Sunday, January 24, 2010

What does Barbie drink?

Last weekend we had some very good friends over for dinner who we hadn't seen since before Christmas and we finally got to exchange Christmas presents. Although they often buy things I wouldn't for the kids, they are extremely thoughtful and always hit the nail on the head in terms of choosing something the kids love. This year they got DD a Barbie.

This is her first Barbie doll ever and she was very excited about it. It came with a kitchen, so she is a very domestic Barbie. Hmm . . . Oh well. That's OK. DD knows that in our house the kitchen is really Dad's and Mom only gets to use it on school nights to make sure we eat early enough to get everyone to bed on time. Anyway, DD was delighted and has played with it a lot in the last week.

I had to laugh when I saw the 'instructions' that came with the kitchen though. Not instructions on how to assemble it - no, it came pre-assembled. Look:

I guess they think Barbie users are really dumb if they need to have explained to them how to put the lid on a saucepan, or how to open a cupboard door! About the only 'instruction' there that might actually have been needed was showing that the hook above the oven was to hang the chandelier from. There was also an image of all the (very tiny!) parts that came with it.
Can you spot the item that surprised me? (Think about this blog post title.)

You see, there's a tea kettle, and even some honey for the tea, but no tea cups. However, Barbie does have champagne glasses!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A little bit of snow

Americans who live in the snow belt always laugh when the UK grinds to a halt because of an inch or so of snow. I was ready to do the same thing this week, but then I saw this satellite photo of the UK today:

There are a few places where you can still see green - part of Anglesey, and on the south coast in Devon - but not many! I grew up on the Wirral and we rarely if ever got any snow there, though we could often see it on the Welsh hills. It looks just as white as the rest of the UK today! I have no doubt that they really don't have enough ploughs, sanders and gritters to deal with this, even it is only a few inches.

My old secondary school is closed and will not open again until next Monday at the earliest. I don't EVER remember school being closed for bad weather when I was a kid, though my primary school closed once for a day because the boiler broke and there was no heat. I was intrigued to see this on the high school website though:

It looks as though they are trying to avoid the issue of having to make up the snow days by asking kids to login from home and complete work that's been assigned. (VLE = Virtual Learning Environment) I've never seen that done over here. Boy, I wish we could have done that last year when we had 9 snow days and ended up losing 3 days from our April vacation so that we could still complete 180 days of school as required by the end of June. (State schools in the UK have to put in 190 days I believe.) We have a VLE (Moodle) in my district, but relatively few teachers use it, and some of the towns in the district still only have dial-up internet access so it's not practical to require kids to use it anyway!

Only a few miles away from my hometown, the independent school my father used to work at also closed yesterday and today (in common with all Wirral, North Wales, Wrexham schools and most Cheshire schools) but will be open tomorrow:

The school will be open for all pupils on Friday 8 January.

Notes for parents
The car parks will still be very icy and potentially hazardous, especially after an overnight frost, so extreme care will be needed; please do not stay on site any longer than it takes to drop your children off. Staff will be on hand in the car parks to assist. For safety reasons and because of extremely limited parking, we are not allowing sixth formers to drive to school.

Buses should be running as normal tomorrow, though buses will not be driving through the villages and so will drop pupils off on the way home on the main roads at the points where they were picked up in the morning.

I guess it's a good thing schools all seem to have websites nowadays to make these announcements! Here in New England, snow days and delayed starts because of bad weather are so common that most schools districts now have automated calling systems in addition to posting cancellations and delays on local radio and TV. I remember once driving most of my 60+ mile commute to work before hearing on the radio that school was cancelled for the day. At that point we didn't have an automatic calling system, and where I lived I couldn't get the TV or radio stations that the school posted its cancellations on. Where I lived the weather was fine so I set out for work! After that, I learned to log on to the school email system or website every morning in the winter just in case!

British qualities

Yael pointed me in the direction of this article on differences between the British and Americans.
The opening line ("The first thing I ever heard about Americans was that they all carried guns. ") reminded me of the kids I was teaching when I decided to leave for the US for a couple of years - in every class there was at least one kid who responded to my announcement with a comment along the lines of, "Ooh miss, you'll get mugged!"

The author of this article, Geoff Dyer, would clearly like to be American.
It turns out that the qualities that make us indubitably British — that is, the ones that we don’t share with or have not imported from America — are no longer conducive to Greatness. They actually add up to a kind of ostrich stoicism that, though it can be traced back to our finest hour (the blitz, the Battle of Britain), manifests itself in a peculiar compromise: a highly stylized willingness to muddle on, to put up with poor quality and high prices (restaurants, trains), to proffer (and accept) apologies not as a prelude to but as a substitute for improvement. We may not enjoy the way things are, but we endure them in a way that seems either quaint or quasi-Soviet to American visitors.
Sadly, it's too long since I spent any significant time in the UK to really be able to comment on this, either to agree with it or refute it! Of course, Geoff Dyer's audience for this article is primarily Americans as the article was written for the New York Times and that may have something to do with the slant of the article.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Birthday parties

mom/Mum and Nappy Valley Mum both blogged about kids' birthday parties recently. I blogged about food at birthday parties, but they had both actually given birthday parties for their kids. You see, we haven't actually done a party in a couple of years now because we hit upon the idea of asking the kids if they'd like a party or a family trip instead. Both children, very wisely, have chosen the family trip. Nothing huge or expensive, you understand. Trips down to Maryland to visit their great-aunt and uncle, and the kids get to choose which activities we do when we're down there. Things like the Baltimore Aquarium or the Smithsonian Museum. My favorite memory is of watching them looking through the fence at the White House and DS turning around and saying quite scornfully "I could climb this fence really easily!"

I think in 2010 we may have to have parties for them and I'm thinking I need to start planning now - especially as to what will go in the goody bags! On the other hand, if we do a trip to the UK to visit family, I could avoid the whole goody bag issue that Mom/Mum talked about, by telling them that's their birthday 'party' this year.

Monday, January 04, 2010

On Being Foreign

A commenter on another expat blog, pointed out this article from a couple of weeks ago in The Economist:
The funny thing is, with the passage of time, something does happen to long-term foreigners which makes them more like real exiles, and they do not like it at all. The homeland which they left behind changes. The culture, the politics and their old friends all change, die, forget them. They come to feel that they are foreigners even when visiting “home”.
I know I feel like a foreigner now visiting the UK :-(

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Years ago

I'm copying the idea for this blogpost from NFAH. She wrote about changes in her life in the last 10 years. I went a little further back than that.

20 years ago . . .

10 years ago . . .

Now . . .

I couldn't imagine being a parent, even though many of my contemporaries were already
I was a mother of a four-month old and was just beginning to sink into post-natal depression that was partially resolved by returning to work

I am the mother of two highly articulate, demanding, and gorgeous children

I commuted 10 miles a day
I commuted 130+ miles a day

I commute 40 miles a day

I was in the best shape of my life and had my cholesterol under control without the help of medication
I was overweight and had high cholesterol
I am still overweight but my cholesterol is back under control with the help of medication

I wore contact lenses most of the time, and rarely wore my glasses
I wore contact lenses much of the time, and sometimes wore my glasses
I wear glasses most of the time because even when I wear my contact lenses I still need to wear reading glasses

I had no grey hair
I was beginning to go grey but could hide it with the right hairstyle

I am most definitely grey-haired!

I was a UK citizen working in the US on a J-1 (exchange-visitor) visa and had no idea whether I'd still be in the US by the end of the year
I was a UK citizen waiting for my US citizenship interview with the INS, unable to vote either in the US or the UK.

I am a dual-national, citizen of both the US and the UK, able to vote here in the US but not in the UK

I was looking forward to a busy year of travelling - a trip to Canada in February and Florida in March, the UK in early summer, followed a trip to Taiwan
I was looking forward to a trip to the UK once I had my new US passport

I am again waiting for a new US passport and hoping to get to the UK for the first time in several years within the next year

I lived in a work-provided 1 bedroom apartment
I lived in a 2 bedroom house with my husband, with only his name on the mortgage as he bought it just before we got married

I live in a 4 bedroom house with both my name and my husband's on the mortgage

I had colleagues who used Apple IIe computers and Macs
I had a Mac and dial-up access via (I think) a 4800 baud modem to the internet at home (but by August of 2000 we had 52k dial-up with wireless access - ooh!) and broadband access from the Mac on my desk at work. Some sites were too slow to load from home so I only ever visited them at work, or I surfed at home with images off
I have a work-provided Mac laptop, and wireless broadband access to the internet at work and at home, but my access at work is filtered, so there are some sites I can only access from home

I didn't know anyone who had a cell-phone
I couldn't imagine a time when I wouldn't want a telephone land-line as we had such bad cell-phone coverage at home

Would love to cancel the telephone landline but we still have terrible cell-phone service at home

I was teaching the main subject I had trained for years to teach and loving it
I was teaching a subject I had no formal qualifications to teach and loving it

I teach the second subject I'm qualified to teach and finding it harder than the one I had no qualifications for!

I had never been online (although a year later we had an email system at work that only a few of us used - access was via a 300 baud modem!)
I had some online friends who I'd never met in person

I still have some of those same online friends and have still never met them, and have made the acquaintance of many more in the meantime

I didn't know that the man I was destined to marry only lived a few miles away but I wouldn't meet him for another five years, after I had moved to a different part of the state
I thought I was married to the most wonderful man ever

I know I am married to the most wonderful man ever

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