October 31, 2006
Passed the Theory Test!
Yay, God! I passed my UK Driving License Theory Test this blustery autumn morning.
I got 35/35 on the multiple choice part (I ought to have, with how much I studied; ask my family), and then 59/75 on the hazard perception part (you have to get 44/75 to pass), which involved watching 14 video clips and clicking the mouse as soon as I saw anything resembling a developing hazard (a pedestrian, an intersection, a horse, a bus, an ambulance, a bridge, a curve, a car pulling out, etc).
As the Test Centre staffer handed me my results, he kindly said, "Good luck on your practical." I think, though, that I prefer my brand of assurance I'll pass the next test: rigorous preparation and lots of desperate prayer. Worked this time.
Now to book some hands-on lessons with a CDI (certified driving instructor) and the practical test. I aim to pass the practical by Christmas (before the dreaded experience of switching back to the "other" side of the road in Colorado over the holidays). However, I have two years in which to pass it before I would need to retake the theory. On the other hand, I only have until August 2007 before I would have to stop driving, since my U.S. license would no longer be legal in the UK, having lived here a year by then.
Thanks to anyone who prayed for me :-)
October 26, 2006
44 Flavors of Fun
In my last post, I suggested that my brother's family and ours had played 20 kinds of games and had 10 other kinds of fun in the past five days of their visit. That would be 30. Then I remembered something I forgot, which would make it (like Baskin Robbins ice cream) 31 Flavors of Fun. However, that was only a very brief stop, because then I was reminded of several other things that we had already enjoyed, and THEN, we proceeded to add several more today.
Here are the activities I missed from before:
- telephone (the whispering in people's ears around the table and seeing how garbled the message gets game)
- 20 Questions
- make up a story by each successive person adding a sentence
- climbing on enormous rocks by the sea
- throwing rocks at a pylon in the sea, trying to hit the wood, then trying to land a rock on top of the pylon
- racing one at a time down a rocky hill to a bridge and back up the hill, being timed
- football in the back yard (mostly mudball)
Then today we added:
- Bohnanza (a fun bean card trading game)
- walking an hour and 20 minutes around Virginia Water Lake (David, Mark and Katherine striding fast)
- Tailball (both with the tailball and with a regular ball, which seemed to work better)
- catch with a whiffle ball in the front yard
- whiffle baseball
- hangman (the two girls upstairs on Emily's whiteboard easel)
- Quoridor (thanks once again, KFB! Now that has been a long-lasting gift)
Which brings the total to 44 Flavors of Fun. After one more day of this, we'll all have to collapse - the fun guests on the plane ride home, and us in our beds!
In the past five days, while my poor, dear, long-suffering, well-appreciated and faithful husband has been working away, I have been having a blast with my visiting brother (named David, like my husband and my father and the plumber and my two boyfriends before my husband and two other guys in my husband's group at work and the good president in 24 and the most famous king of Israel and the magnificent white statue in Florence) and my nephew (Mark, 16) and niece (Jessica, almost 14).
If I count it correctly, we've played 20 different kinds of games so far, and done at least 10 other kinds of fun things that don't quite qualify as games:
- Canasta (Bro David and Mark won against Jessica and me; I think I got a lot of the rules wrong)
- Feudal wars (Jessica won, in the hotel lounge waiting for our dinner table to be ready; wikipedia doesn't know this game - maybe someday I'll make an entry)
- Hearts (in moving car)
- Poker (Texas Hold 'Em)
- Apples to Apples (twice so far)
- Oh Hell (often dubbed "Oh Well" in circles to whom the other word actually means something; "Oh Pshaw" to my grandmother)
- Danish (taught us by friends who are now missionaries in Bosnia)
- Rail Baron (Mark won, amazingly after being the only person who had to auction off a property due to lack of money)
- Clue (until after midnight; Emily won!)
- Seafarers of Catan (twice so far; Jason won both times)
- Chess (an uncle-nephew game; my brother David won)
- Mad Chatter
- Name the Movie Stars (one person names an actor, the next person names a 2nd actor who's been in a movie with the 1st actor. The next person names a/the movie the two were in together, and then names a 3rd actor who was in a movie with the 2nd actor, etc...)
- Alphabet category games (pick a category, like "colors" or "things to do with a ranch" and go through the alphabet finding items beginning with each letter that fit in that category)
- Rhyming clues (think of two words that rhyme, then give clues to the two words and the other people have to guess the rhyming words. E.g.: One doesn't cost anything, and one is a tall plant. Answer: Free and Tree. This can also be done with words that spell each other backwards instead of rhyming with each other. E.g.: One is not the bottom, and one is used for cooking pasta. Answer: Top and Pot).
- Sardines (one person hides in the dark house at night, everyone else looks and silently hides with them until one person is left...)
- Ping Pong (at a hotel in the New Forest National Park; "New" being relative, since the forest was established in 1079 by William the Conqueror)
- Hide and seek in the woods (adults on foot hid, kids on bikes sought)
- Dance Praise (step on the arrows on the dance mat in time to the arrows on the computer screen which descend to the rhythm of contemporary Christian pop music)
Other Fun Stuff:
- Visited Stonehenge (in the driving, soaking, pelting rain such that we had to buy emergency rain plastic to sit on in the car and Stonehenge tea towels to attempt drying off a bit for the rest of our drive)
- Drove to the Solent, the strip of water separating the Isle of Wight from mainland UK, and skipped stones into the crashing waves while looking out at the island; also watched a seaside house being demolished
- Baked a lot: cookies, banana bread, coffee cake, marble pound cake
- Rewatched That Thing You Do! at home all nestled in our little guest room
- Walks and bike rides in woods behind our house
- Ate pizza delivered to our house by Domino's, had Doritos and ice cream sandwiches
- Took them clothes shopping at 70-80% off at Sports World in Staines
- Went to see a movie at the cinema and had popcorn and Maltesers
- Had thoughts about going to Legoland or Windsor Castle, but haven't made it to either yet
- To bed late & up late every day...a real rest and vacation
They have stamina, my relatives! I took a little pause from games to write this post, but now I'm sure it's back at it :-)
October 21, 2006
Outback on the Thames
We've been living here three months now, and tonight we made a nostalgic culinary discovery: they have an Outback Steakhouse here! It's in Staines, a shopping town about 15 minutes from our house. I don't know why, but this thrilled me. I think of myself as being very happy here, and loving the intercultural experience, counting my blessings to be living abroad...but this familiar sight and taste nonetheless delighted me to no end. Looks like there are six Outbacks in Great Britain, but not a single one in any other country in Europe. Believe it or not, they actually have two of them in Australia itself. Huh. I wonder who eats there.
Freshly squeezed orange juice, coconut shrimp, Caesar salad with honey-mustard dressing instead of the standard, bushman's bread with a big knife sticking out of it, Victoria's filet with baked potato covered in fixings, and of course a shared Chocolate Thunder from Down Under to top it all off: they were all as familiar as the inside of my closet. Tasty and varied and filling.
Differences here (UK) vs. USA:
- the special bread isn't complimentary, you have to order it
- likewise, first course salad doesn't come with the steak
- the Thunder comes in two sizes, and the smaller one is smaller than the regular one in California.
- they have Appletizer (a fizzy 100% apple juice drink), of which Emily partook
- there's smoking allowed at the bar (but it didn't filter too badly back to our table, which we requested to be as far away as possible)
- the waitresses speak with a British accent
- the kids' menu has British spelling (colour, etc.)
- THE THAMES RIVER IS RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR (instead of the Apple Computer campus!). This was really an amazing experience, to exit this Australi-American restaurant and be standing on the banks of the Thames River, the same famous one that flows through London and a great deal of the southern British countryside.
Otherwise, it was exactly the same restaurant we know and love. With one more small exception that our daughter Emily wishes you to know about: she has outgrown the beloved macaroni and cheese. She had it again tonight and finally decided it's just a bit too plain and tasteless for her now. No comment; we'll just sit back and watch this fascinating growing up process.
October 19, 2006
Flamenco, Yolks, Study & Voting
Heart Swelling: It Really Happens. I experienced it watching my daughter perform in yesterday morning's combined K-8 school assembly. She participated in a group of four flamenco dancers stepping around the gymnasium floor in time to "Volare," a very catchy tune (listen at ). It seemed to this mother's ears that the audience erupted into thunderous applause afterwards, despite the fact that these four girls were aged about 5-8 years, and had only practiced the dance about 4 times. The kind support was tangible. Emily then went on to say a line in a presentation and sing with the whole third grade a song called "We are the Children of the...21st Century." They all held up flags from different countries around the world and sang of peace and resilience. The rest of the assembly was also very enjoyable and multicultural: a group of brass instrument players treated us to the theme song of Wallace and Gromit (listen at ), and other students sat on the floor and happily bonged away at their Indonesian Gamelan percussion machines, producing an incredibly well-timed and properly tuned set of musical pieces. The Lower School music teacher's wife is Indonesian, which explains the presence of this intriguing pastime.
Fried Egg, Hold the Yolk. Tonight I made the discovery that one can fry an egg without bothering to put the yolk in the pan. Emily doesn't like the yolks, just the white (her one healthy eating preference), so she asked if hers could be yolk-less. I couldn't see why not, so I went for it. Yup, it works.
949 Multiple Choice Questions. These are what I've been studying hard for my UK driving license theory test which is coming up in 12 days. The actual test will only have 35 questions, but it could be any of these 949. A lot of them are common sense, but then there are those that are just memory work, as in:
- the braking distance at 60mph on a good, dry road is 73 metres (240 feet)
- toucan crossings (for bikes & pedestrians) have NO flashing amber light
- powered wheelchairs/scooters have max speed of 8mph
- SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) lasts 12 months
- max fine for driving w/o insurance: £5000
- MOT certification is valid one year from issue
- while using mobile phone: 4x more likely to have accident
- use sidelights when parked on road with >30mph limit
- nearest you may park to a junction: 10 metres (32ft)
Voting from Abroad. We have another chance to decide whether or not to vote for the Terminator... along with deciding on 13 propositions and just about every other position for the state of California. We received our Absentee Ballots safely at our new address in England - I was very pleased that my address change efforts worked in that domain. Looking forward to mailing my ballot in soon, once I've completed my research and marked my preferences.
October 17, 2006
18 Rounds of Bridge
Today I pretended I had nothing to do (ha ha) and spent all day just having fun. I never went home at all while the kids were at school. I dropped them off, then took my husband to the train station, got my hair cut for the first time in England (just a trim, it's still long), and then played 18 hands of bridge with 15 complete strangers and one acquaintance (all ladies). I wasn't sure how I would take to this, but I had a blast. I think I will do it again next month. It's supposedly in an effort to please my husband, who likes bridge very much, as well as to develop a good pastime for visits with my parents and in-laws (all four of whom are avid players), but I have to say it's growing on me as just plain fun.
For those of you who play bridge, here are my scant notes on how it went, just what I could scribble during the few moments not shuffling, cutting, sorting, counting, thinking, bidding, planning, playing or laughing:
1: defended; they made it
2: dummy (went down 1)
3: defended 1D (they made it)
4: declarer for 4S - made it!
5: declarer for 2NT - made 4NT!
6: declarer for 1C - made GRAND SLAM (oops, partner got mixed up in how many points needed to respond; we had only needed 30 points to win the rubber, so this left us 10 points short!)
7: defended: they made it
8: defended 1NT: lost the first rubber
10: defended (they made it)
11: defended 1S (they made it with 4 overtricks)
12: declarer 2D: made 5D
BREAK FOR LUNCH: 1pm-1:30pm. Chatted with two ladies who (like me) lived in Geneva for five years each! Also a lady from South Africa, and others who lived in Hong Kong and Kazakhstan and France, etc
13: defended 2H (they went down 1)
14: defended 3H (they made one over)
15: defended 4H (they made it)
16: lost 2nd rubber sometime around now
17: we all passed
18: dummy for 2D: partner made it
2:35pm went to pick up kids at school.
It feels sort of clandestine, having so much fun and not getting anything accomplished. But it is a good way of meeting new people, I suppose, and will help me not to develop Alzheimer's or dementia :-)
October 15, 2006
David, Emily and I just got back from a cool little impromptu road trip to Wales. An overnight.
You know, your average 12th century abbey, 13th century castle with multiple moats, and 1st century Roman amphitheatre and fortress.
1. On the left, TINTERN ABBEY, Monmouthshire, WALES (founded 1131 A.D. by Cistercian monks)
2. On the right, CAERPHILLY CASTLE, WALES (built ca. 1270 A.D.). It has a cracked tower that apparently leans more than the Tower of Pisa...and it looks like it's going to fall over any moment, though they assured us it's been that way for 350 years and they check it every few months. As Emily was walking around on the high ramparts, I didn't do it on purpose, but I did say, "Walk Caerphilly!"
All that two hours' drive from our house. We'd never been to Wales before.
Jason also just got back from his youth group retreat, where he launched real fish at people with buckets, made his way through swamps on logs, played night games in the forest with glow sticks, stayed up until 2am, watched Mission Impossible, and learned about Bible Action Heroes...their hearts, their character, and how God worked through them and works through us now, with His forgiveness, grace, and strength in our weakness. It was a great weekend all around!
October 10, 2006
Responding to Comments
I used to be on top of responding to blog comments. I relished answering almost every one with some sort of acknowledgement or reply, usually by email, but occasionally in a follow-on comment (or both). At the moment, however, there are 18 wonderful but unanswered comments sitting in my inbox (dating from mid-July until this morning), seven of them from the past week.
So I am devoting a blog post to answering a few of them, on the premise that all these commenters will see the post, and might never get answered otherwise, if I had to get around to each on an individual basis. If your comment isn't answered below, please know I did see it and appreciated it greatly! Thank you!
Paul Merrill in Nairobi, Kenya, commented on the backlog in getting appointments for the UK drivers' test (he lived in the UK previously). He advised I book early to avoid disappointment.
Yes, Paul, indeed there was a three and a half week wait for the theory test, and I've heard there's a 4-8 week wait for the practical. That's why I'm starting when there are 8 months left until my U.S. license doesn't work anymore.
We have one standard mat, which was fine except it moves around on the ground a lot and gets scrunched up a bit when dancing the medium and hard songs which require lots of fast stepping. That mat was available in the UK with the game, but we couldn't get two mats or a 2nd mat alone without the game, in the UK. So David brought back a second mat from the U.S., having been there on a business trip. We chose a deluxe model for the 2nd mat (not the super-deluxe, just the medium fanciness one!), and it is SOOO much better. Because it has a lot of foam stuffed inside it (it took up half his suitcase, which he was so kindly cheerful about), it doesn't get scrunched up, stays put, and of course is softer for our feet and knees. I would have to recommend it, although it is of course quite a bit more expensive. It zips around the foam insert.
About Cranium, we have the original game, and also had Cranium Kadoo. We only use the former with adults, and we never really used the latter (I think it left two moves ago). Oh well. With the kids, we like to play Apples to Apples Junior (got it from a neighbor in California at a yard sale), and card games. With Jason, we like to play Seafarers of Catan and Rail Baron (1984 version), but unfortunately Emily isn't really into such long games (yet?).
Both Birgit and Jeffy recommended Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede as a fun read fitting perfectly into our family's current princess/dragon genre. Jeffy also recommended Ursula K. LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea series, which I believe I saw on Martin's blog as well. Martin commented, "I don't think your daughter (or anyone else) will 'zip' through Inkheart and Inkspell. They are both rather long."
Thanks, Birgit and Jeffy! We are constantly searching for new books for both kids. Can't wait to look into them. Martin, Dragon Rider, by the same author as Inkheart & Inkspell, is 528 pages long. That's the one she just read twice in a row. Inkheart is 560 pages, and Inkspell is 656 pages. We'll see if she likes them as much. Both my kids read faster than I do. I literally can't keep up with them, even if I had the same amount of time to read as they do.
Helen said her kids had read most of the books my kids recommended, except for the Dragonspell series and the Shannon Hale books.
My question to you, Helen, is: what other books would you recommend for my kids? Please post on your blog a list of books or series your kids have enjoyed the most in the past few years (and that you found the most wholesome as well as devourable). That would be awesome.
Also, thank you to all of you who left the kind congratulatory notes on the 5000-days-married post. That was fun. Our next new milestone (yesterday) was 13 and 3/4 years. In case you were wondering about how long 5000 days translates into.
Dance Card is Full
I don't play golf, and I never have. Interestingly, I formatted the flyer with details for the school PTO Golf Tournament and emailed it to the computer-challenged organizer so she could send it out to the participants.
I'm hosting a prayer meeting this afternoon at my house for Moms in Touch, International, to pray for our school and our kids there. I only just met these people last week.
As I mentioned before, I'm Room Parent for our son's class. I've had parents with more experience at the school tell me that "new" parents (to the school) are not really supposed to be room parents (but no one else would do it).
Our six-week Biochemistry-Master's-teacher houseguest (whom we met the week before she came to stay) is moving into her new apartment this Saturday.
I seem to be losing my voice a bit.
My husband told me last night that to the next five requests made of me by people outside the family, I should simply say. "No, sorry. My dance card is full for the rest of the month."
I think I get it from my mother. I seem to recall my dad saying similar things to her.
October 08, 2006
Juvenile Fiction: Dragons & Princesses
For people looking for new fodder for their book-devouring progeny (or themselves).
Dragon Fantasy Books recently test-driven (and approved!) by my children, a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl:
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. Jason (almost 12) plowed through it and is now on the new sequel, Eldest. He has a Book Challenge going for his language arts class at school, which required him to set a reading goal each month and say whether he met it or not. Each book has such a differing number of pages, though. Eldest, for example, has 668 pages, whereas the Redwall books have about 375. He's also been reading several of those and liking them.
Last year's two major Dragon series for our family, which both kids loved, and we (the parents) found had great messages as well:
The four-book Raising Dragons series, by Bryan Davis.
The Dragonspell trilogy, by Donita K. Paul.
In non-dragon book news, Emily has also recently loved four books by Shannon Hale:
Princess Academy (thanks to the review by Semicolon Sherry!), and then the trilogy:
The Goose Girl (also reviewed by Sherry, though I hadn't seen that until now),
Enna Burning, and
I can't exactly review any of these books myself, since I haven't read a single one. Well, I did read one of the Redwall series (which doesn't fit in the dragon/princess theme), but I found it quite slow and tame. David, however read the whole Dragonspell series mentioned above and liked it. After Jason read them, and Emily read all three books four times in a row, it seemed like a good way for him to commune with the kids!