Monthly Archives: August 2008

Leeds Castle

Prior to our impromptu stay courtesy of NHS, we actually had a fun holiday planned last weekend…

On Saturday, we ventured out to lovely Leeds Castle, which is near Maidstone in Kent and NOT in Leeds.

Quite misLEEDing, if you ask me…

Breathtakingly romantic and picturesque, it was well worth the journey out of London, albeit a relatively short one. No wonder it was one of King Henry VIII’s favorites (ha-ha! the obsession continues…)

Stately, regal, and situated within a lake, it’s everything a castle ought to be. Sheep, geese, and wild birds roam the land surrounding it, just as they probably did when the castle was built.

What amuses me is all of the “extras” tacked on to historical sites here. They’re meant to keep visitors there all day, not that you have much choice. Castles tend to be out of the way and in the middle of no where (as was part of their initial draw, I suppose).

As for me, I came to tour a 900 year old castle and I certainly was not disappointed. Although I have to admit, all the extras certainly make for much more interesting visit.

For instance, Leeds Castle houses the world’s only…

Dog Collar Museum!!!

Yes, absolutely ridiculous, but completely hilarious…

In addition to the sprawling parkland, rolling hills, and gardens, there was also an aviary (kept for the collection of tropical and exotic birds belonging to the castle’s last private owner), falconry displays, playgrounds, and hedge maze to pass the time.

It took a few tries, but with Avery’s help we found out way of the maze… eventually.

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Filed under Sightseeing

An International Healthcare Plan

You knew it was only a matter of time before I posted about National Healthcare…

(My American readers may know it as “free healthcare”, although anyone paying taxes in the UK knows it’s anything but… )

We had our first encounter with it last weekend when we took Avery to the A&E (emergency room). He was coughing and congested throughout the day, but started wheezing heavily towards the evening.

Having had a very bad asthma attack prior to leaving the States, we didn’t want to take any chances of him getting worse thorough the night and our GP’s (doctors’) office was, of course, closed.

Other than the cold that triggered the whole mess, he wasn’t in terrible shape. He certainly had plenty of energy (and toddler attitude) to be a total maniac the whole day, but we went anyway as a precaution.

One of my favorite blogs, Stuff White People Like, did a great post about National Healthcare (#94) earlier this year which nicely summed up my feelings towards socialized medicine…

If you need to impress a white person, merely mention how you got hurt on a recent trip Canada/England/Sweden and though you were a foreigner you received excellent and free health care…

Though their passion for national health care runs deep, it is important to remember that white people are most in favor of it when they are healthy. They love the idea of everyone having equal access to the resources that will keep them alive, that is until they have to wait in line for an MRI.

This is very similar to the way that white people express their support for public schools when they don’t have children.

Given that it was the Sunday prior to a national bank holiday in a country that pretty much closes shop at 4:45 in the afternoon, I did NOT have highest of expectations. Especially since Avery wasn’t “critical” when we arrived.

I imagined a long night and a long line at a grubby waiting room, GERMS, surly staff, and quick turnover…

I’m talkin’ BLEAK!

Instead, we were seen right way in a separate children’s ward. The nurses and doctors were extremely attentive and friendly, even taking the time to look up the American brand names for the generic meds in order to “speak our language”.

When Avery’s condition didn’t improve, we were given the option to stay overnight and the following day for continued care and observation. Mike and I were fine with that, however the doctor had his reservations about sending us to a room in the hospital.

As he put it, “It’s probably not anything like what you’re use to in the States…”

There is very little here that is, but the hospital turned out to be just fine. It was clean and tidy, only a bit dated (like most of London, so historical, maybe?) We even managed to finagle a pleasant little private room across the hall from the playroom.

Hanging around a hospital all day is certainly not my idea of a good time, but the “ward hostess” kept us in tea and biscuits and plenty entertained throughout our stay. Avery improved rapidly and we were all home by supper.

He’s still doing great today, except for the cold which they couldn’t do anything about anyway…

Overall, we really can’t complain. The care and medications Avery received were indeed excellent and all without the hassle of dealing with insurance…

However, you have to understand, Mike and I have unusually high expectations when it comes to medicine. It comes from having immediate access to the very best healthcare in the world. Family.

A sniffle, a headache, a cough… my mom, a pediatrician, would race right over with a stethoscope in one hand and a bag of antibiotics in the other. She’d be there even faster if it was for Avery.

Mike’s dad and brother (both excellent and brilliant surgeons) were a mere phone call away. If we ever need their help, I know they wouldn’t hesitate to hop in the car/take the first flight to get to us.

In fact, Mike’s dad personally removed my wisdom teeth shortly before Mike accepted the job in England.

They are all still a phone call/plane ride away, but being halfway around the globe makes things a bit more difficult.

Because of the time difference, I emailed, instead of called, my mom with the weekend’s play-by-play. She and my dad were on the phone for an immediate consult as soon as they read it… six hours later.

It’s not quite the 45-minute driving distance she used to be to us (or even the three hours to Mike’s dad), but it’s comforting to know that they’re still there for us no matter where we live.

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Filed under Family, National Healthcare

Sassy Black Women: Made in America, Imported Elsewhere

Carlos Mencia did a segment a while back on sassy black women as only found in America. It was part of things he LOVES about America.

Well, I’m here to tell you that sassy black women exist… EVERYWHERE.

How do I know this?

Because there’s one yelling at someone VERY LOUDLY and with plenty of sass just below my window as I am writing this.

This isn’t actually unusual. We run into plenty of black women “expressing themselves” all of the time.

Mike stopped to help one lady with her bags out of the Underground last week. He came home late because she stopped to have a shouting match with the transport workers (for no apparent reason) while Mike was still holding her luggage…

Now that is SASSY.

I don’t mean to single out black women here, sassy or otherwise. It’s just that all the yelling outside is making me a little homesick.

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Filed under Life In The States, Misconceptions and Mishaps

Christmas in August!!!

So, umm…

Our stuff arrived yesterday.

Avery would like all of you the know that he “helped” unpack, but I think that’s pretty evident by this photo…

We shipped a very modest amount of stuff, so it didn’t take long to unpack. The hard part was finding a place for all of it…

I’m glad to have had the foresight to order a pair of bookcases last week. When they arrive early this morning, the house still pretty much look like this except the boxes were empty and Avery had thrown all of the packing peanuts on the floor.

The delivery man walked into our living room and with the utmost of seriousness and concern asked…

“Were you burgled?!”

Yeah… someone came to rob our house, rifled through our TODDLER TOYS and unpacked our towels, couldn’t find what he was looking for, so he collapsed all of the boxes and stacked them in a pile…

“No, we were not burgled!!” I said. “We just… Can’t you see that… Oh, just get OUT OF MY HOUSE?”

In hindsight, I probably should have just said, “No, actually quite the opposite…”

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Filed under Packing Up and Moving

A Light in the London Fog

Tomorrow marks my first month of living in London.

Hooray! Let’s drink eat cake!

Our first week here was great in spite of being completely exhausted and not having Internet or a phone. We were so happy to be together again, excited about Mike’s new job, and fascinated by everything around us.

The museums! The parks! The palaces! We couldn’t wait to explore every bit of it.

After a few days, my excitement made way for the demands of daily life, which include dealing with businesses that close for the entire month of August, buses that may or may not stop for you, and the UK time table for getting things accomplished…

When calling to get our names put on the electric bill, the average wait time due to high caller volumes was an hour!

Well, of course it was. The power company our landlords set up only takes calls from 10-4, with an hour lunch break in between. That’s what it’s like to get pretty much anything done in Britain…

I tried to keep a good attitude about it, but one day I just hit a wall.

The emails from friends and family back home had eventually dwindled, and I still didn’t know a single person here. I was so frustrated and lonely that I told Mike I was ready to just take Avery and go HOME.

It was about this time that I found Heidi… or should I say that Heidi found me and through my blog, of all places.

She’s the fellow American mom and blogger that I mentioned in a previous post. (She’s the one who turned me onto online grocery shopping.) We swapped emails. The first was about my search for cooking spray.

(Apparently my days of cooking spray are so over. The Brits have no concept of it, but that’s an entirely other post in itself…)

Then, she asked how I was adjusting to my new life. I told her that I still didn’t know a soul here, but was otherwise doing fine. I just didn’t have any one to answer my stupid questions.

“Oh my goodness, yes. I’m here for you, girl. I was you nine months ago. I was lucky enough to meet the Embassy girls…otherwise I’d know nothing!” she wrote back.

The “Embassy girls”… That just sounded so posh and knowledgeable.

She immediately invited Avery and I over to her house for a play date. I was so excited to accept I didn’t care that I had no idea where she lived (or how to get there). Fortunately, she sent me directions and I figured it out.

Since then, Heidi has put together a resource for other American moms in London, put me in contact with some of the” wiser ones”, and even introduced me to a few of the Embassy girls (wives of foreign service workers)… and just like that, my prayers were answered.

Day to day life is still a major hassle, but at least now, I have some friends who understand completely and commiserate entirely.

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Filed under Daily Life, Friendships

For the love of Pancakes!

Overhead from three teenage boys (15-ish, maybe 16) while riding the Underground’s Central Line. (Feel free to supply your own British accents.)

“The pancakes in America are AMAZING! They’re so fluffy and round.”

“…and they give you so many! You can get STACKS of them. Big ones and they’re SO GOOD.”

“I would go back to America JUST for the pancakes.”

Come to think of it… So would I.

As I made my way off the train, another passenger helped me with Avery’s stroller. He must have picked up on my American accent because when I thanked him, he asked me if the pancakes in America were really that amazing.

“Oh yes. Fabulous. You don’t even know,” I said with a grin.

************************************************************************************

Did you know that there really is a “Pancake Day” and it wasn’t invented by IHOP?

Pancake Day is actually celebrated in the UK, although my fellow Americans may know it as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent. While also recognized by the other “colonies” (i.e. Australia, New Zealand, India, and Canada), there’s a long history of Pancake Day festivities particular to the UK…

There’s the pancake races (one at Olney in Buckinghamshire has been held since 1445), Mischief Night (breaking into people’s houses in disguise and demanding pancakes) and Lent Crocking or Lensharding (throwing old crockery at people’s doors and asking for pancakes to be tossed back).

I think pancakes are best when EATEN with yummy warm maple syrup but, as I’ve mentioned before, that’s considered “strange” here…

6 Comments

Filed under Foodie, Holidays and Merrymaking, Life In The States, Overheard

E-Produce and Just About Anything Else I Want…

This past weekend when I whined about… er, mentioned having to do my grocery shopping. I will now admit that I was being a bit over-dramatic.

I DID have to buy in groceries, but I actually took care of it from the warmth and comfort of my cozy sofa… ONLINE!!!!

(And the clouds part and angels from on high start singing)

All right. I realize that online grocery shopping was a novel concept… like, over ten years ago, but it’s new to me, so bear with me, okay…

I never really had a need to do my grocery shopping online when we were living stateside. Not when I could get in my car and drive less than five minutes to my friendly, neighborhood Kroger’s.

I would plop Avery in the shopping cart, provided he was willing. If not, I’d just swing by the bakery for his *free* cookie bribe before proceeding to stock up on anything and everything I wanted for the week.

If I wanted, I could then get back into my car and head to Costco or Sam’s to stock up on a year’s worth of Brita filters, paper towels, or dental floss, but otherwise it was one trip once a week to get everything in one place.

Life…

was…

GOOD.

I now WALK to a grocery store that ought to be a five minute drive from my house. I take Avery with me, pushing him along the crowded street in his stroller. I wait at the crosswalk for the signal to turn green, so we can safely get to the other side.

I could go before the signal turns green. Everyone else does. But I don’t exactly want to chance getting hit by one of the bright red buses that could care less.

This, in addition to the sudden downpours, flying cigarette butts, street cleaners, and dog poop, are just a few of of the many hazards that lies between our house and the store.

When we arrive, I grab a tiny shopping basket. I would like to get a cart, but then I’d have to push it and the stroller down the tiny aisles and well… it’s just not worth it.

Instead, I’ve mastered the art of balancing my purchases on my forearm while stealthily navigating the stroller around curmudgeons who refuse to make way for anyone else as they stop in the middle of the freezing dairy section to chat about the weather (!!!)

We finally make it to the check out lane. We wait in line forever only to be hurried on by the person behind me as I try to pay for and bag my own groceries.

Of course, there’s never that much to bag since I can only buy exactly what I can carry home…

…and we would do this four or fives times a week.

Fortunately, Avery’s stroller has room to carry some of the heavier or bulkier items, but it hardly offers the trunk space that my station wagon once did…

Each trip to the store, I’ve had to decide whether to get milk for Avery or paper towels for the kitchen as only one or the other will fit, but not both. Let’s just say, I’ve been cleaning up spills with my t-shirt when no one is looking… shhh.

Well, finally a fellow American Mom (and blogger) in London turned my attention to online grocery shopping with it’s inexpensive delivery and other incentives. I had my doubts, but gave it a whirl this weekend…

I am in LOVE.

While every major national chain offers online shopping, I signed up with my favorite, Sainsbury and went about perusing their site.

I could click on any of their complete range of products from fresh baked goods to frozen meat pies to carpet cleaner and view their ingredients and/or cooking instructions and nutritional info. I could also browse all of the offers (sale items) for the week and base our meals around them.

The site even offered recipe ideas and suggested pairings, just in case I got stumped… and all without ever having to unfold my umbrella or put on shoes!!!

It was all delivered to our house earlier this week and at precisely the time slot that I had designated. A man came to my front door with three large crates pulled along with a dolly and just started handing me bag after bag… and just like that, my grocery shopping for the week was done.

In all of my excitement, I actually overlooked one thing.

Where to put it?

You see, our fridge is actually not that much bigger than the one I had…

…IN MY DORM AT COLLEGE.

Whoops!

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Filed under Daily Life, Foodie