Friday, September 21, 2012

A Historic Day....

Today was a historic day in the United States and I got to be a part of it which was actually pretty wonderful and quite emotional....

Today, the 21st September 2012 was the day that the Space Shuttle 'Endeavour' took to the skies for the very last time. sadly this was not under it's own steam, but rather piggy backing on a modified 747 with an escort of two F-16 jets, also known as the Flying Falcons.

'Endeavour' has flown 25 missions and travelled 122,883,151 miles in space, and today's flight was actually not only 'Endeavours' last flight, but also the last time that any of NASA's shuttles will fly again - making today a truly momentous and historic occasion.

As well as being a day of 'lasts' it was also a day of 'firsts' and today marked the first and only time that a space shuttle was taken through 12 miles of urban, public streets as 'Endeavour' made her way from LAX to the California Science Center where she will remain. Science Center President, Jeffrey Rudolph said "It's not only one of the biggest objects ever transported down city streets; it's an irreplaceable National Treasure".

The shuttle initially took off from Florida and has made its way across the country, but this morning she took off for the last time from Edwards AFB and flew north to the state capitol of Sacramento and San Francisco before slowly making her way south again to her final resting place in Los Angeles.

The shuttle apparently flew over Santa Monica Pier twice, much to the delight of the crowd. I took my parents to the City of Altadena overlooking the famous Jet Propulsion Laboratories or JPL as the locals call it. I had expected quite a crowd, but figured that of the many tourist spots 'Endeavour' was due to fly over, this would be the least crowded - I couldn't have been more wrong. The spot that I have often taken people to to show them the JPL was a heaving mass of people all excited to see the shuttle make it's special flyby over the 'Labs' that do so much work for all of the US space projects, the most recent one being the Mars 'Rover' which made it's famous landing on Mars only a month ago in August!

Local press had said that the JPL flyby would be around 11.30am, and the crowd waited with eager anticipation of her arrival - no-one knowing quite from which direction she would come. A few people had radio's and  so we were treated to updates as they came in. First we were told she was in Santa Barbara and would be another 20 minutes, next we heard she was over LA City Hall, and we were perplexed because somehow she had gotten south of us. Then we were told she was over Griffith Park and the Hollywood hills and suddenly there was a cheer as a few of us spotted her very briefly in the distance before she vanished again behind the hills. Suddenly she re-appeared in the distance, and we knew she was on her way to us. The atmosphere was electric.
One of our first glimpses
 I was trying to focus the camera as quickly as I could as I didn't want to miss anything. Suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was a man standing next to me. He thrust a business card into my hand and said "Please can you email me some of your shots? I worked on the Hubble telescope and Endeavour is my baby!" I was keen to get on with my photos and I hurriedly agreed and pocketed his business card. I carried on clicking away taking nearly 100 hundred shots as 'Endeavour" came over our heads and then looped around in front of us and headed south again back to LAX.

Virtually overhead

As she banked around to go back to the south, I was able to get the F-16' escort in the shot as well
The whole of the time the shuttle was overhead there was a tremendous buzz and cheer, and after she had disappeared over the hills again, the crowd seemed to move almost as one back to their cars and vehicles. People chatting away to total strangers like they had known them forever - it was a truly magical time, and I am so proud to have been a part of it all. It is something that will stay in my memory for ever.

As we walked back to the car, I looked at the card the man had passed to me - he was indeed an Engineer for JPL. I won't disclose his actual position, but it's fair to say he didn't lie about who he was. When I got home I uploaded my photos and as I am sure you can tell from the ones here, I was thrilled with the results. I emailed the best to the JPL man and very quickly got a response saying how thrilled he was and how fab they were. He also asked me for my address, so he could send me some shuttle memorabilia which I thought was lovely of him, and will probably be something from JPL and therefore not something you can just buy, which is pretty special, and I can't wait to see what arrives!

Today was history in the making, and it was so wonderful to be able to be a part of it, even if only in a teeny way.

I am feeling very lucky tonight as I write this....
Very lucky indeed

Have a wonderful day

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kmart Layaway....It's all new to me!

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Kmart for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

Kmart_Logo_B&W.jpg (3 documents, 3 total pages)

In the UK we don't have 'layaway' so to hear not only about the Kmart 'Big Layaway' but also the 'Big Layaway Giveaway' was something completely new to me.

OK, so what is the 'Big Layaway Giveaway' in basic terms?

BLG_Logo_Horizontal.jpg (3 documents, 3 total pages)

Layaway means that you can reserve something and pay for it little by little. It's actually pretty good - especially if you have a big family and birthdays or Christmas are coming up really fast. I could have really used this in the past and I know lots of people who could make use of it now, especially for those expensive items that our kids always want like laptops, games machines and sound systems.

All you need to do - is go to Kmart or shop online, but instead of paying for your stuff all in one go you take it to the layaway counter of stick it in your shopping basket if online. You make a downpayment of either $15 or 10% - which ever is the greater amount at the time of insitgation of the layaway, and then you make payments every 2 weeks until yourt items are paid for. So if like me you have a 13 year old wanting a laptop - you can possibly get it for him by using the layaway system. You can use the link below to find out more.

holiday gifts

You can shop for just about anything with Kmart, so it means that you can get all of your shopping done well in advance which not only helps to spread the cost, but also eliminates that last minute panic buying that so many of us succumb to - especially me! Also there is no additional charge for buying on Layaway, so you pay the same price as everyone else does - you just get to spread it out over a longer time. Use the link to find out more.

free layaway

So the 'Big Layaway Giveaway' what that all about? In a nutshell it means that everyone who uses the Kmart Layaway has the chance to get the remainder of their balance paid off in full. Whats cool about this, is that it is one person, per store each week for 10 weeks. That means that you have much better odds of actually winning, because it is per store and not one person nationally!

Here in the US 'layaway' is not a new thing, and Kmart are not the only store to offer such a service. You can also use layaway at Best Buy, Walmart and Toys 'R Us, but if you take a look at the grid on the link below you will see that only Kmart is able to aoffer such a fantastic range of goods that can be placed on layaway.

Kmart Free Layaway Grid 09_12.jpg

As a parent buying for my children and other family members, this means that I can get everything I need in one place, which is a huge relief and a huge saving on my time and energy, meaning I can do fun stuff instead of trawling around various different stores in search of what I need! - It's a cool concept and one I am definitely in favour of.

Please don't just take my word for it though - use the links in this post and see for yourself just how fantastic the Kmart 'Big Layaway Giveaway' actually is!

I have been looking at items that my family and friends would like






















One thing I am sure about this year is that I do not want to get caught out by leaving things to the very last minute and then finding out that I can't get what I need. Seeing the diappointment on a childs face because they didn't get the one thing they really wanted most is heartbreaking. As I said 'Layaway' is something new to me and if it means I can ensure that my kids get just what they want for birthdays and Christmas then I will use it to my full advantage - and hey, if by using Kmart 'Layaway' I get the chance to get my layaway balance paid in full thanks to the 'Big Layaway Giveaway', then that is even better. Even my bank manager would like that!

Now I've told you all about the Kmart 'Big Layaway Giveaway' I am off to see what else I can buy using it, because I think my search so far has only just scratched the surface of what they have to offer - this Chrsitmas could be the best one ever!

Kmart's Big Layaway Giveaway

Have a wonderful day

Lou :-)

Visit Sponsor's Site

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Homework......Are you serious?

As you all know, I now have a little part-time job looking after a 9 and a 7 year old. This involves me collecting them from school and then bringing them home or taking them where they need to be and helping out with homework..... I am basically babysitting.

I am constantly amazed by the amount of homework the 9 year old receives on a daily basis, and am wondering if this is laziness on the part of his teachers or even the dis-functionality of his teachers! I learnt several months ago now that the training you need here in California to be a teacher doesn't even include a lot of the basic stuff that is taught to early Years Practitioners like me, in the UK, and I wonder what effect if any, this is having on pupils!

It is a fact that the education system here in the US, up to the end of High School at least, is actually well down the list when it comes to Worldwide Figures, and although college education in relation to Ivy League Schools is still very high, the difference in the make up of a degree is vastly different to that of the rest of the world. Here in the US you do a year of general education at college or uni before specialising more in the last 2 years. Everywhere else you study with intent specialisation for all three or four years, depending on the degree!

Anyway, back to my 9 year old. OK at 9 he has just started 3rd Grade. His homework load is just crazy. Every Monday through Thursday he gets, Maths, Geography, Language Arts and Reading homework. Last night for example, he had a maths sheet to complete which took 20 minutes, as well as using the online maths programme and completing a series of maths questions that took us another 20 minutes. He also had a sheet of sentences to write for language arts, and then a list of 12 words that he had to find definitions of and write these definitions down to hand in today. Then in his Geography folder he had a map to look at and then a series of questions he needed to answer. After that he just needed to read out loud for 20 minutes! He has this amount of homework every day, Monday through Thursday - surely this is excessive for a 9 year old? What are his teachers doing in class - can they not engage a class and do some really good work through the day that means that the level of homework is more reasonable? This kid is a bright kid, so it's not like he is having to make stuff up or do additional stuff to catch up - this is the actual class homework load!

Maybe it is just me. I don't expect kids to NOT have homework, but surely the amount should be reasonable for their age. While at primary school in the UK, my kids only ever had reading homework to do. Once they started High School at age11, they started to get homework, and it gradually increased, but this level for a 9 year old seems excessive....

I would love to know everyone's thoughts

Have a wonderful day!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

La Quinta Resort & Club....a freebie!

This Friday, Saturday and Sunday, my wonderful S had a consulting gig for a company at the 'La Quinta Resort & Club' in La Quinta, California, near to Palm Springs. You can see their website here.  The company he was doing the work for are very pro-family and so S was told that he could bring along me and the boys....

The last time he had a consulting job out near Palm Springs we went out to join him as well, and you may or may not remember me posting about Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa. Their website can be found here. We had an amazing time at this resort hotel and I would gladly go back there again and again and cannot recommend it highly enough.

I was expecting big things from La Quinta. There website looks wonderful, and as it is a Waldorf Astoria Resort, you expect high quality all the way, which is why I was happy to make the 2 hour drive in the blazing heat, with the air con in my truck broken, and both the boys! A freebie at somewhere like this was not to be missed!

We arrived a little after 12noon, and our first impression was that this place was pretty impressive.
Driveway leading to the reception area of La Quinta
The staff in the reception were very friendly and they gave us additional keys so we could get into our Casita without having to disturb S during the class he was teaching. It was hotter than hot and the boys and I were pleased to get round to our Casita and into an air conditioned room after our long hot drive. Our Casita was very clean and more than adequate for our needs, but it was not as luxurious as I had expected it to be. The last Waldorf Astoria Resort we stayed at was The Boulders where I could have quite happily stayed forever. Here is a photo of our room at La Quinta followed by a photo of our room at The Boulders - you decide.
Bedroom at La Quinta

Bedroom at The Boulders
Still, this was a freebie weekend, as as I said, our Casita was more than adequate for what we needed, and just outside our door there was a little veranda area where I could sit in the shade and have a perfect view of the boys at play in the pool. S finished off his class at around 2pm and came to join us. It was far too hot to do anything much so we decided to join the boys in the pool for a swim.
I have no clue what they are looking at

Gorgeous G - always keeps his T-shirt on so he doesn't burn - Mr Sensible

Henry part way through his back flip

Hanging at the pool is hungry work so by 5.30pm we were all starving, so we showered and headed off through the resort to the Adobe Grill which was a Mexican S had eaten at the previous night and said it was excellent!
Walking through the Casitas to the main resort area and the Adobe Mexican Restaurant
 Once at the restaurant, the boys were spoilt for choice over what to have to eat. The waiter came and made fresh guacamole at the table with warm nachos, spicy salsa and an even spicier mole, for an appetiser while we studied the menu

Decisions decisions

H looks at the menu and says "Do you think I could just have a burger?"

S explains something on the menu-  he is fluent in Spanish, we are fluent in
Some decisions were easy....although very predictable

View across the courtyard as we left the restaurant

The boys and I waiting patiently as S takes a few photographs

Hard to believe this is the desert with a lawn as lush as this
The food at the Adobe was indeed excellent, as were the Margaritas - in fact it was probably the best Margaritas I have ever had. We ate far too much and then ambled slowly back to our Casita, where we took another dip in the pool before showering and heading to bed.

This morning when we headed out of our Casita we were greeted to the smell of sewage. I have no clue where it came from but it was not the nicest of smells and it put a bit of a dampener on our walk to breakfast at the Twenty6 restaurant before S started the last day of his teaching. The Eggs Benedict were good but not the best and the boys found the pancakes a bit on the stodgy side and couldn't finish them. After breakfast S headed off in one direction and we headed back to our Casita where H had another dip in the pool before we hit the road and headed back home.

All in all we had a great time. As I said the resort was very clean, and the staff  were really wonderful both at reception and in both of the restaurants we used. The layout of the resort is great with the smaller group pools instead of one huge and overcrowded pool, but I couldn't help but compare it to Rancho Las Palmas, the resort only 10 miles down the road, and to be honest, for the money you pay (if you are paying that is), Rancho Las Palmas is far far nicer, and doesn't have the same scent of early morning sewage.

For a Waldorf Astoria resort, this really is disappointing which is a shame because it probably wouldn't take much to boost it up and make it just as wonderful as The Boulders Resort in Scottsdale.

S and I both agreed - if we had to pay to stay here in the Palm Springs area we would not be giving our hard earned cash to La Quinta. We would however gladly part with a great chunk of cash to stay at Rancho Las Palmas, because it is worth every penny.

Next weekend we are heading off to Ojai, Santa Barbara and Solvang. I am thinking we will stay in Santa Barbara and use it as a base to visit the other 2 places. My parents arrive from the UK tomorrow, so we will discuss it with them and make plans after.

The house is super clean ready for my parents arrival tomorrow. I just hope the LA traffic is kind and doesn't hold us up too much on our way to LAX to pick them up. It has been 10 months since the boys have seen their grandparents, although only 7 weeks since they last saw me!

Have a great evening

Friday, September 07, 2012

Why do we....

Why do we run around like crazy idiots when we know our parents are coming to visit?
I have been doing it for years - even if they are only calling in for a quick cuppa on their way home from somewhere else, I do it!
The kids can even spot the signs and will watch me in my flurry of panic and ask "Is Nana coming?"
Or they will nudge each other and giggle and say "Nana must be coming"

Well yes - Nana is coming!
Nana is not calling in on her way home from somewhere else!
Nana is making a special trip to see us!
Nana is staying for 2 and a half weeks!
Then not content with sending me into blind 'Mum is coming' panic she is then flying over to my sisters in Massachusetts to do the same to her!

I love my Mum to death. I love my Dad to death too (sorry Dad, I'm not intentionally leaving you out), but when she comes to visit, I like the house to be really tidy. It's almost like I will be letting her down if something is dusty or left lying around!

The really crazy thing is that I do not have a dirty messy house anyway. I dust and I vacuum, and I can be almost OCDish in my hatred of things left lying around. S will tell you, I can be quite annoying when in my tidying mode, and downright obnoxious when it comes to telling him off for putting his feet on the coffee table when he has shoes on! S has his tidiness issues as well - he has a real OCD about the kitchen floor. He couldn't care less about the rest of the house but he will mop the kitchen floor at night, even if I mopped it only a few hours earlier and no-one has trodden on it since!

So anyway, much as I love my parents, I have spent today in my 'OMG my Mum is coming' mode. I have dusted and swept and mopped and tidied and and and....I even pulled the TV out in the living room and cleaned behind it - how crazy is that?

Anyway, the house is now pristine! Do you hear that boys? Pristine! Do not touch anything before your Nana and Grandad get here on Monday evening!

Thank goodness we are going away for the weekend and won't be back until Sunday evening - otherwise I think I would spend all weekend cleaning and recleaning!

The really crazy thing is - my Mum won't even notice!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 06, 2012


Seems kind of like a dirty word, when you haven't done it for so long....
All the same it feels good....
I am of course only working part-time, but it is work, and it is getting me out of the house which is wonderful....
So what am I doing?
Well I am collecting from school and looking after a 9 year old and a 6 year old, until either Mum or Dad arrives home in the early evening....
Not very taxing work I have to admit - just babysitting really. I make sure they do their homework and then we just play games together or I read to them, but I really like my new little charges, and I think they like me - they seem to anyway!

It was quite funny because gorgeous G turned to me when I told him the news and said "oh, right then! Abandoning your own children to go and look after someone else's!" He did say it with a twinkle in his eye and a big smirk on his face, so I guess he is cool with it. At 14 and 13 I'm not so much looking after G and H any more as offering them guidance. They are both pretty sensible, although H does drive me to distraction with his laid back lazy attitude. Give credit where credit is due though, he told us he would work hard this year at school and try to better his brother's achievements, and so far he seems to be holding firm on his word. Homework is being done without question and he just did 2 end of chapter tests for History and Math for which he got 93% and 98%, so I can't complain. G seemed to have taken his 2nd transgression into high school in his stride and is working as hard as always. He doesn't much like the amount of homework he is getting, but he gets it all done before dinner usually which is great! I'm not so sure he is keen on travelling home by bus, but it's that or walk, and as walking goes, his trip home is all uphill which in 95º heat is not fun. The bus only takes 10 minutes and drops him off right at the end of our street, so he will just have to get used to it.

I am sure that everyone will be more than happy about my little part-time job when I get paid at the end of each week. It isn't a huge amount but it is more than enough for a treat or two over the weekend, and this weekend we are off to Palm Springs for a night. S is teaching out there again from Friday to Sunday and so the boys and I will drive out to join him at the La Quinta Resort & Spa on Saturday morning, after G has his Hapkido class. We will then return home sometime on Sunday afternoon/evening, wherein panic will ensue, pending the arrival of my parents on Monday evening, who are coming out to spend a couple of weeks with us and then a couple of weeks with my sister in Massachusetts before flying back to the UK.

Also this Saturday - 8th September, my sister, her partner and a good friend are taking part in the Christie Hospital Triathlon. I have previously mentioned this in an earlier post. They are hoping to raise some much needed funds for The Christie Hospital in Manchester, UK. The Christie is one of the foremost hospitals in the world for the treatment of and research into Cancer. Without them, my dad would not be with us today. Last year you may remember that the boys and I did a sponsored walk with my parents for the Christie as well, but my baby sister was unable to take part, so hence she is doing the Triathlon this year instead. You can read my earlier posts here and here, and it's not too late if you feel you would like to make a donation to this wonderful cause. Just visit and click on the button that says donate. Every penny counts and goes towards saving lives throughout the world, which is a pretty wonderful thing!

Have a wonderful day! I am off to get myself ready for work

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Labor Day....

Tomorrow is Labor day in the US....
For the boys and I, it will be our first Labor Day, and I have to admit I had no clue what Labor Day is or how it came about....

It would seem that Labor Day is a celebration of what it says - the Labor of American Citizens for their country, in their country etc. Basically for working hard to improve their economy and make America what it is today. Historically speaking, whilst it started life as a celebration in 1882 in Oregon and then spread to some other 30 states, it would appear that it's original celebratory element got lost in 1894.

At the end of the Pullman Strike, during which many US workers had been killed by US Military and US Marshall's, President Grover Cleveland reconciled with the leader of the Labor Movement and made the day a Statutory Federal Holiday. If you like it was a kind of appeasement for the terrible actions that had gone on during the strike!

Now of course, time has moved on and it has once again become a celebration, and I would hazard a guess that the majority of Americans do not even realise the history of  'Labor Day' - my husband, the wonderful S certainly did not know and just assumed it was a celebration for the hard work of the American people, and the end of the Summer!

Anyway, Labor Day - recognised annually on the first Monday in September, is a day of celebration and fun. It is a Statutory Federal Holiday which means that everyone throughout the country gets the day off work or school, and will no doubt be making the most of an extra long weekend! It is also a Sale day in pretty much every store, so if you need to buy something big and expensive - tomorrow would be a great day to go and buy it!

Labor Day is also said to mark the end of summer. The kids are all back in school so no-one is planning any holidays until Christmas. Taking kids out of school during the semester for a holiday, just doesn't cut it here in the US. You need to be quite literally dying or dead to get any time off school in this country, which I have to say, is a good thing, and I am on that bandwagon without question! I think in the UK there are way too many holidays. The kids just get used to being back in the school routine and then its time for a half term holiday - makes zero sense really!

So tomorrow we are going to party, party party - Yes?
Well probably not. We will no doubt mooch about. It would seem that this is one holiday that the City of Sierra Madre does not come out in force to celebrate. Most people just fire up the BBQ and chill out - Here in sunny SoCal people seem to do that most days. The weather forecast shows highs of 100ºF with clear sunny skies (situation normal), so I guess we will do our pottering in the morning and chill out with the air con in the afternoon!

Whatever you do tomorrow - Have a wonderful day, and spare a thought for how this actually became a national holiday!