Tuesday, April 22, 2014

London is Still Awesome & Stonehenge is Cool

Chloe is still having an amazing time in London. The trip has been so amazing, in fact, that when her iPod Touch went permanently missing last evening (we think it might have been kidnapped), she managed to stay astonishingly calm despite the huge disappointment of losing her electronic link to the outside world. I attribute her level-headedness to the fact that we have seen so many wonderful things over the last three days that the loss of her gadget has not been as traumatic as it would have otherwise been.  What are those wonderful things, you ask?  Read on.

(1) Chloe thought we were simply going to visit an exhibition of props from the "Harry Potter" movies.  But when we arrived at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London-The Making of Harry Potter, it slowly dawned on her that this was much more than just a display of props. It was the actual sets. The actual vehicles (like the Night Bus, below), the animatronic puppets and faces (including the robotic mask worn by the actor who played Hagrid), the actual living owls, including Hedwig. And best of all, the complete scale model of Hogwarts.  Needless to say, after reading the series several times and watching the movies just as many times, if not more, Chloe was in heaven.  


The Night Bus at Warner Bros. Studio London
(2) After stuffing her brain with all sorts of Harry Potter movie trivia, it was time to get serious.  I convinced her that the National Portrait Gallery would be right up her alley, as she's recently shown an interest in portraiture.  She was skeptical at first, but quickly realized that the museum was one of a kind.  We both agreed that the portraits of the 15th-16th century Tudor period were our favorites. But the great thing about traveling with a teenager who has one leg in adulthood and the other still in toddlerhood is that she has no hesitation posing for photos like the one below.

Chloe being silly at the National Portrait Gallery
(3) Some of the most enjoyable sightseeing we've experienced so far has taken place on walking tours with London Walks.  We have had the great fortune to go on three visits since Sunday, led by three terrific guides (all female and spectacular, mind you): Delianne, Kim and Chris. "Jack the Ripper Haunts" was a disturbingly graphic (i.e., not for the faint of heart) and fascinating stroll around London's East End. The crimes came back to life as we retraced the steps of his first five official victims and learned how difficult life was for destitute women who lived during the Victorian era. Our second walk, "Darkest Victorian London," also took us back in time to the 19th century.  Our guide told a vivid tale of the stark contrast between rich and poor during that era.  Among other stories, she introduced us to "mudlarks," the poorest of the poor children who tried to find anything of value in the mud along the Thames' banks to bring back to their starving and sickly families.  

The Mudlark Pub Under the London Bridge
She also introduced us to Octavia Hill, a social reformer who built public housing for the poor and community centers where children could do schoolwork and stay out of the streets, and women could learn new skill. Octavia also played a huge role in the creation of the British pubic library system.

One of Octavia Hill's Housing Projects
Our third walking tour was actually a day trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge in the Wiltshire countryside.  Salisbury is home to an exquisite Gothic cathedral built in the 13th century (think "Pillars of the Earth").  The cathedral is also the proud home of one of the four original versions of the Magna Carta.

The Salisbury Cathedral Spire 
Salisbury Cathedral
Stonehenge was on Chloe's must-do list.  We visited the neolithic site this afternoon.  The sky was threatening, the wind was blowing - in other words, the weather was perfectly atmospheric. After visiting Machu Picchu and the other Incan ruins last year, Stonehenge was, frankly, a bit of a letdown for me.  Granted, Stonehenge was erected around 3000 BC.  The builders used antlers to carve the stone. On the other hand, the Inca Empire lasted only 100 years during the 15th century and some of their monuments arguably don't seem much different from what Stonehenge must have looked like when it was first built. Considered under that lens, Stonehenge comes off looking quite a bit better, I suppose. Chloe, however, was not disappointed.  She came up with all sorts of theories about what Stonehenge represented, including one involving time travel that I don't understand.  One semi-serious theory that's floated around is that it was some kind of healing spa. I like that theory because I like spas.



(4) Thanks to Chloe's pre-trip research, we visited a terrific little museum yesterday called the Herb Garret and Old Operating Theatre.  Located in the attic of a church, the museum consists of displays of surgical tools, an old apothecary with exhibits of herbs used to treat disease and injuries and, most surprising of all, an operating room dating from 1822 that was used to treat female patients before anesthesia and the concept of sterilization existed.

Herb Garret and Old Operating Theatre

(5) A trip to London would not be complete without visits to such stalwarts as St. Paul's Cathedral, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.  One of our London Walks guides was kind enough to let us in on the secret that is "One New Change," a shopping mall in The City that has marvelous views of St. Paul's and the surrounding skyline from its freely accessed rooftop terrace. 

St. Paul's Cathedral from One New Change
Westminster Abbey
Chloe and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to successfully capture her hands encircling the clock face of Big Ben. The result was good but not great. After much arguing and laughing, it occurred to us that it'd be a lot easier for her to tip Big Ben over with her strong hands.  The photo below only took us two minutes to get right and it's one of our favorite pictures so far.  It may look Photoshopped, but it's the real deal.

Oh no, Big Ben's falling
(6) Last night we saw Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" in the West End.  It's the longest-running show in the world.  It was terrifically entertaining and a lot of fun to see such a classic.  We are bound to secrecy, however, when it comes to divulging the ending.  You'll have to go see it yourselves.

At the 25,596 performance of The Mousetrap
(7) One last note about the food.  Chloe and have had nothing but great meals since we've arrived.  The city has certainly changed a lot on that score in the last decade or two.  We've eaten Italian, Malaysian, French, Punjabi, and of course, traditional British fish 'n chips.  The food scene is exciting and incredibly varied.  I'm glad we're doing so much walking to compensate for our gluttony.

Chloe enjoying her first fish 'n chips dish



Saturday, April 19, 2014

London is Awesome...

...Exclaims the 13-year old who is enchanted by everything she's seen since we arrived yesterday.  And anyone who knows Chloe knows she's rarely enchanted. To quote my teenager:

"London is awesome. I like the way it looks. I like the gardens, the houses. I like the way people speak. I like the names of the streets and places. I like the food. I like the way London feels. I just like everything about London!"

And what is it we've seen so far? Quite a lot, indeed. So much, in fact, that today alone we walked about seven miles.  Here are some photo highlights.

(1) Chloe loves to shop. She was particularly eager to go vintage clothing shopping and in the past two days we've visited at least five storefronts and innumerable market stalls claiming to sell the stuff. It's been a successful trip for her so far, so much so that she's already blown through half of her spending money.  Below is a photo of Chloe combing the racks at Spitalfields.


(2) As Chloe said, you can't beat the way the Brits name their places.  Take, Dirty Dicks, for instance.  No, it's not a strip club. It's a pub. Oh, and for any perverts stumbling upon this blog because you Googled "Dirty Dicks" and were hoping to see something else, get a life.


(3) There were throngs of people at Portobello Market today. Most of the stuff on offer was schlock, but there were some attractive displays and Chloe still managed to buy a few things.  The porcelain teapots below were not among our purchases, but I couldn't resist the colors.


(4) This guy, also at Portobello, must have been sick of waiting for his wife to finish shopping. Yes, that's his head in the bucket. Chloe deemed his stunt cool enough to warrant a few pence.


(5) After Portobello Road, we walked to Regent's Canal and took a lovely stroll to an area called Little Venice where the majority of the houseboats dock.  The canal was a wonderful respite from the cacophony and crowds of Portobello. 



(6) We continued along the canal towpath to Regent's Park, where we admired the beautiful gardens, basked in the oasis of green in the middle of the city and rented a paddleboat because our legs weren't yet tired enough from all of the walking.



(7) We then walked to Soho and stumbled upon a wonderful restaurant called Rosa's Thai Cafe.  We were happy and exhausted when we returned to the hotel.  But the fun wasn't quite over for Chloe.  When we arrived, there was something on her bed.  She approached and saw macaroons and a lovely note from the staff at the wonderful Town Hall Hotel, wishing her a happy 13th birthday (we had told the woman at the reception desk yesterday that this trip was Chloe's birthday present). She was thrilled and amazed that they acknowledged the occasion.  Needless to say, she went to bed a very happy girl.




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sharing Wanderlust - London, Here We Come

Chloe and I are off to London tomorrow evening, our first vacation as a mother-daughter team. I have been anticipating this moment since our babies were born, hoping that someday I'd be fortunate enough to travel with them one-on-one when they were old enough to enjoy and appreciate it.

London has been at the top of Chloe's hit list since she first read the Harry Potter series. After much procrastination, she finally put her nose to the grindstone yesterday to figure out what she'd like to see and do while on the other side of the pond.  Her list is a great amalgam of off-the-beaten-track sites, from vintage clothing shops to obscure museums, that will complement what we already have planned.



While we've left plenty of time for serendipitous exploration, we've programmed a few special events that should make this vacation one we'll both remember for a very long time. On tap: opening night of the world tour of "Hamlet" at Shakespeare's Globe on the Bard's 450th birthday, the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour, a day trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge, and "The Mousetrap," the world's longest-running show.  The last one made the list because (1) hello, Agatha Christie, (2) it's an institution and (3) why the hell not?

I'm very curious to see how the two of us will get along.  I don't doubt that we'll aim a good amount of exasperated eye-rolling towards one another.  But we share many of the same interests - her list contains several bookshops and outdoor markets, for example - and humor.  She's willing to do a lot of walking, at least in theory. She's much more adventurous when it comes to food than she was even a couple of years ago and is looking forward to exploring the ethnic restaurants near our hotel in the East End.

While we're galavanting around London, Sophie will be with her Grammy annoying (Sophie's word, not mine) her favorite uncle in Austin.  My husband will benefit from a house devoid of his daughters and wife, and will have Truffle, the only other source of testosterone in the house, to keep him company.  At least he'll meet lots of neighbors when he walks the canine monster around town.  There's nothing like a cute puppy to generate conversation. I hope they won't drive each other too crazy.

Stay tuned for dispatches from the UK. Cheerio!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"NUTS" - a Comic Book by Sophie

Sophie took a class called the "Art of Comic Books" at our local museum.  She's always been more of a graphic novel-type girl than a traditional novel kind of girl, and the result of her weeks-long effort at writing and illustrating her own story are spectacular, in my not-so-objective opinion.

Without ruining the surprise, just know that there's a nut thief loose.  He's a squirrel, of course.  And there's a super hero who comes to the rescue. Her name is Super Kitty. And notice that Super Kitty is a she, not a he.  Girl power and everything.

Click on the individual images to enlarge them if you are unable to make out the text.














Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Trials & Tribulations of Super Truffle

Greetings, friends. It's been some time since I last took over human mom's blog, but I've been saving the stories for just the right moment.  And it now seems that moment has arrived. 

In a few short days I will be eight months old. There are days when I feel like I'm still a wee baby and then there are days when I feel like a senior canine citizen, an old pro just doing my thing.  

I'm increasingly comfortable in my very fluffy fur. Human mom tried her best not to let the weather get in the way of her taking me on lots of walks during these last weeks of winter.  I couldn't get enough of the snow but she would have curled up in a ball and hibernated like a bear for several months if it was considered socially acceptable behavior.  However, since hibernation is not particularly recommended, she sucked it up and indulged my love for the white stuff by bundling herself up every day, several times a day, in order to get me moving.  She even slipped on the ice and bruised herself a few times, all for my sake.  I am truly humbled by her commitment to my well-being. 

Although the snow has disappeared, I'm quickly realizing that spring isn't so bad. Now that the weather is warmer, human mom leaves the back door open so I can go out to the yard when I please.  I catch rays on the deck whenever I can.  The sun feels glorious on my fur. 


A couple of weeks ago, I was out on a walk and someone we passed said to human mom, "blah blah blah blah blah." Like the teacher in the "Peanuts." I didn't understand a word of it, but I heard human mom repeat the same "blah blah blah blah blah" - with guffaws - to everyone else she spoke to that day. It wouldn't have been noteworthy except for the fact that I knew it was about me. I was getting paranoid. I mean, the guy was looking straight at me when he made his comment. He pet me, too. According to human mom, the guy said, "Your dog's so well-behaved!" 

Yes, indeed. That was my first official compliment unrelated to my strikingly good looks. I strutted around, confidence at an all-time high, tail wagging, for the next couple of days.  But I'm a dog. And I forget pretty quickly. And let's just say that the man must have caught me when I was temporarily possessed by my doppelgänger, who happens to be a remarkably obedient puppy.  You see, although my leash manners have greatly improved and I'm making strides with the resource guarding (human mom and dad are still holding my food bowl when I eat, however), I'm still a puppy doing lots of dumb puppy things.  For example...

Running Out the Front Door

Any dog owner's worst nightmare.  Human mom and my favorite Sophie have been training me to stay in place at the door, but last week my puppy curiosity got the best of me.  Human mom opened the door and forgot to give me the proper command and restrain me. I shot out of the house like a cannonball out of a cannon and ran straight for the street.  In her panic, human mom forgot everything she had learned about just this kind of situation - namely why is she so diligently teaching me the "curb" command if she doesn't use it when it really matters? - until I was a few feet into the road.  Suddenly, I heard her plaintively yelling my name, as if she was hurt. And her tone freaked me out. And I came running back to her to make sure she was ok. Human mom was beside herself with worry. She blamed herself for what happened, but gave me the cold shoulder afterwards, too. I guess I should have known better. But I'm just a dog and there are no guarantees when it comes to predicting how I'll behave, especially when I have the opportunity to run with a gentle, cool breeze coursing through my fur.


First Road Trip

The family dragged me on a road trip to Boston this weekend.  My first road trip and hopefully my last.  What in the hell were they thinking?  It was the worst 24 hours of my life.  Human mom, in her obsessive-compulsive way, insisted on how important it was to acclimate me to traveling with them.  The car ride was bad enough - four hours!  That photo below, where I look relaxed and happy in the car with Chloe?  That was me play-acting for the camera.  I hated it.  I only managed to settle down after my favorite Sophie let me use her legs as a pillow.  Then I immediately felt better.  


That is, I felt better until they abandoned me in my crate in an unfamiliar hotel room as soon as we arrived.  They had some family thing to attend. Aren't I family? Why couldn't I go, too?  I was a wreck.

One of my proudest accomplishments is that I've NEVER had an accident in my crate. I kid you not. Not since day one. Until this past Saturday at that godforsaken hotel.  I crapped in my crate. It was absolutely disgusting.  When my human family returned, they smelled it right away.  And they felt awful. As well they should.  Mom immediately started to fret that she'd have to give me a bath - which she's never done (the groomer gives me baths, ugh).  But then they noticed something remarkable amidst the stench. I was perfectly clean.  That's right, my friends. I may have crapped in my crate, but despite my fragile mental state, I had the presence of mind not to lay down in it.  Which made my family feel even more guilty.  They cleaned everything up (at least they had the foresight to bring lots of extra towels) and I started to relax. Finally.

Mom spent that evening in the room with me while everyone else went out for dinner. She took me outside in the pouring rain several times. She was not happy.  I hadn't seen her that stressed since those first few weeks after they brought me home.  In the photo below, I'm lying down on my first hotel bed. It wasn't comfortable. I can't believe my favorite Sophie had to sleep on that thing. She would have been better off sleeping with me in my crate.


On Sunday, they wouldn't let me out of their sight.  The weather was still awful - it was teeming outside.  I got to visit my human cousins' apartment.  And play with their 1-year old daughter.  Mom kept me on my leash, but I was charming, if I do say so myself.  Didn't get into any trouble at all. And then it was time to get back in the car for the ride home. It was interminable. But I was feeling a lot better. No whining this time. I remained calm. Except at the end of the trip. I wanted to make sure my family understood - once and for all - that their behavior towards me this weekend was simply unacceptable.  So about 1/2 hour before we arrived home, I puked on my towel.  Because I'm a nice puppy, however, and didn't want them to suffer too much, I proceeded to eat most of my puke to limit the mess. They were grossed out. But when we arrived home a few minutes later, I was ecstatic. I've never been so happy to smell those familiar smells.

Note to human family from Super Truffle: never, ever do that to me again. Or else....







Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chloe in a New Light

Chloe is a jeans teen.  She loves her jeans. She only wears jeans, except in the summer when she wears shorts. She used to like to primp, but that was when she was seven and shopping for her was an absolute nightmare.  I will never forget spending almost five hours at the mall in a tearful (she wasn't the only one crying) quest to find a dress she'd actually be willing to wear.  I firmly believe that the trauma of trying to find "fancy" clothes she liked in 2007 turned her against dresses and skirts for the next six years.

In the words of the inimitable Bob Dylan, however, the "times they are a-changin'." Chloe attended her first bat mitzvah last weekend.  And while she could have worn a nice pants outfit (I have to dig up the photo of me at my bat mitzvah, where I wore a very trendy pair of purple velvet knickers. I kid you not.), she expressed a willingness to shop for a dress.  With the memory of the shopping debacle six years ago still very much making me tremble with dread to this day, we went to the mall, this time with my mom, and less than an hour after arriving, she found the perfect dress. On sale.  I was gobsmacked. No drama, no tantrums (which she is still wont to throw from time to time, albeit without hysterical tears), no eye rolling.  Just smiles.

The dress hung on the door to her armoire for several weeks as the big day approached. The night before the party, she finally shaved six months' worth of winter growth from her legs and armpits (she was very proud of the hirsute look she had cultivated under her jeans and shirts) and donned the dress for the first time on Saturday morning.  She put up her hair (also without any fuss, a non-event that was about as shocking in its non-eventness as the painless dress shopping last month), borrowed my red shoes and was ready to go.  And she was only a few minutes late.


I couldn't believe how lovely she looked. All grown up. Happy. Animated. Relaxed. And I suddenly had a vision of her five years from now, when she'll be graduating from high school. It's hard to believe that six years have passed since she made me question her sanity (and my own) with the dress shopping. It's even harder to believe that only a short five years from now she'll be ready to leave the house for college. I've said it before and I'll say it again, where in the hell does the time go?

After the party, Chloe admitted to enjoying playing dress-up and even expressed a desire to be invited to another bat/bar mitzvah so she would have the opportunity to wear the dress again.  The following day, she ordered a skirt. Of her own volition. This represents a milestone in her fashion evolution, as the only skirts she's ever owned have been foisted on her by me.

While I am the last person to play into stereotypes about how my daughters should dress (this blog is called "Pink Me Not" for a reason), I must admit that I am a wee bit giddy at the prospect of Chloe occasionally wearing something other than jeans. It's about freakin' time.