Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sports Talk

Last week I heard more sports talk in the U.S. than I believe I’ve probably heard in years. There was talk of college basketball , NFL football as well as a little rehashing of the Crimson Tide’s national championship win this year. When I got back to the UK I noticed that the program is still on our coffee table from the Arsenal Football match (?) that A went to in December and one thing that really caught my eye was the jerseys. There is a perception that everything in America is for sale, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that but there are a few things that seem to be sacred. Yes, change the stadium name to some corporate sponsor (U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago will always be Comiskey Park to me), but the front of a jersey is still off limits.

See the Arsenal jersey? How do you know this is an Arsenal player? I suppose it’s the color and that small patch in the corner. The real estate in the middle is advertising. I cannot believe that this sits well with the British public. I haven’t researched to find out how long it has been this way but if anyone knows and if there was a public outcry, please fill me in.  Sports fans, will this trend become popular eventually in the U.S.?

A P.S. on Vegas

When I got back I was talking to my colleague M who has a unique perspective on life, quite different from mine. She asked me how the trip was and in the course of answering her I was describing the guy asleep at the slot machine and told her that if eventually that was where I was headed, kill me now. Her response was, “But think about all the fun he probably had in getting to there. You’d miss all of that”. And she meant it. She always makes me smile.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some People Really Need to Hold On To Their Identity

The size of the truck on narrow UK roads, the license plate, the price this person must pay at the pump when they fill up, is unbelievable.

This was parked in our parking lot at work on Friday and the driver must have been in the pub across the way.  I bet if I would have walked into the pub I would have heard driver's voice above the other patrons.  Something tells me this person might like a little attention.

Oh 2010...

If January is any indication of the upcoming year, I think you're getting the better of me.

The night before I left we had a major catastrophe with our washer/dryer. Another downside to the retarded washer/dryer combo machine, if it stops working you have neither a washer nor a dryer!

While we love the space in this house, there is an electrical situation happening in the kitchen that is slowly driving us insane. We are on our second washer/dryer combo since moving in which now doesn't work. Repairman is coming on Monday and I am so grateful that H will be there to deal with it.  When this new one was delivered the installer wouldn't actually install it.  He told me that because it was still connected to the water, he was not allowed to touch it because you never know, he may disconnect it and the whole house could flood.  So when I asked well, can you tell me how to disconnect it and I will do it so you can complete your install he told me that it would be too tough for me to do.  H walked in the door after work that night and had the old one disconnected and the new one connected in about ten minutes.  They have a term for that installer here - jobsworth.

Las Vegas

So during our time in Vegas we experienced more rain in a few days than they had in all of 2009. The sun finally came out towards the end of the week and was full on for our journey home last Sunday. We were staying at a hotel complex about 30 minutes away from the action that had lots of hotel rooms and meeting spaces as well as a casino in the middle. Even though I walked through the casino multiple times a day I never put a single cent in a machine. In fact, the casino seemed pretty depressing to the point that one of my colleagues nicknamed it “the pit of despair”. I had jet lag and one morning while waiting for the workout room to open I paced through the length of the hotel a few times which meant I walked through the casino at 4am more than once. Who’s in the casino at 4am? A lot of people that shouldn’t be. I walked past a lot of senior citizens during the day but at night it looked like people who maybe had come from work. There was a guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, dosing off at the slot machine. It was strange to walk through a building that on both ends where the hotel and meeting rooms were located was non-smoking but the pit of despair was not.

We did get to the strip the last night and it was good to see some of my U.S. colleagues and even caught up with my buddy S, a Vegas lover if I ever saw one! I miss them so. A few of my UK colleagues were amazed at how the Americans just melted at the sound of their accents.

As we were leaving one of my colleagues asked me if being in America made me homesick and if travelling back was going to be difficult, but no it wasn’t. As any business traveller knows, when you spend the whole trip in hotel rooms and meeting rooms, you could be anywhere in the world. So nothing of the experience made me go, oh I miss this!

One thing that did strike me as I was standing in line at Starbucks in the hotel one morning was the size of the muffins in the display case. No one really needs to eat a muffin that’s as big as a small planet do they?

Didn’t get much rest on the plane on the way home but watched a really sweet film called Away We Go.

As I was taking the train home from Gatwick Airport, one of my worst travelling nightmares almost became a reality. I called H to tell him I was heading home and as I exited the train at Victoria Station I noticed the other woman that had been in my car had my suitcase instead of her own and was exiting the train. To get her attention I had to sort of yell at her which seemed to really shake her up. When she realized her mistake all she could say was, “Well done”. Maybe it was because I had then been up for over 24 hours but I was annoyed that there wasn’t an apology but instead a well done.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Me and a few of my colleagues from the UK are attending some training and meetings north of Las Vegas.  We couldn't believe our luck that we were able to get a great deal on a direct flight from Gatwick to Las Vegas, and even better, the plane was practically empty.  Have you ever seen a plane in the air like this?  Everyone had the opportunity to stretch out and catch a few ZZZs once the plane got off the ground.  The luck turned when we arrived in Las Vegas and the pilot announced that the weather was EXACTLY the same as it was at Gatwick, cold and pouring.

It's a new day today.  Mr. Sunshine, please come out and play.

Winter Guacamole

Yes, the tomatoes this time of year don’t resemble tomatoes so skip them. Sunday night we had carnitas for dinner and I’m going to call H’s avocado concoction “winter guacamole”. Yum

Dice one ripe avocado and put it in a bowl. Add the juice of half of a lime, two cloves of garlic minced, and chopped cilantro to taste. Mix and mash a little to make it as chunky or smooth as you would like.

Make sure if you’re planning to kiss someone that they eat some of this too!

Peer Pressure Can Sometimes Be A Good Thing

I have tried to suggest volunteer work to A and I’ve been met with outrage at the thought. Lessons or physical activity, I get the same response. A and her friends though are starting the Duke of Edinburgh Award program and it requires that she do all of the above as well as hike! I guess as long as it’s not my idea it’s a good idea. The program is made up of four parts: Volunteering, New Skill, Physical Activity, and Expedition. It looks like she will actually end up with two volunteering jobs: one with an organization that offers dog walking services to the elderly so that they can keep their pets, and the other at the farm that we visit for eggs and meat. And yesterday I took her for her first riding lesson as she has been asking to start these since she got back from the Cornwall riding camp in October and wanted to use that as her physical activity. She absolutely loves it and even after falling off of a horse when practicing jumping at camp she’s ready to go!

As we waited for her lesson to start we walked around to visit the horses and A petted most of them. At that moment, as a horse looked to me for some attention I realized I am petrified of horses. I’ve only ridden once and didn’t like the idea of the animal I was sitting on having a mind of its own. As A told me stories of girls being bitten or kicked by the animals she then suggested that I take lessons just like her friend J and her mom do. I was thinking hell to the no! Why do we even ride horses in the modern age? This is crazy! They are beautiful animals and I will admire them from afar. I’ll leave the up close and personal to her and the other horse girls.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Walking in the Mud

Look what the snow left behind...

I Predict a Riot

My work buddy A and I headed to Starbucks mid-morning yesterday. We were greeted at the door with this sign which made us laugh. We went in and of course I had to ask why no coffee. They claimed there was a problem with the machines so the choices were hot chocolate or tea. Thank goodness this happened in a tea society or there could have been a riot. Come to think of it, those faces inside don't look too happy with the choices. 

When I got back to the office I was laughing about it and telling a co-worker. She responded, “This Starbucks on the High Street? They’re rubbish aren’t they?!”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Frozen Britain Begins to Thaw

Finally the ice and snow were getting slushy. It’s been a skeleton crew at work for over a week now and it will be nice to see more faces. Friday night it rained and when we woke up Saturday, almost all of the snow was completely gone. Except for a piece here or there, it would be easy to wonder if it was all a dream.

Friday evening a colleague and I were talking about our trip to the States next week where I was assuring her that at least we would see some sunshine there since we were headed to a desert city. Then we looked at the forecast and believe it or not, it looks like it will be overcast and possibly rainy the whole time we are there. How can this be??? Well, the sun is out today so I need to get out and enjoy it. That may be it for awhile!

Food Snob?

Some people aren’t into food. They eat whatever just to sustain life, not really caring about taste. There are times as I’ve yo-yo’d up and down the scale that I wish I was one of those people but I’m just not. It’s got to be good though. I can easily turn my back on bad food, so there’s got to be some quality involved. For the most part I am not at all interested in partaking in any of the birthday treats people here bring in when their big day rolls around. Usually this means that they went to the local grocery store and bought a boxed cake, similar to maybe Entennmens in the U.S. I hate to compare some of this stuff to Entennmens though because the Entennmens cheese danish is a thing of beauty, where some of this stuff is just dry cake with waxy frosting. Last week someone sent a message around to all saying for no special occasion they had picked up one of these cakes and we could all help ourselves in the kitchen, oh and I guess as a disclaimer they added that the cake was past its expiration date. Why spend the money? Why consume the calories?

I mention this to H after someone we know bought frozen sandwiches for a party. Get this, there is a store here that sells tuna salad sandwiches in plain white bread, cut in fourths and frozen for fun at a later date. I don’t understand this at all. There are some things that are just automatically going to taste better if made fresh from scratch and there’s not much effort needed to make this happen. Not only is this criticism about taste but my mother’s practical voice rings in my head that this convenience food is not much of a convenience. When I was telling H about these sandwiches and how I would NEVER buy them, H stopped me and said, “We’re food snobs”. Are we? Maybe to some extent because as H has made things from scratch at home, I’ve realized that it’s worth taking the time sometimes. Roast chicken, I never realized how delicious simple roast chicken could be when cooked well. Last week I was at the store with L after our winter walk and she was trying to decide if she should by this off brand of boxed mashed potatoes because her usual brand was sold out. She looked at me for advice and I couldn’t offer any but to buy some real potatoes, especially since it was for dinner with guests.

Thursday night after I got home late and still had a mountain of work to do and two more conference calls, and an A-related crisis (well to her it was), I needed comfort food. I peeled a sweet potato, wedged it, threw the wedges in a bowl and drizzled a little olive oil, sea salt, and smoked paprika and mixed. Threw that on a cookie sheet and baked and there’s dinner! If you burn them slightly I think it tastes like burnt marshmallows which takes me back to childhood and one of my favourite treats. When I told H this the first time I unintentionally burned them he said that sounded disgusting. Food snob, maybe just a little bit, but I think a true food snob would throw Thursday night’s dinner in the bin.

The Train Essential

The journey home on the train is always better when someone is talking in your ear. Terry Gross, Ira Glass, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, the folks on National Public Radio are usually the voices courtesy of a podcast as I travel. On a post-it on my desk I have the train times listed for my journey home and they are in roughly half hour or 45 minute increments but weird times like 7:17pm so I can never keep them straight, so it’s not uncommon that I will look up from whatever I’m doing, notice the time at the bottom corner of my laptop screen, immediately look at the train schedule and realize I’ve got to be out the door in two minutes to run to the train station. There’s a big window in my office so I’m sure if people are still in the building this looks hilarious as I jump up and start packing furiously and run out the door without saying a “goodnight”.

A funny thing happened last week on my way out the door. My routine is always the same, as I am walking to the train station which takes me about 6 minutes, I am speed walking uphill and wrapping my scarf around my neck, finding my train card, taking my iPod out and putting one bud in my ear, and turning on a podcast. These podcasts help turn my mind off. Music allows me to just keep on thinking about work, where podcasts take me somewhere else. As I was walking and fumbling for my iPod I made a very stressful discovery, I had left it on my desk. With a very short timeframe do I turn around and go back to the office to get it and risk being stuck for another 45 minutes or do I press on? Because of a pending conference call I didn’t turn back, so the whole journey home my mind is rambling because now, not only will my evening commute suck but what about the morning commute? Sure I’ve got the London commuter paper to flip through but that doesn’t take me long. Can I steal H’s iPod for the day to get me through? But his doesn’t have podcasts loaded? What am I going to do?

I realize the thoughts running through my head make me sound like an addict, and I fully admit my addiction to my iPod. Oh and yes, about public radio, I am a subscriber.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Winter Walk

When I saw L from the B&B on New Year’s Eve I mentioned that I had been walking quite a bit. Now that she is fully recovered from her broken leg she was hoping that we could walk sometime together and made a plan to meet yesterday. The sun was out but it was still pretty arctic. I threw on some warm clothes and took the train to her house. On the way I stopped at the local grocery store to buy some fresh yeast that H requested. As I was checking out of the insanely busy store, the clerk asked me if I was going to be doing some baking. I explained that my husband would be doing some later. She laughed and said, “He could come up here and start selling in our car park after we run out”. It was definitely looking like that was going to happen.

When I got to L’s she was all ready to go in her full-length dress coat, fur hat, and her bag packed with a thermos of coffee and the dreaded mince pies. I say dreaded because I don’t like them and was happy for Christmas to be over so I could stop declining them. Now they were back. I was glad to see that she did have some proper snow boots. I made sure she was okay walking in this weather. After her dramatic spill last year, I didn’t want to be responsible for her falling again. She had one of those walking maps that H and I couldn’t understand and suggested we use it to follow this 8 mile path. I was comforted to see that she even though she is a local, she didn’t understand the map’s directions either. We got about a steep 5 mile walk in before the sun started to set, even past an ostrich farm.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Brolly in the Snow

Brolly (short from umbrella) - a word that should make it's way across the ocean...

The blizzard of ’10 hit the UK today. H’s work was closed and so was A’s school. Thanks to the wonders of technology, my day charged ahead but just from home instead of an office. At lunch I trudged (seriously trudged with no traction) to the small store nearby to pick up some of the essentials. The bread shelves were bare and the store was very busy. I saw more than one person with an umbrella as the snow was at its heaviest.

What amazes us is that we pay a lot of money every month to our local council (local government body) for things like trash removal, etc. but our street which is not rural will be untouched by a plow or anything.  The sun will be our only snow removal system!

I did get out for a walk first thing this morning.  It was peaceful and beautiful.

The Tree of Nightmares

So during my holiday channel surfing I did watch a good bit of Wizard of Oz, and maybe that was still on my mind when I saw this massive tree. Doesn’t it look like it has arms? I swear I wasn’t out foraging for magic mushrooms when I noticed this.

In My Own Backyard

When we lived at our other house I had a walking routine that went through some fields and in the distance I could see this large building, and I’ve been curious ever since about what it was. Thanks to the amazing Google Earth I was able to track it down as a hotel called Latimer Place and on my walk I found a way to get closer. The building was called Latimer Manor in 1615 and was a manor house of a large farm. So it’s not in my backyard, more like about a 30 minute walk away, but beautiful just the same.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back to Reality

It’s Sunday and I’m savouring that last day of vacation before heading back to work tomorrow. January at work is going to be particularly brutal so I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for this.  I took a long walk today and took my camera with me this time. 

The Benetton Sweater Tree

I had to take a picture of the Christmas tree in the window display at United Colors of Benetton.  Back in 1985 there was nothing I wanted more than a Benetton sweater! 

As Good as Homemade?

Last night we went to London for a belated anniversary dinner. When friends have come to visit they ask for restaurant recommendations in London and I’ve got nothing to offer them. If they don’t want to eat standing up like at the various markets or train stations as I tend to do, I’ve got nothing but just a few places that I’ve personally visited. When we were trying to decide where to eat H wanted to go to one of the one star Michelin restaurants in London. He followed this request with something like I’m not turning into a snob, I’d just like to see presentation, etc. at another fine dining restaurant. That was fine with me. The problem of course was finding a restaurant that was not closed due to the holiday. We finally found a place open for dinner in Mayfair called Wild Honey.

It wasn’t horrible but it left a lot to be desired. The presentation was not particularly nice and in the end, I think we were both surprised that they had attained Michelin status. H had venison, which had a nice flavour. H didn’t like the accompaniment of curly kale. If you closed your eyes and took a bite of the kale, it was okay but the way it was shaped on the platter reminded me of well, it just didn’t look pretty. The presentation of my duck dish was also pretty poor. A on the other hand, enjoyed everything she had. Okay, so maybe we are becoming food snobs...

Even though it was freezing last night it was fun just to get dressed up and go into London and see the Christmas lights together one last time, even if it wasn't as good as what's made right in our own kitchen.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day Style

You don’t see many people in snow boots here even if it’s snowing. Most of the time they are in their wellies and I imagine that’s because it doesn’t snow that often, but also having boots you can just rinse off come in handy. I’ve been wearing mine on my walks this break because from moment to moment you don’t know if you’re going to be walking in mud, ice, snow, or a combination of all three.

By the traffic on the trails today you can tell the Brits love a good New Year’s Day Walk. In the morning it was below freezing , but the sun was shining bright and it began to warm up. I had on my standby favourite red sweater pictured here which is as dressy as I’ve gotten since I’ve been on vacation. My wellies were caked with mud by the time I got home. I ventured out to a different trail and I was kicking myself for not having my camera because the land around me was truly beautiful.

Older women in England still dress in a formal style that you don’t see every day in the U.S. I’ve noticed them on the bus, with their rolling shopping bags in smart shoes, nylons, and proper tweed skirt. They look so refined with every hair in place and their handbags tucked into the crook of their arms even if the market is their only destination. As I was walking today I came across two of these handsomely dressed ladies on the trails. They each had on a wool overcoat with a Christmas corsage, a nice wool skirt, and nylons looking like they were headed to church. I glanced down at their feet and noticed they had on muddy hiking boots and knew that this was their annual New Year’s Day walk. They made me smile.

The Perfect View

A, her friend, and I were home in time to watch the fireworks in our PJs.