Friends and Family Reunion


We saved our last night in London for the best when we had a mini reunion of my best Friends and Family comrades, Simon W., Simon G. and Monica. This is the group of people I spent a year traveling the world with making commercials for BT. It was a bonding experience that is hard to replicate and we all agreed was the highlight of all our careers, at least in terms of fun.

Simon W. generously set up the night to be at one of his private clubs, but what he did not tell us is that it was so cool that men were not allowed to wear ties. He told us at the end of the evening about a time he invited an older friend to lunch with him at this club who showed up in his British finest. The day after the lunch Simon received a letter from the club management reminding him that the hip club had a “no tie” rule and to please not bring guests who break the rules.

Well Simon should have learned from that experience and not brought all of us to his club because we certainly broke lots of rules. Not only did Russ wear a tie, but we also arrived ahead of our host and they frowned upon letting us in without him, this being a private club and all. But the really big non-no was we tried to take a photo inside the club. As the Simons two, Mon and I mushed together so Carter could snap the picture an officious waiter came running over to remind Simon of the “no photos” rule. You never know if there was someone having an affair in the booth behind us who did not want to have photographic proof of his indiscretion.

In spite of the rules and all our breaking of them we had a wonderful night. The Simons had hosted a dinner for me and Carter last year so we had caught up on 14 years of history then, but this was the first time I had seen Monica in 15 years. It took no time to pick right up where we left off and Carter took a particular liking to her since she is a cool, successful, independent woman.

Russ knew my friends slightly since he had come on one of Friends and Family trips so it was fun for me to have all these people I adore to get a chance to know each other better. We ate, drank, told stories, shared heartaches, successes, wishes, dreams, plans and memories of times together.

As the night grew longer and the members of the club departed we flaunted the rules and took a number of group photos right inside — the waiters gave up admonishing us. Russ and Carter decided that they needed to get back to the hotel to get a little sleep since we had to get up early to leave for Paris, but my friends convinced me to stay a while longer too sad to end our reunion. So one more round of drinks and a few more stories.

It’s funny what one person remembers from a shared experience. Monica brought up the story of how I would get the bills for the 60 people we would take on these trips and be able to see who was watching naughty movies in their hotel rooms and who was not calling home to their spouses. This was something I had completely forgotten until she reminded me, but know it was totally in character for me and the job I had. I don’t remember using that information as any kind of blackmail, but it certainly gave me better insight into who I was working with. Needless to say anything I learned about my two Simons and Monica was not a negative because despite the years apart I consider them some of my favorite people.

Sadly we are leaving London but are on the Eurostar to Paris so how sad can we be? I love Paris, but have no friends living there now so Russ, Carter and I go purely as tourists and not as Friends or Family like we are in England.

Secret to Traveling with a Teenager

When I was just graduating from boarding school my parents and my fourteen and nine year old sisters moved to London. I came over with them for the summer before I started college. For me it was a big adventure of travel and exploration for my sisters it was torture. Margaret at 14 was a sun worshiper so for her England was about the worst place to move and Janet was a sports freak and was not happy about not having other kids to play against.

Because my parents were renovating a house in St. Johns Wood my father thought that it would be nice for the family to live in Surrey as a kind of resort for the summer so my mother could come into London during the day and work on the house and my sisters and I could hang out in the country.

We had a suite that meant the three girls all had to sleep together. This plan did not work well for me since I was 18. After a few days I realized I needed to get out. My boarding school friend Jenny Hetzler’s sister Betsy had a friend named Sally who was over here and wanted to travel with someone – it was me! So off Sally and I went with a Brit rail pass and plans to go as far north in Scotland as we could get with our back packs and a Let’s Go UK book.

This left Margaret and Janet to fend for themselves at the Selsdon Park Hotel during the days. I have no idea what Margaret did when the sun was not shining, but since I have a daughter about her age I can guess it was sleeping. I do know that Janet, who could fake being a young boy better than being a young lady used to go into the men’s only snooker room and play snooker (think billiards). She also took up golf and became quite a good player since she was good at all sports. I think there was some kind of hotel tournament which she won, but probably in the girls division.

My parents liked to spend the weekends exploring the countryside, looking at antiques and spending times in pubs, you can guess which parents liked which thing. At the beginning they used to make the kids go with them, but as the whining and complaining went on they eventually stopped taking my sisters and left them to fend for themselves. I can remember calling home on Easter weekend and finding that my parents had left my sisters home alone in London for the weekend because they did not want to go to Cornwall for the holiday since “Who shot Jr.” was going to be playing on Dallas.

Then, as an older sister and not a parent myself I thought this was horrible. Leave the fairly young kids alone in London. Now that I am a parent myself I think, “how great, no complaining children to ruin your holiday.”

Today Russ and I let Carter sleep as late as she wanted. Who cares that she comes all the way to London just to sleep. Russ and I had a civilized breakfast alone, no moodiness to deal with. We had a great walk in Green Park after eating so we could work off our eggs. When Carter got up around noon Russ and I divided the things she wanted to do – I had to go to Madam Tussaud’s with her so she could get pictures with the One Directions boys. Russ met us for lunch and then he took her to the zoo at Regent’s Park and I got to shop and try and get the rest of my steps in. Giving up on trying to find one activity that makes all of us happy at the same time is clearly the best way to travel with a teenager, that and letting her sleep. I don’t know why I did not learn this from my parents years ago.


Museums, Not So Much, Cute Brits in Uniform Yes


Today was our day of having tea. Carter and my favorite meal of the year. It is the time I break all dieting rules. I eat carbs with every bite, sugar in extraordinary amounts and cream and lemon curd like I may never have it again. Oh yeah, and tea the only no calorie thing on the table. Since it was tea day everything has to be planned around eating the most fattening meal of the year at 3:00. That means late breakfast and go to the theater in the evening since it is a good day to skip dinner. What to do on the in between parts was left up to me.

I decided it was the perfect day to go to the V&A museum, one of my favorites. Russ and Carter had never been and I thought that they might enjoy it. I was pretty much wrong. Carter bores quickly at museums even though I know she takes the culture in because she spits it back out at surprising times. It is just painful for me during the actual touring and makes me cranky.

Giving up after a few hours at the museum we walked to the tube. The train car was so crowded that Russ had to stand bent over at a 60 degree angle to fit. This was making me crazy so we got off the tube a stop early and decided to walk home. As we emerged from the underground at Hyde Park Corner we were immediately immersed in a sea of The Household Cavalry in full dress uniforms being lined up on a giant bleachers to have their official portrait taken. It was a sea of attractive young men that made Carter happier than if she had been dropped into the middle of a One Direction concert.

The bleachers were already three quartered filled when we happened upon the occasion so we watched as some very bossy men ordered the young men to stand in their right places so everyone was organized by height and rank. It was quite difficult for the cavalrymen to climb the bleachers in their thigh high patten leather boots and we held out breath each time someone looked as if they might topple off the narrow steps.

The officers with their highly decorative gold braids loop around their chests were gathered right in front of me laughing and joking while they awaited their turn to be ordered into place. Being myself I approached the group and asked if they would mind helping me embarrass my daughter and let me take their picture with her. At once two volunteered and said they would love to have their picture made with my daughter.

I turned to find Carter in the crowd and summoned her forward. The young officers told her to come stand with them. One even asked Carter if she wanted to hold his sword. I am glad I did not hear him say this at the time because a mother might take that the wrong way. I snapped the shots and they kindly thanked me for taking their pictures. Such good manners, no wonder they are chosen to be part of the royal household.

We stayed and watched the rest of the production as the official photo of the household cavalry was made. Carter’s mood changed dramatically from bored with museums to happy with cute horse riding Officers. I now realize that to have a successful vacation we don’t need interesting things to do we just need cute boys to look at. Fun for Carter, not for Russ.


What a Difference a Year Makes

One year ago Carter and I came to London during the coldest spell they had experienced in years. Even though it snowed and blowed freezing winds our whole week Carter fell madly deeply in love with the city. Being an Anglophile could be genetic. My parents love all things Britannia and figured a way not just once but twice to move here for work in 1979 and again in 1994.

Although I only spent summer and Christmas vacations with my family the first time they lived here since I was in college I too lived here with Russ for five years in the nineties. The only reason we left was that I was pregnant with Carter and retired from working. I guess you could say that Carter’s spent her first five months in the UK even if they were gestational.

Knowing that we only have a couple of spring breaks left before Carter leaves for college and wild breaks with her friends I wanted to make the most of this vacation. When we talked about all the possibilities there was one obvious trip we should take, come back to London and add Paris on to the end, but rather than Carter and I coming alone we had to get Russ to come with us.

So here we are, the three of us in our favorite city. The weather is decidedly un-British, hitting fifty-five. If this luck holds out all week I can only imagine how much more Carter is going to be in love with London. It is going to be interesting to see how Paris compares, they don’t have the same boy bands doing their bidding, but then again the French really don’t care if we love them or not.


Walking Miracles



Being a tourist in a city is not only fun, but can also be healthy.  While in London Carter and I walked and walked and walked.  Our hotel was four blocks from our tube station and once in the station the actual trains were another good walk underground.  That was just the pre-walk to get to where we would go and really walk.


Carter did not have much sympathy me when on the first day I came up with a pain in the back of my left knee until she too hurt her knee a few days later.  Despite these amateur walker injuries we soldiered on.


We would walk through Green Park to Buckingham Palace and then through St. James Park where there were lots of aggressive squirrels wanting food along with some very forward geese.  We saw one squirrel who literally climbed the pant leg of a man with nuts, trying to get one.  I guess most men have nuts, but this one had one in his hand the squirrel wanted and eventually got.


Even though it was bitterly cold and windy most of the days we were on holiday we kept walking because we just did not have a choice.  The coldest, but sunniest day we were there we took the train to Hampton Court, which is just a short walk from the station across a bridge over the Thames to the Palace.  It was so windy that although we were pushing as hard as we could the wind almost held us in place preventing us from crossing the bridge.  I must have burned an incredible amount of calories that day between the walking and the trying to keep my body temperature high enough to stay alive.


The only times we were not walking was during meals eating.  And we certainly had many wonderful meals.  Carter, having been well trained on varied cuisines, was keen on having Indian, Japanese, French, Thai as well has the British Staple of fish and chips.  I was sure that all this good food was going to be a killer to my weight.

But the walking obvious saved us.  This morning at my trusty home scale I got on with a feeling of trepidation and was shocked to learn that I had not gained one pound, even after partaking fully in two afternoon teas, eating nan at dinner my last night and having toast with strawberry jam every morning.


This is no way gives me pause to think that I can eat like I did this past week at home, even if I gave up my car and walked everywhere.  I know that I have weeks where my body looses weight and weeks where no matter what I eat I don’t loose weight.  Perhaps this week in London was one of the good weeks in my cycle.   It certainly was a good week in my life.

Farewell Britannia

At the Lounge at Heathrow with my sad Anglophile girl, mostly because of her love and devotion to British boy band One Direction. It has been a fun, save cold, spring break in London. Being back here has reminded me how much I love this country, the sweet people, the lovely parks, the history all around, the tea.

I tried to introduce Carter to as much English history as possible from Westminster Abbey first built in 920 to Winston Churchill of 1945. I know that learning about King Henry VIII at both the Tower of London and Hampton Court may have sunk in, but all the other Monarchs and their order are confusing for the most studied history student.

We enjoyed two musicals, Chorus Line and Les Mis, Carter’s favorite, where in the small world way another Durham Academy family happened to sit directly in front of us. We shopped, just a little because Carter definitely has the Janie Carter gene of not wanting to over pay for anything. Between the exchange rate and the city prices Carter could not see spending much on anything. The one spending exception was the second day when it snowed and Carter informed me that the zipper on her fleece jacket was broken. Not that the jacket was warm enough for the bitter winds anyway, but she did get a new Northface jacket and overpriced, but cute hat.

In true London life we spent a lot of time on the tube and the bus. We got more than our money’s worth out of our travel card. It is so wonderful to travel with a child who is old enough to keep track of her own card and is good at navigating the underground. It was much more of a vacation for me because unlike traveling with small children, I did not have to constantly worry about where Carter was, or entertain her. For the most part she was easy, except when I would try and wake her to start her day, two hours after I had gotten up. Balancing making the most of one’s trip and a teenager’s natural need for sleep was our only difficulty.

Of course seeing old friends was the highlight for me. I’m sorry I did not get to the midlands to see my great friend Debbie, but she knows she is welcome to come and visit me in North Carolina. Also I was sorry Monica was under the weather, but seeing both Simons and Paul was, as the English would say, brilliant.

As sad as I am to go it is time to get back to my salad life and I don’t mean that in the poetic sense. Carter says she has never seen me eat so much bread in my whole life. I think she has no memory of me two years ago, but she is right I have had bread this week, what with all those finger sandwiches. Somehow rocket salad has never become a big thing at tea here. But it is not the getting back to the disciplined life I look most forward to, but going home Russ and Shay-Shay.

Experiencing new places is wonderful and I am thrilled that Carter has the travel bug, but going home to the one you love takes away any sadness from leaving the excitement of London. Thanks to Russ for giving us this great trip that he did not even get to enjoy with us because he was working to provide it. I think that I can honestly say that Carter and I are two lucky girls.


The Warmth Of Old Friends

It’s cold in London now, and god awful windy too. It’s -1 c. degrees with windchill or -9 c. degrees. For you Celsius virgins that means is is about 16 degrees out. Any scale you use it means it’s freekin’ cold, especially for us Southern, thin blooded, no body heat left from dieting types.

But last night, despite the frigid temperatures, I was embraced in the warmth of a wonderful visit with my two old English friends, Simon George and Simon Wells. The Simons, as I described them to Carter, and I had spent a very concentrated nine months of our lives traveling around the world together to fabulous locations like South Africa and Bali shooting commercials for BT (the British Telephone company). It was clearly the best job on earth and a good reason to retire right afterwards and go out on a high.

Traveling and working with people on an intense project like that can either speed up the creation of friendship or make you vow to never see each other again. In the case of the Simons it was the former for me. Fifteen years of being out of London made not a wink of an eyes difference when we caught back up together last night. If Carter had not been there as evidence that time had certainly passed you might have thought we had just returned from a shoot at a Safari.

The Simons both looked the same and thankfully I did not. Despite my dramatic change in looks, the years apart made no difference. We picked right up in the familiar patter of friends with lots of shared experiences. Carter peppered them to tell her dirt on me, but instead she got words of advice on how to live a happy life.

One bit they did not tell her that will not mean anything to her at 14, but I hope she will remember when she is older is this; you never forget true friends, and they never forget you. Cherish them for they are your treasure. Thanks to my two Simons for catching up right where we left off, and cheers to you.


You Have To Be Rich To Be Thin in London

Now I remember why I got so fat living in London, skinny food is really expensive and fattening food is cheep. Today Carter and I went to Lunch at an Asian restaurant Mango Tree in hopes of having something small and light. We both got a small bowl of Tom Yam Goong soup and Carter had three tiny Szechuan Chicken Dumplings. It was all delicious, but Carter said the soup tasted exactly like mine. Not what I need when I travel. I would like to be inspired by new flavors, but that is proving hard for me to find.

Along with our soup we splurged on three small bottles of water. When I say splurged I mean it since they cost almost ten dollars each. Anyway our small, but healthy meal cost almost one hundred dollars. Don’t tell Russ!

Now I know that Mango Tree is a fancy place, but really! It is costly to eat waist friendly food. As we were leaving we passed by a bakery with giant scones for a dollar fifty. We kept walking.

London Calling

After years of being away it is wonderful to be back in the city I called home for so long, London. This time I am having the fun of introducing it to Carter who is something of an Anglophile already. We arrived this morning on the RDU redeye. Since we could not get into our room at the hotel at 8:00 in the morning, but were not quite up to doing justice to a museum or palace on four hours sleep I decided it was best if we did the sitting tourist city orientation thing by riding on the top of a Big Red Bus.

Criss Crossing the city to pass by the major attractions, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, speakers Corner, Marble Arch, St. Paul’s, the London Eye, Etc. Etc. Etc. Carter got a good overview of where she wants to go during the coming days. After two and a half hours with our spunky tour guide Philamenia we decided that our tired and frozen bodies needed some lunch and warmth.

A stop into a small teashop was just what we needed. Carter was able to get her fill of attractive British people and I was able to eavesdrop on a most remarkable conversation of two gay men who clearly need my blog.

This is how the noontime conversation went.

Austin Powers Look-Alike (referred to as APLA from now. on), complete with bad teeth, sideburns and small print floral shirt and large plaid tweed jacket: “Darling, what are you going to have?”

Boy-Friend Nigel, with contrasting small print floral shirt and large window pane plaid jacket, but better teeth: “Of course a cappuccino, but I can’t decide on what else.”

APLA: “Yes, a cappuccino, and a slice. (not a slice of pizza, but cake). Do you think they have a coffee gateau?”

Nigel: “They have coffee eclairs and cheesecake.”

APLA: “OOOOH, Cheesecake.”

Waiter: “Have you decided?”

APLA: “What kind of cheesecake do you have?”

Waiter: “Lemon”

APLA: “Yes, Please” (I was sure I was sitting next to the real Austin Powers at that very moment.)

The waiter arrives with their cappuccinos, cheesecake and eclair.

APLA: after a bite or two, “Oh, Nigel, you must try this, it is the most lovely cheesecake I have ever had.”

Nigel tastes it and agrees.

Nigel: “When we’re finished here, we can pop up to Fortnum and Mason and buy some goodies and then we can go to lunch.”