London’s Burning

London is my favorite big city. I’ve visited twice, and always felt perfectly safe walking its streets. I love its history, architecture, culture, and diversity.

So it saddens me to read the news of London’s riots. And not just for the heartbreak it causes to the people hit hardest by the looting and arson. But also because it reminds me that there are so many kids out there being raised with no moral center.

In other words, these hooded thugs running through the streets breaking windows and setting buses on fire, were apparently never taught the difference between right and wrong.

What, did the parents think the school system was supposed to do that?

Did not their mother, father, grandmother, uncle, or neighbor ever point out that stealing from someone is bad? That setting fire to a building might cause pain and suffering? That spreading fear and panic is probably not the best choice to make?

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Beachcombing along the Thames

Of all the things we experienced in England, my kids talk most about the couple of hours we spent shuffling slowly along the muddy beaches of the River Thames, our heads hung low, our eyes sharply focused on the ground.

We were beachcombing, or mudlarking as some call it, along the shores of the river that runs through central London. After thousands of years of stuff being tossed into the Thames, it’s no surprise that some of it washes back up along the banks.

When the tide is out, it’s easy to play archaeologist and search for little treasures. And odds are always good that you’ll find something.

We descended into the muck somewhere near the Tate Modern and immediately my son picked up a small piece of china. Then my daughter found an old clay pipe stem. Then I spotted a mineralized cow tooth.

We actually found dozens of old bones. I assumed our little stretch of beach had once been the outlet for a slaughter house.

My son theorized that it was a dumping ground for executed prisoners.

More clay pipe stems were found, along with polished glass, twisted bits of metal, bottles, and part of a deer antler.

After just a few hours of picking through the muddy rocks, we had several bags worth of goodies to take home. All little bits of history that sparked my kids’ imagination in a big way.

If you’re visiting London, don’t hesitate to step off the paved paths and get your hands dirty on the banks of the Thames. It’s one of the best ways to experience the history of this ancient place.

Best of all, aside from any valuable artifacts, you get to keep the treasures you find! Here are some that my son has proudly displayed on his shelves…

Thames Treasures

Photo Friday – Surrounded by History

“Isn’t it amazing?” I asked my daughter as we toured the Tower of London. “To be surrounded by so much history? Why, there’s the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1078. And there’s where Sir Thomas More was imprisoned. And, right in front of you, is the Queen’s House, built by Henry VIII for his new bride Anne Boleyn. Behind you is where she was beheaded, and…”

“Shhh, daddy, I’m trying to take a picture of the raven.”

History is Boring

Bored at The British Museum

While walking through what I consider to be one of the best museums in the world, I spotted this kid who was more interested in his Nintendo DS than in the staggering amount of world history that was on display all around him.

Right in front of him were Ancient Egyptian mummies! But his attention was focused on electronic zombies instead.

Maybe he’d taken it all in already. The British Museum is a big place, and you can certainly feel a bit overwhelmed by it all.

I was thinking, “Would that have been me when I was ten?” My passion for history didn’t develop until college, so I very well could’ve been that kid on the floor, rolling his eyes at one more 5,000-year-old statue.

My own kids are different. They both have a much stronger appreciation for the past than I did. My son, especially, loves Egyptian and Roman history, and would’ve been walking on air in the British Museum.

History doesn’t have to be boring. If a child understands the passage of time and how different people and events relate to each other on a timeline, they can learn to love history at an early age.

One key is to help kids understand what it all has to do with them right now. Find a good starting point (the classical republics of ancient Rome and Greece are the most obvious), hit the major events, keep it simple, and make it fun. After they see the connections to the modern world, you can go back and fill in the gaps.

I’d like to take credit for my son’s love of history, but I think he was mostly inspired by the Horrible Histories book series that highlights all the awful, gross, repugnant things that humans have done throughout the years. Kids love that stuff. It’s like Halloween!

We also watch a couple of historical documentaries each week. Netflix is a treasure trove for these. One of the earliest shows we watched was Digging For The Truth, a slick History Channel production that is part history, part archaeology, and part myth, with a little bit of Indiana Jones thrown in.

Someday, I hope to take my kids to The British Museum, and I don’t think either of them will end up on the floor, staring at a video game, while all around them the history of the world is on display.

Kodak Photo Book Review and Giveaway

I’ve been a long-time user of Shutterfly for all my online photo printing needs. So, I was a little hesitant when Kodak asked me to check out their own online printing site, Kodak Gallery, to see how it compares.

When they offered to let me create a Photo Book, I figured it was a good time to step out of my Shutterfly comfort zone.

Good thing I did, because the process of making the book was as simple and straightforward as those I’ve made on the other site. Maybe even a little more.

And the finished product is impressive.

Let me back up to my first impression of the Kodak Gallery site.

The layout is clean and easy to navigate, with the most popular products front and center. The variety of items offered matches just about every other photo site I’ve seen.

So, you can get your holiday cards, mugs, framed prints, or whatever your heart desires. Kodak Gallery makes it easy.

The sticking point for any of these types of sites, however, has always been the ability to easily upload my photos. Kodak’s uploader was fast, so no worries. Once your photos are transferred over, you can get started on a project immediately.

My Kodak Gallery Photo Book

My book would feature pictures from my recent trip to London, England, and I wanted to find just the right design to fit that theme. Kodak offers up dozens of page layout and cover options.

I went with the Martha Stewart Fern design, which features stylish, but subtle, patterns and borders on the inside pages. For the outside cover, the dark brown leather-like Adventurer seemed to fit the theme of my photo collection.

With layouts featuring up to six photos per page, I agonized for a long while over which images would fit where, and in what size. Some pictures just scream for full-page, while others look better in a group. This is the part of the process where you’ll spend most of your time and creativity.

So, what about that finished product I mentioned before? I only cared about two things: the print quality and the binding. Both, I can assure you, are as good as I’ve seen in a photo book.

Kodak made the images from my little point-and-shoot camera (a Canon S90) look like they came from a high-end DSLR. Even those which were cropped quite close have no noticeable pixelation or fuzziness.

My Kodak Gallery Photo Book

Oh, there’s one other thing I care about. The price. My 20-page book, at 9″ x 10.25″, with printed hardcover, was $34.99. You can add additional pages at 99 cents each.

Now I know you’re itching to get over there to start making your very own photo book. But how’d you like to do it for free?

Kodak has kindly provided a free photo book to one of my readers. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post, telling me you want to win. Sorry, US residents only.

I’ll pick a winner at the end of the week, so you have enough time to build your photo book before Christmas (because these things make great gifts).