Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Here are some pictures from our post-Christmas trip to Bavaria with our nephew, Zach. We took in some culture . . . .And lots of winter fun.

Neuschwanstein - if it looks familiar, it is because it was the model for the Cinderella castle at Disney World!
A brief foray into Austria - playing on a frozen lake. There were even ice skaters pushing their baby in a stroller!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Our nephew Zach came in for Christmas. We are really enjoying having him. His first day here we dragged him out for a nice refreshing walk to try to counter jet lag. Here is the Mainz Cathedral and entrance to the Christmas Market. The cathedral is 1000 years old. On the 23rd we went to a Christmas concert there.
We did a Christmas tree in the German tradition, with lit candles.
Paul H. is also here visiting and we have really enjoyed having him. Looks nice and Mediterranean, doesn´t it?
A Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Yesterday (Friday) when I picked Abby up from school, she excitedly told me that she had finally seen the inside of an ambulance! And it wasn’t just a tour. While at the children’s farm she had fallen while pushing a wheelbarrow and sliced open the skin just under her nose. Luckily, she’s had a tetanus shot and I don’t think it will leave much of a scar. Luckily, Paul was with me and could translate the bits of the story from the school director I didn’t understand. Despite that she had a good day at the farm. This week they’ve helped clean and spin wool in addition to taking care of the horses. She had a ball.

Friday evening, Paul, Abby & I went to buy a Christmas tree! We went with the Charlie Brown ethos and picked a small tree that was missing its top. It needed a good home. We brought it home on the bus (which was one reason I wanted a small tree!) and spent the rest of the evening stringing popcorn and listening to the 5 Christmas carols we actually have along. Abby contributed the German children’s version of “Oh, Tannenbaum,” which involves grandma on the garden fence and naked firefighters. We put candleholders on the tree and plan to (briefly!) have lit candles on the tree as per the German custom. Don’t worry, we’ll also have a bucket of water handy!

I finished my Christmas shopping, except for the groceries, on Friday. We need to finish grocery shopping today as stores here are all closed on Sunday, will close at 2 p.m. Monday, and will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. With two guys visiting, one 20 and one 14, I think we need to have plenty of food on hand! We’re lucky to have four grocery stores, including an Asian one, within two blocks of our house. They are all small, though, and none of them sells everything we need.

Today is Wayne’s birthday, though at the moment he’s celebrating by assembling furniture.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Running in the cold

Wayne & I both officially got back into running this morning, after 2 weeks of moving and recovering from my washer-induced back injury. Many of you know that running in below-freezing weather is not exactly my thing, but it was OK. I ran through an area I hadn’t seen yet, and it was beautiful. I felt sorry for the ducks paddling in the unfrozen edges of a pond. If I were them I’d fly south. They must have read the brochure on the Mediterranean weather and been fooled.

We signed Abby up for gymnastics today. You have to love the community sports center here - 2 hours of gymnastics a week, taught by a professional instructor, for 5 euro a month (just over $7). Amazing.

Our first house guest arrives today, and the second comes on Monday, so it’ll be a full house for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Furnishing the flat

This morning Wayne came home from taking Abby to school with a recliner on his head! He’d carried it about half a mile. One of our main strategies for furnishing our flat has been to scan the curbs for cast offs, and this was a real find. Last week wasn’t so good for finding stuff as it rained all week. We still managed to get a good drying rack (we have a washer but not a dryer, so this is a critical item!) and a kitchen chair, and a friend picked up a bentwood rocker, but it was not a good week for upholstered stuff. This week is sunny and cold, so better scavenging weather. Abby has begun peering closely at piles of trash on the curb, so she has the spirit. She really wanted a hamster cage we saw on the street the other day, but I vetoed that one.

Wayne has been picking up Wiesbaden tourist information, and here’s my favorite quote from the official brochure: “Due to its Mediterranean climate . . . .” We have had highs in the 30s every day since we’ve been here, and we’re not into the cold part of winter yet. Wayne pointed out that the Rhine valley is a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of the country. I say that doesn’t make it Mediterranean.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Oh, my aching back!

Friday, December 14, 2007
Did I say Whoo-hoo, we have a washing machine? The good news is that I hear the comforting sound of the machine washing clothes as I type. The bad news is that all didn’t go exactly according to plan. As we unloaded the machine from the rented truck (we had a dolly, but no ramp), I slipped and managed to hurt my back. Did I mention that this was a fully-loaded truck and the washing machine was the first thing out? So we got it onto the dolly and up the steps into the building, feeling hugely grateful that we’re on the ground floor, and discovered we had made a completely amateur moving mistake. We measured the space, which is quite small, for the washing machine carefully, but neglected to measure the last door the washing machine would need to go through. Door: 56 cm, washing machine: 60 cm. Oops. So we decided that the washing machine would look lovely in the kitchen, and Wayne has purchased and installed the necessary hosing to make that work. The first load is in now. I actually think it’s worked out for the best, as any machine less than 56 cm wide would wash about 3 articles of clothing at a time. Given that washing machines are slower here (a load takes from 90-120 minutes), that means I’d be doing laundry constantly.

The other furniture that was in the truck was moved in almost completely by Wayne. I could carry stuff, I just couldn’t bend, so Wayne gave me a couple of things, I carried it in, Wayne put it down. Luckily the cabinets we were moving came in lots of mostly not-too-heavy pieces. (All those pieces are currently stacked awaiting complicated reassembly. It took Wayne and one of his friends hours to disassemble it to move, and will presumably take even longer to reassemble.) We didn’t finish unloading until nearly midnight.

Thursday morning, while we still had the truck, we went to look at a couch advertised in the classifieds. We didn’t really like it, so we’re still without a couch. We did buy a bed at a furniture store – the only thing we’ve bought new. We brought it back, unloaded the pieces, and returned the truck.

To all of you with chronic back problems, you have a whole new level of sympathy from me! Thursday morning I literally couldn’t get out of bed by myself (it didn’t help that bed as of Thursday morning was a mattress on the floor). I had never hurt my back before, and so am learning new skills, such as how to pick something up off the floor without bending over, how to put on socks with the minimum bending, etc. My back is already much better, though still painful. Ibuprofin is my friend.

Abby’s first week of school has gone well. She’s only had one hard day, which given the language challenge seems like a miracle. She is very excited about the trip to the children’s farm next week, and we managed to get waterproof pants and rain boots on our shopping trip. Her job at the farm will be caring for the ducks.

Still no internet or phone at home – we did get a letter from our service non-provider saying that the waiting period would be longer than the month they had first told us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Me Talk Pretty

Whoo-hoo, we have a washing machine! Tuesday morning (which is the good day for classifieds here, for some reason) we scoured the ads for used washing machines and found one. It’s being sold by a nice Polish lady who needed a bigger machine since she has 3 kids. I’m thrilled to have one! We don’t actually have it yet, as Wayne is renting a truck again today and he’ll pick it up later, but I’m saved from the Laundromat.

Tuesday we also took the bus to Real to buy cheap plastic things. Real is pretty similar to a super Wal-Mart (though smaller) and I have to admit that it made me very, very happy. Embarrassingly so. We bought some kitchen things we need, a car seat for Abby for when we rent a car, a door mat, that sort of thing. Plus they had a bigger selection of groceries than we’ve seen elsewhere, so we were able to get things like whole-wheat pasta and flour. It’s not in walking distance, so won’t be a regular shopping place, but it’s nice to know that it is just a bus ride away.

Bus fares are actually more expensive here than the price with an Oyster card in London, and Abby’s not free here. Luckily, we’re in a great location, in walking distance of most things we’ll need. The pedestrian/shopping zone is less than a 10 minute walk away, which is nice. This afternoon Abby and I will be heading there. Next week Abby’s class is spending the week at a children’s farm, and she needs to be outfitted with rubber boots and waterproof trousers. She had a good second day of school. She thinks it’s the “coolest school ever,” primarily because, as she says, “we don’t have to work.” (We’re implementing a daily journal requirement at home!)

Tuesday we also went to visit my school for a language assessment, which was humiliating. My German is still terrible. Evidently I have to actually be immersed in the language before I can be bothered to learn it! So, in mid-January, I start what I am calling “German boot camp.” It’s 4 hours a day, 4 days a week of German at the adult ed center. It sounds just like Peace Corps language training, and I know some of you will groan at that memory. The funniest part was when the lady asked how many years of education I’ve had. When I answered 20, she thought I must have my numbers wrong. I think she had difficulty reconciling my level of German (equivalent to David Sedaris’ “Me Talk Pretty One Day”) with someone who has clearly had too much formal education.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The big move!

We left for Germany on Friday, December 7. I had class that morning and Abby went to school, but after class Wayne and I gathered all the luggage and took the tube to Holborn. He then waited on the platform while I went to collect Abby from school. The Deputy Headteacher made a nice speech to the class and all the kids hugged Abby and said goodbye. There were a few tears as we left – Abby really had some good friends in year one. We met Wayne on the platform and took the tube out to Heathrow. We were limited to one 20 kg bag apiece. We ALMOST made it – one bag was 24 kilos, but the lady was nice and didn’t charge us. Security was a pain. They made us wedge our largest carry on into the size thing. To make it fit I had to duck into the bathroom, change Abby’s clothes (from her school uniform to her bulkier jeans), and tuck a few other bulky items into my jacket pockets. So we wedged it in, took ten minutes to get it back out, got through security, and then refilled it as it had been. What a pointless exercise. They allow only one carry-on each leaving London, and that includes purses and computer cases. Our flight was an hour and a half late leaving Heathrow, which put us into Frankfurt at 10 p.m. It took 45 minutes for the bags to come, so we ran for the train to Wiesbaden, catching the 10:59 with 4 minutes to spare, which got us to Wiesbaden at 11:40. We caught a cab to the youth hostel, which closes at midnight, JUST in time. The woman at the desk remembered Wayne from his two previous visits, and was as nice as could be. The youth hostel in Wiesbaden is extremely pleasant and clean, so it was a good place to spend our first night. Abby was thrilled with the bunk beds in our room. She was a real trouper through what wasn’t the easiest day. Saturday morning, Wayne left early to go pick up our rental truck. He came back to get us and we met Frau Schumann at our new flat. Wayne did a GREAT job picking out a place. Abby ran around and said, “Are all these rooms ours?” We had all gotten used to our one-room flat in London, so this feels like luxury! It has 3 good sized rooms, a small kitchen, and one and a half baths. It’s on the ground floor, but the windows are high enough to feel safe. The neighborhood is good and relatively quiet (especially compared to London), and it is an easy walk to Abby’s new school and to a park. We dropped our bags and went immediately to see some friends in Mainz. They not only had some things for our new flat, but took us to meet a neighbor who is elderly and moving in with her daughter. She gave us a bed (with sheets & duvet), 4 wardrobes, 2 armchairs, 2 other chairs, a shoe cabinet/bench, and 4 nightstands. Abby’s room is set, and that gives us a wardrobe for our room, the living room, and a narrow one for the bath. This is a huge help, as our flat has no closets. In addition to all the stuff, they also gave us a delicious lunch of pumpkin soup and Turkish sesame ring bread. From there, we went to see another set of good friends in Mainz. Their daughter Caroline played with Abby while we went to our friend’s office to raid the storage room. We got silverware, plates, trash cans, and decided on a table & chairs we can use for our living/dining room. We couldn’t fit it all into the truck, and it was getting late. We did load up a small table for the kitchen as well as 3 mattresses and they loaned us some sheets. Abby stayed with Caroline while we made a quick shopping run to Aldi – a store completely devoid of charm and with limited selection, but low prices (sort of a grocery store version of Fred’s). We went back to get Abby, and headed to our new home. It was late – already after 8 at this point. We were all starving, so I unearthed enough kitchen gear to made a very quick dinner while Wayne unloaded most of the truck in a light (but cold) rain. This was one of those times when I wished we liked McDonald’s! We passed one and I thought how easy that would be! We threw mattresses on the floor and made them up, put Abby to bed, unloaded the big pieces of furniture that required two, and then collapsed for the night. Sunday morning Wayne got up early to return the truck. He took the bus back and stopped at a good bakery on the way. Abby and I slept late (almost 9) and then played for a while. When Wayne got home we had breakfast and then started unpacking in earnest. On Sunday we got Abby’s room totally set. Most of the kitchen gear has found a home. And thank goodness for Wayne’s superior planning abilities. It was wonderful to open the 2 suitcases he’d taken to Germany last May and find toiletries, towels, kitchen stuff (including oven mitts, which we never did get in London!), a couple of blankets, and even a couple of “new” items of clothing. On Wednesday we’re going to rent another truck and get the remaining 2 wardrobes, the table & chairs, and a desk. That will leave us with only needing 3 big pieces – a sofa, a bed for us, and a washing machine. All in all, we’re feeling very happy with our new digs and grateful for friends. Sunday night we went to the Christmas Market in Wiesbaden. It was beautiful. Gorgeous lights, fun shops, lots of food and drink, live entertainment. It was fun. We told Abby that if she wanted cotton candy she would have to order it herself in German, and she did it!

Today (Monday) Abby started her new school. She was a little nervous about it. Over breakfast she said that the good thing about going to school while traveling is that she meets so many new people, but the bad thing is that it is scary to go to a new school. We dropped her off at 10, and at the teacher’s request, stayed out of sight for about 45 minutes until she came to tell us everything was going great. When we returned at 12:45 to pick Abby up, she asked why we had come so soon! And tonight as we put her to bed, she said she was so excited about going to school tomorrow. After her inner-city London school, she is thrilled with the huge playground at her new school, and she seems to already be playing well with the other kids, who speak only German. The school has beautiful facilities and we seem, yet again, to be extremely lucky with teachers.

We’re continuing to work on our flat. It’s amazing how many things you take for granted (darn! No vegetable peeler! and “Hey, let’s just nuke the . . . oops, no microwave!) While I have set up household in a foreign country before, I’d forgotten how exhausting it is to have to figure out what store sells what and to read labels in a foreign language. Wayne is learning new German vocabulary – he’d never needed to know the specific words for baking soda vs. baking powder before. We haven’t found a good grocery store yet – I’m missing Tesco and Sainsbury in London! I look for things in the wrong places – eggs aren’t refrigerated here, for example, and come in cartons of 10. In London they came in cartons of 6 or 15. I know putting a dozen eggs together is an arbitrary thing, but any other number just seems wrong.

We don’t have Internet at home yet, so e-mail access will be irregular. I'm also handicapped by using a German keyboard- just different enough to make it hard! And by saying, "Ich mochte bitte surfen" with a straight face at the internet cafe.

Friday, December 7, 2007


One of the things I miss most about the United States? The Dewey Decimal System. So familiar, so easy. The book classification system used here (and I don't know what it's called, though I'm sure one of you does) I find completely impenetrable.

Having said that, I am so grateful to the Camden borough for having liberal library policies. We have borrowed probably 50 books, in English and German, from our local public library, mostly for Abby. Bless them. The University libraries I'm not so fond of - the one at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine isn't bad, because it's small, but the Senate House library is crazy! It's a warren of tiny rooms filled with books using this mysterious classification system. And the entrance is on the 4th floor (that would be the 5th for Americans) and the building's elevators hardly ever work. You need one staircase to get to the 2nd floor, another to get to the 4th, a 3rd to get to the 5th, and yet another to get to the 6th, which is as high as I ever went.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I love trains

The "new" St. Pancras international train station opened up last month, and it is beautiful. I just wish we were leaving London by train instead of having to deal with Heathrow. Unfortunately, flying was way cheaper than taking the train for us. This is one of the entrances to the train station. St. Pancras was built at the end of the 1800s, in the Victorian era. They knew how to do public works.
One of the new additions is this statue. It's called, "Meet me at St. Pancras."
One of the interesting design elements of the station is that most of the shops and restaurants are under the tracks. I am guessing that's because, back in the 1890s, there weren't mini shopping malls in every train station the way there are today.

Now that the Eurostar has moved to St. Pancras it's 2 hours and 15 minutes from London to Paris. It's nice to know that I COULD be in Paris by midnight tonight (it's shortly before 9 p.m. when I'm writing). I'm not going to be, but it's nice to know that I could.

For the Harry Potter fans

And who's not a Harry Potter fan? Here's the famous platform at King's Cross, complete with the luggage cart halfway through the wall. And here is Harry's dining hall at Hogwart's. OK, so it's actually the Christ Church college dining hall at Oxford, but in the movie it was Harry's dining hall and you know all these people didn't come just to see Oxford!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hypocrisy on the train

On our trip home from Oxford we were on a very crowded train, and the men who sat in our row (returning to London after a football match) asked where we were from. When we told them Arkansas, one of them said, "That's in the South right? Where it's still the 1950s?" There was no possible response to that. What made this statement particularly amazing is that a short time later he was telling his friends how he'd gotten drunk and, for fun, dressed up as a Klan member, even showing them pics on his mobile phone. This was amongst choice tidbits about their views on women and ethnic minorities. Thank goodness Abby is such a focused reader - she had her nose in a book and when we got off the train I made a comment about those rude men and she had no idea what I was talking about.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today we went to Oxford to meet our friends Dr. Francis & Penelope Warner. Dr. Warner is a retired Oxford don, poet, playwright, musician, composer (and other things I'm sure I've forgotten) and was the last student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford. He also taught Ian McKellen, who I have now seen naked (OK, OK, it was as King Lear). Most Americans know Sir McKellen as Gandalf or from X-Men. Francis and Penelope run a program for international students, including those from Hendrix, in Oxford. Penelope is a near-saint, who handles the administrative end of the program and keeps cookies on hand at all times for homesick students. In addition to all the other things Dr. Warner does, he is also very good at entertaining five-year-olds with magic tricks.
We went with the Warners to Blenheim Palace, the only non-royal palace in England. It was decorated for Christmas and was spectacular. We toured the State Rooms and also did the new "Untold Stories" exhibit, which gave a more human touch. While the State Rooms tour was very interesting (even for Abby), I will admit I got a little confused with which Duke of Marlborough was which. I also got a little lost in the history behind the palace, for which the tour guide seemed to assume that all the visitors had a working knowledge of the Wars of the Spanish Succession, in which the first Duke of Marlborough commanded the Allied Forces in an important victory over the French in 1704. Queen Ann gave him Blenheim as a little thank you. The "Untold Stories" exhibit did help to sort it out.
These pictures, by the way, were taken at about 5 p.m., which gives you a pretty good idea of the length of days in England in December! It was cold, windy, and intermittently rainy today, so we only did a brief tours of the gardens. I'd love to come back in the summertime!

We're not in Conway!

A question that never came up at home . . . After I wrapped a scarf around Abby's head (it was cold and rainy) she asked, "Do I look Muslim?" She's also taken to saying "Gracious!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


University College London offers a free lunchtime lecture series that take place, literally, a stone's throw from our flat. Some of them have been very interesting - here are some highlights. A warning - these highlights are a little heavy on the facts and figures.

Today's lecture: Fair Health? Health Inequities within and between countries: a global challenge by Michael Marmot, UCL.
  • Women in Botswana live, on average, to the age of 34, while women in Japan live to 86.
  • Men from the most deprived areas of Glasgow, Scotland have a life expectancy of 54, while those from the most affluent areas have a life expectancy of 82.
  • Even in the poorest countries, a social gradient for life expectancy exists. It is not just a problem of the very poorest people. This argues for universalist approaches rather than just policies aimed at the poorest.
  • The % probability of dying between the ages of 15 and 60 for men is:
    - 8.2% in Sweden
    - 48.5% in Russia
    - 84.5% in Lesotho
  • Have to look at social determinants of health. Not just the causes of ill health, but the causes of the causes. We need to create the social conditions for health.
  • The only area of the world for which life expectancy dropped between the early 1970s and early 2000s was the former Soviet states (69 to 68.1). But while life expectancy increased from 52.1 to 66.9 in Arab states and 50.1 to 63.2 in south Asia, it increased only from 45.8 to 46.1 in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The United States spends $5,274 per capita on medical care (15% GDP). The U.K. spends $2,164. Yet for white men between the ages of 55 and 64, even the wealthiest Americans have more cancer and diabetes than the poorest citizens of the U.K., and the wealthiest Americans have more heart disease than all but the poorest citizens of the U.K. (Wealthiest Americans have, by far, better health than middle-income or poor Americans).
  • Compared to other nations, the United States ranks 33rd for men and 36th for women in the probability at birth of surviving to age 65.
  • In nutrition, from 1985-2000, prices for fresh fruits and vegetables increased by 40% (according to the USDA) while prices for soft drinks dropped by 30%.
  • If you haven’t yet seen the CDC map of obesity in America, take a look.

Too Many Men – a time bomb for China? by Therese Hesketh
(speaker is a pediatrician who has worked and lived in China for 20 years)

  • At birth, normal sex ratio is 103-107 males/100 females, with a median of 105.9. This number has been stable across populations and time.
  • The population sex ratio is 98-102 males/100 females, with a median of 100.
  • The population sex ratio is influenced by the sex ratio at birth (which favors males), differential mortality at different ages (which favors females), and migration.
  • Deviations from normal sex ratios result from a strong tradition of preferences for males. Before birth, this is largely accomplished through selective abortion. After birth, it is accomplished through infanticide, neglect, abandonment.
  • The numbers:
    - 112 males/100 females in India
    - 120 males/100 females in China.
    - China & India have 1/3 of all births globally, nearly 40% of the world population. As a result, the global sex ratio is becoming skewed.
  • At the time of the implementation of the one child policy in China, and before abortion for purposes of sex selection was readily available, the sex ratio was 106 males/100 females – a bit high, but in the normal range.
  • The one child policy is not uniform across China. It applies to urban areas. In rural areas, families are allowed 2, but the second may be allowed only if the first is a girl. Some ethnic groups are allowed more.
  • For families having their second child, the sex ratio is normal (103 boys for every 100 girls) if the first child was a boy. If the first child was a girl, there are 156 boys born for every 100 girls, indicating that sex selection is common.
  • Sex selection in China is not just a rural problem:
    First child: 111 boys/100 girls urban 106 boys/100 girls rural
    Second child: 130 boys/100 girls urban 123 boys/100 girls rural
    Third child: 130 boys/100 girls urban 145 boys/100 girls rural
  • By 2020, up to 15% of adult men in China will be single and childless, most of whom are poor and uneducated. This may lead to societal problems, such as an increase in the sex industry, increased trafficking of women, increased violence. Some speculate there could be potential for large-scale domestic or even international violence.
  • For men who are married, they tend to be more monogamous, have more stable families, and have a low divorce rate.
  • In China, few obvious problems have surfaced so far. Crime rates are relatively low, migrants are generally well absorbed.
  • Short-term solutions being seriously discussed in China include greater recruitment into the armed forces, sending unmarried men to remote border areas, and employing them on dangerous projects. (Another Great Wall, anyone?)
  • Long term solutions include enforcing the existing legislation on sex-selective technologies, giving women equal rights in inheritance & income, providing supportive measures for elderly people without sons, and increasing public awareness about the value of daughters.
  • South Korea has already grappled with this problem. In 1992, the sex ratio of 3rd births was 212 boys for every 100 girls. After enforcement of laws on sex selection techniques, the rates have dropped so that 3rd births are 124 boys for every 100 girls. (It’s 106 for first children and 108 for second.)

Shell Shock (a history of public health lecture at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

  • The number of psychiatric casualties in war is closely related to total casualties. The mediators are morale, training, food, leadership.
  • In WWI, many psychiatrists believed that war was only a trigger of shell shock, but that the general degeneration of society was the cause.
  • In WWI, only 16.9% of soldiers treated at forward psychiatric units were able to return to duty.
  • In Iraq, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the last century. We are still looking for a physical cause for shell shock (what the U.S. is calling Minor Traumatic Brain Injury), while we learned in WWI that a debate between physical and psychological explanations is not helpful to treatment or recovery.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


On Thursday, Erin & Christine (pictured here), two of Wayne's students, joined me in bringing Thanksgiving to Abby's kindergarten class.
Most of the kids are pictured here with the headbands we made. We sure managed to trash the classroom.
The kids were all willing to try pumpkin pie, and many of them even asked for seconds. I was surprised, since it was almost certainly a new food for most of them.
I made plenty - enough for Abby's class and for our Thanksgiving potluck with Wayne's students. The potluck was great - the only thing you see missing from this plate is the turkey, but it was beautiful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkey quest

We're getting ready to host a Thanksgiving potluck for 13 or so in our flat. We've been scouring the local grocery stores for turkeys with no luck. Today I managed to locate one - no mean feat in a country where turkey is strictly for Christmas, and where turkey flocks were hit last week with avian flu. When I took it to the till, the clerk asked me why I was buying a turkey in November, and then asked me what Thanksgiving is, so checking out took a little longer than expected. I then dragged this poor bird up 6 floors of escalators and back down (we were in John Lewis, and I'd promised Abby we'd ride the escalators, not really expecting that we'd have a Thanksgiving turkey in tow along with all of our library books and her school bag), then outside, up to the upper level of the bus, through rush hour traffic, and then the two block walk to our flat. Luckily we ran into some of the students around the corner and Johnathan was kind enough to carry it the rest of the way. Then we had to clear out our dorm-sized refrigerator to make room for it, which meant I was practically force-feeding Abby cold food items. I did my part with the ice cream. Oops, we didn't really need freezer space, did we?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Transition to Germany

Great news - we have a place to live in Wiesbaden! Wayne has been apartment hunting and has found a flat. It has 2 bedrooms, which will be a welcome change from our studio apartment here, and is in a great location between Abby's school and the downtown pedestrian zone. It also means we can have houseguests, which has been impossible in London. We move on December 7.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Catching up!

I've fallen a little behind in the blog, for the two of you who may be reading it! Autumn is definitely here - it has gotten much colder, somewhat rainier (though not bad), and the sun is now setting a few minutes after 4 p.m. (and getting earlier by the day). Abby misses having piles of leaves to jump in - Wayne does not miss raking up all those leaves! She's a been a bit homesick the last week or so. She doesn't want to go home, exactly, but she wants her friends to magically appear here. I know what she means.

Today was a banner day - another parent actually spoke to me at a playground! Turns out he'd lived in the States for 7 years, which probably explains it. He lived next door to Madeline Albright. This has been something I find difficult about London - it is tough to strike up conversations with other parents at playgrounds or waiting outside school to pick up kids. I don't know how much of that is a cultural difference (the famous British reserve), how much is a language barrier (many, many people in this part of London don't speak English as their first language), and how much I would also find if I were in a new community in the U.S. Every time I travel for an extended period of time I'm filled with new resolve to reach out to people when I'm home. One English person I know joked that if an English person starts a conversation with a stranger they always begin with, "I'm sorry, but . . . " Perhaps this is why I am stopped nearly daily on the street for directions.

This week I went with Wayne's students to see King Lear at the New London Theatre. It was a great production, very well done. My complaints are the same as the last production of Lear I saw - Lear can be very hard to understand as his world disintegrates around him, and I wish Cordelia wasn't such a wimp. The production was 3 hours and 45 minutes, and walking home in the cold rain through dark streets at 11 p.m. fit the ending of the play perfectly (Death! Destruction! Despair!)

Also this week I had lunch with one of my classmates who is from Uganda. She is a social worker, interested in creating services for grandparents raising their grandchildren. In her town of about 2000, she could only think of three families where parents are raising their children. Most children are orphaned - a combination of accidents, AIDS, and death in childbirth taking their parents. We also talked about the difference in social work between Uganda and the U.K.

Another classmate is from Bangladesh - I don't know yet whether any of his family/friends have been directly affected by the cyclone there. The last numbers I heard were 1,700, but it sounds like it's going to go even higher.

On a brighter note, last weekend was the Lord Mayor's Show. The Lord Mayor of London is the leader of the City of London, a fairly small area home to the U.K. financial community. Every year they have a big parade, and pull out the Lord Mayor's coach (below) from the Museum of London. Abby & I went down for the parade, which was full of marching bands and floats, fancy coaches, and people in odd wigs. Since we won't see any Thanksgiving parades, this will have to do.
And, of course, no event in England is complete without fireworks! These were over the Thames - we stood on Blackfriar's Bridge to watch. This is one advantage of the fall - the fireworks started a few minutes after 5. Nothing like being able to see a fireworks show and make it home in time for dinner!
There was even a carnival. This is the view from the ferris wheel Abby & I rode right next to St. Paul's Cathedral. This week we'll be hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for the students and also doing some special Thanksgiving activities with Abby's class. Hand turkeys, anyone?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

We celebrated Guy Fawkes day with a trip to Battersea Park, in south London, to see the bonfire & fireworks. The fireworks were quite good.
The bonfire, though, gets right to the heart of the holiday, which is often called Bonfire Night. There was one major disappointment here - not an effigy of Guy Fawkes to be seen! The tradition is that kids make Guy Fawkes effigies and then throw them into the bonfire. In some towns, they even throw effigies of the pope into the fire, since one of Guy Fawkes's goals was to turn the nation away from Anglican back to the Catholic faith.

The crowd, as you can get an inkling of in this photo, was huge, but amazingly well behaved. The only obvious drunk I saw had an American accent. Even though this is the quintessential English holiday, there was no patriotism on display. The only person I heard singing "God Save the Queen" was the aforementioned American drunk. People just came politely, watched the bonfire, stood in amazingly long "queues" for the port-a-potties (port-a-loos?), food tents, and beer tent, watched the fireworks, and left.

This is the Albert Bridge, just because it's so pretty at night. Abby fell sound asleep on the bus on the way home and we ended up carrying her from the bus stop back to the flat - we won't be able to do that much longer!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


One sees strange creatures on the tube sometimes. Halloween is celebrated in England, though amid many complaints about unwelcome American cultural imports (and children wear "fancy dress" rather than "costumes".) Monday is a much more British holiday: Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night, a celebration of Guy Fawkes' failure to blow up Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605. Community events include bonfires, burning of Guy Fawkes effigies, and fireworks. We're celebrating both!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

British Museum (for kids)

This week is half-term for most schools in England, meaning they have the week off. Many of the museums have special activities for kids, and the British Museum had an awesome one for kids this week - making their own terracotta soldiers (to go along with the special exhibit from Xi'an currently at the museum). Here's Abby with the raw materials, and an hour later . . . here is Abby with her creation! Below, her soldier along with those made by other children.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Abby's still a great photographer - this is the Royal Palace in Madrid.
Calle Huerta, where we stayed. It's a really pleasant area very close to the Prado. The Prado was definitely the highlight of our stay in Madrid. There were lots of amazing paintings, including the great Velazquez painting Las Meninas[uid]=390&no_cache=1. We also loved seeing the Bosch painting Wayne was very disappointed that the gallery with that painting was closed. He asked a guard, and she said that maybe it would open at 6. He checked again at 6 and it was still closed. Then, just as we were getting ready to leave, the guard came rushing up and said, "The room is open!" She had searched us out in the museum to let us know. Abby loved this picture, with lots more questions about why someone would end up in the right panel than the middle one. My favorite piece of statuary in Madrid. It was a little hard getting this photo, as there was a woman screaming and throwing her shoes into traffic right next to me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Salamanca, Spain

We spent the weekend in Salamanca, Spain. This is the cathedral (taken from the old Roman bridge).
It is an amazingly beautiful city with facades like this one all over the old part of the city.
This is the Plaza Mayor at night. The plaza is entirely enclosed by 3 and 4 story buildings, making for a constant hum of activity. The hours in Spain took a little getting used to - many restaurants open for dinner around 8 or 8:30 p.m. and it's hard to get any food at all early in the morning!
Part of the old cathedral was redone in the 70s, and this is an interesting addition! Anyone who wants more pictures of Salamanca let me know and I'll connect you with the gallery of photos!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Historic markers

Maybe we've been doing a little too much tourism when Abby starts to make historic markers to go along with her building projects.

Canterbury Cathedral

As you can see, Wayne took most of the students on an outing to Canterbury this weekend.

This is the quire of the cathedral. It is beautiful, and keeps rising towards the east.
This is looking back at the ceiling of the nave from the quire. I think this would make an awesome jigsaw puzzle.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Back to school!

It's back to school for me, now! I'm taking a class in Leadership, Management, and Development in the DrPH program at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. My classmates are from Trinidad, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, Malawi, Bangladesh, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, and there's not more than one of us from any one country. It should make for great class discussions! The class is team taught by a variety of instructors, most of whom work in the public or non-profit sectors of health here in London and most have international work experience as well.
Luckily for me, the class meets in one of the Birkbeck College buildings that is about a 3 minute walk from our flat. The challenge has been negotiating the LSHTM bureaucracy. I thought I knew higher ed bureaucracy, but they have it down to a not-so-fine art here. I have my student ID and library privileges, though, I just need to figure out the computer network.