I haven’t done a Makeup Monday in a while. I got pink eye at the beginning of the Summer and I’ve been keeping the makeup minimal to prevent contamination with my germy eyes.  I’ve also gotten pretty sick of doing my nails too. When summer got here I just needed a break from everything!

But now I’m back with a minimalist manicure and a great new product that I’m kind of in love with. (What? This is a minimalist manicure for me!)

green dot manicure

If you do gel nail polish, you know it’s the best to apply. It “dries” super quickly so you can get a great manicure and not worry about smudging anything. But removing gel polish is the worst. Really a complete drag. You can either soak your nails in acetone which is smelly and awful, or try to come up with a system of soaking cotton balls and wrapping your nails with tin foil. That method is drippy and inconvenient and I don’t recommend it.

I stumbled across a new nail polish removal product while I was reading one of my favorite nail blogs. Intrigued by the product, I ordered it for myself. And wow!  It’s fantastic! Totally non-drippy things you stick on the tops of your fingers. They took my polish off in less than ten minutes. No scraping involved either! The polish pretty much just fell off.  They’re called NailMates.

nailmates

They come with thin, little sponges that you dip in acetone polish remover and slide into the pink rubber covers. You wear them on your nails and they work like a charm. You’d think that they would be pretty leaky but they aren’t at all. You can’t exactly type at your computer while you wear them, but it’s way better than being stuck at a table with your hand in a bowl of acetone. And NailMates are reusable. Just rinse out the sponges and that’s it.  I’m just loving these!  They’re $14 for a set (includes shipping) and right now they’re giving an extra set of liner sponges for free. You can get them here.

I wasn’t paid to recommend them and I bought them with my very own money. I just think they’re a great product.

 

Have you ever thought about people from the Middle Ages and how gross and disgusting their teeth must have been? Ew. As an American I have vowed to always have beautiful teeth. It says something about having good teeth on our money, doesn’t it?  Well, you can’t have good teeth without toothbrushes and toothpaste.  That’s kind of a no-brainer.

So this week we’re going to stock up on dental supplies. Buy a tube of toothpaste for each person in the family and a couple of toothbrushes per person too.  If you’re feeling particularly valiant you might want to throw in some dental floss as well.

Don’t blow this one off, guys. Do it for the people around you who don’t want to smell your bad breath!

Fave Animal Video

July 15, 2014 · 0 comments

in Funny, Pets, Videos

This might just be my favorite animal video ever. Make sure you watch til the very end.

(First of all “license” is a really tricky word to spell. I know there are c’s and s’s but I can’t ever remember which goes where. Same thing with “excersise”. Or is it “exercize”?  I’m really a good speller, I swear!)

Texas DPS

York, although being 16, was a bit of a dawdler about getting his driver’s permit and license. We signed India up for a driving school and she did all her stuff and got her license and it was not too hard. We decided to do the homeschool option for York because . . . we’re dumb and cheap. The homeschool version costs about $120 less than a driving school. The would-be driver has to do an online course but you do every speck of driving with the would-be driver.

Let me tell you, it’s most definitely worth $120 to make someone else learn to drive with your child. You eventually are the one who has to put in the major hours with them either way, but it’s nice having someone else show them the ropes at the beginning when they are know-nothing idiots. There isn’t anything more frustrating than a teenager who thinks he’s a great driver just because he’s played lots of driving video games. You can explain til you’re blue in the face that the very nature of Forza Motorsport is the complete opposite of driving in the real world (you have to obey speed limits, stay on the road and no running over pedestrians), but he’ll think he’s an expert already. Ah, the hubris of a teenage boy!

York did an online course for Driver’s Ed that was pretty straightforward. The rotten part was actually doing the driving.  Here in Texas you have to do about a million and a half hours of driving before you get your license (a bunch of it has to be done at night, too). This is definitely a great idea but it’s se emotionally taxing that I found myself giving York excuse after excuse about why he couldn’t drive. I had just been through the white knuckles with India, I needed a year or so to recover before I got to this business with York. Not to mention I didn’t want him to drive with his siblings in the car; if he was going to kill us I wanted him to take along as few people as possible. When there are six kids at home it’s quite difficult to find a time when only one person needs to go somewhere.

When you have toddlers and older people laugh and say, “wait until he’s a teenager” you look at them and think, “what’s worse than a meltdown in the middle of Target?”. You imagine a surly teenager and wonder “how hard can that be?”  The idea of not having to hire a babysitter anymore/make food other than chicken nuggets/wipe anyone’s bum makes the teenage years shine from afar with a rosy glow.

It’s things like teaching your kid how to drive that are simply too hideous to explain to a young mother. How do I communicate the frustration and terror of making sure my child understands how to not kill himself and others with this one ton mass of steel and soft Corinthian leather*.

York and I (I am the teacher of children learning to drive. Let’s just say that Mister’s temperament is not quite suited to patience in the driver’s seat. Plus I’m a better driver to begin with) muddled through our many hours of driving together until it was the magical day to get his driver’s license. Instead of getting it at the dumpy little office ten minutes from our house, everyone told us to go to the big fancy office way on the other side of town because it was so much easier to get an appointment. So York made an appointment–only a two-week wait!– to take the driving test way over there. I looked at the DPS† website to make sure we had the proper paperwork, although the website is as vague and unhelpful as possible (“Bring the Driver Safety Form”. Well, which of the eight hundred forms and papers that I’ve been given over the last few months is that? Why can’t they just say, “the form you got from the online driving school saying you finished all the lessons”??? Oh that’s right, this is the government. Why make something easy to understand when you can be cryptic and misleading instead?)

I pulled York out of school early (Of course driving tests are only given during school hours. Of course!) and toodled over to the DPS (a 35-minute drive and $2 in tolls) and got in line for his appointment. The lady who worked there was sweet but very insistent that we were missing a form. The form that I had left sitting on the table because I didn’t realize it was one we had needed. Naturally. It was too late to go get it and return before the office closed (an hour and ten minute round trip, remember!)   At this point York was about to lose it because he was not about to wait another two weeks for his driving test. The Prom was in two days and he wasn’t crazy about his mother driving him and his date around.

The sweet DPS lady assured us that if we arrived first thing in the morning we would be able to get a walk-in appointment. So we were on the road at 7:00 a.m. the next day to get to the DPS on the other side of town when it opened. We had all the correct paperwork and York and the driving instructor set off.

And they were back sixty seconds later.

Seems our safety sticker had expired a year earlier. In all fairness we were driving India’s car and I had no idea. So we drove around the surrounding area until we found a shop that could do a safety inspection. An hour later we were back at the DPS only to realize it wasn’t the safety sticker that had expired, but the car registration (which is a sticker on the dashboard so it’s very easy to tell when the date passes.)  There is no way we had time to drive over to a completely different government office to get a new registration so we decided to go back home and get my minivan.

Fast forward half an hour; we were about to get in my minivan when I realize that it too has an expired registration (really, people, I can’t be expected to stay abreast of everything). Our only other option was the giant pick-up we owned that mostly just sits in the driveway until Mister decides that he needs to take stuff to Goodwill. Only India had taken it to school that day because we’d been using her car for the driving test.

So we went to the High School and had her run the keys out to us in the parking lot. We swapped cars (registration and safety stickers were up to date!) and drove back to the DPS. York had never driven the truck in his life but that just made it all the more wonderful.

By this point it was noon. We’d originally left for the test at 7 a.m. Yay for missing another day of school!

York took his test and passed (hooray, because I really would have strangled him if we’d gone to all that trouble and he’d flunked), and it was very anti-climactic. We were just happy to be out of there. As we exited we passed a sulky teenage girl who was standing there with her mother while a DPS employee informed them that the license plates on their car were expired and they’d have to come back another day. “But I pulled her out of school for this! Now I’ll have to pull her out again!”, her mother wailed. I hear you, sister. I hear you.

So York got his driver’s license, hopped in the car all by himself and drove back for the last couple of hours of school.

The worst part of all of this is watching your child drive away alone for the very first time. Your heart has just driven off and you are sure this child will certainly die on the road. You spend the rest of the time praying every few minutes that he will be safe and not be killed. Like really, honest-to-God praying. For the first week you will nearly cry with sadness every time your boy wants to drive somewhere, certain are you that you will never see him again.

But then a few days later you find yourself making dinner and realize you forgot to buy an avocado. So you hand your son some money and have him run to the store and it’s like angels started singing and the world is bright and wonderful now that you can make somebody else run your errands.

Just like all the other things that happen when you’re a parent and your child goes through milestones, it is bittersweet. This one is the most bitter and sweet I’ve experienced, though. It’s so great to not have to pick people up from play practice at 10:00 at night. Or drive them across town at 6:30 am for the SAT. Or to have an extra set of wheels when one kid needs to be picked up from a birthday party at the exact moment when another kid needs to be at a soccer game. This is pure bliss. But now my child has the power to inflict death, whether on himself or someone else. I mean, I guess he could have stabbed somebody before but it’s not quite the same thing as a car crash. He also has the power to say he’ll be one place and be someplace else far, far away. That could mean trouble.

This parenting job, though, is all about letting go and hoping it all turns out semi-decently. It’s hard but it’s good.

Of course I’m saying all this now but let’s see how much of a basket-case I am when we take India to college next month.

 

 

 

†Here in Texas we have the Department of Public Safety not the DMV.

*You younger people won’t get this reference. But you should. I totally remember this car commercial starring the ever-suave Ricardo Montalban. Most people remember him saying “rich Corinthian leather”, but that is erroneous. Also erroneous? The leather that Chrysler used came from New Jersey, not Corinth.

So, did you have a nice break from worrying about food storage? Let’s get back down to business here. You will most likely be traveling this summer at some point so let’s have this be preparedness every-other-week for the next few weeks. On the off-weeks you can catch up with any items you might have missed before.

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This week let’s concentrate on pasta and noodles. Pasta is fantastic because it’s one of those comfort foods that can be served a million different ways. Dress it up with a homemade marinara sauce that’s been simmering all day, or throw a box of mac and cheese together when you’re too tired to manage anything else. Pasta is always perfect. (Unless you’re eating paleo. But let’s not go there today.) It’s also cheap! Yay for filling, cheap food!

The sky’s the limit this week. Whether you prefer spaghetti, egg noodles, macaroni or some of everything, this is your chance to stock up. I like to buy one pound bags and store several in jumbo ziplocs to keep out the weevils. Weevils just adore pasta.

I would recommend between 3-5 bags of pasta per person. That’s about 25 bags for us. It seems like a lot but you just can’t go wrong with pasta. If you need gluten free then you might want to chip away at this since that’s a little pricier. Don’t forget asian glass noodles! They’re a great gluten-free option too!

I originally wrote this series of blog posts as a “look what we did” sort of thing. But I keep having people ask questions about our trip because they’ll be doing something similar and want some advice. So I’ve decided to make these posts heavy on details. I know most of you won’t care and you’re welcome to skim all the wordiness. But I am a fan of details when I travel so I will give you my opinions and knowledge and you can gloss over what you don’t care about.

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Because India is graduating this year and York is graduating next year, Mister and I decided to do a combined graduation trip and take both of them to London and Paris. Those poor kids have never been anywhere. (Oh wait, they did get that ultra-luxurious road trip around the South in my minivan last summer.) As any parent knows, the end of the school year is a complete joke and nothing happens in High School once all the AP and standardized testing has finished. May is also the perfect month to go to Europe since it’s not horrifically crowded and the weather is generally pleasant. Mister is in grad school and this ended up being the best time for him to take a little break too.

So off we went. Mister used to live in London (both on a church mission and as a student) and it is his favorite city in the whole world. It’s a great place to start a foreign trip because it’s different but not too different. You can get your feet wet with international travel without becoming overwhelmed.

We rented a flat through HomeAway instead of getting a hotel because we like a little breathing room. Also, it gets incredibly expensive to eat out for every meal, so we wanted a kitchen so we could at least make breakfast. And we wanted a washing machine (if you pack light you have to be able to wash clothes!). India and York weren’t about to share a bed so we needed at least three beds (one king-sized because there is a rule when I am asleep that I cannot be touched. I need as much space as possible. You have no idea how hard it is to find a king-sized bed in Europe.) and renting a flat can be cheaper than getting two hotel rooms. We found a great place in Bloomsbury (halfway between the British Museum and Kings Cross station). It was in a less-touristy area that had lots of shopping nearby and a tube stop a couple of blocks away. It looked like an old Victorian hospital. Maybe it used to be; I don’t know.

Bloomsbury flat

Our flight was on British Airways. They have nonstop service from Austin to London so the flight was only about nine hours. It makes such a difference, not having a connection! Because the tickets were el cheapo, we had the teensiest seats on the entire plane. It almost made me weep, walking by those spacious first class chaises longues. But when you consider that I could have bought a decent little car for the same amount of money as four first-class tickets, I wasn’t so sad. I can put up with all sorts of nonsense for nine hours. It was a new plane, which had all the bells and whistles like a USB port at every seat and tons of free movies and TV shows on our own personal little screens. (No wifi, though, which is beyond strange.)  Also the windows didn’t have shades that went up and down. They had dimmers, so the whole window got darker or brighter with the push of a button. It was a nice concept but felt really weird and didn’t work so well.

Anyway, we got to London bedraggled and cross, as is usually the case when you have to sleep sitting up. I tried out a new neck rest thingy called the Sky Siesta and I really liked it. I can’t stand those neck pillows that feel like somebody is choking me, so I tried this one. It worked a million times better than a traditional travel pillow or a wadded up sweater. I brought along ear plugs and fuzzy socks to make it a little better. I only got four hours of sleep but I think that’s about the best I can hope for.

Sky Siesta

We took the tube to our flat (it was on the same Underground line as Heathrow airport so we didn’t have to switch trains or anything. Phew). We bought Oyster cards at Heathrow Airport that were for one week of unlimited travel in zones 1-2 (which is where all the touristy stuff is). We added on one trip into London (about 45 minutes away). If you were flying out of Heathrow, you might need to add on another trip back. We left via the chunnel which is in the middle of London (close enough for us to walk to, actually) so we were set with just our travelcards. There are several electronic ticket kiosks at Heathrow where you can buy Underground tickets; however I didn’t want to buy the wrong thing so I opted to talk to a human at the huge ticket office (we were in Terminal 5. Not sure how it is in other terminals).

I was a little weirded out riding the Tube with my suitcase but tourists are a fact of life in London and people are always coming or going. There’s always somebody with a suitcase riding the tube. Nobody thinks much of it. And carrying a suitcase in the Tube is a good reason to pack light! European subways are not wheel-friendly. Whether you’ve got a suitcase, baby stroller or are in a wheelchair, good luck! The Underground was built over 100 years ago back when they didn’t give a thought about accessibility so lots of stations are completely unequipped for anything requiring wheels. There are stairs and escalators at every stop. Try to get everything in a carry-on. It really is possible!

While we were at Heathrow we got money out of the ATM. We landed with not a smidge of foreign currency on us (some people like a bit of money ahead of time. We figured that we were going to London, not Mars, so we’d get some currency when we arrived. That ended up being fine in London. Notsofine in Paris).  The worst exchange rates are at airports UNLESS you use the ATM (try to use an ATM associated with a bank. Travelex is notorious for having terrible exchange rates at their ATMs even at airports) . You will probably be charged a fee for using the ATM overseas but you’re going to be charged a fee to change your currency too, and the ATM fees are usually more reasonable.  Here is something I’ll explain in more detail in another post, but chances are your American credit card won’t work over there. 90% of the time they only take credit cards with a computer chip in them. Those are really rare in the U.S. (if you have one, you’ll know). However, your regular old American ATM card will work just fine for using at an ATM overseas but NOT for making purchases (and remember to tell your bank that you’ll be traveling overseas so they don’t wig out and suspend your card.)

Once we got settled into our flat we had lunch at a little Farmer’s Market that was going on nearby. I knew we’d be exhausted and figured a tour might keep us occupied and on our best behavior since Mister and I tend to quarrel when we’re dead-dog tired (or most anytime, really). So I arranged a sightseeing tour with London Black Taxi Tours. (Just to clarify, I booked all these tours months ago. The best tours book up fast.  Tripadvisor is really the most fantastic resource on finding things to do and whether they’re worthwhile or not.) Our driver was named Michael Churchill and he drove us around all afternoon in his honest-to-goodness black taxi.

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Mr. Churchill knows everything about everything and we knocked out a bunch of sights in a few hours. It was very interesting and he was a great guide. I particularly wanted to see lots of sights to cross off of our “been there” list that I knew we wouldn’t have time to visit in-depth (like St. Paul’s, Big Ben, Tower of London, etc).

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The weather, as you might have guessed, was rainy, cold and blustery. Spring in England is always anyone’s guess. At the last minute I threw a sweater in my bag as we were packing and I’m glad I did because I wore it–along with my unlined rain coat. Brrr!–for three days straight.

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(I was going to photoshop my face because I look a bit frightful but then I realized that I’d been up for about a million hours and had zero makeup on. So I’m just going to keep it real.)

York was particularly thrilled to count all the Bentleys and Aston-Martins around town. There were dozens! We even saw a couple of Maybachs. I don’t know how all these people have so much money, but they do. I was particularly impressed with the sweet Mercedes minivans they have over there. Why can’t we get those in the U.S.? Then maybe those snooty SUV girls wouldn’t be turning up their noses at us lowly minivan people.

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This here below is Leadenhall Market. It’s one of the earliest covered shopping areas and was where the entrance to Diagon Alley was shot in Harry Potter. We saw lots of Harry Potter sights but as I haven’t seen most of the movies, I really couldn’t appreciate them.

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One thing that makes me truly sad about churches nowadays (especially in America) is that they never have bells. Church bells are one of my favorite sounds ever. I was very thrilled to hear so many church bells in London. This is St. Clement Danes church. I wish there hadn’t been so many green trees; you can barely see the church which was quite lovely.

 

We ended up our evening in Covent Garden which is an interesting but very touristy area. It was freezing and raining and we were starving. We had dinner in a little pub which was OK, but nothing great. We were exhausted enough that we barely cared. The tube station was closed so we caught a taxi back to our flat and fell asleep quite instantly.

Let me take a moment to talk about public transportation. The London Underground (known by Americans as the subway but British people always call it the Tube) is really the best in the world. It’s super easy to navigate and figure out. When we first came to England back in the 90′s we took the Tube exclusively. As a result I really never got my bearings and had no idea where things were in relation to each other. Buses were incredibly confusing and intimidating and Mister could hardly ever get me on one. We ended up lost a lot of the time when we took them so I gave up. Back in the day you had to use this huge confusing map and I just hated it. It’s too bad because buses are usually a lot more convenient than riding on subways. And buses are great for sightseeing and getting a feel for the city you’re in. With the London Travelcard, buses and the Tube are all included in the fee (of course, you have to stay in the zones you agreed to). And once you’ve got a great app on your phone to keep you from getting lost, you’re good to go anywhere in London!

Now we are in the era of the iphone and public transportation has never been easier. There are quite a few apps to help you figure out buses and subways. My favorite, hands down, is Citymapper. It can be used in London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, New York and Washington DC. You download the city you’re in and enter where you’re starting and where you want to end up (you don’t need actual addresses either. You can just put “the British Museum” and Citymapper will figure it out for you). Citymapper tells you exactly how to get there. You can decide whether you want to walk, take a bus, the subway or a taxi and how long (and how expensive) each option will be. It lists when the next bus/train will arrive and which way to walk to get to the stop. It takes all guesswork out of riding public transportation! And the best part is, Citymapper is free!  (You’ll need a data plan for overseas. It ain’t cheap but you absolutely, positively must be able to use your smartphone if for no other reason than to keep from getting lost.)

We woke up confused and jet-lagged on Sunday, meaning to go to church. But the Mormon church that Mister used to go to was a good 45 minutes away and all the Anglican churches have their lovely services beginning at 10:30 or 11. Since we had a walking tour scheduled at 11, that made church impossible. So we took a leisurely time getting to our walking tour which was with Jonnie at Bowl of Chalk Tours. It ended up not being rainy (hooray!) but was frighteningly cold.  Our tour was in East London around Hackney and Islington. This is not a part of London that I’ve ever spent much time in, which is a pity because it’s so fascinating. Jonnie was a fantastic tour guide–funny, knowledgeable and very charming–and I highly recommend one of his walks. They’re also “pay what you like” so anyone can afford them. Heeere’s Jonnie:

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We saw such lovely sights! There are certainly a lot of ugly things in London, it being a city that was heavily bombed and then rebuilt in quite a nasty modern style. But so many quaint and lovely pockets remain.

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Below is Bunhill Fields Cemetery. Daniel DeFoe and William Blake are both buried here (as is John Bunyan. Bonus points if you know what he wrote. Hint: it’s the second most published book after the Bible). One of these tombstones belongs to a certain Jabez Hornblower. Don’t know who he was but that’s the best name ever. (Also, the green! Everything was so green! )

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This statue below is John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. It stands in front of the church he preached at. I assume it’s still a Methodist church. This one’s for you, How family!

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We were fortunate to go on our tour on a Sunday when the Columbia Road Flower Market was happening. This is a long, narrow street of flower sellers that is so crazy crowded. The rest of the week it is a ghost-town. But when the flower market is on, watch out! You can barely get through. There are cut flowers and flowers to be planted; all beautiful. I don’t think any country rivals England for beautiful flowers. Well, maybe France. And Holland.

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The best part of the Columbia Road Market is that the vendors are all hollering about what flowers they have and how much they cost, all in their cute cockney accents. I’m sorry my videos are all so short; I get very flustered and self-conscious when I start filming. Plus I hate videos that go too long; so I err on the other side and make them too short.

Our tour passed by Shoreditch church (officially known as St. Leonard’s) which is mentioned in the video that I’ll put in my Day 3 post tomorrow. It’s also the church featured in the BBC show called Rev, starring one of my favorite actors, Tom Hollander (who you would totally recognize if you saw because he is in every British show made in the last fifteen years). Rev is about an Anglican minister in modern-day London who has a dwindling little congregation. It’s funny in a dry British way and poignant and about someone who is actually religious and normal. There’s swearing in it sometimes, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I think we actually had to pay money to watch it on Amazon Prime but I haven’t liked a show this much in years, so I thought it was worth it. Anyway, we passed by the church where the show is filmed. It really is quite a seedy area but the church is very lovely. Come to think of it, there’s not an ugly church in all of London.

Shreditch church

We stopped by Old Spitalfields Market after we were done with the tour. Spitalfields was probably my favorite place to shop in London. It’s a market that is mostly filled with craft vendors. Not touristy junk or knock-off  Prada bags but pretty things and cool things and unusual things. And there are lots of inexpensive food choices around the outside of the market too. It’s in a covered building (although the sides are open) so you won’t get rained on and the wind is not bad at all if it’s a blustery day like we had.  Each day features something different at Spitalfields, so make sure you check the schedule before you shop. Some days feature a lot of antiques, some are dedicated to fashion, but they’re all great.

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We ended up the day at the Tate Britain Museum. When I was an Art History major in college, British art (the Pre-Raphaelites, in particular) were my thing. The Pre-Raphaelites are kind of an underdog in the art world. To us their works seem like rather ordinary Victorian art. But the Pre-Raphaelites were sort of ground-breaking in their time.  I particularly liked this painting of St. Eulalia by J.W. Waterhouse. Cool perspective.

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Ophelia by John Everett Millais (another Pre-Raphaelite) is Mister’s very favorite painting. It’s supposed to be at the Tate Britain but every time we’ve gone there it’s been rotated out of the collection or on loan to another museum. I thought Mister was going to lose it this time when he didn’t get to see it again.

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Now that I’ve gotten older I tend to like quieter paintings. I always hated still lifes because they were so boring, but now I really like them.  I find their calmness refreshing. All that melodramatic Italian art I used to love back in the day makes me roll my eyes. I guess I have enough drama in real life; I don’t want it in the stuff I look at as well. This painting was my favorite in the entire Tate Britain.

Cholmondeley Ladies

It’s called The Cholmondeley Ladies (pronounced “Chumley”, FYI). They were sisters born on the same day, married on the same day who gave birth on the same day. I like this portrait because it’s unusual. How many twins do you see in art? It’s also fancy but plain at the same time. And it has kind of a folksy feel to it. The sister’s faces and hands are simple even though they’ve got lace exploding all over the place.  The setting is austere but my gosh look at the baby clothes. We get it, you’re rich! This is one of those pieces of art where you’re walking through the gallery looking at the paintings thinking, “naked lady, rich nobleman, rich nobleman, naked lady, Baby Jesus” then you suddenly see this painting and stop right in your tracks: “Wow!”  I love when that happens.

We were very sorry to leave the Tate. Mostly because they have free wifi and it’s so nice to have free wifi when every map and bit of information you possess is all in your internet-dependant smartphone.

We had a nice dinner of Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding at some restaurant that I can’t remember the name of. I had treacle pudding for dessert which tasted like a very moist Twinkie, minus the cream filling. British people use the word “pudding” too much. It’s like the “aloha” of the food world over there; it means all sorts of different things. There is Yorkshire Pudding which is similar to a popover and not sweet at all. There is also “pudding” which means dessert in general. For instance you’d say, “who’d like pudding after supper?” which could mean cake or pie or whatever. There is also pudding like the treacle pudding I ate, which is a sponge cake soaked in liquid of some sort. But none of these is actual pudding as we Americans know it.  That is called custard usually. Or maybe mousse. At any rate just be aware that pudding means a lot of things in England, none of which means pudding as I know it.

Another meal-related quibble: I know it makes me seem like a spoiled, bratty American but I really do like to have ice in my drinks and although I put up with lukewarm cans of coke (no refills!) I thought to myself how superior ice is when you drink a pop. But I didn’t complain out loud. I only thought it. Because I am an American but I’m not a tacky American.

We started off our third day in London by eating a lovely breakfast made at home. I was particularly in love with this egg carton we got at the grocery store around the block.

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We then headed from our place in Russell Square . . .

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. . . to Leicester Square (I thought everyone knew it’s pronounced “Lester” but I overheard some Americans refer to it as Lie-sester. So embarrassed for them.)Leicester Square is where they have the half-priced TKTS ticket booth for a lot of the plays. Here’s how it works: many of the plays sell their extra tickets the day of the show for a discount. Sometimes they’re quite a bit cheaper, but usually it’s about 25%-40% off face value. The big name musicals rarely offer true discount tickets–they don’t need to. So if you want to see Book of Mormon or Matilda or something extremely popular, just get the tickets at the theatre box office. Otherwise, you can check the TKTS website ahead of time to see which plays they generally have tickets for. You never know what’s available until the day of the performance, though. Some theaters don’t release tickets until closer to lunchtime.

For all the less-popular shows you’ll go to the TKTS booth in the square (the back of it faces the Shakespeare fountain). There are a bunch of other little shops saying they sell half-priced tickets too but they aren’t legit. You want the stand-alone booth that says TKTS. There’s always a ginormous line. We would go most mornings so we’d be there when the booth opened at 10 am (11 on Sundays). We’d be done buying our tickets for that day’s performance by 10:45 at the latest. (A lot of shows are dark on Mondays so keep that in mind.) Some shows will sell tickets two days in advance as well. Not all of them, but some. There is a computer screen outside the booth that says which tickets are available that day and the next and how much they cost so you’ll be able to make an informed choice when you get to the front of the line. You can use that time to search your phone for reviews of the plays so you can get an idea of what’s worth seeing.

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If there is a show you are simply dying to see, it’s best to get tickets as soon as you know you’ll be going to London. If you aren’t super picky (this is London theatre, after all. It’s the best of the best–most of the time. Some plays are dumber than others) or you’d rather take the budget approach, wait until you can buy tickets at TKTS.  I knew that we’d want to see a play on Monday so I checked the box offices ahead of time to see which plays were going to be performed and made sure that we saved one of those shows for a Monday performance when the other shows wouldn’t be playing. Does that make sense? In order to maximize your show-going you need to know your options. You can check here for a master list of what plays are performed when. We generally avoid matinees since we like to sightsee during the day. There isn’t a whole lot to do at night in Europe if you don’t drink and all the museums are closed (and the shops close at 6! It’s so insane!). Better to see a play in the evening.

There are also several movie theaters in Leicester Square. One, in particular, is where they have a lot of the European premiers of big movies. While we were there people were queuing for the X-Men premier (lots of weird cosplay people) and on a different night, there was the European premier of Godzilla. And Postman Pat: The Movie. We didn’t see any of them. We can do that in the U.S.!

Soooo after that long explanation we ended up with tickets to George Orwell’s 1984. We then commenced our day of sightseeing. First on our list were the Churchill War Rooms. This is the underground area where the British ran WWII. Shortly after the war ended, this area was boarded up and left undisturbed until the 1970′s. I guess everyone was so sick of the war that it took a good long time before they wanted to think about what happened. But it was opened back up and was preserved as a museum. And it is a very good museum. Part of it is a tour of the rooms where the top people in Britain ran the war. It’s got a lot of very interesting multimedia presentations. The rest of the museum is dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill. He was quite a fascinating man and his life spans the history of 20th century England.  It sounds quite boring but it was a great museum. (Don’t take my word for it, check out the reviews on Tripadvisor!)  The museum gift shop was particularly great with a bunch of British wartime memorabilia. Love these postcards that I got!

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After visiting the War rooms we decided to do a little shopping. We headed over to John Lewis, which is the best store ever. I found the cutest children’s clothes but I didn’t dare buy too many in case they didn’t fit the kids. They have all sorts of kitchen things (as well as kitchens themselves), clothes, fabric, wallpaper, a fancy little grocery store, and of course clothes for everyone. I could easily have spent a whole day in there.

When we left the store we found that it was pouring rain beyond belief. We were trying to get down to a restaurant near the 1984 theatre and for some insane reason Mister thought it would better to find a cab. What a joke! We couldn’t get a cab to save our lives! He was convinced the Tube would be much too crowded. So instead we sat in the pouring rain for 15 minutes (we had umbrellas but still . . . ) until we realized that we didn’t have time to eat a nice dinner before our play so we just dashed into a Pret à Manger and ate some incredibly mediocre food. But at least we were starving anymore and we found a taxi immediately after we were done eating.

We ended up being plenty early to see the production of George Orwell’s 1984. Mister is an incredibly huge fan of theatre. I prefer movies myself. I like to see close-ups and luxurious scenery. But there is something wonderful about watching a play happen live. We aim to see things we can’t see elsewhere; meaning no Wicked or Les Mis. I also don’t like musicals very much. I realize that makes me a total weirdo but I just get so tired of all those cheesy songs.

We decided on 1984 because the book can be so hard to plod through and I thought it might help the kids if they have to read it at some point (doesn’t everyone have to?). Plus this production got rave reviews.  York’s been bitten recently by the drama bug and it was exciting to see him get to experience real, high-quality productions for the first time. The play was really excellent and I finally understood the story for the first time.

In 1984 the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons” is used throughout. I thought it was particularly interesting since the first line is “Oranges and Lemons, sing the bells of St. Clement’s”. And those bells of St. Clement’s? Those are the very ones I shot a video of on the first day we were here, ringing their little hearts out.  I included this YouTube video of the history of this nursery rhyme because it’s pretty interesting if you like London-y things. Kind of long but maybe worth watching if you’re sitting at the DMV, bored.

We woke up, had breakfast at our flat and hurried out to take a tour of The Changing of the Guard. This is where the guards who are watching Buckingham palace switch places with the new guards. It’s a little ostentatious and a big deal and only happens every few days. And most importantly, it doesn’t happen when it rains–what with those big bearskin hats and smart uniforms the guards wear.

Most people show up at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard but all of the interesting parts take place away from Buckingham Palace. We signed up for a tour with Matt at Fun London Tours who promised to show us everything from the best points of view. (Have I mentioned how much I love walking tours?)

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The day started out cloudy, as usual, but seemed promising as we headed over to the Royal Mall. Matt showed us a bunch of cool sights on the way there. Here’s a statue of the Queen Mum and her husband Edward VI (the king featured in The King’s Speech, which I made India watch on the flight to London. York refused, little jerk. Ironically, that king was born as the Duke of York.)

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We came across another statue of another Duke of York. This one we made York pose in front of (well, the sign at least. The statue itself is very tall). York was named after York, England (not New York which is what everyone asks him. His name is not New York so I really have no idea why they ask such a dumb question.) With there being so much York-this and York-that, it was only fitting.

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Here is the British Household Cavalry (AKA the Horse Guard). These are Irish Draft horses that have been used for hundreds of years because they look big and imposing.

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The Queen’s Guard leaves from St. James’ Palace which is down the street from Buckingham. Here you can see the cops opening the gates for the guards to exit.

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And that’s when it started to rain. And rain. Deluge is the word that comes to mind. By the end of the tour York’s raincoat was letting water through and all of us had soaking wet pants. Ah, England!

There were still some Royal goings-on, however.  The Queen was in residence and having some sort of meeting with several ambassadors. Instead of the ambassadors just showing up, the queen sends her fancy coach to go get them. Back and forth it went several times.

When the fancy  Changing of the Guard doesn’t happen, there’s just a quick, small changeover. Only a few guards come out–wearing little capes!–and it’s quite dull.

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Matt, our tour guide, took us by Clarence House which is where Prince Charles lives (The Mall–not the shopping kind–is kind of like the Royal strip. It’s all palaces and fancy royal houses everywhere.) The guard out front informed us that Prince Charles was on his way out if we wanted to stick around. Heck yeah!

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That’s his Rolls Royce Limousine. The Range Rover behind is his security. He waved at us stupid tourists as he drove by.  You can’t see him in this photo, although you can see his driver a bit. We were so close!

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Of course we had to stop by and have our picture taken with a Royal guard. What a totally boring job. I wonder how many photo albums around the world this guy is in.

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Below is one of the horse guards who is guarding the royal stables. Or something like that. These guys are actually returned fighters who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now they must wear preposterous costumes and pretend to guard horses (“Stop or I’ll stab you with my ornamental sword!”) Although I do have to say I like that snappy coat immensely.

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They have mounted guards as well. The horses have to get used to tourists. Like India.

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And here is Buckingham Palace in all it’s cloudy, touristy glory:

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Matt was such a wonderful guide. He felt terrible that we got so rained on but he showed us lots of cool parts of London around Buckingham Palace. He’s quite a fountain of knowledge and has a great sense of humor.  I’d highly recommend his tours. We liked him so much that we went out to lunch with him for TexMex food afterwards! (It was kind of like Chipotle which was so good after eating fish & chips for days.)

We had other plans for the afternoon but had to go back to the flat to change our clothes. By the time we were done it was time to hop on the train to Cambridge. (Mister’s company has offices in London and he spent the afternoon meeting with them). The kids and I went to see our old friends, The Staines family. They lived here in Austin for five years but because they’re from England originally, it was only a matter of time until they moved home.

It was so fun to see them again. York and Peter Staines were best friends back when Peter lived here (the pair of them were known simply as “Pork”). York was happy to hang out with Peter while his mom, Becky, and I took our daughters to see the King’s College choir. The architecture of King’s College is a Gothic delight. Towers and turrets and peaked windows galore.

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Even though Becky doesn’t live too far from Cambridge and her husband works in town, she’d never been to see the choir which is one of the best in the world. For shame! If you’re planning to go to Evensong you need to line up outside King’s College gate at least an hour early. Becky drove us there but she says that the college is quite far from the train station so you’ll need to take a taxi if you’re planning to arrive on the train.

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India is a big old choir nerd which is why we took this detour in the first place. She was just in heaven being there. The choir–which is made up of men and boys–was even more fantastic in person. I have a ton of their albums, but it’s so unbelievably beautiful being there live. Of course they were total stinkers and wouldn’t let us record anything or even take pictures. I was so tempted but I didn’t want to get tossed out.

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This is somebody else’s picture of the church. It’s quite a bit darker than this in real life. Absolutely magnificent. Gorgeous windows everywhere and the most stunning woodwork. We got to sit right up in the alter section in the fancy wooden seats next to the choir. This was one of the highlights of my entire trip.

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Cambridge, the town itself, was lovely and charming too.

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This scene below made me laugh because the sign reads, “Please do not lean cycles against this wall”.

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Once the concert was done (although it wasn’t really a concert. It was an actual church service) we had a nice dinner and took the train back to London. We met Mister back at our flat. After his meetings he’d gone to see the musical Once and absolutely raved about it. He’s a fan of the movie already but he said the play was even better. So put that on your lists of things to see when you’re in London if you’re fond of musicals.

There are a lot of people painting things on buildings in London, particularly in Eastern London. Of course everyone used to hate it but now it’s become really celebrated and coveted. Some of the graffiti looks nicer than others.

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Caught red-handed! Although it was fascinating to watch. How does someone get a spray can to paint with such precision? Also, I like bees.

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Y is for York!

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Some of the graffiti art is teensy tiny. This artist, Ben Wilson, paints on smashed pieces of gum.

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Graffiti isn’t the only thing on the walls of London that’s interesting. There are historical plaques all over the place. I liked this one in particular; nothing like a 400 year old pesthouse. Of course the pesthouse is long gone. It’s now a car park. I wonder if once we’re dead we can look back in history and watch things unfold. Because I bet life in the 1600′s was pretty interesting.

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I don’t know why I find the idea of a milkmaid so charming, but I do. Sadly the milkmaids were nowhere to be found.

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And while this isn’t technically a wall, it’s still a vertical surface. I totally dig this door knocker.

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There was just no end of cool stuff to see in London.