Archive for December, 2006

Christmas Interrupted…or…Nancy Drew and the Case of the Disoriented Delivery Truck

Christmas this year has been…um…different

Consider the following:

We were in England 2 weeks ago and only started celebrating and preparing (translation: present buying) once we got home.

We still do not know if we will be moving to England.  With overseas shipping scenarios costing what they are we determined that all Christmas presents this year should be 1)small; 2) able to withstand life on a shipping container on rough seas for 3 months; and 3) non-electric - a hard combination when dealing with the toddler to preschool set. 

Last but not least: Santa decided to give Dasher and Dancer et. al. a bit of a break and shipped some of our stuff Fed Ex this year.  And for whatever reason, our FedEx truck that left Chicago traveling toward Washington State on December 20th at 7:21 am has not been seen nor heard from since that date.  Said gifts were supposed to have arrived by the 23rd, yet they never came.  That left us with quite the predicament.  Our choices were:

  1. Try to reason with the offspring. Nu-uh.  These kids wholeheartedly believe in Santa’s magic and I ain’t gonna be the one to take that away from them.  No matter what we would say, our offspring would wake up and be shattered that Santa didn’t come yet.  Obviously out of the question.
  2. “Santas helpers” (aka us) could go out and do emergency shopping on Christmas Eve.  Nope.  There is a reason we shop online.  Our crowd-phobic selves refuse to do battle with frantic parents in Toys R Us on the night before christmas to pick over empty shelves and buy stuff that the kids didn’t want anyway.
  3. Do some creative shifting of christmas gifts and voila!  Santa comes on Christmas, but “Mommy and Daddy presents” are on hold until further notice.

We chose option 3.  Our truck still has not arrived…I’m thinking “Denver Blizzard” or “Truck stolen/smashed to smitherines”.  Let’s hope for the former.  Calls to FedEx are getting the usual “do you have your tracking number…yes, it says the truck is en route from Chicago” talkaround.

Then again, the kids don’t seem to have noticed the mixup.  And if it is that storm in Denver holding things up, there are people over there who are suffering much more than we are.  Our hearts and minds are with them.

But while you’re shoveling yourselves out if you happen dig up a standed FedEx truck, give it a good push west, ‘kay?

The slope has slipped: embryo screening FOR disabilities

(NOTE:  Yes, I realize the following post is wildly out of context on my blog.  It is a tryout for a paid blogging spot for Babble, a new parenting site with more honesty and humor than any other I’ve seen.  Strollerbaby’s list of writers already contain so many online authors I truly admire.  Whether you like my audition post below, you should check them out.)

In a strange case of reverse psychology, embryo screening is allegedly being used to deliberately create babies with a disability, such as deafness or dwarfism.

“You cannot tell me that I cannot have a child who’s going to look like me,” a woman with dwarfism said.  “It’s just unbelievably presumptuous and they’re playing God.”

I understand and encourage the ideals of many people biologically different than the norm hold that their “disability” should not be considered an imparity.  But someone needs to give this lady a quick refresher on middle-school science: any baby originating from her egg is going to look like her.  The bigger problem is that she is defining her entire image on her dwarfism.

But let’s not let this one go without examining the bigger picture.  I’m always skeptical of the abilities of human nature over Mother Nature.  Historically, humanity seems to believe we can re-engineer anything better than letting nature take its course.  And it’s worked so well for the forests and oceans so far, hasn’t it?  But then perhaps we’ve been in the business of engineering defects for quite some time.  Why not in our own gene pool?

On being foriegn

When we found out there was a strong possibility we would be moving to England, I was nervous, yes, but also elated.  We love to travel and believe in global community.  What a great opportunity for us - and for the kids!

We had backpacked around western Europe a couple of years ago with a four-day stay in London, so English culture was not a complete unknown.  But as tourists, we had been hanging out where people were trained to understand and help us.  Where they had experience in “dealing” with “people like us”.

But when we were in England as quasi-residents, life was different.  Instead of visiting monuments and eating at touristy resturaunts, we were hanging around in grocery stores, gas stations, shops, schools and housing developments.  We were going about our lives just like normal English people, except we weren’t.  Even in a culture with so many similarities as my own, I found myself feeling like a bufoon more times than usual - which already is often enough in my own country.

Example.  When I didn’t quite hear the man helping me at the hotel, I said, “excuse me?” which in my own culture would be a polite way of asking him to repeat what he had said.  The man got offended, saying “See the sign?  It says “concierge”.  I’m supposed to be helping you.”  It turns out he was upset because I should have said “sorry?” instead.  Saying “excuse me” implied that he had done something wrong.  If you ever accidentally bump into someone on the street in England, remember this rule.

I felt like I constantly was having to apologize for my not knowing how to do simple things like lock my hotel room door or fill up my car with petrol.

During a conversation with a headmaster of a school about Church of England versus nondenominational school differences, the headmaster busted out with, “Well of course you’re Baptist…”

Um…..no.

And while listening to a radio call-in talk show, the topic was “is chewing tobacco sexy”.  The dj mentioned, in a serious tone, that “In America, as you know, everyone chews tobacco.”

I almost spit out my big wad of Skoal.

What I SHOULD be buying myself this Christmas

Rotten Nachos.  That’s the word Rich uses to describe the smell emanating from our vacuum.  Each time we “hoover”, as the English say, the smell permeates every crevice of our home.

I’d like to take the imagery a couple of steps further.  Kind readers, arrange yourselves into your favorite yoga position and imagine you’re vacuuming your car.  You come across some stale Doritos that your child smashed into the carpeted floor several years ago.  Center in on that smell.  Good. 

Now, imagine the creative folks at JellyBelly came across that flavor and made it into a jelly bean.  It could happen, folks.  And in turn, your toddler snacked on a box of these Two-Year-Old-Stale-Nacho-JellyBelly-Trademarked-Flavor Jelly Beans, spit them out, and again smashed their slimy existence into your car floorboard, left only for you to discover them in another two years while hoovering.

The scenario above might be pure fiction, but the odor is not.  We’ve changed our vacuum bag several times and cleaned the roller brush thingy on the bottom, but nothing gets rid of the smell.  So what’s worse - a house that has been freshly vacuumed, leaving the rotten nacho odor in every nook and cranny of our humble abode - or a house that hasn’t been vacuumed in months?  Lately, I’ve been choosing door number two.

Our vacuum was purchased back when Rich and I were newlyweds - a good ten years ago - and it shows.  I’d love to get one of those fancy new Dysons shoved into my Christmas stocking….

 …but what country does Santa buy the vaccuum for?

 For the time being, our lives are filled with dilemmas just like this one.

Driving on the wrong other side of the road

While we wait for more definite news to confirm or deny our move to England, I’ll be posting some of the insights I gathered during our 2-week stay across the pond.  First up - how difficult is it to drive on the other side of the road?

First of all, don’t get all “ugly American” on me and to the UK and use the phrase “the wrong side of the road”.  The English are sensitive when foriegners come to their country and imply thtat their way of driving is “wrong”.  In fact, there are good reasons why 25% of the world drives on the left.  In feudal society, the entire world road their horses on the left.  This was to enable a swordsman to have his right arm closer to his opponent if he had to use his weapon while riding.  Yep, ancient drive-by shootings!  In France after the revolution, aristocrats began trying to blend in with the commoners by walking on the peasant’s side of the road - the right - and risk being recognized and losing their head.   And in the American British colonies, our ancestors primarily drove on the left like the mother country until we gained our independence from England and changed to right-sided driving.  Yep, the newly-formed USA had a bit of a ‘tude, even in its infancy.

And can you imagine switching 25% of the world over to the other side of the road?  How would that go exactly?  With modern-day heavy traffic being what it is, the whole ordeal would have to be synchronized to the second.  And let’s not even think of the cost of the thing - road signs, replacing interchanges, and the necessary press to get the word out.

Not to mention the idiot drivers that might not take easily to the change.  Like…errr…me, for instance.

I wasn’t worried about driving until we were at the airport and I decided it would be a good idea to take advantage of PDX’s free wi-fi to check on UK driving laws, road signs and whatnot.  Sure, I know what a yellow light means.  But a yellow light at the same time as a red?  Intimidating.

I must admit, it was a bit harder to drive on the left side than I had envisioned.  Once the novelty of getting used to the steering wheel being on the “passenger side” of the car wore off, I noticed I was white-knuckling it.  First up, just getting your car to stay in your lane is harder than it seems.  It was easy to misjudge how wide my car was, especially on the left side, because I wasn’t used to sitting on the left-hand side of the car.  My left tires slid off the road a few times until I realized that I was trying to align the car by looking at the left painted stripe on the road.  That stripe would have marked the middle of the road back home, but here it was on the outside and far away from where I was sitting.  Once switched to aligning the car by looking at the center line, which was now on my right, I was golden.

Almost.

It didn’t take too long to get used to being on the left.  Since everything was the opposite side of what I was used to (steering wheel, road signs, etc.) my mind easily flipped the entire plane of driving existance around to be the mirror image of what I was used to dealing with.  The only problem?  When my brain did this, it also managed to flip-flop my right and left.  Therefore, when the GPS navigation voice told me to take a right turn, I’d turn left.  I had to resort to my grade-school trick of looking at which hand’s thumb and forefinger made an “L” to verify which was my left hand.

HedgerowI need to mention here that roads in England are narrow.  I’m talking no-thanks-I’ll-just-have-two-diet-pills-and-a-salad-leaf-for-lunch-then-purge-later skinny.  Often, at least in Somerset, there is a hedgerow or stone wall bordering one or both sides of the road.  There is no shoulder where you could pull over - just an occasional small dip in the mud every mile or so.  On an A-road (a primary 2-lane road), lanes are so skinny that there is only about a foot or two of extra space when two cars are side-by side.  And when two cars pass each other going opposite directions, as an American not used to such close traffic, my first instinct was to break and cringe, bracing for impact. 

There are good reasons, other than gas conservation, that British cars are so tiny.

And that is the MAIN ROAD.  On side streets, most are one-lane only.  This means that if you meet another car, one of you must a) pull over to let the other pass if you are lucky enough that there is room; or b) back up until you can find a spot to pull over. 

In Nether Stowey, a charming period village (read: very narrow, one lane streets flanked by historic stone walls on each side, designed for horses and not cars), I met a lorry (truck) coming my way.  Of course, I had been driving up a steep hill where the road had curved.  Since the truck was large, it was my job to find a place to turn out to let the driver pass.  My first instinct?  To back up looking over the wrong shoulder, making it near impossible to get a decent perspective.  After failing at that, I tried to turn into a driveway.  This meneuver required a good 30-point turn and its only effect was to lodge me almost sideways in the road.  After a good 5 minutes, the poor truck driver took pity on me, easily pulling over and letting me pass.  Our side mirrors had a bit of a handshake, then I was off again.

Here are some basic tips I found useful for driving in the UK:

  • if you are an American, you can drive on your valid US driver’s license if you are 17.
  • familiarize yourself with road signs and markings before you leave by reading the Highway Code online.
  • fuel in the UK is expensive - about 87 pence a liter at present (that’s $6.45 per US gallon).  Public transportation is plentiful.  Check train, bus and tube schedules and prices.
  • don’t even bother attempting to drive in London.  There is a high tax to do so, and it is crazy scary.  Take the tube - it goes virtually everywhere.
  • on the motorway, there are usually three lanes.  The first is for going just above the speed limit.  The second is for going fast.  The third is designated reckless driver lane.  Read: 110 miles per hour or so)
  • to align your car to the center of your lane, “sight your car in” by aglining the center line of the road with your right windshield wiper’s pivot point.
  • roundabouts go clockwise in the UK - not counterclockwise as in America.
  • you do not have to stop at a roundabout unless there is traffic where you’ll be pulling out.
  • when approaching a roundabout where you’ll  be taking the first “exit”, signal left and get in the left lane.  If you won’t be taking the first exit, signal right and get in the right hand lane.
  • when in a roundabout, signal left when you are going to take your “exit”.
  • learn the art of backing before you go.
  • when on a one-lane road, pull over for oncoming traffic if there is a place to do so.  Chances are if you can then the other driver can’t.
  • look over your right shoulder to back up.
  • pay close attention to “right” and “left”.  Your brain might try and switch them on you amidst all the confusion.
  • rent the smallest car you can get away with.
  • it is a good idea to rent an automatic if at all possible.
  • rent a car with a GPS or buy a TomTom.  Roads are very curvy and your inner-compass will be off for a while.  You’ll have enough to think about and won’t want to be wrestling with a paper map.
  • before you get to the gas station, find out if your rental car is diesel or petrol.  Hint: Petrol is the green nozzle.  Just like in the US, a diesel nozzle will not fit into a petrol car.
  • you do not have to pre-pay at the gas stations in the UK.

And if you make a mistake, don’t sweat it.  English people may stare in a dignifed sort of way, but they rarely honk!  (I managed to earn a couple anyway.)

Back home, for now

We’ve been back home for a week, and jet lag is just leaving us behind.  Yet we find ourselves playing catch-up on regular life’s work.

1.  Because he had such loving, tender care from his Gram, Connor has decided that he should always be treated as nicely.  Sorry, Bud.  You’ve got to remember how to put your own coat on and your own shoes on.  Mommy isn’t going to do it for you.  Nice try with the daily all-out-screaming temper tantrums, though.  But I must remind you - have they ever worked before?

2) We have no presents purchased.  We have done no Christmas traditional things we like to do such as the driving around to see the houses festooned with lights, the baking of sugary goodies, or the shopping for people in our community less fortunate than us.  Heck, we don’t even have a tree.

3) Normal life seems to have gone on without us.  We need to grocery shop, clean and organize.  We also need to move Siena into the next size clothes.  I think our miniature girl is ready to move into size 2T! 

4) Since insurance deductables have been met, I’ve had the grand idea that I should get all those little things taken care of by the end of the year.  So before I’ll be singing Auld Lang Sine, I’ll have my skin cleared of pesky abnormalites.  I even get to have an MRI for my hip - not without the added benefits of having a needle injected INTO MY HIP JOINT.

We still don’t have any final word on whether we will be moving to the UK, when that would be, and when we will know.  I’ll update as we find out more.

Tomorrow: A quick night in London

Tomorrow Rich will work just a couple of hours, then we’re off to London.  We’ll be spending the night in a hotel right outside of Heathrow so we can fly out the next morning - but first we’ll have a little fun.  We have tickets to see the show “Wicked” and we’ll have a nice dinner beforehand.  We may also be able to take a stop or two along the way - one to Avebury Stone Circle - similar to Stonehenge but you can actually walk up and touch the stones.

After our flight to America, we’ll be spending the night in Portland with my Dad, then getting up early and driving home where we’ll finally relieve my Mom of kid-related duties and be able to hug our offspring.  We’ve missed them like crazy.  Then that night we have the company Christmas party.  And the next morning we pack up the family and go to Lake Chelan where the corporate strategy meeting will be for a couple of days.

Eventually we’ll make it home and be able to see everyone - until then - cheers!

Damned Internets

I’ve been having trouble with the Internet connection in my hotel so I’m posting a quick update while it is working mainly to let you know we are still alive and well. 

Rich had the weekend off and Saturday and Sunday we were tourists for a change. 

Saturday I took Rich though Glastonbury town and the Abbey, and we walked up the Tor.  Then we hopped back in the car and drove into Wells, which is known as England’s smallest city as it has a Cathedral which was gorgeous.  Also good shopping and dining options here, though too far for a work night. 

Sunday we went up to Bath and walked through the Roman ruins and museum, then walked around the streets and shopping area there (amazing shopping!).

Enjoy the photos I’m uploading into Flickr - hopefully the gods will look favorably upon me and the internet connection and laptop battery will cooperate for a change.

Tour of a modern English home

The other day I had the chance to go through a 3 bedroom, brand new house on my own and I used the chance to snap a few pictures for you all.  What follows is a quick photo walk through of a typical, brand new, modern British home.

Some interesting general points I’ve found about British housing:

  • almost all homes are covered entirely with brick
  • although housing design is period from the outside, in the inside usually homes are furnished in a very modern way (think IKEA) which is absolutely gorgeous
  • most are attached on one or both sides to another home, especially if you live in a town
  • houses are much smaller than they look from the photos.  This house, for instance, comes out to around 1000 square feet - which is fairly typical and not at all small
  • but if you live in a period home (and pay for it), you can find very large estates with plenty of room
  • a stove is called a hob in England
  • appliances are usually much smaller than what we are used to
  • but kitchens are very beautiful and modern
  • the washing machine is usually in the kitchen
  • you must pay a tax if you have a telly (to support the government’s television channels such as the BBC)
  • the road you live in is probably very narrow; perhaps so narrow that only one car can fit down it at a time
  • if you have a garage, almost always it is a one car garage and often is not attached to the house
  • your yard is called the garden, even if it is only grass
  • you might have a conservatory, which is a glass-enclosed patio sitting room
  • if the bathroom has a shower, it is often electric
  • hot water is expensive and people often turn off the water several times during a shower to conserve energy
  • often, master bedrooms do not have a master, or en-suite bath and you share one bathroom with the rest of the family
  • Oh, and your bathroom is not called a bathroom at all.  If you need to go to the bathroom, you ask for the toilet or loo
  • bedrooms are usually just big enough for a bed and a dresser
  • usually in a three-bedroom house, one of the bedrooms is a single, meaning that only a single bed will fit

Overall, the British style is both period and modern, and very beautiful.  Enjoy the tour!

Kitchen

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Let’s walk through the front door. To the right is the kitchen - very beautiful isn’t it?

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