Archive for June, 2009

When There’s a Will….

For the first time, I was insulted by a voicemail greeting.

I had called a lawyer recommended by a friend, because we need new wills. While we had them drawn up in the UK, I’m told that foreign wills don’t protect US assets.

When the voicemail picked up, a man’s voice said: “I’m either away from my phone, or I have decided to ignore your call, because the number was blocked.”

Was my number blocked? I didn’t think it was, but then, he didn’t answer my call. And he sure sounded mad on that greeting. I wonder what he has against blocked numbers. I was immediately wary of this lawyer, if he is putting conditions on answering my call before we have even spoken.

I got in touch with another lawyer, based on another recommendation, who suggested he sit down in his office with me and my husband to discuss his services. He bills at about $400 an hour, so this could be one expensive meeting.

In London, our bank’s legal department did our wills for the grand total of 80 pounds (approximately $130). I fear that won’t even get us through the receptionist here…

The Lone Bag Lady

In Atlanta, I am usually the only person in a given room carrying a big bag. In my purse, I carry my GPS (which I don’t want to get stolen out of my glove compartment); a spare diaper and wipes for the kids; makeup; a bottle of water; a large wallet, packed full of receipts, discount cards and frequent flyer cards; a hairbrush; my phone; a notepad and pen; a book, and perhaps a magazine.

In London, because getting from my flat into the center of town took about 45 minutes, I used to to take everything I could possibly need throughout the day with me in the bag, to avoid having to go home.

Not only do women in Atlanta seem to carry far fewer things — they also feel comfortable leaving their purses/bags in the corner of rooms where they’re gathered.

At a baby shower tonight, I noticed a pile of purses lined against the wall. If you trust the crowd to refrain from stealing the bag, that would be a logical plan. My massive bag can get heavy. But coming from London, where I had my phone, wallet, bike and stroller stolen, I am perpetually paranoid that I won’t see anything I put down against the wall again.

But people here seem to get annoyed by my ever-present big bag. At a fund-raiser for my daughter’s school, another mom took it away from me, and put it on the floor in the corner. She told me it was too big to carry around all night.

I snuck back to get it when she wasn’t looking. While I appreciated her concern, I was not convinced that the bag would emerge without a glass of wine dumped over it. Plus, I wanted to be able to make a getaway from the packed cocktail party, without having to push my way through to the back to retrieve my bag.

If you always have your bag, you’re always prepared to leave.

Mass Moon Walk

This could only happen in a big city like London.I haven’t heard any Michael Jackson songs emanating from cars driving by, like my brother did yesterday in New York. And there weren’t any makeshift memorials on the street here in Atlanta, like there are in Los Angeles.

And I definitely haven’t seen any mass moon walks, like this one at London’s Liverpool Street station.

Cities like London make you feel like you’re in the heart of things, even if you’re really not. Michael Jackson wasn’t a Londoner, but people there really have come up with a unique goodbye.

Michael Jackson

I can’t turn off the TV. There aren’t too many other celebrities whose deaths would resonate around the world in the same way.

The Governor’s Affair

I find few news stories as compelling as political scandals. So I was hooked by Mark Sanford’s press conference yesterday, when he admitted he had been unfaithful to his wife.

I appreciated that, unlike Silda Wall Spitzer, who stood by her husband when he admitted to using hookers, Jenny Stanford wasn’t standing next to her husband, looking wounded, yet supportive.

Political scandals that erupted while I was living in the UK make the South Carolina’s affair with another woman look small scale. Mark Oaten, a politician who preached about the sanctity of family values, was exposed for engaging a male prostitute.

That story played out in the tabloids (with all sorts of graphic details about the politician’s shenanigans with his “rent boy’), rather than on American-style live TV. I can’t decide which is more gripping…

Weather Escapes

In London, we chose indoor acitivities during many months of the year to escape the rain. Here in Atlanta, we are trying to seek refuge from the heat.

There was a time when we went to Gymboree in the Whiteley’s shopping center every other day (we breathed a big sigh of relief when our daughter got sick of it. There are only so many plush blocks you can climb on before you start to go a little stir crazy). And we visited the kids’ area of the Science Museum about once a month.

Science MuseumUnlike Gymboree, it was free (Gymboree is anything but free — on average, about 15 pounds a pop). But visiting with a crawling toddler involved keeping them safe from throngs of tourists’ and bigger kids’ feet.

It’s geared more towards the over-5 set, with shape puzzles, a light and music chamber, and dress up clothes. And if you get there much later than 10 AM on a weekend — especially a rainy day — it’s absolutely mobbed.

Here, people seem to stay in their houses when the weather’s unpleasant. Everyone seems to have a massive playroom that they bring the kids to when they don’t feel like heading out.

I only knew one person in London with a dedicated playroom, and they lived outside of Zone 2. In Central London, it was tough to find the space for an extra bedroom — let alone a playroom.

The best option, I think, would be to have a playroom, with the option of a place like the Science Museum. I miss the different accents we would hear there, and the off the wall exhibits (an insight into Iceland’s hot water springs, pre-financial crisis…a history of aviation…a green city tour….) that we could see while the kids slept in the stroller.

I even miss the game of dodging the other visitors’ feet.

Science Museum with feet

Weather Chat

In the UK, people love to talk about the weather. I always found this amusing, because it rained often there. Yet the amount of time that people spent talking about the rain, you would have thought that drizzle in June, or downpours in November, were unusual.

I have witnessed a similar phenomenon in Atlanta. It has been hot over the past week — nearly 100 degrees. And everyone I meet or run into can’t say enough about it.

From what I hear, it’s at least this hot all summer. So I expected Atlantans to shrug nonchalantly when the temperatures climbed. But instead, they discuss the weather with alarm, punctuated with expressions like: “it’s hot as blazes out there!”

Flowers in the City

Atlanta Botanical GardenWe went to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and were dumbfounded to find signs marking the corporate sponsorships of the floral arrangements.

Flowers in London just seemed to appear, without any explanation of who put them there.

The Botanical Garden here was nowhere near as sprawling as Kew Gardens. That’s almost a city unto itself, with a massive lake and forest-sized greenhouses filled with orchids and other exotic plants. It’s also a hike from Central London, while Atlanta’s equivalent is quite central.

London’s got the handle on the urban-floral mix. Regent’s Park, just north of Central London, has a massive rose garden.

Holland Park, west of Central London, has a japanese garden, with a charming bridge over a little pond, flanked by brightly colored blossoms. You could always spot hip “yummy mummies,” or nannies to the rich and famous (my friend ran into a woman who claimed to be Claudia Schiffer’s nanny) pushing their strollers there.

Kensington GardensAnd also just west of the center of town, there’s Hyde Park, my personal favorite, which offers Kensington Gardens.

Just outside Kensington Palace, Princess Diana’s former home, it’s an enclave of neatly manicured hedges and walkways that make you feel like you’re in an English period drama (if you ignore the scores of tourists with recording equipment).

And of course, you can find lots of flowers — without corporate sponsors.

Wedding Dresses as Frequent Fliers

I just finished reading The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, a compelling book about a Jewish family forced to leave Egypt.

The family of six brings 26 suitcases filled with their most important belongings, knowing that they wouldn’t be allowed to come back. Among their treasures is their mother’s wedding dress.

Wow. I am constantly amazed at the lengths to which people will go to keep their dresses. If this mother managed to hold onto her dress, along with four kids, on a ship ride across the ocean, I should have been able to keep track of it in a transatlantic move with just two kids.

We Are Alarmed

Our new house is already equipped with an alarm system. All we had to do when we moved in was enlist a company to monitor it. And of course, there are loads to choose from.

Once you book the company, you have to decide what features you want. Just the simple landline monitoring? That would be fine, one company sales rep explained to me: but what happens if someone cuts your phone line?

Of course, I hadn’t thought of that. I had lived in London for eight years, and New York City, for about 25 years, without ever having any sort of alarm system. Granted, I lived in buildings with doormen. And I suppose a house is easier to break into than an apartment in a big building.

Alarming signsJudging from the signs outside the houses on our new street, everyone has one. So, in my effort to be safe, and fit in, there I was, listening to a convincing sales pitch.

The rep explained to me that I needed a hostage code. If someone breaks in, then puts a gun to my head, asking me to disable the alarm, there is a special code I can type in to indicate to the alarm company that, while the alarm should stay silent, the police should still come.

That is, of course, if the gunman hasn’t cut our phone line. If he has, we are out of luck — unless we sign up for radio monitoring, available for an additional charge.

How clever, I thought, and also, how terrifying. We didn’t even get started on panic rooms.

Maybe we could get away with just having a sign….