this happened during my first month in country).

So after just 2 months back in the USA I was begging for reassignment. I was sent to Sweden, then off to Portugal for a bit. I got to live in Paris briefly (3 months) which was like a dream come true. I do have an affinity for the city (although I've just read an article about how much the city has changed in the last 3 years so I must travel back!). I hated Portugal. Lisbon was a building site. I didn't get the food. I certainly couldn't get Portuguese into my head at all! I loved Sweden and the endless nights of summertime were fabulous. I would have felt differently about Sweden if I had to pay taxes there I am afraid but since I was in country only about 4 months I was exempt from their tax laws. I think I would have liked their maternity policies but this is the trade off for the high taxes, I guess.

I travelled quite often for extended periods to Holland and Belgium whilst I was living in Germany. I enjoyed my travels (for both business and pleasure but felt both would be rather bland selections as a home). The pace of life was a bit too slow for this American.

After my European tour, I was sent to live in Seoul, South Korea where I lived for 2 years travelling back to the USA for 1 week every 3 weeks. This was a strange existence. I got to know the flight crew in 1st class on United Airlines so well that one of the flight attendants gave me a special flannel pillow cover she made just for me. Seoul is full of American service men (at the time the most outside the USA) and there was this whole sub-culture. The prostitutes make quite a good living servicing them. (Not dissimilar to what I saw in Holland and Belgium but with US servicemen). Then there is a large American expatriate community which is a little goldfish bowl all its own. Finally there are the Koreans. Odd really. The men hated me because I was in charge. The women didn't know what to do with me because I didn't make cups of coffee and bring it to the men. I didn't like Korea, the subway stank and the people had no sense of personal space. Well, they did. It was just on top of me. Everyone I cam into contact either spoke English or was learning English so my opportunities to learn that language was extremely impaired. I did manage a few words and the alphabet although now I'll be darned if I can remember any of it. I did love the food. Kimchee is an acquired taste and I refused to eat it for breakfast. Bimbabop and Bulgogi are still 2 of my favourite dishes although Korean restaurants in England are hard to find. And not many people agree with my assessment of Korean food.

The project I worked on in Korea was tough and I was exhausted when I returned to the USA. I was sent immediately over to the UK. I instantly fell in love with the place. I loved the pub culture. I loved the resilience and politeness of the people. When my company wanted to reassign me to a project in Saudi Arabia, I politely declined. They didn't like that and I decided my vagabond days were over. I needed a home. I was in my 30s and I needed to put down some roots. So I quit my job and found a new one which I thought would keep me in one place long enough to catch up with my dry cleaning.

This lasted for a while (less than 1 year) and I soon found myself off to the USA. You see, I was the token American hired to keep the American clients happy. I was working 2 weeks in NYC and 2 weeks back in the UK. I did seriously lose some dry cleaning. I was 6 months pregnant with Sebastian when I put an end to all of that. After 6 months maternity leave I went back to work and after informing them that I really couldn't travel since I was still breastfeeding, they not so nicely informed me that I was redundant (in the USA they call this getting laid of).

My number 1 criteria when looking for a new job was no travel. I went to work for my current company and other than the odd business conference here and there (Berlin, Rome, Cannes) I haven't had to travel. I work close to home and my daily commute is only 10 minutes.

I met my husband in the UK and Nanny always said I had to come here to find him. I believe her. I've stayed in the UK because my children were born here and I like the educational and career opportunities it affords my family. I love tea and crumpets, and horse racing and the English. Their reserve and stiff upper lip gets on my nerves sometimes but, eh doesn't everything?

I don't think you can really know a place until you've lived there. No one country is the greatest. No one country is the worst. They all have something to offer, if only a learning experience. What I have found is that there are wonderful people everywhere and horrible people everywhere. And people make the place. I've met a lot of wonderful people here and plan on staying here for quite a while (famous last words)!

Friday, 11 May 2007

Commuting

I used to commute into London for work. I stopped doing that regularly just over 5 years ago. But I still get a mild buzz each time I do. Yesterday, I had to go into London for a conference. Marc and the children dropped me off at the nearest train station (in Egham), I bought my ticket and stood on the platform waiting for the train. The sky was a beautiful blue so I had left the house without a coat. I had to change trains at Clapham Junction (which unbelievably I have never done before) to get to Victoria. That station is huge. Not sure where I might need to go to catch the next train, I followed the throng of people figuring the majority of people were going in the same direction I was so they would lead me in the general direction. They did. I found my platform and my connecting train was late which is good because I was late. I got a seat and sat back enjoying my own private world induced by my iPod and reading.

I disembarked (I love that word) from the train at Victoria and set off on the "short" walk from the station to the venue. I walked all the way around the block due to assuming the address represented the road the hotel entrance was on. Bad assumption, as this is rarely the case when in London. I arrived late (about 20 minutes) and went down 2 floors into the bowels of the hotel and made a quiet entrance in the back of the classroom.

I learned quite a bit from the morning session (all about testing usability of intranets) and hope to use much of it in the job. Lunch was a very civilised poached salmon with steamed veg. I was surprised when I came up from the basement to discover that the beautiful blue sky had turned dark grey and the heavens had opened up. Rain was pouring down.

I went back into the afternoon session, which wasn't nearly as good as the morning had been but there were still some nuggets of useful information so all in all it was a good conference.

Then came the time to leave. I darted for the train station without getting soaked to the bone. I took advantage of the fact that my train was not departing for 20 minutes. These days the station station is a bit like going to a shopping mall. Of course, I chose the book shop, WH Smith and picked up Lionel Shriver's new book, The Post Birthday World. I board the train and settled back to enjoy the trip home.

This nirvana was rudely disrupted when I changed trains at Clapham Junction and the train I board was more like a sardine can. I had to stand in the aisle and it is very difficult to balance hand bag, briefcase, juice and large book when hanging on for dear life in the aisle of a packed train.

Luckily most travellers disembarked (oh, I got to use it again1) at Richmond (the 1st stop after Clapham Junction) and I got to sit down. Well, I thought I was lucky. the man sitting next to men was falling asleep and leaning on me more and more the deeper he slept. Fortunately, he got off at the next stop. The enjoyed the remaining 20 minutes although I was freezing.

You will remember I hadn't brought a coat. the train was cold and I waited for Marc and the children to pick me up at the station for 15 minutes or so. I reckon my lips were blue by the time I climbed into our car. I announced I was freezing and Sebastian said "Well, that's what you get for going out without a coat on. I'll bet you take that into consideration next time." It did take him about 3 goes to say consideration properly but he told me!

Glad I don't do this commute everyday! Despite the brief moment of nirvana, I like my 5 minutes down the road!