Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Job Hunt

When we moved to England, I had to quit my teaching job. For the move back to Texas, I'm busy trying to land a teaching job. And it's such a perverse thing. This time last year I was bemoaning the fact that there were quite a few jobs that interested me in the not-so-large school district where we live. Last year it was feast and this year it's famine.

Every danged vacancy posted on the district's human resources page of job listings this spring is either secondary science or math. Sad, but true - the 6th gr daughter's math sometimes requires me to read through the book in order to remember the concept so I can explain it to her if she needs homework assistance. I'm a history and language arts gal. Math and science give me the heebie jeebies. If I was faced with teaching math/science or living in a cardboard house beneath the interstate overpass, I swear the refrigerator box would win. 

Since I passed the special education state certification test in December when we were in Texas for the Christmas holidays, I got called for a special ed interview a few weeks ago at an elementary about four blocks from my Texas house. I could walk to school on pretty days. I could run home at lunch for a quick bite to eat and let the dog out for a potty break. However, I had to turn down the interview because it was for a kindergarten to grade 2 teacher. 

The little ones are almost as scary to contemplate as math and science. Those aren't my peeps, definitely not my target audience. Grades 4-8 are my comfort zone, the ones I enjoy. They're old enough to make it to the restroom or at least trash can before throwing up. They can still be motivated by a piece of sugarless gum or free drawing time. Through grade 8, you can usually shoot them the evil eye or threaten to call their parents and rest assured it will work.

Today I had a phone interview for a different elementary school in our district looking for a special ed teacher to work with grades 4-6. I've never done a phone interview before and I must say I didn't like it. You learn so much from face-to-face interaction and so the phone is sorely lacking. I couldn't get a really good feel for them (principal, assistant principal and special ed lead teacher) and so of course they couldn't get a sound impression of me, either. I found myself gesturing when I was answering their questions, casting my eyes around our home office in England to make personal contact with a live audience that didn't exist. 

I don't know that I'll get an offer for this job. But, honestly, I don't have a strong feeling about whether or not I'll be bothered if I'm passed over for someone else. Being happy in my chosen profession is as much about my campus environment and co-workers as it is about the actual instruction and interaction with students. Doing a good job in the classroom takes a piece of my heart, a solid investment of my time and energy to do the best possible job I can. Either go big or get the hell back to the house and leave it for the folks who are committed to excellence. So we'll see - maybe I will be employed by this time next week and maybe I'll still be looking. At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Press 5 if you hate automated customer service

When our flight to Prague was cancelled Friday, without an email or text to me from British Airways, I was a bit miffed. What if I hadn't heard about the emergency landing at Heathrow on the radio in the car and unwittingly toodled off with the family to the airport to be confronted with a terminal full of angry would-be travellers? Not cool, BA, especially since you have my contact info on file as a registered frequent flier and we were still 4+ hrs away from our departure time.

After going to the airline website to check on the status of our flight and at that point discovering it had been cancelled, I called the BA local customer service number around lunchtime on Friday. However, the lines were so jammed up with folks like me trying to arrange alternate flights that I was disconnected three times. There was no room to even put me in the queue to hold for assistance. Deciding not to sweat it and enjoy our long weekend with the husband, I put off contacting the airline again until this morning.

Lo and behold, the customer service rep I spoke to immediately after wading through their automated system today was very sweet and reassuring. I was immediately promised a full refund and just received an email confirmation that my request was processed. In about a week, I'll have the cash to book a 20th wedding anniversary weekend flight for me and the husband in late July. Maybe San Diego or Charleston? It aint Prague, but I imagine we'll be able to find something to keep us entertained without the girls in tow.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Today we're baking cookies and having a movie marathon. We were supposed to be in Prague enjoying a private tour of the old town and Jewish quarter. It's a first world problem I shouldn't be whining about, but I can't help being disappointed we had to cancel our long weekend trip to Prague.

On the way to pick up the 6th grader at school around lunch time Friday, I heard on the radio that there was an incident at Heathrow and travelers should check with their airlines before going to the airport. As soon as I got back to the house, I went to the British Airways website. It seems there was an emergency landing that morning which caused both runways to be shut down for a while. A London to Oslo flight had an engine catch fire shortly after takeoff and it had to circle back to Heathrow. Inflatable slides, fireman standing by and the whole scary shebang. 

Therefore, British Airways automatically cancelled all short haul (RE European continent) flights from 11 am to 5 pm. Unfortunately, our BA Prague flight was right inside the cut off. When I went online to see about the next possible flight to take us to Prague, I discovered it was a stand by option that wouldn't get us there until late Saturday night. IF we actually got seats on that flight, we would have only one full day for touring before we had to turn around and fly back to England Monday. The husband flies back to Texas Tuesday morning and so we had absolutely no flexibility with our travel plans.

After cancelling our tour, transportation and hotel, we decided to just make the best of our time together as a family. We took the 6th grader shopping for a semi-formal dress to attend the last middle school dance next Friday. We've slept late. We've piled up on the couch to watch movies. We've baked oatmeal scotchies and chocolate chip cookies. We've been to see the new release movie "Epic" and eaten at an Italian restaurant.

We've haven't done anything amazing like visiting Prague, but we enjoyed being a family of four once again. In just three short weeks, the senior will be a new high school grad. Ready or not, here come the transitions.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Senior Prom 2013

Prom is typically a big deal in the US, but it's really not over here. At a school where only about 50% of the students are American, I guess it's understandable that the other half wouldn't be that into prom. As a matter of fact, at least a third of the senior class didn't attend. Instead, a big group of seniors opted to go clubbing in London instead of attend prom.

It's a tricky situation, having prom in a country where a good chunk of the senior class is legal to buy alcohol. The international students don't appreciate being trapped on a boat for a dinner dance cruise without a cash bar. American kids don't seem to mind so much about a "dry" dinner cruise since prom is a high school rite of passage in their culture. They drink champagne in the limo on the ride to the boat and then go clubbing after the boat docks at 11 pm. Then they attend after parties where alcohol is always present. And the police show up at the house party around 1 am because the neighbors called them to complain about the noise... or so I've heard. 

Prom pics were a bit of a flop this year - long, involved story that I lived and don't want to relate here. The bottom line is that we got a few shots with a few of the senior's friends and that's really all of the documentation we need. 

The senior will attend lots of other semi-formal and formal occasions in college since she's going through rush to join a sorority, so there will be plenty of other opportunities to photograph her looking pretty. I'll be 1200 miles away from her university campus and therefore she'll just have to wrangle all of the details on her own. It's time. But it's not as if this is my last prom experience. I can look forward to more prom drama in about five years with the younger daughter.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cooking Up Some Fall Travel Plans

I can't remember if I've ever mentioned this on the blog, and Lord knows I'm too lazy to go back and check old posts, so I'll just lead with it even if it is an encore statement. The sixth grader takes after my granny and loves to cook. She is especially interested in baking, just like granny. What I wouldn't give to have had granny still busy in the kitchen these past twelve years, cooking up our favorites. The sixth grader was just a baby when granny passed away, so she never had a chance to learn at the elbow of the mistress of the kitchen.

The younger daughter has been telling us for several years now that she wants to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, at which point her daddy always adds the proviso... after you graduate from college. This child has always been a fan of the cooking channel. Her favorite shows are all about cake baking and decorating. She loves to pull up episodes of "Cake Boss" on You Tube and watch that in her bed in the evenings before lights out.

Even though we haven't quite left Europe yet, I've already started planning domestic travel for the fall. A life long fan of the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, I have always longed to travel to NYC and line the parade route on a cold fall morning to enjoy the spectacle of floats, marching bands and huge balloons. I spent my youth parked in front of a TV on Thanksgiving morning watching the broadcast of it. Sure - it's one of the most horrific times of the year to fly, but that didn't stop me from booking Turkey Day in NYC several months ago.

The teen has been to NYC before, but the 6th grader has not. We'll spend Thursday together as a family, then the teen will split on Friday to hang out with an English high school buddy that's attending NYU. That means the husband and I get to play tour guide with the younger one that has never been to the Big Apple.

In the morning, I've had our travel agent extraordinaire arrange a private tour of the city. Since our afternoon is free, I asked the younger daughter what she wants to see. I figured she might be interested in Chinatown or the WTC memorial site. Without blinking an eye, the baker wanna-be told me she absolutely has to visit Carlo's Bakery in nearby Hoboken.

For those of you who aren't in the know, this is where the show "Cake Boss" is filmed. So that's what we're doing - having our private tour car drop us at the ferry so we can hitch a ride over to Hoboken for the younger daughter to worship at this house of fresh baked/decorated goodness. I bet she'll about pee her pants if she gets a glimpse of any of the bakery folks seen on TV in the show while we're there. 

At first I thought this was kinda silly, but quickly realized it would probably be the highlight of her trip. The parade is my dream, and she'll no doubt enjoy it, but the bake shop is all hers.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pre Pre-prom Picture

Tonight is the senior's final high school prom. I haven't totaled up all of the money we've spent for prom this year, mainly because I know it's too much. 

Above you see the 6th grader taking a few individual pics with the senior's pricey camera, a fab one her daddy bought her back in the fall that would even allow the dog to take a decent shot. I was standing behind them snapping a few with my cheap camera. The senior's younger sister has gladly assumed the role of documenting this year for her older sister. I'm just the lame-o that doesn't follow all of the directions the senior's giving me when I'm behind the lens. 

The senior took pics in two different locations before boarding a boat on the Thames for a dinner cruise. With a legal drinking age of 18, there are lots of seniors who could be tossing back champagne or brewskis. Fortunately the school has devised this crafty plan, keeping them trapped on a boat for a four hour prom dinner and dancing cruise. Once they disembark at 11:00 and are turned loose, they can belly up to a bar at the local pub or go clubbing because the school is no longer responsible for their actions.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Play Ball!

Ignoring the fact that the US pro basketball playoffs are still taking place (Go, Spurs, Go!), the game most people are lining up to watch in big stadiums as well as at little league fields this time of year is baseball. Here in England, you swap out baseball for cricket.

This afternoon I was playing chauffeur for the girls, dropping the 6th grader at a friend's house while running the senior to her mani/pedi appointment (prom is tomorrow, praise Jesus) and then to school to attend the jazz concert. Have I mentioned lately that it's 18 miles, round trip? And that's the second time I did that run today.

While I was out burning up a tank of really expensive British gas, we passed by the Weybridge Green (an adjacent town that is en route to the school). I knew there was a cricket club that plays here on weekends, so I was surprised to see them bedecked in whites on the pitch on a late Friday afternoon. For cricket novices out there, I can enlighten you that pitch merely means playing field. That's the sum total of my knowledge about the game. Why do they wear white? Why is the bat flattened? And why are the rules so difficult for newbies to learn?

The scene was just so quintessentially British. All I needed to do was pull up a chair or spread out a blanket and unload a Marks & Spencer hamper of scones, clotted cream and tea in a thermos in order to feel like a local. Plus bring along the dog to join us. The Brits are mad about their dogs and take them most everywhere.

Curious about cricket in Weybridge, I found this pic from 1955 when I searched google. It seems the cricket club was officially founded in 1924, but there is evidence that cricket matches were played on this town green in the previous century. 

It's stuff like this I'll miss when we move back to Texas next month, being surprised by these little bits of local charm when I'm not expecting it. Maybe not foreign, but definitely different... in the best possible way.

Still a Work in Progress

I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. We weren't living in a van down by the river, but money was always tight. I never felt like we were deprived if we didn't have an Izod alligator shirt or Members Only jacket (must-haves in the early to mid 80s). But I went to school with kids whose parents could afford those things and it was hard not to long for what my peers had. 

Thanks to a good education and strong work ethic, my daughters have been blessed to grow up in a home where money (or lack thereof) hasn't been a cause of anxiety and worry. It's something I try not to take for granted since I've seen the flip side. Because we're upper middle class, we don't have to save in order to pay for things like prom. Our senior didn't need to get an after school job in order to buy her dress. I don't have to charge her shoes on a credit card where we can only afford to make the minimum monthly payment. I'm a fortunate momma, not having to decide between paying the electricity bill this month or needing to throw that money at prom expenses.

And let me tell you, it's just ridiculous what it costs these days. I bitched about this last year, but I have yet to put my foot down about the mounting bill this year because it's what the rest of the senior's friends are doing. Baa, baa... here's my best sheep imitation, following along with the rest of the flock. Everybody has a nice dress. Everybody rides in the limo. Everybody is getting a stylist to do her hair, makeup or maybe both. Every time I turn around, I have to cough up some more cash.

It's a slippery slope for me. We can afford these things for the senior and so she expects them. But does she need every little thing... or truly appreciate it all? And is it setting a good example to the younger daughter or sending the right message to the senior when we get swept along with this attitude of spend, spend, spend just because we can.

This is why I've made a personal commitment to try and do more for folks in need. I'm not called to this sort of work, but the Lord has given our family the means to finance others who have committed their lives to it. We've always given in the past, but we should be doing more. I don't need another designer purse to add to my collection. I don't need a big expensive house with a bunch of "museum" rooms we don't use. I don't need a zillion shoes since I can only wear one pair at a time. 

What I do need is to keep in mind how fortunate I am. I need to be leading by example, remembering to guide our girls to acts of grace and charity instead of driving them to the mall. Leading them away from "stuff" and steering them to experiences that will enrich the lives of others as well as their own. They need a better grasp of why it's a privilege to share our financial blessings because the Lord has blessed us. It's an important message that gets lost in our society of conspicuous consumption, difficult not to mosey along with the herd and do what a lot of other folks are doing. Once our sea container arrives home in Texas, the senior and I are going to gather up her semi formal/formal dresses and take them to the Donate My Dress organization branch near our hometown. It's a little step, but it's definitely one in the right direction. 

If you and your daughter would like to donate gently used special occasion dresses, then click on the link below to learn more about this organization and what it accomplishes for teenage girls across the US.

Donate My Dress

Monday, May 13, 2013

Flying the Dog Friendly Skies

We are officially less than six weeks from our departure date, the day we move back home to Texas. The husband has been there since early December for work and I've longed to return for the last year. The 6th grader will miss her BFF at the American school she attends, but is looking forward to returning to her Texas buds. And the senior knows it's merely a summer stint in the Lone Star state before moving into her dorm at USC on August 14. And then there's the clueless member of the family, the one that has no idea his little doggie world will soon be turned upside down.

Ollie, our Cairn Terrier, really is a sweet little dog. Born in Sept. 2011, he has been a great addition to our family. You can see Ollie and the big guy crashed on the couch last month, taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon. Spoiled, much? 

I started sending Ollie to doggie daycare when he was about four months old because I wanted him to be socialized and comfortable interacting with other dogs. For a mere £12 per day, doggie daycare owner Michelle picks up Ollie in the daycare station wagon, takes him to play with his doggie buds at her center for four hours and then returns him home to me. And if I'm not here, she has a key to let herself in so he can be placed in his kennel until I return. It really is an ideal set up. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Ollie patiently waits for Michelle to pull into the driveway so he can race to the front door, bounce up and down and bark like mad because he knows it's time to play. He's gonna miss this part of his weekly routine.

Poor little Ollie isn't going to know what the hell is going on in mid June. He'll board with Michelle for a few days while the movers pack up the contents of our house and put it in a sea container. Then he'll be picked up by the pet transport company for a night at their facility near Heathrow. The next morning, he'll be kenneled in a special carrier that meets airline standards and placed in the hold of the plane on the same flight we're traveling on to Houston. It will be dark and I know he'll be scared, but there's just no other option. It was either that or find a new home for him in England. I hate to put him through the stress of this move, but I just couldn't give up the furry member of the family we've all come to love.

Once he gets to our house in the hill country, I know he's gonna have a rip roaring good time. He'll have my mother's pugs to play with in the back yard since she resides in our guest house on the property. And I imagine he'll enjoy some time in the pool this summer with the girls. He'll have to adjust to the sweltering Texas heat, but we'll get him clipped and he'll be living indoors in the AC. He'll be fine, but I can't help worrying about the little furball's transition. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Small Town Girl No More

This afternoon I had to drive over to the school so the 6th grader could trade her book bag for an overnight bag since she's spending the night at a friend's house. This friend is from Russia and they just moved into this huge house they built. Oligarch? Mobster? Former arms dealer? Who knows, but it makes for interesting stories about the lifestyle they lead as related to me by my younger daughter via her uncensored Russian friend.

The senior wanted to go to Oxford Street in London for a bit of shopping after school... and so she did. I dropped her at the commuter train station here in our town with a bit of cash and armed with her debit card. In just six short weeks we move home to Texas and this proximity to one of the greatest European capitol cities will all become a lovely memory. I forget how cool that is most of the time, living in the 'burbs of London. Hop on a train after school or on weekends to take advantage of all the city has to offer. 

As I was sitting on the sofa petting the dog and thinking about what this experience of living abroad has meant to us as a family late this afternoon, I realized it has undoubtedly had the greatest impact on our senior. Back when we were given the opportunity to move over here, I was most worried about the teen's transition. However, she was on board from the start and has loved every minute of it. I'm afraid we may have to sedate her to get her back to Texas. It's a good thing she'll be headed off to university in another part of the US about two months after our return because she's getting accustomed to conquering new places. And she has already started checking out study abroad options before she has even attended freshman orientation to get registered for her first semester of classes.

This reminded me of what I had thought was an old saying, something about keeping 'em down on the farm. Come to find out, it's a song titled "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm? (after they've seen Paree)". It's an oldie from 1918, World War I.

I think that pretty much sums it up for our oldest. She came, she saw, she traveled, she shopped and now she's not gonna be content in small town Texas anymore. But that's the way it should be, leaving the nest to follow her dreams and choose her own path in life. 

Thanks to my middle-aged mind that takes these side trails and digresses, I started thinking about the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" that was originally released when I was  a teen. And thanks to the popularity of the TV show Glee, my daughter is familiar with it 30ish years after I was recording it off the radio onto a cassette tape to enjoy later on my boom box. Small town girls taking trains, seeking something more, closing a window to open the door, moving out, moving on and making the most of her tomorrows. That sounds like pretty good advice everyone could follow.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Good, clean fun

Approximately two years ago, our family visited Bath and Lacock during the second half of spring break because we had to hurry back home in order to be in London for the marriage of Prince William. I had enjoyed this little side trip to one of the picturesque towns of England and offered to play tour guide for our friends from Texas visiting us for the week.

Once we got out of the London suburbs, it was an uneventful two hour drive to Bath. Upon arrival, we promptly went to see the Roman baths.

Happy to view the excavated ruins a second time, we enjoyed seeing Roman engineering feats from the 1st to 3rd centuries when it was constructed. They were some smart cookies! My favorite items on display in the museum were the "curse tablets". Romans would inscribe a curse on a sheet of lead or pewter, roll it up and toss it into the spring. Archaeologists also found more than 12,000 Roman coins in the spring. It seems folks appealed to the goddess Minerva for good and evil.

After the baths, we toured the adjacent abbey. A site of Christian worship since the 8th century AD, this is the last great medieval church built in England. Revised and renovated over the centuries after its founding in 1499, I was impressed by its fan vaulting and stained glass windows.

An exterior abbey detail I absolutely love can be seen below - sculpted angels climbing ladders to ascend to heaven. 

After grabbing a sandwich and drink to-go, we hit the road for a scenic route to Lacock village. Located in Wiltshire, three miles from the equally precious town of Chippenham, Lacock is a time warp. Owned in its entirety by the National Trust since 1944, it's like stepping into a bygone era. The scene for several period movies, it's most famous for its role in the Harry Potter franchise. Check out the video below. In all honesty, Lacock did have a magical quality about it. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Brighton, May 2013

We have friends visiting from Texas, so that means I've put on my tour director's cap. In addition to scoping out train times and nearest tube stops for places they want to visit in London, I'm also serving as chauffeur on daytrips to Brighton and Bath.

The weather was spectacular Friday when we set off in the car for the south coast of England, a trip of about 1.5 hrs. The sat nav cleverly directed us right to a parking garage a mere 20 minute stroll from the beaches.

Our first stop was at a shoe store these Texas ladies were keen to visit and boy was it an interesting find.

Some shoes were certainly tame enough to wear in the classroom when I return to teaching. Others were so beautifully outlandish that they were nothing less than conversation pieces. Believe it or not, most of the shoes were reasonably priced (£59-£89) and comfortable. The Texas gals promptly did their part to support the Brighton economy by purchasing a total of eight pairs of shoes in need of new homes. Truly a selfless act. 

We spent the remainder of the morning window shopping before stopping at a vegetarian restaurant for a very healthy lunch. Our Texas friends were really impressed with Brighton, its quaint British charm and quirky architecture.

The seaside was hopping with lots of folks out enjoying the lovely late spring weather, a mild temp in the low 60s and sunny skies. It makes for interesting pics since it's a pebble beach, not something you'll find along the Gulf of Mexico coastline back home. And the pier - super cute!

Armed with desserts from a visit to Choccywoccydoodah, famous for its television series filmed here in the UK, and Julien Plumart, who bakes delicious French macaroons...

we walked past the Royal Pavilion for a few pics before cruising down the road for a photo opp at Arundel Castle to round out the afternoon.

Built in the late 1700s, it has a decidedly Indian appearance from the outside. As you can see, the locals were enjoying the adjacent park for a lazy lounge in the afternoon sunshine.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Drip Drip Drop, Little Leaking Plumbing

It's not early May showers that are drip drip dropping all over us here in England. It's this danged 78-year-old house that undoubtedly needs a total plumbing overhaul raining on our Saturday morning parade.

A couple weeks ago it was the boiler. I discovered it leaking one morning and it took four days to get that fixed. It was all about ordering parts, necessary parts not available and having to call in a more experienced technician since the nice young man who didn't appear old enough to be shaving needed assistance removing a part that didn't want to budge.

As soon as that was fixed, I noticed what appeared to be water spots on the ceiling above the dining table. Having dealt with two previous water leaks requiring a reseal of the master bath shower, which is located directly above that table, I knew the signs. The shower needs to be regrouted and sealed again - the third time since we moved into this house about 2.5 yrs ago - and now we're just waiting for the colored grout on order to arrive. Maybe Monday?

Now referred to as The Great Leaks of '13, we added another headache to the mix this morning when I rolled out of bed to discover the downstairs toilet spreading a steady stream of water all over the cloak room (Brit speak for toilet and sink) tile floor.

Although this is considered an "emergency", it seems a plumber may not make it out here to take a look until this afternoon. "But they will show up sometime today," said the plumbing rep I spoke to on the phone. In the meantime, I tried to shut off the water to the toilet via this knob up beneath the tank. I turned it all the way to the right and it was still running water after five minutes. Then I turned it all the way to the left. Five minutes later, it appeared neither direction would give me the results I wanted. 

Where's a house handy husband when you need him? Sleeping in his bed over in Texas, where he has been working since December. It's not his fault he's not here, but I was irrationally angry at him because this is the sort of stuff he's supposed to be handling. I keep the house (somewhat) clean and wrangle the kids, but he gets to step up to the plate and work his magic when we have leaking toilets or flat tires. 

Since the red mop bucket you see in the pic above was filling up every 20 minutes, I decided to try a bit of redneck engineering.

I took a length of twine and wrapped it around the floaty thing to make the water stop running into the tank since I was unable to stop it at its source. And then I ran the twine around the handle to keep the floating thingy up until plumbing help arrives. Since I did my makeshift rigging, the tank has more or less emptied and now I'm not so worried about it.

The kicker is that we had plans for today rather than a lazy Saturday. We have friends visiting from Texas and I got them off on the train to London for a visit to the Portobello Road market this morning in between emptying the red bucket before the twine idea dawned on me. The girls and I are supposed to travel into London later this morning for a trip to this cool shoe store we discovered, followed by lunch at Borough Market and meeting up with the senior's Texas friend visiting us. Figure the odds.

The best laid plans of moms and daughters often go to hell in a handbasket when we are beset by plumbing issues. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Pandas of Chengdu

On our last full day in China, we finally went to see the pandas.

I asked the girls what they wanted to see or do on this trip when it was still in the planning stages and the first thing out of the senior's mouth was to visit the pandas. But then we had to go one step further and pay to hold a panda.

We arrived with our tour guide first thing in the morning and they were just about ready to start letting the pandas out of their nightly accommodations. Some were getting a bit of a snack to tide them over until they exited into the exhibit where they had lots of bamboo waiting for them.

The first panda enclosure we visited contained six adults. The crowd was light, and so we stepped right up to the railing for a prime viewing spot.

I noticed several of the pandas in the awkward position seen below, with the hind legs kicked out kinda to the side as if they wanted to put it behind them but just couldn't accomplish it. This looks terribly uncomfortable, but didn't slow down their bamboo consumption one bit.

Eating in an upright position was just too much work, and so this one decided to lay back and continue munching on its breakfast.

There were a couple of the pandas more interested in goofing around and playing rather than eating. The cute-o-meter just ratched up a couple more notches.

 Here we have proof of panda intelligence, using the tools in their environment for important stuff like butt scratching. I'm wondering if maybe somebody needs a good worming?

An adjacent enclosure had a momma panda and her two babies. One of the cubs shimmied up a tree and was displaying a whole lotta over-the-top cuteness for our cameras.

Meanwhile, down below, its panda sibling almost ended up with all sorts of nastiness on its head. Momma panda turned with her butt towards the observation railing to take a poo and wee. Lovely - real live action shots. I think the husband even got some of it filmed since we are all busy clicking away, oohing and aahing, with no inkling momma was about to get down to business. Baby panda wisely moved around to momma's head once it got a whiff of what momma was doo-ing!

Our next stop was the panda experience, where we watched a video, listened to instructions, donned gear to protect the panda and were then allowed to hold it.

One of the handlers kept the panda entertained with bamboo shoots dipped in honey so that it was a willing participant as it was passed from one tourist to another for maybe 60 seconds in each lap before another handler stepped up to pass it off to the next person.


While we were sitting around waiting for our commemorative photo with the panda cub, they handed out a sample of the panda bread. The center makes this as a way to supplement their usual diet. I passed, but the husband sampled it. He's like Mikey - he'll eat pretty much anything that doesn't jump off the fork before he can get it into his mouth.

On our way over to the red panda exhibit - the 6th grader is a huge fan of these critters - I just had to take a pic of this sign.

 Are red pandas even related to the giant pandas? I'm still clueless about that. Honestly, they look like a cross between a raccoon and a house cat. I loved the variations in coat - some were a lighter red while others had more pronounced rings on their tails.

That afternoon, we flew from Chengdu back to Beijing so we could fly home to England the next morning. We all agreed that we had a great time on our first family trip to Asia.