London Calling

Yesterday, as I caught up on the latest episode of Sherlock, I found myself distracted by the backgrounds of the show, remembering London, even though the scenes on tv were not most of the places we had been, though I was delighted to see Sherlock and a companion walking through Piccadilly Circus and by the Tube station we used. Sigh. Still, all in all, it was London. And London is wonderful.

buckingham-guardvictoria-statue-with-gold-2big-ben-under-churchills-arm

Despite starting off the first two hours at Passport Control with 800 of our closest friends at Heathrow, this was a most wonderful and needed trip. Due to the horrific outcome of the election and other extremely stressful things going on for Ed and me, the timing of this trip was perfect. And London was perfect.

Some high points and strong images:

*Walking 27 miles in three days (no buses or Tube on Christmas Day, if you are planning a trip).

*Women smoking hookahs in sidewalk cafes on Edgware Road.

*Having an Italian lunch on Christmas Day with our new friend Bobby. During that lunch discussing how Bobby loves country/bluegrass phenom Alison Krauss. I told him she was from Peoria, which was only an hour or two from where we live. Then the man at the table next to us leans over and says, “Did you say ‘Peoria?’ I’m from Peoria!”

*Feeling like a sardine in a can at Harrods. Honestly. How can that many people fit into one store?

harrods

*Getting lost on our first day of walking and seeing a house with the plaque “Home of Benedict Arnold, American Patriot.” The hell, you say. That’s not what we call him.

*”Mind the gap” and “This is a Bakerloo line train to Regent’s Park.”

*Watching Kitten Rescuers as well as The Glenn Miller Story on British tv. Also seeing a celebrity panel show that included Carrie Fisher just two days before she died.

*Lights, lights, and more lights on Oxford, Regent, and Bond Streets. Simply stunning.

oxford-peacock-lights-fulloxford-wired-lightsside-street-lights-2house-of-fraser-lights

*The store windows of Fortnum & Mason all decked out for Christmas.

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*Thinking I might have seen British author Neil Gaiman in the Christmas Eve crush at Fortnum & Masons (I asked. It wasn’t. Though I do not regret asking.)

*Seeing Stomp in a teeny theatre. Amazing!

stomp-stage

*The tiniest hotel room on record, though centrally located and affordable. I will stay there again.

*Rekorderlig Swedish pear cider. Ahhh.

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*The most amazing food (Bangladeshi, Indian, Italian; and Ed had Portuguese and Brazilian).

*Accents from most everywhere in the world except Britain (or very little British). A lovely man I spoke with at the Victoria pub said most actual Londoners leave the city over the holiday. To make room for us interlopers, I suppose.

*Waterstone’s Books. A little five-story piece of heaven on earth.

*The world’s best chippie (that’s fish and chips in Brit-ese) at the Golden Union on Poland Street, just off Oxford Street. Thanks, Bobby, for that!

*Hearing the pealing bells of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. Heavenly.

*Beautiful and ginourmous Hyde Park.

*Having Oyster cards for the Tube before we left home so we could quickly (relatively – see paragraph two above) leave Heathrow for London. So happy I did my homework on this one.

*Walking, walking, and more walking and, happily, just getting tired, not sore, feet.

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*And, to cap it off, getting surprisingly upgraded to business class for the flight home, including complementary drinks, the best food, warm towels to wash up, a nice blanket and space, glorious space to relax in. We kept poking each other with goofy grins, repeating, “I can’t believe this!”

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That, my friends, was London. Wonderful, beautiful, courteously well-mannered, polite, cosmopolitan, ancient, direction-confounding, marvelous London. A spot of tea or chippie, anyone?

 

 

 

Packing my Bag!

london-packing

A giant photo of my in-progress packing. Trying to learn to rotate and crop photos, but, as yet, that is eluding me. Stay tuned for better cropping, rotating, photo-bits in the future.

While the mercury dips to “colder than a well digger’s butt in the Yukon,” I fuss and do laundry and make out last-minute instructions for the house/dog sitter, not quite believing that one week from this exact moment, we will be celebrating Christmas in London!

For the past four months, I’ve been reading, researching and surfing to gather more information than I can possibly use on one trip, trying to sift and juggle and prioritize. What new things do I want to see (Victoria and Albert Museum, Harrod’s, Windsor Castle), and what repeats that Ed wants to see (Imperial War Museum) and that I didn’t have time enough to see well on my first trip to London (Westminster Abbey).

And I am hoping. Hoping I am bringing the right shoes to pound the pavement in all day. Hoping I have finally figured out the Tube this time around. Hoping to find a good Indian restaurant for Christmas Day (nothing says “Christmas” like a good curry). Hoping to get some sleep on the flight over so we will have enough energy to make it through Christmas Eve and do some shopping and hop-on-hop-offing of buses to get oriented. Hoping to have a Happy Christmas in the greatest city on earth!

So, as my last weekend at home winds down, I will anxiously flit around the house, setting everything to rights, trying to double and then triple check my packing list so I don’t forget anything. We aren’t checking our bags, so I am using travel space bags. I initially had what I thought was a great idea – use those space bags to save as much room as possible!  Then I learned from the great YouTube channel Love and London that they make travel space bags You just roll them up to squeeze out the air.  Genius! I am also trying to pack just enough and not over-pack. Again, thanks to Love and London!

I also got a great idea from that channel to make an itinerary and to match up outfits to each day’s itinerary so that I will have just the clothes I need and not a whole bunch of stuff I won’t wear but that takes up too much room in the bag. Takes a little time to do, but if you don’t want to check a bag, again, genius! But it also takes some work, which is fine by me. I am just hoping to maybe find a clothing item or two (or maybe some shoes?) to bring back home with me. To that end, I am taking my oldest running shoes (I plan to run each morning through Hyde Park, which is maybe a 10 minute walk away) and, as I did in Ireland, if I need room in my bag for something else, my shoes will get to live in London, even if I don’t.

As for bringing stuff home, we aren’t planning to load up on tchotchkes (and, in case you are wondering, I did have to look up the spelling for that one – meshuga! – look that one up on your own). When we were in Ireland, we met a nice couple from Long Island, and Hank’s advice was simple: don’t buy something you’ll throw in a drawer and then throw out two years later. They never took pictures either because they figured they’d never look at them. I take some, but am not really the scrapbook type. I’ll post some here and on Facebook, I suppose. But I prefer to write about my trips and journeys, so the journal will definitely fit in my new giant “purse” that I bought for the trip.

Speaking of, I finally decided that if most of the women I see getting onto a plane can carry a “purse” the size of an aircraft carrier, then, by God, so will I! It ought to hold my knitting (yes, needles are allowed as are scissors less than 4″ – I’m no fool – I checked TSA), my journal, a book, guidebook,  miscellaneous necessary paperwork, some snacks and an empty water bottle. I could probably fit one of the cats in there and claim it’s a service animal, but I don’t think he’d enjoy the trip so much.

So, if I can make it work, my next Sunday post will be from London! Keeping my fingers crossed for no winter storms on this end for the next two Fridays (the out and back). Stay tuned for “The Adventures of Jen and Ed in London!”

Oh, Fudge!

fudge

Well, boys and girls, it’s that time of year. Time to make the fudge. And yesterday, at 4:30 a.m., I woke up mighty early and did just that. Chocolate walnut and a new one: white chocolate candy cane. Yum! Not too cloyingly sweet with just enough peppermintiness (I have created a new word in honor of this new level of deliciousness).

Today I will also try the Oreo fudge (the one I did not get to make yesterday and totally forgot about until just this moment). Good thing I am sticking to my Sunday blog deadline, or there would be no Oreo fudge. Just saying. So, it’s a good thing to write.

Am also getting into the old-fashioned Christmas spirit thanks to a couple of things I picked up thanks to Dick Taber and his wonderful estate sales. This spring I practically stole a stereo system with a working turntable (and the CD player also works, and I get both public radio stations – not sure about the cassette player, but not worried about that at the moment). At a later sale, I picked up this little gem:

bing-christmas The Bing Crosby Merry Christmas album (Santa is just in the picture to lend holiday spirit). To be precise, on a few of the tracks it’s Bing AND the Andrews Sisters. Twenty-three skidoo! Or maybe, “It’s the cat’s pajamas,” or maybe “The bees knees.” No matter. It’s making mine a merry holiday.

So, as I wait for my dearest hubs to create his spareribs and kraut supper in the kitchen, Bing and I will be watching the lovely snow on the sunporch while the Juncos and woodpeckers dine at the feeders which are now chock full of tasty seed-liciousness (sorry – it must be the holiday beverage just making odd words pop from my keyboard).

woodpecker It’s a little hard to see, but here’s the woodpecker, who was hopping up and down the sycamore. I couldn’t really get good pictures with my phone, which does lead me to consider actually getting a decent camera.

And that brings me to the fact that my pictures aren’t cropped very well as yet. But I am making it a New Year’s resolution (all pun intended – get it? pictures; resolution?) to work harder at improving the look of this blog. I will learn how to insert better pictures and try to keep to my weekly posts, and maybe even post more often than once a week. But I don’t want to get crazy here.  Well, maybe just a little. Stay tuned and see how crazy it really gets around here.

Cheers.

No pictures, just words

Okay, so on my way to school this morning, I realized that I forgot to post something by last night, my self-imposed Sunday deadline. So, the thing is, I actually had written something up last week, November 30 to be exact. And then promptly forgot about it. Of course, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, and then….

So now I have a boring post with no pictures. No beautiful images of my backyard with 10 inches (rather than the predicted one inch) of snow. No pictures of the hats I’ve knitted. No cat pictures. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

But, on a happy note, I had a pleasant couple of hours in Iowa City yesterday and found out what all the fuss was about regarding Molly’s Cupcakes (I decided on Chocolate Decadence, surprise). It was indeed as advertised. Tasty, moist chocolate with a not too sweet frosting. Good coffee, too, which was a plus. So I spent a pleasant half hour researching walking tours in London. Actually, the day trip to Oxford and Cotswolds. Which, logically, for me at least, led to looking for Tolkien’s grave and then the Inklings, etc., etc.

Then I start thinking today about whether or not I should get a camera for the trip. I have been reading one of my favorite blogs, Posie Gets Cozy (http://rosylittlethings.typepad.com/) and love the pictures she includes and then I think about looking at the camera she uses and trying to take more pictures myself (for the blog, for other things, for looking back at the beauty in the world when I need a shot of beauty in my world). But then I wonder about the expense and whether or not it’s really worth it and so on. We’ll see.

So, right now, rather than ramble on, I guess I’ll just leave it at this for the moment. I promise to include more thoughtful ramblings and photos for the next post, which will be Sunday, at the latest, if not before. More than just words and no pictures. I solemnly swear.

Back to the Blog

It has been far, far too long since I have posted. So I have decided it’s time to get back to work at writing. For the past year, I’ve been doing less writing and more crawling into my own shell, which is not good for me. All stress and no play makes me a dull person, at least in my own mind, which is what has been guiding me the past year. So now it’s time to stop all that dullard nonsense and start getting down to business. And now it begins.

I will pledge to post at least once a week for the foreseeable future. I’d like to say for the next year, but a year seems like a long time. So I’ll hedge, which is what I’m really good at. Hedge; don’t commit.

Okay, so nix on the hedging. Here goes: I will post on my blog at least once a week for the next year. End of discussion. By every Sunday evening, there will be some word from me here. If there isn’t, feel free to send a search party.

Love you!

Happiness

November 21, 2015

Charles Schultz once said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Today, I would beg to differ. I say, “Happiness is a cold dog in the snow.”

You see, this morning we had the Snowpocalypse. It began snowing last night, but the blowing began earlier in the week when the weather people began wetting their pants over the “big winter storm” that was coming. You know you’re getting old when you start saying, “When I was a kid,” but when I was a kid, this kind of snow would just be considered “heavy snow” at best, or maybe even just “snow.”

Anyhow, it began snowing last night as we were attending a local monthly revue show. At intermission, they said outside it was… “Wet.” To which the audience gave a theatrical and appropriately sarcastic, “Oooh.” Last season this same bunch did a great parody of local weather folk by covering “Deathstorm 2014.” That should give you an idea of what we think of local forecasters. Yes, in the end we got somewhere around five or six inches, and yes there was some wind, but the end, which they claimed was near, is still not here. So all’s well with the world.

So, after being awakened at 4:45 by the barf alarm (a.k.a., a large grey cat on my bed), I saw it was still snowing, and rather heavily at that. Snow day! Even though it was Saturday, I decided to pretend it was a real snow day and we were trapped by a blizzard. I just love fooling myself (if only I weren’t so easy to fool).

So, what do I do first? Clean the bathroom. Wash the dishes. Mop the kitchen. I’m funny about getting all the boring stuff done before I get into the snow day fantasy. So, all the drudgery out of the way, I take my coffee to the sunporch and watch it snow out the window. Mind you, it’s still only 6:00 or so and not yet light, but the snow made it light enough to see. It was delightful, no pun intended. With my little heater chugging away, the porch was nice and toasty. So, after a bit of a stare out the window, I journaled and then read for a while.

As the morning progressed and the snow began to add up, the wind began. So this is when I decided to use the snow day fantasy to cut spinning class. Ed wasn’t up in time anyway, so I let my lazy side take over. We had hot chocolate, watched Rick Steves tour Austria and learned four ways to prepare turkey ala Martha Stewart.

The plow arrived at around 10:30, so Ed decided to watch the Iowa game at the local watering hole. Rather than fritter away an entire day, I put away fall decorations. I refuse to get out anything Christmas-y until the day after Thanksgiving, but I did put out a few “winter” things, just because all that snow made it feel and look like winter.

After that I decided to replace the lost workout class with a snowy hike. As soon as I put on my snow shoes and stepped outside the garage, the dog knew what came next. She bounded across the yard and through the hole in the fence and onto the golf course. I trudged along after, seeing her pause and turn to make sure I was coming.

If you want to see the definition of happy, watch my dog on a snow-covered golf course. The six or so inches of white stuff were like adrenaline for that dog. She wanted to go everywhere at once. She’d bound off in one direction and when she saw I hadn’t caught up yet, ran back to me only to run off in yet another direction and then another. She’d stop, she’d spin, she’d snuffle her nose into a drift and then charge forward, not so much a dog as a freight train pushing the cow catcher into the drifts. I plodded along behind as she’d dart back and forth, then find a deep spot and wade in, her energy boundless. You’d never know she was about 12 years old the way she was flying through the snow.

The past couple days I’d been feeling a mite depressed. The short, dark days of November do that to me. But watching that dog run around in the snow like a crazed thing, radiating happy, that helped. I just had to laugh at her. Well, at least until she tried to take home part of a rabbit carcass as a sort of dog take-out.

There’s just something about watching pure happiness. And, rabbit carcass notwithstanding, that’s what my dog was today. Yes, happiness is definitely a cold dog in the snow.

 

 

Kraut Junkie

Any similarity between this writing and that of The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, can be blamed on the fact that finally, after two weeks of hovering over my mailbox, her new book, Furiously Happy, arrived.

I retrieved it after nearly colliding with the mail truck as I was trying to back out of my driveway without hitting one of the roughly 50 or so trucks that have been intermittently parked on the street for the past year for the re- “construction” of the house across the way.

I apologized to the mailman for the near collision and he said (and I am not making this up), “I didn’t see you, either.” Really? You are driving forward in a truck with a windshield the size of a football field and you didn’t see me? Well, raise my rent.

And so, as they say, back to our story.

As I walked into the kitchen yesterday, I thought that my husband and/or the dog, and maybe even the cat, had passed gas. And I asked as much.

“No. I always claim mine.” Patently not true, by the way, for those keeping score. But I realized he was telling the truth, or he had developed some powerful hang time, because even fifteen minutes later, the smell was still there. Then it hit me — cabbage!

For the past six weeks or so, Ed has been fermenting sauerkraut (not a euphemism) in the pantry, and it’s almost time to can it (thank heavens, because we are having friends over in a week or so and I’d hate to have to explain that, no, we don’t have a gas leak –that is a euphemism– but a bubbling cauldron of bacteria-laden cabbage waiting to be canned).

In an experiment a few years ago, Ed decided to use one of our stone crocks to try his hand at making sauerkraut. As the first batch was a tasty success, he’s made a little more each year, getting maybe six or seven quarts each time, so we are very careful to make it last until the next season. To some of you, that might not sound like a problem. But then: 1) you may not be fans of sauerkraut like we are or 2) you’ve never had Ed’s kraut, which is milder and a tad sweeter than any store-bought variety.

Growing up with a German ethnicity, I think I was probably hard-wired for kraut even before I was born. As a kid, the only kraut I ever had was Frank’s, from the store. But there was something about that mouth-puckering tang with just an edge of sweetness that hooked me. So much so that (I’m almost afraid to admit this), as a kid, I’d open a four-ounce can of Frank’s and eat it right from the can as a snack. I think that might make me what you’d call a kraut junkie.

It seems odd to me, growing up in a heavily German-influenced area that no one I knew ever made their own kraut. But in the 1970s, maybe it wasn’t cool. Maybe I was too young to really pay attention if anyone did or not. Or maybe, less than 50 years after the Second World War involving aggressors from my ancestral homeland, folks had distanced themselves to a point where they were no longer interested in reproducing what they could easily buy from the store.

Or maybe they didn’t want to have their kitchen pantry emit questionable gaseous odors for six weeks, making a wife look askance at her husband, the dog, and even a cat before remembering that said husband was really a culinary genius who took a head of cabbage, some salt, and a stone crock to create the food of the gods. At least those from Valhalla.