Dec 292012

We ducked out of the British Museum and dashed across the street to Starbucks to use the free WiFi to plan our next move.  As we were waiting for Hubby’s phone to log on, another friend from home appeared.  Since we were craving paintings, he recommended we head over to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Gallery.  We thought that sounded like a great idea.

jarndyce.jpgOn our way to our next destination, we stumbled across Jarndyce Antiquarian Bookseller.  Named after the court case from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and housed in the building where Randolph Caldecott lived, I couldn’t resist posing for a picture, even if it was raining.

When we arrived at the National Gallery, we immediately marked the rooms on the map that we wanted to focus on.  We had resigned ourselves to being unable to see it all.  I chose the rooms that had artists I had heard of.  The Impressionists were first: Monet, Manet and Renoir.  It was amazing to see the different sizes of the canvases: in books, all art is the same size.  My two favorites in this room were Monet’s Water Lillies and Renoir’s Umbrellas.  All the paintings at the British Museum are available to view online.  I love how free Britain is with its art.  Not only that, but they have a free monthly podcast that takes you behind the scenes of the exhibits.

In the room called “Beyond Impressionism”, I enjoyed Pissaro and Seurat.  Seurat did some “sketches” that were 8 x 11 inch oil on wood pieces to prepare for a very large piece called Bathers at Asnieres.  From there we moved on to Gaugin, Cezanne, Degas, Picasso, and Van Gogh.  I especially enjoyed the geometric paintings of Cezanne and a portrait Picasso did of a well known eccentric which looks like Robin Williams.  Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield, with Cypresses and Sunflowers were so fascinating to see in person.  There is so much depth to his work and you can feel the emotion in the ridges of paint.


Having seen the Impressionists that I was most excited about, we moved on (or rather back) to the 16th and 17th century masters: JordaensRubensVan DyckLeonardoVermeer, and Rembrandt.  I had never heard of Jordaens before.  His portrait of the Holy Family with St. John the Baptist really grabbed me because of Mary’s face: she looks so young.  jordaens-holy-family-with-john-the-baptist.jpg

The Rubens paintings were full of fat and naked people like I remembered, but the paintings by Van Dyck, his student, were absolutely huge portraits of royalty and other important people.  It seems he would paint the subjects in a very flattering light – forget realism.  It turns out I don’t like Rembrandt that much.

My soul was renewed by the beauty of all that we saw.  I was intrigued by the way I was drawn in to some paintings and could walk right by others without a second thought.  I found I really prefer paintings over artifacts and like my paintings to convey deep feelings.  Not bad for an afternoon at a FREE museum.

 Posted by at 10:27
Dec 282012

After a day of marathon sight seeing, we slept in a bit on Saturday.  Since it was the weekend and we were slower to get moving, the lifts were busier and the breakfast lines were longer. We lingered over breakfast with friends, savoring their stories, and then set off for the British Museum.


Just a few blocks from our hotel, the British Museum is completely free and stuffed with artifacts andtreasures from all over the world.

king-george-iiis-room.jpgWe made the mistake of not planning our visit.  Instead we just headed into the first exhibit we saw.  This turned out to be a room filled with random treasures from all over the world that was collected by King George III.

The best part of this room was the hands-on table where you could handle various artifacts under the supervision of a docent who explained the history and significance of the items.  One of the tables was staffed by a docent and two preteens who wore buttons printed with “I’m taking over.”  They had undergone training to learn about the items and were allowed to spend a day at the Museum being the ‘experts’.  It was a pretty cool program. We got to handle a panel from a relic box that was made to hold a bone from a dead saint.  Beautiful piece of art – kinda creepy purpose.hands-on.jpglooking-at-cabinet.jpg

After being completely overwhelmed by that room, we looked at the map and choose our next move carefully.  


The British Museum is home to the Rosetta Stone.  As a linguistics major, the Rosetta Stone was a priority.  We made a beeline to see the huge piece of rock which was inscribed with a decree by Ptolomy V from about 200 BC in three different languages.  When it was discovered in 1799, it was the first text to provide a translation key for Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Up until this point, no one was sure if hieroglyphic symbols were sound units or meaning units. The term ‘Rosetta Stone’ has come to mean the crucial key to unlocking information.  As we approached the Rosetta Stone, we bumped into a few of our friends.  It’s a bit surreal to see people out of context.piriosjeffromy.jpg

After the Rosetta Stone, we headed to the Elgin Marbles.  They are pieces of the Parthenon and other buildings from the Acropolis of Athens.  elgin-marbles.jpg

The Earl of Elgin was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century and received ‘permission’ to remove about half of the Parthenon.  

temple.jpgThey were purchased by the British government and placed on display in the British Museum. Eventually, they constructed a customized gallery to display the pieces.  The debate continues about whether they should remain in London or be returned to Greece.  It is quite amazing how many huge pieces were brought over.  As we walked out of one room, I overheard a teenager ask her parents “How did they move an entire temple?”  It’s a good question.


We identified “Mummies” as our next destination and wandered through rooms and rooms of ancient dead people.  jon-mummies.jpg

Then we moved on to more Greek, Roman andAssyrian artifacts.  rock-sun.jpg

Some of the pieces spoke to me more than others. These busts of ancient philosophers reminded us of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.


At that point, I was yearning to see a painting or drawing.  I’d had enough of artifacts.  


We checked the map and found that there was only one room of the British Museum with two dimensional art: a collection of Spanish drawings. They looked alot like illustrations from old newspapers.

We were surprised to find a ‘cartoon’ by Michaelangelo tucked into a corner of one room.  

michaelangelo-cartoon.jpgSomeone who lived close could spend a lifetime exploring the treasures of the British Museum for absolutely free.  Pretty amazing!

Having reached the end of our rope, we checked the map again for things we would regret missing.  There were two rooms dedicated to the history of clocks. 


I know, this doesn’t sound like a ‘must see’, but a friend of mine is married to a clock guy and I thought he might appreciate some pictures of cool clocks.  It was amazing to see how clocks have evolved over time and how creative clockmakers have been.


After the clocks, we surrendered to our mental overload and headed across the street to Starbucks to plan our next move.

 Posted by at 23:04
Dec 172012


*In my journal, this day starts with the words “Happy Birthday E!”  My middle child turned 15 while we were in London and I was feeling a slight twinge of guilt, but trusted that his sibling, grandparents and cousins would take care of him.

Through our travel agent, we were able to get some London Passes at a reduced rate.  The London Pass allows you free access into as many of the attractions on their list as you can in 24 hours.  In order to make the most of the passes, we started early on that Friday after Thanksgiving.  The top of our list was the Tower of London.  The Tower is still a functioning royal palace as well as an amazing historic castle.  It turned out to be one of the major highlights of our trip.


The original stone tower (The White Tower) was started on the banks of the Thames River in the 1070’s by William the Conqueror to be used as a fortress-stronghold.  The Tower was protected by two existing Roman walls, the Thames and some strategically dug ditches.  Beginning with Richard the Lionheart around 1189, work was begun on the other structures that still exist today.



A recent addition to the Tower is the ice skating rink that was built in the area that was once the moat.  They filled the moat with earth in 1855 because it was causing illness and the stench of stagnant water was making it a very unpleasant, although historically accurate, experience.


Early birds that we are, we arrived in time to see the royal guard accompanied by a Yeoman Warder march out and unlock the main gate to the Tower.   The Yeoman Warder are the ceremonial guards who are chosen by the Queen based on their outstanding military service to live and work at the Tower, leading tours, passing on the history, caring for the Ravens, and protecting the Crown Jewels.yeomans-houses.jpg

The Yeoman Warders’ Houses in the walls surrounding the Tower of London.


After exploring the various buildings and areas of the Tower on our own for a bit, we joined one of the Yeoman Warder tours lead by a Beefeater named Andy.  (No one knows exactly why they’re called Beefeaters, but it may be because they were allowed as much meat as they wanted from the royal table so they had strength to defend the Tower.)






Andy led us through the grounds of the Tower telling the brief history of each building and explaining how it functions today. The tour itself ended inside the Tower of London Chapel, St. Peter ad Vincula (“Peter in chains”) where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey are buried.  They were all prisoners in the Tower and each executed on Tower Green just outside the Chapel windows.  While we sat in that Chapel, I was again struck by where I was – the actual location of so many famous happenings that shaped England and the world.


jubilee-diamond.jpg After the tour, we made our way through the Waterloo Barracks where the Crown Jewels are currently housed.  As with every other museum, gallery, and historical landmark we visited, the security seemed light.   Hubby took a picture of the 35 carat Queen’s Jubilee Diamond before being warned by the ONE security guard that photos weren’t allowed.

We wandered quickly through the Bloody Tower where the bodies of 12 year old Prince Edward V and his younger brother Richard were found after their murder in 1483.


One room in the Bloody Tower housed Sir Walter Raleigh on and off for a total of 13 years. They have recreated his study so you can see where he spent his days – pretty posh for a prisoner accused of plotting again James I and failing to find the city of El

henry-viii-armor.jpgThe White Tower (the oldest structure) is now home to military themed displays: horses, weapons, and armor. The picture is of King Henry VIII’s armor. Either he was well endowed or paranoid. Although I suppose he could have just been a braggart.


The Beauchamp Tower was used to house many of the most important religious and political prisoners including some amazing graffiti artists.  The walls of some rooms are filled with carvings from prisoners both known and unknown.beauchamp-tower.jpgup-the-staircase.jpgthomas-abell.jpg


Can tell what this guy’s name was? (right)





We did finally reluctantly tear ourselves away from the Tower, mostly because we were starving.  We ate some passable take-away fish and chips and headed for our next destination.  Before we left, Hubby took a picture of the Tower Bridge (built in the late 1800’s).



 Posted by at 21:15
Dec 132012

Once the service at St. Paul’s was over and we had Skyped with our kids to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, we were a bit at loose ends.  Of course I had a list of things that I wanted to do while we were in London but, honestly, we were totally mentally exhausted.  Since we were also on a pretty tight budget, we were looking for something free or cheap to occupy our Thanksgiving night.


Opting for “Free”, we headed up Oxford Street to The Photographer’s Gallery to browse their free exhibit featuring the portrait photography of an Irish photographer named Tom Wood.  The exhibit was called “Men & Women” and was a simple room divided in half.  The photos featuring men ran along two walls in an ‘L’ shape while the ones featuring women ran along the two opposite walls.   We savored the photos and chose our personal favorites, 3 from the men and 3 from the women.  I had to expand the rules to allow 3 black and white and 3 color from each category since I couldn’t narrow it down.  One of my overall favs is called  “Three Wise Women” and features three elderly ladies shuffling through the dirt lot of a ‘car boot sale’ in Liverpool.  They each carry an item as they navigate the ruts and trash.  My other favorites are not as popular: Rag & Bone Owner” (image #6) featuring a middle-aged blond bombshell driving a forklift full of trash around her warehouse and  “Charlie and Alan” (image #1) another black and white of an old man and a young boy.

The gift shop of The Photographer’s Gallery was full of art and photography books, any of which could have occupied me for hours, but instead we bought a postcard featuring a black and white photo of the Sex Pistols messing around at a diner in Luxemborg in 1977.  (Postcards are a great way to collect your favorite art and photos for cheap!)

Since we weren’t hungry yet, we decided to do a little wandering and explore Soho.  

down-carnaby.jpgWe stumbled onto Carnaby Street which had been the center of Mod fashion in the 60’s as well as the stomping grounds for bands such as Small Faces, The Who, and The Rolling Stones.

They were holding a 20% sale at every store in the lane and various stores had brought in live bands to entertain the crowds.

inside-doc-martens-bw.jpg shakespeares-head.jpg
Since we had no desire to shop for clothes and no room in our suitcases anyway, we stuck to soaking up the atmosphere. We strolled past the Shakespeare’s Head Pub and underneath giant record displays celebrating The Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary and advertising their 2012 compilation album “GRRR!”rolling-stones-records.jpg










Just off of Carnaby Street, there is a giant mural celebrating local artists called “The Spirit of Soho.”  It’s quite amazing to see what a rich history the area has: Handel, Mozart, Casanova, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dylan Thomas, and Karl Marx are each featured along with 49 other local luminaries.spirit-of-soho-mural.jpg

After walking for a few hours, we were ready for dinner so we scooted off to Oodle Noodle (before they closed this time).  Hubby ordered duck in the spirit of adventure and we warmed ourselves with Green Tea before we called it a night.

 Posted by at 17:57
Dec 092012

In between rehearsal and the service on Thanksgiving Day, we were allowed to wander St. Paul’s Cathedral at our leisure. I chose to explore the crypt. I poked my head around every corner I could while no one was looking. Even if I was allowed to take pictures, Hubby was upstairs with the camera, so I have nothing to show except pictures that are posted around the internet.  

The walls and floor of the crypt were filled with 200 memorials.  There were statesmen and war heroes, old and new, alongside ‘ordinary’ people like the woman who worked to make sure the boys of St. Paul’s choir were educated and well taken care of. Some people might have been thrilled at the famous sights of Lord Nelson’s or the Duke of Wellington’s tombs, but not me. The ones I found most interesting were dark figures laying on marble tables engraved with names and dates. There were just a handful, but they all were missing their arms, legs and noses.  I wondered if they were depicted this way because they died together in battle or a horrible accident.  


I asked the security officer and she explained that these memorials had stood in the Old St. Paul’s, built in the 14th century, and had ‘survived’ the Great Fire of London in 1666. Their missing limbs and noses were a result of being burned.  I immediately returned to look at them again.  Since they were not guarded or alarmed in any way, I ran my hand over one of them.  I got a crazy thrill touching something that was nearly 400 years old.  

 Posted by at 20:56
Dec 022012


Euston Fire Station


Random beautiful building on our walk.


You can rent bikes in London!  These are on the campus of University College London.


Here are the rates if you’re interested!


Church of Christ the King just off the campus of U. College London. (See that phone booth on the left?)


That’s me ‘in’ the phone booth trying not to puke from the smell.  I don’t think anyone would use this to make an actual phone call. Oy!


A statue in the park on the campus of University College London.


This monument said “To Our Glorious Dead” on one side and then “Remember the Men and Women of the London Midland and Scottish Railway” on the other.  Since they had just observed “The Day of Remembrance” (like our Veteran’s Day), there were wreaths laid at the foot of the monument.

They were made of plastic discs riveted together – kinda’ cool.



On our way back, we found ourselves feeling close to home at the corner of Keppel (the kids’ elementary school) and Gower (a street in Hollywood).


 Posted by at 10:36
Jul 042012

I love books – actual books.  The way they feel, how they smell.  I love curling up in odd places with them propped open just right.  They speak to me in a way audiobooks and eBooks never will.


But today’s Teachable Moment is brought to you by… Kindle.  I discovered a treasure called The Curious Hieroglyphick Bible.  I saw it on the Library of Congress list of books that shaped America.  I hadn’t ever heard of it, so I went trolling around the Internet.  No copies at the local library, but Amazon had it and the first chapter was free on the Kindle – instant satisfaction for my curiosity! 


Can I just say “WOW!”?


It’s an 18th century collection of “select passages of the Old & New Testaments” illustrated with nearly 500 woodcuts.  Sound boring?  Not at all!  It’s an incredible work of art and the way it is put together is wonderfully clever.  The title page describes it this way “Represented with emblematical figures for the amusement of youth designed chiefly to familiarize tender Age, in a pleasing and diverting Manner, with early Ideas of the Holy Scriptures.” 

It reminds me of an early graphic novel.  The Creation story is absolutely gorgeous.   I can see 18th century children pouring over the illustrations for hours. 


Look at the way they represent God and the Spirit at creation:



I’m hooked!  I love new takes on scripture, no matter how old.


By the way, there are only 4 original copies of this book, but you can peek at photographs of the first chapter here. Be sure to click on the Kindle edition. The Print edition can’t compare.



 Posted by at 19:18
Jun 032012

The Sara(h) Syndrome.  That’s what I’m calling it: the urge to blog.  It’s true: all of my friends named Sara(h) have a blog as do many other friends and acquaintances.   But writing is not as easy as it looked when they did all the heavy lifting.

Here are some thoughts on why by someone way more eloquent than I am.

It’s long. It’s worth it.

Just start watching. Give it a chance.

You can turn it off if it bores you.

(The end is the best part.)



 Posted by at 20:12
Jun 012012

As we get to the end of the school year, teachers get tired.  We do.  

The kids think they know it all.  Everything is predictable and “boring”.  The kids get excited because they can sense the end is near and the teachers are drained.

It’s a perfect time to “Change One Thing.”

Sometimes that’s all it takes to right the ship.

Add water to the sandbox.  Add glitter to the playdough.  Stick googly eyes on the easel painting paper.  Swap scrapbooking scissors for the regular ones.  Have circle time in the middle of the basketball court.  

They’re all simple ideas, but each bring their own brand of magic to the classroom.  

Sad EggHappy Egg

Now here’s the real trick: it works at home too!

Do homework outside.  Picnic in the living room.  Mop the kitchen floor with your feet in old socks.  Set the table with the good dishes.  Add bubbles to the bathtub.  Sleep backwards in your bed.  Buy fresh flowers for yourself.  

What one thing could you change today to shake things up




 Posted by at 20:18
May 272012

  Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Chicken Soup with Rice are some of the most playful, insightful, inspirational children’s books I’ve ever read.  When Maurice Sendak died earlier this month, it all came rushing back. The creatures in Where the Wild Things Are are both the most gentle and the most ferocious monsters of my dreams.  I’ve been Max: “Let the wild rumpus start”, his mother: “you wild thing!”, and those precious wild things themselves: “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!”  

Maurice Sendak didn’t write books to club children over the head with a  life lesson; he wrote with joy and insight about what he saw, felt, and experienced. He played with language in a way that invited you to play along.  Who doesn’t love “Oh my once, Oh my twice, Oh my Chicken Soup with Rice”?  

Sendak didn’t do many book signings because he said it confused the children when he took their beloved books away and wrote in them.  His favorite story involved a young fan who enjoyed the personal drawing Sendak sent him so much that he ate it.  What a compliment!

In his recent interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on NPR, Maurice Sendak sounded like a lonely, wounded child when he talked about those he’d loved and lost.  He even expressed joy that he would die before the interviewer so he wouldn’t have to mourn her too.  His heart was raw from feeling for 83 years.  

Maurice Sendak: Conventional?  Nope.

A treasure?  Absolutely.


 Posted by at 21:34