Sunday, January 29, 2012

Blogging

Sometimes, I don't get around to blogging mainly because I don't have any great new photos to share, or big news. But there is never a day here that there isn't something to talk about / think about. So today I'm just going to share with you some of the small things that are going on.

We've stayed close to home these last few days as planned, going no further than the local museums. (by "local" of course I mean some of the greatest, most gigantic museums in the world, across the street from our apartment). We are getting to know their rhythms - times and days to expect crowds, times and areas where you can expect peace and quiet. And we still try to bring the kids at least once a week to the Pirate Ship Playground, regardless of the cold.

My Russian studies here have been stumbling along unproductively. Without a tutor, I am hopelessly undisciplined, and getting nowhere. With Nastia I generally speak Russian, though, so at least a few days a week I have long afternoons of conversation.

More-consistent Russian practice (maybe with my beloved, fickle Marina?) is just one of many things I am looking forward to about San Jose. Although I have a dark fear that it will turn out similar to Charlotte, I've been told we are all living in one place, next to a giant park. I'll be able to go on site again and see the rest of the Totem community. We may be able to start circus classes up again. We'll have bikes to ride, and warm weather. With any luck, the coldness and loneliness will dissipate immediately.

So I have to admit I am counting the days... though another side of me feels guilty about this, looking around. Thinking that, once I leave here, I am going to miss London, and all of Europe, terribly... there is so much I love about this part of the world. I suppose what it comes down to is, you can't walk around feeling grateful and excited all the time. After a while your mental state just settles down, and starts thinking in a grass-is-always-greener sort of way.

I had a really nice visit this evening with Rod Laver. Rod was my juggling teacher at Circomedia. He is still the teacher there, and the juggling coach at Circus Space in London, as well. He brought his wife and son (Marcus, same age as Baz) to see Totem this afternoon, and we met them outside after the show. Rod was always a really good teacher, funny and caring and patient and perceptive. To think that he's taught 15 years' worth of other students since I was there! It was just wonderful to see him.

I've been spending more time with Oyuna here. She is the only other wife living nearby, and we get Kherlen and Isa together pretty often. Oyuna's baby, Saikhan, is getting big - she's about 7 months now? and she is in that restless stage, wants to move, squirm, roll around, see the world! it's one of the cutest baby stages and I love seeing her, so alert.

A blogging friend recently posted about little things that make her happy, so I'll make a short list for my life here in London...
- adorable private-school children in their matching uniforms - wool coats, tights, Mary Janes, etc. ...I am trying to find a time to photograph them without looking like a child predator
- the crush of the Tube (or the Paris metro) during rush hour
- a busker in the Underground playing a beautiful acoustic version of "Streets of London"
- the color-changing pinprick lights inside the sauna at the gym
- being called "love" by random shopkeepers
- pocketbook dogs - including a tiny one wearing a red "Medical Service Dog In Training" jacket
- mist over Hyde Park for a cold morning run

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ayla and Mom in Paris!

These past few days, I've been away from my computer, on a very special mother-daughter trip. I took Ayla to Paris!
This was to continue a little tradition I started with Baz... when he was 6 years old, I took him on a trip to Germany. This was back in the days before we were on tour, and I was desperate for some travel, and to visit old friends. Once we started with Cirque, I had no idea how I could replicate something like this with Ayla. But this 3-day trip was the perfect opportunity. It required some babysitters, some funding, and a lot of cooperation from Dad, and we were able to have a wonderful adventure together.

I have to confess that it did not begin auspiciously. Sitting on the train at St Pancras station in London, Ayla bit into an apple and one of her wiggly teeth came out. There was blood. I calmly gave Ayla tissues, wrapped up the tooth for her, and then lay down across her lap and fainted.

(for those of you who don't know me that well, this is not that uncommon of an occurrence for me. But I've only fainted three or four times since having kids, and I keep hoping it won't happen again).

My little girl seemed remarkably unfazed by this turn of events. I was able to rouse myself, and over the course of the two hour trip, slowly pull myself back together. By the time we got to Paris I was ready to start fresh. We checked into our woefully-low-budget hotel (paper-thin walls. barely-working fixtures. on the 7th floor, elevator broken).

...we immediately hit the town. Day 1 was Notre Dame & Ile-de-la-Cite, cafe-sitting, and the Quartier Latin, where we shopped for used books and had dinner and a movie.

Day 2 was jam-packed... Eiffel Tower, Les Halles, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Seine boat ride. Unluckily, we could only go up to level 2 at the Eiffel Tower - top closed for renovations! But we did have the delightful surprise of a free ice-skating rink, mid-way up. So of course we skated. How many people can say they've ice-skated on the Eiffel Tower?

We also gave a very thorough going-over to the Louvre. We went to all the biggest must-sees (Mona Lisa. Venus de Milo. Mummies) and tramped up and down the stairs of this gigantic place for hours. One of our favorite galleries was this hidden out-of-the-way place called the Tactile Gallery. Apparently designed for the blind, it is the only place in the museum where you are allowed to touch things. After a long day of admiring from a distance, Ayla and I both loved the chance to use our hands to explore these marble sculptures - all of which were also helpfully themed around children.

Day 3 of our trip was spent entirely at Versailles. I wasn't wrong when I predicted that Ayla would love this place, and even though it rained all day, we still managed to walk around the gardens and over to Marie Antoinette's estate. The photo is a cart that Marie Antoinette gave to one of her children as a toy. It was pulled by a goat!

Ayla is a really easygoing travel companion - enthusiastic to do just about everything, but not horribly crushed when not everything goes to plan (as proven numerous times on our trip). It helped that we stopped frequently for French delectables... fresh bread, pain au chocolat, chocolate mousse, crepes. She was also proud to keep practicing her French, and though she was too shy to speak to strangers, she and I chatted away in French a lot throughout the trip, and every spare moment on the Metro we read French kids books together.

We were both utterly exhausted by Tuesday night. We managed to miss our train home due to confusion about Eurostar, but caught one an hour later, stumbling in the door at 11:30pm. We are still recovering, but Ayla is enjoying her souvenirs and her stories and pictures of the trip.

I think what makes these kind of journeys so special, at least in our three-kid-household, is that it's a time for the child to have my full, undivided attention. I spent more time in these three days really listening to Ayla's thoughts, and letting her make the decisions about where we would go and what we would do, than ever before. I marveled at her littleness and her bigness. It has certainly made us feel closer. There are not many years left to enjoy her as a child, and I am so glad we took this time together.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

London International Mime Festival, 2012

I am, once again, very lucky to be in London during the International Mime Festival. If you didn't read my blog on this topic last year, this is a physical-theatre festival that has almost nothing to do with actual mime, and it features many of the most innovative European circus companies. Greg and I were able to catch three shows this past week (separately); Greg went to see a puppetry group called Blind Summit on Monday, which he very much enjoyed.

I began by seeing the Gandini Juggling Project's show, Smashed, on Thursday at the Royal Opera House. What a thoroughly enjoyable show! ....some background here. Sean Gandini and his troupe have been doing ground-breaking object manipulation work for about 20 years. (since before I learned to juggle, that is.) In the mid-1990s, when I was studying in England, they were already well-known for their brilliance and weirdness. I remember when Sean and Kati came to teach a workshop to us Circomedia students. The two things Sean emphasized - that dropping was wonderful!; and that to get good at something, you must practice every day, especially the days when you really don't feel like practicing.

I also remember seeing the Gandini Juggling Project performing at an IJA convention in the late `90s, and having a hard time connecting with their work. It was too esoteric, too abstract for me, their exploration of movement around props had just gone too far from my understanding (or interest?).

Fast-forward fifteen years or so, and here is Smashed. With 9 fantastic jugglers on the stage, and the only juggling prop being apples, I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be an hour of laughter and amazement and very few lulls. The characters were playful and the choreography was inventive. The audience was watching human scenes in action, where the language spoken was apple-juggling. Some of my favorite moments were this sitting-in-a-row juggling sequence, where each person had just two apples; the five-apple-juggling chapter where one performer tried to knock the others down; Sean & Kati's duet, which echoes work they've done together for all these years; and of course the climactic ending, with smashed apples and crockery and knocked-over chairs - a tremendous mess that succeeded in being exciting, shocking, and funny all at once. All in all, I was truly impressed with the balance they've struck between being creative, and yet accessible.

Then, I went to No Fit State Circus with the kids today. Unfortunately I don't have a good report for this one. I had high hopes - I'd heard of No Fit State over the years (they've been in existence since 1986) and their Web site boasts that they are "leading the renaissance of contemporary circus in the UK". But this show was grungy and creepy. The artistic direction, music, costumes and lighting were all very unappealing. ...skill-wise, I was also in despair by intermission, although at least in that department there was some improvement in the 2nd act. But a pet peeve of mine (and Greg's, too) is when someone brings something really interesting onto the stage, and then goes nowhere with it. And that happened a number of times during this show. A shout-out is deserved, however, to the juggler girl who did all kinds of acrobatic stunts while maintaining her 3-ball cascade, and the big tricks of the swinging trapeze artist. I enjoyed the static trapeze artist's lean-out on the dangling silks, into her toe hang. So there were certainly some glimpses of novelty, making it worthwhile.

I wish I had a chance to see all of the shows in the festival - there are a lot of other intriguing ones! - but time and budget will not allow. Nonetheless, I am excited and encouraged, as always, to have a glimpse of the evolution of circus arts here in Great Britain.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Londoning


Our second time here in London, we're doing a little less big, expensive sightseeing, and trying to hit some of the lesser-known spots that we didn't get to last year. But then, there are reasons that some places are lesser-known, as I've discovered this past week at the Museum of London Docklands and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The Sherlock Holmes place, as I learned today, is really an elaborate tourist-dollar-sucking-ploy. Unless you are a diehard Sherlock Holmes fan, familiar with the details of all of his stories (and are there such people? I imagine there must be, somewhere), this museum holds very little of interest. It is sort of a shrine to an imaginary person. It is a small old house, decked up to look like a Victorian-era lodging, but everything inside it is fake.

Our visits to the heavy-hitter museums have also been slightly less successful this year. Maybe we're all weary of museums, or maybe the kids are just more interested in playing with their friends this time around, as their bonds have grown closer. In any case, here are the girls at the Victoria & Albert Museum, they decided they needed to take a break from the antiquities to do some yoga. That's Ayla & Isa, and Sam's girls Millie & Sophia.

Even the Tate Modern didn't win us over this year. As you can see, Ayla decided the whole thing was too much effort, so she carried around one of those little museum chairs with her. We were underwhelmed with the Unilever exhibit this year, which was a silent film, projected gigantic. I wish we were here for some of the more interesting ones... this summer promises to feature Tino Sehgal. "Sehgal has risen to prominence for his innovative works which consist purely of live encounters between people. Avoiding the production of any objects, he has pioneered a radical and yet entirely viewer-oriented approach to making art." HA! The artist that avoids the production of any objects, featured in a visual art museum. Awesome. The Unilever series in Turbine Hall really has done some amazing things over the years, though I do have to wonder if this year's selections were based on budget cutbacks?

I did love some of the signage in the Tate, like signs that remind you to be more civilized. By the cloakroom there's a sign politely requesting, "Please fold your umbrella before handing it to the attendant."

Regent's Park was a hit today, thanks to zillions of birds (what are these heron-egret amazing things behind the kids??) and a really good playground.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Residing in London

Darn it, Blogger is being fussy again, not letting me upload video content from overseas. It did this last year. So you'll have to click to Vimeo to see this tour of our London residence, featuring the famous British personality, Sam Veale.

http://vimeo.com/35183782

It may not be obvious from the video, but our royal home here has been the least-well-appointed place we've stayed on tour. The kitchen didn't have so much as a single sharp knife, a potholder, a kitchen timer. Everything breaks here, after only a little bit of use - the clothes dryer, the heating units, the furniture. Lightbulbs are out, a dimmer switch overheats, the hot water heater is inadequate. When we first went out on our little terrace, we found it littered with dozens of cigarette butts, which Greg carefully hand-picked out of the gravel. The carpets have stains. The girls have to share a bed. And the long-corridor style of the place means we are always shouting to one another.

But, you can't beat the location. We are 300 ft from the South Kensington tube station, 1/2 block away from the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Across the road is the French Institute, so the neighborhood is full of French bookstores and charming little cafes. It is an upscale, tourist-filled zone, but generally very comfortable and convenient.

I am learning, here in our 11th apartment on tour, to take the good and the bad with each new home in stride. Whether it is the most beautiful place in the world, or the shabbiest, every place will have some things missing, and some things that seem extraneous; and as in every place, we will only be here for a few more weeks.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Up and down week

This week has been so full of ups and downs, I'm not sure what to make of it.

It started well... Monday I took the bus out to Bristol, to spend a half-day with Sam at Circomedia. (photo of Sam, in white T-shirt, teaching.) As always, the air out at Kingswood does me good, filling me with nostalgia and inspiration. I especially enjoyed watching the aerial training time, with coaches Mike Wright and Jonathan Priest. Most of the students were working on corde lisse, such a joy to watch! In the circus schools I've visited these last couple of years, corde lisse has been rare, so many people prefer fabric now. But Jonathan is a corde lisse guy, and these students are learning solid technique. I even watched one student working on a "release" trick - where he actually lets go of the rope, does a flip in the air and catches the rope again. Incredibly awesome. But, I did watch him hit the mat, over and over again. Jonathan says you really need a foam pit to train these kinds of tricks properly.

Tuesday, things went downhill. I had organized the little girls (Isa, Gipsy, Kherlen and Dasha) to attend a local ballet class here in Kensington. Isa and Gipsy would go in one class, Kherlen and Dasha in the other. Gipsy's dad, Massimo, called me numerous times to confirm details and directions. We made it to the school, and with just a few minutes before class time, Massimo called to tell me they weren't coming, Gipsy wanted to stay and play with another friend instead. My stomach dropped - I was fairly sure Isa would not be willing to do this alone. But I did everything I could to cheerfully persuade her, and finally left her in the class with the other girls, crying.

Isa sat on the side of the room for the entire class. The teachers were lovely, the other girls were lovely, the class looked like a lot of fun. But every time one of the teachers would gently try to bring her in, she just shook her head and stayed planted where she was.

I had a breakdown, watching her from a distance. Partly I was angry at Massimo. He does this all the time. Even when he does show up to things, he requires so much more phone-calling and hand-holding than anybody else. And now, when I really needed them there? ...but the bigger picture was that I am stressed about Isa. As she approaches 5 years old, she has no other universe but Mom, and it's not serving her well. She needs to mature, and Baz and Ayla did this by attending preschool. Without that, I don't know how to detach her from my hip. And though I love spending time with her, and she is not asking for anything else - I feel like my baby girl needs some separation from me so she can grow up a little. The feelings of sadness and inadequacy as a parent over this just hit me, all at once.

That same day, Ayla jumped off a wall outside Royal Albert Hall and sprained her ankle. Honestly I'm relieved that's all it was - when she first fell, and was crying in real pain, I was terrified she'd broken it. Fortunately Greg was with me, and talked me out of whisking her to a hospital... she really just needed ice and rest. I carried her all the way home piggy-back (phew!) and that night Greg brought home some very small crutches from physio. The next day Aimee in Physio took a look at her, assessed it as a minor sprain, and since then she's been healing quickly. The crutches were off today and I expect in another day or two she'll be completely back to normal. In the meantime she got loads of attention from everyone on site!!

Yesterday (Wednesday) I was beginning to feel despondent... these dark moods come on me pretty often here. The more I think about it, the more I realize it's a lack of community, lack of being part of something.... that's the biggest difference here in London, and it really is a struggle for me. But the day improved a lot, because on Wednesdays and Fridays all the Moms and kids descend on my apartment from 3pm-6pm for English and Russian classes. It was a great afternoon - the apartment of course was trashed, but I got to teach, and connect with people, and all my inner energies just sorted themselves out. I was feeling so good that I tackled making soup from scratch for dinner, and when the kids melted down as a result, it didn't even get to me.

Today (Thursday) was empty of social contact. I did errands alone in the morning. In the afternoon Isa and I went out to Canary Wharf and explored the not-very-interesting Museum of London Docklands. I invited several other parents to join us, but no one was available. I was a Good Mom all afternoon, reading with Isa, playing with her, teaching her things. But damn it was lonely and un-stimulating, and I kept thinking things like maybe some people just aren't constitutionally cut out for full-time parenting. Heck knows, a lot of my friends wouldn't consider being home full-time, and it's not about the paycheck. As much as I love these three little people, my nerves fray at the end of a long day with them. And today I really haven't even seen Greg, we've been tag-teaming.

Well, the week isn't over yet, we'll see what the rest of it brings.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Frustrations / oddities of London

The kids and I started a list last week of things we love about London, and especially, British English. So far we've got yoghurt pots, chips, crisps, jacket potatoes, trolleys, and lifts. And in the column of "loves" I have to add some places, like the Pirate Ship Playground and Foyle's Bookstore (heaven!). But I was also inspired to start a list of things that drive me crazy here. I expect this is only the beginning.

Shopping habits. For example ... in some countries (USA), clerks will bag all your groceries for you in a jiffy, using excessive amounts of plastic. In other countries (Canada, the Netherlands) you're expected to bring your own bags, and usually do the bagging yourself. They set up dividers, so that you have time to pack your bags, while they handle the next customer.

England has a twisted in-between method... they will not help you with your bagging. But, they also don't have dividers set up to give you time to do it. Instead, the cashiers will ring up all your purchases and then just stare at you as you pack your bags. It's so awkward-feeling, as everyone behind you in line watches and waits too!

I have figured out, by watching other people, that the key seems to be to bag-as-you-go... to be super-quick and on top of the bagging so you pack everything away in your canvas bags as the cashier rings up the items. Cashiers will sometimes even slow down their ringing-up to allow you to do this. I have not mastered it yet, though, and so inevitably I am the idiot holding up the line.

Another place I find exasperating -
Argos is something like a superstore. Something like it. Except for the fact that it's tiny. It's a tiny little storefront filled with catalogs. To shop here, you have to go in, flip through the catalogs and find what you want, write it on a piece of paper and bring it up to pay at the desk. Then they call down to the warehouse? for you and bring up the item, anywhere from 2 minutes to 20 minutes later.

...Who wants to shop like this?! Where you can't touch the items, compare different ones, feel their weight and texture before buying? It's like ordering online, in a way, but I'm just not used to purchasing small things like this. At Argos you can buy anything... from an eyebrow pencil (2 pounds) to a riding lawnmower (1500 pounds). (both examples of items I would never buy online). It's Sears, it's Target, it's Amazon.com ... it's weird.

The washer / dryer systems they have here - at least in this apartment, and our last one in London - are becoming the bane of my existence. It's a combination machine. In our old apartment, it worked fine, just slow - 4 to 5 hours per load, and they had to be small loads. But here, at our new place, the dryer just doesn't function at all. It doesn't have any kind of outlet for the hot air / steam, so it just rolls the damp clothes around for hours and hours. In the end (and we're talking at least 8 hours later) you have warm, wet clothes.

This picture shows the levels of desperation I've reached this week, as I discovered that the clothes will dry if spread out on the radiant-floor tiles in our bathroom. This could be our saving solution. ...as I think about this, I recall living in a number of places in England over the years, and everyone always used drying racks and draped clothes over radiators. Why is this? Why has the UK not figured out the clothes dryer? OK, it's an electricity-sucker - but any more so than radiant-floor-heat? Or blasting heat at wet clothes in a machine for hours on end without giving the moisture anywhere to go??

I'll let that rest, enough griping for one day. I'll close, instead, with a charming bit of technology the kids and I discovered this week - the libraries here have the RFID system, which we've seen cropping up at libraries around the world. The Chelsea Library system is particularly user-friendly and space-agey, with laser-lights that allow you to pile up a bunch of books at once, with quick and accurate readings. The kids and I love it! This is the first city that the kids are all getting their own library cards, as well.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thoughts on gyms

Our second visit to London is off to a good start. It took me a few days to get accustomed to the neighborhood, but I've figured it out now - exactly how long it takes to walk to Royal Albert Hall (12-13 minutes) , and the locations of the grocery stores, the library branches, the gyms. I still haven't joined a gym - the memberships are wildly expensive for short-term contracts (between 60-100 pounds per month = $100-140 per month) ... I have been biding my time, because Cirque is trying to negotiate a fitness center exchange. They do this in many cities, working out a deal with a local gym which offers us free or discounted memberships in exchange for tickets. This is really only needed for Cirque's support staff. I've never heard of an artist attending an outside gym or even a yoga class - they are pretty much set, and pretty much exhausted, by their work and their training. However, the support staff and accompanying tour members are eager for gyms, classes, spas, etc.

I did get a free 3-day trial at the most beautiful gym in the neighborhood, and had a great time. I love visiting new gyms and experiencing the different environments - not to mention the wild and wacky equipment some of these places come up with. The one here features a whole area set aside for these devices, called Power Plates, which are supposed to give you a full-body workout by vibrating your muscles. "Achieving your fit, new body is just a shake away."

Home in Natick, I went to a gym that had this fun trend - the Prowler Push. You are basically pushing a sled full of weights across a stretch of Astroturf, in the middle of the gym. "High Intensity Metabolic Training! Unlease Your Primal Edge!" My favorite online tip: "If you don't have access to a prowler, you can get similar results pushing a car around an empty parking lot (make sure you have someone working the brake for safety reasons)."

...I laugh at this stuff, but the truth is I am rarely adventurous at the gym. I like my treadmills and my elliptical machines. For a change sometimes I'll try a bike or a stairclimber, or do some mild resistance work. My heart rate goes up and my mind relaxes, and for the most part this has been sufficient.

However. As my mid-thirties crawl towards my late thirties, and the effects of raising-three-children, no-longer-doing-trapeze, and genetics kick into action, I'm starting to feel alarmed. These old gym routines are simply not cutting it, to maintain my weight and muscle tone. Mulling over this problem on January 2, I was not prepared for the Turkish Personal Trainer.

TPT approached me in a kind and friendly manner - she was offering a free trial workout, would I care to join her? I jumped at the chance. And then, an hour later, I nearly had to crawl out of the gym, as she kicked my butt more thoroughly than it has ever been kicked. To any outsider it would not have looked like anything outrageous. But we were doing free weights! And when I felt a little tired, she didn't let me stop! All the cells in my body started to mutiny towards the end, I thought I would either be sick or pass out. But of course I just kept smiling at TPT and pretending like I was just fine, ex-trapeze artist and all.

48 hours after this event I was still walking funny and having trouble bending down. But I learned something from all this, which is that I really don't push myself very hard. I guess I was surprised, because I used to make a living urging other people to do one more pullup, tighten those abdominal muscles. But imagine that - when it comes to my own workouts, I am anything but a taskmaster. And I've been told by many people that it just gets harder, the older your body gets - that you will have to work more, just to maintain what you had before. This is rather discouraging to think about.

Our finances won't allow for any more visits to TPT. So I am still feeling kind of adrift with my fitness goals for this year - knowing I want to be stronger and fitter, but without any real idea or plan of how to get there.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012!!

Well, we did it!

We rang in the new year in the town of Watford, Hertfordshire, England. It's about 20 miles north of central London, a suburb of about 80,000 people. We'd heard there were bars and restaurants here and a pedestrian district, and we could get there on the Tube, and it is officially outside London - this met all of our criteria.

Admittedly, though, the flock of underage nightclubbers we mingled with en route to Watford was a little disconcerting. I'd never seen so many sparkly minidresses on drunken teenaged girls in the middle of winter. At 10:30, the obnoxiousness was already in full swing on the Underground, and when we got to Watford's pedestrian district, we found long lines of clubgoers, bouncers and cover charges and pounding music pouring out of laser-lit buildings. It wasn't exactly our scene.

We managed to find a lonely little bar at the edge of all this, a place we were glad to spend our time before midnight. This little place seemed to be owned by a middle-aged couple, and populated with a dozen or so of their friends, pretty much hurting for business. We figured that the place is usually a decent adult cocktail bar, but, hoping to draw in New Years partiers, they'd hired a DJ, making the noise level unpleasant, but closer in ambiance to the cooler spots down the road. It was to no avail, anyway - the vast majority of crowds just passed this place right by. When midnight finally came, and "Auld Lang Syne" was sung, and the owner came over to shake our hands and wish us a happy new year, I was genuinely touched.

And we were quickly out the door after that. Even though we were the earliest people heading home, and the trains were nearly empty (and Free!! London runs the Underground completely free all night on New Year's Eve), it still took us over 90 minutes to get back to our babysitter. It was well worth it. Watford, UK, added to the list!

Today, we all dragged ourselves out of bed late, and the kids and I got out the door for some New Year's celebrations ourselves. First stop - the parade.

According to various Web sites, the New Year's Day Parade in London is "one of the World’s great street spectaculars with more than 10,000 performers from over 20 countries, over half a million spectators on the streets, and a live television audience of tens of millions." I was expecting great things.

And truthfully, the kids were delighted with the marching bands, the costumed characters, and balloons. But I was underwhelmed. The quality of the performances was distinctly small-town highschool - from the bands to the cheerleaders to the teenagers wearing bad clown makeup and juggling. Where were the West End shows, the giant floats, the dazzling costumes? No Macy's Thanksgiving, this. I let the kids stay for nearly an hour before I tugged them away.

The London Transport Museum was our next stop. We are big fans of the London Transport Museum. They have a weird admission scheme, for a museum that's clearly very kid-friendly - Adults 13.50 pounds ($21), kids free. What's especially interesting is that your ticket is good for 1 year. So I bought mine last year around this time, took the kids a couple of times in January 2011, and had the chance to go again this year for free! Sweet.

Some other things I love about the LTM. They have an unadvertised indoor picnic area, where families can eat packed lunches. There is a little stand with affordably-priced drinks and snacks nearby. In the gift shop, they had kid-perfect souvenirs for 1 pound! I love that there are loads of things for kids to climb on and in, as they are endlessly entertained by imagining themselves drivers or passengers of any vehicle. My personal favorite exhibit is the digital screen showing the year-by-year construction of the London Underground. And I love that they made such great use out of this beautiful old flower market building (it was converted in the 1970s.) We stayed till nearly closing time.

A good start to the new year. Time to think about resolutions...