Wednesday, December 30, 2009

home soon

Tomorrow morning I leave England to return to Maryland. It's been a good visit here, with all the kids home for several weeks, as well as my son-in-law working at home most days. Good food, good company - a lovely Christmas.

I've done a lot of reading here. I read at home as well, but only in the evenings. Here, I have a great deal of free time, as the kids are old enough to have their own activities and don't need (or want) Grandma playing with them. Anyway, I read two novels by Mary Wesley, an author I haven't read before. She is an really old lady (still alive, I think), but writes books with more sex than one would expect from her generation. It makes me wonder what kind of a life she led. Must have been an exciting one or she has a really good imagination! I've also been re-reading the Gregor Demarkian mysteries written by Jane Haddam. Kate has all (almost) of them and I am enjoying them even more this time than I did the first time. I recommend both of these authors.

I'll not post again until I'm back in the US and recovered from jet lag which may take a day or two. I also will need to catch up on my snail mail and email. I read my email online from here, but I'm afraid that all the messages I deleted online will reappear in Outlook Express when I get home. So, I'll just say - see you next year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

generation gap?

I've been learning some things from my grandchildren - things about electronic gadgets. Probably you already know these things, but I didn't. The last time i visited, Sarah put some of my friends into the address book on my phone. I had a little trouble using it to call them, but at least the numbers are there. This visit, I learned that my cell phone also can be used to create text messages. I don't expect to ever use this function, but I guess it's good to know that it's there and how to use it. (Actually, I'm not sure I do know how to use it, but I have a rough idea.) I've also learned several things about computers, such as how to increase the size of all the 'thumbnail' pictures when I am scrolling through my photos, trying to see which ones I want to put on the blog. Of course, I learned how to do this on Kate's computer, which runs Vista. My old computer runs XP and my new one, which I hope to buy in January will have Windows 7. Hopefully, it won't be too different than Vista.

Kate is very good with computers, Ipods and other electronic things and the kids are pretty good as well. However, today I've discovered I'm not the only member of this family who has some trouble with them. My son-in-law needed to send a text message to one of the people from his office. (they were both at home today). Olivia (age 10) took the phone and he dictated the message which she texted and sent! Guess I'm not the only one who needs to learn to use these gadgets!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas photos

The first photo is Kate and Sarah looking at something. Sarah got an Ipod, but I don't think that is it. Then Olivia is showing off her new socks. Next is the girls with their stockings. And, Alex with his stocking. Finally, Olivia with hers.
I know that all of these pictures are rather dark. Somehow the settings on my camera were changed. I certainly didn't intend to change them, but somehow........Anyway, I think I have put them back the way they belong, now. However, it seems as if every time I use the camera, something goes wrong. It is a fairly sophisticated digital camera and is obviously the wrong one for me. It does have a 'point and click' setting, but there are still too many ways in which other things can be changed. Perhaps one of these days I will take the instruction booklet and get it all figured out - or perhaps (more likely) I will just limp along as I have been.

Last night we were in London, looking at the decorations and lights and taking pictures, and of course the batteries wore out. And, when I put the spare ones in, the camera insisted that I needed to replace the batteries, despite my having just done that. So, Kate gave me some spare batteries she had, and the camera said again - REPLACE BATTERIES. At this point, I gave up and Kate took photos with her camera. As it turned out, her batteries were also bad. However, the weird thing is that when I got back to the house and tried my spare batteries once more, they worked! I really don't understand most of the electronic gadgets that I own.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The party last night went off very well. About a dozen kids tore around the house for almost 4 hours, high as kites! We had lots of nibbles - mostly finger food - and a great variety of wine and other drinks. The kids ended up in the living room with the door closed and upstairs in the girls' room. The adults crowded into the dining room and computer room (two rooms open to each other) where the food was. Lots of conversation and laughter. That made it a good party, as far as I'm concerned.

This AM, I was the first one up. I almost never sleep past 7:00 and that was true this morning. I was VERY QUIET getting dressed and sneaking out of the loft and downstairs. Kate also got up and for a brief time we were the only ones awake. Of course, as soon as Alex got up, the rest of the family were awakened. We all went downstairs to see what Father Christmas had put in the children's stockings. Funky socks, wild patterned underwear and some games and suchlike. After everyone was dressed and had eaten breakfast, we opened presents. That used to last all morning, but the kids are older now and we were finished by 10 AM. Since then we've been playing games and trying to read. Geoff has actually been on the computer checking his email from work! Some people just cannot leave the office at the office.

I did take some photos, but they are still in my camera. I'll get them posted in a day or so. My present from Kate and Geoff is a wonderful book of world wide crafts. I've just glanced through it, but I can tell that I will spend many hours poring over it. I also received a clever pair of earrings - little owls - a CD with kids from the elementary school playing and singing, and a school photo of Kate and Olivia and Alex in a lovely frame. So, I'll be going home with many good photos of my family as well as many happy memories.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

school pictures

Here are the school pictures. Aren't they great? Sarah doesn't like hers, but Kate and I think it's a lovely photo. Sarah has always had such a sweet smile. For once, Alex looks normal in a photo. Usually, he is making some kind of weird face because he doesn't know how to smile on command. Olivia, of course, has no problem with someone taking her picture. She has always turned on the charm when she sees a camera pointed her way. She will probably become a famous actress!
We did not go into town yesterday because Alex was not feeling well. He wasn't really sick (no throwing up), just complaining about his stomach. He lay around all day and hardly ate anything. Also, he hardly said anything. Since Alex is a motor-mouth, normally, we all knew that he was truly ill. Today, he is back to normal, talking a blue streak - impossible to turn him off. Kate took the girls to the cinema to see Alvin and the Chipmunks. Sarah had a friend who had stayed overnight, so she went as well. They came home on the train by themselves. I'm finding it hard to realize that Sarah and her friends are becoming so independent. I know it's a good thing that they feel confident with public transportation, but I guess I still think of Sarah as a child, not as almost a teenager. Goodness knows, she certainly acts like a teenager most of the time!
If the weather is decent next week, we will try again to go into London and look at the window displays and see the lights. Hopefully, no one else will be sick.
Kate is hosting the traditional neighborhood Christmas Eve party tonight. The originators of this party are currently living in India, but the neighborhood is still observing it. There will be scads of kids - probably outnumbering the adults - and it will break up fairly early because the parents want to get their kids home and into bed. I haven't had much chance to visit with Kate's friends, most of whom I know, so I'm really looking forward to tonight.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guess what this is!

I'll bet you don't know what this is. It was purchased in the supermarket and is supposedly edible. Give up? It's called a dragon fruit. It just looked so intriguing that Kate bought it. I think Olivia may have wanted it, actually. Anyway, we did cut in open and inside was white pulp with lots of little black seeds. I wouldn't say that it was edible, exactly. It tasted AWFUL! However, no one got sick from sampling it, so I guess it is edible. I find there are a number of things found in large supermarkets here that I have never seen before. The suburbs around London are full of immigrants from any place that was once part of the British Empire. That covers a fair portion of the world. In Maryland, we have exotic fruits and vegetables mostly from Central and South America and perhaps Vietnam and China, although most of those are found in the ethnic markets. Here there is a much more variety. I like wandering through the stores just to see what there is that I don't recognize.

What I really wanted to put up on this blog were the school photos of the grandchildren. Kate took photos of the photos and was going to put them somewhere on her computer where I could download (upload?) them onto my blog. However, I cannot find them, and she is at the Farmers' Market in Wimbledon this morning, so those photos will have to wait.

Today, we had planned to go into London to look at window displays, go to a museum, eat lunch, and stay until it's dark enough to see the Christmas lights on the streets in the shopping districts. However, Alex has been complaining of a tummy ache and he did have a slight fever yesterday, so I don't know if we are going or not. We'll have to see how he feels when Kate gets back with the produce and beef for Christmas dinner. I'm glad I'm no longer a mother of small children. I wouldn't want to be responsible for making decisions about when a kid is really sick and when he/she is not very sick. I'm sure that when my kids were small, I was competent to make those kind of decisions, but I worry a lot more now than I did then. Must be one of those 'getting old' things.

One of the good things about getting old is that one can blame all one's eccentricities on old age. Works for me! LOL

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Maryland has had a very large snow storm this weekend. I think we got over 2 foot! It's breaking all records for December. Actually, I've lived in Maryland for 36 years and we never had this kind of snow in December. Of course, I am not there to 'enjoy' it! My neighbors have posted photos to show me what I am missing. I will try to put some on this blog, but am not sure that I can.
With a lot of help from all three of my grandkids, I have managed to get these photos transferred onto the blog. The kids are so much more at home with computers and the Internet than I am! Even the 6 year old knows what to do. What you are seeing is the sidewalk leading to my front door and in the other photo, my car buried in the snow!

Friday, December 18, 2009

visit to V & A

Here are just a few photos from the Victoria and Albert Museum. For more photos, please go to my flickr photos Look at the Victoria & Albert collection or just scroll down from the opening page. There are far more pictures than most people will want to see. There also are a few of the kids decorating the Christmas tree.

haircut, before and after

Kate uploaded my photos into a folder on her computer. Hopefully, I will be able to find them and put a few on here. Wish me luck!
These are not the world's most flattering photos. I have trouble smiling for a photo. However, you can see a big difference in my hair! LOL It's very short now. Will look better after it grows out a bit. I like short hair especially because my earrings will be seen.
We had snow flurries last night. There was some accumulation, but mostly it was melted by AM. A few more flurries today. The kids were disappointed - they were hoping for enough to close the schools. Some places got a lot. Still, even a dusting of snow makes it feel more like Christmas.
Tonight we are going to a friend's house for dinner. We'll eat fish and chips and go out and look at decorations. This has become somewhat of a tradition. The daughter, Amelia, was one of Sarah's first friends - from nursery school. They have been in separate schools ever since, until this year, but because Kate and Amelia's mum became friends, the connection is still there. We go to their house each year before Christmas because the folks on their street really go all out with outdoor decorations. Much more like what we see in the US. Not at all typical of England. I'm not sure if I can get photos of the decorations, but if so, I'll put them up on another post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

my favorite museum

Today, we had snow! This is a rare occurrence in the London area, so it was rather exciting. It was very cold outside too, so I decided not to go on a guided walk, but rather to visit my favorite museum - the Victoria and Albert. I'm sure I have talked about this place before. It has all sorts of decorative items - pottery, glass, ironwork, clothing, fabric, sculpture, furniture and on and on. The ceramics area has been closed for several years and finally reopened this fall, so I had to visit it. I saw many wonderful ceramic things and took lots of photos. However, Kate will have to help me upload them into Flickr so that I can put a few on the blog. I will try to get this done in the next few days. Anyway, I had a great time, despite the cold and snow.

Yesterday, I got my hair cut. It is, now, very short - shorter than Kate's. I like it this way, but it does take a bit of getting used to. My head feels rather light. I had Kate take a 'before' photo, but haven't gotten an 'after' photo yet. I will post those as soon as I can. At home I know how to move photos from my camera to the computer, but here I have to wait for Kate to help, as it is her computer. I wish I were more knowledgeable about computers. I can do most ordinary operations on mine, but I can't say that I really understand them. Heaven only knows what it will be like when I get my new computer - probably next month. I'll have to learn all that stuff again, including a new operating system. I imagine the new one will have Windows 7. I am not looking forward to the learning process, although it will be wonderful to have a computer that is fast.

Tomorrow is the Christmas play at school in which Alex is a camel. Can't wait to see and hear him. Geoff is working at home, so that he can go over and attend the play. I probably won't be able to use the computer at all tomorrow, unless we set up the laptop. Will post when I can.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas goodies

Yesterday was a very busy day - at least for Kate. It was Christmas baking time! We baked 8 kinds of cookies and 2 kinds of sweet breads (pumpkin and cranberry/orange). Kate did much of the actually mixing, although she had some 'help' from the younger members of the family. I mostly did dishes and cut out shape cookies. Sometime in the morning, Geoff and the kids cleaned out the gerbil 'cage' (It's a large fish tank with a cage on top.) and made it fresh for the new occupants. Then Kate and kids went to buy more gerbils. Photos of them can be found on her blog. Gerbils are fun to watch, especially when they first arrive. They go absolutely manic for about an hour, exploring their new environment and trying to climb out. Then they collapse for a nap. This group seems to get along very well, but we are having trouble remembering to refer to them as girls rather than guys.

After lunch, the baking continued, as did the snacking. I think Kate did get a chance to sit down with a drink for a bit before dinner. We had a lovely dinner of roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, gravy and cabbage. Cookies for dessert, of course.

Today, Kate is working all day at school, so I am home alone. I'll wrap presents and just putter around. The rest of the week will be busier. Tomorrow I'm getting my hair cut. (It's been long for a couple of years and I am ready for a short style again.) I love the way the English stylists do haircuts. They really take their time and I've always gotten really good cuts here. I think Kate and I are also doing some grocery shopping. We'll buy mince pies, just for me. No one else in the family likes them. Wednesday, if the weather is decent, I'm going into London and taking one of the walking tours. Thursday is a Christmas play at school. Alex is a camel - a speaking part. Some evening there is a Girl Guides thing that we are going to. A busy week, as I said.

Friday is the last day of school for Alex and Olivia. Sarah's school goes through next Tuesday and she is not happy about that! Otherwise, she loves school. More choice of classes and, I imagine, a whole different atmosphere. She has made several new friends and seems to be thriving.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas decorating

This morning, Kate and I took the girls shopping. Their Christmas money was burning a hole in their pockets. Then this afternoon, we put up the tree and decorated it. Kate and I put it up and the kids decorated it. I don't think I know how to put photos up while I'm here, so just imagine a very nice tree loaded with decorations, many of them home-made.

Tomorrow, we will be baking Christmas cookies. Mmmmm. The house will smell so good!

A bit of sadness here, - the last gerbil died today. The other two had died in the fall, so we knew this one's time would probably come soon. They only live a couple of years. The good part of this is that now the kids can get three new gerbils. Perhaps this will even happen while I'm here. It was two years ago, when I was here that the first gerbils arrived. The kids weren't very upset about this last one dying. One doesn't get as attached to gerbils as to a dog or cat.

PS. Kate has photos on her blog that show the decorated tree.

Friday, December 11, 2009

in Merrie Olde England

Got here yesterday AM, pretty tired, but otherwise ok. Had an interesting trip in some ways. Kate says it's a great story! The shuttle van took me to the airport in plenty of time, but when I reached the counter to check in, there seemed to be a problem. A guy looked at my information and said to the woman at the next desk, 'Here's another one.' I had no idea what that meant! It turned out that the flight to Philadelphia, due in at 6:30 was delayed. (It was only 5 PM at this point.) They said we would miss our connecting flights if we waited (several other people were affected), but that they would send us by CAB to Philly so that we could make out international flights. And that is what they did! Three of us and a great deal of luggage were tucked into a taxi and off we went. Despite some traffic, we got to the Philadelphia airport at 7 PM, which was half an hour before we would have arrived by plane! Must have cost US airways a bundle to do that, but we didn't care, as long as we got there in time.

The flight to London wasn't very full, so I had two seats to myself. The food was the usual airline food (pretty bad), but the seats were comfortable and I managed to get a couple hour's nap. So all was well. However, I hope not to fly US airways again. They are now charging $50 for each bag after the first one, checked through. This is new and I'm sure it wasn't on the website when I bought my ticket, but they claim it's been in effect since August. Luckily, I discovered this before I packed, so I cut down on the clothes I was bringing (can't leave out the presents) and got it all into one very large suitcase, just under the 50 pounds maximum weight, and two carry-ons. Did you know that you can have 40 pounds of whatever in your carry-on? I figure that the only way one could pack 40 pounds of stuff into the rather limited size restrictions on carry-ons would be to fill it with bricks! Going home, I should have much less stuff.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


For once, the weather predictions were correct. It started snowing about noon and is still coming down. It's a very wet snow, turning to slush on the sidewalk and streets. I hear it's supposed to be in the 20s tonight, so perhaps this snow will stick around for a few days. It looks very pretty, sticking to all the bushes and trees. I couldn't resist taking a few quick pictures. Here's the little evergreen in its Christmas splendor with a dusting of snow. The red balls on the other tree have snow caps on top. The view from the back deck shows a snow-covered evergreen and all the bare branches, now snow-covered of the trees along the banks of the stream.

I need to go out today, as I have run out of Christmas cards. I thought I had enough, but I was wrong. I want to get the cards done, so that I can mail them Monday. I have been printing up copies of my Christmas letter this morning. Three pages of text and one of pictures taken in Scotland during the summer holiday trip.

snow or no snow

I thought I might wake up this morning to see white stuff on the ground. Snow was predicted for today. So far, however, all we've had is a gentle rain. It's not cold enough for snow. I don't know what will happen later, but I'm staying inside mostly today to get my Christmas cards ready to mail, so it really doesn't matter to me.

Yesterday, I had a bit of a 'scare' with my car. I was running around doing errands when I noticed the temperature wasn't sitting in the middle of the gauge, but was rapidly rising! I pulled over into a filling station and opened up the hood. The oil was a bit low and the coolant level was WAY down. So I added oil and coolant and started to drive off again. The temp started rising again, so I decided to head over to the place where I get my car serviced. The owner said he couldn't take the car in that day, but he did have a mechanic look at it. They couldn't find anything wrong, but as far as they could tell, it was the low coolant level causing the problem. I had been having problems with the heater also, and he said that was the first sign of low coolant. I didn't know that, but now I do. (The heater works just fine now, after I added coolant.) They did tighten up some connections, but didn't find any leaks. He told me to watch it carefully for a while and not take any long trips. The worrisome part is that the system is a closed system, so it should never get low on coolant. They replaced the water pump within the past year, so the problem isn't there. Anyway, the car is running fine now, but I will have to remember to check coolant levels regularly. They didn't charge me anything for checking, which I really appreciated. I'm would have really been in trouble if I couldn't drive my car in the next few days. As I've said before, public transportation just doesn't go where I need to go every week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

outdoor decorations

This morning, I took some photos of my outdoor decorations. I turned the lights on, but they don't show up in daylight. Notice the fake poinsettias? I buy them at dollar stores and just stick them in the ground and in pots. (I think I need a few more! LOL) They freeze into the ground and stay up until spring thaw! I have a few more photos of my inside decorations, as well. Probably won't get them all up on this posting, but eventually I'll show them.

Yesterday, I did get packages mailed to my son and daughter-in-law. I was careful NOT to insure them or do anything that requires them to pick the items up at the post office. The Scottsdale post office is always crowded and the lines are long! Steve and Christine avoid the place if possible and having experienced it myself, I don't blame them. Much better to just let the mail carrier leave the packages on the doorstep. It's not as if there is anything very valuable in them. I send a few little token items, but the rest is a check that will go in the Christmas card. Speaking of cards: I have not yet mailed mine out. Hopefully, will have it done by this weekend. My list of 'things to do in the next week' is getting shorter, but not by much, as I keep adding items! A week from today is the ultimate deadline.