Wednesday 28 February 2007

Book Group

My monthly book group met last night. We had agreed to read My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. Despite our best intentions it didn't quite work as planned. In our defense this book is long (500 pages) dense and complicated. OK, maybe not War and Peace long but no working mother in her right mind is going to take that on. In defense of the book it is beautifully written and captivating. It won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006 so not your run of the mill chick lit choice. Given the difficulty I had in getting the book out of amazon, I thought we did rather well. K* excelled by getting the farthest through the book (about 1/5 of the way). S, B, and I managed about 200 pages. M is expecting a baby in the next few week and didn't get much beyond the first 50 pages or so. Hard to read when you gotta pee every 10 minutes.

We do all agree that what we've read is good (albeit very confusing) and worth the effort if only to figure out what the hell is going on. (I'm 200 pages through and I still don't know what the book is about - perhaps this is all a bit misguided.) We shall carry on reading and hope to finish this one and one more before March. Maybe we are gluttons for punishment. Next month's selection is The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. Anyone read this?

* Names have been shortened to protect the innocent. At the request of some members of the group I have not included their full names to respect their privacy. (Their English and a bit odd really.)

The Fat Duck

A work colleague of mine has done me a huge favour and as a BIG thank you I took him for lunch at The Fat Duck in Bray. If you are unfamiliar with this restaurant, let me clue you in. This place has been named THE best restaurant in the world. The French Laundry in northern California held this distinction for a few years but last year they were usurped. I was very pleased to hear the news as Bray is just down the road from our home (about 7 miles). Having never been to The French Laundry I was curious to see what the food taste like at the BEST restaurant in the world.

The restaurant is the brain child of Heston Blumenthal (what a great name!). He takes a very scientific approach to food and mixes colours and flavours in ways you never imagined (hoped?).
The first time I went with Marc for Valentine's Day last year. This was a wee bit of a disaster. My husband is not known for his culinary adventurous nature. He hates fish (unless it is sushi and even then only certain sushi). When we turned up and found that the tasting menu (12 courses of bizarre offerings) consisted of a lot of fish, Marc took a dive and insisted on ordering from the a la carte menu. It was enjoyable but I still had a deep seeded desire to try the tasting menu.

So when the opportunity arose to go with my colleague I was well excited! We nearly had a disaster when my companion seemed almost as unenthusiastic as my husband did about the tasting menu but when he saw my disappointment he agreed to give it a go.

He approached each course as if he was playing chicken with his food. To be fair, he only balked at the snail porridge (which did have snails on the top and really was green porridge on the bottom). Everything else he ate. He only spit one thing out.

My favourite was the surprise. I had heard of the famous scrambled egg and bacon ice cream. I had felt nauseous at the thought of it. I was regretting the end of the dinner mostly because it meant I had to put my money where my mouth was (literally) and eat this final course for dessert. Surprisingly, it was my favourite of the afternoon.

We got a copy of the menu detailing everything we ate. They are major fans of using liquid nitrogen to cook with. Do Not try this at home!

The restaurant isn't really about great food. It is about food as a scientific experiment. It is about experiencing food less like sustenance and more like art. I have to say I focused solely on the food which probably isn't true of any other restaurant I've ever been to (one possible exception is Caviar Kaspia in Paris). I was fascinated by the experience and recommend it to anyone.

PS Don't go if you are very very hungry (possibly even a little hungry). Despite spending more on this meal than any other in my entire life, I was still hungry when I left. Wish I'd eaten more bread......

Monday 26 February 2007

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web was one of my favourite books when I was a child. Despite the recent film taking a bit of a hit with the critics we took the children to see it on Sunday afternoon. I thought it was cute. Abigail wanted to fall asleep midway through. Sebastian enjoyed it although he thought it was sad that Charlotte had to die. Equally, he grasped that dying is part of living which I suppose is the whole morale behind the story. I still prefer the book to the film and have made a mental note to ensure that the children add this to their childhood reading list.

Sunday 25 February 2007

Quiz Night

Every year, St George's PTA hosts a quiz night. If you are not British, you are asking yourself what is a quiz night? So let me explain. If you are British, you can skip this part. A quiz (typically set in a pub) consists of people forming teams competing against each other by answering a series of questions. Questions are organised into rounds which are themed and are generally about historical events, current events, pop culture.

Marc & I formed a team with some other parent's from Sebastian's Year 1 class: Joy and Trevor (Jamie's parents) and Jane and Rob (Ben's parents). We had done no preparation (some take quizzing very seriously!). When we turned up we gave our team the Know Hopes. Our single ambition was to not embarrass ourselves (and our children) by coming dead last.

Last night's categories included film clips (which we did well at) and TV theme songs (not so good). There was one category about computers on which we scored a perfect score (10) surprising ourselves!

We weren't really paying all that much attention to the scores, feeling quite confident that at least we weren't in last place. We took a break halfway through for dinner and enjoyed some more wine and beer with a curry. Upon returning from our meal we realised we were in 5th place (out of 17 teams!) We thought, well, that's nothing to be ashamed about!

But then things became all a bit surreal as we found ourselves at the top of the leader board. We were in 1st place! For the last 3 rounds!!!! the last round started with all of us staring at each other with our mouths gaping open in disbelief. Here we had been thinking we would be lucky to not finish last and instead we found ourselves in first place.

The last round was was a hard one and whilst we didn't perform badly, we weren't at our best and we got pipped at the post. We missed first place by 2 points. If only I'd written down Matt Willis and Crime and Punishment.......But we don't care. We are soooo happy to have come second. We had a great team and each individual brought a vast array of obscure knowledge to the team. We plan on reassembling for next year and this time we won't be beaten.....or at least we won't come last!

Well done to Head Master Mr Roger Jones for MCing the event. He did a fabulous job of making the questions very clear. Martin Stanford (of Sky News fame) who is a parent at the school, did an amazing job of setting up the multimedia. Sara, his wife showed incredible dedication in handing out and collecting answer sheets. She even took a tumble to the floor. What a trooper!

Mostly, I want to say thanks to the our team, Know Hopes! We really enjoyed our night. We discovered hidden troves of knowledge and talent. We got to know each other a bit more (Metamorphosis, Joy?). And we laughed. It was a great night for all!

Saturday 24 February 2007

Class Mum

I am Sebastian's class mum at school and share the responsibility for his class with Sandy. The other Year 1 class has another class mum, Lucinda. We help out at PTA events and typically organise a couple of coffee mornings and evenings out during the term. It is nice to catch up with the mums and have a chat about what they are up to. They are a great group of girls and we always have a fab time when we get together.

The other night a few of us met up for dinner at a restaurant in Windsor, Thai Square. This little place is a bit deceptive from the outside. It looks really small with seating for about 12 people. Then you enter and go down these stairs. A "courtyard" of gold and terracotta opens up and there are loads of tables, usually all full. The food is equally surprising. When I normally go to Thai restaurants I get the standard Pad Thai Noodles. I've been some dodgy Thai restaurants and been disappointed whenever I stray from the standard.

This restaurant has one of those menus that you could read for hours and want to order everything. I got a starter of chicken wrapped in spinach leaves which were then fried to make crispy with a side of sweet chili dipping sauce. For a main I got "Weeping Tiger" which are thin slices of marinated beef grilled and served with a spicy BBQ sauce. The meat was so tender it melted in my mouth. I also got to try the dish that Joy ordered. Not sure what this was called but it was equally divine. We enjoyed several bottles of wine and some great conversation.

We've got a busy weekend ahead of us!

Friday 23 February 2007

New Cars (Again)

Veda, Marc's mum, bought a new car back in December after crashing hers in Southampton. She didn't like the new car very much after owning it for a while. It had a couple problems and she just went off it. Marc spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of weeks hunting down a new car for her. And this is what he's found. She came up yesterday to pick it up and will drive it home this morning.

All this new car hunting got Marc a bit motivated to rid our family of the gas guzzling adolescent attack of a car that he owned for the last couple years. The gas mileage was atrocious. It was uncomfortable to sit in (although you did look good sitting in it)! The children hated sitting in the back of the convertible with the top down. You begin to ask yourself, what's the point of having a convertible if you never put the top down? There was no place to put the dog. And no place to put groceries. This was a wholly inappropriate purchase of a family man. I think he has outgrown this as evidenced by his very reasonable purchase of the diesel estate. The boot is big enough to live in should the need ever when he decides to buy a new car.
We now have a very grown up, very sensible, dog friendly, child friendly, holiday & IKEA friendly automobile. Ta Da!

Thursday 22 February 2007

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Tea at the Bastow's

Afternoon tea in England is a fabulous tradition. No where is it more fabulous that at the Bastow house. On Sunday we were invited round to the Bastow home for afternoon tea. Hurray, say I!

John is Marc's Uncle. He is Veda's big brother. Sebastian is incredibly fond of John mostly because he is very good at building things with legos. On Sunday, John and Sebastian constructed the most amazing garage complete with a (non working) generator on the roof. You can see how Sebastian might be particularly smitten with John.

Mary is John's wife. She is very talented at just about everything she undertakes. She is a fabulous golfer and very crafty. For Christmas she knitted clothes for Abigail's dolly. She also made beautiful quilts for both the children when they were born. Sebastian's quilt is still in pristine condition. Abigail on the other hand can't make it through the day without taking her quilt just about everywhere she goes. On Sunday, Mary took the opportunity to make some emergency repairs to the quilt. She was even patient enough to try teach Abigail how to make her own repairs. that's a good thing. Abigail will need that skill when she needs to make repairs after she has left home to go to university.

Dorothy, Mary's mum, lives just round the corner from them and she came round for tea as well. Dorothy will be celebrating her 90th birthday in April. She used to be a school teacher and is still just sharp as a tack. She gets a bit frustrated though because her hearing unfortunately, isn't as good as it used to be, and she struggles to keep up with the conversation. this is particularly difficult when 2 children are running around like crazy maniacs!

Mike, Mary's brother, lives with Dorothy so obviously, he also had a cuppa or two with us. He keeps up with all the sporting news and keeps us informed of all the latest stories from the newspapers. Few things happen in the world without Mike bringing them to our attention!

Tea was delicious! Biscuits were Divine! Thank You for the conversation!

Tuesday 20 February 2007


My family has a rich tradition of storytelling. Not the novelist type of storytelling but the kind of storytelling that starts with a real event and then throughout the years gets told and retold so many times by so many people at so many events it evolves into something only barely resembling the actual real event. By that time, the story has been told so many times no one is entirely sure what did really happen. And does it really matter?

Worse than that we tell the same stories over and over and over and over. I watch my step-mum's eyes roll back in her head each time one of these story telling sessions begins. She has heard these stories sooooo many times she must be eternally bored with them. But not us.

There's the one about my grandfather (aka Pop) putting dynamite down the outhouse hoping it would clear the blockage at the bottom. He didn't anticipate that it would blow up and out rather than down. Nanny would tell you how the sh*t and paper hung from the trees for a 2 mile radius and no one came to visit due to the stench. Or the time family went to pick my Uncle Bob up at the airport when he was returning from war. My mother had a few too many drinks and got into the back of the station wagon and was leaning on the back window (which was rolled down). Someone complained it was a bit windy so he rolled it up with my mother's fingers trapped. I love listening to these stories no matter frequently they are told. Each person can tell the same story but somehow it becomes their own by the way they tell it.

Nanny ran over one of her sons, my Uncle Ed, when he was a boy with her car, twice. She was telling him to stop playing with the door handle or he would fall out and get run over. Well, guess what? He fell out. She ran over him. And in her moment of panic, she put the car in reverse and did it again as if to make the point. We all learned our lesson. Listen to Nanny. She can foresee the future. Of course, the story evolved into she did it intentionally (which of course she didn't).

There is a rather rude story about my sister and my cousin, Valerie, torturing my grandmother on one of their road trips from Colorado to Nebraska for the annual family reunion. I won't tell it here for fear of embarassing her but it never fails to make us bust a gut laughing when it gets told.

I miss those big family gatherings where these stories got told. We would gather around my grandmother's kitchen table and play games: Farco, Rummikub, etc. My Uncle Bob would always cheat so you had to keep an eye on him. My cousin, Chris, Bob's son, would cheat too and if Bob and Chris were playing at the same time, well, you might as well fold and take your game elsewhere. The games got loud and could go on for hours and hours. I remember first bringing my husband home and introducing him to Farco....and the stories. He thought we were all just a bit eccentric. The stories would come out and we would all end up laughing. But he too has grown to love the stories.

But we would talk as much as we played. About everything and anything. And the stories would evolve. This is where we learned about each other. We learned to look at our grandparents and parents as fallible humans rather than omniscient super humans.

I am getting older and my memory is fading. I can't remember some of the stories and it makes me sad. The annual events at Nanny's house used to remind me of all those stories and I didn't write them down. Oh, how I regret that.

What are your family stories?

Monday 19 February 2007

If you fall off a horse......

get right back on. Well, Sebastian learned that lesson on Sunday morning. He had his very first fall. Manni was trotting and Seb must have been day dreaming because he was soon on the ground. He landed on his bottom and was not injured. He jumped right up and got right back on the pony. No fear, no tears, just stubborn determination and a keen appreciation that he must pay attention. All important lessons for life.

We went to IKEA on Saturday which is sooooo much fun. My sister loves IKEA and they don't have one in Colorado. She is sooooo jealous of me! I hate to admit it though....on Saturday we were wholly uninspired or shall I say, IKEA was uninspiring. We have a long list of desirable items but IKEA had nothing that captured our fancy. We left having bought nothing on the list. Of course, that didn't mean we left empty handed, which is even more frustrating!

Sunday we had afternoon tea at the Bastow's. I have loads of photos to share. Unfortunately, I made the leap into Windows Vista yesterday. Marc is upgrading our operating system and has not loaded all the programs I need to import photos from my camera's memory chip. As soon as that is complete I will update my post. ETA=Sometime tonight before he goes to bed!!!!!!

Sunday 18 February 2007

Look Mum: I'm a Wizard pretending to be a Chicken

Which Brings Me Home

Which brings me back home. The return trip was wholly uneventful! I knew better than to even try to carry on two bags so I smushed everything into my briefcase and put the handbag in the checked suitcase.

I'd like to introduce you to my two co-stars in this adventure: Rod (on left) and Glyn (on right). Rod and I enjoyed the food and our clumsy attempts at speaking German. Glyn enjoyed his chips (french fries) and bread rolls.

Marc and the children were waiting for me at the airport. The children ran towards me screaming "Mummy". Great big cuddles and kisses refueled me.

Hopefully now, I am all caught up on my blogging and can give it a rest. I feel like someone who has been out in the desert and has finally quenched their thirst.

Saturday 17 February 2007

European Microsoft Sharepoint Conference 2007

I've been to a lot of conferences during my professional career. I mean a lot of conferences. This was one of the worst.

I had very high hopes. I had never been to a Microsoft conference but had a great deal of hope and high expectations. maybe this is where I went wrong.

I attended the Gartner ITSymposium Expo in Cannes, France in November 2006 and this was easily one of the best (if not THE best conference I've ever attended so maybe my expectations were unfairly high). I now compare conferences to the gold standard. this was not it.

You judge for yourself:

  1. The first morning of the conference started well enough. The conference venue was a bit outside of the centre of Berlin. Not necessarily a bad thing. It was just a short (20 minutes) taxi ride for us. Check-in started at 8:30 which seemed a bit late to me. Most conferences you can register for the night before to avoid the rush and get started early in the morning but this didn't matter to me since I wouldn't have made a special trip to the venue just to register. However, it should be noted that some conferences have warm-up sessions on Sunday evening so you don't just sit about in your hotel. That's OK, though. This was going to be a bit of a slower pace.

  2. The welcome packet came in a paper Microsoft bag. It had a different piece of paper for each session schedule for each day and another page with a map of the venue. Not connected. Not in a little booklet. Phew, that's a lot of paper to keep track of. The other items were some very hefty catalogue and brochures. Don't know what they were because they were all in German. Wasn't this the European conference? Wasn't this supposed to be in English? Did they want me to carry these heavy items which I can do nothing with around with me? Fat Chance!

  3. The delegate badges were not bar coded or have metallic strips. There was no way for Microsoft to tell which sessions I had attended. The supplier partners could not swipe my delegate badge and get my contact details. Not a good thing. Very inefficient.

  4. The first session of the morning was the welcome and key note. We started 30 minutes late. And the welcome address started in German. Now we had confirmed that the conference was going to be in English and I was starting to get worried when the speaker was still speaking German after 10 minutes. He did switch to English and proudly announced that over 50 countries were attending. At this point, I couldn't help but ask myself, if that was true, why in the world did he just spend the last 10 minutes speaking to us in German? He must have made the decision about what would be in the welcome pack. By the end of the welcome and keynote sessions, I was a bit bored. Not inspired, not excited about being here. Just waiting to get on with the real stuff.

  5. Every session for the rest of the day started late. I walked out of one due to boredom. I think I might have fallen asleep in another. I hope I didn't wake any of the other delegates with my snoring. Many times, people just got up and walked out.

  6. Lunch was scheduled for at least 2 hours each day and on the last day we were allowed 2 1/2 hours for lunch. This seems a bit slothful to me. I like a bit of buzz and any buzz I might have gotten was quickly subdued by the 1/2 hour coffee breaks between each session. At the Gartner conference, I remember trying to pee and drink a glass of water at the same time so I wouldn't be late to the next session.

  7. At the Gartner conference I had trouble picking from the vast choices of interesting sounding sessions. At the Microsoft conference, I struggled to find one for each time slot.

  8. Day 2 didn't start very well. The keynote was the worst I have ever attended and half the attendees walked out. Can't even begin to tell you who was speaking and what they were speaking about. I can still tell you that the CEO of HP spoke at the opening session of the Gartner conference and the CIO of HSBC spoke at the closing day. That keynote made me want to work for HSBC and him. It made me want to change my work environment. He made me want to be better than I was. He was fabulous.

  9. The keynote on the last day was cancelled altogether. Hmmmmm, this is not good!

  10. The very last session that I attended on the very last day was the one that I learned the most from. it was about migrating from a Sharepoint 2003 platform to a Sharepoint 2007 platform. This is extremely relevant to me. I got some sound advice on what to do and what not to do. I can use this.

  11. The supplier partner stalls all the looked the same and there was no compelling reason to step up and make an inquiry. Oh and some of the staffs displayed only in German. Wasn't this the European conference?

I picked up some little nuggets of useful information from various sessions in the conference. I got to see what Sharepoint 2007 looks like. There were some extremely knowledgeable Microsoft professionals on site who were willing to discuss at length the answers to any questions. I could have gotten the value of 10 (above) by going to the Microsoft campus in Reading, just 20 miles down the road from me.

The language thing doesn't really bother me. Although I almost wrote that if we had been in France it would have all been French but that wasn't true at the Gartner conference or a Project Management conference I attended in Paris some years ago or so.

I don't think I'll be going to another Microsoft conference anytime soon. and I don't think I'll be approving anyone who works for me to go any time soon.

Hotel Reservations....or Perhaps Not!

My colleague, Rod, very generously offered to book the hotel in Berlin for us. He had the inside on some good deals on some good hotels in Berlin. I trust Rod. So I trusted him with my hotel reservation. It also meant I didn't have to do it myself. Always a good thing.

I became a bit nervous when he announced very excitedly, that the hotel was on Freidrichstrasse. This is the famous home of Checkpoint Charlie. Last time I was in Berlin was in 1991. The Berlin Wall had fallen just a few years before (1989) and this area of Berlin certainly was a bit run down, particularly the east side. Not something to get excited about and certainly not THE place to stay. But I trust Rod.

I turned up at the hotel and was pleasantly surprised to find that this part of Berlin had been completely rejuvenated. There were shiny new buildings everywhere, including our hotel. I was very relieved and a tad bit excited to be nearing the end of the day's trials and tribulations. Ah, but not so fast.

In my best German (by now my confidence was way up), I asked for my room only to be told that my reservation had been cancelled by my company. Now this was odd indeed, since my company didn't make the reservation and had no idea where I was staying. I am a bit paranoid, however, and thought maybe this is their way of telling me where I am in the recent reorganisation: on the street. Oddly, Rod's reservation had not been cancelled. Glyn, our other travelling companion, had also had his reservation cancelled. Maybe Rod wanted to be alone. Maybe I didn't trust Rod so much after all.

Common sense prevailed and I convinced the front desk that clearly there was a mistake. Since I was standing in their lobby, the reservation should clearly not have been cancelled. Fortunately, they had a spare room (and one for Glyn).

The hotel was nice and not expensive especially considering we were in a European capital city. The restaurant wasn't all that good (and extremely over priced for what you get) so I recommend you eat at the Beer Cellar across the road. The weinerschnitzel was to die for! The Alterwasser Beir was also very good!

As a side, Tony Blair was visiting Berlin at the same time. Not at the same hotel. They probably cancelled his reservation.

Friday 16 February 2007

Immigration Procedures

I have not yet applied for my British citizenship. I should. I have been living in the UK for almost 11 years and I am married to a Brit. But I have to take a test. And I haven't had time to study. So I travel on my American passport. Which is a pain when travelling in the European Union. I don't get to go in the fast aisle when I get to the immigration desk. I have to go in the "other" aisle.

Typically this "other" aisle has only 1 person on one desk and the queue is long. Upon arrival at the Berlin airport, I got into the "other" queue. And waited. And waited. The EU queue had emptied and only one person had been processed in my queue.

I did what any impatient foreigner would do. I switched queues. Luckily, I used to live in Dusseldorf and my German used to be pretty good. But this was a long time ago and I was nervous about remembering my vocabulary. Luckily, it all came flooding back to me. I explained to the immigration official (in German) that the other queue wasn't moving. And that my passport wasn't really expired. There was an extension stamp. And that my last name wasn't Smith anyone. There was a name change. And that on yet another page there was a permanent residence visa for the UK. Not sure how much of my German he understood but he got very tired of me butchering the language and I think he just stamped the damn thing so I would shut up.

I got my suitcase. (Silent Celebration Alert: BA did NOT lose my suitcase!!!) I unpacked my one big bag back into my two more manageable bags and set off in search of a taxi. German efficiency meant I didn't have far to go or long to wait and within moments I was hurtling at speed through the traffic on my way to Freidrichstrasse. (Warning: Germans drive fast!) Phew, I have survived. Ah, but not so quick. I still have to check in at the hotel.

PS I left my copy of Time magazine on the plane. I hadn't finished reading it. It was a old one all about the fascinating machinations of the brain. Anyone know where I can get an old copy?

Fear of Flying

I was soooo worried that British airways was going to lose my suitcase. You see British Airways has lost thousands of passenger's suitcases over the last 4 months (that's lost each day). We had a bad deep dark fog for about 4 consecutive days and they blamed the lost luggage on the fog. That has since proved to be untrue. I had momentarily toyed with the thought of not checking my suitcase but then after the whole carry on fiasco I am glad I had come to my senses and decided to take a risk on BA.

What this meant was that I had forgotten all about one very important factor:

I am afraid to fly. Not so much the flying bit but the landing and taking off bit. So I count. And breathe quickly. And squeeze the arm rest (even if a stranger's arm happens to be there). I feel very sorry for people sitting next to me. When I feel the thrust of the engines on take off, I start counting to 100. If I make it to 100 I feel safe. If I don't, well, that's never happened.....yet.

Landing is a bit different. I never know when to start counting. If I can see the ground I can sort of guess when I think is an appropriate time to start counting. If I can't see the ground, I start counting way too soon, get to 100 before we are even close to the ground, find myself bent over in crash position, crying hysterically. I squeal when we hit the ground and sit up to find the person next to me is holding their arm as it drips blood from my finger nails being driven into them.

I used to travel a lot for work before I had the job I currently have. Flying often meant that I had less and less anxiety about it. Although now I do tell myself that statistically if you fly often, it is more likely that your plane will crash. Now I just insist on sitting at the back of the plane. Statistically, I have a greater chance of surviving the crash, I delude myself.

My husband loves to fly. One of his favourite programs is Air Crash Investigations which he watches frequently. I try to make sure I am not in the room but you can't help picking up the sounds and tiny details which taken out of context makes my condition even worse!

I very rarely fly without my husband and children now. In fact, in 6 years, I have only flown twice without them. Both of those times have been in the last 4 months. Marc and I have flown lots all over the world together. He is very good at explaining to me what all the different noises are and if I should be afraid (he always says no but I'm not sure if he would tell me I should). I always want to ask at check-in if they could assign me a travel buddy who could do the same.

Flying is always the worst part of a business trip for me. Funny thing is......the flying wasn't the worst part of this last trip. Oh now, that was just the beginning (or the middle bit - or simply one more thing).

PS Airplane food sucks! It used to be bad. Then it got better. Now you get a sandwich thrown at you. You have to ask if there is a choice of sandwiches. This causes the flight attendant to scowl. There is a small chocolate biscuit with the sandwich and you get a lukewarm cup of tea after your sandwich. I just love British Airways.......

Thursday 15 February 2007

Air Travel and Luggage

You cannot fly anywhere without any luggage. Well, unless you go for just a day but I can't imagine doing that. You would have to start off way too early in the morning and travel home late at night. Or just fly a short distance. Even then you have to carry a book, or iPod, or in my case a Passport. Perhaps a camera, wallet (with cash and credit cards), oh and do not forget the good old mobile phone. Quite frankly, I am still not sure how men are coping without hand bags these days!

Ever since 9/11, the airlines and more specifically, the companies subcontracted to do airport security and who run the shops in the airports are making loads of money. Sorry, I might get blasted for this but I just don't care.

On my trip to Berlin, I turned up at the airport 2 hours before departure time. Good thing. I might have missed the flight otherwise.

I got into the queue of over 25 people. There were four other queues I could have joined. they were all longer than the queue I joined. I suddenly had a moment of panic that I was in the wrong queue and asked a BA employee if I needed to be in this queue. No, he told me. I could self-service check-in at some kiosks. I got out of the queue, relieved although slightly wary of what I was supposed to do with my luggage after I "self-serviced". I stuck my passport in the designated spot. It was rejected and I was instructed to go to a service desk. I had to rejoin the queue I had been in. Now there were 30 people. No one had actually finished at the front of the queue. 5 more people had joined.

After waiting a very long time, I got my bag checked and thought, hurrah, time to shop in duty free. Carrying my hand bag and my briefcase with my laptop in it, I set off to go through security. I was rejected. I was told that I could not carry a hand bag and a briefcase. I can have 1 piece of carry on luggage not much bigger than a postage stamp. (ALERT: That was a slight exaggeration. Actual size restrictions here.)

So what are my options here? I am not going to leave my hand bag or my briefcase here to be left behind and thrown away. Nor am I going to check either one of these items. I tried to combine them into one but that was a losing battle. And I can't put anything in my suitcase because I have just stood in a very long line for a very long time and checked the darn thing!

So off I go. I stop at the first place that looks like it might have some luggage on sale. They wanted £115 (~$230) for a small duffel bag. Somehow I don't think I can expense that. I carry on looking well aware that my time for shopping is quickly dwindling. On the verge of tears, I find a canvas bag for £15 and snap it up. I cram everything into it.

As I start to pass through the same security zone, the man is yelling something about liquids, bottled drinks and lip gloss. I reply that I don't need anything, thanks! Somehow I don't think that is exactly what he meant. But I am running out of time.

Now I am at the x-ray machine. I have to unpack the canvas bag to get the laptop out to put it through the machine. Then repack it. Then unpack to put the laptop back in. Then repack it. Was this one bag thing supposed to be saving time? Or is it just a way to get under my skin? One queue had to remove their shoes but my queue didn't. Some had to remove their coats. Some didn't. Somehow this whole security thing seemed rather random to me. To make matters worse, there were many women carrying 2 bags: 1 handbag, 1 other bag. Annoyed does not even begin to describe my feelings at this point.

By the time I have finished the security workout, I am sweating and thirsty. I race to a shop to grab a diet time for shopping! As I go down the concourse, I pause on the moving sidewalk, open the diet coke, and start quenching my thirst. I reach the end of the moving sidewalk. There is a sign. "No unsealed drinks beyond this point." I have drank exactly 1/3 of my bottle of diet coke and I am now being instructed to throw it away. I am not the only one. A man and woman are standing in front of me, chugging their hot coffees. I drink the whole bottle of diet coke, burp really loud and chuck the bottle into the rubbish bin. They aren't even recycling!

My arm and shoulder is aching because what was nicely balance in 2 bags is now killing me in 1 bag. I have to pee because I've just chugged a whole litre of diet coke and they have already boarded most of the plane. And I'm in a middle seat at the back of the plane.

I am not in a good mood.

Back in the UK

I have returned from Berlin and am back on line. I can only hope you missed me half as much as I missed you. I have loads to tell you about but am struggling to find the time to get it all down. For now, let's just say that I couldn't believe that at a Microsoft Conference in Berlin (a European capital) I could not get my laptop to connect to do a simple post. No connection was available at the hotel and even the conference venue had insufficient bandwidth to cope with the conference delegates. Worst of all, Microsoft had not provided free kiosks with Internet access at the conference. Bad Bad Bad!!! But that is just the start of it! I have a litany of complaints!

Stay tuned for all the details.

Sunday 11 February 2007

I'm Off

Thursday we got a new sofa and chairs. We ordered them way back in November and at one point I had forgotten that we had bought them. The middle foot stool and cushion are movable so you can move it up and down on the sofa and even move it to the chair. I am sooooo relieved to get rid of that blue monstrosity. Although I am not rid of it completely. It is currently in the garage until the charity shop can pick it up. the only downside to the new sofa is that it is not a sofa bed. but I don't know anyone who liked sleeping on that sofa bed and besides we now have a guest bedroom. Any more guests and the futon will be once again called into service!

Yesterday we celebrated a friend's new job offer. He had been interviewing for quite some time but couldn't find anything he wanted. He just got a verbal offer from Apple here in the UK. We broke out the champagne and made him a cardboard iPhone. We had chili orange chicken (a new recipe) which was easy to make and tasted quite good. We got this amazing banoffee pie from this shop in Windsor called "cook". They do frozen ready made meals using only fresh ingredients. I highly recommend the puddings/desserts.

This afternoon I am going to a Microsoft Sharepoint conference in Berlin for a few days. Not sure what my blogging ability will be whilst I am there. I am hoping that the hotel will have connectivity. At the very least there should be a couple of PCs around the conference with internet connections so I should be able to sneak in a moment here and there. But be warned: If I can't post for the next few days just pretend you are at my sister's site. She doesn't update for days on end!

In the meantime, everyone say a little prayer for Marc who will be left home alone with the two tornadoes, I mean darlings. To make matters even worse, it is half-term so they aren't in school next week. Once again, I say "Thank Heavens for child minders!"

Saturday 10 February 2007

Global Warming

It scares the living daylights out of me. I find the whole idea that we've ruined the planet for our grandchildren incredibly frightening. Unless, of course, I don't have any grandchildren. Both of my children could grow up and decide that children strips you of your identity, money, and free time. So they don't have any of their own. But this is the subject of another post I fear.

I confess. I am one of those. I drive to work. I do live close to my office (about 4 miles) so I'm not one of those people travelling over 60 miles to get to and back from work five days/week. I could take the bus, if only it went anywhere near my office. I could ride my bicycle to the office but honestly how practical is it for a woman to bring all of her work clothes (including hair and makeup supplies) to work in her backpack along with her laptop and briefcase? Not very I say. I can hardly fit the stuff I carry back and forth in the boot of my car. Luckily I do work for home 1 day/week so there's my bit done, right?

Also, there's the school run. I work flexible hours so I can pick up my son at school. On my way home I pick him up. Except 1 day/week I take my daughter to ballet. My childminder drops of Abigail since she is already out and about doing her school runs. So we combine trips. not bad, eh?

I run the tumble dryer probably < 6 times/week in the winter and hardly ever in the summer. Not bad, I say, for a family of 4.

I run the dishwasher just once/day.

Lights are off in the house in the rooms unless we are in them. Even in the lounge we only turn one overhead light on unless I am doing my quilting. We have a number of energy saving lightbulbs in the house where I can cope with the blue light they give off.

We keep the house cool unless I light a fire in the fireplace but that is a carbon neutral heating source, right?

OK, I keep the computer and TV on standby which I probably shouldn't do. But that might be our only energy extravagance. And now I feel so guilty just admitting that to my devoted blog audience that I will stop doing that at once.

We recycle. We compost. We grow (to the best of our abilities) our own vegetables.

And still the planet melts. What are you doing to stop the melting? What more can I do?

Friday 9 February 2007

Dispatches from the Edge by Andersen Cooper

At the urging of my sister I have just finished Dispatches from the Edge. She was deeply moved by the book. Read her Review

I had picked the book up a while back on our last visit to the states and hadn't quite gotten round to reading it. I must confess it was towards the bottom of the pile. I mean honestly, what possessed me to buy a book written by the spoilt little rich son of Gloria Vanderbilt? But I trust my sister. I really trust her book recommendations .

The book moved me but not in the same way that it did Stephanie. For me it was more thought provoking causing me to reflect on how my life has forked from my family and my country. I haven't lived in the USA for years and years. People ask me questions and I have to say I don't know. It has changed so much over the last 15 years. And the book brought home the cold hard reality of how much the media influences what we know and don't know.

I was deeply disturbed by the events of the 2005 tsunami which was widely covered here on television news. It is a big tourist destination from this part of the world. We had even momentarily toyed with the idea of going that New Year's Eve.

I was less disturbed by the events of Hurricane Katrina. Not because it was any less tragic. But because I just didn't see the huge media coverage. After reading Dispatches I realised what a huge failure this was. On every level.

Anderson writes in a matter of fact style but you can see him mature as a human being and a reporter as his perception and perspective changes with each different war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, natural disaster.

I'm glad I read it and recommend it to anyone. But be warned, it is sad. Good one, Steph.

Thursday 8 February 2007


It snowed in at our house last night and during most of the morning. We still have snow on the ground. I was tempted to keep the children home from school and play in the snow. We didn't.

Bailey didn't know what to think.

We are hoping for more snow overnight. Bring it on!

Poetry in Nicknames or vice versa

A few days ago I blogged about nicknames. Nicknames

My third cousin twice removed by marriage (or something like that....I'm related to her anyway) is a talented writer and poet. She took the time to translate my meandering prose into a great poem.

Check it out here.

Wednesday 7 February 2007

In Memory

Joyce Elaine (Carson) Smith
October 3 1921-February 7 2005

The Source of All Wisdom

Two years ago today my Nanny, my father's mother, passed away. Her name was Joyce Elaine (Carson) Smith.

I've written about her in previous posts and if you know me at all, you will know that she was a very influential person in my life. When I was at university, I lived with her. She beamce a friend in addition to being my grandmother. She cooked dinner for me and my friends and was always in my life. She helped guide me through the rocky waters of growing up and gave me the benefit of her wisdom. It was not always what I wanted to hear but always what I needed. She encouraged me to work hard at school and my career. She praised my little successes. She held my hand through my disappointments. She never judged me and encouraged me to find my own bliss.

She was an generous woman who worked right up until the last month of her life as a carer for others. Others who were younger but less strong. There was always the meal you were craving in her fridge and she wouldn't hesitate to fix it for you. After my grandfather died she never remarried, never even looked at another man. She hated Saturday nights because she said these were the loneliest. She played pinochle and I regret not having her teach me this skill. She taught me loads of other stuff though and nearly all of my cooking skills are thanks to her. She made the best rhubarb pie in the world and was never afraid to surprise her family with new culinary adventures which tended to become family favourites.

She travelled extensively and we were quite surprised to learn during a family road trip that she had travelled to more countries than any one else in the family (including me) and nearly all of the 50 states.

She learned how to work a computer and stayed in touch via email, webcam and we had even set up a Skype account for her (which regrettably we never got to use).

Having grown up during the great depression, she saved everything. But then again if you asked her for something she usually had it.....and she could find it. She was amazingly organised!

She wore a bright blue dress on her wedding day she told me the year before she died. I was "interviewing" her just trying to capture some of the details of her life. She had trouble remembering things. But her eyes lit up when I asked her about her wedding. She told me she got married in the morning. Apparently, it was bad manners to get married in the afternoon because people had chores to do on the farm and you couldn't waste a whole day at a wedding!

She was due to visit me the week after she died. She had called a few days before this and said she thought she would probably have to postpone her trip. We got busy talking about the next best time and agreed September would be best and that she needed to concentrate on getting better (like she had done every time before).

When my father called to tell me she had passed on, my world tipped off its axis and I stuggled to breath. The next 2 days (whilst we sorted out flights) were some of the hardest days of my life. I was so far away from the family I needed to grab a hold of. The flight to Colorado seemed never to end . The grief would just sweep over me like a dark night with no stars or moon. There was no controlling the tears flowing from my eyes, down my cheeks, on to my neck, wetting my shirt.

My sister and I wrote a eulogy which we read at her funeral and I still read it when I want to feel close to Nanny. It is undoubtably the best thing my sister and I have ever done.

Nanny held our family together. Every Christmas Eve she held a big party for everyone and the family would gather. That tradition has died with her sadly and it breaks my heart.

I miss Nanny every day. She is still on my telephone speed dial and listed on my Christmas card, webcam and skype list. She is still in my telephone book (like I could ever forget her telephone number!) Her birthday is still in my birthday card file and diary. I come across problems and think to myself I need to call Nanny and ask her opinion. Now I call someone else.

I would not be the person I am today if she had not been in my life. I am sad that my children will not know her and that more people in the world didn't know her faith, enthusiasm and kindness. The best I can do is as she taught me.

Tuesday 6 February 2007

Daughter is a Diva

Abigail is a character. She loves dressing up. She announces her trips into her imagination with great fanfare. Arms spread open. "Ta Da!" It reminds me of that advert: "What do you want to be today?" She might decide she is a mummy or a jedi knight or a fairy. Most recently she has decided she is a popstar.

She loves dressing up. Any opportunity to put on her fairy costume is greeted with squeals of joy. Check out these shoes. She was dancing and prancing about in these shoes like she owned the catwalk. I am particularly fond of the whistle accessory she chose to go with her summer dress in February. I can tell: she's gonna be a rule breaker!

Monday 5 February 2007

A&E Adventures

I plan. God laughs.

I had 4 meetings scheduled today. The first one barely got started before we realised we needed to reschedule. The second meeting started 20 minutes late. I was late to my next meeting and I was trying to find the guy I was supposed to be meeting with thinking gee, this day isn't going so well.

Then it went really bad. The school rang.

Sebastian had injured his head during playtime on the playground. This is what boys do. But do you think I could tell myself that in the middle of my office? I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown right there. Colleagues kicked in and got me calmed down. At first I was going to meet Seb at the hospital but then the school said to pick him up at school.

I followed the slowest drivers in the world all the way to school. Mental note to self: get blue lights for top of car. Look into installing siren. It seemed to take me forever to drive the 7 miles to the school.

I managed to ring Marc on my way (only because the drivers in front of me were only doing 10 miles/hour). I got to school just as Marc was walking out of the school with him. We put Seb in may car whilst Marc made arrangements for the childminder to keep Abigail and called the mum of the school mate of Seb's that was supposed to come round after school, Armand. That clearly wasn't going to happen.

Seb had a big huge bandage round his head. He looked a bit like a Civil War soldier. I couldn't see the cut so I didn't know how big it was. His shirt and scarf was covered in blood. They had wiped up his cheek but the blood was in and behind his ear. I very rationally thought, oh, it's a head wound. They bleed.....LOTS!

We got to the hospital. There were 3 other children with cuts to various parts of the head: cheek, eye, chin. The moon must be aligned with that head injury planet.

We waited an hour (which isn't too bad for A&E). I became ever so slightly worried when the nurse took us into the same room we were in a few months ago when Seb cut open just under his eye and he proceeded to tell the nurse "Oh, I've been here before." And the nurse replied "Yes, we know. You've been here 9 times." And then gave me that accusing evil eye. Why do I always feel so guilty? He's a boy. This is what boys do to punish their mothers.

Seb was very brave and got up on the table like he knew the drill. The nurse started to wipe away the blood and because it had been a while since he had been injured, it hurt. The blood had dried. The hair was stuck. We had a few tears. I was concentrating on distracting him. Wish someone had distracted me. I looked up and snuck a peek and oh my god, the cut ran down nearly the entire side of his head. At which point I thought I was going to faint. I thought it best not to alarm Seb so we sang a rousing rendition of VooDoo Child. They glued him all back together. No baths for 5 days! mmmmm, he'll smell lovely!

I missed my last meeting altogether. I had just left the office with everything strewn all over the place (hey, that's how I work). Thanks to my colleagues for helping me regain my composure well enough to get me to the school.

I had originally planned to publish a post about my daughter and her singing and dressing up. That will have to wait until tomorrow, notwithstanding any future acts of god, natural disasters or physical accidents.

Sunday 4 February 2007

Judo Competition

I tell you it took me a loooooong while to figure out how to do this. I had to use the Mac and figure out how to do compression and all that but I've got it. Enjoy.

Don't forget to rate the video (nobody rated my previous videos!). And you can leave comments!!!!!!

Haircuts and Judo

Both children got their hair cut yesterday. Never have the differences between the two children been so apparent. Abigail got up into the chair and sat perfectly still checking out the entire process in the mirror. She didn't say a word and moved her head exactly as the lady asked.

Seb also got up into the chair all on his own but he would only let Monica cut his hair and we had to wait for her to be available. Then his face whilst sitting in the chair betrayed exactly what he thought of the entire process. His chin rested in his hands and he kept giving Monica instructions on exactly what she should be doing. He complained that the cut hair tickled him and how much he hated it.

Both children looked fabulous when it was done!

Yesterday was also Seb's first judo competition. I was nervous. He wasn't or at least that's what he said. His first match was over before it started. He wasn't paying attention and the kid (from another school) got him down before Seb even realised the match had started. He was a bit upset because he thought that was his only chance. I explained he got another go and that he should bay attention next time. He said he wouldn't make that mistake again.

The second match was a bit scary because the other child was bigger (by a head) than Seb. But that didn't scare of Sebastian. He just kept going back for more. And whilst he also lost the second match he did much better.

On the drive home we covered the 3 rules:
  1. Do your best every time. If you've done your best that's all you can do.
  2. Be a good sportsman. Don't pout or throw tantrums if you don't win.
  3. Be fierce. Focus. Concentrate. Visualise.

He liked number 3 but didn't like 2.

Seb's Judo instructor, Matthew Divall is very good with the children. He told one children who lost yesterday that "He lost a lot of matches on his way to winning." That's a good lesson.

I have video of the 2nd match and am in the process of loading it on to YouTube. I'm having a bit of trouble because it is a bit bigger than the file size allowed and am trying to edit it on my Mac. Grrrrrrr, and we all know how well I am getting on with the Mac. Wait for it! I will let you know when it gets there. He kept the audience well entertained!

Saturday 3 February 2007

Text Messaging

Text Messaging: now there's a mystery to me.

I was never good at typing on the little phone keyboard and, even with my qwerty keyboard under my new phone, I find the whole text messaging thing hard to come to grips with. It takes me forever to type them and a text message can sit in my phone for days without being read. It takes me longer to read/reply/read/reply/read/reply than the conversation would have taken.

The only time I find text messaging useful is if I'm in a meeting (or somewhere else where I can't speak) But if I'm sitting there text messaging I'm not paying attention to what I should be doing (eg paying attention in the meeting) which I find really rude when other people do to me.

Some people say texting is cheaper. I say not. At 25p per text by the time we get finished with the volley of texts I've spent more than the cost of a 2 minute phone call. And I've paid half the charge. I rarely initiate text conversations so I guess it is some people's way of getting me to pay for part of the call.

There are times when texting does come in handy: when a simple yes or no answer is required and likely. My life is not so black and white and I usually need to expand on my answers although this could be my propensity to pontificate more than anything else.

Text messaging is big in the UK. Not so big in the USA. What is it about the UK culture that makes it so much more popular?

But whatever you do don't stop texting me!

Friday 2 February 2007

3 for 3

Sebastian is 3 for 3 on his spelling tests. He had another 10 out of 10 result today. These are the victories of his (my) life!

The Island by Victoria Hislop

My neighbour, Gill, loaned me this book about a month ago but my reading is taking a back seat to my blogging so I've only managed a couple books this month.

This book is about Alexis who goes off to Greece, specifically Crete with a boyfriend (she doesn't really love) in search of her family's history. And as we all know, Greece has loads of history. Throw in beautiful women, jealous brothers (and morally bereft cousins), leprosy (of all things), and a World War and you must be able to create a good book. Well, exactly. Good is about all it gets. I got the feeling through the entire novel that it was written with the express purpose of selling the movie rights (or possibly even the straight to video rights). I can just imagine it being completely over acted with a panoramic views of the beautiful Greek beaches and mountains and closeups of dark-haired, dewy-eyed temperamental Greek buxom beauties (she actually uses that expression in the book).

Victoria Hislop is the wife of Ian Hislop, an British comedian I quite like. He does a programme called Have I Got News for You which is about the only British humour I get so it must clearly be good. I for some completely illogical reason thought that since I enjoyed the husband's sense of humour, I would enjoy his wife's novel. Wrong.

Once again, an OK read but I wish it had been lower down on the priority list because there are only about 50 million other books I'd rather have read first.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

This is the book I read over Christmas during my extended holidays from work. It has taken me quite a while to write down my opinion of the book simply because I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I am one of those people who have to talk through my opinions. It helps me form them, much to my husband's dismay. Speaking my thoughts out loud forces me to defend them. They become more solid. This is a major advantage of my book group although they may think I suffer from multiple personality disorder. I frequently switch sides of an argument.

Back to the book: The Secret River is set in the late 1800s and begins in Victorian London. It tells the story of a man who marries into a middle class family and looks all set for a long happy life with his wife whom he loves and cherishes. His father-in-law inconsiderately dies. Their situation quickly deteriorates into poverty and the man commits a crime. He is punished and like many criminals in that day and age, he is sent to Australia to serve out his sentence. He gets to take his family which has now grown to include 2 children with him. Upon arriving in Australia, he and his wife begin to build their life back, although she dreams of one day returning to London.

This is a heartbreaking story. And told vividly. The accounts of the London streets filled with sewage and rubbish were fabulously rich. The descriptions of the Australian landscape before the Sydney Opera House defined it are so detailed, my mind's eye could imagine it. The historical details of the settlement of Sydney were fascinating.

I have a few complaints. If the man loved his wife soooooo much why did he do everything she didn't want him to do. It left her completely powerless. He was one selfish husband and I had no respect for him.

The other complaint was the ending. It felt rushed. A horrible thing happens (I won't spoil the plot) and ends with everything all nice and tidy. Hmmmmmm, don't quite believe that the characters would have it all end this way. I know stories have to end (we wouldn't be able to carry around biblical size books) but this required a bit more thought.

I enjoyed the book and whilst it didn't change my life and affect me spiritually (like the Kite Runner or 5 People you Meet in Heaven), it was a nice easy beach read, what I like to call good brain candy.

Thursday 1 February 2007

Blogging about Blogging

I have read that blogging about blogging is like a major no-no.

I have also read a number of blogs about blogging so clearly the punishment is not a deterrent so I will risk it!

I'm completely addicted to recording my life/thoughts and those of the people around me and sharing it with what I perceive to be all of you. And I know that some of you are catching the disease and blogging alongside me. If you are tempted, give it a go. What have you got to lose?

There is quite a bit of debate on what a blog is. Everyone agrees it is an online journal about whatever you want to talk about (and most successfully about people want to read). There is a wide variety of subject matters being documented. Just hit the Next Blog icon at the top of my page and you will get a sample. (PS Don't do this at work where some blog content might not be considered appropriate.) There is some consensus that it is not a blog if you don't allow comments. Google's blog doesn't allow comments so many are saying this is just a web site. Mine is most certainly a blog as it certainly allows comments. However, not many leave comments. Even fewer read the comments and the comments on the comments. So the whole idea of online conversation isn't really working here.

My site meter shows that my traffic has more than doubled from that 1 month ago. However, if you look through my comments you will begin to form an opinion that there are in fact just 5 of you reading this besides me. I have a very faithful albeit limited audience that leaves comments and some even answer the questions I ask. I even got a step-by-step instruction on how to darn socks (thanks, Mom!). I'll use that the next time I have nothing else to do (which will probably be never). Although if anyone else fancies a lesson in darning socks, you can find it on my blog. Read the comments in Holey Socks.

Even if you just want to read, thanks for supporting my addiction. Keep up the good work. But know: to be truly excellent you must leave comments! Engage in the conversation.