Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Day in Oxford

Jim, Kitty, Steve
Oxford is an architecture student's paradise.

We spent the day in Oxford with our friends Steve and Kitty. We've known them for over thirty years and Steve was in our wedding, so you know how special the friendship is. They've lived all over the world, are full of puns, and have made a huge difference in the world, having lived all over it.
We visited the Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Charles Williams) used to hang out and share their stories with each other. We had lunch at a local favorite that one finds only by going through a narrow, nondescript alley, down a passageway and left at the first door. (You have to know how to get there to go there...Keeps out the riffraff.) Both the food and the company were amazing.

Next was a visit to Blackwell's bookstore, which boasts acres of shelving in its many stories. If you can't find your book at Blackwell's, you should give up. Jim bemoaned the fact that we only spent two hours there. I had wanted a Starbucks mug from Oxford to go with my one from Antalya, but they didn't have any. So Steve gave me his Penang one...a new treasured possession. (A Malaysian mug acquired in the U.K. from an American.)

Later had tea and scones with clotted cream back at our friends' home, and I developed a whole new list of great books to read from their recommendations. Quite fun.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Wanderings through London

We take the Tube a lot and this is one of the most beautiful stations: St. Pancras.

View from St. Paul's Cathedral

We had a long, busy, tiring, fun day. We started off at the British Library where we saw beautiful illuminated manuscripts, including the Gutenberg Bible. Also, we saw the Magna Carta. Then we climbed the almost 500 stairs of St. Paul's Cathedral to take in the beautiful view from there. When we got to the top of the dome, a sign said "whisper gallery". and I thought "In other languages they would say something like "Be quiet in the church", and I appreciated the positive command. But I was wrong. When we got inside, there were all these seemingly insane people talking to the wall. Turns out the acoustics are so good that one person can hear another person who is whispering from across the room.

We needed refreshment after that!

Then to Oxford Street, which is a main shopping area, and Jim and Rob bought shoes at the Clark's sale.
The British Museum

Next we visited the British Museum where Mike gave us a "highlights" tour. We saw the stolen Elgin Marbles, and the Rosetta Stone among other items. Afterwards we went to The Plough (isn't that such a stereotypical British Pub name?) Unfortunately, they made tea like Americans--a cup of hot water served with a teabag on the side. They didn't even have milk to put in it--rather it was a product that the label said "Tastes just like milk" and one of the ingredients was "non-dairy fat." Bleah.

Rob likes to play a game called "Guess what happened here in 1945?" There will be a block of Edwardian or Victorian homes and right in the middle will be a more modern building, because that building was bombed in the war and rebuilt.

Mike and played "What's the one place you wouldn't want to travel to?" because that list is really small. He's been to ten more countries than I have and it's so fun to hear about places I haven't been (Syria, Jordan, Monaco, among others.) Both Mike and Rob are interesting, well-read, articulate people. Mike finally said the country he wouldn't want to visit was Uganda. Then I said "Sudan." But probably now I'll meet someone who will tell me something amazing to see in Sudan and I'll want to go there. Mike said that some of his friends have arranged their travel plans just to go to a place he hasn't been.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cheerio from London!

Mike and Rob's neighborhood

We've never been to London in the Fall and it's so PRETTY!

The London Eye as background to the Thames River

I love the different types of architecture.

St. Paul's Cathedral is in the center of this view.

We're here in London! We had frequent flier miles and hotel points burning a hole in our pockets and a so when our nephew said “Stay with us, and you could be sipping coffee in Paris in four hours from our doorstep,” how could we resist? This is the nephew whom the girls fondly refer to as "Cousin-uncle Mike" because he is almost 20 years older than they are, and we've always had great fun when we are with him.

Jim says he’s feeling like Alexander (of the No Good, Terrible, Very Bad Day fame) because he lost his glasses before we left this morning. Then, he forgot the fabulous lunch I made for him. (This made ME sad because not only did I go to all the trouble for nothing, we also had to stop and pay for a new lunch on the way to the airport.) On the plane, he lost his ear buds. I offered to let him share mine for the movie, but he said he’d rather wallow in his misery. On the way off the plane, he grabbed some out of first class, but then lost THOSE. For the record, the ear buds that we bought for 99 cents in our town cost $20 at the O’Hare airport.

We made it to our nephew and his partner's house in London almost uneventfully, and are tired but enjoying the sights already. We love Mike and Rob. We saw the Imperial War Museum where Churchill had his underground headquarters during WWII, and then toured the Tate Modern Art Museum. What I liked best was just walking around London, coming across Big Ben when we turned the corner, seeing the great Old World architecture, and even the great names (Piccadilly Circus, Kensington Gardens, and Elephant and Castle—aren’t those just the COOLEST tube stop names?) Since Mike and Rob live here, we're able to walk around without a map, and Jim and I have nothing to fight over because we aren't lost!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

When You are Engulfed by Family

I have no news of my own. This week I'm living vicariously through my children and friends. But they are interesting and amazing. Brenna and Matt are home this weekend for an event that is happening in my town. Brenna was leading a small group of four girls from her university and she mentioned she was married. One said "So, you're like a grown-up?" Yes. She is. She came home and made dinner for Kelly, Matt and me last night. Matt entertained us in many ways, including having his computer talk to us in an audible voice. He set the computer on the coffee table and Matt typed on his Ipod from across the room, having the computer tell us to feed it chocolate, and responding to our conversation as if it were a real person. Maybe you had to be there but it was hilarious. It's fun having a boy in the family.

Molly sent me a sweet, long text in response to a care package I sent, which means she might get another one sometime. I always find it weird that the girls could go out and buy these same items themselves--they have money for food--but me sending the same items is fun and special for them. It's the element of surprise. "Look! Crackers!"

Meanwhile Kelly survived the week and provided the most interesting stories. She gave all her kindergarteners Post-its and had them find something in the room that started with "L". Sweet Linda had one on her. Kelly had fun activities like a math obstacle course that the kids who made good choices got to play. The others traced their numbers. Or rather, were supposed to trace numbers, but some chose to scribble out the numbers and when they were relegated to the rug, they rolled around and screamed. During the song where the children learned to spell "brown" Shawna said "I'm brown." This led to a discussion of "I'm not brown." And "I'm pink." Very cute. It's terrible what we do to new teachers. I'm wondering how an inexperienced person would deal with her very challenging kids. They speak like sailors, pants each other, expose themselves purposely, kick, spit, hit, and are defiant. Yes. Kindergarten. She has evening meetings several nights a week and doesn't get home until 8 p.m. She's very creative and amazing and is earning the respect of her fellow educators by doing a great job in the midst of a difficult situation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

In Ireland Post Cards are a Summer Item

I'm still pondering my used clothes purchases from yesterday, and something that Di said sticks in my mind. A staple of my wardrobe are Chinos or Khakis. Beige is easy to match with the bright colors I like to wear. Yesterday I said I was looking for a pair of khaki pants. She was very polite in telling me in a roundabout way that Khakis are really spring pants. Wait, there are spring pants?!? I get it that shorts or crop pants are for warmer weather, because you may feel cold in shorts in fifty degree weather, but the COLOR matters??? It cracks me up how you can't buy a sand pail and shovel in January because they are "summer items" even though children play in sand at parks year round here. I grew up in an area where most of my friends had servants and chauffeurs. One of my friends had a live-in seamstress. Only the outcasts wore the same clothes twice. That would be me. I was an outcast. By high school I had decided that the whole society world was shallow and meaningless. To let designers in New York decide what I should wear seemed silly, as did the idea of wearing painful shoes because they looked great. In college I found friends who had more of a world perspective and thought like I did, and clothes mattered little. Then I entered adulthood and realized that people really do judge you by how you look. Sometimes it's important to look nice. However, because I had checked out of the fashion world and mocked it, I never learned the rules of the game. And I walk around wondering if I'm I'm committing some fashion faux pas without realizing it. Have people been talking behind my back that I would wear khaki pants in FALL?! Horrors. Part of me is blowing those people a big raspberry because the rules seem senseless and arbitrary, and part of me wants to be their best friend so they can tell me the secret rules of wearing clothes, that only the cool people know.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Almost Ready for the Runway

I've been a proponent of "reusables" rather than disposables for a long time. My girls saved the napkins from preschool snack because they didn't have paper napkins at home. When they could pick any item of Jim's aunt's estate they picked the goose paper towels-another item not found at our house. (They were under five years old.) Lately I've started buying all my clothes used, and today was typical of the fun I've been having. At a local consignment shop a woman with an amazing fashion talent encourages me to bring in the clothes I wear, and she mixes and matches some clothes from the store with my own.

Di making outfits out of my own clothes

She knows my tastes, and my aversion to dry cleaning, and she also gets me to think outside my comfort zone and try new styles. Sometimes she takes only my own clothes and puts together outfits in ways I could never have imagined myself. It's fun to see her combinations. I'm just not the creative type, and my fashion sense is about as great as most adult's algebra sense, so I really appreciate her help. The clothes I bought today were clothes I would never pay full price for- DKNY, Chicco's, and Banana Republic brands. I also found a heart necklace I love. I own necklaces the way Imelda Marcos owned shoes, but I really wear all of the ones I buy. Yesterday I looked at my closet full of clothes and felt like I had nothing to wear. Now, with very little money invested, I have a wardrobe of fun, comfortable, practical clothes. Thanks, Di!

New clothes