Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holland, in greater detail

We are about to FINALLY wrap up spring break.  Here in the UK, students get 2 full weeks of vacation and, from a parent perspective, it's almost a bit too much.  I'll be glad to get back into the groove of our school routine on Tuesday when school cranks up again.

I wanted to add a bit more about our time in Holland because it was such a wonderful family vacation.  Along one of the many meandering paths that ran through Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, we found some round wooden lily pads that seemed to float on top of a pond and Annie snapped my pic.  In the second picture above, you will find the whole crew. This was our last day of sightseeing in Holland.  The gardens are only open for two months every spring to showcase the beautiful flowers blooming in this tranquil setting.  From left you see Ann Vensel Nolte (Tammie's friend), Annie, Tammie (Carrie's childhood friend), Jason and Callie.  They're all enjoying the ice cream Callie was insistent that we have as a precursor to lunch.  She worked up an appetite hoofing all over the pathways. 

Notice a trend?  The girls are enjoying some more ice cream with the North Sea as their backdrop.  Tammie drove us north to the tulip fields  on our first day out of the city.  We stumbled upon some beautiful beaches and stopped to stretch our legs.  The sand was pristine, without one iota of stinky seaweed or tar so often found on the beaches in Texas.  After Tammie told us the waters would be frigid at this time of year, we didn't dare dip a toe in it.  We were enjoying the view until we realized that it was a tops optional beach.  Thank goodness Callie wasn't wearing her contact lens or glasses and remained clueless.  Believe me, the views we were getting with the old saggy, baggy set were not worth the squint for a better look - not a perky pair for as far as the eye could see.

While in Holland, we sampled some of the local foods.  Jason and the girls munched on frites, which sounds fancy to my Texas ears but was really just fries in a paper cone with a mayo based dipping sauce.  Since the kids think ketchup deserves its own spot on the food pyramind, they always had to add some of that, too.  Ever the foodie, Callie couldn't be bothered to look up from the fries in front of her face to smile for the camera.

We enjoyed a morning spent at Zaanse Schans in the northern municipality of Zaandstad at an open air folk museum.  I looked up the spelling and have no idea how to pronounce it.  We got to walk along canals and check out the picturesque windmills spinning in the breeze.  I had a serious case of deja vu because most of Holland reminded me of Southeast Texas - flat with a lot of standing water.  I think its lacking in a mosquito population due to the colder climate, so that's a plus.  If they would just replace the raw herring sold by street vendors over there with some fried shrimp on a stick, it would be practically perfect in every way.

There were buildings that displayed cheesemaking and shoemaking.  The traditional wooden shoe in the picture above was just a bit too big for my husband's large foot.  

On our route that ran parallel to the mountainous sand dunes along the sea, we saw more fields of tulips.  This is probably my favorite picture because it gives some idea of the scope.  There were tulips in various shades of red, pink, yellow, white, and purple.  We also saw fields of beautiful hyacinths and daffodils.  

You can't talk about a trip to Holland without mentioning bikes - they were everywhere!  Riders have their own bikes lanes on virtually every street.  Out in the countryside, the paths are farther away from the road and travel through some beautiful places.  At this time of year, it was hard not to be seduced by the siren song of a bit of cycling, so we surrendered.  Or at least we figured it was best to give in to Callie's whining about how much she wanted to ride bikes in Holland, how no vacation would be complete without feeling the wind in her hair, how we would become known as the meanest parents on the planet if we didn't grant her this one wish.  

Tammie was our stalwart leader, inadvertently driving us right into an active construction zone near The Hague thanks to her idiot tom-tom as we seemed to go round in circles while she tried to get us to another beach for some cycling.  It was that or tie some sandbags to Callie and toss her in because she was gonna just die if she didn't get to ride like all the natives we had been dodging on bike paths all week.  Scheveningen was our destination - try saying that three times really fast.  It's said that locals used the name of this place as a litmus test, of sorts, because only native Dutch folks could pronounce it correctly and thus German infiltrators or spies during World War II would be discovered when they butchered it.  We saw bikes parked and chained all over the country - big cities, small towns and pretty much everywhere.  Jason took the second pic of us as we saddled up to ride down the boardwalk area along a very commercial strip of the coast.  Annie initially wanted to get a tandem bike at the rental place and later was very glad I declined her kind offer because I rode along as the caboose and wobbled all over the place.  

Under the category of miscellaneous...

So how do they keep their canals so clean?  I saw virtually no trash floating in any of the waterways and you can't toss a wooden show in that country without it landing in some body of water.  Do they have crews who come out at night and fish out anything that folks have tossed in?  It's a mystery to me.

See the cute black and white cat that Callie is petting in her lap, the one that would send US health inspectors into a tizzy because it's the resident animal in a pannekoeken (pancake) restaurant?  It was so sweet and, with a bit of here-kitty-kitty and finger snapping, we got it to join us for most of the meal.  The girls were charmed and since we're all animal lovers, we enjoyed this quirky side of dining in Holland that would not be tolerated stateside.  Never fear - there was a liberal splashing of liquid sanitizer and hand washing once the little furball departed to socialize with other diners.

Filed under "Teens Will Be Teens" is this pic of Annie standing in front of some local tagging near our hotel.  For all I know, it could be some really filthy words or slurs, but Annie thought it was cool and insisted that Callie take this picture of her.  I thought the box-headed character in black and white was comical with that mean face.  

And last, but not least, is a picture of a gourmet.  Tammie hosted us for dinner two nights and we all had a blast cooking on her electric gourmets.  Tammie told us that the Dutch call it a gourmet or gourmetten.  In America we would say gore-may, but it's called a gore-met in Dutch.  I was trying to find one to purchase for us to use here in the UK and discovered that it can also be called a raclette. 

Basically it's just a flat heating surface with anywhere from 4-8 individual mini frying pans, often triangular in shape, that are used to slowly cook food.  Tammie explained to us that it's a spring and/or Easter tradition to gather around a gourmet for the family meal.  It ensures a leisurely pace for the diners because everyone has to cook their own food.  Some of the things we cooked included marinated pork, chicken, quarter sized beef patties, catfish, salmon, shrimp, mini sausages wrapped in bacon, snap peas, potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus.  Tammie's son Adam was a whiz at fixing a Dutch version of mac 'n cheese in his little skillet.  Callie had a fabulous time flipping her food with the little wooden spatulas.  As for me, I was thrilled to shake on a bit of Tex Joy seasoning, another Southeast Texas deja vu moment.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

Yesterday we returned from a five night trip to Holland.  We stayed at the Rho Hotel in Amsterdam, less than a block off Dam Square.  It was an amazing location.  My only complaint was the jack hammer they cranked up every morning at 7 am for the nearby subway line they're running through the city.  The sun is already rising around 6 am, but we're getting pretty good at ignoring that since we moved to England.

Our touring around Amsterdam proper included the usual sights - canals, trams, bicyclists and museums.  We didn't make it to the red light district to get a real eyeful of the "live and let live" liberal attitude of laid back Europe, but we caught the smell of it quite often.  The first time we smelled marijuana smoke, Annie asked what the awful smell was and I told her.  Every time after that when we got another whiff of it, Annie would sigh and say, "I smell weed again."  

One of the most memorable sights in Amsterdam was my tour of the Anne Frank house.  We were told not to take pictures, but I had Annie snap a quick one for me in front of the bookcase that hid the entry to the secret annexe.

Annie told me to smile in the picture, but it was a bit hard to conjure one up when contemplating what the Franks endured in the long days of occupation during World War II.  It is a sad place, with reminders of their time spent trying to escape the notice of Nazis as they continued to decimate the Jewish population.  Some of Anne's pictures are still glued to the walls of her little room.  Reading Anne's diary as an 8th grader in Mrs. Campbell's English class at Henderson Middle School had a real impact on me.  Teaching the diary to 8th graders years later reminded me to appreciate our freedom to worship God and practice Christianity without fear of persecution or reprisal.  I can officially cross this off my personal bucket list now.

As we toured the Anne Frank house, I almost lost my cool.  There was a family of tourists in front of us, obviously from some part of Asia.  They were grinning and chatting loudly, stopping to smile and take pics in every room of the annexe.  It took every ounce of willpower at my disposal not to smack them on the back of their ignorant heads and tell them they should be more respectful.  Did you really need a picture of mom in front of the toilet in the secret annexe or dad climbing the stairs?  This isn't the first time I've seen this sort of behavior.  When mother visited us last month and we were touring the city, people from this same part of the world had to be asked multiple times not to take pictures in churches.  I don't know... maybe they take pictures in their temples or sacred places.  I guess they wouldn't mind if I put rabbit ears on a Buddha statue as I have someone snap a pic of me with a big old toothy grin on my face inside their house of worship.  Seriously, it's called respect and you need to get you some before a redneck like me from Texas gives you what-for.

We rented a van for two days while my childhood friend from Sour Lake, Tammie Nolte, drove us all over the surrounding area.  We saw field upon field of tulips in bloom.  The girls happily hopped out of the auto every time it stopped for yet another round of pics amongst the flowers.  The sweet smell of hyacinths was a nice change of pace from the weed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Oh Yes It's Ladies Night

Last night I had dinner with a group of ladies and then attended a musical with them in the theater district of London.  It wasn't just any group of ladies, it was the ladies from the local church we attend, including the pastor's wife.  The Bible study ladies, the ladies who go on weekend retreats to renew their faith, the ladies who say words like dang and heck.

There are fabulous theaters scattered all over an area of central London called the west end.  They're fabulously intimate venues where you can get up close and personal with the characters on stage.  These aren't echoing chambers but rather places where most seats allow you to really see the expressions on their faces and feel like you're getting your money's worth.  So did we see The Wizard of Oz or The Lion King?  Maybe Legally Blonde or Wicked?  Phantom or Les Mis?  Oh no, we had tickets for the titillating transvestite musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

It was a gay man's fantasy come true, 15 on the sexy scale of 1 to 10.  I wish I could wear a pair of false eyelashes like the lead character.  Everything was covered in glitter, from the risque outfits to the eye makeup.  No doubt I would break my neck if I tottered around on the stilettos these gentleman in drag were working.  There was a lot of innuendo of the gay variety.  For example, the sign on the back of the revolving bus, one of the important props through a large part of the musical, reads "Rear Entry Upon Request".  That's snicker or chuckle worthy, right?

One of the things that seemed to startle our conservative group was liberal use of the F-bomb.  It's not as if it was every other word, but when it did crop up in dialogue you could almost see the waves of disapproval radiating from a few of the more prudish gals in the group.  The cheeky (pun intended) bit that caught my eye and found me staring a bit in amazement was some of the costuming that was a tad bare across the booty.  Obviously some of the young and nubile gents in the performance have been working out on the Stairmaster because their costumes left nothing to the imagination.  They were pin-up boys for Buns of Steel - yowza!  

The whole thing was a bit like rubbernecking at a traffic accident, craning your neck to get a clear view of what's happening, but a bit ashamed because you're so mesmerized by it.  It was full of witty one-liners, fabulous costumes and sing-along hits from the 70s complete with oversized disco ball throwing patterns on a fun-freaking audience that had a darned good time.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Poster Child for Prohibition

Our youngest attended a girl scout event this weekend, so we were able to select a restaurant for lunch that did NOT have chicken nuggets on the menu.  I had eaten at a Spanish tapas restaurant in nearby Weybridge with a couple friends last month and suggested we go there on Saturday for lunch once we dropped Cal off for her big adventure.  

We got settled at the restaurant and were perusing the menu, trying to choose about seven dishes to try.  The last time I was here with the ladies who lunch, we ordered a pitcher of sangria, thought it was quite tasty and recommended it to J instead of his usual beer.  The waitress soon brought the sangria over to our table and it looked fabulous, with all that diced fresh fruit floating atop the red wine.  We were each poured a generous glass of the sangria.  Annie's eyes got all big and she didn't say a word as the wine glass was placed before her.  

Before you get all up on your soapbox about parents providing booze to minors, remember that we are in Europe.  The legal drinking age in the UK is 18, so at 16 Annie isn't that far off the mark.  She always looks at least 18 anyway with her full face of war paint, aka makeup.  We would never encourage her to drink or buy alcohol for her, like some folks here AND back in Texas do for their teens.

Up to this point, Annie has been adamantly opposed to drinking alcohol.  We've offered her a taste of beer, wine or a mixed drink at our home and she always turned up her nose at it.  I thought she might be swayed a bit when we moved over here because some of her more liberal classmates and friends from Europe talk of drinking alcoholic beverages.  Thankfully, this hasn't been the case.

So Annie eyed the glass and then began looking around her with this guilty expression on her face, almost as if she expected DEA agents to come busting through the door and haul us all off to jail for placing a glass of diluted wine in front of her.  We sipped ours and it was as good as I remembered.  We encouraged Annie just to give it a try.  She swallowed maybe a quarter of a teaspoon and wrinkled up her nose.  When I asked her what she thought of the sangria, she told me it was like drinking liquid raisins with a funny aftertaste.  She also compared the taste to cough medicine - music to my ears!

She told us that she just doesn't like the smell or taste of alcoholic drinks.  She added that she'll probably drink maybe one when she goes to parties in college, but she intends to be the designated driver.  It was at this point that I wished I had some sort of recorder with me to capture her words.  Do you think it's too late to get that in writing?  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What's next, a plague of locusts?

First it was ladybugs in January and February, annoying but benign.  Then it was the birds in March.  The chimney company installed some thingamajig so the birds can't throw things down the flue and into the house, like nesting materials or their young.  Now that we're into April, it's time to add yet another animal into the mix since this seems to be an ongoing theme around here with English manor living.  

Early in the week, I was checking my email and glanced down to the Vera Bradley tote at my feet where the oldest daughter tossed it the evening before.  There were these little bits of torn fabric on the floor around the edge of her bag.  Something had obviously been chewing on it during the night, so I quickly gathered up the bits and put them in the garbage.  Just to be on the safe side, I gingerly pulled out the contents of the bag to make sure there wasn't anything tagging along to school that day.  I had visions of some vermin jumping or scurrying out of the bag on the school bus or during class.  She would never live that down and I would be paying for her therapy sessions until she turns 30.  

I told my husband about it but he said to wait and see.  I didn't have to wait long. A couple days later, I was sitting at the kitchen island reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of tea.  I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a little mouse skittering across the floor.  I let out a scream that woke the dead and jumped up onto the island, whereupon I did the whole shivery, goose bump, creeped out routine.  Ick, ick, ick!

I had no choice but to crawl down after a few minutes because no one was coming to my rescue.  I stomped down and clattered over to the phone, just to make sure the mouse knew to stay hidden.  I called J at work and told him I had waited and seen.  I was ready to pack up our belongings and move, but J told me to ring up the leasing agent to see about an exterminator coming out to address our new houseguests.

The poor realtor probably thinks I've got her on speed dial these days.  She was very polite and the exterminator man came out that very afternoon.  I followed him around as he checked for evidence like droppings - joy - and he decided that they're probably coming in where the garage was converted to a large utility room.  He checked the attic and found no evidence of mousie housies up there, which would probably have made me a candidate for the local loony bin.  

A week from tomorrow, the exterminator will return to see how things are going with the poison bait he left out for the vermin.  I hope they're eating the hell out of it, really chowing down and telling all their little furry friends to join in the buffet.  I can only assume this means the exterminator will be looking for dead ones that have chosen to partake of the tasty bait.  That's such a lovely thought, mice dying in the house.  What are the odds that their little rotting corpses will smell, huh?  I guess that's the price I'll have to pay for a mouse-free house.  The three cats we had back in Texas would SO come in handy right now.  

I'm just waiting for the local foxes that frequent our yard to figure out how to open the back door and raid our fridge for a midnight snack.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I'll Have Dessert First

I'm headed in the right direction these days.  I joined a gym and have started working out again.  Now it's time to tackle the real problem - my diet.

My name is Carrie and I'm a sugar addict.  I need a twelve step program to get off the sugar and on the Splenda wagon.  It's a shame I'm not one of those sugar snobs, folks who only eat the best chocolate or the finest desserts.  Just call me a sugar slut, because I'm E-A-S-Y.  It's ridiculous stuff that I'll eat, things that are marketed to elementary kids, like Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies.  Or the Swiss Cake Rolls because I enjoy unrolling them to get at the cream filling.  It's a wonder I still have a single tooth in my head based on all the sugar I've consumed in my life.  

My crack masquerading as sugar over here in England is something called caramel shortcakes.  They cost £1.50 for one package, or two for £2.50.  They're a little gooey, with a buttery shortcake base that's the perfect foil for the caramel layer topped by chocolate.  I could inhale a whole container at once.  You'll notice I said could, because I would never do anything like that.  But you know they're pretty small.  And there aren't a whole bunch of them in the package.  Plus no one at home likes them so it's not as if I have to save some for the rest of the family.  But, yeah, I would never skip breakfast and lunch so I could consume a whole package of them in the afternoon while I lounge in front of the TV watching The Food Network.  

Now that I'm in the middle, somewhere between having to show my ID to buy booze and being asked for my AARP card, my metabolism has become the enemy.  It refuses to let me eat like I did in the past unless I'm willing to spend the better part of a day at the gym working it off with cardio.  In order to see the number on the scales start going down instead of continuing its uphill climb, I've really committed to cutting sugar from my diet.  And I mean all sugar, not just sweet stuff.

This is my fourth day and I've hit the wall, the place where I decide to just stop eating altogether because I'm sick of protein.  I know lots of folks badmouth the South Beach or New Atkins diet, but it really is my best bet.  I'm an all or nothing gal.  I can't just have a few bites of dessert and then pass on the rest of it.  I don't just want a taste, I want the whole piece of cake.  And if you're not gonna eat the rest of your pie, I'll finish that up for you, too.  It's a sad little sugar cycle and I'm pitifully weak willed.  

I have to amputate the sugar, cut it off or out of my life because all it takes is a couple bites and I'm a goner.  I'm stumbling through the bakery aisle at the grocery store, looking for a sugar fix, needing a hit of chocolate croissant.  Sneaking out when the kids are at school for a slice of carrot cake at the local bakery.  

Tonight I've decided dessert will be a Diet Coke to go along with my diet plate of protein with a side of protein.  I hope I can make it through Easter in a few weeks without some poor chocolate rabbit losing his ears or tail.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Let's Get Physical

I just got back from the Elmbridge Leisure Centre, the place I go to work out.  It's only a couple miles from the house and a truly wonderful facility.  What I've noticed is that an older crowd usually gathers to exercise in the mornings once the rush hour traffic has settled.  It could be worse, right, having to exercise alongside a pack of 25-yr-olds with 0% body fat and perky boobs.  Sure, there's some wheezing and the older crowd moves a bit slow, but that's not a bother.  It's the danged farts and BO that drive me crazy.

It never fails that I end up by somebody stinky.  There's this older fella that looks like John McEnroe will when he hits about 85.  Old John always wears his light grey windsuit zipped up under his chin(s) and one of those stretchy terry cloth sweat catching bands around his head.  I'm thinking he has probably had it since the 70s when they were in vogue.  His trainers (Brit speak for tennis shoes) are white enough to blind me and have a serious heel on them, so I'm thinking special order orthotic.  

John shuffles along through the cardio machines, spending a max of 8-10 min on the bike, elliptical and treadmill, which is pretty good for someone his age.  He always locates the youngest female on each machine and then parks it right next to her.  Unfortunately, this means he's next to me a couple times a week since I seem to have picked the geriatric hour for my daily exercise.  I always give him the nod, the I have my headphones on and you're old enough to be my grandpa so don't try to chat me up look.  I'm here to exercise, not listen to your tales about gout or sciatica.

It doesn't take long for my neighbor to really get going, and I don't mean his strides per minute.  I have no idea if it's audible since I'm listening to my iPod.  It doesn't really matter, though, because I would classify these as silent killers.  Is the poor old guy eating cat food for supper?  It's all I can do not to gag and pinch my nose closed to escape the stench.  John just continues on at his snail's pace as if he hasn't just created a toxic fart cloud that's about to strangle me.  It's not like I can just hold my breath until it dissipates or move away for a few minutes.  There must be some sort of pill he can take to manage his little malodorous condition - Gas Extinguisher or Fart Be Gone.

Then there's the younger guy in his 60s that wears all white - every time I see him.  The same outfit.  I don't know if he's going out to play tennis later or what.  It's likely he just wears this little ensemble all week without any laundering in-between workouts.  It took me a while to figure out who was so stinky.  I can see forgetting to put on your deodorant every once in a while.  But seriously, it's not as if old Whitey can't catch a whiff of his own offensive body odor.  I seem to have a keen sense of smell and am the lucky one who knows he's still in the cavernous cardio room, even if I can't see him.  I'm guessing BO guy doesn't have a wife, or maybe one who has lost her sense of smell.  

And now to tattle on myself...  I've been taking classes and using the bikes or ellipticals since I started working out over here.  A couple days ago I got on a treadmill for the first time.  I ramped it up to 4 mph and it just wasn't getting up to speed.  So I got off and hopped on another treadmill.  Again, it was having problems.  I moved over to a third treadmill and still the same problem with the speed.  At this point I'm getting frustrated.  I hope off and move to yet another treadmill when it finally dawns on me.  It's set to display in kilometers, not miles.  Duh!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bad Cow Disease

Shopping for groceries in the UK is something I really enjoy.  There's quite a bit of variety and you can definitely see the influence of other countries in the Commonwealth.  You won't find tika flavored chicken in the lunch meat section, or prawn cocktail flavored crisps (aka chips), back in Texas at the local HEB.  I imagine curries, as well as steak and ale pies, won't ever make it onto the shelves of the prepared foods aisle alongside the tamales, but I find these differences interesting.  The one thing I do lament is the lack of Velveeta Cheese, but I'll save that for another post.

I'm still learning the lingo.  Baps are rolls and digestives are graham crackers.  Seriously, Metamucil fiber bars always come to mind when you mention digestives, and that's not terribly appealing.  However, we tried some of the chocolate coated digestives and they were quite tasty despite the off-putting name.  Though, honestly, you could coat a dustbunny in chocolate and I would gobble it up like manna from heaven.  There's no such thing as a bad dessert as long as you put enough of the sweet stuff in it, and I believe that may be the problem over here.  They've got this twisted idea that recipes don't need much sugar, or maybe Karo a la pecan pie, and that's just a crime.  As far as I'm concerned, desserts can never be too sweet. Or too rich. Or too creamy. Or gooey.  Yummmmm...

A lot of what you find in the grocery aisles is very eco-friendly and politically correct.  It's all organic this and locally sourced that.  The two brands of eggs I purchase are marketed as "Barn Eggs" and "Happy Eggs".  The barn I get, but I don't know about happy.  I guess the hens are just tickled pink they're laying eggs instead of being targeted for breaded nuggets.  All of the meats are free range.  They love to stamp British on it and include a picture of the union jack, just to make sure even the illiterate folks get it.  The chicken has been fabulous, very tasty and exactly what we were accustomed to in the US.  I'm trying to think of a polite way to describe the British beef, but I just can't move beyond words like ick and yuck.

You know it's pretty bad when even Mikey, aka my husband, refuses to eat British beef.  The kids, with their keen hearing rather than sophisticated palates, heard old Mikey complain about the British beef and now they turn up their noses, too.  Thank heavens I didn't just fall off the turnip truck yesterday.  Where there's a will, there's a way - one that doesn't want to find a local butcher and use the kid's college fund to finance the purchase of Scottish beef because it's vastly superior to the gamey, stringy British cows.

So how am I getting them to eat British beef?  I make sure it's in the oven and buried in seasoning, with the tell-tale packaging hidden away in the trash.  I'll even make a special trip out to the refuse or recycle wheelie bin to hide the evidence.  Tonight I'm cooking spaghetti and meatballs, so I baked the meatballs earlier today, let them cool and then placed them in the fridge until it's time to put the rest of the meal together this evening.  The kids will prattle on about how good it tastes and are none the wiser, he-he-he.  I've been able to get away with this little ruse thanks, in part, to my husband's deviated septum.  In technical terms, his sniffer, and hence taster, don't work very well.  Thus, the liberal use of garlic and onion have kept the whole family from figuring out what I've been doing.  

It's just a shame I can't use the old cereal box trick on them, putting the generic stuff inside the brand name box so that they're never the wiser.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Serving My Time in Steerage

I've lined up some excellent vacations that will take place over the course of the next several months.  Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland are all looming on the horizon.  Me, a jet setter, globetrotter or world traveler?  Ba-ha-ha-ha!  I'm thinking it would be necessary to upgrade from my usual spot back in coach to at least business class, if not first class, in order to even pretend one of these adjectives describes me.

One person in our family, the guy whose company pays for him to climb every mountain and ford every stream around the planet, has earned enough miles to be presented with a Fancy Fuchsia card on Albatross Airlines, where the service tends to stink like a bucket of day old fish.  With the money this airline is saving every time they give me a pack of stale, expired crackers, they need to invest it in some etiquette lessons for those grouchy old flight attendants with their hair up in scrunchies from the 90s that answer your questions with grunts.  Sometimes they even narrow their beady little eyes before giving me a surly answer.  Hello ladies, it's a service industry and you're not supposed to act like I'm a bother to you.  It's called doing your job.  If it weren't for the chipper gay male flight attendants on board, it would really be quite unbearable.

Thanks to the Fuchsia card designation, a certain member of our family always gets upgraded to first class on domestic flights.  And he can take a couple suitcases that weigh almost as much as Kirstie Alley, after she gained back all the weight she lost on Nutri System.  Seriously, girl, just get the gastric bypass next time you want to drop some pounds.  

The last time we traveled as a family, the Fancy Fuchsia card carrier in our little entourage got to board first and sit up in the front of the plane in first class.  In the leather reclining seat.  With the privacy curtain.  Getting his unexpired snacks and whole soda can to replenish his drink for the duration of the flight.  Not having to share a bathroom with the poor folks behind the curtain, a bit like living on the wrong side of town, the other side of the tracks or east of the old Berlin Wall.  Let's not try to pretty it up because we all know it's a serious test of your sanity, stamina and ability to breathe through your mouth.  You know who I'm talking about, right, the big guy that ate a bean burrito with a side of beans for lunch and washed it down with several beers.  That sweaty dude who makes a beeline to the toilet before the plane even gets off the ground.  So where were the kids and I while this other family member was relaxing with all of the adults in their private sanctuary, not stuck with the wailing toddler one row behind us that kept banging his head against the backs of our seats?  That would be coach, also known as the fifth circle of hell.  

There we were, like ducks lined up in a row.  We had to have the inevitable argument about who gets to sit next to the window and who gets the middle seat, because momma always gets the aisle.  Once that was settled and they were both pouting about the outcome, which at least shut them up for a while, we finished the shorter flight to Houston before getting on the big bird to England.

Old fancy pants, I-fly-a-lot, nanner nanner boo-boo, doesn't get an automatic upgrade to first class on an international flight (insert evil laugh here), so he was stuck with the rest of us in the cheap seats.  He promptly plops down on the aisle across from me, where we're once again lined up in a row and go another round or two about who is sitting where.  After a few hours, the poor person in our family who has been forced to "slum it" back in coach is softly snoring with his pricey, noise canceling headphones so he can get his proper beauty rest.  Me, I'm serving my time with one kid's head propped up against me, using both my pillow and hers in addition to my blanket so that I don't dare move for fear of waking her.  

Forget the Fancy Fuchsia card.  Those of us in the rear of the plane should be awarded a card with the following: "I Survived the Surly, Middle-Aged Flight Attendant Who Ate a Couple Garlic Cloves Right Before She Got on the Plane".  Or maybe "My Kid Fell Asleep on Me, Drooled, Snored and Then Had a Nightmare and Thrashed Around Like a Fish Out of Water".  I would certainly accept that with pride, even if it doesn't earn me a spot up front.