Saturday, February 28, 2009

Go G1!!


Today we watched Emma's last basketball game of the season. For the past 10 weeks she has played for a team with the imaginative name of "G1" (Girls 1), which consists of 3rd and 4th Graders. Her team were unbeaten which was pretty impressive. This is the first time she has played basketball, and she still seems a little unsure of what she should be doing, but we did see a definite improvement between the start and the end of the season. The team were presented with a trophy and a medal with "2009 Undefeated Season" written on it. For a while today it looked as though G1 may not win - not sure what the coach would've done with the medal if that had happened! Anyway, they picked up the pace and eventually won by a large margin (31/16 I recall). They finished up with the standard "end of season celebration", i.e. pizza and cup cakes, followed by a team photo. See video below of Emma (#3) trying to make sense of it all....


video

Happy Birthday Dad!

Happy Birthday to my dad, Alan Watkins. Take it easy Dad! (there's probably a comment that should come next....can't think of it for the life of me ;-)
PS. Dad, if your presents have not arrived yet, don't panic. I haven't forgotten, they are winging their way across the pond....

Friday, February 27, 2009

ARHHHHHHH!!!!

Well, it was bound to happen one day, I just hoped it would take longer than this. My beautiful brand new, (less than 3 month old) car has received a large dent in the door, probably caused by some a$%&hole parking too close to me in the parking lot and swinging their door open with gay abandon. Unlike Janet Jackson's breast at the Superbowl half-time show, I don't thing this can be popped out, which means an expensive garage repair bill. I think I'm going to scream, please block your ears.......

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Editors

At the risk of sounding a little bit "Uncle Bryn", I have been listening to a very good group called Editors. Apart from my parents, I am probably the only person reading this blog who had not heard of them. Earlier this week my brother-in-law Martin bought me a CD called The Back Room by the aforementioned band. After listening to it a couple of times in the car on my way to/from work I have to say I am quite impressed, especially with the first few tracks on the CD. After googling a bit and browsing iTunes, I realized that they've been around for quite a few years and are a kind of Indie Rock band who take their inspiration from, amongst others, Joy Division (remember them!). I'm surprised I haven't heard of them until now - maybe they haven't made it big in America, or maybe I'm just getting old and out of touch.....

Click on the link to watch a video off YouTube:










Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quaker, Shaker, Strummer, Drummer!!






My daughter Emma has a school project to make a musical instrument. The resulting article has been named the "Quaker, Shaker, Strummer, Drummer". It consists of a decorated Quaker oats tub, filled with dried beans, and wrapped with various sizes of elastic bands. Volume is altered by shaking, strumming or drumming harder of softer. Pitch is altered by having different size beans in the two tubs, plucking different size elastic bands, or patting different areas of the drum top. Who said creativity was dead...



Sunday, February 22, 2009

Texas Roadhouse


Just returned from my pre-birthday meal at the Texas Roadhouse in Worcester, MA. I love that place. The steaks are excellent. Not surprisingly it has a Western theme. Barrels of peanuts are placed throughout the restaurant and you are encouraged to throw the peanut shells onto the floor. The country music is playing loud and the waitresses break into a spontaneous line-dance throughout the evening. I enjoyed fresh baked rolls with honey cinnamon butter, caesar salad, and a filet steak with fries. All extremely tasty. The kids had "fall-off-the-bone ribs" followed by a "Big-ol-Brownie" which I did sample and it was delicious, still warm and topped with icecream and whipped cream. Washed it all down with a glass of Chardonney. Wonderful and highly recommended.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Daytrip to Boston




Spent an interesting afternoon at the Museum of Science in Cambridge, near Boston today (http://www.mos.org/). The museum started its life in 1830 as the Boston Society of Natural History, and evolved into the science museum today. More than 1.6 million people visit the Museum and its more than 400 interactive exhibits each year; in fact I think half of that total visited today...

The museum aims to "stimulate interest in and further understanding of science and technology and their importance for individuals and for society", which in reality means that its full of neat exhibits with lots of buttons to press and levers to pull. Exhibits include a life-size model of a T-Rex, a planetarium, a Theater of electricity (a high-voltage demo of lightning created by the worlds largest Van-der-Graaff generator), a solar powered sports car, an exhibit on mathematics, human biology, minerals, live animal displays...too much to see in an afternoon.

We rounded off the day with some shopping in the Galleria Mall http://www.cambridgesidegalleria.com/), most of which was spent in the Apple store playing with the latest and greatest from Mr Jobs, and finally a meal of gigantic proportions in the Cheesecake Factory. Unfortunately the meal was so big we couldn't find room for some cheesecake afterwards. Thank goodness for take-out.

All in all, a good day and a lot better than being in work.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Winter in New England

















Its snowing again today. Not unusual for February. After arriving in the US in 1997, it did not take me long to realize that winters here were much more severe than those I was used to back in Wales.

We arrived at the end of March, just in time for the April Fool's blizzard of 1997. The April Fools' Day blizzard was a major winter storm in the Northeastern United States on March 31 and April 1, 1997. The 25.4 inches that fell at Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) was the biggest April snowstorm in the city's history and made April 1997 the Boston's snowiest April on record (the previous record being a mere 13.3 inches). It also set a record for Boston's greatest April 24-hour snowfall. At the peak of the storm from about 11 pm March 31 to 3 am April 1, snow was falling at an almost unheard-of rate of three inches per hour. Numerous lightning strikes and thunderclaps accompanied the extremely heavy snow, which accumulated one foot in just that four hour period.

This was by no means a one off. The average annual snowfall in Worcester, Massachusetts (next town to us) is 67 inches. I have yet to experience a winter here without snow. The problem is that the winter temperature rarely rises above freezing during December through February, so every snowfall that occurs piles up on top of the previous snowfall, resulting in a huge depth of snow everywhere. Store parking lots have snow mounds 30 feet high where the snow ploughs/plows have piled it all up. However the towns and cities are extremely efficient at clearing the roads. Only the most severe snowfalls prevent us from getting in to work (how fortunate! ...Not)

The most extreme weather I have seen in 12 years happened a couple of months ago, and it wasn't snow. The Boston area experienced a severe ice storm. Trees, bushes and power lines were coated in thick ice. The weight of the ice caused many tree branches to bend to the ground, snap off, or in some cases the trees were actually uprooted. Houses and cars were crushed under the falling trees and branches. Nearly a million homes and businesses were without power, some for as long as 2 weeks. We, thankfully, just lost a few tree branches, but neighboring streets were without power ; we were very lucky to have escaped so lightly. 500 members of the National Guard were called upon to help clear roads and provide support. Rightmost photo shows a street in the neighboring town.
By the way, the photo top left is me fetching the mail, and yes, the snow really is up to my thighs! It was difficult getting back up the driveway I can tell you!

Now and Then






















Perusing through my brother-in-law's blog this morning (http://martinveale.blogspot.com/), got me thinking about how things have changed over the last 12 years, and how some changes, technology in particular, have made a huge difference to my life.

Tony and I moved to the US in 1997 when Robert was just 7 weeks old. Although we were understandably apprehensive about such a big change, we figured things would be pretty similar in the US to the UK. But we were wrong.

My first visit to the Supermarket was a shock. Where were the Heinz Baked Beans? Pork sausages? Walkers crisps? HP sauce? Fish Fingers? Crumpets? Orange squash? Paracetemol? An electric kettle? A front-loader washing-machine? The list of things I could not find was endless. Almost as endless as the average US bread counter in fact. I saw every possible kind of bread, but a granary loaf was non-existent. As was a loaf of bread that did not taste sweet. It was very difficult to suddenly have to do without things that were previously a staple in your life. Anybody who came to visit us from the UK were presented with a huge shopping list of things to bring with them.

There was no such thing as a corner shop, or a local pub. In fact, there wasn't a local anything! The smallest of items necessitated a trip in the car. Photographs of Robert had to be developed at the local Walmart, and sent via US mail to the UK.

TV was a disappointment. I did not know any of the American TV shows broadcast on the hundreds of channels, and the only British shows we could get were "Benny Hill" and "Are you Being served". But even I wasn't that desperate.


In the 12 years since we arrived things have changed. The food issue not so much, but we have learned to find alternatives that we like, and some British foods can be bought in the "Irish section" of the store. Even Amazon have started to stock some items like Baked Beans, PG Tips, Treacle pudding, Ambrosia creamed rice etc, and their inventory is growing daily.

The biggest change has been in the TV and the internet. Now all things are possible. I can text as well as phone. I can see photos from the UK online almost as soon as they are taken. I can keep up to date with what my family and friends are doing with social networking sites (http://www.facebook.com/ and http://www.friendsreunited.co,uk/ ). And I can view a myriad of TV shows from the UK in the comfort of my own home, either on channels such as BBC America, or some of the PBS stations, or failing that I can access hundreds of British TV shows with the help of the computer and some nifty websites.


How far we have come. Whats next I wonder? A flight from Boston to Cardiff without having to go via Amsterdam would be a good start...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wales










In the absence of much to report on the Valentine's day front, I am going to jump forward a couple of weeks and pretend its March 1st, which will allow me to post some facts about the country of my birth, Wales. With the help of an extremely informative fridge magnet, and a bit of browsing, I can report the following:
  • March 1st is celebrated in Wales as St. David's Day. St. David was an early crusader for Christianity in Wales and is supposed to have died on March 1st, 589. His remains were buried at what is now the Cathedral of St. David's in Pembrokeshire, west Wales. St David was actually Irish, while St Patrick is believed to be Welsh
  • Population just under 3 million people with 11 million sheep
  • Area:20,778 sq km (8000 sq miles) with 1,288km (750 miles) of coastline and 110 sq km 42 sq miles) of national Parks. Wales measures 160 miles long by 60 miles wide
  • Welsh is one of the oldest living languages. Around 19% of the population speak Welsh.
  • The Welsh may have settled in America as early as 1169
  • The Stapleford scoring system in golf originated in Wales
  • Wales has over 400 castles
  • The first wireless transmission took place in Wales
  • The infamous Pirate of the Caribbean, Henry Morgan was Welsh
  • Welsh celebrities include Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Anthony Hopkins, Charlotte Church, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas
  • The largest ethnic group of signatories (16 in all) on the original draft of the American Declaration of Independence were Welsh
  • Sunshine (hours per day) - 4.03 Rainfall (annual total mm.) - 1,296 (51 inches)
  • Snowdon is the highest mountain at 3,560 feet
  • The daffodil and the leek are famous emblems of Wales

For more fun facts check out the following sites:

http://www.data-wales.co.uk/

http://www.homecomingwales.com/

http://www.famouswelsh.com/

Friday, February 13, 2009

Birthdays


Its my birthday in 10 days time. Its been a long time since I got excited about having a birthday (and this year is no different). Who wants to celebrate getting another year older! Its that time of year when everybody asks you what you want. Its amazes me that all year long I can think of things I would like or need, but come the start of February my mind goes blank. I should've been born in a different month, then I wouldn't have this problem....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Corrie notes


I am a huge fan of Coronation Street, the British soap opera set in the North of England. I have been watching it since 1978. It was first shown on British TV in 1960 making it the longest running soap opera on TV. When I moved to the US in 1997, I was very disappointed to learn that Coronation Street was not available on any TV station. I had to make do with catchup emails sent by some devoted fan. Soon afterwards, these were moved to a website, where screenshots were added. Last year, my computer geek of a husband (bless him!) discovered a website where you can the latest episodes of Coronation Street, and also found a way of viewing it on the TV. So now I can watch it from the comfort of my own sofa, at more or less the same time as it is aired in the UK (due to 5 hr time difference!). Isn't technology wonderful?

Japanese


My son Robert is teaching himself Japanese. I don't know what made him want to do this, but so far I am impressed with his progress. Did you know that the Japanese use 4 alphabets? One is the one that we know and love, there are 2 others each containing 46 letters, and a final one that contains 2000 letters. Whats up with that? And how difficult would it be to find the keys on a Japanese keyboard? I struggle with the 26 we have.

Robert has learnt the two 46 letter alphabets. I am amazed. The most Japanese I know is futon and sushi. I guess he gets his language abilities from his father.... Sayounara!

The start of an Era??

I have decided to try my hand at blogging. I have been reading my brother-in-law's blog for a year or so now (hopefully a link will be on this page if I understood the instructions correctly!) and, although I can't possibly compete with his organized ramblings, I feel I should at least try one or two posts and see what this is all about.


So what to write?.......

I have been helping my 8 year old daughter Emma with her math homework. She is currently learning about Lines and Rays. Now I like to think I am OK at math (I do have a degree in it), but, what the hell is a Ray? After reading her "Math Homelinks" note I discover that a "line" is something with arrows at each end, and a "Ray" has an arrow on one end. I can't imagine why this would be needed in life, unless you were the person who designs road signs for a living.

Another math topic she is currently studying is geometric shapes and understanding the difference between their edges, faces and bases. Now I'm comfortable with edges and faces. For example a cube has 12 edges and 6 faces (a bit like some people I know). But how many bases does a cube have? Seems to me that the number of faces has to be the same as the number of bases.....so why are they called different things? And why do we care?


Schools are so "touchy/feely" today. My son Robert has to participate in a CTR each day. What is CTR I hear you ask? Its a Circle of Trust and Respect, where the kids get a chance to share experiences and fears with each other. Hmmm...

To prevent teachers from being accused of not sharing infomration with the parents, I have to sign every test or homework instruction that comes home from school. I had to sign a note last week to acknowledge that I had forgotten to sign a note the day before.....has the world gone mad?

The schools in my hometown of Shrewsbury, MA complain about their lack of budget and how they cannot afford to buy basic school supplies. So at the start of every school year, the gullible parents troop dutifully off the Walmart and buy a whole slew of supplies; paper, pencils, erasers, permanent markers, colored pencils, crayons, paper towels, sanitizing wipes.....the list is endless.

At the end of every year my kids bring home multiple partially filled text books , and numerous partly used pencils. In my day we had to use every last page of our text books front and back. And we did not get another pencil until our old one was so small we had to use tweezers to hold on to it. And the schools have the cheek to complain that they have no money. I may not understand the difference between a ray and a line, or a face and a base, but I can give them a few ideas on how to save money.

Well, that was easy enough. Once I got in the swing of it, the words came tumbling out as fast as my 2 fingers could type. I'm not promising that this blog will be interesting, or regularly updated, but if it gives me the opportunity to rant occasionally, it can't be a bad thing. Thanks for listening.