16 December, 2006

Happy Birthday, Cousin Ellen!



















Drat these time differences! It's been so hard to find the proper time to call Avery's Cousin Ellen for her birthday. By the time she gets home from school her grandparents are asleep, here in London. Today we can call, though, because it's Saturday. Happy birthday, dear. We hope that before you're a year older, you'll have made it to London.

We spent the entire sunny, crispy day today at our beloved Portobello Market. This is a classic thing to do with John's parents, because as I have hinted before, they can SHOP. We all forgot, however, to bring very much cash, so our spending was curtailed, but I can still safely say that we brought home some treasures, some secret things, to make Christmas a little more fun. I think we'll exchange gifts tomorrow evening. The Market is the only place I can think of where crowds are more fun than not. There's something celebratory, albeit it crazy, about struggling down the pavement with half the world's population, peeking in past the outdoor bits on sale to see if it's worth ducking inside. And it usually is. After our last dinner party here, I decided that my carbon-steel cutlery, though sharp and also lovely (19th century Russian), it is not practical. The blades just darken and get nasty to easily. So at the market today I found some really nice stainless-steel blades with ivory-colored Bakelite-ish handles. Six for five pounds! Not bad. So I got a dozen, and now I can have ten friends all come to dinner and I won't have to lie awake the night before planning on food that we don't all have to cut at the same time, a rather ridiculous situation before a party. If I only had cheese knives, I'd be all set. Someday.

I spent some considerable time in a button shop (nearly as wonderful as The Button Queen in Marylebone), looking in vain for buttons with lambs on them for our farmer friends in Connecticut. Two years ago, Avery fed the baby lambs with milk from Corona beer bottles, and then the next Christmas Rollie's wife Judy knitted a hat for Avery from wool from the babies she'd fed. Alas, no buttons to be found. Although the sight-challenged proprietor offered up some that he was positive had great impressive bucks on them. Now, I did not tell him that firstly, I didn't want bucks, I wanted sheep, and secondly, the animal on his buttons was... a bunny.

Avery madly bargained for what she wanted, and came away with a fabulous stamp album. She spent all of lunch perusing it and now wants to go through the album her Grandpa Paul gave her for her birthday, and see if she has any countries he did not have. She has grand plans to alphabetize them all, as well. That's the sort of thing to do on Christmas vacation, especially when your best friend has jetted off to Africa for the duration. I hope Anna and her family are having an incredible time. We collapsed for a late lunch at Eclipse, which although it is a chain throughout London, is remarkable for American-style burgers and Bloody Marys, should you be in the mood. Although the traditional french fries are replaced by fried wedges of potatoes, do not despair: they are crispy, incredibly hot, and dusted with nice flakes of sea salt. Yummy.

Avery and her Nonna are watching "High School Musical," for about the hundredth time for Avery, and the first for Nonna, who feels it is de rigeur for being a granny to three small girls. I felt that watching it once was quite enough, so I'm up here monitoring my chicken soup. Last night, however, we all gathered around the television set to watch the Puissance event at the Olympia Horse Show. Oh, my, that wall was high. The concept is that a wall is built out of light collapsible bricks, beginning at 5 feet 9 inches, I think. Then the riders and horses who can accomplish that go on to attempt an even higher wall, and so on until the wall reaches over seven feet, if anyone gets that far. In the case of last evening, it was a triumvirate of Whitakers including Avery's beloved Ellen (she stalked her on Thursday and got her autograph again!), and one lone Swiss fellow. Wonderful sport! Just as long as Avery has no intention of ever doing any such thing...

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