Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tea quenches thirst and tears

I don't know who said that but it is fitting for today. The packers arrived Tuesday and will load our furniture tomorrow. So today I’m going to write about tea parties because that is a much nicer thought. And specifically I’m going to write a little bit about one of my favourite things in the world…the Chilterns American Women’s Club. We had a tea party a couple of weeks ago so that’s not as random as it sounds.

Five days after I arrived in England Debbie arrived at my front door. She had invited me to attend the September General Meeting of the CAWC and the best part was she was going to drive me there herself. At this point in time I was still a little anxious about driving to unfamiliar places and adjusting to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Some people (and by some people I mean my children) would say I’m not there yet.

The club meets in a nearby hall and from the moment I stepped into the meeting room I felt at home. I will add here that although the club is known as an American women’s club its membership is truly international. Anyone who has a child at the International School can join so it’s an amazing mix of about 200 women representing close to 50 nationalities and cultures. My first meeting happened to be their first meeting of the calendar year and it was a meet and greet type of event with some ice breakers thrown in for fun. I even won a prize for being the ‘most recently arrived’.

The club holds one meeting per month in addition to organizing about 20 activities each month that you can pick and choose from…everything from tennis to scrapbooking, hiking, outings, date nights, moms and tots, golf, antiquing….basically anything you’d like to do while in England plus the added bonus of friends to do it with. In addition they host several newcomers’ coffees each year that are filled with helpful tips on life in this country. As if that weren’t enough, they also raise money for the National Society for Epilepsy and another local charity each year. And the women in this club…some of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Perhaps it is because we’re all living away from home. Well, most of us anyway…we do have some British members, many who have lived in the US for a period of time and want to maintain their connection with American women. Some of them are where I am now…they’ve lived in a foreign country that feels like home and after repatriating back to their home country they feel like they belong in two places.

The first year of ex pat life definitely presents some challenges and it is a wonderful thing to have women to share it with....women who can answer questions, women who will tell you where to find things you need to make your house feel like home, women who understand that children need play dates and moms do too, women who understand the emotional roller coaster you stepped on the day your husband announced you were actually moving to England, women who invite you to coffee when you need a friend, women who go to Italy with you for your birthday just for fun, and most especially women who understand that leaving a country you have lived in and loved is not an easy thing. In fact it’s a very hard thing.

Every May our club hosts a tea party for its members. The hall where we meet is the opposite of fancy so its great fun to see it dressed up every May. Women volunteer to decorate a table and they provide the tablescape which of course includes a teapot. The club provides the treats… tea sandwiches, cakes, and my favourite, scones with clotted cream and jam. When we arrived here my children were quite put off by the word ‘clotted cream’. Me, not so much. I am actually never put off by anything containing the word cream so I was on board from day one. It’s really just an extra extra thick cream, almost butter but not quite.

Many of the tables are put together by our various activity groups. Our Book Bunch always has a fantastic table and a lot of that is due to the fact that one of our members makes the most delicious cakes I’ve ever in my life tasted.

This year their table had a Shakespeare theme and she made a cake that looks just like the Globe Theatre. If you’ve never been just look at the cake…it’s identical right down to the thatched roof except of course this roof is chocolate icing which is so much better don’t you think.

This one is hosted by our BEES group which is an acronym for something but basically is an activity group for moms with kids in British schools or ladies who think they will be here long term. They did a bee theme of course.

Bet you can’t guess what country the moms who created this table are from?

This was one of my favorites this year. It’s an Alice in Wonderland theme and it was just so pink.

Did I mention we dress up a little for this meeting and you can wear a hat if you dare. This picture was taken at last year’s tea party.

There is one other piece of information they tell you when you first arrive …they tell you that one day it is going to be hard to leave. And you say, yeah right. Because when they tell you this you are a brand new ex pat and you still have that deer in the headlights look about you. And you don’t believe them. In that moment of being new…when you’ve been here just over five days and you have already dinged the car mirror (maybe even twice or maybe every time you drive) and you can’t operate your washing machine which incidentally holds exactly one pair of jeans and a sock and takes 55 minutes to run a ‘quick wash’ and you are frustrated that your mini frig looks full when all that is inside is a pint of milk and two cartons of yogurt and you are missing your mother and you don’t remember how many kilos equals a pound or if you ever even knew that, and your teenager is sad and you can’t make it better, and you try to order carryout and they don’t know what you mean because you say carryout instead of takeaway and you are just so bone weary exhausted and everything about your new home feels not quite right and what you really want is to just lie down and have a good long cry….

In that moment you cannot imagine that one day you will have a blog and you will say they were right.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Like baseball without the bases or the hotdogs or the friendly slapping on the backside

Yes I am moving house in just over one weeks time which is why I spent most of yesterday at a cricket match. I may be blocking just a little. Actually some friends invited us to a local match and I am determined to make time for friends in this next week. Plus it was a beautiful day and far too nice to be indoors taking inventory of our forks and knickers.

Cricket is a tad complicated and that may just be a giant understatement. For starters, everyone is dressed in white…in most sports players on opposing teams are at least wearing different colours or letters or something. And I guess it is the mother in me who couldn’t help but think about the laundry that follows a game…all that very crisp white worn for a game played on grass. Oh my.

If you’ve never played cricket or you didn’t grow up in a country whose national game is cricket then it is essential to attend a match with someone who did. We attended with our friends, G and A. G is Australian and has played the game so he helpfully explained as we watched. His wife, A, is actually from Florida and went to Auburn but we don’t hold that against her…have I mentioned our love of Tennessee football?

Cricket is actually a very civilized sport...not a lot of cheering and shouting, more like dignified clapping from the fans. I think that’s because the games are sooooo long it’s hard to get the crowd worked up into any kind of screaming frenzy. The match we attended began at 11:30 am and at 2:30 pm the first team was still at bat with 206 points. That’s right…three hours into the game and the first team up is still at bat. And it’s not because they didn’t have any outs but you need 10 and there are ten ways to get ‘out’. I think. Like I said you need a tutor to make sense of this game.

Cricket is played on a pitch (field) which is not a diamond, more of an oval. There is a batter (batsman) and a batter’s box (the crease) and a pitcher (bowler) and umpires who do not wear black and white stripes but instead wear white coats and hats and look a bit like the butcher at our local supermarket who wears a remarkably similar uniform.

The players in the field do not use mitts…they catch the very hard ball with their bare hands. It’s gotta sting. A lot. The ball is red and the landscape is green so big white screens are put up behind the bowler so the batsman can discern the red ball and not get smacked up side the head (which, incidentally is not a British expression). There are two wickets on either side of the pitch. The wickets are three wooden posts called stumps, with spikes at one end which are hammered into the ground just close enough together that a cricket ball cannot pass between them. There is a crosspiece sitting on top and this is called a bail. Incidentally the umpires remove the bail when the teams are not on the field. This keeps overly enthusiastic fans from taking home what would be a great souvenir. A bowler attempts to knock the bail off the wicket with his pitch. I think. (see paragraph above regarding a tutor) The players do wear shoes with small spikes but they don’t pat each other on the bum (a British expression) like baseball players.

Speaking of expressions… I missed my Wednesday word post this week because I was busy moving furniture at my daughters, and hauling 20hundred boxes up and down stairs did something to my brain to the point that I couldn’t remember my own name let alone comment in another language. And yes, technically we speak the same language but if you read my Wednesday word posts you will know that is not entirely accurate. Anyway, there are a few expressions heard here that originated with cricket. You may not have heard the expression, ‘a sticky wicket’ unless you live in England but I’ve heard it and I like it. Essentially it means a tight spot. How about the expression ‘bowling a maiden over’…this is more or less a no hitter but there could actually be a hit, just no score. (Again, see paragraph above about needing a tutor). My favourite expression though has got to be, ‘I say, that simply isn’t cricket.’ And I’m pretty sure this must be said with a posh accent. Do we use the word posh in the states? I honestly can’t remember. The expression ‘simply not cricket’ means ungentlemanly behaviour. I already mentioned that cricket is a civilized sport. I mean we don’t break for lunch and/or tea in the middle of a baseball game do we? I love a sport that breaks for lunch and tea. And Pimms. They sell Pimms at the match.

Pimms is a summery drink garnished with lots of fresh fruit served at summertime parties, Wimbledon, the Henley regatta and cricket matches on warm, sunny English days. And it is refreshing and it is delicious. And civilized. Like cricket. And life in England.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tote that barge Lift that bale

We have missed our pack mule these past few days...pack mule is another affectionate term I have for my husband because he's the designated carrier of all things heavy and let me tell you there has been some seriously heavy stuff moved this week by me and my two daughters. Daughters, I might add, whose combined weight is about 70 kilos. I can speak in kilos because I live in a country that weighs you in kilos and doesn't that sound nicer? They also sometimes weigh you in stones but just the word makes you sound heavy so I prefer kilos.

I am flying back home today and for now home is still England. And my superman strong-arrive with a dolly-just tell me where to put this 2ton piece of furniture- professional packers will arrive on Tuesday and after the week I've just had I say bless them! I think I'll sip a mint julep and shout instructions. I wish. I have 8 hours of flying in front of me today/tonite and I am going to need every minute to rest up for the next week of activity at my house. Which is still in England. Did I say that already?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane...or trying to anyway

I spent yesterday in the airport. Three of them actually. Sounds like fun doesn't it? Not. I'm in the lovely state of South Carolina for a few days helping my daughters get settled into new apartments. Actually South Carolina looks remarkably like England and gray so I'm feeling right at home. Plus I'm staying with my sister who is the sweetest and so I'd be feeling right at home even if it were sunny and hot. Which I kind of wish it was. I'm jet lagged so there's no telling where this post will go. Consider yourself warned. The estate agent in the UK (that would be the realty company) phoned me at 4:40 am to ask a question. Of course she didn't know I was in the states and she felt awful when it dawned on her what time it was but even after she realized the time difference she asked if it was convenient to talk. Uh, no, not really. Still once I'm awake I'm awake so today is starting early.

And I really could have used the sleep because yesterday was T-RY-ING. I left my house at 8:30 am UK time for my flight out of Heathrow. I was on a jumbo jet and I'm pretty sure there's another word for them these days but jumbo works too. I spent the flight feeling kinda sorry for the man squeezed into the center seat beside me (I must be on an aisle and just fyi, according to my husband and my children, I have a lot of rules when I fly). This gentleman looked like he may have wrestled for the WWF except he was Belgian and I don't think they have the WWF there do they? Anyway, he definitely lifts weights and he definitely looked super uncomfortable. And I felt a little sorry for myself too because he hogged the arm rest and covered the control buttons to my video screen which was a tiny problem.

I fly to Dulles in Washington DC where I make a connection to another airline for the one hour-ish flight to South Carolina. I have to collect my bag and recheck it which isn't too difficult except I was traveling without my cabana boy (that's an affectionate term for my husband who carries all the stuff when we travel) so I had to schlep it all myself. And my carry on might have weighed more than me. I was bringing some of our important personal papers with me to leave in a box at my sisters since we don't want to put anything with banking numbers in our moving shipment and after six years overseas we have alot of papers to tote. Plus in cleaning out the odds and ends left in my girls rooms in the UK I found about $60,000 US dollars in coins in daughter2's room. Okay, it was more like $60 but when you're carrying that weight in coins it feels like thousands and it's heavy. And apparently it also sends up some sort of red flag to the security agents in Dulles because my bag had to be searched, run thru the machine again, bagged coins taken out of my case and run thru again, bagged coins removed from bag and sifted thru and layed flat in the container and run thru yet again. But I didn't mind too much because I was busy getting know, belt, shoes, jewelry...

And Dulles is where the fun began. My flight was supposed to leave at 5ish and get to SC just after 6 ish. And of course 5 ish is feeling like 10 ish to me. At about 4:50 the passengers hovering in the waiting area all started commenting on the fact that there were four flights scheduled to leave out of this same gate at the exact same time. Now, I'm no mathematician but even I knew that was never gonna happen. So I was naively happy when they announced that the flight to SC should move to another gate. Til we got to the gate and saw the new flight departure time was now listed as 6 pm. Okay, an hour delay...not great but what can you do so you make the best of it. Then it was changed to 6:30 followed by an announcement saying there was a 'mechanical problem' with the plane and the mechanic was going to have to get on board. TMI TMI TMI.... please just fix the problem and don't tell me there is a 'mechanical problem'. Does mechanical problem mean there's a broken windshield wiper or does mechanical problem mean the engine may drop out of the plane at 35, 000 feet. Don't want to know thank you very much.

This game of delaying our departure time in 15 and then 30 minute and then 60 minute increments went on for a while. And at one point the mechanic (whose pants were hanging way too low ala Eminen) did not inspire confidence as he passed the roomful of waiting passengers while uttering the phrase, and I quote, 'dat plane's broke' Broke! Are you kidding me? First of all the word is broken and poor grammar is a pet peeve of mine. Secondly, I think I've already mentioned, TMI TMI TMI.

Minutes pass, or maybe days, and then we are treated to another announcement which says the mechanic must return to the hanger for a part. And the gate agent helpfully explained to the lady sitting beside me (whose kinda like my new best friend because we've had alot of time to share) that something called the air sensors are not working and that means the plane may fly too high or too low. Huh? Too low as in into the ground? too high as in we may careen off into the stratosphere?

And about this time I phone my husband in the UK who informs me he is at our good friends house enjoying a very delicious Sunday roast dinner. And I tell him I'm also enjoying my 6 strawberry twizzlers and a diet coke which is absolutely nothing like an English Sunday roast dinner but is still delicious in its own way. Twizzlers make me happy. Except I'm eating them during hour number 5 in Dulles airport in Washington DC when I'm supposed to be looking at my girlies smiling faces in South Carolina.

More days pass and we're treated to more announcements and coincidentally it turns out the flight in the area just opposite ours is also delayed because, 'the plane is also broken'. At least she didn't say broke but she did add, 'this just goes from bad to worse' which is not exactly the phrase you want to hear when you are preparing to board an aircraft. Our new announcement is hopeful though...we're getting a new plane and they've got a pilot who has arrived to fly it so we're almost in business.

I walked a little way down the terminal to get a hamburger because I've now spoken to my sister/daughter1/daughter2/husband about 27 times and I've concluded I will not be in South Carolina for dinner anytime soon and I should let that idea go for now. And as I'm standing in line for my hamburger I get a look at the pilot and apparently Doogie Howser is no longer practicing medicine but is now flying commuter planes. Seriously, this little boy is going to fly the plane??

And finally, a mere 6 hours late, we're on our way to South Carolina and when the flight attendant actually announced in all seriousness that 'you may have noticed the slight delay in our departure and we do apologize for any inconvenience' me and my new best friend (who turns out was seated next to me on the flight) had to laugh.

And it is now 11:30 PM (or 4:30 am depending which country you are in) and I didn't even mind (much) that I had to wait 45 minutes for my bag because daughter2 was standing next to me chattering a mile a minute and daughter1 was waiting with the car and I love these girls and there is no amount of aggravation or frustration or annoying airport announcements that their sweet faces cannot erase the moment their eyes meet mine and smiles break out all around. In that moment all is right with the world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brilliant! Remember you heard it here first...British Words from A to Zed (Week 6)

So….ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL??? I’m pretty sure you have to yell whenever you use that phrase. And let me go ahead and call it by its pet name here and rephrase that question…ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTIE??? Not quite the same, is it? Footie sounds like a game you play with babies but here when we say footie we mean football and by football we mean soccer if you’re an American and, if you are and you refer to football as soccer you will not win any friends.

Daugher1 and a friend met two British boys one evening as they were riding into downtown Greenville on their university’s shuttle bus. These two boys are attending her university in South Carolina on a footie scholarship (‘cept I’m pretty sure in South Carolina they call it soccer). When daughter1’s friend realized these boys were British she told them that my daughter lived in England so a conversation followed. And when I asked Daughter 1 what they said she reported, ‘You know mom...the usual questions…where am I from and who do I support? And I said, ‘Did you make sure you looked at their clothing before you replied?’ Because when you live in the UK it is critical to know who you support. As in which UK football team do you follow because you must follow a football team if you live here. I’m pretty certain it’s a requirement for obtaining a resident visa. And my two girls can do a brilliant rendition of the Manchester United cheer but you don’t want to break into the Man U cheer if your audience is full of Arsenal fans…or Chelsea fans…or fans of anyone other than Man U. And just fyi, my girls never want to break out in the Man U cheer and will only do their totally brilliant version in the privacy of our home when my hubs and I beg and plead with them because they’re so cute when they sing.

And speaking of brilliant…that word comes a close second to gobsmacked in the listing of my all time favourite British words. I bet I hear the word brilliant at least seven or eight times a day. And it may be used to describe a football match, an economic summit, or a fine Cheddar. And often it’s ‘brill’ as opposed to brilliant. Actually as much as Americans love slang I’m really surprised they haven’t latched onto the word brilliant. I think I’m going to use it once I’m back in the US… I’ll let you know how it goes. If you start hearing it around America you’ll know where it started.

Rugby is also huge here and I’ll go ahead and admit that I find it a lot more fun to watch than football (that’s soccer people!) I like to call it rugger because that’s the informal word for rugby here and I’m all about keeping the blog friendly-like.

Then there’s the sport known as Cricket which is officially England’s national game. If you’re going to a match you must go with someone who understands the bazillion intricacies of this sport because I gotta say the game is a bit confusing. It’s not anything like baseball with the exception of the fact that there are bats and balls and great uniforms. Sometimes a Cricket match can last more than one day. Huh??

One last thought about sports…my girls attended an International School and our sports teams were part of an International league. This means they competed against other International Schools in places like Munich, Brussels, Paris, Franfurt, and even Cairo. Daughter2 was on the swim team and twice went to meets held in Egypt…if you tell kids the championship meet will be held in Cairo suddenly lots of kids are trying out for the swim team!

Daughter2 is funny. We couldn’t wait for her to ring us to tell about all she was seeing on her visit. (Did you notice I said ring and not phone? It’s always ring here…as in ‘I’ll ring you later.’) Anyway, when she finally did ring she was very excited. We asked if she had seen the pyramids and her reply was, ‘Yeah, yeah, but guess what???!’ And we’re on pins and needles waiting to hear something fabulous and she says, ‘Guess what they have here….Cinnamon toast crunch cereal!!!’ What? You’re in Egypt and you’re most impressed by the fact that the family you are staying with is feeding you cinnamon toast crunch cereal??? It’s important to note here that we cannot get Cinnamon Toast crunch in the UK and that it is her favourite.

My cutie pie is second from the right smiling really big. It might have something to do with the fact that she is in Cairo with her friends.

Or it could be the memory of her breakfast cereal.

You know what they say...You can take the teenager out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the teenager….or something like that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Counting my knickers….seriously

I have to actually count my knickers. And the inventory sheet says underwear but I’m going to continue to refer to these garments as knickers because I like the word.

I’m supposed to be working today on completing inventory form number one for the moving company and I’m feeling a little bit frustrated. First of all the form is printed in what must be a size 2 font. And the space to actually fill in the number of knickers I will be relocating to the US is not big enough to actually write in a number. And not only do I have to put in a number but I also have to put in a replacement cost amount. Thinking about the replacement cost of my knickers is actually draining my brain. Because I also have to list everysinglesolitaryitem in my entire house including how many forks I have and how many ties my husband has and I have to determine the replacement cost of said items. And I have to decide which items will travel by air (the quicker route but limited in weight) and which items will travel by sea (the long scenic route).

And in between trying to fill in the inventory there are people knocking on my door who would like to buy items I’m selling because I need to sell ALL my electronics and a few assorted pieces of furniture and two cars and give away all my houseplants, spices, liquids, as well as the Bath and Body Works franchise my girls have left in their bathrooms.

And, in between counting knickers and ties and forks and selling all of my stuff that needs to be sold I am on the phone calling the veterinarian who tells me to call the airline who tells me to call the cargo terminal who tells me to call DEFRA (Department of Food, something that starts with an R, and animals) who tells me to call the customs division who tells me to call my veterinarian…hmmm….maybe I can slip the dog under my coat and she can share my seat for the ride back to America. We all know airline seats are so roomy and my dog would absolutely love it too…I can totally picture her asking for a white coffee…she loves a good cup of coffee.

I popped into the little market at lunchtime today and bumped into our favourite waiter from our favourite local curry house and I tried not to cry. I was mostly successful.

Oh, and then there’s my friends…I need to see my friends. Yesterday I hosted an end of the year brunch for the women’s bible study group that has met in my home every single Monday for the past five years. They wrote me the sweetest note and they gave me an Emma Bridgewater plate with the British flag on it. And again I tried not to cry but I maybe wasn’t quite as successful in this case.

I also have to stop and look out my window every few minutes because when I do I see this-

And of all the things I love about this house it is the garden that I will miss the most.

And after I look at my garden I think about my ice trays because they test my patience on a daily basis and I think that if I think about something I find annoying here I will feel better. Except I’m secretly a teensy bit worried that I will soon be standing in my lovely new kitchen in my lovely new house with it’s lovely American sized refrigerator with ice that magically appears when you hold a glass up to its door and I am going to think about my ice trays here in England, frozen together, covered in frost because the freezer is not frost free and I suspect I might miss even this.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spectacularly spectacular or Where is Mr. Roget when I need him?

Springtime in England is…spectacular. You knew I was going to say that didn’t you? If you read my blog you already know how I feel about the English countryside. You may also find yourself thinking I overuse the word spectacular but I promise you I’ve tried to come up with a better word and there just isn’t one.

Yesterday my husband and I drove thru the little town beside’s called Denham Village and it oozes charm and is home to one of the most magnificent wisteria vines I’ve ever seen. (And also a fantastic Italian restaurant but that would be another post).

The actor John Mills (Hayley’s dad) used to live here. I know this because they have conveniently posted a small blue plaque right on the house. I mean cottage…this definitely qualifies as a cottage I think. All around the UK you will find these small blue plaques that let you know if something significant occurred where you are standing. It may have been home to someone famous (or notorious) or some noteworthy event happened right where your feet are.
This wisteria vine is old as in old old with a huge thick trunk. It seems to go on forever.

And speaking of spectacular (and it seems I always am) the bluebells are in bloom here right now and I am not the only person who uses the word spectacular to describe them.

They cover the ground like a carpet and are one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.

Oh, and have I mentioned that the rapeseed is also in full bloom here at the moment?


Going to find my thesaurus now….you’re welcome.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Love

I’ve always wanted to be a mother…when I was small and someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would answer, a mother. And motherhood has not disappointed. Something shifted inside me the minute I looked at my newborn baby and the fierceness of the love I felt was surprising and wonderful and consuming and so real it felt like I could actually hold it in my hand. The feeling is so huge in fact, that I think I might burst and that there isn’t room inside me to love anyone more than I love my child in that very first moment of life.

But time passes and you discover with every passing hour that you can love more than you ever imagined possible. And you do. Because as your children grow up your love grows up too and you discover that your capacity to love knows no bounds. And never ends. And is amazing.

Her love is like an island
in life's ocean,vast and wide
A peaceful, quiet shelter
From the wind, the rain, the tide.

'Tis bound on the north by Hope,
By Patience on the West,
By tender Counsel on the South
And on the East by Rest.

Above it like a beacon light
Shine Faith, and Truth, and Prayer;
And thro' the changing scenes of life
I find a haven there.

~Author Unknown~

Today I want to say Happy Mother’s Day to my own sweet mother...
Thank you for your love for all of my life...for a love that knows no bounds... that never ends...

I find a haven there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

viva la France

Okay….back to France…Saturday morning we were greeted by our mini bus driver and Laurent who gave us a ‘to go’ bag of warm croissants (naturally) for the ride and then we were off to tour some of the champagne houses in the region. Let me just tell you that when you see the cellars of even one house you realize pretty quickly that a whole lot of champagne is consumed around the world. We visited just three houses and the number of bottles is staggering.

Our first stop was Moet and Chandon which is also home to Dom Perignon. Perignon was a Benedictine monk who was cellar master of the Abbey at Hautvillers near Epernay, a role in which he apparently excelled. The abbey doubled its vineyard holdings under his management and he is buried in a section of the Abbey normally reserved for abbots.

The tour began with a short film and then we headed into the wine cellars with our guide who explained the process as we walked. When they talk about wine cellars here they are talking about caves. There are literally miles of caves and thousands of bottles tucked into every nook and cranny.

The champagne houses have precise procedures they follow to ensure quality…bottles are hand turned or ‘riddled’ by someone whose job title is actually ‘The Riddler’. There may have been a Batman joke or two at this point in our tour. And we’re sure the riddler must have some serious carpal tunnel.

After leaving Moet we went on to a small house known as LeBrun where we sat in what felt like a family room and tasted three varieties of their champagne before driving into Reims for lunch. The cathedral in Reims is a World Heritage Site with stained glass windows designed by Chagall.

We had lunch and a stroll around town before heading to the final champagne house of the tour, Tattinger, which we all pronounced as spelled but were told it should actually be pronounced ‘tatt-en-zhay’. The cellars here are positively amazing. The oldest parts of the chalk caves were first excavated by Gothic slaves under Roman occupation in the fourth century. A few centuries later the caves were enlarged by the Abbey monks who used them to store the champagne they traded. The Abbey was destroyed during the French revolution but portions remain, including a bit of the chapel and some interesting staircases. The monks actually carved stairs into the ceiling so when they came down at night (oh yeah, no electricity) they could put their hands up and feel the steps to know where to put their feet. Those monks were pretty industrious and pretty clever too!

As an aside, whenever I think of monks (which isn't actually all that often) I remember a postcard Daughter2 sent to her friend back in the states from a trip to France we took shortly after arriving in the was blustery and after visiting an abbey her postcard said this. ''s really cold here. We saw monks. Love, M.' She's too cute. I miss my girls. Sigh.

Where was I? Oh yes, back to now...after Tattinger we returned to the inn because it had been at least four hours since we'd had any bread and cheese. We really enjoyed getting to know our hotelier Laurent. He had quite a sense of humor and told some great stories. I especially loved it when he told us about the 'crazy' boulanger (baker) in town and added. 'I like crazy could we laugh if there wasn't any crazy.' And he said it in his charming French accent all while wearing a tres fashionable scarf.

On Sunday we drove slightly under an hour out into the beautiful French countryside to visit just your typical French chateau…Vaux Le Vicomte.

The chateau is located in Maincy and was built from 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet who was court financier to Louis XIVth. Fouquet only lived in this magnificent home for three weeks before he was arrested. Seems King Louie didn’t appreciate an underling having a grander home than the king and found a reason to have him imprisoned for the remainder of his life. Not saying he was a choir boy but many of the charges were made up and the punishment was more for daring to build a home better than the king’s. In fact, Louie took the architect, landscaper, and painter who worked together on Vaux Le Vicomte and moved them over to Paris to create his home in Versailles.

Vaux Le Vicomte’s biggest claim to fame though has to be its gardens. The landscape artist trained as an architect and this is apparent in the terraces, fountains and lakes around the chateau. You can rent a golf cart type vehicle to tour the 60+acre property but we just took a nice long walk which was a lovely way to end our weekend in France.

Sunday we were back on the chunnel train for the ride home to England. Hubs drove so I could snooze and pretend we weren’t approximately 328 feet under the English Channel.

And the moving company is coming today to survey our goods and see if they will all fit in our allotted sea and air shipment and I’m pretty sure it will stress me out and I may just decide to think about the French countryside instead.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Doctor is In...British Words from A to Zed, Week 5

I have another post to write about notre voyage vers la France but will save that for tomorrow since today is Wednesday and Wednesdays are all about British words.

I woke up this morning thinking about how my allergies have kicked into gear and I may actually need to phone my GP and make an appt. with his surgery. And my doctor’s surgery is not to be confused with my MP’s surgery and neither have anything to do with an operation.

When an MP (Member of Parliament) has a surgery it means they are opening up their office to their constituents to come in and talk about their troubles and make complaints, etc. This would be the equivalent of your local senator or representative opening their office for you to come in and make complaints and tell them what’s irritating you about the local government. They don’t do that do they?

Back to my GP…he’s my family doctor by the way and a doctor’s surgery is a doctor’s office. When we arrived in the UK we had to register with our local doctor’s surgery and this is all based on where you live. If you live in my village and move only about 5 miles away you will need to switch your GP. We are eligible to receive medical care under the NHS (National Health Service) but we also have private insurance through my husband’s company and for anything urgent or serious we always go private. Having private insurance means you will be seen by a specialist (called a consultant) in this century as opposed to the next one. That may be a slight exaggeration but the waiting time to get in to see a specialist under the NHS can be frighteningly long. And by frightening I mean…’hmm, yes your daughter has scoliosis and has outgrown her back brace and will need major surgery if we don’t get her in and if you go with your NHS coverage we can get you in to see Mr X (he’s the orthopaedist and I’ll explain the Mr. in a minute) in 14 months.’ In using our private insurance we were able to see Mr. X in only two months. Still a long time when you are a growing 13 year old girl but definitely better than 14 months.

Now about that Mr. title. Let me just say that I adore Mr. X, my daughter’s orthopaedist. In fact I like him so much more than the doctor she was seeing in the states and when she was more or less released from his care after 5 years of seeing him every 4-6 weeks we hugged and daughter2 and I both felt a little sad to think we wouldn’t be seeing him again. He is world renowned and kind and has six children of his own and has always treated daughter2 with the utmost respect and courtesy. I remember the very first time we sat in his office and he was talking and talking about important ‘stuff’ and all I could think about is ‘why did they send me to someone named MR. X when what I may need is a world class surgeon?????’ After Mr. X had been talking for a few minutes he stopped and said, ‘Let me back up as I can see you are wondering why I am called Mr. and not Dr.’ YES I AM-ARE YOU A REAL DOCTOR??? Turns out that yes indeed he is a Dr. and because he is more than a Dr, a world class surgeon as it turns out, he is addressed by the title of Mr. which indicates training beyond that of an ordinary doctor. Whew, that’s a relief! It is still not clear to me how the title differentiates my surgeon Mr. X from say my neighbour Mr. Y who is just a Mr. Mr. and not a Mr. Dr. but I will just add that to the list of things I’m not entirely clear on here and that list is actually quite long.

Let’s go back to my GP…a visit to him for some allergy relief will probably result in a trip to the chemist and when I say chemist I mean pharmacist. I have found the chemists in the UK to be really knowledgeable and in fact was in London with my mom one day when she had a problem with her eye and we stopped into a chemist and they had her come behind the counter and looked at her eye very carefully and asked her a million questions before determining if there were some drops she could buy over the counter. By the way, you won’t often find the familiar brand name meds from home that you are used to using in the shops here. I often have to describe symptoms to the chemist and have them direct me to what I need. And I always buy extra strength Tylenol in the US when I’m home. The equivalent product here is called paracetemol but for some reason I don’t think it works as effectively. And I buy Dramamine when I’m in the US too. Here the product is called ‘travel calm’ which sounds wonderful and optimistic but Dramamine and I go way back and I never leave home without it. And my family thanks me.

Sometimes a trip to the GP results in a jab. One thing I’ll say about the British…they call 'em like they see 'em. A jab is exactly what it sounds like…it’s an injection in the arm or somewhere. Nothing like seeing the eyeballs pop out of my daughters faces the first time the nurse said, ‘Come on inside for your jab.’ Injection is a meaningless word to most kids but the word jab they definitely get.

We’ve seen the inside of a hospital here ...a few actually…have I told you about daughter2 and her penchant for mishap? Yeah, well that’s a post in itself which I’ll save for another day but as I was saying, while I do not care for hospitals I do particularly like the word theatre which is what they call the operating room. Sounds so much nicer doesn’t it? It is a bit confusing when they talk about the registrar though because the word registrar makes me think of signing up for summer camp or a soccer team but the registrar in the hospital is actually a resident doctor. And physio. I like the word physio. It’s physical therapy or PT in the states but always called physio here.

I could go on and on and since I pretty much have I think I’ll wrap it up for now with a final thought. The aim of my blog is not to stir up controversy but because Nationalized Health Care is such a hot topic in the states right now I will leave you with this piece of information taken word for word from the NHS website….just something to think about as changes are proposed to healthcare in the US. I absolutely think everyone needs access to healthcare in our country but I hope we think very carefully about how we make that happen. Free isn’t always better. In fact, free isn’t always even good. In fact, free isn't really free. And free is most definitely not fast and when we’re talking about healthcare oftentimes speed of delivery is what makes all the difference. Cheers!

‘Wednesday March 25 2009
The NHS has achieved the shortest waiting times since its records began, the Department of Health said today.

It also said it had met its “18 weeks” waiting time target, whereby patients referred from a GP for further treatment start that treatment within 18 weeks. The target became the operational standard for the NHS from January 1 2009. Today’s announcement confirms that the deadline was met.

Most NHS patients do not wait as long as 18 weeks . The average wait for treatment for patients admitted to hospital is now just 8.6 weeks. Outpatients waited an average of 4.6 weeks at January 2009, compared to 7.4 weeks at August 2007.

If you’d like to read more here’s a link to the NHS site….

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why are French women thin?

I’m sure I don’t know. In fact I’m a little concerned that no amount of time spent in the gym this week is going to make up for all the bread and cheese we consumed while in France last weekend. Fabulous bread and cheese are served everywhere you go and you are not allowed to say no thank you. I maybe didn’t try too hard but really you can’t say no. And we for sure didn’t want to…we were in the heart of Brie country for goodness sakes. Did you know that in France they often serve their cappuccinos with a ginormous dollop of whipped cream on top? Yikes!

We had such a wonderful weekend seeing the Champagne region. We stayed in a teeny tiny village (more like a street actually) called Saint Ouen sur Morin in a charming ‘auberge’ (inn) owned by Monsieur Laurent and his lovely (and thin- even-though- she eats- bread –and- cheese) wife. Let me just say that Laurent could rock a scarf like nobody’s business. Turns out prior to being a hotelier he was a fashion designer in Paris. All the guys on our trip discussed whether they could get away with the same look as Laurent and all the women pretty much agreed that they could if (1) they were French and (2) they were former Fashion designers so basically, no, they couldn’t get away with the look.

I’m going to break the weekend into deux posts (there’s my awesome French again) since we managed to pack a whole lotta fun into three days. Three couples of the five arrived Thursday evening and then two more couples joined us the next day. On Friday we piled into a couple of cars and drove about a half hour out into the French countryside to the medieval town of Provins. Before I tell you about Provins I must tell you that the Champagne region at the beginning of May is absolutely breathtaking. Fields of rapeseed are blooming literally everywhere you look and really a photograph cannot do it justice but I tried.

Rapeseed is used to make canola oil and also bio diesel fuels. There are also magnificent rapeseed fields in the UK but when we left Thursday the fields in England were just a little bit later in the bloom cycle than those in France. All over the Champagne region we drove thru miles and miles of countryside surrounded by nothing but fields of yellow mixed with fields of bright green farmland. Every once in a while you’d pass a tiny village with stone buildings and sometimes a cathedral but mostly it was just the lush landscape.

The town of Provins is one of the best preserved medieval cities in France. The upper town (Ville Haute) is located within high 12th century ramparts. Eons ago Provins was famous for its fairs which were the most important in Europe. The city was also one of the first financial markets in Europe but that changed at the beginning of the 14th century because of new commercial routes, wars, and plagues…you know…typical medieval ‘stuff’.

Tour Cesar (the castle) towers over the town of Provins. This is a keep complete with turrets and a pyramid shaped roof which my husband and I climbed all the way to the tippy tippy top of (no small feat!) all while sucking in our stomachs. Let’s just say it’s a good thing we hadn’t eaten more bread and cheese than we did or we would not have fit thru the staircase, if you can even call it that. Narrow does not begin to describe the passageway.

Apparently alot was happening under the city too back in the day and one of the underground spaces is now a bookstore. Of course all the books are in French but it’s really pretty incredible to see. And it also makes me grateful I didn’t live in the Middle Ages. I've concluded after living in Europe that I’m more of a 21st century kind of girl.

We had a lovely day in Provins...

...the lovely day of course included lunch at an outdoor cafe which of course included cheese and bread. Late afternoon we meandered back thru the countryside to our quaint little inn. We drove to a neighboring small village for dinner that evening and had a typical four course meal…and by typical I mean naturellement, that one course was cheese and bread. And I also mean it was fabulous.

In part deux of this post I will write about our day touring some of the champagne houses and Sunday’s visit to a nearby chateau…tres tres magnifique! Au revoir pour maintenant.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Underwater Driving

Well, technically maybe I wasn't driving underwater but I did drive my car onto the Chunnel train on Thursday and then sat in that same car while the train engineer drove the actual train with me and my car in it across to France. And the Chunnel train does indeed run under the Channel and it's only a 30 minute ride from shore to shore. They post the 'escape route' on the wall in case you have to evacuate as you're crossing but I try really hard not to think about that.

Taking your car on the Chunnel is actually a fantastic way to get from England to France. You book your space online, show up 30 minutes before departure, drive up to the immigration window to show your passport, and then literally drive your car right onto the train. And you just sit in the car while the train crosses under the sea and you drive out of the train on the other side.'re in France. It's tres cool. My French is pretty impressive isn't it?

The really important thing to remember on this excursion is that when you exit the Chunnel train on the other side of the Channel you are in France and in France they drive ON THE RIGHT. And I'm in my British car so I'm sitting on the right hand side of the vehicle and there is a roundabout almost as soon as you come out of the train station and I have to say outloud about 100 times...GO RIGHT, GO RIGHT...LOOK LEFT, LOOK LEFT..yes, you know how to drive!

My husband had a meeting in Paris all last week so he arranged for a car to bring him out to the hotel we are in for the weekend. We are visiting the Champagne region of France with four other couples and our hotel is about an hour and a half outside of Paris as long as your driver doesn't go thru the center of Paris during Friday night rush hour and also if your driver doesn't get lost en route in which case it may take you four hours to get to that same hotel. He wasn't frustrated or anything though and if he had a blog I'm sure he wouldn't mention it at all.

This is another Bank Holiday weekend in the UK and I've said before that Bank Holidays are ideal for short breaks. I will write about our weekend once I'm back in the UK but for now let me just say that the French countryside in Springtime is almost as spectacular as the English countryside. And let me also just add that in the French countryside there is French food...and cheese...and champagne. There's an awful lot to love about the French countryside y'all.