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A Tour of the Peabody Hotel

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I went to a reunion last weekend of six families who met each other in China when we adopted daughters through the same agency. That was June of 1998. Those six babies are turning eleven now, and the families have grown to a total of 13 children from China, India, and Mongolia.

The girls were just happy to see each other, but there are a lot of fun things to do in Memphis, no matter what your age.

Saturday we visited the beautiful historic Peabody Hotel. We arrived in plenty of time to witness the arrival of the Peabody Ducks. Every day they are brought down from the penthouse at 11AM sharp. They swim in the lobby fountain until 5PM, when they retire to their suite.
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John, the Duckmaster graciously welcomed our group of over two dozen, as well as the rest of the crowd.

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Three of our girls (chosen by a blind drawing) were honorary duckmasters for the morning. They carried duck head canes and escorted the ducks down from the penthouse, through the crowd, and into the fountain. They were pretty pleased with the honor.

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The Duckmaster told stories and posed for pictures until the crowd thinned out, then took us on a tour of the Peabody.

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The first stop was the roof of the building. The elevator goes past the twelfth floor to "S", which stands for "Skyway". They did not want to label it as the 13th floor. The penthouse where the ducks live is built onto the roof. What you see here is mainly a facade; the actual duck pen is spacious but of a practical size for the five resident ducks.
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The view of the city and the Mississippi River is pretty cool from that height.

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The hotel is filled with precious antiques. One is this piano, once owned by Francis Scott Key. The girls were impressed once we explained who he was. Don't set your drink down on it!
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We toured the grand ballroom and a dance hall where big bands played on a regular basis. They still do, although not as often as when the hotel first opened at its present location in 1925. A museum room holds memorabilia and photographs from those days.

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The biggest treat for the kids was the kitchen tour, which included fresh cookies. The Peabody does not buy bread, rolls, cakes, cookies, or pies from outside. All breads and pastries are baked on site.

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We watched a pastry chef put tuxedos on strawberries. He dipped them in white chocolate, then carefully dipped them at an angle in dark chocolate, and finished by painting on buttons and a bow tie with more chocolate! I found a recipe with a nice picture for you.

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After leaving the hotel proper, we visited the Belz Family Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, in the extended Peabody Place mall. Jack Belz, the CEO of the company that owns the Peabody Hotel, and his wife Marilyn have collected tons of amazing artifacts over the years, many from the Qing Dynasty. Our guide told wonderful stories about the works and the culture behind them. The girls were awed by the paintings, embroidery, and sculpture, like this tall palace carved from ivory.

This is just the beginning of the many places to see and things to do in Memphis. The rest of our weekend is recorded in another post.

More information on adoption from China:
Families with Children from China
Holt International Adoption Agency

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©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
The People of Texel Island are Professional Beachcombers
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©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0

If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.

According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.

Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.

One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)

Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.

If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.

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YouTube / British Movietone / AP
A Film Tour of London in 1981
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YouTube / British Movietone / AP

Earlier this month, the Associated Press began releasing loads of archival video on YouTube. A large part of that collection comes from British Movietone, which has uploaded thousands of videos of all kinds, including many newsreels.

I have scrolled through countless pages of such videos—most without sound and/or extremely esoteric—and I finally discovered a 1981 gem, This is London. It's a sort of video time capsule for London as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, comprising plenty of stock footage of all the sights, royals, and ceremonies you can imagine.

If you've been to London, this is a great glimpse of what it once looked like. If you've never been, why not check out London circa 1981?

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