29 October 2009
I have been wanting to share this picture. Look who we ran into at the bed and breakfast when we first arrived. Guess he was "on holiday" resting up before his busy season!
I am happy to report, "he was a right jolly old elf and I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself"!
28 October 2009
I made jambalaya last night using British pork (they LOVE to advertise the fact that it is local) and prawns. It wasn't half bad and a nice reminder of home.
I noticed a flier in the window of my favorite store weeks ago. It was advertising a knitting group that meets every other Tuesday evening at a cafe in town. They are called the Cowes Knit Wits. I thought this would be a fun way to meet people. Sam said, "Mom, REALLY, you can't take up knitting. It's like saying- I give up. I am getting old." This cracked me up and has been a source of lots of teasing between the two of us.
The girl who started the group is young and friendly. She welcomed me and jumped right in helping teach me how to cast off and get started. Learning something new as an adult is refreshing. It is fun to completely occupy your mind with the task at hand. I couldn't talk to anyone much because it took lots of concentration to practice what I was doing. I did enjoy listening to all the Brits laughing and talking. One exclaimed, "Oh, Buggar" when she couldn't get a stitch and another proclaimed an idea to be "bloody brilliant!". I felt like I was in a Hugh Grant movie.
The walk home was fun because I hadn't been in town after dark. I enjoyed seeing the signs lit up, the groups socializing in the pubs and families enjoying dinner in the restaurants. It is half-term break here so the town is bustling with visitors. Half-term also means no car was available to rent for the trip we were planning. Car rentals, ferry crossings and accomodations for seven make trips a budgetary and logistical nightmare. We continue to plot and scheme. Hopefully, I'll be posting from another country soon...
26 October 2009
Today was one of those days that I pinch myself and ask, "Did we really get this opportunity?". It was cool and sunny with sailboats gliding effortlessly along the Solent. Tea and scones, as well as a full dose of articles and highlights of the Saints game, started the morning off right. Eventually, we all made it out to the tennis courts in our backyard.
After lunch, the older kids and I walked through town to the library. This is one of our favorite outings and we make the trip almost daily. William wields his library card with such pride, you can't help but smile. We browse the books, read, use the computers and even roam through the Maritime Museum which is housed there.
By the time we left the library, it was getting cloudy. On an average day it might appear gloomy. Today, however, it looked down right cozy. A perfect sky for going home to make pancakes and watch Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, both of which we found in our box of treats. I didn't hear much about that movie when it came out but we rented it from the library a few weeks ago. I got sucked in about halfway through and can't wait to watch the entire film. Dustin Hoffman gives his typical gimmicky performance a la Rain Man and I am not a very big fan of Natalie Portman. I must confess to being a HUGE Jason Bateman fan and the youngest star Zach Mills gives a sweet performance. I like the movie because all the characters improve on their flaws and are better people for knowing each other in the end. Don't we all hope for the same? I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the film:
"Your life is an occasion. Rise to it."
24 October 2009
Emme and I did manage to cook dinner using a kids cookbook from the library. We made Roasted Butternut Squash soup, chips (potato wedges) and Crunchy Apple Cake Bars. The cake bars were delicious so I am sharing the recipe. It is from Star Cooks Cookbook for Kids. Celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott shared this recipe.
91/2 oz. soft better, plus extra for greasing
9 1/2 oz. caster sugar (that's what they call granulated)
9 1/2 oz. self-rising flour
5 eggs, beaten
2 apples, diced
2 oz. sultanas (golden raisins)
rind and juice of one lemon
a pinch of mixed spice
a pinch of cinnamon
2 oz. demerara sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
2 oz. chopped nuts (optional but not for Sam's nut allergies!)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and line a large tin baking tin. In a large bowl, mix the butter and caster sugar until lightly creamed.
Gradually beat in the flour and eggs until the mixture is smooth. Gently stir in the apples, sultanas, lemon rind, juice and spices.
Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly.
Sprinkle the demerara sugar and nuts over the top. Cook in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then cut into bars fro a mouth-watering treat.
Yesterday, I had the chance to scrapbook with a Creative Memories consultant. I have been a Creative Memories customer for over 12 years. The friendships I have made are as special as the albums I have created. I had lunch with several of my CM friends before I left New Orleans and was thinking about what it would be like to crop with a group of British women. Well, it was pretty much like I thought- very mild-mannered and quiet as we sipped our tea and nibbled our biscuits. That is, until I got warmed up and let loose. I had them in tears describing us maneuvering our luggage through the airport on those absurd trolleys. We talked about TV shows, music, food and language. It was exactly what I love most about this experience. Getting to know Brits one on one and picking their brains about their culture as well as their impressions of ours. They said they hoped I would be there next month. Hopefully, they weren't just being polite.
21 October 2009
Well, we are headed home this morning. Although there is always something more to see and do, we are ready to get back to our little island with its slow paced life.
Monday we went to Harrod's. Everything about Harrod's is impressive from the way the terra cotta building commands your respect by its sheer size to the dizzying array of goods. All are displayed with just enough glitz and glamour to keep your head spinning. Of course we spent most of our time in the Toy Kingdom but my favorite was the ground floor with all the decorative tins of biscuits and chocolates, the Krispy Kreme counter and the pastries. After modest purchases, we hit the crowded streets to find lunch. This proved to be no small task with the place swarming with hungry people, tourists and locals alike. Seven meltdowns were avoided when we quickly headed home and ate lunch at our flat.
After a restful afternoon, we went to Piccadilly Circus for an evening walk. We visited Fortnum and Mason which is touted as the world's most glamorous grocery store. It was nice but nothing in comparison to what we had seen earlier at Harrod's.
Each day we get going later and later. Tuesday we zipped out the door around noon! We went for a ride on the Eye which is a huge ferris wheel. Passengers ride about 25 to a pod and the trip takes 30 minutes. From its location on the Thames river you can see ALL of London. After lunch Mark took Sam and Elise back to rest while Emme, Anne, William and I visited Kensington Palace and Gardens. Our first stop was the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. This is really the best playground in the world. The play areas are inspired by the story of Peter Pan and include tee-pees, sensory trail and a magnificent pirate ship as the center piece. All are set in a backdrop of lush greenery. It truly encourages kids to use their imagination as they explore. Eventually I dragged the kids away and we toured the palace where Diana lived with the two young princes. There was a tour of the State apartments as well as a display of Diana's fashion. Everyone enjoyed it and learned something, which is the part I like.
Hope you have enjoyed coming along with us for the ride. See you back in Cowes!
19 October 2009
Wow! What a Saints victory last night. We figured out a sneaky way to watch the games and it has been a god send. It helps ease the Saints withdrawals but it is nothing like being in the city, watching all the coverage and just feeling the electricity. We ate hot dogs and Krispy Kreme donuts to make it an American evening in London. Who would have thought you could enjoy a KK donut all the way across the pond? They taste exactly the same, too!
This weekend we did tons of walking. We went to a lovely park that had a petting zoo and several different play structures. It is fun to see the different things they build for kids to play on. Most are typical but some are really neat. They had face painting available so William strutted through the streets of London as Spiderman. We had lunch at one of the kids favorite places- Subway. It is apparently a favorite of the Brits as well because there is one on every corner.
Sunday morning we walked to St. Etheldreda's which is the oldest Catholic church in England. I would have to be a poet to describe the beauty of the church, the Latin Mass and the choir. You could feel yourself ascending to Heaven right along with the incense. The best part is the kids were so well behaved, an elderly lady complimented us after Mass. I graciously took the compliment and moved on quickly before any of the kids started whining or bugging one another. :-)
We ate lunch at Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, an authentic pub that was built during the reign of Charles the II (Remember him from the story of the Tower ravens?). We had leg of lamb, fish and chips, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Food was good and the atmosphere was fabulous. Mark hard a hard apple cider that we both enjoyed. Sweet enough for me, "hard" enough for him.
The rest of the day was spent walking and getting ready for the big game. We still have Harrod's, Fortnum and Mason and Kensington Palace to cover. The sleeping arrangements are getting tough but we can manage another night or two.
16 October 2009
Initially, it was a hard sell to the kids. The tour is interesting with tons of history but not so much for the kids At one point I was wincing and hoping they weren't listening to the story of the executioner who took 5 swings to behead someone and still didn't succeed. I'll spare you the details of how he accomplished his job.
After the hour long tour, we watched an historical reenactment. Men and women dressed in period clothes explained what is was like to defend a palace. They taught so much about both attacking and defending a fortress with great humor and audience participation. Sam and Emme were picked to climb a ladder over the fortress wall to learn of the demise of most trying to penetrate a castle this way. Sam had boiling water dumped on his head and Emme had excrement heaped on hers. Both water and excrement, they explained, were cheap and readily available. I joined in the fun by helping launch a catapult. As the man explained, you have to do two things at once to be successful- pull a rope and fall on your ass. His quote, not mine. I did both just fine, especially the second part. The kids were enthralled with the whole demonstration and William couldn't have been happier if Robin Hood himself was standing in front of him. The costumes were fantastic. We took tons of pictures and William was beside himself when one of the men let him hold his sword for the photograph. The Tower of London was now officially the coolest tourist attraction in London.
They was still so much more to see and do, we decided to stop for a lunch of what else- fish and chips. It was surprisingly good and reasonably priced. There are actually two or three restaurants and as you can imagine, about four themed gift shops in the complex.
Next we move on to the Crown Jewels. When you enter the building, there is a room called the Hall of Monarchs. The coat of arms of every monarch is displayed as well as the years of their reign. It was fun for the kids to figure out how many years some had reigned, trying to find the longest ones. We also compared names, counting the most popular such as Edward and Henry. If we make a graph later at home, this could count as a homeschooling lesson! Mark pointed out that there has only been one King John. This is familiar to the kids because of Disney's Robin Hood. You may remember the thumb-sucking tiger who portrayed the dastardly, coward of a king. Do you know which number William will be if/when he becomes king? You have probably heard of William the Conqueror who was the first king of England. There have been three others so Diana's son will be King William the Fifth, should he ascend to the throne. There is also some great footage of the coronation of Elizabeth II which shows the Crown Jewels and how they are worn on State occasions. To view the variety of jewels you step on a conveyor belt to keep the crowd moving. The most famous gem in the entire collection is the Star of Africa. It weighs 530 carats and is the largest top-quality white diamond ever cut. It sits atop the sovereigns scepter and is stunning.
Next we toured some of the towers and ended the day at the gift shop. Elise was happy to purchase her own crown jewels made of high quality plastic just like the sword William chose. Emme couldn't live without a coin purse beaded with a Union Jack design. Anne and Sam were happy with stuffed ravens. Next to the Beefeaters, the ravens are the most famous residents of the tower. It is said that the tower and the kingdom will not fall as long as there are ravens in residence. To this end, Charles II protected them by royal decree. Now, they have their wings clipped, a procedure that doesn't harm them but insures they will not fly away. To honor him, they named there stuffed version Chuck. :-)
We were a happy, tired, well-educated crew by the end of the day.
Have a great weekend. Let's make Eli remember where he came from! Go Saints!
15 October 2009
We have quite a list of sights to see while we are here. It is great to be able to take things at a leisurely pace, especially with 5 kids in tow. They are pretty good travelers, I must admit and I catch many people smiling at one of the kids or the whole crazy scene of us. Elise seems to make friends wherever we go. One sweet foreign lady asked in broken English if all the kids were mine. When I answered yes, she smiled and said, "Oh, very nice!".
This morning, after a rough night, we took it easy. There is one double bed and a futon for the seven of us. Elise curled up on a chair. Hey, free is rarely the lap of luxury. :-) Anyway, we headed for the Museum of Childhood which I had read about on a website of free London attractions. It is a small museum filled with toys and other things relating to childhood. What a find! We stayed there about 3 hours and only left because we were hungry. We could have stayed even longer. It is a small museum with very nicely arranged displays that captivate children and adults alike. There were amazing examples of antique toys, some dating from as early as the 1600's. Riding toys, wind-up toys, dolls, board games, costumes, you name it, they had it! There were several toys from the seventies that brought back memories to me and Mark.
After our museum visit, we headed to Trafalgar Square and grabbed a quick lunch at a street vendor advertising "American hot dogs". The kids have been missing them so it was a treat. The weather was gorgeous- sunny and about 70 degrees. We ate in the courtyard of a famous church- St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The original church on the site dates from the 13th century but the current structure was built around 1726. Charles II's mistress is buried here and many Londoners waited out bombings during WW II in the crypt.
We made our way home via Charing Cross Road. One of my favorite books is 84 Charing Cross Road. If you haven't read it, pick up a copy. It is a quick read and such a charming book. When you finish the book, rent the movie with Ann Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins(I think). It is one of the first times, I saw a movie after reading the book and wasn't disappointed. We window shopped at several charming bookstores like the one talked about in the book. The exact address is now a Pizza Hut, I am sad to report. Now really sure how much of the book is fact or fiction, anyway.
This evening we watched cable TV, which is a treat because we don't have it at home. We walked to a pizzeria and then to bed early to catch up on the sleep we missed last night. As a matter of fact, I am keeping Elise awake because I am blogging in her bed- remember the chair I mentioned earlier.
There is SO much more I could say but I guess I will have to save it for another day. Hope you are enjoying the tour of London. Tomorrow we are off to the Tower of London, home of many executions as well as the Crown Jewels. St. Thomas More was imprisoned and killed here. Hey! There's another book and movie recommendation- A Man for all Seasons. Now get reading. Quick, because we are looking at a rail trip to Stratford-upon-Avon and the reading I suggest after visiting Shakespeare's home will not be light!
I'll leave you with a quote displayed at the Museum of Childhood: "We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." George Bernard Shaw
13 October 2009
We have gotten TOTALLY hooked on this retro British children's TV show. Nothing like the Flumps to brighten a gray day. This is what pint-sized Brits were watching when Americans were learning the preamble with Schoolhouse Rock. I know it seems crazy but these- hairy rocks?! - are adorable. Happy to connect you to all the finer points of British culture.
12 October 2009
Thanks, George. We had a great time! Soooo... who's next?
Speaking of London, Mark has needed to go to London several times already for meetings. A client in New Orleans hooked him up with an American living in London who lets him spend the night at his flat. He is leaving today for a long business trip and said the whole family is welcome while his place is vacant. Hopefully, you will see some London photos posted soon. Island life is great but I have been here 6 weeks and am ready to explore a little. He took Sam and Mary Elizabeth on one of the trips and they are dying to share their experiences so here goes:
Absolutely Everything from a Kid's Eye View by Mary Elizabeth Zelden
Hello, there! This is Mary or "Emme" speaking. Well I'm sure you're wondering what you are reading, because of the title, well you're reading about Harrods Department store. About a week ago my brother and I took a trip to London, home of the famous Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Harrods. I am a huge shopper and there is no mall on the Island, so I was about to faint just looking at it. It's a HUGE, 5 floor hotel looking building complete with doormen. On the side of the building is a light up structure that reads "Harrods" in large sparkly letters. So we walked in, stored our luggage and marched up to the Christmas department for a quick peek. After about ten minutes of red and green, we went up to the pizzeria for lunch. Let me tell you, Harrods is fancy, no fast food or carry out. After a coconut chocolate cupcake for dessert, we moved on to, well, everything else. There was so much to see, in so little time. We saw exercise machines, clothes, golf supplies and big screen TV's and even a Hummer golf cart! Can you guess which department Sam and I spent the most time in? The bath and shower department! And no, I'm not kidding! The bath tubs were as big as small outside above-ground pools. Well, send comments PLEASE! That's all for now!
London Town by: Sam Z.
I was surprised at how much some parts of London reminded me a lot of New York City back home. It was very cool. It was almost like being in NYC except it was rainy, and of course the small details like BIG BEN and tons of I love London t-shirt vendors. There were also some famous areas, streets, and landmarks to keep our long walk to Harrods interesting. We saw a statue of Churchill, Big Ben, and more. Not to mention the HUGE shopping center Harrods. It blew me away. It was the largest concentration of the biggest and best things you could imagine. There was a 1.8 million pound (monet, that is) bathroom. There was a pac-man machine that you could play for free, huge halls filled with every kind of food, not to mention the pizzeria with the most delicious pizza ever, and the miniature putting green with over 100 putters to try out. There was a room filled with pianos and guitars (which I loved) and a video game area. All in all.... amazing!
We also saw some of the new Darwin Center and the Royal Academy of Music. When it was time to leave we departed from London Waterloo to Southampton Central and took the ferry home. I had a lot of fun and hope we can go soon. Keep the comments coming=) . Sam
11 October 2009
Mark has always said, life is about trade offs. I have never argued with that statement but boy, am I living it now. Whenever I feel sad and miss home and "our old life" as William puts it, I know that you can't have both. I couldn't have this great experience without giving something up. The "giving something up" stops us from doing so many things. I am glad we didn't let it keeps us from this adventure. Well, the day is dawning, the sailboats are sailing and the troops are rising. Guess it is time to get into fearless leader mode. Keep calm and carry on.
09 October 2009
07 October 2009
Finally! My cord arrived (thanks Mom and Dad) so I can transfer the photos directly from my camera to my computer and share them with you. This is the side of the house where the living room opens onto the terrace.
Here is the view from the terrace. The land you see in the distance is the mainland of England. The body of water is called the Solent. I have gotten some great pictures of lots of different boats that I'll share later.
In reference to my last post, if rainy days get me down, I am in the wrong place. It has been raining off and on for the past three days with rain in the forecast for tomorrow. Most of the time it is just gray and misty. We have been passing the time watching the fog roll in and out. It goes something like this:
"Hey, I can barely see the mainland."
Twenty minutes later...
"Wait, I can see it again."
Another twenty minutes...
"Wow, now I can't see it at all."
Maybe thirty minutes this time...
"Well, there it is again."
You can see this makes for a thrilling and quickly moving day, especially with 5 kids to entertain.
Mark and I had a revelation today. Our mood is measured by the strength of our wireless connection. Strong connection=good mood. Weak connection=bad mood. Monday we had no wireless signal. I am happy to report the signal was pretty good today. Tomorrow Mark is going to London for a business meeting. Guess the kids and I will be watching the fog roll in and out. Ah, the joys of life in England! I know you are all jealous.
05 October 2009
Now, a friend living in Virginia is "home" as much as someone in New Orleans. Once you are across the Atlantic, "home" is the whole, sprawling USA. I mentioned to Mark today how this was nice and everything but I would go back home in a heartbeat. He was quick to respond- Not me! It made me think about the difference between men and women and how we interact and communicate.
Today I was especially missing the kids' school-Holy Name. I miss how welcomed I feel every time I pass through the door. It is as comfortable as walking in the door of my own house. I miss the faculty and staff as well as the parents. There are so many relationships that matter to me in that one building. They are the kind of relationships that have developed over years and are nurtured not by phone calls or e-mails but day to day interactions. Each one nothing fancy or life-changing but they all add up to something special, something hard to leave behind. Most of my important relationships are this way. Chatting with my friend Anne F. in her living room until it is so late I simply must sleep over. Sitting on the stool in Rebecca's kitchen while she prepares dinner, fixing all the world's problems between the two of us. Laughing with Ann R. as one of us lingers too long at the other's door with the kids waiting in the car, restless. These moments make up my life, both personal and professional because I am after all, a stay at home mom. They can't be replaced by Facebook or e-mail.
For Mark on the other hand, the Iphone (formerly his Blackberry) and the computer are his primary means of communication. A text message or a few lines posted on Facebook are enough for him (and I assume most guys) to relate to one another. Review the scores of the weekend's games and they are done. Admittedly, most of Mark's friends don't live in the same city. This is serving him well in our new adventure.
After feeling sorry for myself a bit this morning, I decided to cook beef stew for dinner. That helped get the chill out of the house and busied my mind. This afternoon when the rain stopped Sam, Mary Elizabeth and I walked to the library. It is such a quaint walk, most of it along a pedestrian-only street lined with small shops and cafes. That walk makes me happy and I was reminded of the fact that nothing good comes easy. I know what we are doing is a good thing for all of us. I know New Orleans and our family and friends will be there when we return.
Rainy days and Mondays may get me down but not for long. After all, the rain stops and Tuesday comes.
02 October 2009
I finally have an address at which to receive ROYAL MAIL. That's what they call the mail service. Sounds as if Queen Elizabeth herself will be knocking on your door, doesn't it? Truthfully, I am hoping to be on Prince William's route. Just as long as I don't end up with Camilla delivering my parcels. It's a funny difference between the two countries. Here, the service is called the mail and you send a letter by post. In America, the service is the postal service and you send things by mail.
Speaking of the Queen, I've been noticing all the things that have her insignia and thinking about what a massive job it will be to change these after her reign. All the royal mail boxes have her crest. Her face is on all the money, both paper and coins. I wonder how long it will take to phase that out. How quickly do they print new money when they change monarchs? I noticed the bottle of dish washing liquid I am using has a label saying, "By appointment of her Majesty the Queen." Brings dish washing to a whole new level, doesn't it?
Here are two other bits I have been meaning to share:
We were served a dessert that possibly had nuts so to keep Sam safe, the server made something different for him. She came out of the kitchen and happily presented him with a bowl telling him it was jelly and cream. I felt sick at the thought of a bowl full of jelly and looked at Sam to see his reaction. With a half-hearted smile he thank her and accepted the bowl. After an apprehensive bite, he realized "jelly" is actually Jello.
At the bed and breakfast, the kids were watching a movie in the lounge one evening. The innkeeper's daughter asked if they would like some squash. Knowing the kids would turn down this offer, I asked her what exactly "squash" was. I had seen it on a menu under beverages so I had an idea. She explained that squash is any kind of fruit drink, like Capri Sun or Kool-Aid.
Hope you have a SPLENDID or BRILLIANT weekend! Both words are quintessentially British.
10 Baring Road
Cowes, Isle of Wight UK
PO 31 8DA