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Monthly Archives: March 2014

London 2014

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IMG_1203We all watched the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and wished we were there – didn’t we? Well, I sure did! It looked so exciting, gleaming, and, well, royal. It’s taken me nearly two years, but I made it to London recently. I used my daughter’s spring break as an excuse to go. Just before traveling, a dear friend gave me a book about London. It contained a quote from Bette Midler, “When it’s 3:00 in New York, it’s still 1938 in London.” I didn’t understand that until I visited. Despite London being an international capital and Europe’s largest city, things are just a bit less up-to-date, shall we say, from the way things are in America, and that’s part of its charm. In case you’re planning a visit there, this guide should prove helpful.

1) Public Restrooms – Be prepared to hike up many flights of stairs anytime you find yourself in need. They will either be located at the tippy top of the building you are occupying, or in the basement, which is accessed by a narrow, twisting, spiral staircase that doesn’t accommodate the length and breadth of most pairs of American-worn shoes. Afterwards, when you’re ready to wash your hands, be forewarned that there will be just a mere trickle of water issuing from the faucet that is either so hot it scalds (we actually saw signs warning of this in some bathrooms), or so cold you’ll wish you’d never left the comfort of the wet and cold outside. And, the faucets may be installed to issue cold water on the left and warm on the right, which caused me to brush my teeth with a really warm toothbrush most nights. There are very few paper towel dispensers, so you must dry your hands with an electric hand dryer, which exerts no more force than an octogenarian blowing on them. Jeans are fine for finishing the job.

2) Hotel rooms – Tiny, the Brits must not vacation more than two at a time, as no (affordable) room has anything larger than a double or two twins, which is why we rented an apartment for our family. This was quite comfy and acceptable, except when it came to…Electricity. The bathroom lights were operated with a pull cord, a fact I didn’t understand at first. I saw the cord, but as it was in the middle of the ceiling I was afraid to pull it. I thought it was one of those emergency cords  you see in hospital bathrooms; just pull down hard and voila, a nurse will come running to assist! After some time fumbling around in the dark, I took a chance, pulled it, and discovered the miracle of light. In the rest of the house,we pushed a small golden knob on the wall where a light switch should be and got a little bit of light. We couldn’t plug any appliances into the bathroom outlets as these were only for electric razors. Really. I blow-dried my hair every morning in the kitchen, which worked out just fine as I could see my reflection in the microwave. My daughter tried this with her hair straightener and even with an appropriate adapter, the straightening device’s hot plates melted right off within minutes of plugging it in. There was no such thing as central heat or air conditioning in the apartment, and I’ve heard that most London hotels don’t have a.c. The five nights I spent at 18 Redcliffe Square were the coldest of my life. It wasn’t until the final night that I discovered the purpose of that metal hot plate  on the wall…a furnace! There was one luxurious touch in the bathroom, that I believe is standard in most British banos, a towel warmer. Sheer heaven to exit the shower and wrap up in a warm, fluffy towel!

3) Television – Prepare to be unamazed. For many hours of the night, an announcement flashes across the screen, “BBC 1 will resume at 6:00 in the morning.” There aren’t nearly as many channels as there are in America, or there weren’t in our apartment, anyway. Some of the programmes we caught were “Heir Hunters,” which, as the name implies, is a riveting show about searching for the offspring of dead people, and “Get Your Jollies Off,” which, as the name also implies, is a crude, crass comedy involving young people using foul language in silly situations. Amazingly, you can catch an episode of “Nashville,” while you’re on vacation in London. There are early morning newscasts, which I watched daily for the weather forecast. I found it a bit confusing as the weathercaster spoke about the entire U.K., rather than just London, or even England.When they said, “Rainy and cold in the north,” I wasn’t sure if they were talking about Northern Ireland, northern England, or Scotland. Most mornings the forecast was the same, “The weather today will be a little rainy, chilly, windy, yet sunny and pleasant, with rain and cold ahead.” Or, “Today, London will reach a high of 19;” I always forgot about Celsius.

4) Other peculiarities – Although we speak the same language, the Brits have different names for things. Potato chips are “crisps,” french fries are “chips,” cookies are “biscuits,” and elevators are “lifts.” The subway is called “the tube,” and, if you take it you will hear such charming phrases as, “Mind the Gap,” and “Alight here for museums.” I’m sure you’re aware that the British drive from the passenger seat, and on the left side of the road, but you should know that’s how they walk, too. So, if you’re in a crowded tube station, be sure to head down the left hand side of the hallway, rather than the right, or you’ll be swimming upstream against traffic. Wherever you are, listen closely to the people speaking around you. You will undoubtedly hear the languages of the world, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and many, many more.

5) Finally, expect old-fashioned manners and civility by most you encounter. The British are so polite that when we were in their way, they scooted past, apologizing, with a quick, “Sorry,” and a small smile. For the most civil of all experiences, be sure to “take tea” some afternoon. You will travel back in time, enjoying silver teapots filled with hot, aromatic tea, a three-tiered plate overflowing with finger sandwiches, small cakes, and biscuits with jam and clotted cream. Enjoy it leisurely and appreciate this brief encounter with the 1930’s. It will end soon enough and you’ll return to all the hustle and bustle of 21st century America.

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Matchmaking

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images-1“Do you kids really think this is how it works?” My husband looked up briefly from the paper he was reading to address my daughter as she sat, riveted, to The Bachelor finale on t.v. the other night. “No, not really,” she replied, “but I do like Sean and Catherine, and they are making it work,” referring to previous contestants who recently tied the knot in another television special.  It never dawned on me that my daughters might think this was a legitimate way of meeting a spouse until my husband asked the question. Surely, surely they had to know that although this is billed as “reality television,” it’s about as far from reality as you can get! I suddenly felt guilty that I’d never made this point with them before.  I have spent lots of evenings watching the show with my girls, who seem to get a kick out of it. They even attend Bachelor-watching parties with their friends. I’ve always thought it was harmless entertainment, although my spouse has now called this into question. If you’re blissfully unaware of the premise of the show, I’ll briefly explain. Each season a bachelor or bachelorette, in this case, a divorcee with a child, is expected to propose to one of 25+ prospects after 9 weeks of courting. I should have asked my girls, “What self-respecting woman would leave her job, family, LIFE, for a couple of months to flirt with some stranger while cameras film every second, in the hope that she’ll be rewarded with an engagement ring?” Or, “What kind of father would leave his seven-year old daughter at home so that he could parade around half-naked with two dozen women for all the world to see?” As the season progresses, the girls go on group dates with the bachelor, unless he leaves a note inviting one of them on a private date. At the end of the week, he hands out a few roses to the chosen, then sends the others home. Up to the last week of the season, he is seriously courting at least two girls, even going to their home towns and meeting their families. He invites each of them to spend a night with him in the “Fantasy Suite,” where he promises they can be alone without the cameras “to talk and get to know each other better.” (Yeah, right.) Why didn’t I shout, “Girls, don’t ever go alone with a man to a fantasy suite unless you’re married!” Or, “If your boyfriend takes another woman into a fantasy suite, break up with him asap.”  On the last night of the season, the bachelor shows up with an engagement ring for one of the two girls left. He breaks the heart of one and is supposed to propose to the last. Ugh! This show really pushes all my buttons and I can’t believe I haven’t made that clear to the three people entrusted to my care, my daughters.

If you’ve wasted any time watching this season’s Bachelor, you know that the man of the hour was a Latin hunk named Juan Pablo. Viewers were excited by the prospect of this Venezuelan soccer star finding love in prime time. He seemed so sweet and demure when he was one of the prospects on a prior season of The Bachelorette; sadly, JP’s true colors became obvious pretty early on. He managed to insult several young women this season who had the good sense to exit before the “rose ceremony.” Apparently, Juan P had the annoying habit of condescendingly uttering, “It’s okay,” in response to any complaint or comment from one of the girls. One contestant told him that if she heard, “Ees ok” once more, she would strangle him! Claire, who ended up as a finalist on the show, and, sadly, has the same name as my eldest daughter, got uber-cozy with the bachelor one night in the ocean. The next day, he scolded her, reminding her that he had a young daughter for whom he was trying to set a good example. Really? Oh, I see, he couldn’t control himself when a beautiful young thing in a bikini threw herself at him. The finale was priceless; he was in a helicopter on a date with the same ocean-faring Claire, and when he leaned in to whisper sweet nothings, she looked horrified. A few minutes later, she looked into the camera and admitted that he said, “I barely know you, but I’d like to…” followed by something so foul that even she wouldn’t repeat it. Finally, he chose another girl, Nikki, but refused to give her an engagement ring or even tell her that he loved her. This must have truly upset production execs, as this bachelor seemed to be rejecting all that the show stands for – finding true, everlasting love.

Despite my protests, I’ve begun wondering if The Bachelor’s tactics aren’t similar to old-fashioned match making, albeit completely over the top, without parents or professionals overseeing the matching? My husband and I know several couples from countries where “arranged marriages” are a tradition, and they have loving, lasting relationships with their spouse and children. And, what is so different from all the online dating sites, like match.com or e-harmony? We’ve heard several stories of recent online matches that have led to the altar. I guess the old adage that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince may be true. In fact, look at how my husband and I met in college. We went out with a lot of different people,  attended numerous on-campus parties with different dates, before we eventually asked each other to various social events. Eventually, we met each other’s families and became engaged. Please note there were no fantasy suites or rose ceremonies, however. We’ve all dated and broken up with people before, although, usually not in a public forum. Ok, girls, I’m beginning to relax a little. I suppose The Bachelor is nothing more than an accelerated dating service entered into by willing adult participants who accept its convoluted rules of engagement. But, it’s NOT reality. 

Worrywart

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imagesDo moms ever stop worrying about their children? Will there come a day when we can proclaim, “Whew! I’m done worrying about Susie?” (Or Sam?) As a mother of three grown children, ages 26, 23, and 19, I’m afraid the answer may be no.

All three of my girls are out of the house, pursuing degrees or working in the real world. So, why do I still occasionally wake up with a start in the middle of the night and go through the mental exercise of trying to remember where each of them is and what they may be doing at that very moment? (Of course, the middle of the night for me is 12:00 a.m.; prime time for them to be out doing whatever it is they do with their friends at that hour.) I spend the next few minutes hoping that the youngest will do well on an upcoming exam, the middle will impress her boss at work, and the eldest will succeed in her presentation to her grad school class. Then I move on to issues involving their safety and wellbeing. My maternal mind goes crazy worrying about potential hazards they may be facing; an upcoming trip involving a long drive on a busy highway, a walk across campus alone and in the dark, an possible intruder at one of their apartments. Then I spend the rest of the night wide awake, tossing and turning, and causing my husband to sleep restlessly, as well.

One recent afternoon I realized my eldest daughter hadn’t responded to a text I sent the night before; nor had she answered her phone when I called that morning. I texted again, “Are you ok? Call when you can.” No reply. Immediately, I texted both her sisters, “Have you heard from Claire?” When they both texted, “No,” I went into full panic mode, realizing I did not have the phone numbers of any of her friends at Auburn, nor did I have any contacts there who could check on her. How stupid of me! She lives in an apartment by herself. How would anyone know if something had happened to her? And, if someone did, how would they know to contact me? I was about to call the Alabama state troopers as well as Auburn security officers when my phone rang; it was her! “Mom. What is it? I am out to dinner with friends and was busy studying last night and had my phone silenced. Is there a problem?” Instantly realizing I might have overreacted, I replied, “Oh no, honey! Just wanted to catch up. Never mind…” She did give me the number of a friend, though, so I can call and bother her the next time I work myself into a tizzy.

One of my friends is a grandmother now. She told me once how worried she was about her grandchild who was having some developmental difficulty. “Just when you’re about to stop worrying about your kids, they give you grandchildren to worry about,” she said, laughing. Oh no. I don’t think I can take it. Some nights, when I am able to sleep, I have nightmares that I have a new baby. Instead of being thrilled, as I was with the birth of my other three, I’m terrified that all those worries about school, tests, sports, college applications, job applications are about to begin again. Then it hits me that my husband and I are in our mid-50’s and I scream out loud, awaking both of us.

Last Sunday, the gospel reading was Matthew 6: 24 – 34. When the priest read, “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life,” my husband and I both looked at each other.  Message received. Rather than accept this undesirable state of worrydom that I seem to live in, I’ve decided to take steps to deal with it. I realize I will always care about my children’s wellbeing, but I don’t need to worry about it. I’ve resolved to pray more, stay busy, and divert attention from midnight mental ramblings. I figure we’ve made it this far without my imagined scenarios becoming realities, which is a minor miracle in itself. My new motto is, “Don’t worry, be happy!” And, if all else fails, there’s always Ambien.