Thursday, March 29, 2012

It was so gross, we all had to watch

We have been enjoying some freakishly warm and sunny spring weather lately.  On campus, the upper school (Brit speak for high school) dining room faces a lovely lawn that gently slopes down to a picturesque pond.  When the weather is nice, the french doors in the dining room are thrown open so students can eat on the patio area or large manicured lawn.  With all of this amazing spring weather, the teen has been spending her lunchtime in the sunshine with friends.

Below is the conversation I had with my oldest daughter yesterday evening after asking a simple little question about her lunch.

Me: So what did you do for lunch? (I usually ask what she did because it's not always eating. Usual responses include practiced a dance team routine with friends, did my homework, sat in the gym to talk with friends, walked to the nearby convenience store for a snack, or printed out some paper that's due in the afternoon.)

Teen: Oh my gosh, mom, did you know that worms poop? (imagine her eyes the size of saucers)

Me: Hmmm...

Teen: Today at lunch we were all outside and we saw this worm pooping.  It was like having a biology class right there in the grass.  It just stuck it's butt out of the ground and these little round balls started coming out.  We were all grossed out, but kept watching anyway.  I don't know how much that worm had eaten because poop kept coming out for the longest time, like forever.  How much did that worm have to eat to get all that poop stored up?  (finally draws a breath) And the poop looked just like dirt.  You know - I wonder how much of the dirt on the ground is really worm poop.  Because worm poop looks just like the dirt you see everywhere and that's kinda freaky.  

At last she ran out of things to say about the worm poop.  It was very much a one-sided conversation, but I didn't mind.  We do some of our best communicating when I don't really say anything... just nod my head and make vague noises along the lines of really, hmmm, wow or the very southern yep.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Family Newsflash

It's official - we will be headed back to company headquarters in Texas next summer once the teen graduates.  I'll admit I've been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride about the whole thing.  I do want to return to the states, but England has really grown on me... and not in a cold sore or wart sort of way.  To get a better handle on the situation, I decided to list some of the pros and cons so I could get a grip on my feelings about the repatriation process.

I'll miss living in England because...
1. cooler, wetter climate so everything stays green year round - I do NOT miss the Texas seasons, hot and hotter
2. easy access to London and all the benefits of a lively big city - can't beat the theatre district, shopping and cultural/historical attractions 
3. short flights to Europe where we can travel to see the sights - gotta get busy making June travel plans for Ireland and Poland
4. a school the teen loves where she has made some great friends - and school uniforms, can't forget how lovely it is to have those
5. really long summer days and lots of outside dining options
6. a newfound commitment to recycling and thriftiness, a less is more attitude - I'll be whipping out my reusable shopping bags at Wal-Mart and HEB back in Texas
7. new vocabulary I've discovered - loo rolls and one off and such
8. sticky toffee pudding with warm custard sauce
9. breakfast tea with a splash of milk in the morning
10. the royal family

I'll look forward to leaving England because...
1. no bottomless drinks, including iced tea - and not even iced tea at Starbucks in the summertime over here, which oughta be against the law
2. British beef - gamey and just ick
3. total lack of Tex Mex food - a warm breakfast taco with fresh pico de gallo can't be underestimated and it certainly isn't the same when you have to make it yourself rather than sit down to enjoy it after Lupe the sweet little Mexican grandma who owns the local hole in the wall taco joint has lovingly prepared it for you
4. drive thru's don't exist - banks, food, drugstores, cleaners, etc
5. everything is more expensive in the UK, from toilet paper to dog food - a bottle of saline solution for my contact lens costs $15
6. can't see friends and family on a regular basis - my mother's Sunday lunches, birthdays, crawfish boils, Sunday school class get togethers and everything in between
7. super short days in the winter - most annoying that the sun sets by 4:00 pm for at least two months so that the girls catch the bus AND return home in the dark
8. no AC or ceiling fans in homes coupled with no screens on any windows - come right on in, stinging wasps and clothes consuming moths
9. pricey private school education that is NOT any better than our local public schools back in Texas - the tween isn't as impressed with the American/Int'l schools as her older sister
10. driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car and roundabouts everywhere instead of traffic lights or stop signs at intersections - plus a driver's license process that is a pain in the patootie since no reciprocity
11. gas that costs about $9.00 per gallon and expensive road taxes just because I drive an SUV
12. all things Texan we don't have in England - chicken fried steak smothered in cream gravy with a side of cornmeal dusted okra, cowboy boots, cheerleaders, football's Friday night lights every fall, bluebonnets growing along the side of the road every spring, y'all, redneck politicians, pick up trucks, sir and ma'am, deer season, concealed handgun licenses and Blue Bell ice cream

Will I be sad to leave England - sure.  Will I be happy to get back to my house in the Texas hill country and resume my teaching career - absolutely.  Will I look back on this amazing experience with awe and thankfulness for the rest of my life - always.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It's All About Perspective

This morning I had to drive the teen to her SAT prep class. The traffic report was rattling on about road closures in/around Fleet where folks are running a marathon.  The announcer then cut to a little blurb from one of the race officials, urging everyone to come out and cheer on the runners.  She said, "It's going to be a really warm day for the participants."  

Yesterday it got up to an unseasonably warm 72 and the youngest daughter was commenting how it felt like Texas... and we were in the Costco parking lot over in Reading when she made this statement, so it really was reminiscent of the good ol' US of A.  If we had stopped for barbecue on the way home, at a place where they serve bottomless iced tea and peach cobbler, then it would have been a pretty perfect day.  

I was thinking maybe we were gonna hit some record breaking numbers and the runners were gonna have a difficult time running in warmer temps than are typical in England during late March.  You know, a lot of throwing up and passing out and such along the route.  Alert the local A&E's (Brit speak for emergency rooms) and line up the ambulances.  

Once I returned home from dropping off the teen, I checked the weather app on my iPad to see if we needed to fire up the grill and break out the Slip 'n Slide (oh yes I did bring one over from the states).  The high today is expected to top a blistering 66.  It's gonna be a scorcher out there, so crank up your ceiling fans and AC.  But wait... we don't have either of those things over here so I guess we'll just have to suffer through this sweltering weather.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Kemosabe confused

A recent conversation with one of the girls...

Kid: I didn't know there were Indians in Britain.

Me: Well sure.

Kid: In school today the teacher said something about British Indians. I didn't know they had Indian tribes over here. I wonder if they wore feathers in their hair like the American Indian chiefs. And what did they hunt because I've never seen buffalo here.

Me: India - Indians - people who moved to England from the country of India when it became a part of the British commonwealth.

Kid: Oh, right.  That makes MUCH more sense.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Nose Knows

Right now Ollie is driving me nuts, wanting out into the back garden.  There is a man performing some repairs to our privacy fence and the beast is most concerned.  Ollie has paced back and forth between the two sets of french doors leading out onto the back patio, whimpering and whining.  So I took him outside for a look-see at Paul, the guy who serves as Mr Fix It for the property management company.  I don't know Paul as well as I know Nick, the pest service guy, but I'm kinda glad we haven't met more often over house troubles.

Even after going out to see Paul for some petting, Ollie is still convinced he might be out in the back garden for nefarious purposes.  Maybe he's after the ball Ollie was playing with yesterday and left out on the patio.  Maybe he's gonna pick up all of the sticks and twigs out back so that Ollie won't have anything handy to snatch up in his mouth to gnaw on before I pry it out of his jaws.  Or maybe he's out there to scoop the poop.  Oh wait - that's just my own personal dream.

Lord help us if he removed the Ollie turds because then Ollie couldn't complete his little OCD pick-a-spot-to-poop ritual.  Every time I take Ollie outside for a BM after his meals, he does the exact same thing.  He immediately trots over to the poop place, Ollie's own restroom area as evidenced by the yellowed grass and piles of doo doo that have been deposited since my last poop scooping.  That's when the routine begins.  Ollie has to approach every pile of poop and give it a good whiff.  I can imagine the following running commentary in his head...  

Let's see now, is that my poop?  (sniff, sniff) Yep, that's mine alright.  What about this one?  (sniff, sniff)  Oh yeah, that must be the fresh pile from this morning.  And over here. (sniff, sniff)  Wow, did I do that?  That definitely gets a 9.5 on the stinkometer.  And (sniff, sniff) hey, what's this crap?  Has that damned fox been using my facilities again?  I think I may need to roll in this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday

Yesterday was a bit of a hodge podge, so it only seems fitting that this blog post should follow in that same vein.

A Woman's Work is Never Done

I dragged my feet until it was obvious no fairies or housecleaning service were gonna show up to take care of the filthy house for me.  Like any skilled procrastinator, I would clean a bathroom and then take a break to eat an apple.  Then vacuum a bedroom and take a break to check Facebook.  Then dust the living room followed by a classic episode of "ER".  By about 4:00 pm, the place was looking pretty good.  All that's left is to mop the hardwoods, my least favorite housecleaning chore since it always seems to aggravate my right hip.  Getting old rates right up there with root canals and doing your income taxes.

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea

During several of my housecleaning breaks, I was busy sending emails - fun emails about possible October break cruises to the Greek Isles.  That begin in even funner places like Venice, which I've always wanted to see.  What could be more funner than that?  And since the teenager will be spending fall break with her senior humanities class in Italy/Greece, then we will be able to squeeze the three of us into a junior suite.  Did I mention this Royal Caribbean ship just came out of drydock with all sorts of new bells and whistles in a big ol' upgrade?  Very exciting!  You know, as long as the captain doesn't go steering us too close to any reefs or rocks for a bit of showboating and grandstanding.  Our cabin is at the very back of the boat a la Titanic, just in case we need to abandon ship if it flops over on its side in the water.

Watch where you're stepping!

The worst part about housecleaning day involves my little stint in the backyard on poop patrol.  I invested in one of those poop scooper shovel things, but a lot of the time that just means I'm rolling it across the grass trying to wrangle it into the garbage bag.  I swear it's as if I'm a participant in the White House Easter egg roll, assuming they used Bo's poop instead of dyed eggs.  Therefore, I don two plastic disposable gloves and put the hard little doggie turds in the bag, removing the gloves carefully and then washing my hands twice... even though the gloves didn't get ripped or torn in the process.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Busman's Holiday

I really hate wrangling with teachers.  Really.  I've been on both sides of the desk, behind it and in front of it.  If you make a mistake - and it happens - then admit it, remedy it and move forward.  No need to cross your heart, hope to die and stick a needle in your eye if it happens again.  I don't expect perfection, but I do expect you to use sound professional judgment.  

Of course I'm gonna ask questions.  I have been paying attention to what you, the paid professional in the classroom, have been doing all year.  I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job, but I feel it's my duty to question things when they don't make sense.  You don't have to get on your high horse... and telling me "thanks for your input" is just a bunch of horse poo because we both know you cringed when my email arrived at your inbox.  Geez - that annoying mom who wants me to use best practices all the frickin' time?!  No, I'm not going away so you might as well just deal with it.  And do we really need to meet face-to-face about a daily assignment you botched?  Seems to me you should spend that meeting time working on your lesson plans.

Honestly, I have better things to do than make sure you're doing your job correctly.  And for heaven's sake, if you're not sure or new to something, then ask for help.  In my opinion, EVERY school on the planet needs a mentoring program.  Even experienced teachers need guidance when they move to a new grade/subject or new campus.  

Once again I'm left wondering if our pricey private school education here in England at an American/international school is any better than the public school education the girls were receiving back in Texas.  Today the public school is getting my vote.

Monday, March 12, 2012

One is silver and the other gold

On Thursday I was tickled pink to welcome two of my childhood friends for a visit. One flew in from Texas with her kids and mom while the other one got to sneak away from the fam in Holland to visit with us.

Over the past couple days I've had wine, martinis and sangria while catching up with two old friends late into the night and laughing until I cried.  It's funny how that happens - you add a lot of years, some wrinkles, graying hair, teenagers to drive you nuts, and thousands of miles between us, but we can still giggle like hyenas and have a good time together.

The ladies arrived on Thursday and we got settled.  Friday I drove us to Stonehenge for a look-see.  Then Saturday morning we had a private London driving tour for our little group.  Blue badge guide Bob was an older gentleman that chauffeured us around in his van to see all of the iconic London sights.  We gulped down a late lunch at YO! Sushi (conveyor belt self serve - very cool - see the little video I made while we were eating) and then zipped into Her Majesty's Theatre for a matinee performance of "Phantom of the Opera."  

Sunday I drove us to Windsor Castle where we got to take a gander at the very impressive state rooms.  Per the queen's coat of arms flying from atop the tower, it seems Lizzie was in residence.  I guess she forgot that my good friends were in town and that's why we didn't get an invite for afternoon tea.  

Today we said goodbye to our Holland friend since she had to get back home to the family.  Duty calls in the form of school runs, her job and all that other fun stuff.  I spent the morning showing my Texas friend the commuter train and tube ropes so she would be familiar with public transportation in the greater London area.  

It never fails... While standing in the Tower of London ticket line, we started chatting with a nice older couple from Philadelphia with a young teenage boy in tow.  It seems they had brought their grandson to London for spring break.  He lives in College Station and his dad (their son) is an engineering professor at Texas A&M.  No matter where you go on the planet, you're bound to run into some sort of Aggie or Longhorn.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rome, l'ultimo blogpost... I promise

Woo-hoo, this is it, my final blogpost about our winter break trip to Rome.  These are the odds and ends that tickled my funny bone or struck my fancy as I went back over the notes and pics.

The teen has always been fascinated by nuns.  I have no idea why, but there it is. She recently contemplated becoming a nun despite me pointing out little details like the fact that we're Methodist, not Catholic.  So yeah, she has finally seen the light on that score, the one telling her she isn't cut out to be a nun with the whole no makeup, no highlights in her hair, no need to shop for clothes because you wear the same getup the rest of your life.  However, that doesn't keep her from snapping covert pics of nuns out and about - one dressed in white culottes at the Vatican back in July (bottom right of top pic in midstride) and one dressed in gray in February.  

Across from the Victor Emmanuel memorial is a building with BONAPARTE written across the top.  Napoleon did indeed inhabit this building while staying in Rome.  Our guide told us an interesting story about how Napoleon's wife and mother-in-law would sit on the open air balcony and remark on people as they passed by even though people could hear these snide little comments made by them in regards to their appearance.  After many bitter complaints from the Italians, Napoleon had the balcony covered and you can see it's currently painted green.  That way the ladies didn't have to sheath their claws, but would no longer be visible or quite as audible to folks passing by on the street.

In the pic above with the covered balcony, I wanted to point out the Italian police officer directing traffic atop the black and white striped raised podium.  My question is why they don't just put up a traffic light because this whole method with the whistle and hand signals seems terribly antiquated.  And dangerous, though I assume that's partially why he's standing on a raised block of cement rather than for the lone reason of improved visibility.  

Check out the pic below - see what I mean.  The traffic is just higgledy piggledy all over the road because there are no lines painted that divide it into lanes.  It's pretty much every man for himself and you take your life into your own hands when you use a zebra crossing.

I love this shot - the younger daughter standing next to this teeny tiny car, even smaller than a Smart Car.  I'm thinking they must have a big ol' key in the trunk they take out and use to wind it up when they're ready to roll.

Both girls love animal spotting, but the teen always feels compelled to snap pics of them.  The sharpei was precious in a wrinkly sort of way and the pugs strolling along in their outerwear were ancient.  

I chose the next two pics because the first one was taken back in July looking up the backside of the Palatine Hill.  The second one was taken last month looking down the Palatine Hill exit.  Behind the teen you can see tour guide Mario explaining something to the little one.

I liked the pics below because the girls appear to be unaware, which happens very rarely.  The oldest daughter insists on posing for all pics while the younger one does her best to duck out of them.

The little one looks as if she's thinking great thoughts, really pondering some highly important matter... cannoli or gelato for dessert tonight?

I need some dialog bubbles for both girls in the above pic so I can really embarrass them with my little picture cartoon.  
The older one:  (sniff, sniff)  What is that smell?  OK, who farted because that is really raunchy.  Good grief, my eyes are watering.  Callie?!  
The younger one:  (heavy sigh and closes eyes) It wasn't me.  What on earth did you eat for lunch because that is just nasty.  I wish I had brought a can of Febreeze "Vanilla Dreams" with me in my purse.  Wait - did mom bring Ollie on vacation with us? (Ollie is becoming famous for his rooty toots.)

And of course we have the obligatory butt shot the teen always takes, just one of many because this is her MO on every trip.  Below you see us exiting St. Peter's basilica - the Frasers have left the building.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rome, the eternal blogpost

As much as I enjoyed touring Rome as well as reviewing all of our Rome pics the past couple weeks, I'm ready to finish documenting it and move onto other topics, like the idiot in our neighborhood that walks this vicious little rat terrier.  Or the onset of spring this week - temps, flowers, etc.  Plus there is the dog because I know my six readers are just dying to hear what Ollie has been up to lately.  So yeah, on with Rome so I can get this wrapped up alika thata.

After touring the Vatican, we strolled over to Castel Sant Angelo - see below.  The first pic was taken as we were walking towards it. The pic below that was taken by the teen with me looking a bit exasperated because I have absolutely no desire to have my photo taken in front of every tourist spot on the map.  

Originally the tomb of Emperor Hadrian built in the second century AD, it became a military fortress in the 5th century after the fall of Rome.  In the 14th century, the popes converted it into a castle and connected it to the Vatican with a covered fortified corridor as a means for the pope to escape without injury or in sight of the enemy.  Our tour guide told us this served as a place for the popes to get away and let their hair down, inviting over the mistress or gay lover for a bit of fun away from prying eyes.  It seems even the most holy of Christians have earned the term hypocrite in centuries past.

After huffing and puffing up to the roof where you see the bronze statue, we took the following two pics, one of the Tiber River at sunset and the other of the bridge that crosses the Tiber right outside the entrance to the Castel.

The building below is in pristine condition because it was built in modern times during the early 20th century.  It is a memorial to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy.  The Italian version of the tomb of the unknown soldier is located at the base of it.  

Our tour guide told us that a lot of Italians consider it an eyesore.  It is garishly white compared to the buildings surrounding it and has earned the nicknames typewriter, teeth and wedding cake.  It is rather ostentatious and I doubt Victor really needed such a large monument named in his honor. However, it did serve as a handy landmark while we toured around the city since the winged victory statues atop both ends were visible from just about everywhere we traveled on foot.

I was looking back at our pics from the race through Rome day on our Med cruise in July.  At that time, I had no idea what I was staring at but obviously we thought it was some sort of impressively important building and we took the pics below of it.  

I especially like the Italian flags waving in the summer breeze.  And see what I mean?  I took the shot below back in July as we spied those winged victory statues all over the city off in the distance.

The girls had a great time spotting gelato shops during the break.  This was probably the most impressive one we visited... and this is just half of the gelato offered.  There was another whole case of it located behind me.

And above, the younger daughter enjoyed a bit of whipped cream atop her gelato at a shop near our apartment the tour guide suggested - The Frigidarium.  I'm just noticing the word "Fat" on the display board in the top left corner of the pic.  I don't know what's up with that, but it appears the board is showing the process to make gelato and I'm guessing it has to do with the fact that gelato actually has less fat in it than ice cream.  Or maybe it's just the universe sending us a not so veiled message that we need to lay off the gelato unless we want to turn into chub chubs.

And speaking of chub, you're gonna get some thighs on you if you consume even a portion of one of the incredibly large Nutella tubs used as a display in this sweets shop.

How convenient that there was a sweets shop right down the street from our apartment.  We enjoyed Nutella crepes and cannoli several evenings after supper as evidenced by the little one taking a bite out of the pistachio bits covered end.  Me, I like the chocolate chip dipped end best.

The girls were on a pizza kick in Rome and insisted on having it pretty much every day.  After a morning of logging several miles on foot with our guide, the little one splurged on a Coca Cola.  The glass bottle was different than the ones we're accustomed to, so of course I had to document it with a pic.  As you can see, they love to add a slice of lemon in the glass.

As for me, I stuck with Diet Coke, though it's known as Coke Light in Europe.  

I'm about all Rome-d out for today.  I promise that my next Rome post will be the very last one, the odds and ends I feel compelled to share.  I've got childhood friends arriving next week from the US and Netherlands, so that will give me something new to ramble on and on about here in cyberspace.

Friday, March 2, 2012

That's all I have to say about that.

A couple days ago, the youngest daughter came down the stairs sniffling and flung herself upon the couch in the family room.  It was a very dramatic move... really coming into her southern roots.  

The husband and I asked her what was wrong as the sobbing commenced.  She sat up with tears running down her face and told us Bubba died.  We asked her who Bubba was because we were clueless.  She rolls her eyes as if we're both idiots (she inherited that from the teen) and explains, "You know - Bubba, Forrest Gump's friend that loves to eat shrimp. He died in the war and it was so sad."  

It seems that one of her friends at school had mentioned how his momma cries when she sees the feather floating around at the end of Forrest Gump, which prompted our daughter to look for some movie clips on You Tube.  Lo and behold, she ran across the part where Bubba dies in Vietnam.  She's right... war is pretty darn sad.