Friday, June 29, 2007


On Wednesday, Margot and I took a trip to Brighton - a seaside town on the English Channel. Once again, it was freezing. It was hard for me to imagine that anyone would ever try to swim from this beach, since the wind blew at 20 mph and the temp was in the high 50s. But the shopkeepers in town assured me that it does, indeed, get hot here during the summer.

I'm not sure if this photo of Margot conveys how cold and windy it was on the beach, but believe me, it was cold and windy.

The beach itself looked bleak and lonely on Wednesday, a sad state for a day in late June. But I imagine that when it warms up that the pier is more lively.

Brighton hosts the former summer palace of George IV, which was built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent at the end of the 18th century in India. It's a stiking disconnect from the typical architecture one sees in England.

Margot and I did not actually go inside the palace, but we did enjoy a free classical concert inside the gardens during the afternoon. The gardens blocked the gale howling along the beach, and so it was pleasant and confortable.

A Sample of What Goes on in Margot's Head

Just a few minutes ago, Margot called me into the bedroom where she is supposed to be taking a nap.

Margot: "Mommy! Mommy!"

Me: "What's the matter?"

Margot: "Babi is afraid of cats."

Me: "Oh, really? That's too bad. I really like cats."

Margot: "Me too. Good thing there are no cats in our flat."

And then she laid down and closed her eyes. Really, now, what was THAT all about? We haven't seen any cats, haven't read a story on cats, haven't seen a TV show about cats. Where did that come from?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pedestrian Safety

We've been here a full week now and I am just starting to remember to look to the right when crossing the street instead of to the left. Luckily, the City of Westminster has spelled out "Look Right" (or "Look Left" on certain one way streets)in huge letters directly on the pavement for fools such as myself.

But I will admit that as recently as this morning I had a split-second panic that a car was driverless yet still moving, since the driver sits on the righthand side.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Weekend Recap

We're in the final minutes (UK time) of what was a very touristy weekend for us. But we're tourists, and so that's what we do.

It began on Saturday morning with a walk west, down to the Tower of London. Our flat's location, right near St. Paul's Cathedral, offers us great opportunities; the Tower of London is a lovely 25 minute walk down the river, the Tate Modern is a 3 minute walk across the Millenium Bridge, and then, of course, there's St. Paul's itself, right across the street. Saturday dawned warm and muggy; but as the clouds rolled in later in the day it became quite chilly. Eventually it rained on us, as it always seems to do here.

The Tower was very crowded, which is probably to be expected on a Saturday in June. Last time I was there was a weekday in February 1993, and there was hardly a soul around. But we stood shoulder to shoulder with tourists from every corner of the globe and forced Margot's strolled over the cobbled paths within the Tower. Our Beefeater tour guide regaled us with tales of beheadings and imprisonment. Margot showed no interest in his stories; anyway, there was a group of 100 people surrounding him so she was more interested in making loud public comments about the people she saw. (For example, "Mommy, that man has no hair. Why doesn't he have hair?" or "Mommy, what's on that girl's face?" (a bindi) So I tried my best to answer her without drawing too much attention to her questions.

I'm not sure if Margot really took the whole medieval theme to heart at that point (the Beefeater had just explained that the surrounding moat was really a sewer for the whole town) or if she simply forgot her potty training, but all of a sudden I realized that a large puddle was forming beneath her on the cobbled path. Sigh. I was lucky enough to have a change of clothes for her in my bag, and so I wisked her off to a semi-private corner and changed her. My only satisfaction was that if anyone tried to pickpocket my open bag, they'd come up with a handful of urine-soaked jeans.

The rest of our visit to the Tower was without incident, and even included a brief nap for Margot in her stroller. So we took the long way home, in the rain, and walked back to our flat along the opposite river bank, stopping just briefly for a pint next to this ship.

On Sunday, we lamented the cold rain that was falling and scrapped our plans to attend an outdoor festival. We treated ourselves to actual brewed coffee (it's expensive, about $4 a cup, and we only have instant crystals at home since there's no coffee maker in our flat) and walked out our door and over the bridge to the Tate Modern for a quick visit. It was a very quick visit because it was packed, and Margot showed signs of needing a nap. We brought her home, where she tossed and turned for 45 minutes before declaring, "Mommy, I'm awake!"

And so she was. Brodie and I packed up Margot, and Babi the Pig, and headed out to Harrod's since Brodie had never been. We spent a few hours wandering the incredible array of goods - very, very expensive goods - and concluded that even if we could afford to shop there we wouldn't simply on principle. But it was a nice way to close the afternoon, staring at so much opulence. I longed to get Portia a diamond-studded collar (ok, not really) and Brodie eyed an Eames desk chair. But reality won out, and so we rode the Tube back to our flat and ate a dinner of pasta, and sauce, and tomatoes, and parmesan cheese (Margot's favorite meal).

From the Roof Deck of the Haywood Gallery...

First Fish and Chips

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mensa ("Minsa?")

Just kidding. As wonderfully brilliant as I believe my daughter is, I would never subject her to this.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Traveling Min

Summer Solstice

Today, June 21, is my absolute favorite day of the year. Better than Christmas. Better than my birthday. Better than Thanksgiving, or the last day of finals, or New Year's Eve (which I really don't like at all).

It's summer solstice!

While today is not the latest sunset (that occurs later in June or in early July) the notion that summer is here and there is so much blessed daylight makes this my favorite day of the year.

I got to celebrate summer solstice this year by actually seeing Brodie home before 11pm or midnight, and the three of us ate a fabulous Italian dinner near Smithfields Market (Margot and I will visit that tomorrow - it's been the scene of lots of drawing and quartering; additionally, in the 18th century, husbands were allowed to bring their troublesome wives to sell at the market along with their wares - gotta love that!)

A highlight of the day included our visit to St. James' Park (again). While there, Margot overheard a father admonish his son, "Don't be cheeky!" Margot laughed out loud and turned to me immediately and said, "Don't be cheeky, Mommy!"

One thing that Margot loves about the park is the giant sandbox, and I have to admit it's pretty awesome for kids. All the British tykes run around barefoot, but Margot wears her sandals. A friend of mine, who is living in Tanzania, had an unfortunate run-in with hookworm from a sandbox with her two-year-olds, and I'll never be able to allow Margot to play barefoot in a sandbox as a result. Margot is definitely annoyed that she can't take her shoes off, but I remind her that it makes it better to climb on the surrounding rocks with shoes on. So far she's accepting that explanation.

Minor Successes Provide a Major Thrill

It's 12:35 AM and I'm the only one awake here. I tried to sleep but I am jet lagged and just not tired. It doesn't help that I didn't wake up until 11:30 AM London time (which is my normal 7:30 AM wake up time at home).

Not sleeping gives me some time to reflect on why we're even here and why I just can't seem to settle in one place. And I realized this: traveling allows me to revel in minor successes. Living - even visiting - another country makes minor accomplishments a thrill. For instance, today I found an adaptor so that Margot could watch her DVDs on my computer. Score! Oh, and we walked to a normal grocery store and bought milk and bananas and porridge. Awesome! Margot and I ate lunch today for 2.95 pounds. A bargain! Tomorrow I plan to get a SIM card so that I can get my cell phone to work. In Philadelphia, my phone works and my computer works and I can drive to Trader Joes.

It's not the same as going to the grocery store at home. Here, I had to find out where the store is, then look it up on a map (a physical map, not, then load Margot (and Babi the pig) into the stroller, and then walk. Granted, shopping and such is not nearly as challenging here as it is in a developing country, but I can still manage a thrill from my own resourcefulness.

I remember when I first arrived in Thailand (ten years ago) that I thought it the most uncivilized and thrilling place on earth. Four months after I first arrived in Thailand I went to Nepal for three weeks. To this day, I specifically recall how I felt when I arrived back in Bangkok after my first trip to Nepal: I sunk into the cool air-conditioning of my taxi and thanked God I was alive and back in civilization. I felt safe. Thailand is a fully developed nation compared to Nepal - or at least it was ten years ago. What a thrill - to walk on the edge and come back to comfort. (I was, quite literally, on the edge. Public busses in Nepal plunge off cliffs all the time. It's really terrifying. You can read more here and here.)

I am starting to ramble a bit now. But know that I look forward to tomorrow's accomplishments (figuring out how to get my cell phone to work and who knows what else!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Across the Pond

She's arrived! And now she has her very first passport stamp.

The actual traveling part was (almost) a breeze. I say 'almost' because I lugged 100+ pounds of toddler and luggage by myself, and so got quite a workout walking here and there with a car seat strapped to my back, my computer on my shoulder, Margot and her stroller, a carry-on stuffed with books and items that would have put our suitcase over the weight limit, and a suitcase that weighed exactly 49.5 pounds. We accidentally sat in the first-class car on the train trip from London/Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station, but I was too sweaty and tired to care so we stayed put. (Turns out the AC in the first-class car was broken, so we sweltered AND paid more for it! But I digress...)

Flying was far better than walking. Margot performed for our section of the plane for more than an hour (endless renditions of the ABC song, "You Are My Sunshine," "Hickory Dickory Dock," and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," among other songs and nursery rhymes) but she didn't scream nor cry and I'm fairly certain everyone appreciated it (the absence of crying, not necessarily the singing). By the time she finished, we actually pushed back from the gate. (Oh, how I love flying US Air.) Minutes after taking off, she fell asleep.

Whenever I try to hush Margot from singing too loudly and disturbing others, she always turns to me with this hurt expression and says, "But I'm singing my ABCs!" It's hard to explain to someone who so earnestly believes that her singing trumps others' rights that she should really take the volume down a notch or two.

I was pleasantly surprised with our flat when I arrived. It's spacious and modern, although it has a VHS player and no DVD (never mind, I can just use the computer for Caillou DVDs). I take great pleasure in hearing Margot refer to it as "the flat." There is one problem with it though: there is only one bedroom. The apartment manager was kind enough to provide a crib for Margot, but there's nowhere to put it that's quiet and private for her to nap. We tried putting it in the half-bathroom (not the first time), but she can easily turn on the water from the tap while standing in the crib, so that lasted all of 30 seconds. Alas, she will have to sleep in the bedroom. So much for the rest of us sleeping this summer...

Today the weather was just fantastic. It felt like late September here - 71 degrees and sunny. This is so much better than the 93 degrees we left behind in Philadelphia. Margot and I walked through the beautiful churchyard at St. Paul's Cathedral, which is just steps away from our flat. I really dig English gardens - they are so perfectly green and manicured! Also, their grass is better. I don't know the technical terms for it (horticulturalists out there, feel free to comment) but it is thin and wispy and lies flat. It makes the ground appear woven together. American grass is coarse and stands upright, like a brush. It's not as comfortable for sitting

After our visit to St. Paul's (we didn't take an actual tour, just wandered a bit) we picked up some lunch from Marks and Spencer and then took the Tube to St. James' Park. There we found a terrific playground - just what Margot needed. She swang and slid and see-sawed and dug in the giant sandbox, and was genuinely happy when we left. I note this happiness because there have been a few meltdowns since we arrived yesterday (some tears and crying that she wants to go home). I'm going to hold off on the heavy site-seeing until she's used to things, and we'll just spend the next couple of days doing one thing each day that she really likes. I'll save the six-hour marathon in the British Museum that I have planned for another week.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Preparing for a (temporary) move

Since Brodie left for London, I've been reminding Margot each day that soon we'll see him again. And every time our conversation goes exactly like this:

Me: "In __ days, we'll go to London and we'll all be together again."
Min: "At the airport?"
Me: "Well, Dad's not at the airport anymore, but we'll go through an airport to get to him."
Min: "We'll fly on a plane?"
Me: "Yes, we'll fly on a plane."
Min: "With my carseat?"
Me: "Yes, we'll take your carseat."
Min: "With Bobby? And Puffy? And Bun?" (Note: 'Puffy' refers to a pink dog she named "Puffy Dog" and 'Bun' is a brown dog. These guys rank well in the hierarchy of stuffed animals that live in her crib.)
Me: "Yes, with Bobby and Puffy and Bun."

Here, Margot always pauses.

Min: "And will we eat breakfast on the airplane?"

I assure her that we will. Although, to be honest, with our coach fare seats, I am not sure that the airline (US Air) will provide us with a breakfast. I'll have to be sure to bring something breakfast-like on the flight in case they don't.

I'm not sure why eating breakfast is so important to Margot for this trip, but I can only suspect it was discussed at some point in a Caillou episode.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chincoteague Recap

I don't know what was the bigger hit with Margot from our recent visit to Chincoteague: feeding the horses corn niblets ten times a day, playing on the beach, or playing with her cousins! Or maybe it was the ice-cream after dinner each evening, or swimming in the pool with water wings, or sleeping in the big bed in the hotel. It might have been the endless attention from grandparents and Aunt Carol and Uncle Phil and getting her way every time because she was the youngest. It might have been any of these things; I can't get her to identify just one thing that she liked best.

They're coming! They're coming!

Min's freckles are starting to appear.

I always figured she'd at least have a light smattering of freckles, since I am coated with them and Brodie is, too. I'm very careful to slather sunscreen on her whenever we go outside but yesterday, when sitting with Margot on my lap, I realized that the faintest of dots are beginning to appear on her cheeks and nose.

Ice-cream face

Margot couldn't contain her glee over getting to eat ice-cream three nights in a row at the beach:

Friday, June 08, 2007

Where in the world is Margot Emily?

We're on our annual trip to Chincoteague, VA. Sorry I haven't posted for a while but it's been pretty busy getting Brodie off to London and selling our condo and working and everything else that's been going on.

Margot is doing just fine. Well, mostly. She's been throwing some massive tantrums lately; I think it's partly because she's missing Brodie and partly because she's, well, two years old. In the blink of an eye, she can go from a smiling little girl to a hyperventilating toddler who screams, "I will not wear my hat! I will not wear my hat! I will not wear my hat!" (Or "I will not hold your hand" or "I will not eat my dinner!" or "I want to feed the horses one more time!")

This will pass, I am sure. Some folks have mentioned that they think age 3 is worse than age 2 so I am a little concerned that this isn't the worst of it.

We went to the beach this morning, which Margot adored (it resulted in a tantrum of "I can't want to go home!" when it was time to go nap). She dug in the sand, and sat in the shallowest part of the surf, and watched her cousins Ben and Anna fly a kite, and blew bubbles with Grandma.

More photos and stories tomorrow!