Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eyes

Yesterday I had the fun task of taking K for her 2nd Hepatitis B shot that she needs for starting Kindergarten in August. It is always fun to see your child scream the place down after having a needle jabbed in their leg.

Today I had to take Z to get his eyes checked. He was long overdue an eye appointment and his current pair of glasses were too small for his face and the prescription was out of date. He was pulling his glasses off his face a few times when reading so he could focus better. The previous eye exams had all been done at Northampton General Hospital and his glasses had been courtesy of the NHS. Not so this time. Today his appointment was at Busby Eye Care in Westfield. I chose them as they were on a list of eye doctors that the kids pediatrician gave me that was in network. I contacted them first to make sure they accepted our insurance and arranged an appointment for today.

Z has amplyopia of his left eye. He has astigmatism and is long sighted. He will need to wear glasses for the rest of his life, unless he wants to have corrective surgery when he is older, if it will sort his vision.

He co-operated with the tests and said what letters he could see. After the tests were all done we went out to choose new frames to go with his new prescription. Luckily the medical insurance Ben gets through his work has vision included. If not then the visit to the eye doctor today and getting Z a new pair of glasses, would have cost us just over $600. In the end it was around $395 and I will be taking him back in around 2 weeks to collect his new Nike glasses. They will have all sorts of protective coating on them as well as reflective lenses so they will be a bit like sunglasses and protect his eyes from glare. They also will have a 1 year warranty so if the frames break then they will be fixed for free. The lenses will also have a warranty on them so if they get scratched, they too will be replaced free of charge.

The prices of frames for children averaged around the $180 mark. I did not dare look at the adult glasses. Thankfully I have relatively good eye sight and I don't need glasses. At the moment.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

I may need to go and see this by myself as I am not sure if Ben will want to see it. Nor am I sure if any of the friends we have made here are Harry Potter fans. I did have all the books but I did not bring them with me when we moved from the UK to the USA as they were too big and heavy too fit in the cases once everything else was packed. I think I may need to replace them before I go to see the first installment of Deathly Hallows so I can remind myself of the story.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Need Green

Everyone should know that I hate our car. After the crash, broken radiator and then failed brakes I did wonder what else could go wrong with the big pile of steaming poo.

Today I went out to the car and noticed that the front bumper, that was being held together with tape and then glue and now string, is looking like it is heading towards the ground again. Also the headlight looks like it is moving position.

It is really sunny and hot here at the moment, it has been close to 100°F a few times but is averaging the high 80s low 90s most of the time. A car with a decent working A/C would be great at a time like this, shame I am not driving a car like that. I get out after a 5 minute drive and look like I have been in a sauna. The sweat is dripping off me and the kids.

We are still trying to work out how we are going to get to the UK next year for my younger brothers wedding. He's getting married March 24th next year and after looking at flights for the 4 of us it is looking like we will have to fork over about $3,500 just for plane tickets. (Lets forget for a moment car hire, wedding outfits, gifts, spending money etc.) Spring break will be the first week of April so I don't want the kids to be out of school for more than a week as they would miss too much school. I want them to be back at school the week before Spring break if possible. Ideally we would go to the UK the weekend before the wedding and see Ben's family and then go up to Scotland for the wedding and then come back to the US at the weekend so the kids could be back at school on Monday. Even before I can consider getting on a plane though I need to renew my passport. It expired at the start of June so I am currently landlocked. To renew my passport here I need to send it to Washington and it will cost me $204! (To renew the kids passports next year it will cost a total of $268!) I also cannot have my current passport become lost as it has my US visa in it and if I lose that then I am seriously screwed as the visa cannot be moved to a newer passport. I will need to travel with both of them, 1 to use to get onto the plane and 1 to get back into the US. Isn't it fun?! And breathe!

One thing that will be fun is this coming weekend. It is the 4th of July weekend and we are planning on going to CarmelFest. Also the 4th of July means there is only 2 more weeks until my birthday! Just got to keep reminding myself of that. It is my birthday soon. I get to have cake!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sport

I have been watching England play in the World Cup and will most likely be watching on Sunday when they play Germany. It is at 10am here I think so the kids will be overjoyed that they can't watch Spongebob Squarepants. Although depending on how the game goes, I may wish I had been watching Spongebob Squarepants.

At first the UK seemed to think that qualifying through the Group Stages would be easy. It wasn't though was it? It was quite boring watching the England games. (Even watching the USA V England game in a garage waiting area surrounded by Americans does not add anything to the experience!) They build themselves up so much and the Press say how great they are and then when they don't meet expectations then the same Press then rip them to shreds. I can just imagine the front pages on Monday's papers.

One game I am going to try to make a point of watch is not a World Cup game but will be Wimbledon. I love watching the tennis. I am appallingly bad at it myself but I love watching it. There is one solitary Brit left in Wimbledon this year. Andy Murray. I like Andy. He is accused of being grumpy and hating England but I don't think either of those descriptions are true. I think he is extraordinarily talented and I believe he will win several, if not all, of the Grand Slam events at some point in his career. Today he played his 2nd round game and the Queen was there watching. She hasn't been to Wimbledon in over 30 years. She left straight after Andy's match and having a chat with him and his opponent Jarkko Nieminen. I may have to watch the next Murray game online via ESPN but I will watch it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Speed

I have been wondering about this for a while. Speed limits. It has begun to seem like they are not so much speed limits but more like speed suggestions. As our car has cruise control it is very easy to set it so you are driving along at exactly the set speed limit. However, I do sometimes feel a bit like "Driving Miss Daisy" as other cars zoom past me. I don't like using the cruise control normally. It feels a bit odd to not have your feet on any pedals! Ben uses the cruise control almost every single time he is behind the wheel!

My question is this, if I am plodding along at exactly the speed limit and everyone else, and I mean everyone else, is zooming along faster, do speeding tickets not occur much or do they not bother people?! Granted we have not seen any speed cameras since we have been here. In the UK they were everywhere and for a while they even kept me in a job. (Yes I had a job of endorsing peoples driving licences when they were caught speeding!) If you can't read that sign, it says "Speed Checked By Detection Devices". Ben found it amusing and wanted a picture of it when we were driving back from Georgia.

I have seen signs saying the fine is higher with possible days in prison if you speed in construction or school zones but it really does not seem to bother people. I went to Marsh the other day and as I drove under a bridge I notices a white car parked on the verge. I thought it was a broken down car so I carried on and changed lanes to be able to turn into the parking lot of the store. As I passed the white car I noticed that it was not simply just a "white car" but it was a police car. The speed limit along that stretch of road is 45mph. I was doing just under 50mph. I admit it. However, all the cars that were passing me were doing well over 50mph. Did the police car move? Nope. I checked in my rear view mirror as I was convinced I was going to get pulled over for either speeding or changing lanes at the wrong bit. The police car was not there when I went past on the way home. Did they stop someone for a driving offence or did they just go back to the police station?

Do you speed?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toy Story 3

We are going to see a movie together as a family. Ben and I saw the first two Toy Story movies at the cinema together and now we get to take our kids to see the 3rd one. God I feel old but I love Pixar and the kids love Pixar movies! Ben even has a huge collection of Toy Story toys from the original movie. He is hoping they will be worth a lot of money eventually.

We are going to see the movie for free thanks to collecting tokens from Kelloggs cereal boxes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This is only clean title I could think of!

So. The car. It is a pile of poo. It is a big, stinking pile of poo. But then again so is Pep Boys. I am NEVER using them again for anything even remotely related to a car we may own.

I admit we have had a few problems with the car since we got it but nothing has gotten me so angry as the past few days. As I mentioned before we had a problem with the brakes and were not able to use the car to drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Charlotte, N Carolina. We, and by that I mean Ben, dropped the car off at the garage on Sunday just before they shut. On Monday he sat there for 3 hours waiting for a quote! Eventually he managed to leave and we used a rental car to drive to Great Wolf Lodge for our vacation. We were due back in Atlanta on Friday afternoon. So the garage had the car for a week. They also had my cell phone number and Ben's cell phone number. We carried on with our vacation and drove back early Friday afternoon ready to drop off the hire car and pick up our car. Just before he left for the garage Ben phoned them to make sure all was well and we could pick up our car. After all they had had it for a week and we had not heard anything from them. It must be fixed. You'd think that wouldn't you? Nope. Not fixed. Not a single thing had been done to it! Nothing had been done in a whole freaking week!! They realized on Tuesday that they needed another part. Did they call us to let us know? Nope. Did they get the part? Nope.

So instead of heading off to Indiana we stayed with Paul and his family again. They were supposed to call us back on Friday to let us know what was going on but they don't. There have already been at least 5 occasions when Ben has called and they have said they would call back and they haven't. Isn't this wonderful customer service?

Me and Ben go in to see them in the morning and they say it will be done by 1pm. The car had actually been sat in the parking lot when we arrived. We ask them at least 4 times if they have all the bits they need and get them to write down that it will be done by 1pm. We head back to the house and get all our stuff together. Saturday is the day of the England V USA game in the World Cup and Paul is going to watch it at a friends house so we say our goodbyes and pack our stuff in the hire car and head to the garage. We get there just before 1pm. The car is up on a lift but no one is working on it. Is it fixed? Lets find out. We go in. "Is it ready?" we ask. "No" they say. There is another bit they need. It will be done by 1.30pm. So we wait. 2pm comes and goes. Still nothing. Ben takes K to a nearby Publix to get some snacks for our journey back to Indiana. There is still a chance we could drive back on Saturday. I stay at the garage as I want to make sure they work on it. 4pm comes and goes and I am absolutely livid. I had spoken to someone when we arrived and made it plain that I was not happy. I then spoke to someone else a little bit later and it was very evident that I was now angry.

They ask Ben to pay at about 3.30pm and they give him a huge $35 off the bill. Isn't that nice? That makes up for the inconvenience, lack of customer service, lousy service and being generally crap.

They finish working on the car and it comes down off the lift and they test it. Brakes still not right so it goes back up on them again and finally comes down again about 30 minutes later. Ben test drives it. I test drive it. Then the guy Ben initially had dealing with, I think he is the manager, comes over and asks what I think, if I am happy with it. That is the final straw. I am very calm and I say no I am not happy but it will do and I want to leave and never see him ever again. I explain, calmly, how angry I am and how completely rubbish I think the service has been and how I am NEVER using Pep Boys again. He then starts going on about how he was off for 2 days to which I say does no one else know how to work a phone? Did it not cross anyones mind to call us? He then says he came back on Thursday and he got the part needed himself, he paid for it out of his pocket. Well isn't that nice of him. Did he not think to phone us on Thursday or Friday?! I get out the car and give Ben the keys and walk in to the waiting area to get the kids. I don't want to say something that may result in me getting arrested. I get the kids and pile them into the car. We shift over all the stuff from the hire car to our car and I follow Ben to the rental place. It is shut. We leave the keys in a drop box and head back to Paul's house. It is now way too late to leave to go back to Indiana. It is a 9 hour drive, without stops, and we would not get home till about 2am! Even though I am sure we have overstayed our welcome they let us stay another night with them and decided to leave for home early Sunday morning. We were in the garage waiting area so long I actually managed to watch most of the England V USA game. I actually screamed GOAL! at the top of my lungs when England scored just to piss everyone off.

We left Atlanta at about 9.30am headed back home. We had lunch in Nashville, Tennessee and drove on. We finally got back to our apartment at 9.30pm after a quick stop at Kroger to get milk, bread etc. The kids were sweaty and tired. Me and Ben were sweaty and tired. Our car does not have decent A/C so we suffered a bit. I have had a little vent here and I now feel a little better but I am writing a letter of complaint to Pep Boys too. The manager guy said that he would give Ben a refund to his debit card this week. He didn't say how much it would be but that he would call him to let him know it was done. Ben quickly said, "No I will call YOU" Their track record does not bode well for them calling us.

Vacation - Part 2

We leave Georgia and head through S Carolina to get to our destination in Charlotte, N Carolina.

We briefly stopped for lunch but made reasonably good time in getting to Charlotte. As Ben had waited for 3 hours for a quote from the garage in the morning we had not left as early as we wanted to. The drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Charlotte, N Caroline takes about 4 and a half hours.

After seeing a huge bottle of ketchup on our drive along part of Route 66 we managed to see a huge peach on the drive out of Georgia! This is just not something you would see driving along the M1 in the UK!

It was night when we arrived at Great Wolf Lodge and we were all exhausted but we were happy to be at the hotel and knowing that we would not have to drive again for a whole week.

Great Wolf Lodge is a water park and the kids spent most of the week in  their swimming suits. There are slides, wave pools, outdoor pools, water games and fountains. There are lots of things to keep you entertained. We had gotten a meal package in our booking so we did not have to worry about our meals. We didn't have to worry about room keys either as the wrist bands we were given to get into the pool also acted as a room key. We could also use them to pay for things during the stay if we wanted to and would just need to settle the bill when we checked out. The kids could also get color coded wrist bands that would be used to determine if they were big enough to go on some of the water slides. Z and K got yellow ones which meant they could go on one of the bigger slides. By having the band it saved time at the top and having to stand against measuring boards.

There was one bit that had a rope pull type thing above and floats below that you had to walk over. After seeing several adults not being able to manage it I was a bit surprised to see K taking a crack at it. She actually managed to get completely over and was very pleased with herself. I was very impressed!

There was an evening Storytime that K went to a few times. You were to  go in your pjs and with a teddy and listen to a story. She really enjoyed it even though she really wanted to be chosen to turn the pages of the book. Each night there was bout 80 kids sat in their pjs clutching teddy bears of varying descriptions. She did managed to get a hug from Wiley the Wolf though. The music and songs that they had before the story were very similar to songs from The Lion King and I had to stop myself from humming along with the wrong song! Luckily I think most of the kids would be too young to realise the similarity.

During the week we ate loads and did not watch any tv. Ben had told the kids that they couldn't watch any television as we had not paid for it. To make sure they bought it he unplugged the tv set so they couldn't get up super early and try to turn it on! Luckily they were more interested in getting their swim suits on and getting in the pool.

Z's favorite bit was the wave pool (no pics of that unfortunately) but he also seemed to enjoy the view he had with all the girls in bikinis! He pretty much always had a smile on his face. (He also has a loose front tooth that we are waiting to fall out. The new one is growing behind it)

We finished up our week on Friday and headed back to Atlanta to pick up our car, drop off hire car and head back home. At least that is what we were expecting to happen. We thought we would get home late Friday night....

Vacation - Part 1

We went on a vacation last weekend. We had a final destination but first we stopped off to visit Paul who is a  friend of Ben's that he had not seen for about 12 years. They went to BB together in Northampton and Paul now lives in the US with his American wife and their 2 young sons. They live just outside Atlanta, Georgia so we decided to drive down, yes drive in our car, to see them for a few days before we headed off on the rest of our vacation.

We drove down Indiana and then through Kentucky and into Tennessee. We stopped in Tennessee for a break and went to Ruby Falls. Paul had recommended and it got us out of the heat of the day. Z was not too sure about it to start with but K was very excited. At the end there is an amazing waterfall and no one knows where the water is coming from.

As we began to head back out of the caves, Z was now enjoying himself but K wanted to get out. She did manage to make a large group of  people laugh though. There are occasions when you have to squeeze past other groups of people and whilst K was doing just that she said, very loudly, "But we have to squeeze past all these people. And I don't like it!"

We left the caves and got back in the car and continued on to Georgia. We stayed with Paul and Staci for Saturday night and Sunday night. On Sunday we went to visit Georgia Aquarium. Z loves sharks and was really excited that he was actually able to touch one. We also got to touch a stingray! We wandered around the rather impressive aquarium but then it should be as it cost $94 for the 4 of us to get in!

We also saw a Beluga whale and Z had a rather in depth conversation with a man about different whales and sharks and what they eat! If he does not work as a paleontologist then I can see my son becoming a Marine Biologist!

Sometimes I feel a bit torn about Aquariums like this. I feel the same about zoo's. As much as I love to see the animals/fish I can't help but wonder if they would be better off in the wild. I know I would never get to see some of these amazing creatures if they were in the wild but it is difficult to know what is best.

As we drove back to Paul's house the brakes on our car began to fail. This is Sunday afternoon and we are due to drive to Charlotte, N Carolina the next day. We stop at a gas station and Ben gets some brake fluid. There is none left in our car and the parking brake alarm is constantly beeping at us. Luckily we manage to get back to the house and Ben and Paul get the car to a local Pep Boys garage for them to fix it. It turns out they can't get it done in time for us to drive the car to N Carolina so the decision is made to leave the car there and pick it up on Friday when we come back to Georgia. We get a rental car to get to N Carolina. The car is left at the garage and as there is a whole week for them to fix it we leave content in the knowledge that we will come back to a working car......

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Driving in the Rain

This is a little glimpse of our drive home from Missouri yesterday. It was a little bit rainy!

Memorial Day Weekend

This past weekend we went on a trip out of State again. This time we went a bit further afield than the neighboring States. This time we went to St Louis, Missouri. It was sort of a preparation run for the longer journey we will have when we go to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with one of Ben's friends from the UK who lives here now before we continue on to Charlotte, N Carolina. We went to/looked at all the tourist haunts. Well the ones we could find that were not too far away as it was really hot and sunny.

We went to the Missouri History Museum. It was free to get in but some of the exhibits required you to pay. We just wandered around the free bits. I think the kids got a bit bored and had more fun in the gift shop when I went to buy some postcards. I even managed to remember to write and mail the postcards. Aren't I good? I also got a magnet that I forgot was in my bag and caused some odd looks a day or so later.


The St Louis Zoo was another place we visited. We spent about 3 hours wandering around the huge zoo looking at all the animals. The Zoo was free to get into but again there were one or two things you would need to pay for. The kids didn't seem to mind though and just enjoyed looking at all the animals. It was a stark contrast to the last free Zoo we visited in Chicago when the temperature was below freezing and most of the animals were there to look at.

We also went on a drive down to see The Arch and then past the St Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium. Ben wanted to go to a ball game but there were not any on. We could have maybe gone on a tour of the ball park but did not get a chance to check when the tours were scheduled. Ben seems to prefer baseball games to other US sports but I find baseball deadly dull. Maybe I have not been to the right game but I prefer football and basketball.

We did manage to go on a visit to The Arch and even went up to the top. There are these tiny little tram car things that take you up to the top so you can see the view. When you are at the top you can feel a slight sway which is a little bit unnerving but the view is spectacular, well it was when we were there. I am not sure I would want to go to the top during a thunderstorm!

Z was not too keen on being up so high and was reluctant to look out the little viewing windows. K on the other hand loved looking out at the view. Even though she had been sick on the trip over from the hotel she really seemed keen to go and see how high up she was. (We were up really high too!)

After we had a look at the view we came back down and headed back to the hotel for a relax. The kids decided they wanted to go swimming so Ben took them down to the pool while I had a lie down on the bed. I was sharing a bed with K during the trip and she does not lie still while she sleeps. She moves around. A lot. And she snores. Loudly. So I didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked. We had to keep our eye on Z as even though he is not quite 7 yet he seems to be something of a ladies man. He was flirting with all the women in bikinis and even got his hands on my camera later on and was taking photos of the girls who were in the pool. He was a right little peeping tom. He also seems to have developed a habit of picking up womens glossy magazines and looks through them for pictures of women in swimsuits or their underwear! I won't post the pictures of the girls here that he took though. Just believe me when I say there are pictures.

When we came back to Indiana we drove a bit of the way along Route 66. Ben has always wanted to see Route 66 and he was very pleased to be able to drive down part of it. We only went on a small part as otherwise we would have ended up in Chicago and our journey would have been even longer.

There are some sights to see on the little bit of Route 66 we drove on and I am sure some day we will see more of it. (BTW each of those links goes to a different website.) The sat nav kept trying to get us back onto the highway so Ben had to set in a precise route and then ignore some of the directions it was giving us. We stopped for lunch before continuing onto the highway and back towards Indiana.

When we left Missouri the skies were blue and it was very warm. Then it all changed and we drove through about 4 thunderstorms. The rain got so bad that all the cars and trucks had their hazard lights on and we could barely see in front of us so we stopped at a few rest areas until the rain eased off.



We made it home safely in one piece and very happy to be able to sleep in our own beds again. In fact the kids didn't actually get up until just before 8am. Makes a change from the usual 6am wake up time but that may also be due to the fact school is out for summer!

Sweets From Back Home

Are you a fellow Brit abroad?  Do you miss sweets like real Cadbury chocolate, not the Hersheys rubbish? I know personally I have regu...