Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stuff I came home with

Although we did spend time poking around shops, and we did come home from London with our extra bags full, we didn't spend an incredible amount of money on souvenirs. With the conversion rate at about .51 US dollars to 1.00 British pounds, we were "selective".

At Covent Garden Market, we stopped at Pollock's Toy Shop and Museum. It was packed from ceiling to floor with all kinds of lovely paper toys and Punch 'n Judy sets. We purchased a few pocket sized things. The deck of cards pictured at right are 1"x2" each and can be combined in endless permutations. On each card (which connects neatly at the edges with every other card), a road runs along the seaside, punctuated by knights, farmers, castles, and craggy islands. The five year old in me finds this fascinating, and imagines no end of stories inspired by the scene that unfolds. They remind me of bedtimes when Dad made up stories for me about favorite book characters because the books themselves had been exhausted. We also picked up a few paper scenes from this shop - a miniature farm and a small Victorian neighborhood (which I can't locate, so perhaps I only think we bought it).

Books are not only heavy, but crazy expensive. So while I was sorely tempted many times, I brought home only two books. The first was from the British Museum. So clever of them to put signs in their Japanese exhibit, letting me know what was available in the museum shop! It worked, and on our way out, I picked up A Japanese Menagerie by Kawanabe Kyosai. The anthropomorphism is delightful, and I'm both impressed by the simple grace with which the animals are portrayed, and forced to laugh out loud at their antics. The cover art is part of a painting entitled "Frog School" and in the book itself, among the bats, mice, birds and cats, is picture of a frog rickshaw that I love. Kyosai manipulates the bow legged stance and froggy grimace very cleverly.

Did I say two books? I meant three. Funny, how they multiply when you're not looking. Two cookbooks followed me home. Both were found at discount bookstores, to the relief of my wallet. Our first meal "out" in London was at a noodle chain called Wagamama's. After a cold wander along the Thames, we had a fantastic hot lunch there. The noodles and other ingredients are fresher than fresh, and can be ordered in soups, grilled, with sauce... you name it. When I saw the cookbook for cheap, I snatched it up.

It's not hard to guess that the second book was about pie. When I saw the cover, I chuckled to myself. Tarts with Tops On was just too delicious in name and content to leave behind. My sense of humor was seconded by the bookseller who said lightly "And if you turn the book upside down they'd be tarts with NO tops, now wouldn't they?". The author, Tamasin Day-Lewis, writes her lists of ingredients much like I cook, with "generous handfuls" of things, "yesterday's gravy" and recommendations that "your butcher will do this for you if you ask nicely" and that a particular brand of dry cider "is a killer". I can't wait to try the recipe for Apple Hat and Forfar Bridies.

Portobello Road was good for a shoulder bag and a pair of earrings (which I purchased twice, since I was brilliant enough to lose one of the first pair within a day). I came away from Camden Locks with a small black leather pig with two buttons for nostrils. He is quintessential Camden - punk/goth style and slightly off the wall. Borough Market yielded lovely foodstuffs, much of which I couldn't possibly get back to the states in one piece. I'll post more about that particular visit later, because it's food and I could go on and on about it. I did find yarn... can't remember where now, but we were in a courtyard with some lovely vintage shops. I saw diner style china on the shelves that was exactly the pattern my mother has at camp! (That kind of thing happened much more often than expected.) Sadly, I left behind a red tea set with white polka dots and some electrically pastel and tinselly vintage christmas decorations, for the best probably.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Homesick for the UK

It's my second week back to the grind after a two week vacation visiting good friends in London. The funny homesickish stomach pangs (no, not pains - pangs, pain with fangs) I feel every time I think about my trip aren't as strong as they were that first week or so.

When I was a kid, we vacationed with the cousins in Maine. Landlocked for the rest of the year, and obsessed with the ocean, I literally had to be torn away when we left. During the long car ride back, and the awful process of unpacking, I reveled in every shell, freckle and piece of sand I managed to bring home with me. I often hid a piece of clothing from the laundry pile (and my mother, supervisor and processor of said pile). Usually a t-shirt or sweatshirt that smelled like my time there... pine trees and sun-bleached salt. I'd pull it out every once in a while, breathe in, wallow in my sense of loss. Eventually, my mother found the stray item, or I faced facts and surrendered it to the hamper. I learned early on that you could belong to more than one place, and that the sense of being homesick for someplace that wasn't technically "Home" was probably a permanent state of affairs.

Leaving London was very much like this. And I certainly did not expect that. For so many reasons. I am public transportation phobic, probably because I've never really experienced real public transportation. Oh yes, I've taken buses, but this is a small rural state, it's just not the same. I'm an outdoorsy person, not necessarily in a rugged, athletic way- but I do need to be out of doors or my sanity begins to ebb. I believe in sidewalk etiquette - I move for you, you move for me. I have rather a hard time with big crowds, when being short becomes a frustrating disadvantage. I'm fairly social... but that doesn't always mean I like... people. So while I was looking forward to the visit, I was also anticipating some disenchantment with the daily experiences of city living.

Didn't happen. No disenchantment. Enjoyed the tube, and became reasonably comfortable with the maps. And once a city feels accessible to you, it changes everything. Chimney pots... Twilight in London is gorgeous because there is so much dramatic architecture outlined by the purpling sky. Chimney pots may not be your idea of drama, but to a gal who gobbled up British literature like it was candy, they were iconic! Bland food? My mother will attest to my life long love affair with potatoes. Especially mashed. Perfected by a pint of good beer (it seemed impossible to find bad beer actually), and some kind of meat served hot... in a pie. So happy to see so much pie, buttery pie crust being another great food love. Sticky toffee pudding? When I die, I may just stipulate that family and friends be served sticky toffee pudding. I truly believe it would snap them right out of mourning. I thought the food "plain" rather than bland, and admit that i relished plain for two weeks straight and missed it when I got home. My need for green was satisfied with a long walk through a park between tube stations. We walked every day, so much so that with all the delicious food I was inhaling, I lost a few pounds! There was plenty of outdoors to be out in. To be quite Mary Poppins about it, it was all in all a very satisfactory visit in every way. I would love to go back. I would love to win the lottery so I could afford to go back.

I don't want to be one of those people who is so enamored of their trip (and themselves) that they go on ad nauseum. Perhaps it's too late for me already in that respect. I won't promise not to talk more about our vacation, but I'll try to be reasonable. Consider this fair warning of more posts and pictures about the food and sights!

Friday, January 25, 2008


So, there have been a lot of very strange and unpleasant things happening to me lately. Tonight, to cap off a crappy week, my ex-husband called me. WTF?!?! Why? Why did he call? Am I just being immature? Am I supposed to be friends with him? I've long since let go of the anger towards him, and I have forgiven him for a good many of the bad things that he did, but I don't want to be friends with him. I don't want us call each other and compare notes on how life has gone since we split. Why? Why would either of us want that? I don't want to know about him, and I don't want to share my current life with him either. Is this weird or am I just over-reacting?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I might be back

Hey, it's nice to see you again... I'm feeling much more relaxed and I'm not feeling the need to take copious amounts of my anti-anxiety medication. For those of you who emailed and asked, it wasn't anything to do with family, or illness, or accidents. Because of what I do for a living, I really can't say exactly what happened to send me close to a nervous breakdown, but I think we are now in a place where we can start behaving normally. If nothing else, the most obvious thing learned from this is that I have got to get out of banking.

The main reason to break the blog silence is that after complaining for at least a year about my lack of a laptop computer, I now have a laptop computer! There's nothing like an anxiety attack to send a girl right out to spend too much money, is there? I'm completely and totally in love with this thing. I got a Toshiba Satellite on sale last weekend and so far, I'm really very impressed. Now I can sit on the couch and blog and surf aimlessly while watching Alton Brown on the Food Network. It doesn't get much better than that, now does it? I'm also pleased that I'm not hating Windows Vista as much as I had been warned. I am afraid that I will end up bankrupting myself buying new games to play on it, since it seems that many things I already have are not willing to play nicely with Vista.

Another reason to blog is that we had a little bit of a scare the other night. Right around 8:45 Monday night, I heard some strange sounds and went out on the deck. It was dark and quiet and at first nothing seemed wrong. Then I heard and saw what looked like fireworks, which might be unusual this time of year, but there are quite a few college age people around here who like fireworks, so I didn't think much of it. Then I heard someone yelling and suddenly there were sparks in the air, and smoke billowing from a building about five houses away from us. I ran back inside and went to the front window for a better view, and there were flames shooting up the entire front of the building. I don't think I realized just how fast fire moves. I ran upstairs to get Mark, and by the time I got back downstairs, it was really bad. Bad enough that the sparks (Who am I kidding? These were big flaming chucks of wood flying through the air) drifting over our roof made me start looking for the cat carrier, and deciding what to do and if we should be getting ready to leave. I like to be prepared, you know. We were also a little concerned because from what we could tell at the time, the building on fire was right next to the building that Mark's cousin lives in. It was a while before anyone felt like relaxing and going to bed. Fortunately no one was hurt, mostly because no one was home, and a neighbor even got the dog and two cats from the house out. It certainly made me think about our own fire safety plan. You never think it will happen to you, but it can. Sometimes being overly anxious and extra prepared can pay off.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I guess I can't keep kidding myself that I'm blogging on a regular basis anymore. Most of our readers are close friends and family, but there are a few other readers who stop by occasionally. I feel that I owe you some sort of explanation so at least I don't have to have this nagging sense of guilt about not writing.

I've been taking a bit of a break from blogging because of certain things that are slightly out of my control right now. Pretty much the only thing occupying my mind these days is the one thing I can't blog about. I haven't been knitting so I have no pretty things to show anyone. One of the things I need to have in order to write here is a sense of humor, and I've sort of lost that right now. I do know that this is temporary, and I'll be back at some point, really.

I hope that in the meantime Kate will have some stories about her recent trip to the UK to keep us all entertained!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Greetings from the Land of Pie!

A quick post, since my friend Alex has just removed pork and sausage pasties from the oven. Which means dinner is imminent. The grocery here is packed with a variety of pie beyond my wildest imaginings. Bite size, hand sized, full sized with anything from fruit or custard to meats. You name it, the Brits have put it in a pie. They're best with hot mashed (potatoes) and a interestingly named beer... like Bishop's Finger, Fursty Ferret, Bishop's Tipple (bishops here, so straight laced and of fine reputations), Old Peculiar, Spitfire and Snecklifter. We're not drinking them all at once, of course, but it's fun to pull one out of the fridge and ask a pal if they'd like a bit of Spitfire. Bishop's Finger has been the best for crude jokes, besides being a good beer.

Time for supper, and a chance to watch our slideshow of photos for the day, so I'll sign off. Cheers!