Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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So, have you watched ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’? As part of the whole, ‘family at home for Christmas so we ought to do something’ time, we went to the cinema. Afterwards we had dinner at Pizza Hut (even though I promised myself about ten years ago, that I would never have to eat in a Pizza Hut again.) It was actually a really fun evening. I’ll tell you about it (with a warning if you haven’t seen the film, this does contain spoilers.)

For those of you who don’t know (mainly you, Mum) ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is another film in the Harry Potter series – you know, the ones about the boy who is a wizard, who makes friends with the ginger-haired boy, and the girl who all the teenagers now fancy? Well, this film is supposed to be before all that took place, in the 1920’s, and is set in New York. I came away with very mixed feelings about it.

Firstly, it is excellent entertainment. I usually get bored in films aimed at a younger audience (the Harry Potter books and films didn’t quite do it for me if I’m honest.) This film however, I watched throughout without ever wondering how much longer before it ended. The plot was good enough, but the acting was excellent (perhaps J.K. Rowling decided experienced adult actors would make a better film and so wrote a book with only grown-ups in it. Or perhaps I am too cynical.) The special effects and scenery were all convincing, making for something of a visual treat. If you like a bit of make-believe, I expect you will love this film.

However, and this is quite a big however, there was something that left me feeling uneasy. It didn’t feel the same as the Harry Potter films, which I felt never really strayed from storybook witches and wizards. Now, I was not one of those Christians who refused to read her children ‘Hansel and Gretel’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’ because they contained witches. I do believe there are spiritual forces that are evil, I do believe we shouldn’t mess with that stuff, and occult practices and ‘real’ witchcraft is dangerous. I just do not happen to put the witch in Sleeping Beauty into this category. It is a story, unrelated to real life, and the witches in it are not representations of people involved in the occult. I wasn’t so comfortable with this story. With Harry Potter, I felt the message of ‘good defeating evil’ was very clear. There were witches and magic, but it was all storybook stuff, and the baddies were easy to spot, and it was all far removed from reality.

In Fantastic Beasts we were presented with the New Salem Philanthropic Society. These were humans who were against witchcraft. It all felt a bit too much like things that happened in real life. Even the name is not exactly made up. And yes, I realise that people claiming to be Christian have done some pretty terrible things (in the past and present) and I know the ‘witch hunts’ in Salem were very bad. But why bring reality, even a touch of it, into a fantasy film? What is the point being made?

There was also an execution scene. It was, I felt, not really in keeping with a children’s film. Although what actually happened wasn’t gory or gruesome, the thought of someone walking towards a death sentence is not one I would want my 12 year old thinking about.

Not that I was with 12 year olds of course. I was with my family, who enjoyed the film. Their only comment was that when the characters gave instructions to their wands, it always worked, and when they do the same with their phone: “Hello Google, what is the time?” the phone always gets it wrong: “Certainly. Phoning Grandma.”

After the film, we went next door to Pizza Hut. We used to go to Pizza Hut a lot as students. We had no money, and it was a cheap place for a ‘special meal’ when we wanted to go out. I have moved on from those times. Husband hasn’t. He went excitedly to the salad bar, to show his sons how to extend the perimeter of the salad bowl with slices of cucumber, thus enabling extra salad to be heaped into the bowl. Sons were unimpressed and pointed out that unlike in the ‘olden days’, you could visit the salad bar as many times as you wanted. I actually, was unkeen on eating any salad at all, as on our way in we had passed a small child who appeared to be massaging the lettuce.

Actually, it wasn’t too bad. If you ignored the sticky menu (a variation on a ‘taster menu’) and the sticky seat and the sticky table, everything was fine. The waitress was friendly, the pizzas were nice, and the wine went down very well. The males in the family then made a comparison table of stats showing how the price per size of pizza compared to pizza express – but I don’t think this is an obligatory activity if you choose to go with different people.

Take care,
Anne x

Counting Stars is available from Amazon to read on a tablet or Kindle. A great read, at £1.99, with 5*reviews! Go on, why not treat yourself?…..

 

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Thank you for reading.

xxxxx

anneethompson.com

xxx

Graduation Saga

Do events in your family always go to plan? Ours don’t…..

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Hello, are you ready for Christmas? I’m not, but the end is in sight, and I am remembering to stop worrying whether or not things are wrapped and posted, and actually enjoy the moments spent with family and friends. Plus I really love everyone else’s Christmas decorations, even if mine are a bit tatty this year!

One special time with family was at son’s graduation. Yes, he did graduate a year ago, but this was his masters graduation. It did not go entirely to plan…

So, first challenge was how to get to the ceremony. Son had, in his wisdom, decided to attend Leeds University. We live a long, long, way from Leeds, about 5 hours in the car if the roads are clear. Husband and son discussed various options, but finally decided to go there and back on the day. This meant an early start, as we needed to allow for possible delays on the motorway. They told me we would be leaving the house at 5am. Yes, that’s right, 5am. Super.

I set the alarm for a 4 number. Animals gave me very strange looks when their breakfast arrived in the middle of the night. I showered, dressed, glanced in mirror….and decided my fringe was getting a bit long. Now, I have no idea why giving my fringe a quick trim when my eyes were still blurry seemed like a good idea. But it did. So I did.

5am arrived, we were all in the car, off we went.

At 9am we stopped for breakfast. We were nearly in Leeds, ready for a ceremony that started at 2pm, but I didn’t say anything. Felt slightly more awake after the coffee and used the washroom at the service station (always a delight.) As I was washing my hands, I glanced in the mirror. My hair was very short at the front, and not very straight. Looked almost as if I had cut it myself when half asleep, very early in the morning, with some nail scissors.

As we got back in to the car, I mentioned my hair to husband. I was hoping for some reassurance.
Me: I’m not sure cutting my fringe at 4am was such a good idea.
Husband: Oh, THAT’S what happened! I was wondering why you had gone for the Ugly Betty look.
Me: Silence. (Actually, I wasn’t silent. I laughed. My husband is an appalling person, but when he says outrageous things it always makes me laugh. Perhaps that’s why I married him.) Did not feel very reassured.

We arrived in Leeds (in very good time) and went to son’s house (which was very nice) and met his housemates (who are very nice) and then got changed ready for the ceremony. It was at this point that son realised his wallet, which contained all his ID, was missing. He needed his ID so he could register at the ceremony and collect his gown. He and husband had a thorough search of the car. No wallet.

We set off for the university. It was now pouring with rain, and we had no idea if they would let son take part in the ceremony as he had no proof of identity. All the graduands lined up, waiting to show their ID and receive the forms necessary to collect the gown and be told where to sit. Husband hovered nearby (he likes to help).

When son reached the front of the queue, he explained that actually, he had no ID, as he had lost his wallet. Husband helpfully added that he had his wallet and could prove who he was, and they would notice the surname was the same, hence proving he was son’s father. Plus he had baby photos. He then removed baby photos from wallet and showed them to person registering the graduands. She looked slightly surprised. Son looked slightly embarrassed. Registrar and son then had a conversation, she asked him for his date of birth, his student number, things like that. She then gave him the necessary forms so he could take part in the ceremony. But I’m sure the baby photos helped.

The rest of the day was without incident. I was very proud of son. It was nice to see all the family groups huddled in corners around the university, all honouring the person who had achieved the degree. I like to mark occasions, I guess it’s part of how we show people have value.

Before returning home, I suggested it might be worth checking the car again for the wallet. Ah. The wallet was, of course, lying where it had fallen. Another time I will help the males look myself. But I won’t cut my own hair early in the morning again…..

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Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed this, why not buy a copy of my book? Who would you like to make smile this Christmas?

hidden-faces-final-cover-6-july-2016

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Faces-Anne-E-Thompson/dp/0995463204/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474888617&sr=8-1&keywords=hidden+faces+by+anne+e+thompson

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Postcards from the boys…

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My boys arrived home from their tour of Europe. I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I was to see them! They had written me postcards while away – they didn’t actually get round to posting them, but they were fun to read when they emerged from the bottom of the dirty washing bag… I thought I would share them with you. Here they are, as written:

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Family!
Greetings from Warsaw.
We are still alive.
Have eaten mostly Mcdonalds
and an indian bloke
keeps stealing our water.
Love
Sons
x
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Family!
Greetings from Krakow,
We are still alive!
Have eaten only £2 pasta
from a dodgy shop.
The entrance to our hostel
looks like a torture chamber
Love Sons! x
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Hi Family,
Greetings from Budapest
We are still alive!
Have eaten only 55p pizza
– James keeps complaining.
We went to the ‘hot springs’
that turned out to be a wave pool
(we went to the wrong place)
Love Sons
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Family,
We are in Bratislava
We are still alive!
We ate traditional Slovak food that
turned out to be sheep’s cheese porridge.
James has a small cold and is
claiming to be too ill to do
anything – wimp.
Love
Son & ill son
x
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Family,
Greetings from Prague!
We are still alive!
Did not get postcard from Austria
because James was (pretending to be) ill
and it would have cost £10.
We ate nothing but breadrolls
in Salzburg.
James has mostly stopped moaning.
See you soon
Love Sons x

xxxxxxx

Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did!

Fancy reading something different? Take a walk to the world that is just around the corner. Meet a family, who is just like your family, living in a familiar place with some huge changes. Prepared to be entertained, captivated and made to think, long after you have finished reading….
Counting Stars by Anne E Thompson, available from Amazon as a Kindle book.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-Anne-E-Thompson-ebook/dp/B01GA99KTG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474886257&sr=8-1&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson

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Or, if you live in the US:

https://www.amazon.com/Counting-Stars-Anne-E-Thompson-ebook/dp/B01GA99KTG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474886498&sr=8-1&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson

xxx

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Letter to a Sister – children, arms and cakes….

Hi, how was your week? I could’ve done with you here this week, I needed a bit of reassurance that I will see my boys again. They have left to travel around Europe. No money, no plans, way too much confidence. They left at 4am to get a coach from Gatwick to Stansted (because it was cheap) to fly to a forest near Warsaw (because it was cheap) and planned to stay in an establishment called (apparently) The Okey Dokey (because – yep, you guessed it – only £15 per night for two people including breakfast.)

So, please tell me that in two weeks time I will see them, unharmed, back in the UK. I did ask them to send me some sort of message each day, just so I know they’re alive. Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a Polish man claiming to have kidnapped them and asking for ransom (I replied it was way too high.) Today I was told they’d moved to a new hotel – which sounded eerily like the one in the Hostel film (if you haven’t seen it, don’t. It is awful, I only saw it by mistake and I still cannot lose the horrible images.) I am assuming all this means they are safe and well. And I know they will look after each other and have an amazing time and create some wonderful memories. But I will be SO happy to see them when they get home!

Mum also left this week. She had booked a cottage in Norfolk and set off with a suitcase as light as she could make it (she even removed photographs she was taking from the envelopes to save weight.) I took her up to Liverpool Street Station and put her on the train. She had been worrying about this – had even practised the week before so she knew where to go, so it was nice to be able to take her. It sounds like she is having a great time, lots of family are there too and she has friends there (she has friends everywhere). Even the weather is being kind for her.

I however, am quite content to be at home. Especially as I have hurt my arm. Very annoying. I fell over ages ago (was overtired and tend to get a bit unsteady, tired brain and all that.) I thought I would have a huge bruise, but nothing came up, and my fingers seemed to work okay, so I figured nothing was broken and carried on, as you do. Then while we were in Cyprus, it started to hurt a bit, and has been getting gradually worse. I can hardly use it at all now, even unscrewing a jar is impossible.

So, I was trying to ice a cake (for Bill, who is 98) and I couldn’t roll out the fondant icing. I have never used that before, so I watched a youtube clip, and it looked really easy, thought I would give it a go. Anyway, all was fine until I came to the rolling out bit. I was nervous about making a large cake (it needed to be shared with 40 people), I knew it would end up like a brick with a dip, so I used some bread tins and made 6 smaller cakes, then sandwiched them together with butter icing. I put it in the fridge for half an hour, like the woman on youtube did (though her cake had less crumbs on the surface than mine. And was smoother) then tried to roll the fondant icing. Impossible with one arm. I couldn’t apply enough pressure. So I called Nargis, who was in the house. (We pretend she’s my cleaner, but actually she is one of my best friends and practically family.) She came to help, and asked why I hadn’t had the arm checked.

I explained that I have no time. She asked what I was doing this afternoon, and I told her I had a dentist appointment. She asked if I had a problem with my teeth. I said no, it was just a check up. She pointed out that I had time to check my teeth, which are fine, but not my arm, which might be broken. It was a good point. I went to the local hospital. They were very nice, and agreed with my diagnosis, that it’s probably not broken, just a strained tendon but is not healing because I keep using it. They suggested physio. Absolutely no time for that!

The thing is, I’m sure the doctor who saw me is our postman. It looked exactly like him, even spoke the same. I kept wondering how I could ask, “Are you our postman?” But there was never the right moment. Very strange.

Hope all is well with you. My journey into authorship continues – the books are selling really well and are gradually being accepted into more bookshops. I will give you a full update next week.

Take care,
Anne x

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Thank you for reading.

anneethompson.com

My sister’s blog is: http://ruthdalyauthor.blogspot.co.uk

xxxxxxx

 

Cyprus 4

Family Holiday Diary 2016

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Pathos has a beach front full of shops and restaurants designed for tourists. Most of them seem to be English. We ate in Bacchus, a Bistro overlooking the sea. They were very friendly (the old man who enticed us in gave us his home-grown cucumbers to try). Food was a bit rough.

Drank cocktails in bar.

Friday

Breakfast at 9. Everyone surprisingly awake. Apparently, if you have a room overlooking the restaurant, it gets noisy from 7am. Breakfast was busy, but had a huge variety of food to choose from.

M worked (beware, gentle reader, if one does a Masters course for one year from September, it can somewhat eat into your holiday.) Rest of us considered sitting in silence to support him, then swam/read/sunbathed instead.

Nice lunch in cafe opposite hotel (a fraction of hotel prices.)

Swam in sea, which was cold and had big rocks near the surface, so you had to be careful. Played ‘netball’ in the pool and didn’t get shouted at by attendant (we sometimes have rather unhappy relationships with pool attendants on holiday.) S swam a length underwater. H didn’t, which was tactful of her.

Chinese for dinner. Very nice, though slightly strange being in a Chinese restaurant where no one at all was Chinese. Perhaps the cooks were.

Saturday

Breakfast a bit ‘old’ – had been there a while I fear. Not everyone made it to breakfast due to extensive clubbing the night before (will remain nameless, but they know who they are…)

Swam/read on balcony. Pleasant.

Lunch at La Place Royal opposite hotel again. M dropped a chip and a whole deluge of ants arrived (waitress swept them away with a broom.) Big telly was showing Olympics.

D and S played table tennis (obviously inspired by Olympics.)

Drove to Pathos old town. Guide book showed bustling markets, interesting churches and mosques, historical sites. Hmm, not what we saw. Firstly, we got lost trying to leave town, as there were random one-way streets and closed roads not marked on the map (apparently – J was map reading.) Found some ruins, with St Paul’s pillar, by chance. This was where St Paul was tied when he was whipped (I have to say, this story does not appear in my Bible, where his trip to Pathos was relatively smooth, but perhaps I missed it. There was a pillar, clearly labelled, so who am I to doubt its authenticity?)

Finally made it to old Pathos. A large sign directed us to parking, but we realised just in time that it was pointing to a steep flight of steps, so didn’t drive down there. No other cars in carpark (which perhaps should have been a clue.) Wandered around. It was very hot. Everywhere was deserted. There was a gun on the floor, and sounds of chanting from the church. The shops had mannequins straight from a horror movie, all the roads had been dug up, cafes and market were all deserted. A few isolated cars and bikes passed us – we began to think they were all driven by the same few people. It was very weird. It also made for a perfect story, so I wrote one (I didn’t have to use much imagination!):

https://anneethompson.com/2016/08/25/the-story-of-old-pafos/

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Decided we would visit again another day. Returned to the seafront. Arrived back at Annabel hotel. D drove up to the barrier and spoke into the intercom.
D: Hello – Guest-e-o (why??)
Reply: Hello, welcome.
D: Welcome (why?? Why repeat welcome?)
Reply: Are you a guest?

We all refused to walk in with him.

J informed me that, “Physics is all the interesting parts of maths.” So much I do not understand in that statement.

Went to Democritos, which promised to be a traditional Greek restaurant with music and dancing. There was a good menu, a pretty atmosphere, and live music by some talented musicians. Had a very nice selection of starters to share. And then the dancing began… I have to say, Greek dancing is somewhat repetitive by the time it is in its fiftieth loop of repeated steps. A man came and balanced glasses on his head. Lots of them. He wore a badge declaring he was a Guinness World Record holder – was tempted to ask him what for. He asked for volunteers to add glasses and then put his hand up their skirts. M and J decided he was a pervert. It was a very long evening. I think perhaps Greek restaurants are something you only need to experience once in your lifetime. It has been much discussed since. At the time, I was just bored – I now realise how lucky I am that M and J didn’t get up and punch the glass balancing man (I much prefer the bored option.)

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Thank you for reading. Tomorrow I will tell you about our villa in Coral Bay (and how we saw the glasses balancing man again…)

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If you enjoyed this, why not sign up to follow my blog?

anneethompson.com

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Things to Avoid at Christmas…..

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I love Christmas but I must admit to a certain amount of stress each year. Especially when I start watching those super organised women on television preparing their own decorations, or I visit that gifted friend who secretly should have been an interior designer or, worst of all, I open one of those “all you need to know for Christmas” recipe books. So, in the belief that I might not be the only human that feels somewhat inadequate at this time of year, I thought I would share some of the knowledge that I have gleaned over the last few years. Here is a tried and tested list of things that you should NOT do.

 

The Tree
Everyone loves a Christmas tree. Here are some things to beware of:
If you take a man with you to buy a real tree, he will lose all sense of proportion. This is true. Crude jokes aside, it seems to be some strange male trait that they ALWAYS want to buy a tree that is much too big for the space in your home. They always forget the bucket and top decoration add extra height, they always forget that you might want to live in the room where they plan to put it and if it’s too wide everyone will have to scrabble through the branches to communicate. So my advice, do NOT involve a male of any age in choosing the tree.

You cannot however, avoid them being present for the annual family discussion on where the tree should go. Now, we have lived in our present house for eight years and EVERY Christmas we discuss (heatedly) where the tree should be placed. Every year it always goes in exactly the same place that it always has.

If you buy a tree in late December, your family will constantly tell you everyone else has theirs already. If you buy a tree in early December, it will probably be bald by New Year.

If you decide to ‘plant’ your tree in soil, over time, as it is watered, the soil becomes unstable and the tree will gradually fall over. If you follow the shop’s instructions and “treat your tree like the living plant that it is” and stand it in water, then after a while, the warmth of your house will have turned the water stagnant and everyone will be asking you what the funny smell is. If, on realising this, you then add a drop of bleach to the water, the tree first gets very pale looking and then dies very quickly. A dead tree will droop and all the ornaments slide off the branches. Your lounge also smells a little like a public lavatory. (Trust me, I know this.)

If you ever want a tasteful tree, you must NEVER allow the children to put on their home made ornaments. Every year I produce those faded photos in plastic frames, the robin that sheds paint, I even have the clay angels that my sister made one year which look like they slept in a puddle after an especially hard night out. It is true, they bring back lots of special memories, but I can now never NOT put them on the tree, so my tree, whilst precious, is also incredibly tacky.

If you do not water your tree, do NOT leave the lights on it and go out for the evening or it might burn down your house. (This did not happen to us, but it did happen to a neighbour in the US. A dried pine is incredibly flammable.)

If you have an artificial tree, you can spend hours sorting out branches and colour codes. My advice is tell someone else that they are in charge of putting up the tree because it is too hard for you (this works well if you have males in the family, who will actually believe that you are incapable of matching colours.) They will also be keen to supervise the taking down of the tree because they will know how impossible it is to put up if not stored carefully.

Decorations

Do NOT believe that everyone who helps decorate the house will also help tidy up after Christmas. Every year I say, “Only put out the ornaments that you will put away afterwards”. I may as well not bother. I know this is true because last year I was ill and we have had a nativity scene on one window sill all year. I find family members are very keen to decorate all sorts of random places and not at all keen to tidy them afterwards.

Gifts

Do NOT buy gifts too early and if you do, do not forget where you have hidden them. It is annoying to find winter nightclothes for your daughter in June.

If posting gifts, do NOT forget to name each gift so the recipient knows who they are for (you would be surprised at what has happened in our family…..)

Do NOT assume you will know when your child stops believing in Father Christmas (sorry if this is a spoiler.) When I asked one of my sons on his eighteenth birthday (okay, so he wasn’t quite that old) if he really still believed in Santa, he informed me that he had not believed for years but hadn’t liked to disappoint me by letting me know. This was a huge relief for the whole family as we could now stop worrying he was completely thick and it also meant that I could give the children their ‘stocking gifts’ the evening before Christmas which meant that we all slept much better Christmas Eve.

Do NOT forget to check that either your husband has bought his mother a gift or you have bought one for her yourself. Really, I cannot stress enough how important this one is……

Food

Unless you are a very organised person, do NOT buy a large frozen turkey. They take DAYS to defrost and where will you put it during that time? If you leave it in the utility room, the cat eats it. If you put it in the garage, the mice eat it. If you leave it in the oven to defrost, you are sure to forget and turn on the oven to preheat – melting plastic over poultry is not a good smell, trust me. If you place it in a bucket of brine, as was suggested one year, what are you going to do with the salmonella infected brine afterwards and how will you stop the dog licking it? If you put it in the fridge, you cannot fit in any of the shelves, let alone other food. Trust me, big frozen turkeys are a bad idea.

Do NOT forget that supermarkets ARE open other than on the bank holidays. I always do this, I try to buy enough food for the whole holiday period which is a military operation in an over flowing supermarket with insufficient parking and queues the length of the Nile to pay. Then, soon after boxing day we always run out of something essential, like milk and I go to a beautifully empty supermarket which is now selling all the same food that is decomposing in my fridge for half the price. Being overly prepared is always a mistake I feel. Just buy enough for the Christmas day dinner.

If, like me, you have a problem with chocolates, when you buy the family tub of chocolates, do NOT forget to also buy tape. Then, if by mistake you open them and eat lots before Christmas, you can buy a replacement, add the ones you don’t much like and reseal the tub. Your family will never know. Honestly, every year my husband tells me that there are a surprisingly large number of green triangles in our chocolate tin.

Important Things

Do NOT forget to go to a carol service. Actually, I do not especially like carols unless they are sung by a choir. They are mostly really really long. A lot of them also have things in them that are very European and nothing to do with the actual account in the Bible. But I do like carol services, full of excited children and people in thick coats that they don’t have anywhere to hang. One year at our church we even managed to set someone on fire. (It was an accident, I should add. She leant against a candle and she wasn’t at all hurt, just ruined her coat. The following year as a safety precaution the candles were suspended above us. Unfortunately they weren’t the non drip variety and we all made polite conversation afterwards with white wax in our hair.)

Do not forget to build some family traditions of your own. On Christmas eve, if my children are in the house, awake before noon and sober (I assume nothing these days) then they still like to help prepare the vegetables. We all sit round peeling sprouts and remembering how we did it every year while watching the ‘Lost Toys’ and the year that the youngest removed every leaf from his sprout and then declared, “Mine’s empty!”

Most importantly, do NOT forget what is important. Christmas is not about family or tradition or nice food. Actually, it’s about a God who thought you were special enough that he came to this dirty smelly earth as a baby. Even if you don’t believe in him, he believes in you and he cared enough to come so that you can have a chance to change your mind if you want to. So spend a little time trying to remember what it’s all about. Read my Mary story or better still, look in Luke’s bit of the bible and read the account of what actually happened – no donkeys, no inn keepers with tea-towels on their heads, no fairies or snow. Just a simple story of something special.

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Thank you for reading – and Happy Christmas.
x

New York and Denver to Las Vegas

New York and Denver to Las Vegas.

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New York and Denver to Las Vegas

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New York and Denver to Las Vegas

Excerpts from a family holiday diary

August 2010

Thursday: Flight from Heathrow. David used his Virgin Gold card to get us all into the executive lounge. Very nice, will forgive him for all those business trips. We made good use of the facilities. Becky had a haircut. We had cocktails and champagne, then a meal. Boys played snooker while we read papers and had coffee. Very nice.

Flew Economy to JFK. Flight lasted forever.

Arrived JFK. Got monorail to Avis. Rented totally massive car.

Drove to Hilton in Montvale. Nice but am way too tired.

Friday: Got bus into Manhattan. Checked into W hotel in Times Square. Very trendy. Suite. Bathroom had a glass wall, very strange – who wants to watch someone using the toilet?

Looked down into Times Square. Pedro spent ages looking out and learnt the sequence of all the electronic billboards. Can recite them. Sad. Clever, but sad.

Walked around. You feel like you are in a movie set in NY. So many people, everyone rushing, shops you can get lost in, sirens and cars beeping, smells wafting from all the fast food places and delis.

Ate at Smith and Wollenskys. David and James shared a huge steak (half a cow.) I ordered chicken, expecting a portion and a WHOLE chicken arrived! Delicious food but too much. Excellent red wine. Fun evening, ate and laughed a lot. Didn’t see anyone famous.

Saturday: Breakfast at Starbucks.

We all queued outside Abercrombie and Fitch, waiting for it to open. I had an argument with a woman who pushed in. Can’t quite believe I did either of those things, embarrassing.

Went downtown. Saw Statue of Liberty, China town, Little Italy. It’s nice to just walk around, looking at places.

Lunch in a diner. So american! Had booths and everything! Pedro had philly cheese steak. Very NY.

Got bus to Woodcliffe Lake, then taxi to Hilton.

Dinner at Applebees. A comfortable restaurant, reminds me of Beefeater in the UK but with lots of sports paraphernalia on the walls. Becky got told to move further from the bar – I always forget how strict the US drinking laws are.

Shopped.
Really really tired.

Sunday: Church at Cornerstone Christian Church in Wycoff. Saw a few people we recognised. Good music with a band, interesting talk, friendly people.

Went into city with some friends. Ate at a mexican restaurant. They kept bringing us huge platters of food. Really nice.

Walked through central park and round zoo. Very hot. Central Park always surprises me, such a big park in the middle of the city. Saw lots of places I recognise from films. The zoo is small and smelly but nice if you like zoos (which I do.)

Back to friend’s house. Take-out pizza.

Monday: Pancakes at IHOP on Route 17. Perfect! Quantities still huge though. It is not possible to only order one pancake, they come in stacks. All the coffee everywhere is ‘bottomless’ (free refills) which is wonderful.

Went to a friend’s pool. Swam, chatted, relaxed. BBQ chicken and corn with friends. Then went to Paramus Park Mall in the evening. So big! Dairy Queen ice creams, then said goodbye – always sad.

Tuesday: Gym and swam at hotel. It’s a nice hotel, very inexpensive and convenient being so near the city but also in New Jersey, so you can see a little of ‘real’ America too. Breakfast in hotel lounge. Bagels – I had forgotten how fantastic the bagels are in NY.

Drove round Upper Saddle River, saw the house where we used to live. Remembered all the traffic laws – like having to drive slowly past schools, not being allowed to park on the street at night, having to stop if you see a stationary school bus. Also all the ‘unwritten’ rules, like watching the opposite traffic lights and moving the very second your light turns green or you get honked!

Went to Summit, met friends.Sandwiches from a deli for lunch. Had forgotten how easy it is to get nice food in US. Summit is nice, lots of trees, lots of typically american houses, clean and peaceful.
Went to town pool. In US, most towns seem to have a town pool. You have to be a resident of the town to become a member but can then invite friends. It’s where people meet their neighbours and spend summer afternoons. It doesn’t really have an english equivalent.

Wednesday: Breakfast. Packed.
James informed me that if you hide shampoo they keep leaving more. (Horrid image of hotel shampoo stashed in mini fridge comes to mind…..) Becky added that it doesn’t work with hairdryers. (Not sure how she would know that.) The boys swivel chair was in the bathroom. They told me they had used it in a game. I decided not to ask… (Tip for parents of boys: If its not dangerous, illegal or mean, then you are probably happier not knowing.)
Boys raved about how comfortable their beds were and even went as far as looking at the name on the mattress!

Newark airport. Awful.

Flew to Denver.
Collected another car the size of a caravan and drove to Best Western in Dillon. Next to a lake. Very pretty.
Ate in an American Restaurant. Nice.
James threw lemonade over Pedro, who was surprisingly good about it.

Thursday: Beds do not compare well with Hilton, bad night’s sleep.
David went for early walk and came back with coffee for everyone.
Breakfast bar in hotel. James used internet in lobby. I looked at views across lake.

Supermarket trip. Family stocked up on bottles of water and gateraid (which no one likes, so not sure why.)

Drove. Went through a dodgy town (it had a ‘Kum and Go’ – didn’t stop to find out WHAT that was!) Listened to audio book. Drove. Denver to Vegas is shorter on the map…..

Amazing scenery. Amazing weather. Few rain showers, fantastic clouds, snow at one point when we were really high. Mountains, lakes, trees, rivers, cattle ranches.
Stopped at Bongo Billy’s deli (yes, real name!) and bought sandwiches. Boys bought food from a Subway opposite.

Had ice creams in Ouray. Cute houses, looks like a cowboy film set. Spent some time wandering around. Interesting curiosity shops.

Drove up a steep mountain pass – scary. Brilliant red rocks. Followed annoyingly slow lorry.

Pizza Hut in Durango.

Arrived at Holiday Inn in Cortez. Really nicely decorated with lots of American Indian stuff.

Friday: Slept well.
Breakfast not so good. Polystyrene plates and plastic spoons. David burnt finger on bagel. I put sugar on oatmeal, then discovered it was mushroom soup (don’t know how I missed that one!)
Got petrol.
Becky spotted meercats. But they aren’t really meercats, must be cousins.

Found track to Valley of Gods (not easy, drove along someone’s driveway at one point. Lucky we didn’t get shot.) Saw amazing rocks. Road very rough.

Back on main road. Totally straight, no bends for many miles.
Saw eagles eating dead horse.
Looked at American Indian stuff on stalls next to road. Interesting but expensive.
Went to a visitors centre. Looked across a valley to an ancient town built into canyon wall. Looked like a toy town because the canyon is 4 miles across.

Drove to Tuba City, checked into Quality Inn Motel.
Lots of American Indian stuff.
Ate in restaurant next door. All other customers Native American Indian. Not sure if that’s a good sign or not. Nice pink lemonade. Very pink. Menu had food poisoning warning at the bottom, rather put me off my dinner.
Bad night due to motel having a blocked toilets problem (not ours). Maybe related to food poisoning warning on menu…..

Saturday: Went to Indian Trading Post. Interesting, some good stuff.

Drove to Grand Canyon. Found really good place to stop, amazing views.
Saw eagles soaring. Beautiful. You cannot help but be amazed at the size of the canyon. It deadens all sound and sucks you into its peacefulness. Best if you avoid the main car parks which are touristy. Bought a Christmas ornament.

Drove to Las Vegas. Queues at Hoover Dam, checking for terrorists.
Drove down The Strip. Checked into Mandalay Bay hotel. Nice room, tele in bathroom.
Met my sister who has come down from Calgary.
Mandalay Bay is nice if you like massive hotels. It was clean and the rooms had everything we needed.

Sunday: Starbucks breakfast. James awake and smiling. Pedro awake but not speaking, just making rude gestures.
Pool, incredibly hot. Lazy river nice but too crowded.
You remember you are in a desert as soon as you step outside of the hotel.

Lunch in a diner. Huge portions again.

Walked to other casinos: Luxor – impressive (though males rather distracted by bikini clad girl in lobby.) Excaliber – pretty castle outside. MGM – boys remembered rainforest cafe. Too hot to walk further.
Las Vegas seems different to when we visited in 1999. It seemed smarter then, everything looked new and people were well dressed. Also, all the food was very cheap due to hotels making their profit primarily from the casinos. This time it felt slightly old. Lots of people were very casually dressed and the food was pricey. It felt like it was trying too hard.The casinos didn’t feel excitingly low lit, they just felt dark, as if they couldn’t afford any more light bulbs.

After dinner, drove to Bellagio. Amazing lobby, like a giant garden. Watched fountain/music display.

Monday: Coffee and donuts in room. Swam, chatted, relaxed.
Drove to Venetian to pick up theatre tickets. Ate in their Italian restaurant (waiters were arguing.)
Saw gondoliers and giant toffee apples.
Went to Phantom of Opera show. Nearly late because traffic was so bad. Show was short but good scenery and singing.
Drove home past erupting volcano and fountain display.
To date, seen 4 brides, 2 Elvis’, 2 show girls in a car park.

Tuesday: Donuts and coffee.
Packed.
Swam and sunbathed.
Drove to airport, which is right at the end of The Strip, so very easy.
Nine and a half hour flight home. Ugh.

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Please note: Some (one) names changed to protect the identity of persons involved. (I do not know why their identity needs protecting and maybe should be worried……)

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