Monday, May 31, 2010

peace, love and understanding

So you are all probably aware that I'm a bleeding lefty California hippy liberal... and if not, then that gentle reminder should help put the following in to better context for you.

The other evening we were walking from a London metro back to our hotel. As we came to a corner there was a homeless couple camped out under an overhand, cardboard carefully laid down, the woman ensconced in layers upon layers of blankets, the man standing, pacing, cold, dirty and tired. As we approached them we had to cross a street - this wasn't a t-bone street, but one that approached from an angle. Suddenly there was a man behind me - he had rounded the corner and seemed to appear out of no where, but he'd been walking in his silent soled creeper police shoes (creeper as in the crepe shoe sole that was so popular decades ago, not meaning the police officer was a creeper).

He caught me unaware and for a moment I was uncomfortable, sandwiched, in close quarters, between the homeless people and the beat officer. In an instant that discomfort was gone.

In a very gentle tone, with a voice full of genuine care and concern, the officer asked the man how he was doing. The man responded, resignation to his situation coming through although his words did not, and the officer continued the conversation, asking him if he had what he needed, if he'd had something hot, was adequately equipped, etc.

I was impressed.

He wasn't there to round them up and drive them away, he didn't treat them like the scourge of the earth, less than human creatures or anything like that - he spoke to them with the care and concern that people should have for those who are struggling and are not as fortunate as we happen to be in any given moment. Despite his troubles, he was treated with dignity and respect. The officer hailed him with compassion, not belittlement, and in that instant the officer and the man on the street were equals, two men talking over a cigarette, one momentarily sharing his struggles with a comrade who was there to listen and lend support.

In that moment I wholeheartedly loved that police officer.

Our marvelous adventures in London - a very brief overview

I need to review my British history. I'm seeing so much stuff that is amazing, and if I could truly, accurately place it, would be mind-boggling! Some of these places may be reduntant, but here are the results after my mental culling...

We've seen Buckingham Palace, Baker Street, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Square, Portobello Road, the Crown Jewels, the London Bridge, the Tower of London, the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Downing Street, Nottinghill, Charing Cross Road, Abbey Road, the Great Fire of London Monument, Oliver!, Billy Elliott, Covent Garden, the West End, the Bloomsbury District, Oxford Circle, Victoria Train station, the changing of the guard, SoHo, Leister Square, the London Eye, Big Ben, the Parade Guard stadium, the Mall, and Trafalgar Square. We've also met up with friends for dinner twice.

I think there might be more, but I'm not sure... we have just under 48 hours left to go. I think tomorrow is a shopping day - Harrod's and Foyle's, again, - and then maybe the National Portrait Gallery. If you can think of something else, not to be missed - send your suggestions while you can!

Big Bad Big Bus Tours London

Yesterday we bought 24 hour tickets for one of the double decker hop-on hop-off bus tours - the ones that take you all over the city, give you some information about what you're looking at, drop you at the main tourist attraction and then deliver you to the next one of your choosing...

Yes, we thought we'd done it right. As it happens, the company neglected to tell us that they would be altering the route in the morning - and failed to post notices at the stops they were avoiding. We waited, just outside our hotel at a most convenient stop, for well over an hour for a service that should have been stopping by every 10 minutes or so... after getting fed up, and unable to reach any one by phone, we walked to another stop.... where we waited for another 30 minutes - we could see our bus-line in the distance, but they kept turning away. So we walked to where they were picking up, and hopped on - finally.

It was cold, there wasn't a live tour guide, the plug-in audio guide was full of static, and in some seats not working - which prevented us from sitting as a family - and our tickets had lost their true value to us as we'd spent over 2 hours of tour time trying to find a bus stop that was functioning, without advice or indication from the company.

They do have a disclaimer for circumstances beyond their control... the frustrating thing was, the other touristy double-decker hop-on hop-off bus lines operating kept on stopping at all the stops our service skipped - we were passed up well over 20 times by competing agencies while we waited and wandered aimlessly around trying to find some service.

As part of our purchase we'd bought tickets for the Tower of London and a river cruise - by the time we actually got to the tower our 24 hours tickets were about to expire - we didn't get to take advantage of the river cruise, nor we were entitled to get back on the bus to come back to our hotel, and we didn't get to finish the rest of the route.

Altogether, while I enjoyed the time on the bus after we found seats with functioning static free audio, I know the next time I come, and I'll be back and do another bus tour as I didn't get the full overview, I'll use a different company. Boo on your poor communication in a situation where it would have cost you nothing, boo on you, big bad Big Bus Tours.

BRAVISSIMO, Bravissimo!!!

Making the most of more!

That's their slogan, and it's perfect.

This post is for big breasted women. If you aren't one, or if you don't have one in your life that you love, then move along now, move along.

I got lost in here yesterday, in one of their London shops. It is a bra and clothing store for women - they don't stock anything smaller than a D - teeny tiny band sizes on up to the more than plentiful... and they go up, I think to a K. I have no idea, nor do I ever want to know, how large a K is, but if you wear one, then this is the place for you!

Not only do you get a private fitting - and this has nothing to do with taking your measurements, but a more real life approach to getting you in to the size, shape and support you require - but then the fitter also runs around pulling the different styles and sizes that may be best for you. I hate bra shopping - more than I hate most other things that I hate... there aren't many things I really hate, it's a very passionate negative emotion, but bra shopping is one of them. Yesterday was the closest thing to bra shopping heaven that I think you can find on planet Earth. It was glorious. I bought dresses that fit - three dresses that fit my body and my breasts - I don't remember the last time I owned a single dress that fit both parts at the same time. Life altering. I actually like dresses - a very little known fact - one you wouldn't have had any idea of, as you rarely, rarely see me in them... actually I like buttoned shirts too - another article of clothing you wouldn't have seen me in as I can't find ones that actually fit. Now - you'll see my wardrobe evolving, slowly as there are budgetary concerns, but evolving nonetheless.

In addition to bras they have pajamas with super soft built in support, shirts and dresses cut to fit your actual breast size (you don't have to buy a larger size to fit your boobs, strapless dresses that stay up, button down tops that don't bunch, burst open or gather and so much more... their clothes come in your true body size and then three boobies styles - curvy, really curvy, and super curvy - depending upon how bountiful you are you pick the C, RC or SC.) They also have bathing suits cut to fit your true size as well.

This is almost revolutionary for my life. If you wear a D, either in US or Europe, you're quite likely truly something else... when's the last time you went to Victoria's Secret and found an abundance of comfortable bras, or a wide selection of bras above D or DD? We tend to buy larger band sizes and smaller cups than our true band and cup. I have been fitted in the US on numerous occasions but never at a shop that had this selection - over 10,000 bras in varying sizes in the stockroom at all times. CRAZY!!!

And, for those of you who are feeling that you're unfortunate as you don't live in London, or have plans to visit in the immediate future,- amazingly enough they work with you over email to get you fitted in the right size. The emails and letters posted to their sitting room from all over the world testify to their miraculous abilities in that regard. They originally started as an on-line shop - there were a few things I wanted that fit but would have fit more perfectly in a different letter size - so they're shipping them from the main warehouse at no extra cost.

So, ladies, and their loving male counterparts... do something wonderful for yourself today - check out Bravissimo. You'll thank me later. And your breasts will thank you.

One unfortunate point - they don't ship to the Czech Republic. I don't know why, being EU it seems like they should, but they don't. Most of you, if you're reading this, since it's in English, may know someone in the UK or the US or any number of other countries that they do ship to - and can have it shipped there, and then sent on. That's what I'm doing. There will be a slight delay, but the pleasure I have in knowing that it's possible for me to find clothing that fits outshines any minor frustration. Thank you Bravissimo.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Portobello road, Portobello road...

I think I spent the majority of the day trying to recreate Bedknobs and Broomsticks... as I'm here to write this for you, you may safely assume I wasn't successful.

However, there were a few other interesting developments. The Kid has decided that London is a lovely place and she is now interested in looking at colleges here. I think she fell in love with the shopping, the friendliness of the people, the ease of speaking English, the theaters and the bookstores.

We saw Billy Elliott tonight - another outstanding performance! Seriously - we laughed and cried and I am completely blown away by the caliber and abundance of talent I've seen on the stage. If anyone wants to join me, I'll be treating myself to a few other upcoming performances during the remainder of the year - my birthday, some holiday or another, maybe an early/late Christmas... second Saturday of some month? you name it :)

Sooo tired, so off to sleep. Tomorrow is Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guards and some shopping! Got to get Mom ready for her next adventure.

Love you all - let me hear from you!

Friday, May 28, 2010

best laid plans - Foyle'd!

Actually, that was the plan. After an in depth and interesting tour of Westminster Abbey we tracked down and spent the afternoon at Foyles, an excellent bookstore here in London. Oh the joy and wonder of sitting the midst of 5 levels of English language books!!! After the scarcity and inflated prices of English books we've been exposed to for the past few years, this was like a little bit of heaven.
This was followed by a quick lunch and then a leisurely meet-up with a few of Mom's friends from Berkeley who had been part of the group traveling together through Wales. We journeyed through the British Museum and then on to quick dinner off of Charlotte St... quick so we could get over to Victoria Station and drop Coral to meet up with her friends - apparently the senior class is here on their senior trip right now, and they dropped her a line or two asking her to join them for a late night on the city...

It's now 12:23 and she's arrived back at our hotel, escorted by one of her teachers... from the sounds of it, Mom is sleeping quite peacefully (and soundly) in her bed, Coral is next to me working on her homework, and I am about to fall asleep. Therefore I am wishing all of you a good night and sweet dreams.

The plan for tomorrow - Portobello Road (I love Angela Lansbury and Bedknobs and Broomsticks!), Kensington Palace and then Harrods... and for the evening - another West End show... Billy Elliot (love that movie, too).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

London, West End, Drury Lane Theater - Oliver!

Seriously - rocked my socks off! Hilarity and hi-jinks were bountiful. And the company was impeccable too :)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

rip x 3

As we're packing up for our trip tomorrow, I've discovered that of the three cameras we own not one works. Coral has 2 - one drains the battery like crazy and one is in the US to be repaired and so that leaves mine. She took it to Italy and discovered while there that it no longer likes to focus.

Today I picked it up to take a look and now it won't fully close or open... or focus on anything. Which means... no pictures from London! Sorry family, nothing, no Coral haircut photos, no 3 generation snaps in front of Big Ben, nothing. This journey will not be documented for your vicarious living. :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

thanks for the insight kid!

Tonight Coral and I went to a dinner thing - it was hosted in a gallery/studio/unconventional living space sorta place... we both were a little unclear on the exact dynamics until we got there - this will come in to play again.

It was a nice evening, the food was great, set price for all you can eat, handrolled and fresh... the company was awesome, lots of laughter and all of that, some sweet old and obscure vinyl playing in the background and a friendly dog that walked the table, resting her head in each lap, looking for some love and a bit of food.

The view was beautiful, the night warm, the sunset was swirls of pinks and purples hanging over the clay rooftops, and the glass domes throughout the city were glowing. The gallery was hung with huge pieces reminiscent of what I was doing on a smaller scale back in CA before the move... it was pretty sweet.

I ended up having a conversation with the chef - he told me about renovating the flat we were in as he was the first occupant after some squatters... and all the major life changes he'd gone through a few months prior (quit his job, lost a long term relationship, moved - all in a week). He then talked about his future plans for the flat and the cooking business he's developing and it was all very cool and inspiring.

I've met the guy a few times before. Based upon my previous interactions with him, nothing overtly negative, nothing "wrong" or "bad" or anything like that, but based upon my previous impressions, one of indifference towards others based upon my exposure to him in his workplace, if I'd known I was going to his home I probably would have taken a pass on the night. Apparently Coral thought we were going to a "real" restaurant and if she'd known it was in a home she would've taken a pass as well.

We talked about it on the walk home... what we'd just done versus our expectations, and the people we'd just shared a meal with... she mentioned the cook was a pretty cool guy and I mentioned that I'd met him on quite a few occasions before and my previous impressions, which I had been forced to re-evaluate during the course of the evening. She pointed out, and I love my kid for pointing out things I tend to overlook, that when we'd met he must have been pretty unhappy as he had a lot of negative things going on, and obviously didn't like his job - that he's probably happier and more relaxed now. And she's right. I'm glad I ended up where we were this evening. I got to see someone I didn't really know in a different light and it was a pleasant one. Every now and then it's nice to be wrong.

Czech exams

There is a huge difference between the Czech educational system and the American - today is the day the distinction is drawn.

Starting at the secondary level, as in the US system, you are required to complete and pass your courses. Then, at the end of your studies you have to sit and undergo an oral examination by a panel of instructors.

At the tertiary level it's sorta the same deal - but you have the additional requirement of submitting a bachelor's thesis and at your oral examination, in front of 3 instructors, you are required to defend your thesis as well as respond to other questions relevant to your program.

Today was the first round of state exams for the bachelor students - just one major within the business school. The results have just been posted. They're all standing out in the hallway trying to find their student number so they can figure out how they did... all but one seem to have passed.

Her visa... part 862

I think I may have screwed up her visa, again. I've got a really bad feeling that I did. Apparently you're required to apply for a renewal within this very small window of time. I have missed it by a few days.

Now, instead of renewing her visa, I think I have to start all over. Which means that I must compile all the information I had before, and resubmit it, again... what's this, the sixth or seventh time - at least - and the poor kid has had only one visa issued?

The stressful part - her visa expires while we're outside of Schengen. There is some question as to whether or not she'll be allowed back in to Schengen or if she'll be required to spend the next 90 days outside of the zone... that issue was just raised for the very first time. Awesome.

We're going to England, and there's a chance she may not be able to return.

However, I have faith, and I believe that everything will work out all right. I have to go back to the foreign police tomorrow to see what they can do, and will have a packet ready to FedEx to LA in case we need to go that route instead. And possibly a trip to the consulate in London... we'll get it taken care of one way or another. I just hate the waiting part while things get resolved.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Headed to the UK - help, advice needed!

Next week will be my first real trip to London... a week with three generations of women - my Mom, me, my daughter. I would love to hear from you readers thoughts and suggestions on where to go, what to do, etc. Also, I may need to pick up some clothes for work and don't know which shops to go to for what - advice in that arena too? Thanks much!

Monday, May 17, 2010

where did THAT come from?

Earlier tonight I was trying to come up with the phrase, "It's not all moonbeams and rainbows."

Instead I got "Life's not all pussycats and eggplants."

Thank God for THAT!!! I don't even like eggplant!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday, May 17

While I sit at home recovering from the stomach flu and nursing a broken toe (slight mishap on the way to the bathroom last night, stumbling around in the dark I found a door... ouch!) my daughter is on a plane for her first trip to Italy... This will make her seventh country this year (US, Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Italy)... England doesn't quite count yet, as that's been primarily the airport, but a few days after her return we'll take a trip over to visit my Mom who will be finishing up a trip of her own...

My Mom...

I don't think I've posted any pics of my Mom, primarily because I don't think she'd really like having her photo up for all to see... but my Mom is a beautiful, beautiful person in every way you may want to use that description. Today is a big day - having focused the majority of her life on raising a family, and doing a darn good job, she decided to go back to school and finish her education at one of the country's top universities. Today she graduates from UC Berkeley. I can't begin to express how proud I am of her. And as words fail me at this moment, I'll stop writing. I love you Mom, and am not only proud of you today, but everyday. I am always proud to be your daughter.

All about my monkey

She's been really focusing on her writing lately (believe it or not, this blog was a lame attempt to help further her regular writing routine... look at when she posted last!) and has earned a bit of praise in the writing groups in which she participates. Yesterday she received a notice that someone would like to use one of her poems in their journal - they selected one she's not particularly fond of, but the theme, HOPE, ties in to a humanitarian issue the journal supports... this means that come Christmas time little Miss Kidlet will be a published poet.

Today she left for Rome - most of last week she had a stomach virus - I managed to come down with it yesterday, right when I thought I'd somehow avoided it... that means, unfortunately, that shel got herself to the airport. I'd arranged an alternate companion, but she didn't want one... she didn't want a taxi, either, but preferred to take the metro alone and meet her friends at the Terminal. And she did just that... it's a little odd the leaps and bounds she's covered in her personal growth in the last few months - jaunty new haircut, makeup, new sense of style (she hit up Zara while out shopping yesterday and came home with quite a few cute new things) and the sky-rocketing self-confidence all while maintaining a fairly level head and a focus on school work.

She'll be back in the US for a few months this summer - looking at the end of June until mid-August... something like that.

And that's the Kid's update for today.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All About Steve

A few years back I went through an in-house rehabilitation program (not drugs, you bozo, if you don't know what for, read a few older posts). While there I met some amazing people - everyone had different struggles they were trying to address, different difficult aspects they needed to be able to deal with in order to live their lives. I spent maybe a month there, a little less probably, and grew to love them like my family.

I just got some news about a guy I hold a lot of affection for. Steve is a cowboy, a true rodeo cowboy, and a sweet, sweet guy. I had the littlest bit of a crush on him as he has such a kind heart and quick laugh - but I couldn't reconcile liking a cowboy, tried it once and we were too different, and so let it go. (Even though I hate labels I still use them, in the worst way.) He's spent years plagued with health issues and had to leave regularly for dialysis and other medical treatments only available in the hospital. We had both arrived at the place in wheelchairs... that should give you an idea as to where we were each at.

I still adore him - he still holds a very special space in my heart, as does everyone else I shared that period with. A friend, a wonderful woman full of life and vitality whom I really miss, just sent me an email. Two weeks ago Steven found out he has cancer - actually he's had cancer, but now it's in his kidneys. Almost immediately my friend, and another awesome woman who shared this time with us, hopped on a plane and spent a week with Steven at his ranch. Tomorrow Steve will have his kidney, prostate, bladder and lymph nodes removed - this is in addition to what was already taken before. This obviously isn't good news. I don't know much about what can be done after such a major removal.

I'd like to ask that you send out good thoughts, some hope and love to my friend Steve. He can really use it.

new developments

Apparently my school is adding another program. It's a bit exciting and yet a little intimidating, too. I'm designing a course for both the bachelors and the graduate level classes. The part I'm looking forward to is having more mature students in the school - it's targeted at working professionals, business-world types wanting to increase their understanding of law in a mixed Czech/English environment... at least that's how I understand it as of yesterday, but nothing is definite yet, so things may evolve.

I'm trying to get the school to provide me with one-on-one Czech classes. They're giving the handy-man/driver guy personal English classes and he doesn't have to speak with anyone other than the Czech staff, so hopefully I can squeeze in some Czech courses as I do deal with a number of native Czech speakers - and if these classes stay Czech/English, I'll be dealing with even more. Right now I can only order beer, green or black tea, some juices, say something is too big/small, answer yes/no, ask "where is ...", say how many (but without the correct conjugation), express disgust/frustration, and identify the base foods in a dish on a menu - meats, fruits, vegetables - basically I suck. And, yes, I should acknowledge that just because I can do that, it doesn't mean I actually do do it when the appropriate time comes... I have zero speaking confidence, and hanging with my Czech friends doesn't help me to increase that - it makes it worse. I end up either using English or they do it for me.

Coral keeps walking in to walls and doors after having been hit in the head, again, but other than that she's fine.

I don't think there's anything else new. WAIT - Coral has won some poetry contests through some on-line writing communities she's joined. I am going to leave you with that - she doesn't like me reading her stuff, only the bits she chooses to share, so I doubt she'll tell you anything more unless you ask her directly. Now, I really am going to leave you. Hezky den!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

a little depleted today

I don't know if it's been the massive amounts of misinformation and resulting frustration I've been experiencing at school, if it's the joys of trying to parent a teen who has a very separate life from my own (not in connection, it's just that physically we're going in different directions) - and who forgets the basic steps necessary to protect her beautiful brain, or knowing that I have to go face the foreign police in another week and they're going to want money, far more money than what I have... I don't know what it is, but it's getting to me right now.

This is one of those times when I wish someone else were a part of it. Sometimes I would appreciate knowing that I can step back because I'm upset, and someone else will calmly explain why what is what and how not to let it happen again - cause I don't always get the calm conversation part right. Sometimes it would be nice to have someone who could let me talk - and then who I could listen to instead of having my own stuff in my head. Sometimes it'd be nice to have someone else think about dinner... or suggest a more interesting alternative. Sometimes it'd be nice to not have to feel 100% it all the time - provider, caretaker, mothering friend. And sometimes I think Coral would appreciate having a counterbalance, someone else to confide in, someone with a different perspective than my own - an alternate view... we mesh so often in our perspectives that when we don't it's rather startling. She would maybe benefit from someone who has a more responsible forward-thinking line of thought than my own. I tend to focus on here and now and count on the rest of it all working out. It has so far, and if I keep doing what I'm doing I don't see any reason why things won't just keep working out... but with a bit more planning and down-to-earthedness maybe it would be smoother. Of course if I were that responsible forward thinking person I'd be my own counter-balance and lose a bit of what I think makes me the me that I am, the me that I like... and the one who follows through on asinine ideas like moving to the other side of the world with a teenager and without a job, a friend, or a grasp of the language - yet makes it work, and works it well.

Now, having read that, I think if I just go to bed I'll get over the little bitty baby blues. (OH GOD - not as in having a baby or just had a baby blues, as in itsty bitsty teeny tiny... don't misread anything please)

when throttling won't fix it

Coral called me in the middle of a lesson today... she has a knack for that. This time she had something to say but was really beating around the bush - when it finally came out she had called to ask if she could skip out on babysitting as she'd gotten hit in the head at school - by 2 people at once... during PE. This is a child who is not supposed to be engaging in any potentially physical sports as she cannot get hit in the head again.

I couldn't finish the conversation at that time, so I told her to go home and got off the phone. I called her once I was done and here's what happened...

Coral decided that even though she is dealing with ongoing headaches and dizziness she should be running around playing handball, jumping, crashing and bouncing off of people. She managed to get elbowed in the head again by two people at once!

We've covered all the potential devastating possibilities of another head injury, she's still dealing with the aftermath of a fall earlier this year in which she didn't even strike her head, and she has a football (soccer) helmet she knows she must wear even if it's for a little easy kick-around. Despite all this, my helmetless, nearly hairless daughter jumped in to a game and got clobbered.

I wanted to throttle her. Seriously. But I suppose that would be counterproductive now, wouldn't it?

Monday, May 3, 2010

a new sight - the Serbian situation

Usually my walk to school consists of navigating busloads of Italian high school students on a class trip and dog poop. I don't particularly enjoy either one. Today I was making my way down the street when I saw something rather unusual. A police car had stopped in the middle of the intersection and the officers were exiting the car and crossing the street. Two officers and a dark haired woman approached a big studded wooden door and knocked. A man answered and a conversation took place - it's about this point that I drew even and actually passed by... I'd been watching for a few moments as I walked towards them.

Nothing so far unusual, right? Here's the thing - the door the police were knocking on was the Serbian Embassy. I was always under the impression that local government was supposed to stay far far away from any embassy related business... Apparently, the police make house calls instead.

As a definite side note - I've decided that of all the nationalities I've met so far I really like Serbian guys. They have a bit of the Eastern Europe/Balkan guy thing but aren't too caught up in the macho crap - still gentlemanly a bit more relaxed and "real" than their neighbors - the guys I've met have been able to make some pretty honest assessments about the state of their nation, the perception of their people, the difficulties they face working through a corrupt society and how they fit in to all that - and do it with a combination of warm, intellect and friendliness that is rare... I don't know, maybe you can expand this to Macedonian and possibly Slovenian - although technically not Balkan... and I don't have enough male friends from the surrounding Balkans states to offer an opinion on their men so I'll refrain from commenting any further. Albanian women are really friendly and are also quite warm and engaging - both Macedonian and Montenegrin are women as well. The people I've met from the region are so friendly and welcoming that if I decide to move on, yet remain in Europe, it's a region I'd give a second look to.

Her hair!

It's gone. She looks like a an edgy funky super cool woman and not a really cool girl. It's got me feeling a little bit of discomfort. Well, her hair combined with her new make-up skills and penchant for wearing dresses and skirts. My daughter has fully embraced her femininity. I still haven't done that.