Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Corner View: White

This white lion cut into the face of the chalk downs is a well known local landmark and marks the site of the rural branch of London Zoo. I didn't have an opportunity to take a picture but found this one on Flickr (photo credit Today is a Good Day). On a clear day in winter we can see the lion from the upstairs windows at the back of our house. Too far for a photo though, and at this time of year the view is still blocked by trees. To you give you some perspective, the lion is 483 feet long - the largest British hill figure. You can read more about it here.

For more corner views, visit Jane at Spain Daily.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 28th September

Outside My Window ... a grey morning, but supposed to be warm again this afternoon. Leaves yellowing on the trees.

I am thinking ... about Christmas. Yes, already. I like to shop and prepare in advance so that when we get to Advent I can enjoy doing all the fun stuff.

From the learning rooms ... lots of homework. Angel's workload has definitely cranked up this year.

I am thankful ... that Cherub is fully recovered and eating like a (miniature) horse.

From the kitchen ... preparing a traditional end of Yom Kippur meal for Tevye tonight. Chollah in the bread machine, cold fried fish, smoked salmon, salad, and honey cake.

I am wearing cord trousers, black and cream striped sweater, black vest, black socks. Very monochrome today.

I am creating ... fluff. Knitting a lacy cowl with fluffy, mohair rich yarn. I just need to finish the bottom edging.

I am going have a quiet afternoon in, reading to and playing with Cherub, looking after Star who is off school with a nasty headache, baking honey cake and hopefully spending a bit of time sitting with my feet up knitting.

I am reading ... Ripping Things To Do: the Best Games and Ideas from Children's Books by Jane Brocket. Review to come later.

I am hoping ... nobody else gets ill this week.

I am hearing ... blissful silence!

Around the house ... Playmobil taking over again, as Cherub wanted to get the castle out. It takes me an age to build, so once up, it stays up for a while.

One of my favorite things ... smoked salmon bagels.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... orthodondist's appointment for Angel to get her "train tracks" on Friday; brass band concert on Saturday.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... conker hunting. No. I have no idea why Cherub and friend needed binoculars to collect conkers, but they were very sure that they did. 

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pot Luck Dinner Menu

This was the menu we ended up with last night:

Starter: Bean, carrot, pea and mint, and aubergine dips, with flat breads (Morocco)

Main: Gedünstetes schöps (mutton stew) with Schwemmknödel (semolina dumplings (Austria)

Dessert: Kestane cicegi (chestnut meringues), Sekerpare (small cakes with lemon syrup), Kayisi tatlisi (apricots in syrup with cream and almonds) (Turkey)

Wine: eclectic, but heavy on Australian Chardonnay.

After each course those not in the know had to guess its origin. We got Morocco, but the closest guesses to Austria and Turkey were Hungary and Greece respectively. We were slightly handicapped by not being able to remember what countries we had put into the hat in the first place.

Great fun, and we are going to do it again next month. This time it will be our turn for the main course. After we picked our destinations we got carried away and added an extra sixteen countries to the pot for the next meal. That could get challenging!

Friday, September 25, 2009

7 Quick Takes

1. Big news for British Catholics this week - Pope Benedict XVI is to make a formal state visit to the UK in 2010. No details yet, as the news was leaked by a "government source" in advance of any official announcement from the Vatican.

2. Another news story caught my interest yesterday. A treasure hunter with a metal detector has uncovered the largest known hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, dating from around 700AD, in a field in Staffordshire. The importance of the find is said to rank with the Sutton Hoo burial or the Lindisfarne Gospels. The total number of items is expected to top 1,500, and will take the British Museum more than a year to value. Imagine the shock of the local museum curator who was presented with a box full of unimaginably rare and valuable treasure ... followed by another box ... and another box ... and another ... and another ... and that was before the archaelogists went in and dug up the rest!

3. A "Bizarre ER" incident at Angel's school yesterday, when one of her friends swallowed a hairgrip. Except she didn't swallow it; she inhaled it. After a trip to Accident and Emergency for x-rays, it was found in her lung. The last Angel heard they were trying to decide how best to get it out. Moral: if you are a teenage girl, do not put hairgrips in your mouth, especially if there is any chance someone will make you laugh.

4. Tonight is our regular internationally themed dinner party with our neighbours, with a twist. After working our way round a number of countries we couldn't decide on the next, so ended up putting country names into a hat and drawing lots for each course. None of us know what the others picked, so it is going to be a very random meal. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together. Or not. I spent the morning making Turkish desserts. I'll report back on the rest later.

5. Cherub has developed a liking for boiled eggs so Tevye cooked one for her. Groping for a name for this how-done-is-your-egg indicator he went generic and asked if he should put the "dooberry" (as in "whatsit" or "thingummy") in with the egg. Cherub was indignant. "No! No! No!!!!! I don't like dooberries. I don't want dooberry with my egg!" Note to self: remember not to serve Cherub dooberries. Strawberries - yes, blackberries - yes, raspberries - yes ... dooberries - no.

6. Speaking of Cherub - yes, she is very much better thank you. The antibiotics have done their job, and apart from a residual cough is virtually back to normal.

7. If you are planning a holiday in the UK, or just fantasising about one, take a look at some of the properties available for rent here. Watermill anyone? Medieval hospital? Lighthouse? Castle?

You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Corner View: Out The Car Window

The school run ... random point and click shots from the car window on a dull September morning.
ETA: It looks even more dull and grey on my laptop than it did when I uploaded the pictures earlier!

For more corner views, visit Spain Daily. Next week's theme is "white".

Green start ...

Stuck at lights ...

Railway bridge - too narrow for two lanes of traffic ...

Drop off point (not too near the schools - too much traffic!) ...

Left turn ...

Nearly home ...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 21st September

Outside My Window ... the first glimmers of daylight. Hoping for another pleasantly warm, early autumn day.

I am thinking ... of various things I need to sort out with Star before she leaves for school.

From the learning rooms ... Angel tells me she has her first GCSE exam in January (first of four Health and Social Care units). She is also working on a six week personal training plan as part of her PE coursework.

I am thankful ... for my mother, who celebrates her 82nd birthday today.

From the kitchen ... pasta with tomato pesto and creme fraiche for dinner. Maybe a second attempt at a honey cake for Rosh Hashanah. I usually make good honey cake, but my favourite cake tin died and I tried using one with a removable base. Bad move. Part of the mixture trickled out of the bottom into the oven and the rest was more congealed than baked.

I am wearing ... yes, pyjamas.

I am creating ... a pink cardigan with a cable pattern for Little Cherub.

I am going ... to Tesco first thing to pick up antibiotics for Cherub

I am reading ... Knit Two by Kate Jacobs (sequel to The Friday Night Knitting Club) but not liking it much.

I am hoping ... the antibiotics do their job and Cherub's chest infection clears quickly.

I am hearing ... Balamory.

Around the house ... bags. I could swear they multiply. School bags, PE bags, shoulder bags, book bags, carrier bags ... they all seem to cluster together in a corner of the sitting room. Maybe they like company.

One of my favorite things ... my cosy, warm winter duvet, which I swapped for the lighter, summer one last week.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ...  lots of rest for Cherub. A meal with our neighbours on Friday. Not much else.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... the green hat I made for Cherub (which she refuses to model as she is going through a camera shy stage).

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Online Prescriptions

Commenting on my previous post Jenn asked:

Please explain - website generated prescriptions. We cannot get a prescription without first seeing a dr. Does this work for antibiotics for ear infections and strep? Because I would be officially jealous. I always know before the lab tests when my children have strep and the dr. never believes me until he sees the lab results. This ends up with repeated appts. and labs until I can get a positive result and meds.
The answer is a bit long for a comment, so I've turned it into another post.

Website generated prescriptions are an oddity, thanks to the swine flu pandemic. Once it became apparent flu was likely to reach epidemic levels, the government set up a swine flu helpline, available both by phone and online. The idea is that people with suspected flu bypass the usual medical system and are kept away from doctors' surgeries as much as possible, rather than turn them into a viral disaster zone. The online helpline goes through a questionnaire designed to identify people with symptoms likely to be flu, and if your symptoms tick the right boxes it generates an automatic prescription for Tamiflu. You get a unique code number for a friend or relative to take to a specified pharmacy and collect the medication. Obviously this is only intended for straightforward cases. Anyone with underlying health conditions or other risk factors is diverted back into the normal medical system.

No, we can't get prescriptions for antibiotics - or anything else except antivirals - online, convenient as that would be. However, primary care doctors here rarely bother with lab tests for ear infections or sore throats, and simply use clinical judgement as to whether or not to prescribe antibiotics. As I understand it their decision would depend on severity of the infection, length it has lasted, and past history - so for a child with a history of needing antibiotics to shift throat infections, chances are you would get them more quickly.

Speaking of antibiotics ... poor Cherub is still not well. I decided not to give her the Tamiflu as she seemed to be much better over the past couple of days, and well on the mend by this morning. This afternoon she went downhill again, with another fever, a nasty cough and noisy breathing. After a phone conversation with a nurse and a trip to the out-of-hours doctor, the conclusion was that she didn't have flu, but now has a chest infection needing antibiotics. Ugh!

Friday, September 18, 2009

7 Quick Takes

1. Poor Cherub apparently has flu. We thought it was the sore throaty thing she had last week (and shared with everyone else in the family except Tevye) making a reappearance, but after two days of being feverish and unwell and spiking a high temperature last night it looked decidedly flu-ish, though whether swine flu or the common or garden variety who knows. Whatever, the NHS swine flu website automatically generated a prescription for tamiflu. I tried to disguise the contents of the first capsule in fromage frais. She was not fooled. 

2. After dithering over whether or not Cherub needed the tamiflu, I looked at the wilted, rather pathetic little person slumped on the sofa and decided on balance she did. She is now sitting on the floor hammering balls into a box and looking remarkably perky. Bad call?

3. Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year - begins this evening. That means three high holy days in the next eight days for Tevye. Rosh Hashanah tonight and tomorrow, followed by 24 hours of fasting and services for Yom Kippur a week on Monday.

4. First Communion classes start tomorrow morning. Last year we floundered through as novice catechists using a book intended for Catholic schools that we adapted as best we could. This year we are using Jesus Comes To Me by Dora Nash from Family Publications and feeling much more confident that we can do a good job. The book is clear, simple and covers all the basics, but is short enough that we can get through it in the twenty-five 45 minute sessions we have available. Optimism abounds!

5. Note the conjunction of takes one, three and four. Small child with flu; Tevye at synagogue; First Communion class to teach. Add in two other daughters at gym and then needing lifts to different places and tomorrow morning becomes a logistical nightmare. Thank goodness for K-next-door who will look after Cherub while I whizz round trying to get everyone to the right places at the right times.

6. Tevye and I had some interesting conversations following on from my attitudes to healthcare post. As a result I have a question for any UK based readers old enough to remember the old days of British Rail ... in your experience, has the rail system got better or worse since it was taken over by private companies?

7. Blogger is not behaving well. For some reason it refuses to acknowledge that I am signed in unless I go through the dashboard. This means all the quick-edit buttons have disappeared. It also means I can't comment on some blogs. (Clare at Battlements of Rubies, I have tried to comment on yours at least three times, and the darned thing won't let me!) Is anyone else having problems, or is it just me? 

You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Corner View: September

Autumn light ...

Colours begin to change ...

Shadows lengthen ...

For more corner views, visit Spain Daily. Next week's theme is "out the car window"

In Our World ...

Muddy puddles are for jumping in. 

An electronic version of "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" is fairy music.

Life is full of "great good ideas".

Slippers are to keep your feet warm in bed. 

Doing a cartwheel means waving your arms in a wheel shape.

Wellies can be used to enhance any outfit.

Spiders are good; ants are bad.

Adults dressed as cartoon characters to entertain children are an invention of the devil and mean one must be taken home immediately for safety.

There is no correlation between intake of food (substantial) and size (small).

Big sisters are devoted and beloved slaves.

Thanks to Sarah at This Heavenly Life (HT: Melanie)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 14th September

Outside My Window ... pale grey, early autumn light.

I am thinking ... I must remember to order new ballet shoes for Angel and Star. And Angel needs new school shirts ... and Star needs school shoes ... and a leotard ... and goodness knows what else I have forgotten. Eek.

From the learning rooms ... homework. Blah!

I am thankful ... for all the quality time with Tevye over the weekend (thanks to Angel!)

From the kitchen ... beef stew and dumplings. Autumn comfort food.

I am wearing ... pyjamas again. Pink and white this week.

I am creating ... a green baker boy / jockey style hat for Cherub, using up some left over cotton yarn. It is a very old pattern I found in my mother's collection and I'm not at all sure how it will turn out.

I am going ... to Marks and Spencer in search of a dressing gown for my mother's birthday next week (her request) and to return a pair of trousers bought online.  I ordered them in both size 16 and size 18 as reviews said they tend to come up small. The 16s fit and the 18s are going back. This is a very good thing!

I am reading ... Custom Knits by Wendy Bernard.

I am hoping ... for a busy, productive week. Last week both Cherub and I had colds and inertia set in.

I am hearing ... Tweenies on TV

Around the house ...getting cleaner and tidier. I'm finally finding myself organised enough to do more than the bare minimum.

One of my favorite things ... the cool tang in the air on a clear, bright autumn day.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... Angel has a babysitting job tonight; thinking of taking Cherub and her friend N to the pick-your-own farm tomorrow; a planning meeting for First Communion classes on Thursday evening (classes start on Saturday morning); Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) this weekend.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


She is, you know. Thanks to Angel, Tevye and I are having an especially nice weekend.

Last week Angel and J-next-door announced that they were planning to cook dinner for us and J's parents on Friday evening - a belated wedding anniversary celebration for us, and to celebrate A-next-door getting a new job. They did an amazing job, shopping, cooking, washing up ... the lot. This was the menu:

Starter: Vegetable kebabs
Main Course: Chicken in white wine sauce (all cooked from scratch), boiled new potatoes and steamed broccoli
Dessert: Fruit salad, ice cream and melted chocolate

Then last night she babysat while Tevye and I went out for a meal and to the cinema. Tapas, followed by Julie and Julia. I loved the film ... food, blogging, more food, a little romance, humour, food - what's not to like? A bit too much of a girly film for Tevye, though. Came back to Angel dealing very competently with a distressed Cherub, who had had a coughing fit that made her gag and was upset because she thought she was going to be sick (she wasn't, fortunately).

I also came back to a nice bunch of artificial flowers Star had bought for me while shopping in town with her friend earlier.

I love my daughters.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Healthcare Here and There

As I am dipping my toe into a hot potato subject here, I'm going to start with a disclaimer: I thought it might be of interest to my transatlantic mixed bag of readers to attempt an explanation of why there is a huge gulf in the perception of healthcare issues between the UK and the US. I'm not trying to make any sort of political point.

The US healthcare debate has been in the news again over here, and I was reminded of a forum thread I saw on Ravelry recently. Triggered by a question from a bemused British poster asking (politely) why plans to introduce a universal health care system in the US were reducing Barack Obama's popularity, it rapidly ran to over 1500 posts before being shut down by a moderator.

A year ago I could have been that bemused poster. Having grown up with a National Health Service (NHS) it had never occurred to me that people of good will could possibly consider nationalised healthcare a bad thing. In the run up to the presidential election I realised that a number of online friends - people whose integrity and opinions I respect - thought it a very bad thing indeed. Huh? What was I missing? After ten years hanging out on largely American message boards and egroups I had heard enough horror stories about health insurance and the lack of it for an American equivalent to the NHS to sound like a no-brainer to me.

By the time the presidential election was over I think I had more or less got my head round the deep seated suspicion many Americans have of government involvement in healthcare. The gist of it seems to be (1) distrust of "big government", and a belief that individuals should provide for themselves rather than rely on the state, (2) cynicism about the ability of government to do a good job in providing healthcare, (3) financial inequities and the likelihood of paying more for worse services, and (4) restriction of choice. And trying to put myself into American shoes, I can sort of understand this, though my ingrained assumption that national healthcare is best means it takes all sorts of mental gyrations for me to do so.

The mental effort is necessary because in the UK few people now remember a time before the NHS and we cannot imagine living without it. The idea of having to personally, directly finance our healthcare is literally foreign to us. Private top-up health insurance is an option, for those who want and can afford quicker, "better" (maybe?) and more luxurious treatment, but we assume that a reasonable level of care should be there automatically for everyone, regardless of financial circumstances. There is almost universal support for the NHS as an institution, and it is the sacred cow of British politics. While politicians and political parties may have different views on how the NHS should be run, and the extent to which private services can or should be integrated into the NHS, it would be political death to suggest that the NHS itself is a bad thing. Aspects of the service provided by the NHS are often criticised, but there is a general belief that the system can be improved from within. In other words, the NHS has flaws, but none that undermine the general perception that a universal healthcare system mainly free at the point of use is unquestionably the right option for this country.

So why are British and American perceptions so different? There is a big difference in the way government is perceived in the UK and the US. In the UK we tend to see government as irritating but necessary. The British grumble about and laugh at our government, but underneath the cynical veneer most of us are optimists who expect the government to at least be trying to work in our interests, whatever its political persuasion. We expect the government to bumble around and mess things up, but in a fairly well-meaning sort of way and without becoming so incompetent that things fall apart. From what I can see, many Americans are deeply suspicious and distrustful of government interference in a way that simply isn't the case in the UK. The British also seem less resentful of taxation as a way of redistributing resources for the benefit of the community as a whole. I'm not sure why this should be.

Then there is the matter of history. Put simply, the UK already has a national healthcare system; the US doesn't. Ours was set up in the aftermath of World War II. There was a widespread feeling that after the sacrifices and hardships of the war years steps should be taken to make post-war life better for all. The political will that made the introduction of the NHS possible in 1948 was a function of its time. The circumstances in which the NHS was introduced also helped to give it a high value in the national consciousness that has never been lost. Introducing government run healthcare in the UK in 2009 would likely be a very different prospect. For one thing, the financial implications are far larger. Back in the 1940s it was thought that once the whole population received good medical care, the health of the nation would improve and the cost of the NHS would decrease. Nobody then could have predicted the medical advances that would be made and the increased costs they would generate.

All in all, America and Britain have many similarities, but there are also some pretty big differences - attitudes to healthcare among them.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 7th September

Outside My Window ... the sort of sky that suggests the weather could do anything today - pale grey clouds with a little blue breaking through.

I am thinking ... it is seven o'clock in the morning. Too early for thinking. I can blog, but not think! (That could be a bad thing ...)

From the learning rooms ... all good so far. Both older girls seem happy enough with their various new teachers. Cherub is happy to be back at playgroup.

I am thankful ... that my week is falling neatly into a routine that looks as though it will work well. Something that simply didn't happen last term.

From the kitchen ... getting organised, with a new meal plan posted on my neglected cooking blog. Shipwreck stew tonight.

I am wearing ... blue and white pyjamas.

I am creating ... a little red top for Cherub and socks. Knitted Cherub a pink cabled scarf last week, and plan to make mittens and hat to match.

I am going ... to try out a local health club this week, starting with an Aquacise class this morning while Cherub is at playgroup. I so badly need to get fitter.

I am reading ... The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon. I think I made it through one chapter last week.

I am hoping ... this first full week of term will go smoothly.

I am hearing ... Cherub wanting to know if it is morning yet.

Around the house ... reasonably good order, though there are a few hotspots that need dealing with.

One of my favorite things ... Monday mornings. Really. I like the feeling of a new week starting, and Mondays are quiet for me compared to the weekends.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... dance classes start again, a play date for Cherub this afternoon, gym competition for Angel on Sunday.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman.

Friday, September 04, 2009

7 Quick Takes: Greek Edition

This week's quick takes are from our recent holiday on the Greek island of Thassos ...

1. The world has changed. Ten years ago when we last went to Thassos, most of the holiday makers there were British or Greek, with a sprinkling of Germans and Scandinavians. This time round, there were lots of Greeks, a tiny handful from the UK, and large numbers from the old Eastern bloc - Poles, Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Slovaks and others.

2. Only a few years ago around 10,000 people visited Thassos from the Uk every week. Now it is down to just three plane loads - around seven or eight hundred people. We have been trying to work out why. Judging by the large proportion of repeat visitors (ourselves included) it is nothing to do with the island itself. Our guess is a combination of factors: less people opting for package holidays thanks to the recession and the ease of independent travel using internet bookings; small travel companies being squeezed out by larger competitors; and the big companies concentating on a more limited range of destinations. We wonder if Thassos will still be available as a package from the UK at all a few years down the line. It would be a shame if it isn't, as it isn't an easy place to reach independently.

3. An old Thassos favourite of Tevye's is the doughnut man, who walks the beach with a tray of very yummy doughnuts. Tevye had built up expectations to the extent that when playing "beaches" before we left for our holiday, Cherub would begin the game by saying "I'll be the doughnutter!". Fortunately the doughnut man was still there and the doughnuts even better than we remembered, especially the chocolate ones. And Cherub didn't have too many doughnut / sand accidents. The doughnut man has also been joined by the sweetcorn man, so Cherub's repertoire has been extended ... as well as "Come and get your doughnuts!" we have "Kalamboki! Sweetcorn!"

4. One big improvement since I first visited Greece thirty years ago ... If one needs to answer a call of nature when at a taverna or bar, there is no longer a dreadful moment of uncertainty as to what lurks behind the door ... sit or squat? Greece has moved on and is now in the age of the automatic motion sensor hand towel dispenser (which sadly proved too technical for a certain adult member of our party!).

5. Cherub developed a new obsession while we were away. Uno. Every day had to begin and end with rounds of the card game, and she squeezed as many as she could persuade people to play in between. She nearly drove us insane, but her number recognition improved no end.

6. Many European cities and resort towns have little road trains that take tourists round the sights. Most are rather sedate, trundling along to the sound of worthy commentary. Thassos has the Great Fun Train, all flashing fairy lights, tooting horn and jingly Greek music, which rattles back and forth along the two mile length of coast between Skala Potamias (where we stayed) and Golden Beach every evening. Full of a polyglot assortment of families and couples, children waving excitedly both to and from the train as it passes the tavernas and bars along the sea front, the Great Fun Train lives up to its name. We loved it, and Cherub would have ridden on it every day, given the chance.

7. Menu mistranslations always provide good entertainment in Greece. I thought "salty flapjacks" (savoury crepes) was going to be this year's favourite until I spotted my all time winner: "God (frozen)".

You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Thursday, September 03, 2009

70 Years Ago

Seventy years ago today Britain and France declared war on Germany, two days after Hitler invaded Poland. The first shots of World War II were fired in Danzig (now Gdansk), the home city of Tevye's father, who managed to leave just a few months earlier, followed by his brother barely a month before the outbreak of war.

Listen to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's radio broadcast announcing the declaration of war here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Holiday Pictures: Thassos