Friday, December 31, 2010


We were struck this afternoon by the contrasts between JFK and LHR.  On arrival two weeks ago at Heathrow, we were met by helpful, smiling faces, who ushered through a clearly exhausted family with small-ish children through the immigration line.  The luggage trolleys were free, and the airport seemed bright and clean.  This morning, the security folks were cheerful, and helpful, and nice.
Arriving at JFK we saw lots of helpful signs about how serious security was, which seemed mainly to serve to highlight how cheerless the staff were: from the unsmiling face looking at our passports, to the barking I received from the scanning staff because I dared put my shoes and computer bag into boxes instead of directly onto the belt: to the drab, whitewashed walls of the tunnels we went through.  And the luggage carts?  Five dollars each to rent! 

Yours, thinking that as far as airports go, the UK came out looking pretty good to us on this trip,

Back home

Up at 5am, GMT, at the airport by 6:40, on a plane to JFK, and then after a second plane, and a long drive, we were home.  The pets are all well, which is a relief, and lovely friends have cleaned up the kitchen and a couple of other rooms: what a pleasant surprise!
I've gone to the store, we're ready for New Year, Skibo's asleep (and seeming much better) and Boo is about to brush her teeth and get to bed.  I doubt any of us will stay up till midnight.

The trip was strained: Skibo threw up at Heathrow as we were checking in our luggage: and Boo seems to have come down with perhaps an ear infection today (she was complaining of her ears hurting as we descended each time).
Hopefully they'll both get a good nights sleep and be better in the morning.  In the New Year.

Yours, wishing everyone a very happy New Year (since it already is, GMT!)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Our last day in England

Our last day in England, and for the second day, Skibo has been sick with fever: hopefully he'll be able to travel tomorrow!
We'll miss everyone over here, but we're all looking forward to getting home as well, to see pets and friends and the house.  And the shower!

Yours, planning on an early night before we leave before dawn,

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Finally, bread again

It's been weeks: I'd intended to make bread while we visited LOML's parents, but didn't get to it, and it looked almost as though I wouldn't make it visiting my parents either: but I finally made some today: a nice wholemeal/bread flour mix with molasses.  All agreed that it was delicious!

Yours, happy to knead again,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An eye on London

We made it to the National Gallery this morning, finally: we'd tried to go last year, but didn't make it.  Our big reason for going was that the children have a book they love: "Dogs' Night Out", about dogs in paintings there which switch places and cause much consternation: it was lovely to give them a chance to see the original pieces of art around which the story was based.

Afterwards, after lunch, we took a rather disappointing big bus tour, and hurried off that to the Eye -- the massive almost-Ferris wheel across from the Houses of Parliament: neither LOML nor I was particularly interested, but the children begged and pleaded, so we shelled out for tickets: and were extremely pleasantly amazed: it started with a incredibly surprisingly impressive "4D" movie (actually 3D plus some special physical effects): well worth the few minutes it lasted!

The Eye itself had a long queue, but it moved very quickly, and we were on in well under a half an hour: and the view from the module as we slowly rose, turned round and went down again, was fantastic: it was just turning from dusk to dark, and so various features like Big Ben were lighted up, and it was quite beautiful.

Yours, very happy to be so pleasantly surprised,

Monday, December 27, 2010

Castles again!

At the very end of our castle tour on Friday, we discovered that the audio tours were free.  We'd not realised this before, and had chosen not to investigate them (I used to actually work renting them out, and hadn't thought them worth the couple of quid they cost back thrumpty sevix years ago).
However, we went round the castle again today, and this time, all four of us had our own personal guided tours. The adult tours were good, competent, and much better than all that time ago, but the kids' version sounded amazing!  Boo and Skibo kept bursting out with laughter at the tour, and they were kept infinitely more engaged than they had been last time.  It really made for a lovely, lovely visit.

Yours, now regretting not having used the guides for the previous two tours,

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

Boxing day is essentially an irrelevant holiday in the US (as is St Stephen an irrelevant saint).
So, it's always nice to come back to the UK to discover people celebrating Boxing Day, even if it is just by going out to the sales.

But for us, Boxing Day is far more important: for it is I's birthday!  Happy birthday to my lovely niece!

Yours, in birthday celebration!

Saturday, December 25, 2010


And of course, my sign off on the last post was not what I meant to say.

Yours, saying "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Happy Christmas!

Or as we'd say it in the States:  "Merry Christmas!"

And to all a good night.  And a happy new year too!

Yours, celebrating,

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Castle

A lovely day spent on the train, travelling to the castle, touring round the castle,
and then going shopping for last minute items for Christmas.

We did cause the wardens a lot of grief by asking them what the word
was for arrow slits.  Quite amusing to see their distress at being just as
unable to recall the word as LOML and I were!

Yours, challenging even strangers on words,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thanks, Uncle S!

We had asked LOML's brother to give us a ride to the station this morning: he said he was happy to do so: so at 10am he came over to the flat where we were staying, picked us up, and drove off.
A minute or so in, he asked us if we'd already booked our tickets --- "No", we replied.  About two minutes later  I looked at LOML, who shrugged, and asked him "Where are we going?"  He replied that he was taking us the whole way by car.
Since we had a ton of luggage, and would have had to take three trains, we were very grateful.  So, tonight, I am signing off:

Yours, in gratitude to Uncle S,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Freaking out the nation

LOML and I have been practising freaking out the entire population here: we walk down the road, smiling at people and saying hello.  It's rather amusing watching faces go from shocked horror to a gentle smile, to a broad grin, as they return a "Good morning!" or "Merry Christmas" to us.

Yours, delighted at the reactions,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

English drivers

Watching English drivers makes me worried: the roads are so narrow, even taking the size of the cars into account, and they tend to drive so quickly.  It's not how I recall it when I was growing up -- this could just be a measure of oncoming old-age, or a reflection of reality.  Not really sure which.

Yours, nervous,

Monday, December 20, 2010

More snow

We made it back to the flat this evening ahead of (much of) another bout of snow.  LOML's brother drove us to the flat, and we pushed his car in spots to make up for a lack of traction uphill.
But we're back again.   Hopeful that the weather will break soon, and stay clear for the train trip back west from here.  We shall see.

Yours, keeping a weather eye on, well, the weather,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sleepy little children

Our decision was made for us last night by the fact that Skibo went to sleep on the floor well before we were going to try to walk home, and Boo was in no frame of mind to walk a couple of miles through snow.

We made up for it this afternoon by walking back to the flat and then back again to the house.  Through the snow.  Up hill both ways, as they say.  Actually, one way was mostly downhill, but we took a detour to go to the store, so that way actually took longer than the return journey.

Fortunately this evening the snow was melted enough that we were able to get a taxi, for about as much as, or perhaps just a little more than, the bus would cost.

So now we are snuggled up in the flat, trying to persuade children to go to sleep (LOML and me) or trying to be as obnoxious and annoying as possible to parents (Boo and especially Skibo).

Yours, (twenty minutes later) finding the little ones particularly irksome right now,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Something on the ground

It's white.  It's cold.  It's soft and fluffy, or, where people have walked on it, hard and crunchy.  It's 4-6 inches of snow which fell this afternoon.
Absolutely beautiful, and somewhat inconveniencing: but it certainly makes me very glad that we got the train here yesterday rather than today.  We've spent a lovely day with Nanna and Grandad, mainly in the house, with a couple of short treks outside this afternoon during the brief blizzard.  We are now wondering whether to sleep on their floor, or walk back in the snow to the flat we have rented.

Yours, snowed under by the decisions we have to make:-)

Friday, December 17, 2010


There's something in the air tonight.  Or rather last night.  Three flakes of snow.  It caused tremendous excitement for all, except for Boo, who was alternating between being already asleep and feeling awful because of a tummy bug.  I'm hoping that after a good night's sleep she will feel much better.
Today we'll travel, a day early, to avoid the Snow! that is being forecast for tomorrow: last year the snow played havoc with the trains, and so going a day early seems prudent.

Yours, snow joke,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

And we're there

Or rather, I suppose, we are here.
Safe and sound and on the ground.

Yours, enjoying seeing far-off family again,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


And we're (almost) off!

Yours, (soon to be) in transit,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A lovely program of rewrites

We went to the first-and-second-grade's Christmas program this evening.  A lovely time: the children were all wonderful and mostly in key.  I'm a little disturbed to hear that the principal instruction from the teachers is to "sing quietly" (and no, it's not just my children I'm hearing that from). 
But it was lovely.  It's becoming a tradition now: listen to the holiday songs, then fly.  The downside today was that most of the songs were rewrites of non-holiday nursery rhymes.  It's not clear how they are better than standards, and it is very clear how they are worse.  Oh well.  It was a lovely evening in spite of this!

Yours, wishing the songs could have had their original lyrics....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Grading? Check

Letters written?  Check.  Well, some of them, anyway: more to do tomorrow.
Almost time to consider the holiday break begun.
Tomorrow, time to go to Skibo's class and teach them how to make origami penguins!
Then the children's Christmas program in the evening.

Yours, in the holiday mood,

Sunday, December 12, 2010


The parade was a success --- the early rain tapered off, and we were tempted by promises of flurries for a little while, then it just turned cold and Decembry.
Fewer people at the parade party this year than sometimes: perhaps fifty or sixty, well down from the turnout a couple of years ago.  But those that made it had a good time, and good food and drink.

Yours, post parade,

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday spent shopping...

In preparation for the annual Christmas parade party, which we are co-hosting, Boo and I spent a couple of hours going round stores getting supplies.
I'm making roulade au chocolat, sausage rolls, and, of course, eggnog.  LOML's making various cupcakes, a crustless cheesecake, and spanakopita. That, together with what everyone else brings, should make for a parade feast....

Yours, preparing,

Friday, December 10, 2010

Raising a glass

I'm reminded by Rachel Maddow that this week it is 77 years since the repeal of prohibition.  So, in celebration of the sober realisation that sobriety can't be forced on a population, I'm signing this:

Yours, toasting,

Another committee, another fascinating meeting

This afternoon I spent another two hours in a committee meeting -- this time related to curricular aspects of honors courses --- which was a fascinating use of my time.  It did mean that I'm not yet finished grading, but....
At least my free-er time is visible in the future: the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train: it's an airport.

Yours, anticipating travel,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Of course, I forgot

Of course I forgot... about committee meetings.  Computer committee meeting today --- fascinating stuff, arcane, detailed, and sometimes mysterious.  Also frustrating at times.  I'm not on the committee, but was filling in for our member and alternate, and enjoyed it, even though it's two hours of my life I'll never get back.

Yours, in agreement with the motion,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

exams and letters of reference, oh my!

Final exam tomorrow: then I'm left with grading, and with writing letters of reference.  No more duties at work until the new year!

Yours, ready for the break,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Fifteen years ago, LOML and I went for sushi together at a lovely little family owned Korean restaurant.  Our first date: we've been together ever since.

Happy anniversary, my love!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Harmonious joy

A lovely moment this evening: Boo and Skibo were sitting singing with a friend of theirs: mangled small children songs, made to fit seasonal lyrics.  But the beautiful thing about it was that there were times when Skibo and friend would stray off-key, and I could almost hear Boo's voice pulling them back into tune.  She has a lovely voice, and is willing to stick with the tune she needs to hear, and sing firmly enough to pull others back.

Yours, thinking that this is a good trait, and a good metaphor for life,

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mushroom risotto

Today I made a mushroom risotto, to go with pan seared pork chops and green beans.  Despite LOML's initial reservations, it was a huge hit.

Saute a small onion over medium high heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until translucent.  Stir in a cup of arborio rice, and keep stirring for 4-5 minutes.  Over a few minutes, stirring constantly, add a cup of dry white wine.  Still stirring constantly, slowly add enough heated stock so that when it is all absorbed, the rice is al dente.  Add the liquid a half-cup or less at a time, and stir until it's absorbed.  You may need as much as four cups of liquid total.

While you are doing this, have someone (very) coarsely chop a mix of mushrooms, a melange des champignons.   I used oyster, crimini, and portabello mushrooms.  Reconstitute a few dried porcini mushrooms in a  little hot water.  Saute the fresh mushrooms in a little olive oil, and set aside.  Take out the reconstituted porcini mushrooms, reserve the top two thirds of the liquid and discard the rest (it will be gritty).  Using a stick
blender, blend the porcini in the reserved liquid: add it to the risotto.  Stir in the sauteed mushrooms.  Season well, with salt and pepper.  Quite delicious.

Yours, stirred to write,

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Every year, for the past decade, I've spent the first Saturday in December on campus, and today was no different. 
The reason for this is the Putnam math competition: a ridiculously hard contest, taken by the best few undergraduates at institutions around the country (and in Canada and a few other places).  Typically, the median score is near 0/120 -- that is, of those top undergraduates, about half of them fail to score any points.  That's how hard it is.
I'm pleased with my turnout this year: 13 students, more than I've ever had take it before: and of those, I hope that more than half will get positive score, meaning that we beat the median.
I had fun during the contest: I've never taken it myself (I wasn't aware of it as an undergrad, and here is no facility for anyone beyond that level to take it) but I think that I know how to do about 75% of the questions. It always makes me happy to figure things out in real time, without the pressure that the contestants are under....

Yours, hoping my students did well,

Friday, December 3, 2010

Final day!

I gave my last lectures of the semester today.  Now it's just exams, and I'm done until January.

Yours, still ready to be done!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two days to go

to the end of the teaching part of the semester.  It's been a long one.

Yours, ready for a break!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hannukah to all

We try to celebrate all sorts of holidays in our family, whether or not we are members of the faith involved.  And so, this evening, we wish you all a happy Hannukah, beginning at sundown today.

Skibo lit the Shamus candle, and then the first of the remaining eight candles in the Menorah.

Yours, in celebration of the faiths of others,