Monday, April 30, 2012

Easter egg hunts gone wrong

You'd think since chocolates from England are prized that this would be the country of wonderful Easter Egg Hunts.
At least that's what I expected.
I headed over to England thinking I could pick up whatever I needed to put on a "Grandma's Easter Egg Hunt" like Jack had never seen.
He'd never been in the United States at Eastertime so he'd missed out on my hunts which included dozens of colorful plastic eggs hidden all over in the nearby park — eggs filled with jelly beans, malted chocolate eggs, little Cadbury eggs, and sometimes, small prizes and promises of adventures with Grandma and Grandpa.
I was packing frugally so I didn't take any plastic eggs or candy with me.
I planned to buy what I needed in the United Kingdom.
The only problem was I didn't have free access to the stores and when I did, I wasn't sure what to buy. Was I getting a good price?
Was there better stuff elsewhere?
Where were the plastic eggs I needed?
At first I wasn't worried as it appeared that Jack would have lots of Easter candy. He already had a big hollow chocolate egg on the top of the TV just waiting to be opened.
I assumed his mom and dad would put on a hunt and I would just add to it.
I also figured there would be a neighborhood hunt in the nearby rolling hills.
I was wrong to assume such. England doesn't do city-wide hunts.
Then on nearly the last day my son asked his wife if they needed to buy Easter candy.
Helen looked at him and said, "No, your mom's taking care of that."
I started grabbing what I could see but this was a big, discount grocery store and there weren't a lot of options.
I ended up with a bag of smaller Cadbury eggs and then Derek found a bag of blue plastic eggs.
That was it.
I put an egg in each egg and hid all eight of them around the living room. I put a chocolate rabbit in a bowl that served as a basket.
Jack was thrilled despite the fact that there wasn't a lot of variety or color. He had nothing with which  to compare my meager hunt.
But then, he was also spared the pain of attending an American Easter Egg Hunt where once the whistle is blown, the field is cleared and most of the children are left crying.
Perhaps it's for the best.

Friday, April 27, 2012

His car, my car

We are actually looking at another trip even as we finish unpacking from the last one.
This time it's to southern California.
Since we never successfully completed a trade for a condo in England, we changed our request to something where it's warm and sunny. We figured we can hang out at the beach or pop over to Disneyland if we get bored. (We have to use our trade or lose our exchange fee.)
That trade came through this last week so in September we'll be on the Capistrano Beach.
We'll fly down and then we'll have to rent a car.
Now, over the years, we've rented more than a few such vehicles...from PT Cruisers to Sentras to the Peugeot we just drove in England.
What Marc wants
(Our favorite was the Jeep Tracker we rented in Cancun for $5 on one of those deals where you suffer through a timeshare presentation for an hour or so in exchange for saving big money.)
We've had bright blue economy cars and lots of no-name, generic economy cars. One time, the agency gave us a Tahoe because they were all out of the cheaper rides. That was a big change.
Usually they serve us just fine, getting us from here to there without too much stress or trouble. We blend in with all the other rentals and it doesn't break the bank to pay for the privilege.
This time Marc wants to break out of the mold.
He suggested we look for something snazzy like a convertible. It's only a few dollars more, he says.
I'm not sure he's right.
I've seen those options on the rental car menus...the flashy cars with no visible price tag.
So we'll see.
I'm more prone to the sensible mode of transportation, something that moves along without complaint and has room for our luggage.
What we'll probably get
But I'm willing to talk.
In the meantime I've found a few pictures of what I think he wants versus what I tend to pick.
What do you think?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jersey Boys in London

The taxi driver found it funny.
He thought two Americans coming all the way to London to see a musical about singers from New Jersey was like the busman taking his holiday on a bus.
He didn't understand that for us, seeing "Jersey Boys" in London was the ultimate treat.
Shows on the stage in London always surprise and enthrall us. We always try to fit one in when we come to town.
It's — in some ways — better than Broadway.
And Jersey Boys is our era.
Our ticket to the past
The music is familiar. We listened to it in high school. We bought 45s with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing "Walk Like a Man," "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Working My Way Back to You."
We were and are, in a sense, groupies.
So when we heard the show was playing at the Prince Edward Theatre in London we snapped up some tickets.
And it was everything we had hoped.
We learned the back story, about how the "four blue-collar kids became on of the greatest successes in pop music history" and how the mob played its part. Who knew we Idaho spuds were listening to mob money music?
The guys in the band were cool and real and funny. (They talked a little roughly in places.)
Frankie was a great singer.
Their renditions of the classic hits were spot on. No wonder this show has won the Best Musical Tony Award on Broadway, in London and in Australia, was named the #1 show in Las Vegas and keeps breaking records across America.
I've found myself listening to my CD of their favorites every day since we've been home.
We even voted to help make them the winner of this year's BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award.
They didn't win but they should have.
So when we came out of the theater to find London subject to a downpour with everybody running into the nearest pub for cover, we were smiling and quite proud of ourselves.
It was really brilliant.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The marvelous credit card

We bought a very thick book on our trip to England at the British Museum: "A History of the World in 100 Objects."
Inside, the author talks about the usual kinds of things one can see in this celebrated museum of objects owned, borrowed and a few stolen from countries around the world: the Rosetta Stone, the Mummy of Hornedjitef, the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus from Egypt, a double-headed serpent made of 2,000 tiny pieces of jade, the David porcelain vases from China, Hoe Hakananai's massive Easter Island statue, and valuable coins, pottery and figurines.
On page 646, however, the item featured is a simple credit card for the United Arab Emirates.
The King of plastics
Why would they include a credit card with such important items?
"Bank credit is, for the first time in history, no longer the prerogative of the elite," says the author. The credit card is the "ultimate symbol of economic freedom for millions, as some would see it, or, for others, of triumphant Anglo-American consumer culture."
You may laugh but the "proper" credit card became very important to us after we ran into several merchants who asked us if we had "chip and pin" cards.
Without a chip and pin (a microchip embedded in the card that only worked if the correct personal identification number was duly entered), our American Express, MasterCard, Discover and Visa cards were basically worthless.
Apparently cards with the magnetic stripe across the back were too easily stolen and used by thieves so most of the European countries (and Canada) have now gone to chip and pin versions.
Nobody had told us this.
Lucky for us, we had brought about 300 British pounds with us and my son paid us in cash for things we brought him from the United States (like Fruit Loops, Jello pudding mix and an iPad).
Thus, we got along OK except for the minor aggravation of being told our cards weren't welcome.
It's amazing how accustomed we are to whipping out a plastic card to take care of our needs.
I'm thinking the credit card included in the book isn't such a surprise or novelty after all.
It ought to be on the cover.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pinnochio's daddy

Geppetto, Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy
I interrupt my series on our trip to England to bring you a review of "My Son Pinocchio" currently on stage at the SCERA in Orem.
We saw it on opening night and were duly impressed with the props and effects, the multitude of little kids included in the cast and the colorful storytelling.
It's quite magical and reflects the creativity director Mindy B. Young always puts into her shows — a time machine that has old cartoon rerun clips in its window? A treasure Island with the biggest black-light spook I've ever seen? A blue fairy whose costume lights up and who rides around on lighted wheelies? A Pinocchio costume that looks remarkably like a wooden boy.
There's a lot to like here.
The songs are fun.
The story is fairly new, based on Geppetto's dismay at having a flawed son.
It's also an old story in that children everywhere often feel they're disappointing their parents and parents everywhere have to deal with children who don't listen and have ideas of their own.
The children in the opening scene misbehave royally with some stomping, others kicking and a few just plain erupting into full-blown tantrums. (Where did they learn to do that?)
Then later when they all have Pinocchio face masks, they're polite, considerate unrecognizable kids.
Pinocchio's a real boy
The Blue Fairy, played nicely by Rebekah Osmond is a combination of sweet and smart aleck attitude when she's approached about taking Pinnochio back. She wants to protect her reputation as a fairy who successfully grants wishes but she's also somewhat taken aback by Geppetto's request.
This is a clever adaptation of a show originally written for youth theater.
Jim Murphy plays the part of Geppetto with Robert Oldroyd playing Pinocchio. Shawn M. Mortensen is the greedy Stromboli trying to tempt Pinocchio away from his home.
Nat Reed's original puppets add to the story particularly when they deliberately confuse their sounds with what they are.
Here's a good show for children who will enjoy the puppets, the fairy, the songs and the scenery.
Parents may zone out in one or two places but overall, the show keeps moving and it's nothing but fun.
And it's only about 1 hour and 45 minutes long.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Jack of all kinds of smiles

Up in the air smiles
The whole reason we went to England was to see Jack.
The sights and sounds of London, Blackpool, Windsor, Hednesford and Great Budworth were just welcome add-ons.
Jack is the 5-year-old child of my son Derek and his English wife Helen.
He's precocious, wise and innocent all at the same time and he talks with the cutest British accent and lilt.
Everything he says is adorable, even "I don't want to eat that as well."
He and I hit it off.
We like the same jokes.
We play the same way.
In trouble again smiles
We don't like being told what to do. (I routinely got the lad in trouble with my creative plans, encouraging him to play when he was supposed to be still and pushing the boundaries a bit here and there.)
Marc says I'm subversive and he may be right. I've never been a strict disciplinarian. (As a result I have fairly free-thinking, self-willed and, I think, self-confident children.)
Easter Bunny smiles
We had one week with Jack and we made the most of it. We went to Warwick Castle where I paid for Sir Jack to learn knight skills such as whacking the post (the enemy) at critical points like his legs and head.
At Legoland I bought him a swinging whacker ball so he could fell his foes. (His mother confiscated it several times.)
At the mall, I got him a set of Bley Blades and an arena so he could hold jousting tournaments with his spinning tops. (If he loses, he "swaps" his with the winner so he always wins.)
Getting the sword out smiles
Sitting with grandpa smiles
We supplied him with magic tricks and a set of UNO cards with which to play Speed UNO. We bought him a Frisbee boomerang.
There were also some plentiful purchases of chocolate and sugar along the way.
By the time we left, this previously obedient small child was showing some signs of fiestiness, holding my hand instead of his mother's when he could and refusing to go quietly into the night like he did when we first arrived.
He started asking for something in every gift shop.
Breakfast smiles
He wanted to come home with us in a suitcase.
Do you suppose we doting American grandparents are a bad influence?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The discovery of longitude

Marc had one sightseeing request for our trip to England.
Besides visiting our grandson and the graves of his ancestors, he wanted to visit the time museum in Greenwich where they apparently celebrate the discovery of longitude.
At least that's the way I see it.
They already had latitude but they needed longitude in order to properly and safely navigate the seas.
No one had figured out how to know where they were on the open water and they were limited by having to sail along the coasts.
Marc had read a book about how it all came about and he thought it would be so cool to see the John Harrison's clocks for real.
I was unimpressed with the plan.
I wanted to shop and go to the London Zoo and shop and go back to Queen Anne's Dollhouse and shop and see Buckingham Palace again and shop.
So on a cold and rainy day we set off to find the National Maritime Museum.
Me with a good attitude
It was a long walk from the North Greenwich underground station to the Royal Observatory on the hill next to the museum.
Added in was the construction which blocked the footpath and it became an even longer jaunt.
I had worn my Teva's with socks to give my feet a break from my other shoes and hadn't planned on the puddles.
Every few minutes or so, my socks became soaked through.
(I finally came up with this ingenious plan. I bought new, dry socks and kept changing them out with the wet ones, drying the soggy ones in the bathroom hand-dryers when I could.)
It was miserable.
I was cold and wet and bored.
I tried to generate some enthusiasm but I couldn't come close to matching Marc's even when we got to stand on two meridians at once (outside, of course).
I did kind of like the cafe where it was warm and slammed with people trying to get out of the rain.
And I really liked the lady who talked about her grandfather who went around in the ....1800's...selling the time.
I suppose I'm better educated for having gone and if I ever have to answer a TV trivia question about longitude, I can probably get it right. (It's the angular distance on the earth's surface, measured east or west from the prime meridian at Greenwich, England, to the meridian passing through a position, expressed in degrees (or hours), minutes, and seconds.)
But when people ask me what I did in England that I enjoyed the most, this isn't it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A teeny-tiny everything

Marc and I have a pretty good relationship.
We enjoy one another's company and for the most part, we like being together.
But the last three days in London in the Lincoln House Hotel were truly a test.
To be fair, the management warned us.
They said right in their web advertisement that the two-bed room I wanted was only 11-meters in size.
I figured how bad could it be for a downtown London accommodation?
Walk this way
The price was fair and it was just a hop, skip and a few cobblestones from the Marble Arch underground station.
It was elegantly decorated with little lights framing the artwork on the walls and big mirrors everywhere.
The beds were firm and warm.
A skylight in the ceiling served as our window to the outside world.
But it was a teeny-tiny space with a teeny-tiny bathroom and NO wiggle room.
To get into the shower, one had to stand right next to the toilet. Once in the shower, there was no turning around or making any rash decisions like reaching for shampoo or soap.
Mind the gap
The teeny-tiny sink was just outside the bathroom door and down the step. There was no vanity space so everything had to be brought with you for brushing your teeth or combing your hair.
There wasn't any room for luggage holders so the suitcases either stood on the floor or had to be up on the beds.
Every move had to be efficiently planned.
To pass down the aisle, we had to take turns.
It was up close and personal living.
We had virtually no privacy.
What's the old joke? You had to go outside to change your mind?
It's funny now and will become a fond memory, I'm sure but right now, Marc and I are really happy to home living where there's room for a relationship.

Friday, April 13, 2012

No Tom-Tom for you

Who needs it?
I couldn't see spending the pounds when the rental car guy asked if we wanted to rent a GPS unit for our trip around England.
I know it's nice to have a lovely British voice guide you around the roundabouts but the price? They wanted 10 pounds a day or roughly $16 for each of the 10 days we'd have the car.
That seemed like a lot so I said "No!" while Marc said "Yes!"
He didn't fight hard but I could tell he was dismayed.
In retrospect, I should've bowed to his inclination since he was the one driving but this was our fifth trip to England and we ought to know our way around by now, right?
I'd blessedly blocked out how stressful it is to not only be driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car but to also be changing gears backwards and trying to make sense of the road signs at a good speed.
In addition, we'd been flying for more than 12 hours and we were kinda hashed.
So we took off in Enterprise's nice, new, silver Peugeot and headed toward Windsor out of London.
At maybe the third roundabout on our trip Marc started to turn to the right while I pointed to the left exit.
He lost confidence and swerved my direction at the last minute and we bounced off the high curb, bursting a tire and losing air.
We pulled over (which isn't easy in a country with almost no "hard shoulders" on their roads) and surveyed the damage.
The tire was flat, flat, flat and we had no clue what to do. The Peugeot's spare was underneath the car, held on by a bolt released by some unknown magic.
We ended up borrowing a mobile phone from a poor fella trying to eat his lunch nearby and called Enterprise. They sent out a handyman who changed the tire and then led us to a little town nearby with the proper tyre shop.
An hour or later we were good to go.
After that, we borrowed a Tom-Tom of one kind or another from my son and his wife and we weren't ever hopelessly lost again though it was still pretty scary.
The fish and chips were fine near the tyre shop
I feared curbs the rest of the trip, even dreamed we were hitting them. I braked as much as I could from my side and closed my eyes a lot.
We still don't know what the bill is. Marc thinks Enterprise will bear the cost while I'm expecting we bought them a nice new $300 Michelin tyre and a fee for the handyman visit.
Keep posted.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The difference between night and day

I couldn't figure out what was wrong with the airline notification process.
It was the day before we were to fly to England starting with a short flight to Las Vegas to make a connection to Virgin Atlantic.
That was scheduled for 9:50 in the morning with a long layover between flights so we could catch what is basically a Red-eye flight to Gatwick airport in London.
I was expecting an email inviting me to check in online so as I puttered around packing the last-minute items and getting the house ready for a two-week absence I kept checking the computer.
I wasn't getting anything.
By noon I was perturbed.
What you say?
I really like to have things together before we travel including boarding passes printed from the home computer.
What was the problem here?
Was Delta's site down?
Were they running the company with morons?
By mid-afternoon I was trying to break into the Delta website without an introductory email. I had a confirmation number for the flights I had booked way back in early January.
I gave the site my Delta Skymiles card numbers and every bit of information I had.
Finally I got this little note back.
"It is more than 24 hours before your flight departure time," said the message.
I couldn't believe how dumb the website was.
It certainly WAS less than 24 hours until our flight.
It was now 4:30 in the afternoon and our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:50 p.m.
Did it really say P.M.?
It was supposed to say A.M.
I stared really hard at the print-out I had willing it to change before my eyes.
We couldn't go at 9:50 P.M.
I called Delta and told the nice lady my story. Certainly there'd been a mistake, right?
My mistake that ultimately cost us $500 for new last-minute tickets and $250 for the non-refundable tickets we wouldn't be using. Ouch.
About the only good thing about is it lets Marc off the hook for being in trouble for quite a while...His occasional misses and slip-ups don't quite match this one.