Archive for April, 2009

Swine Flu Fever

Swine flu fear has reached fever pitch. I suppose Joe Biden is partially to blame…

If the Vice President won’t take the subway or fly, why should anyone else?

Past Inspections

I had a we’re-not-in-London-anymore moment today, during the inspection for the house we’re trying to buy.

The inspector, who was very thorough, explained that the low ceiling on stairs leading to the basement was something we would have to live with “in a house this old.”

This OLD? It was built in 1981! That’s brand new by London standards.

He warned that a crack on the walkway outside the front door was a “trip hazard.” I nodded solemnly, but wondered what he would have said about the open elevator shaft in our building in London. Talk about a “trip hazard”…

When he pointed out that a bathroom lacked a fan, I wanted to tell him to visit my in-laws’ house, where one bathroom is missing not only a fan — but also a sink. Like other quaint British bathrooms of a certain age, it’s just a room with a toilet.

The inspector probably would have cried if he had seen my studio apartment in Notting Hill, which was so small that I slept in a bed that folded into the wall.

And when he heard that the leak in my parents’ ceiling in their New York apartment once got so bad that we had to walk around with umbrellas, he probably would have handed in his inspectors’ license.

Atlanta real estate just isn’t as unique as London or New York.

Swine Flu Death

It’s so sad to think that a toddler died from swine flu. I hope he’s the last.

Spreading Fear

If It’s Not About Lice, I’m Not Interested

We put in an offer on a house, and it was accepted– then countered.

Had this happened two days ago, we would have been beside ourselves. We would have spent hours talking about the house, whether we wanted to up the offer, how much we liked the neighborhood, how long our drive to preschool would be….and yet, because our realtor’s call came during our lice attack, we didn’t bother calling her back until the next day.

My daughter had been sent home from school that morning with a case of lice. By the afternoon, I was in a fog of laundry, lice spray, fine tooth combs, and toxic shampoo. I could only think about what to wash, comb and spray next. Unless someone called with information about lice, I had no interest in it.

But the good news is, we got the all clear today. My daughter’s lice is gone. The hours I spent combing her hair paid off. Now we just have to make sure it doesn’t come back, with the help of our array of toxic sprays and gels.

Now, on to the house. We are shocked by how quickly things are moving. We put in an offer on Monday. The fact that we had to read and sign a 10 page document to even make an offer was alien to us.

In London, you just make a verbal offer. You haggle back and forth through the agents, agree on a price, then wait for something to go wrong.

And it almost always did: someone might accept a higher offer, even if they already gave yours the green light.

Or, if someone needs to sell their place before buying yours, the process can go on for weeks, or months, if it even completes at all.

When we bought our flat in London, the sale took six weeks to complete. And that was considered quick.

We weren’t in a chain (i.e. we didn’t have to sell anything in order to buy it) and the flat was vacant. So I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long.

Here in Georgia, you can buy a property in three to four weeks, according to our realtor. That seems almost too quick. If you’re distracted for a few weeks (by something like, say, lice, and its itchy aftermath) you might not focus on what you’re doing. The next thing you know, you’ll be living in a house, saying, “We paid WHAT for this?!”

Lice Attack

My daughter’s teacher called me about two hours after I had dropped her off at preschool. “She’s got lice,” she said, sounding almost bored. “Come get her.”

She had just handed me a sentence to hundreds of loads of laundry; hours of fine-tooth combing; and weeks of social stigma.

I raced over to the school, wondering if my daughter was the only one afflicted with the insects, but found that her whole class had been sent home.

At least we wouldn’t be pariahs in this crowd. The head of the school explained which products we should buy, and just how much laundry we should do (tons: stuffed animals, bedding, clothes, carpets, furniture coverings…).

We proceeded to the drugstore, and eagerly purchased an array of toxins. I wasn’t the only one — I ran into another mom in the CVS parking lot. I bought the last case of Nix lice shampoo.

It didn’t occur to me to ask for something gentle or organic. I just wanted to get the bugs out of my daughter’s hair.

My British husband doesn’t remember this level of panic from his brushes with lice in his youth. I wonder if the mass laundry panic is unique to the US.

I did feel guilty when I received an email from another mom at the school, which suggested using a gentle, organic lice deterrent on the afflicted kids, rather than the harsh chemicals in Rid and Nix (one of them managed to take off my nail polish. That’s intense).

I had become pro-organic when I was the UK. But what can I say? I was blinded by the lice.


I belong to a neighborhood parents’ association here in Atlanta, which has an e-blast — and it lives up to its name.

I get between 20 to 50 emails a day, on an absurdly wide range of topics. Some are helpful: they offer babysitting/nanny contacts, housing listings, and contractor suggestions.

Others sell items, from outgrown kiddie clothes to furniture to dirt — yes, dirt — extra top soil that the emailer said would work great in a garden.

Lots include rants. People complain about vandalism (irritating, yes, but nothing compared to London); drivers who speed (the emailers love to name and shame — and report offenders to the police); package thefts; salaries of police officers (according to one email, pay was cut recently, much to the author’s dismay); noise levels; and all sorts of others.

They fascinate me. I’ve never been a part of a community before that likes to share its personal issues with hundreds of neighbors and strangers.

A man looking to sell an extra single bed mentioned in the email that he had bought it for his mother-in-law’s visit — then went on to make a jab about her.

A mother wanted to share that her young child cried a lot during “Marley & Me.” She didn’t want other children to be similarly traumatized.

A noble concern. But I marvel at how much time these parents, who must be very busy, take to give hints to people they’ve never met.

The unsolicited advice isn’t always helpful — but it’s sometimes amusing — so it’s always worth a read. Plus, it makes me feel popular to have up to 50 emails a day.

A Word About Lifts

I grew up in New York City, on the fourth floor of a 16 story building. In my 18 years of living there, the elevator broke down once. Possibly twice.

In London, the lifts I used regularly (at work, at home…) broke down almost daily.
img_2777 We lived in a building off High Street Kensington — not the most expensive building in the neighborhood, but also not the cheapest — where one lift looked like a bomb site. The two needed to be replaced, but while one was out of commission, the other broke down repeatedly.

The replacement process for one lift was supposed to be finished by Christmas (it started in June). When I visited in March, it still looked as though the work had barely begun.

That meant either walking up five flights of stairs for us, with a double stroller, or riding alongside sacks of rubbish in the freight elevator.

But most residential buildings in London are too short to need lifts. And I suppose a country as old as Great Britain doesn’t need to excel in lift technology.

British Singers Breaking the Mold

I am glad that S

The Legal US Drug Trade

I went to the dermatologist yesterday, and ended up taking on the US drug companies.

My initial mission was sort out an itchy scalp and spots on my cheeks.

Both problems seemed small in the grand scheme of things, so I had postponed the visit for months. When I met with the “Physician Assistant” at the Atlanta based Dermatologists Consultants, she told me I needed antibiotics to combat my red cheeks. She listed an array of side effects I would expect.

“Really?” I asked. I didn’t think my spots were THAT bad…. I convinced her I only needed a skin cream. She wrote me a prescription for a product that I later discovered cost $115!

I asked the pharmacist if there was a generic alternative. There was. In the UK, you get the generic alternative as a matter of course.

I mentioned that to the pharmacist. “Not here,” he said. “The doctors are all corrupt.” He explained that drug company representatives visit doctors’ offices, provide lunch for the staff, then explain why the doctors should prescribe their drugs.

Of course, prices aren’t capped, so they’re super-expensive.

I’d like to think that not all doctors here are corrupt. And yet, whenever I see a TV ad for a drug (and there are LOADS) I marvel at the money these companies have.

Drug companies can’t advertise in the UK. In some ways, Brits are missing out on some great entertainment.

I especially love the ads for erectile dysfunction drugs. There’s usually a couple, sitting on a beach, or lounging on a coach, with a Barry White-type announcer’s voice describing how important these drugs are to a healthy sex life. The best part is when the announcer lowers his voice to confide the scary side effects the drugs carry (“Go to the doctor if you have an erection lasting longer than four hours”).

Together with the pharmacist, I got the doctor to switch my itchy scalp/cheek spot prescriptions over to generic versions. So maybe we can triumph over the massive drug conglomerates, if only in tiny victories.

And I suppose it serves me right for visiting a dermatologist with an “Aesthetics Department.”