Sunday, March 29, 2009

Berkhamsted Castle

I started out Saturday on my way to one destination and changed my mind half-way into the drive. I headed over to neighboring Berkhamsted to see the remains of Berkhamsted Castle. It was a gorgeous day and I was the only at the site.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Birthday in the UK

The Saturday birthday, it's a beautiful thing. It's amazing to think I was in Australia last year on this day driving on the left for the first time. When A asked what I wanted I just told her peace and serenity in our home, LOL. She's been particularly moody lately.

Intermediate Graduation Lunch

We had lunch back at the same London hotel this week to attend H’s intermediate graduation ceremony. It was a nice afternoon out and it was fun to talk more with H’s classmates from Korea, Israel, China, Turkey, and Greece. One more course and he will be done!

The dessert was the highlight of the lunch. I can’t get used to the foam on a dish. I used to have cats and all I can think about when I see that foam is a potential hairball underneath!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The British Music Experience

No one was interested in going with me so I ventured out as I used to do with just my iPod, on my way to Kew Gardens ready to see a brilliant display of daffodils. Half-way into my journey I ran into train troubles, and didn’t feel like taking the rail replacement bus service that takes forever, so I switched to Plan B. Plan B was to hit another destination the family wasn’t interested in, the British Music Experience at the O2 Arena. The one thing that was a bit disappointing about this is that it was an indoor experience on such a beautiful day.

The exhibit was interesting but kind of a bad combination of being very broad and not a very big display. What did I learn? Well, I knew before going into the exhibit that Cliff Richard was the English version of Elvis, and he was interviewed for the exhibit and talked about Elvis’ influence. I didn’t know that American soldiers from World War II and their love of big band had an early impact on British popular music. As I moved through the timeline onto The Beatles and then The Rolling Stones, I couldn’t help but think of my buddy J and art school snobs doing “rock”.

I also enjoyed watching clips of performances on British music programs like Top of the Pops. If they would have had a booth where you could go through the catalog of these programs, I could have been there all day. I’ll just have to rely on YouTube.

The trip did have an impact on my iPod. I've been compiling my own British Music Experience playlist complete with Bowie, The Smiths, Oasis, and so on...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Our Mexican Fiesta

H and I love Mexican food. It was a bonus that A was born in El Paso, Texas. Leading up to her birth I craved and ate so many tamales that H tells A that he expected her to come out rolled in a corn husk. It is the one type of food that we are really missing here in the UK. Last Saturday night since H was on a school break we decided to make ourselves a Mexican meal. I was responsible for the rice and found a recipe on the Food Network website that really turned out well. Even A liked it and tomatoes were involved! Before we went to the store, I had asked H if he wanted to try making homemade tortillas and his response was, “Are you crazy?” Even he didn’t want to attempt that. I was willing to give it a go since I thought we would get really bad/old tortillas since they aren’t very popular, but thinking about the amount of work, we decided to make tostadas, buying soft corn tortillas and frying them ourselves. The meal wasn’t bad but corn tortillas were horrible. They were a popular brand found in the U.S. but I swear the recipe must be different! Next time I WILL make the attempt at my own tortillas.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wendover Woods

I dragged A out for a walk last week in Wendover Woods, which is the highest point of The Chilterns. She never showed signs of enjoying it but she put her earbuds in and walked. I did the same listening to the new Morrissey record as I enjoyed the fresh air. I don't think the pictures really capture how brilliant green the hills were.

The Artful Dodger

A told us that she called one of her friends here and her older brother answered the phone. When yelling for his sister he said, “The phone is for you. I can tell it’s A. because of the dodgy accent”. Whenever I think of this, I laugh.

Since H is on break from culinary school we aren’t eating as fancy since he doesn’t have dishes to practice. Last night we were typical Americans, buying the fixings for submarine sandwiches and a variety of chips.

Building the Olympic Dream

London will be hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 2012 and as expected, the planning and the work began quite awhile ago. Where most cities really spread out the event locations, it seems that London is focusing all of the events in one area, East London. A series of documentaries began last week to cover different aspects of the planning. Supposedly East London was a prime location for revitalization before it was taken over for the Olympics. Last week’s documentary followed the process of buying out or relocating businesses and people living on the land that will be the site of Olympic park. As you can see from the attached picture and what used to be our house and yard when we lived in St. Louis, we were involved in an eminent domain situation ourselves so I think we felt a bit more empathetic to the people in the documentary. It does seem ridiculous to think that people who have lived somewhere all their lives have to move for two weeks of sporting events. The planners say that their planning is really more about the area after the Olympics have left and making it a vital location, but only time will tell. I am very excited about being able to get a lot more coverage into the making of the 2012 games.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Intermediate Course - Done!

H finished his intermediate coursework and will begin his final course in April. Our days of having a personal chef are numbered since I'm sure once he's working in a kitchen all day, A and I will be fending for ourselves. Cereal it is!

Random Thoughts

I stopped by the library after work one night to once again try and talk myself into reading something. I passed signs for various group activities and they all looked interesting until I read further to learn they were either groups limited to only senior citizens or new moms. What the heck? Where’s the group for working moms new to the area that have no time to make friends but feel the need to have some kind of social connection? I am going to let that go for awhile because the one thing that we abundantly have here on the weekends is family time and it is what I look forward to all week long.

If we ever go out to eat it is usually on Friday nights when A and I walk down to one of the many Indian restaurants in our village and meet H coming off of the train from London for dinner. There’s a wine shop a few doors down so we stop in there and pick out something and take it in to have with dinner. The staff at the restaurant is very kind but reserved. Last Friday night, after a really crappy week I ordered some take out from there because I was so tired I couldn’t imagine sitting upright in a restaurant for the length of the meal. I grabbed a five pound note off of the kitchen counter to supplement what I had in my wallet to pay. When I got to the counter to pay I found out that the reason that five pound note was on the kitchen counter was because it had torn in half, so I quickly tucked it back in my wallet and took out my debit card. The owner, seeing my quick change, said to me, “If you don’t want to use your card you can pay next time, it’s no problem”. It seems like a silly thing but first of all it’s such a small town thing which I have never experienced before in my life, and also it made me feel like less of a tourist. I didn’t take him up on his offer but I now feel no need to try any of the other three Indian restaurants in our village.

My old friend L from the B&B called and asked me if I could pop over for a coffee at lunchtime last week. I have been feeling so guilty that I haven’t been in better contact with her since her injury. I took her soup one day for lunch and then work exploded and I haven’t seen her since. I thought yes, I will go. I quickly texted her to ask her if I could bring anything because I was going to pick up a sandwich and her only response was “chocolate if it’s not too much trouble”. I stopped along the way and picked up some so after I ate my lunch I sat with L and had just a wonderful conversation and a laugh here and there as we ate some chocolates and drank some coffee. She is now in more of a walking cast and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. She can see the silver lining in anything and I so needed that.

These two events will just have to do for the “social connection”.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More Chalfont St. Giles Pictures

Chalfont St. Giles

Work is nothing but work isn’t it? I reminded myself that it’s important to make the most of the non-work hours and last weekend I thought even if I can’t travel far, I could see something that I couldn’t see if I were still living in the U.S. So Sunday morning in the early sunshine I drove over to a neighboring village, Chalfont St. Giles, home of Milton’s Cottage. When London was experiencing the plague, John Milton escaped to Chalfont St. Giles to finish his epic, Paradise Lost, a staple of English Literature courses everywhere! The village on a sunny Sunday morning is just beautiful. The family wasn't interested so it was just me and TV on the Radio on my iPod.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday Newspapers Know How to Draw an Audience

At a time in history when the news is filled with the bad, British newspapers on Sunday know how to draw me in. A few months ago I bought The Daily Mail on Sunday just because they were offering a free CD soundtrack to The Sound of Music. Okay, you may be wondering why I felt I needed that but singing “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen” on the way home from a stressful workday can be very therapeutic (much to A’s horror). This Sunday was a tough call. I could have left the newsstand with four newspapers since I had my choice of a free Pet Shop Boys retrospective CD, a free DVD that contained the films Cabaret and The Fourth Protocol, a magazine of the greatest rock photos ever, or a booklet titled “How to Understand People”. While I probably am in most need of option number four, something told me that a free booklet in the newspaper would probably not get me any closer to understanding people, so I opted for the rock photos since it combined two obsessions into one. The reality of the economy ignored for a Sunday afternoon.

Pretty Blossoms in the Yard

We have a fruit tree by the front door that is starting to blossom.

How the Weekend Goes from Great to Crap

There’s a woman in our village who is probably in her late 50’s/early 60’s who colors her hair in ways you wouldn’t expect her to color it. Right now it's an electric blue. We just happened to be walking behind her on the way to town yesterday and I tried to take a picture but it was too dark and I was too far away to capture the color. Seeing even her coloring her hair in outrageous colors makes the conversation almost impossible to ignore. A. is desperate to color her hair but her school strictly forbids this. I made her a deal that if the grades were good she could do something this summer if I approved it, but it would have to go back to the usual when school started again. Here’s where if there really is an afterlife and my mom is able to watch A. and I interact, she is probably laughing her ass off, because just like any teenager, this deal isn’t good enough and gets questioned all the time and is a source of argument on a regular basis even though I never change the deal. I’ll give her this, she knows better than to disobey us and do it anyway. She told me that her good buddy is planning on writing a note to her parents, running upstairs and dying her hair and then when she comes down to face the wrath she plans to tell them, “I left you a note”. A told her buddy that if she did this her dad would kill her, bring her back to life to clean up the mess, and then kill her again which made me laugh out loud. As you can tell, this topic seems to be an obsession not just for A but for all of her friends.

And so it goes, mother and daughter walk into the village on a sunny Saturday morning. Mother is fully caffeinated and feeling very hopeful that this Saturday will be a relaxing and rejuvenating day with family. But alas, it is not to be, because the topic of hair color rears its ugly head, and the words that incense the mother come out of the daughter’s mouth, “it’s because we had to move here that my life is ruined”. Let’s just say that by the time we walk home, mostly not together, the temperature has changed and the tone for the day is set, and it’s not relaxing and rejuvenating, because after all to this 13 year old girl her parents hate her and like to see her miserable (her words). I think to myself, can I fast-forward to her being 25 and us laughing about this moment?

A New Attitude

The mental shift that happens with the coming of spring never ceases to amaze me. We were at a garden centre on Sunday picking up some potting soil and herb seeds and looking at these flats of flowers was an uplifting moment. Funny how mother nature can get away with some gaudy color combinations!

Knowing that the journey to and from work will soon be in sunlight is a wonderful thing. Since I was in Australia all of March last year this will officially be my first March in the UK.