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Sunday, August 28, 2005

And so this is jet lag 

Well, we did it. We up and moved to Kentucky.

We left the house at about 6:00 Friday night and went to dinner with some friends a couple hours later. We meant to go eat almost immediately, but first we had to wait for the friend Mike invited to get done with football practice. Then, once we had taken the streetcar and hiked to our favorite schnitzel place for one last schnitzel, we found that THEY WERE CLOSED FOR VACATION!!!! How could they do that to me? Apparently, I had had my last schnitzel the week before, and I didn't even know it, so I was unable to properly appreciate it. If I were the type to pepper my blog with frowny faces, let me assure you that I would insert a frowny face RIGHT HERE. We rallied, however, and got back on the streetcar and headed in the opposite direction for Italian food.

After supper, both kids got pretty upset when we said goodbye to our friends. There was a moderate degree of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but they had calmed down and were feeling fairly positive by the time we went to bed.

The next morning, we had a taxi pick us up at 6:30 and deliver us to the airport. We had had numerous offers from friends to drive us up there, but what we discovered from leaving Hawaii (having friends take us to the airport) and from leaving Texas (sneaking out like thieves into the night) is that the sneaking-like-thieves method makes for a much less messy emotional scene. That held true for us in Germany, and we were able to get on the plane with no fuss or bother.

The flights were fine, the drive to Ft. Knox from the airport was fine, and we arrived here a mere 18 hours after we left Germany. We are staying at the St. George House, which is an absolutely charming 3-bedroom, 2-bath house that the woman Fred is replacing at work managed to hook us up with.

After we unloaded the luggage, we set off in search of supper and drove through our new neighborhood on the way. By this point, Mike's nerves were pretty much shot and he was not what you might call "positive" about the whole Kentucky thing. In fact, he was scheming to get his butt back on a plane to Germany ASAP and trying to figure out which friends would be willing to house him for how long. We dined at Applebee's and capped off the evening with a visit to the Walmart Supercenter (so THAT is where everybody hangs out on a Saturday night!) and fell into bed immediately upon returning back to our temporary home.

Perhaps you remember the book my Uncle Johnny and cousin Julie sent me to keep me occupied on the trip home? Well, I started it a few days ago, was about 100 pages into it when I got on the plane yesterday morning, and was within 30 pages of the end by the time we got to Ft. Knox. Unfortunately, I kept falling asleep last night when I tried to finish it off. So now that I'm up (at 6:00 a.m., thank you very much, and it's a miracle I got back to sleep at 3:00 a.m.), I think I'll go see what happens next.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Ch-ch-ch-changes 

For the past several months, I've been following the anonymous blog Chez Miscarriage (subtitle: Who Says Infertility Can't Be Funny?). It's the story of a DES daughter who fought a herculean battle against infertility and won, having recently brought home her newborn son, the product of gestational surrogacy. She has announced plans to take a maternity leave from her blog to give herself time to enjoy her new baby and to figure out where to go (if anywhere) with her blog:

In addition, it's become clear to me that I need to reconfigure this blog, to develop a new direction and a new theme. That's going to take some time and thought. By definition, the blog can't continue to be what it once was - a journal of my trip through recurrent pregnancy loss. It has to become something new, and I don't know what that new thing is yet. Maybe I'll feel compelled to write about parenting. Maybe I'll feel compelled to write about parenting after infertility. Maybe I'll want to write about my internal conflict regarding trying to conceive another child, given the time and expense and potential heartache involved. I don't know yet - but I know that I need some time to figure it out.
I can relate. She started a blog that was sad and wound up with one that is happy. I started out with a happy blog, got sad, got mad, got a little bit goofy and a little political, got tired, got lucky, and got happy again.

In 24 hours, we will no longer be "The Taylors in Europe." We will be the Taylors in Kentucky, which doesn't sound half as exciting. Truth be told though, I'm looking forward to a little peace and quiet. The past 2 years have pushed the limits of my tolerance for excitement.

I do plan on keeping my blog, but--like the writer at Chez Miscarriage--I don't know what direction it will take. Maybe you'll get to hear more about the trials and tribulations (and, I hope, triumphs) of homeschooling. Maybe you'll get a lot of pictures of my cat. At this point it's hard to tell.

I have a few plans for the blog, a new name and maybe a facelift. My internet connection goes away this afternoon though, so any dreams I might have had for finishing off my European chronicles before then are not likely to come true.

Thanks for hanging out with me over here for the past 2 years. I really cannot express how much your supportive comments and emails have meant to me. I've rewritten this last paragraph a half a dozen times, and I just can't seem to find the right way to sign off. So I'll just say . . .

Auf wiedersehen!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A little prophylactic humor 

It's no huge secret that the Europeans are a lot more open about the nuts and bolts of human sexuality than Americans. For example, you can buy a kids' edutainment CD-ROM Der kleine Professor erforscht den Körper ("The Little Professor Explores the Body") in which there is a segment on reproduction featuring sperm racing (Spermien-Rennen, in German). Don't believe me? Check it out:



Just don't hold your breath waiting for Reader Rabbit to offer up anything similar for the American kiddies!

There is a huge ad campaign over here to encourage the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. Everywhere you go, eye-catching posters remind you to "mach mit!" These posters boldly feature colorful condoms in clever scenes, such as the following:



(Weltsprache="World language")

Or how about this one, "for little angels and devils":



My favorite though (and the one I see every time I go to the mall) sports the slogan "Gummi, Bärchen!" Now in order to get the humor here, you have to understand that our "gummy bear" comes from the German term Gummibär, which literally translates to "rubber bear."

Now THAT is truly a rubber bear:


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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

London, Day 4: The Muggles in London 

Wednesday morning we decided that we did indeed want to take the London Walks tour of "Little Venice" in order to catch a glimpse of J.K. Rowling's house. The guide was surprised that that was what had brought us to her, but she was a very good sport. As we approached our target, she quietly said to me, "You'll be wanting to get your camera ready."

Annabelle--who has blasted through the first 4 Harry Potter books this summer--was thrilled to have her picture made in front of Rowling's house. She is holding The Goblet of Fire. Ears the rabbit is sporting the Harry Potter costume that Annabelle made for him:



Mike got into the act too although he was a little more self-conscious about hopping up on the wall:



Our guide was lots of fun. Not only did she tell us about the architecture and history of the area, but she was also very willing to dish the gossip. We got a bonus in front of Michael Flatley's house when the high gate swung open to admit a taxi, and we were able to see the whole front of the house. She also pointed out a duplex, half of which had previously been owned by Paul McCartney and half of which had at one point been owned by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and is now owned by Princess Diana's brother.

Our walk ended near a pretty pub where we would have dearly loved to have eaten lunch. Unfortunately, once again kids were welcome only at the outside tables, which were all full. Never mind the fact that NOBODY was at the tables inside the pub. That was when I adopted my "screw you" attitude toward London pubs. If I can't get in with my kids, I'll buy my fish and chips elsewhere, thank you very much!

After the tour, we made our way over to Russell Square, Annabelle counting Phantom ads on the backs of buses the whole way. We stopped for lunch at an Indian restaurant and then went to our second goal for the day--the Russell Hotel. You know, as in "Up, up, up past the Russell Hotel, up, up, up to the Heavyside Layer." The number 1 Cats fan was psyched to have her picture taken in front of it, which the doorman found quite endearing:



We spent a little time in our hotel room, resting up after our big day of walking, and then went out for another dinner at Pret. The kids had been looking forward to that all day and had been singing "Pret for dinner! We're gonna have Pret for dinner!" (This will mean nothing to those of you who haven't seen all the Land Before Time episodes--the original lyrics were "Friends for dinner!")

After supper, we took our places in row 2 of the Lyceum Theatre to watch Lion King. Annabelle had made little lion manes for the rodents so that they wouldn't feel left out:



The show was breathtakingly good. I know the kids enjoyed seeing other kids up on the stage.

Afterwards we walked home through Leicester Square and Picadilly. I love the feeling on the streets when the theaters (or should I say "theatres"?) are letting out! One rather odd thing we saw was that a McDonald's in Leicester Square had monitors showing the action in the men's room. Very strange.

We dropped into bed that night utterly exhausted. We needed our sleep for the next day's activities . . . rabbit hunting! (Check back later; it's not what it seems.)

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Happy birthday, Annabelle! 

Today our little girl has reached the age of double digits. Yes, I'm talking about the big ONE-OH!

Because we have summer babies and because we move every other summer, that means that every other year one or both of the kids winds up having their birthday amid packing boxes or in an empty house. This is Annabelle's empty-house birthday, as the remainder of our junk went away yesterday, leaving us with just what we can put in our suitcases, give to our friends, and mail to ourselves in Kentucky.

I expect that she will have a nice birthday in spite of that. For one thing, our internet connection is still chugging along, and I will try to give her extra time with her neopets today, even though it pains me to not be working on my photos. And this evening, we will go to Winger's for supper and then come home to feast on brownies, which she much prefers to cake.

Here's a picture from when my baby truly WAS a baby:



Feel free to leave a comment or send an email wishing AB a happy birthday!

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

A moving experience 

Moving back to the States is proving to be about as much fun as moving to Germany was. Everything was going along well enough until late last week, when our plans for shipping my minivan to Florida fell apart at the seams. I had already booked plane tickets for me and the kids to go down and pick up the car (and cat) when I got an email from the shipper telling me that the ship we were scheduled for had been canceled. The new plan, according to the shipper, was to put the van on a ship that SHOULD arrive sometime around September 26. Great, except that I need to be leaving Florida on September 26, as we will be going to Charlottesville on October 1.

So I found a different agent who found us another ship to put the van on. The next new plan was for us to drop the van off on Monday to have it trucked to Bremerhaven on Tuesday to catch the boat on Friday. When the agent called to confirm, however, he found out that the ship was leaving early--on Monday! And that is how Fred and I came to spend our last Saturday in Germany making a 1-day trip up to Bremerhaven to drop the van off at the port. Ugh.

Tomorrow they come for the hold baggage, that small shipment of household goods that will be transported by air and should arrive within a month. I'd say we're about 90% ready for the packers, but we're beat, and we're going to bed. We'll finish up in the morning.

I am so hopelessly behind with my London and Normandy pictures. I am working on them, I promise, but computer time is really scarce these days. Bear with me!

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Monday, August 15, 2005

London, Day 3: Salisbury and Stonehenge 

Rather than doing it on our own, we opted to take a London Walks tour of Stonehenge that also happened to include the town of Salisbury and its magnificent cathedral. I have a hard time signing up for organized tours for the same reason I can't buy handicrafts made by somebody else: I know I'm capable of doing it myself--probably for less money--and I also know that doing it myself is half the fun. I'm really glad that I made an exception and signed up for this tour though!

The tour cost us 99 pounds in transportation for the 4 of us and 22 pounds for the tour itself for me and Fred (kids under 15 are free for the tours). When I had priced it out to do the same journey independently, I was quoted 77 pounds in trainfare to Salisbury and then we would have had to worry about making the bus connection out to Stonehenge. Going through London Walks made things so much easier for very little extra money!

While we certainly could have gotten ourselves out to Stonehenge and back, we wouldn't have gotten as much out of the trip without our excellent guide Richard. He was always informative and frequently entertaining and helped us to really understand what we were seeing.

Here are some of my favorite photos from Salisbury. This tour group in the middle of the river was one of the first things we saw as we walked from the train station to the cathedral:



The cathedral itself is just amazing:



Here are some workers who were dangling on the side of the cathedral. To the naked eye, they looked like little colorful ants crawling around up there:



We didn't have long for lunch before we needed to get on the bus for Stonehenge. We stopped for a bite at a little cafe almost directly across from the cathedral. I can't remember the name of the place, but I had the scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I'm glad I did, too, as those were the only scones that crossed my path on the whole trip!

The bus ride out to Stonehenge was quite enjoyable. Richard kept us all entertained by pointing out homes of famous people and showing us lovely thatched-roof cottages. Annabelle amused herself on the bus by reading the fourth Harry Potter book (she started the series shortly before Fred came home and is now starting the fifth volume). The lady in the row behind her said that she had taken the London Walks tour of "Little Venice" and had gotten to see J.K. Rowling's house. That got us wondering about a potential future tour. Hmmm . . .

Stonehenge itself wasn't half the zoo I had expected, but it doesn't take long to look around and say, "Wow, rocks!" Here are Ears, Cheeser, and Pellet in front of the famous standing stones:



And here's the whole gang:



Mike wanted his picture taken with his new Nintendo DS in front of Stonehenge. I think he's planning on sending it to Nintendo in the hopes that maybe they will send him something like a free t-shirt:



We got back to Waterloo Station at about 6:00 that night and immediately got on the Tube and headed east toward the Tower Bridge for a couple pictures:





Then we found a pub that had a patio where we could sit with the kids for dinner (more fish and chips--yum!). After supper, we walked across the bridge, past the Tower of London, and up to St. Paul's, where we got back on the Tube and went back to the hotel.

Tune in again soon to find out if we ever made it to J.K. Rowling's house . . .

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Back from France 

Actually, we got back at about 2:30 this morning, but this is the first time I've had the energy to post anything. We had a great time, but we cut it short by a day when we found out yesterday morning that this is the #1 busiest travel weekend of the year for the French. Who knew? We figured that we would have a tough time finding a room for the night, so when we got done admiring St. Michel at around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, we headed for home.

I'm back at work on my London photos, and now I also have a bunch of photos from France as well. With any luck I'll get them posted soon!

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Will I ever get caught up?! 

I've still got well over a hundred photos to go through for our London trip, but we're taking off for 4 days in France today. You know what THAT means, don't you? Gulp! More photos!! Please be patient with me.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

London, Day 2: It's all about the anteaters 

We began our first full day in London with a nice walk to Harrods. I swear, it was like returning to the mothership. Not only is everything in the store (right down to the amazing Egyptian escalator--who even knew the Egyptians HAD escalators?!) just wonderful, but the staff is also so friendly. Come on, one look at us with our comfy shoes and rain jackets and fanny packs, and any idiot can tell that we are not exactly the stereotypical Harrods customer, but the lady at the information desk took a good 5 minutes with us. Rather than just handing us the booklet that is the store map, she went over it page by page circling things she thought might be of interest to us. Sure, like WE were going to buy something!

We spent most of our time in the toy department though, and as it turned out, we did make a couple of purchases. Apparently I am a sucker for an in-store demonstration, and the toy department is just one demo after another. How though, was I supposed to walk away without the magic lights that you can pull from people's ears, nose, bellybutton, etc.? Or the frisbee-yoyo thing that Annabelle wanted? Self control is for babies.

As we walked to Harrods and Annabelle continued to count Phantom ads, a fiendish plan took root in my brain. I at least had to make an attempt to get my baby a personal viewing of the masked man, so we made our way to the tkts booth in Leicester Square to see if there were any reasonably priced tickets for that evening's show. Unfortunately, all Phantom seats were "partial view," which is a polite way of saying "sitting behind a pillar, sucka!" No way was I signing up for that particular brand of torture, so I made a last-minute, executive decision and booked us into half-price tickets right in the middle of row 4 for that evening's showing of Les Miserables.

Little did I know that I was buying a different form of torture, as Mike moaned and whined the rest of the day. "Why do we have to go see some stupid show about the French revolution?! Can we scalp my ticket and let me go to the movies instead?!" It is a testament to my extreme patience that I refrained from whapping him over the head, but I knew that I would be able to complain about him here on my blog, so that gave me something pleasant to mull over while he was groaning.

After yet another lunch at Pret, we stopped at Lillywhites. Annabelle had inexplicably outgrown the shoes I bought her in Texas last September, so we needed to get her some new sneakers and FAST. Outside Lillywhites, Fred and Mike stopped to snap a picture in front of Mike's fave London retail outlet, the Virgin Megastore. Mike was all about the music and video games in London:



But I believe I promised you anteaters, didn't I? Last August, Annabelle purchased a small stuffed anteater in Detsky Mir, Russia's premiere toy store (located ironically enough right across from Lubyanka). She named him Snickers and has been all about the anteaters ever since. She plans to create a webpage dedicated to saving the noble anteater because, as she says, "They are endangered AND NOBODY IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT!!!" (She has also decided that anteaters say "meep," but I'm not sure that this is based in any scientific research.) We even made an ill-fated trip to the zoo in Amsterdam last April where we had to settle for watching a sleeping anteater over closed-circuit TV.

Anyway, Annabelle schlepped Snickers the Russian anteater all over London last Monday so that he would be on hand when we visited his family in the London Zoo. Wouldn't you know it though? When we got to the outside anteater exhibit, we found . . . nothing. All was not lost, however, as THIS sleeping anteater at least had the decency to snooze behind a pane of glass. Here is Snickers checking in on his kin:



When the anteater swished her bushy tale and revealed a BABY ANTEATER, well, I thought we would all pee our collective pants. The baby had been born just a few weeks before. Here's a picture of Mama Anteater giving Baby Anteater a good sniff with her long nose:



Eventually, Baby Anteater convinced Mama Anteater to give up for good on her nap, so she got up to stroll around. Baby crawled up on her back, and I'm telling you, there is NOTHING cuter than a baby anteater (click the pic to watch a short Windows Media File showing off the extreme cuteness):




We wound up spending all of our zoo time admiring the anteaters and never regretted it for a minute. Annabelle was especially excited to find a stuffed anteater for sale at the gift shop as we raced through the pouring rain for the exit. (If you think it's easy to find stuffed anteaters, think again!)

Mike and Annabelle were thankful to take a taxi back to the hotel instead of the Tube (we were still in the early days of our vacation and a little nervous about exploding):



Once back at the hotel, Snickers and the newly acquired Kit Kat (are you seeing a pattern here?) got acquainted while we got ready for our show:



We had hoped to eat in a pub, but pubs tend not to allow kids in. It's the strangest thing, because people will TELL you that the pubs are kid friendly, but ha! They are so totally NOT. And it's a laugh, because--I'm sorry, every pub we went into (briefly, before being turned away) was way more like a restaurant than a bar. Coming from enlightened Germany where they don't care how close the kids sit to the beer swilling, it was a bit of a let down, especially as we wound up eating at TGIFriday's that night.

What to say about the show? Well, I sweated bullets for the first couple scenes of the first act, anguishing over whether or not Annabelle would enjoy it or if she would join Mike in his disdain. About 15 minutes into it though, she stage whispered, "This is SO GOOD!" and I was able to relax. At intermission Mike said, "Well, I feel like I should hate it after I made such a fuss, but it's pretty good, I guess." Can I whap him over the head now? Please?

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We interrupt London to bring you the following funny 

So I'm sitting here at my computer, peacefully tweaking my London pictures and getting ready to add to my travel story, when an email pops up in my inbox. Apparently, they have named a winner in the Fire Karl Rove Slogan Contest. I clicked on the link and practically spat a mouthful of really good wine all over my keyboard. Once I stopped laughing and choking, I knew I had to share the winner here:



Amen, hallelujah, and pass the wine!

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

London: The first day 

OK, I'll admit it. If we hadn't already paid for the plane tickets and the hotel room and the Lion King tickets, I would have been tempted to skip London this time around. But we did go, and it felt pleasingly defiant to not let the terrorists ruin our vacation.

We chose to journey into London from Stansted Airport by the Stansted Express. They sold the roundtrip rail tickets on the plane shortly before landing, and I think the cost for all 4 of us was somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 euro. We got off the train at the Seven Sisters station and continued on by subway to the hotel.

When we arrived at the Holiday Inn Mayfair, Fred and I were pleasantly surprised to realize that it was the same hotel he and I had stayed at 16 years ago when we were dating. Our room wasn't ready yet, so we left our bags with the concierge and set off on foot toward Picadilly Circus. We were starving, so we stopped in at Pret a Manger and fell in love.

Pret is just the most amazing sandwich shop. All of the sandwiches are handmade daily at the individual restaurants with mostly organic ingredients. We wound up eating at a Pret almost every day we were in London, which wasn't hard to do, as there is one on almost every corner.

After lunch we headed toward the river. Annabelle was counting ads for Phantom of the Opera, which were everywhere--on busses, in Tube stations. So you can imagine her delight when we walked past Her Majesty's Theatre, home of the real thing:



I couldn't resist snapping a shot of this little guy as we walked toward Big Ben and Parliament. Apparently, his parents never got the memo about not standing out as Americans:



We stopped along the way to see how many clowns you can stuff into a phone booth. (It turns out 3 fit fairly well.)



Pellet and Cheezer were very impressed with the majesty of Big Ben:



We walked through the park to Buckingham Palace, and I dressed the rodents in their special London clothes. Pellet assumed the identity of a palace guard, while Cheeser got in touch with his inner Queen Victoria:



Here is Cheeser, posing at the Victoria monument:



Meanwhile, Pellet took his guard duties very seriously:



We walked back to the hotel and got checked into our room before setting out in search of dinner, which was almost a disaster. We had taken the kids to the Hard Rock Cafe in Heidelberg for Mike's birthday a couple weeks earlier, where we were all disappointed to learn that it's not a "real" Hard Rock. So we had been promising him a do-over in London, and the London Hard Rock Cafe was just down the street from our hotel. It would have been perfect except that they had had a terrible fire several weeks before, and they won't be serving anything but soft drinks and ice cream until sometime in October.

We spent a while wallowing in our despair (some of us handled it better than others, but I'll not name names) before winding up at the tea room Richoux on Piccadilly for a hundred bucks worth of fish and chips. Disaster averted!

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

We're home! 

London was amazing--a little tense given the recent events, but amazing even so. I'm glad we went, and I'm thrilled to be home. The rodents had an especially good time:



I'll be working hard on my million and one pictures this weekend and hope to get the best uploaded soon!

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