Friday, December 31, 2010

My plans for 2011

So it's New Year's Eve and therefore time to make my resolutions. I feel like putting them in writing on the blogosphere makes them harder to break, and holds me more accountable. I just looked up last year's New Year's resolution post and, well, I think I did okay. I fell down on the running at the tail end of this year (no pun intended), and I did struggle a bit with the whole "not comparing myself to others" bit. But I did gain a measure of control over my life, and feel much more like the master of my own destiny at this point. I'm looking forward to 2011 to growing stronger in that resolve.

But now for next year. There are only a few resolutions, but they are multi-layered with various components that I think will help me achieve them. Caveat: because of the really long winter break from work, I'm starting all of this on the 4th so I still have 4 days of hedonism. So without further ado, let's take a look at my self-styled future.

Lose weight.
Yar, yar, yes I know. Everyone says the same thing every year. But. Friends, I am fat. This corresponds with me not really running anymore, and not really practicing yoga. You may say, oh, it's okay, D. But it isn't: I took a dress to Dublin to wear on Christmas and IT DIDN'T FIT - I couldn't zip it up. Full disclosure: I am 5'4", not that tall, and I am fluctuating around 10 stone 10 lbs (that is 150 for the Americans). That is unacceptable both for my self-esteem and my health, not to mention my wardrobe. I have two weddings to attend in April, one of which I will be a bridesmaid in, so this needs to be resolved. ASAP.

The plan is thus:

1. Detox January and February
That means: no alcohol, no sugar, no meat for the first 2 weeks and lean meats thereafter. I'm keeping coffee with sugar, because I can't get rid of everything, but am limiting myself to one cup per day. There will be little exceptions, of course, but I am really excited to have my insides feel clean again.

2. Improved diet
The Irishman and I really like to eat. It's true, and it's not a bad thing. But we have jointly decided that we need to limit our restaurant eating, and when we do it we should go to the really amazing restaurants we always read about rather than little dinky places that aren't worth the money or the takeaways to which we've recently been defaulting. We are signing up for a veg box from Farm Direct, which I'm really excited about because I love the idea of having to cook something that I wouldn't typically choose. Plus we're supporting UK farmers and eating food that is in season, which is clearly win-win.

3. Training for a marathon
I turn 30 this year (gaaaah) and feel like I need to achieve something spectacular to prove to myself that I won't shrivel up and die. I successfully completed the half marathon earlier this year, so I think it's the right time. The Irishman and I decided to be realistic so we're aiming for the Dublin Marathon in October for 3 reasons: it's flat, we have free accommodation, and we have all summer to train (rather than starting to train NOW). Apparently there is also really good crowd support which is crucial. So I'm going to start running now to get myself in shape, and start training seriously in May. My office will be moving from Clerkenwell to London Bridge in April-ish, and there are promises of a shower in the building so I will hopefully be running either to or from work by then. I promise the blog won't be all about running all of the time. I hope.

4. Recommit to yoga
There are pictures of me from 2006 when, funnily enough, I was a bridesmaid, and I looked good. Really good. And I realized that it was because I was practicing yoga 2, sometimes 3, nights a week for an entire sweaty summer. I was also using Dove Self-Tanning Lotion religiously, but that's besides the point - my glow was more from an entirely toned body and mind. And I miss that. So I'm going to make that same promise to myself that I did so long ago - yoga nights are sacred, working late is not an option, and I am going to go to class and actually be IN the class rather than thinking about getting home to the sofa and some pasta. There is a new studio around the corner from my flat called Pop-Up Yoga and my lovely yogi Kim is expanding her yoga empire so clearly I have no excuse for not getting back into my vinyasas, stat. To encourage me, I'm getting a new mat and some new yoga togs. But that leads me to...

Be better with money.
It is a truth that I have been avoiding for a while: I am terrible with money. I save and then I spend my savings; I waste money like it's water, and I am generally just not in control of my assets. When I lived in New York, I was really responsible. I had a 401k, a Roth IRA, and a decent savings account balance. Here, I am not really saving for my future and I'm practically in my overdraft every month. I'm not in trouble, but I know that one day I will need money I don't have put away and it is starting to stress me out. So the plan is:

1. Stop spending
This is hard for me. THE SALES ARE ON. I went into Brown Thomas in Dublin and nearly weeped. I haven't gone into town; Liberty at the moment would be too hard for me. I sort of feel like an addict who's gone cold turkey. Sadness. I allowed myself 1 purchase, this pair of shoes to wear with this bridesmaid dress for my friend's wedding in April:

They were 50% off and free shipping and returns, so, you know. And now, I'm done. Sigh. The new yoga mat will happen soon, but not until after the January paycheck. And any new yoga clothes will be cheap-o-s from Decathlon - it's silly to spend a lot of money on togs you essentially just sweat in. It's going to be hard, but I think worth it.

2. Save more
Currently, I put a paltry £100 in my savings account each month, and, as I said, I more often than not use the full amount for some sort of expense after a few months. So as of January I'm upping my savings account contribution to at least £200 per month, and locking it down. It's not to be used at all. For anything. Ever.

3. Be less wasteful
This goes along with some of the things I'm doing to lose weight. I want to waste less food - eat what we have and not let it rot in the fridge. Hence the veg box. And I want us to spend our money more wisely - thus going to nicer restaurants less often, rather than defaulting to going out to dinner. We have a lot of big expenses coming up in 2011 (3 weddings! 2 big trips! 1 big birthday!) so I'd rather us spend it where it counts rather than pissing it away on crap.

Be more creative
This one is big for me. I have been whining for a while to The Irishman and friends of mine from my design program in college that I've found myself creatively stifled for a while now. While I work in the design industry and am surrounded by creativity (managing it is my job), I'm finding that my contribution is paltry. I knit some stuff, usually baby gifts, and make Christmas cards once a year, and that's about it. I want to get back to making and doing, rather than consuming. I've decided, then, to:

1. Keep a sketchbook
I haven't done this in like, 8 years. I used to have at least 3 on the go at any one point in college and now I just tag shit on the internet. I'm going to go down to Cass Art today and get one, and stick all of the lovely stuff in it that I find and sketch out all of the lovely ideas I have in my brain. The first inclusion? A beautiful Dutch house profiled in Grazia few weeks back and the Christmas card of a beautifully stylized penguin from my friend Allison.

2. Take screenprinting classes
I've been stalking this workshop for 6 months to get in on a weekend class and I'm finally booked in for the end of January! I used to make prints of various kinds all of the time in college, and I miss the feeling of having dirty hands. I can't wait to get back into it.

3. Make more, buy less
This goes along with spending less. I'm currently making knitted throw pillows for my bed. I'm going refinish a table in our house, rather than buy a new one. I'm framing my own art for the wall, rather than buying some. In short, I'll help the economy by buying supplies rather than buying someone else's stuff.

So that's it. 2011 in a nutshell. Ambitious? Maybe. Inspiring? For me it is. I'm actually really looking forward to self-improvement, and starting my 30s right. But now, I'm off to go make the last batch of chocolate-chip cookies I'm allowed to devour.

Happy New Year, everyone! xx

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dublin wrap-up and now the wind-down

Happy holidays to everyone! I hope you had a warm and cosy holiday with you and yours wherever you were/are. If you're in the US, I hope you went sledding for me - the snow in Dublin melted away way before I had a chance to even inquire as to where I could purchase a flying saucer.

As you know, we trekked to Liverpool on Christmas Eve to fly to Belfast as the flights to and from Dublin were severely messed up due to the snow in Dublin. Well, when we flew into Belfast we encountered this view:

The air in Belfast had been so cold for so long that the snow froze to all surfaces, including trees, making the landscape look like a magical winter garden. It was amazing and a really lovely sight after traveling all day.

When we finally got to Dublin, we had a whirlwind 5 days of family and friends. We met babies, we went to a funeral, we went sightseeing, and we hung out. I love going to The Irishman's family for the sheer volume of people - the festive meal this year was 14 and there are constantly people coming in and out of the house. It's really bubbly and wonderful. Here I am giving the meal a thumbs up with The Irishman's brother. We are at the kids table, obvs.

I also partook in the Dublin Christmas ritual of swimming off the Forty Foot - in the sea. Let me now tell you how that was the worst cold I have ever experienced but I loved it. I immediately lost feeling in my hands and feet, and once I got out of the water I had pins and needles all over my body, but you really get a feeling of inner warmth radiating from your core and the shower you take afterwards is the most delicious shower you will ever experience. Here I am paddling to the steps, trying to get out of the water; that's The Irishman's MOM in the water in front of me! She swims there every day, no matter the season. Jeebus.

But we're back in London, with a relatively smooth flight home from Dublin yesterday, and relishing the time alone with quiet and no forced indulgence. Yesterday was the first day we didn't gorge ourselves on meat, wine, cheese, and other deliciousness and I must say I sort of feel like I'm in withdrawal: I miss the 4 different kinds of breakfast meat in a full Irish breakfast!

We are spending the rest of our fabulously long Christmas break here in London, relaxing, and taking advantage of the city that we seem to always be leaving. Tonight we're going out for sushi and to the disco of a friend's wedding (the dancing part of a reception), and tomorrow we'll chef up a nice meal and head down to the Thames to watch the fireworks usher in 2011. We've got Sunday lunch booked at The Sportsman in Whitstable, a little seaside village I've been dying to visit for years, and we're planning to hit up The Saatchi Gallery at some point before we go back to work. (wait, we have to go back?!)

As 2010 is drawing to a close and it's the time for reflection and planning, I'll be posting over the next few days about my requisite New Year's resolutions, some thoughts I've been mulling over, and the usual self-improvement-type-plans. I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's as well, so feel free to share in the comments and your own blogs/social networks/etc. Until then, here I am with The Irishman on the pier in Dublin standing in front of epic storm clouds and rolling seas, wearing a polar bear hat. Hopefully that gives you some indication of how I plan to approach 2011. xx

Friday, December 24, 2010

Liveblogging our Christmas voyage

After last night's travel debacle, we scoured the interwebs for weather reports and forecasts and cheap available fares. We are now booked on a Virgin train from London Euston to Liverpool, where we will get a flight to Belfast. The Irishman's brother will drive us back to Dublin where last night they got another 8 INCHES OF SNOW! I'm starting to think that if we get there, we may not get back.

So here we go... I'll try to update as often as I can with anecdotes from the journey.

8:10: we're leaving the house early... Just in case.

8:35: first coffee of the day - I'm thinking there will be many today.

8:48: It is dog central in Euston Station!!! I've seen so far 1 Leonberger, 1 Bichon Frise, 2 English Cocker Spaniels, 1 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. So cute!

8:54: They just announced the train platform for the train to Holyhead where the ferry to Dublin departs, and about 1/3 of the people in the waiting area bolted for the train. It was sheer pandemonium and I'd venture to say it was close to the population of one Irish county. The Irishman has done this train before and it's apparently 5 hrs long so they were all rushing for the good seats. Insert disparaging Irish jokes of your choosing here.

9:01: Platform announced for our train to Liverpool and we join our own (albeit) smaller scrum. Thank god we have seats.

9:17: Delayed - we're waiting for train crew (!) - can't this thing drive itself?

9:25: Our flight to Belfast is already delayed - eff. It's only 10 minutes, but still. Eff.

9:30: Crying baby in our carriage. WE HAVEN'T EVEN LEFT LONDON YET.

9:38: And we're off!! Only 21 minutes late!

9:41: Shit, where did that sun come from? I didn't pack my shades.

9:43: Ok, I'm signing off to finish knitting The Irishman's mother's Christmas present. More soon.

10:21: Sheep in snow-covered fields! How cute! I wonder if their wool will be denser after this winter?

10:23: The Irishman and I plan to sled in Dublin #silverlining

10:48: Crap I forgot my yarn needle, and can't finish making up. #christmasfail

11:17: The Irishman's brother just called. Apparently the roads in both Northern Ireland (NI) and Republic of Ireland (RoI) are the worst they've been all week. OMG what if we get stuck in Belfast?!

11:28: Flight check - still only 10 minute delay. We are 20 minutes from Liverpool, so more when we get to the airport.

11:55: Our flight delay was reversed! Things are looking up, on this side of the Irish Sea at least.

12:04: In a taxi to John Lennon Airport. Our taxi driver decorated his cab for Christmas, and rewarded me with a proper Liverpudlian accent. Check!

13:15: We got to the airport and our scouser cabbie ripped us off by claiming he didn't have change. Hmph. I guess I can chalk it up to an authentic Liverpudlian experience.. But now we've checked in, made it through security, and about to tuck into some surprisingly appetizing Subway sandwiches. Reports from Ireland are comforting - the roads look ok. Fingers are still crossed though.

13:58: To commemorate our trip up here, I just purchased a yellow submarine magnet for my collection.

14:06: We are at the gate. No plane yet, but a long line of Irish people are waiting expectantly.

14:15: Good news - our plane is here! Bad news - I count at least half dozen babies in the waiting area and many of them are crying. At once.

14:34: ON THE PLANE!!!!

14:46: About to take off. Irish brother 10 miles from Belfast airport. I'm signing off for now, will update this when we've arrived... Wherever that may be!

15:44: We just landed in Belfast. It is -5 deg C and everything is covered in snow. The Irishman calculated that this flight cost us £3 per minute. I can't think about that - I need to pee.

16:01: Checked bag claimed and we are off. I'll check back in to let you all know that we got to Dublin okay. Until then, start making merry with your families - wherever you are!

Epilogue: We made it to Dublin last night around 7:30... Greeted with hugs and wine, my favorites. I'm signing off now and hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!! xx

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Le sigh

So I'm back in my apartment, waiting for the heat to kick in. Why, you may ask, as I was supposed to be halfway across the Irish Sea by now. But I'm sure you can guess - Dublin got EVEN MORE SNOW and closed the airport at 7:00, just as I was about to settle in at the Stansted Wetherspoon. After lugging our stuff all the way to the airport via two trains and dealing with security, we got a phone call from The Irishman's brother saying that the airport closed so they could clear the runways. Ryanair then cancelled all of the remaining Dublin-bound flights and we had a comical few minutes trying to figure out how to get out of the airport - one can't just go back through security! (they have to lead you out a secret passage to baggage claim, in case you were wondering).

So we came home, dejected, and ran through all of the potential possibilities - ferry from Holyhead (after a 5 hour train ride), or flights from Manchester or Liverpool to Belfast. We decided not to wait to see if Ryanair would put on more flights tomorrow from London as apparently there is supposed to be really bad fog in Dublin tomorrow. The Irishman is sitting at his laptop cursing Easyjet as our new flights that were supposed to be £75 per person were hiked to £96 per person at check out.

We're leaving tomorrow first thing for the train station to go to Liverpool and then getting a flight from John Lennon International Airport (the silver lining - what a rockin' airport to go to!) to Belfast where The Irishman's brother will pick us up and drive us home (only apparently a two-hour drive).

SO. Watch this space. I'm now going to crack open my Christmas cookies and try to relax. Hmph.

Still worried...

Well, Dublin Airport was closed again today for snow and we're waiting for it to reopen momentarily. Ryanair hasn't cancelled our flight yet but it's looking iffy.


But on the light-hearted side, check out this bulletin on Ryanair's site (the link is on their homepage). It made me chuckle and remember that despite all of the stress and craziness, Christmas is all about wonder and excitement.

My first go at Christmas cut-outs

In my family, Christmas cookies are a BIG DEAL. Every year, my mom makes anywhere from 6-10 different types of cookies from bars to balls with everything in-between. It's become somewhat of a ritual for my brother and I to make yearly requests for our favorites.

But the one non-negotiable variety is the Kris Kringle cut-out. My mom is famous for these soft, buttery shaped cookies with a light almond icing. My brother considers himself a cut-out connoisseur and will critique each batch she makes (but always eats them all).

This year, after realising that Irish Christmas dessert is made up solely of boozy fruity cake, I decided it was high time that I learn the craft of the cut-out. With stern admonishments of keeping the family recipe a secret and a few tips, my mom emailed me the recipe and The Irishman and I broke out his mixer to get cracking.

We made the dough on Tuesday night to allow it to chill properly, and started rolling last night.

We used cookie cutters from Mom-Mom, including a rather large angel shape - those cookies will be mine!

The first batch ready to go in the oven!

We had a hard time getting the oven to the right temperature as it is a fan-oven and runs really hot, but in the end we got a respectable crop of deliciousness. The Irishman is working from home today before our departure and going to ice them for me.

So whether it's in Ireland or London, I'm having cookies this Christmas and I can't be happier.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Update: Nail biting!!!

Ok so yesterday I told you all that we may face our first Christmas on our own due to all of the potential flight delays. Well, since my post at noon yesterday it has only gotten worse.

16:00 21 Dec: After nearly a foot of snow falling in Dublin, Dublin Airport was CLOSED until 8am today
22:00 21 Dec: BBC Weather forecasts freezing fog at Stansted Airport for the next few days (!!)
08:00 22 Dec: Dublin Airport reopens with delays and cancellations but Ryanair has cancelled most of its flights from London to Dublin because their aircraft aren't in the right places.

Our flight hasn't taken off for the last 3 nights.


The Irishman and I made cookie dough last night (more on that later) and contingency plans for a festive meal together on Christmas Day if we do get stuck here, but I think we'll both be really disappointed. All we can do though is wait - we have no idea what tomorrow will be like.

Fingers crossed we make it - and that my fingernails stay intact!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The shortest day of the year

No where else I've lived has the shortest day of the year been so full of portent. It is noon and within three hours it will get dark. But that means that as of tomorrow it will start getting lighter earlier and by the time it's my birthday in March we'll start to see some real progress towards 16 hours of sunlight.

The Irishman and I are facing some serious travel disruptions to our holiday plans. With the issues at Heathrow and Gatwick, we thought we'd escape the madness by flying out of Stansted. But the Met Office is predicting snowfall tonight into tomorrow for north of London and despite Ryanair's dedication to getting their planes up and out of the airports on the dot we may not have much luck. Especially as we're flying out at 8pm and everyone knows delays compound throughout the day.

So we may have to go pick up some sort of meat and have it on the ready, and a few movies on standby, just in case we're here having a cosy Christmas for two. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

…everywhere you go. Take a look at the five & ten, glistening once again, with candycanes and silver lanes aglow."

I woke up this morning to the absolute silence that accompanies real snow - not just flurries but a real snowstorm - and The Irishman's snow report. The UK was under a snow warning and all of the London airports were shut or had most of their flights cancelled in preparation for the onslaught. The snow hit us around 10am and within an hour we had driving snow covering the roads, the trees, everything!

But instead of sitting on the sofa, drinking hot cocoa and finishing the knitting projects that are to be Christmas gifts, I had some work to do. Unfortunately, this year The Irishman has been a grinch. While I've been happily putting up the tree and all of our decorations, drinking mulled wine and eating my Cadbury advent calendar, he has been slowly avoiding the Christmas cheer. I'm not sure why, and he isn't really telling, but it may be the fact that we went to the US for 2.5 weeks and returned to find the Christmas season in full-swing. I don't think he had a chance to ease into the holidays and therefore has been ignoring it to the point that HE HASN'T DONE ANY OF HIS CHRISTMAS SHOPPING. And with the weather forecast calling for more and more snow, his de facto option of Amazon ordering is effectively not an option.

So today we suited up and took to the high street to start and finish all of the shopping at once. Holy Jesus, I know it's your birthday but leaving shopping to the weekend before Christmas is horrible. It was HARD. I prefer to do my shopping early and precisely, to avoid these situations, but The Irishman apparently does not. But you know what? Somehow, strolling down the street in 4 inches of snow really did make it feel like Christmas. People were nicer. The shops looked cuter. And I really felt like I earned the mulled wine I treated myself to in the end.

And for the record: The Irishman has declared he is ready for Christmas. Maybe because the Christmas shopping is done. Phew.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm still drunk.

It's true.

Last night was our company Christmas party. Apparently the parties before I got to London were legendary: booked out clubs, red carpet dressing up, the whole shebang. But unfortunately I moved here in 2008 right before the market crash and so ever since we've been having pub lock-ins in our company's local. Which is some ways much better - and much much worse.

Yesterday I made a major schoolgirl error and missed lunch due to back-to-back meetings, which meant I started drinking at 4. Sometime in the evening it started snowing making me love the party more, and I apparently stumbled into the darkness around 12:30am. I don't remember it but I did get in a cab and it only cost £7!

The Irishman tells me that I came home and tried to sleep in my coat and also sang him a few songs about how our flat smells like cabbage (it's true, we cooked brussel sprouts the other night and the smell won't leave). This morning I found my clothes all over, my bag in the middle of the hallway, and my shoes under a table.

Luckily our entire office is in a similar state so our lovely office catering manager is ordering in bacon and sausage sarnies for us all. I'm trying to take it easy but I have actual work to do and I also have to subject myself to the Post Office to get stamps for my Christmas card.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tis the season for pickpockets and protesters!

Today I had three encounters with the sadder side of the holidays. On the bus this morning, the driver made an announcement that two boys wearing bright green gloves had been picking pockets on the 38 bus and urged us to be vigilant. For the record, I think it's slightly ludicrous to wear a noticeably bright color if you're going to engage in bad behavior and I found myself with the urge to tell those boys to keep their hands to themselves.

When I got off of the bus, I saw signs up on the telephone polls warning thieves THE METROPOLITAN POLICE ARE WATCHING YOU and WE KNOW YOU OPERATE IN THIS AREA and WE ARE TARGETING YOU. Scary! I wonder how many break-ins had to happen for the police to make these signs and install them.

And finally, on my way home from work, I passed by a small protest outside of a church hosting Carols by Candlelight. There must have been a MP in attendance, because someone exited the church and they started on their chant of "Make the bankers pay!" and "No ifs and no buts repeal all the cuts!"

I know that the budget cuts in Britain are hard, and I'm lucky that I'm somewhat sheltered from them. Yesterday the government announced just how much each local council was going to receive (or not) from the government, and I can imagine that come April when the cuts truly take effect that I will notice small unpleasant changes in Islington. But today I was reminded that I'm in the minority and that this recession really is affecting people - and they're not going to take it lying down.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What a week(end)

Oh, people.

This post took many forms in my head over the last 72 hours or so but only now am I finding some clear headspace to write it all down. Basically, the gist is that I've been bested by some Irish. Specifically, The Irishman's family.

Mum arrived on Tuesday for a few days of R&R and sightseeing. The Irishman took Tuesday and Wednesday off from work to hang out with her and I escaped from work after a half day on Tuesday to join them for lunch, a show (The Mousetrap) and rinkside mulled wine at Somerset House and dinner at Tom's Kitchen. Wednesday I had to work and met them after their action-packed day in Knightsbridge and Kensington (they roll posh) at Daphne's - a lovely restaurant that apparently was a favorite of Princess Di's.

Mum left Thursday afternoon, just missing her other son, The Irishman's brother, as he rocked up with The Irishman's cousin and a good friend of theirs Thursday evening for a lads weekend SLEEPING ON MY FLOOR. ALL OF THEM. I can report that my flat smelled like man for three days straight, I had to suffer about 1 million games of Guitar Hero and we went through probably 6 rolls of toilet paper. The Irishman and I both took Friday off from work to hang with the lads and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, but let me say that I am pooped. I ate dinner in a restaurant for 5 days straight which made me feel like I wanted to die with fullness twice. I took like a gazillion cab rides, which is so indulgent and SO expensive, and drank probably 10 gallons of wine (not all at the same time). Basically, I am a shell of my former self.

So today, finally, we got our flat back to ourselves. We did 3 loads of laundry, made some restoratively healthy soup, set up our Christmas tree (hurrah!) and basically just relaxed. I would now prefer to never eat again and potentially hibernate from this point forward. Too bad I have to do it all over again (!!!) in two weeks with the same folks in Ireland. God help me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spotted: Twinkle, Twinkle

Excellent thread for a Friday: London date spots

Earlier this week Krista over in Chicago wrote this lovely post with her suggestion for the perfect date in London. I know a few bloggers like Betsy have posted about how they met their lovely guys, but I thought the perfect blog topic for a cold Friday would be to invite all the London ladies to post their own preferred date spots. I'll go first, and everyone who wants to join in please post on your blog and I'll link to you tomorrow.

So in no particular order... my perfect London date spots.

When the Irishman and I first met, he was in the process of moving down to the Isle of Dogs so this pick has a special place in our hearts. Now, I wouldn't recommend hanging out on the Isle of Dogs, but its chief recommendation is the proximity to the village of Greenwich. There are underwater tunnels from the Isle of Dogs to the town, or you can take a Thames Clipper boat from Central London to the village for approximately £5. The village has a market and some lovely shops and an excellent Banh Mi truck but also hosts the Maritime College and Observatory - home of the Greenwich Meantime line. For a first or second date, going over to Greenwich for a wander is a lovely afternoon and almost like a day out of the city.

I love this restaurant. It's our neighborhood bistro, though the recent shift in format left the price-to-food-ratio a little steep. Nonetheless, it's casual yet intimate, quiet yet comfortable with amazing Michelin-star-quality food. You can have a really lovely tete-a-tete surrounded by other couples yet feel like you're the only people in the world.

MsMarmite's Underground Restaurant
This may seem like an odd one, but there is nothing like an out-of-the-ordinary experience to help you decide whether or not someone is a keeper - so a meal at secret restaurant is a pretty good measure. The Irishman and I went to a dinner at MsMarmite's that was astrology-themed and most of the attendees were actually astrologers. So if that wasn't a turn off for him (it was my idea) then I don't think anything will. But MsMarmite's underground restaurant, situated in her front room, is absolutely amazing and so is she. I wouldn't be surprised if she helped a budding romance along with a sprinkle of cupid seasoning in her food if she thought it helpful.

The Harlequin
The Irishman will kill me for posting this, because this is one of our favorite pubs that we call The Secret Pub for good reason, but I figure it's better to share it in the hope that it stays open forever. It's sort of hidden behind Sadlers Wells Theatre and is a good, all-round boozer with an open fire place, excellent mulled wine, and a great cheese board. It is only full before, during intermission, and after shows at Sadlers Wells and otherwise it's the kind of place that you can go and have a lovely drink and a chat without jostling for a seat or being shoved at the bar. It's the perfect place to meet before going out, or to stop into after a walk through town.

32 Great Queen Street
This is actually just one of our favorite restaurants, but they serve homey, lovely English fare in a dim red room that is comfy and cosy while still buzzy. It's right in the middle of Covent Garden so you can go there and share a meal for two and then wander to any of the pubs or bars in the area, or just head home...

I just heard about this place. It is a glitzy cocktail bar/club/restaurant with a bouncer at the door that features a huge central table on which circus acts like gymnasts and burlesque dancers perform every 25 minutes. It's loud, it's sexy, the cocktails are amazing and expensive, and it's a lot of fun. If you want to go all out and impress a date, it's the place to go.

So ladies and gentlemen... where do you take your special someone? I can't wait to read everyone's posts!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

City Cat and Country Cat

Editor's note: I started this post on Tuesday and am only now finishing it and posting it. Apologies for the delay in weekend reporting!

This past weekend, the Irishman and I spent an enjoyable Sunday in Salisbury where some of his uni friends as well as friends of theirs who have become our friends as well. They, and we, and another uni friend who lives in Portsmouth spent the day bouncing babies and eating a lovely Sunday roast in front of a rather large fire in an old country pub while drinking entirely too much wine. When it came time for us to bundle up and head to the train for our return to London, I had one of those moments of desperation that equates, roughly, with "what am I doing with my life". Why am I busting my butt to earn a decent wage to afford my centrally located shoebox apartment? Why am I risking breaking my ankle tottering around in shoe-boots on ice in order to look fashion-fierce in an industry focused on image? Why am I always worried about things that, when the weekend comes, always seem so inconsequential? WHY DON'T I HAVE A DOG?!

Sometimes when I come back from being a Country Cat, hanging out in a small village and enjoying the simple pleasures of food, friends, and family, I start to think about whether I may be approaching the time when I need to make the life changes that scare me the most: moving out of the city, rethinking my career, essentially settling down. Those decisions feel like such a failure to someone like me who has spent most of my adult life stomping through the windy corridors of big international cities with reckless abandon. To admit to myself that I might not want to live like that anymore is absolutely terrifying - it's what I know and [I thought] I love. But maybe it's not enough anymore?

Mom-Mom said something particularly interesting to me about all of this nonsense over the summer; she asked me, and I quote: "when are you going to stop running around wasting time and settle down and start living your life?" She of course was referencing getting married and having babies and at the time, I told her that I was in fact living my life and that I liked it at the moment thankyouverymuch. But recently I had an epiphany and it dawned on me just what she was asking me and I realized that I don't really have the answer. Because saying to myself that having the right Chanel nail polish isn't actually living is a pretty big statement and blows a big hole in the identity I've fashioned for myself up to now. Going further and asking myself what I'm building and creating and making with my life right now, besides a very fashionable collection of insensible footwear, deepens the hole and makes me question whether I'm a City Cat after all.

Yikes. How deep! Weekend afternoons in the country aren't supposed to be so thought-provoking! But to be honest, it's probably been a long time coming. I'm rapidly approaching 30 (deep breath, exhale) and I suppose all people start to review their current life-states at that point. So I'm going to roll with it, and see where it leads me. I'm not sure whether it will be outside of the M25, but I suspect it may lead to more cooking, more moderation, and more realistic expectations of who and what I want to be.

But hopefully still some gorgeously in-sensible shoes.

Carvela Ganges

Spotted: Somerset House Skate

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah: a tribute

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, the festival of light when Jews celebrate the miracle of one oil lantern burning in a ruined temple for eight nights. To celebrate, I dug out my menorah and lit the first candle and the Irishman and I shared some Cadbury chocolate coins (gelt to the Heebs). I'm only half Jewish, culturally at that, so marking the holiday is more of a symbolic gesture than religious celebration. Mostly, the practice centers on remembering how two smart women in my life have did such a good job of helping me to fully understand my faith. My mother is Catholic and my paternal grandmother is Jewish, and throughout my childhood they collaborated to make sure that I learned all facets of both faiths. At Christmas time, we always had a tree and a menorah, Christmas cookies and latkes and dreidels, and read books about Hanukkah while listening to Christmas carols. Around Easter time, we always went to grandma's for Passover and even today at 26 my brother has to do the youngest child part; after not eating meat on Fridays, we cut out bread for the week. I am so proud of my family for being so liberal and magnanimous in my and my brother's religious education, and for giving us the breadth and depth of religious understanding and tolerance of two of the world's oldest and intertwined religions. Even in the 21st century, it can be hard to reconcile interfaith relationships and people of different beliefs living side by side, so every year around this time I remember how trailblazing my parents were to raise me straddling two beliefs and allow me to choose my own way.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snowy London

Despite my horribly omnipresent hat-head, I'm really enjoying the first proper snowy day in London. I didn't get a chance to snap any pics, but as you'd imagine the entire city looks lovely and Christmasy. Unfortunately, London learned its lesson from the last two years and the sidewalks were liberally sanded and shoveled from early on so of course I went to work today. The forecast is for frigid temperatures all week and more snowfall throughout the month, so hopefully I'll have a few snaps to share soon.

Meanwhile, I'm rushing home to start designing my Christmas cards, plan my Christmas cookie baking, put together a new Christmas music mix, and generally get in the holiday spirit. Tomorrow is December 1st and the first night of Hanukkah so it really is the start of the festive season. Everyone, get ready - Christmas is here!

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm back! American Odyssey roundup

When last I posted, I was in Cincinnati (technically, Mariemont) with my friend Sloane who gave us a guided tour of the city and its environs (including northern Kentucky). Our eating tour of the US continued with ice cream at Graeter's and sauerkraut balls at America's first Hofbrauhaus in Newport, KY. We had a really relaxing and lovely time in Cincinnati catching up and taking it easy before driving up to Columbus.

On our way to Columbus, we spent a few hours at an outlet mall where The Irishman single-handedly boosted the American economy at a JCrew factory store. For a man who hates shopping, he certainly did a great job with it throughout our trip – I think he bought more than I did! When we finally did make it to Columbus, we spent the weekend with The Irishman's longtime friend and his wife and 9 month old baby. Again, it was a relaxing visit with good friends; the boys went off and did stuff while us ladies got mani-pedis (while the boys took the baby!). We cooked at home mostly, and invented a new cocktail called The Bensonhurst. We even roasted chestnuts over an open fire, a first for me, and I was pleased when I went to Waitrose yesterday and saw sacks of chestnuts on sale for the holiday season.

We then flew to New York for two whirlwind days of friends, sightseeing, and fun. We spent a day in Brooklyn where I showed The Irishman my old 'hood, the Italian coffee roastery where I used to buy my coffee beans (of course I bought some to bring home), and then went down to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge to stand in line for Grimaldi's Pizza. With very full bellies, we then strolled across the bridge. We had a amazing weather for most of our trip, and that day was so warm and sunny that we very nearly walked the bridge in our shirtsleeves. While in New York, I visited my lovely hairdresser Paul for a haircut and left the city with a spring in my step, feeling fabulous.

The rest of our trip was spent in New Jersey at my parents' house, relaxing and eating. It was really lovely, but also odd - I had to keep reminding myself that though we've been dating for 2.5 years, The Irishman has never been to the house where I grew up. So we walked in and I sat down and realized oh, maybe I should give him a tour! Show him the embarrassing pictures of me that are strewn around the house! Point out the deer in the backyard! It was pretty weird but also really sweet; he said he has a much better understanding of me now that he's seen where I was raised. Beyond the "This is Your Life"-style tours and two Thanksgiving dinners, we spent some money at the mall on Black Friday (The Irishman's first!), wandered around Princeton (where we ate more pizza), kibbutzed with my grandmother, and strolled through New Hope, PA.

Our vacation was so long, yet so segmented, that when I woke up on Saturday and had to pack, it really felt weird. It felt like I'd moved back, somehow, and the flight back to the UK was difficult for the first time since I've been abroad. I think I just sort of slipped back into my old routines and behaviors that it was almost surreal to leave. But if nothing else, the visit home made me really give Thanks for all of the wonderful people and all of the amazing experiences I've been able to have in my life. And I think for the first time I really do understand just what makes Thanksgiving such a special holiday. I was so glad to share it with The Irishman this year, and I think he was glad too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

DC Dispatch

A quick hi from the White House!

We've moved on from the nation's capital to Cincinnati, Ohio, leaving a trail of empty hamburger wrappers and beer cans in our wake. We split five days across Baltimore and DC, visiting my brother and our good friends. We possibly peaked too soon in our anticipation of fried and greasy edible delights because by Saturday I was demanding vegetables. But no matter, we conquered our heartburn and have moved west to the heart-shaped state. More on what we've eaten and seen when I get to a real computer, but until then enjoy all of the Coverage of The Royal Announcement. For the record, the Americans are possibly MORE excited than the Brits - I can't wait to see what the mood is like in London.

Talk soon! xx

Sunday, November 7, 2010

And another thing

The Irishman and I were supposed to run a 10k today, down in the country on a hilly course marshalled by Army dudes.

I think you can probably tell that I opted out of this plan as it's quarter to 12 on Sunday and I'm still in my jammies with a slightly sore head after a few glasses of Grenache pre and post fireworks last night.

I don't think I've done a serious run since before we went to Madrid. And though I am seriously worried about my recently indulgent diet spilling over to winter hibernation mode and the fact that while I'm in New York I have to buy a J.Crew bridesmaid dress, I am also no where near being packed for our departure on Thursday. So both of us decided to forgo fitness and make today a travel preparation day.

But to assuage my guilt, as soon as I hit "Publish Post" I'm going to lace up my sneakers and force myself to do at least 5k. As punishment.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Don't worry, I'm still alive!

If one of the most fundamental things about blogging is consistency, clearly I am not exactly delivering. Life has been so crazy since we went to Madrid, and during the little downtime I've had I've found myself just wanting to spend time with The Irishman and relax. But I recognize I've been neglecting you guys here on Bloody Brill, so here's a glimpse of my life currently and some of the little joys I've been able to fit in over the last few weeks:

I told you all I'm now working on an exciting new project that involves shopping (woot!) - but what I didn't tell you, and didn't really understand myself until recently, is that I'm working on it in addition to all of my other projects. So it's been a gruelling schedule of getting to work for 8am and going-going-going-nonstop until 8pm when I leave for home absolutely shattered and flop on the couch for Masterchef Professional. Last week the poor Irishman said to me that he felt like he hadn't seen me all week and was really looking forward to spending a nice relaxing weekend together... and I had to work all day Saturday. Sigh. There is hopefully an end in sight, and that is when I get back from...

The Irishman and I are flying off to America on Thursday for my annual pilgrimage. We're going for 2.5 weeks and visiting my brother in Baltimore, my bestie in Washington DC, my other bestie in Cincinnati, The Irishman's Irish bestie in Columbus, mah peeps in NYC, and finally my family in NJ for Thanksgiving. I'm frantically trying to run around London to acquire the necessary imports and gifts, including but not limited to Cadbury advent calendars, mulled wine spice mix, and artisanal ales. I personally cannot wait to go - I feel like I haven't seen my friends and family for so long and I just need a break and the kind of pampering and feeding that only a mother can provide.

Speaking of food, The Irishman and I held our first dinner party last Saturday evening. Well, I say WE but all of the credit goes to The Irishman as he slaved over the stove and oven while I was chained to my laptop in the office. His menu of pheasant, pumpkin mash, curly kale, with a starter of prawns in Pernod and dessert of homemade chilli chocolate ice cream and chocolate fondant was a huge success, and we're very pleased that we were able to entertain in our, ah, shall we say, COZY (read: small) flat. My punishment for working all day and leaving him to do the prep was I had to wash all of the dishes - and that pretty much meant all of the dishes and cooking utensils we own. It was an effort with an hangover on Sunday morning. I did get to do my own cheffing though; we had half of a pumpkin left from the mash, which The Irishman cooked for me according to this helpful recipe so I could bake Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies. YUM. They are the essence of fall, and so easy and delicious, and it was really comfort food for me. I love them so much that I'm going to share the recipe for them:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (courtesy of Mom)

Preheat the oven to 375°F / 200°C

1 c pumpkin puree (Libbys, or make your own!)
1 c sugar
1/2 c butter
1 tbsp grated orange peel

Add in:
2 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Mix in:
1/2 c chocolate chips

Place on baking sheets in quarter-size balls and bake 8-10 minutes until lightly brown on the edges. They should be dense, chewy, and delicious!

Fall, etc
All this time that my life has been on overdrive, the autumn season has been in full swing. My cycle ride to work is down streets of vibrantly colored trees, and the window in my bathroom looks out on a flaming orange tree across the street. With the time change last week, it's properly dark now by 5:30pm and though the weather has been unseasonably warm, there is still a nip in the air laden with the scent of decomposing leaves and vegetation. My uniform is my tweedy jacket and wine colored silk scarf, adorned with a poppy and sometimes my new brown cloche, so I look quite cozy cycling around town. Last night was Bonfire Night and I was surrounded by the sound of fireworks into the wee hours. It's like the official kick-off of the winter season, and The Irishman and I are off to Battersea Park for the fireworks display this evening. Despite all of my stress and exhaustion, it's these little events marking the passage of time and season that reassure me that I'm still alive even if there are days when I feel like falling over dead. Even if the weather is chilly, these things give me a warm glow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Weekend in review

The Irishman and I spent this past weekend rediscovering our apartment. Despite our love of travel and exploring new places, perhaps the one downside is that upon returning home there is many times a sense of "where am I" and possibly more disturbing - "where's my ." The Irishman and I have both been all over Europe this autumn and we both had the sense that our flat is hiding key things (me, some shoes, The Irishman, some gadgets) and cleverly disguising them under a layer of dustbunnies. So we devoted Sunday to uncovering our stuff and deep cleaning in the process.

It was boring. Really boring. Not only because it was bookended by running (which was hard) and folding laundry (not hard but tedious), but because frankly weekends away in other cities or spent exploring the nooks and crannies of London are much more agreeable than the tasks you HAVE to do in order to live a civilised existence. We of course did nice things this weekend - we did a big green market shop and I got some gourds to decorate with, and we bought our annual poppies, and we caught up on both Mad Men and True Blood episodes. But I couldn't help feeling a little jealous of all of the people sitting at the sidewalk cafes in Islington, enjoying coffee and cake and the brief sunlight, while I lugged cleaning supplies back from Sainsburys to scour my tub.

It just goes to show you: expat life is, well, life after all, and has just as many boring ordinary bits as life in your home country. Bah.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Madrid, etc.

It's hard to believe it but only a week ago, I was running around Madrid eating everything in sight and soaking up the sun. I meant to blog about my trip as soon as I got home, but my return flight was delayed and I spent nearly an hour in line for immigration at Stansted Airport. Note to all of you: Stansted has the.worst. immigration line for non-EU/EEA citizens. It took forever! And then this past week at work was an utter whirlwind. Last night I went out for a friend's birthday and I don't think I've ever been so glad to have a drink to unwind.

Anyway. MADRID. The Irishman found out he was going to a conference there from Monday - Wednesday, so we decided to take advantage of his free flight and go out the weekend before. So we flew out Friday night and had a three day weekend to explore. Verdict? It is lovely lovely lovely. I really recommend it for a city break. The city is compact, so you can walk everywhere though the metro is only 1€ and clean and efficient. We had amazing weather, warm and sunny in the days and chilly but lovely in the evening. We ate amazing food, naturally, with the highlight being the Mercado San Miguel. An artisan food market by day, it is open until midnight every night and the stalls serve tapas all evening. It was a gastronomic marvel. Besides eating (a lot), we went to the Prado so I could see some famous Spanish paintings from my art history classes up close and personal. Goya's Black Paintings in particular were hauntingly beautiful.

The most enjoyable part, though, was really just exploring. We ambled through neighborhoods, taking in the sites, admiring the architecture, and imagining whether we could live there. Answer? Yes! It's a truly lived-in city, rather than a mass of high-rises. We did a bit of shopping too - I snagged an amazingly chic wool cloche hat and we brought back some really fantastic chorizo and manchego. Mmmm! Pictures? Of course! Here are a few to give you a taste of the city, and there are more here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Up North

So I am on Virgin Trains on my way back from spending all day doing store audits for work. What, you say, you went shopping as part of your job? Why yes, yes I did, and it's not as glamorous as it sounds. I recently picked up a new account at work for a major UK retailer and as part of our initial phases we have to audit the shopping experience. So I got on an 8am train and headed north to visit 8 stores with a team of colleagues who have been visiting stores since Monday. Sheesh.

The thing is, I really like going up north. I like the industrial cities, and the red brick architecture and abandoned smokestacks remind me of Baltimore and Philadelphia. I like how nice everyone is, how if you drop something they pick it up for you and how everyone knows each other. I don't really like how everyone drives everywhere - that part reminds me of Syracuse - and it can sometimes feel a bit forlorn how cities like Manchester and Birmingham are pinning their futures on retail. But they are also hotbeds of creative talent, with inspiring musicians and designers and artists all budding there. Oftentimes I think, maybe I'd like to live here.

It's often said that London isn't truly representative of England, and sometimes after I experience the charms of these old anchors of England's north I find myself agreeing. There is a solidity and permanence about Northerners and the counties they call home that makes London's oldest monuments seem like sketches drawn yesterday.

As a New Yorker and now a Londoner, I'm become accustomed the balancing out the tension of belonging to the big economic engine while wistfully wishing I could be part of the ideological heartland. It's a difficult terrain to navigate, as it sometimes feel there is never a happy medium between growth prosperity change and history tradition comfort. It is sometimes something, I think, you have to choose depending on the place in your life in which you find yourself. What is more important: the promise that a big global city holds, with all of its potential risks and rewards, or the reassurance of community and the comfort and stability it provides?

I don't know the answer: never have and it seems like I shan't for a good while more. But I do know that, like going to some of my old American haunts, going north has the same effect of making me nostalgic and contemplative.

Somehow, I think that's the point.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The government's "cuts" - OP-ED

I don't typically rant about politics on my blog, but this really annoyed me so I feel like I just have to vent. Proceed with caution.

So the major political parties have had their annual conferences over the last few weeks, and the Tories are the last to go. They are up in Birmingham, reveling in their coalition government and giving the UK a stern lecture on how the economy is still fragile and there is a need to cut benefits. On Monday, they announced their first and probably most controversial move: to cut child benefits.

In the UK, families (of any sort) receive a stipend intended to help cover additional costs incurred by, well, having a kid. I am unsure about the exact amount, but it seems to be about £1,000 per year that isn't taxed. What the Tories have decided is that those families with parents who are high earners will now lose out on the benefit. Which I am, in principle, okay with. However, I'm really upset about the arbitrariness of the income thresholds that will be affected.

Basically, the income threshold is £44,000 per annum. But because tax is in the UK is calculated on an individual basis not households (no joint filing for married couples), the threshold applies to any family where ONE parent earns £44k or more even if their total household income is only based on one person's income. So ostensibily you could have a couple with one child who both work, earning £40k each for a total of £80k, still receiving the child benefit, but then have a couple who have three children, one working earning £50k and the other staying home to care for the kids, and not receiving the child benefit.

Besides being inherently unfair, the bit of this that bothers me the most is that, again, it's single moms who lose out the most. Women typically earn less than men anyway and by evaluating eligibility by individual rather than household, you actually discourage them from seeking raises, promotions, or career advancement. Single mothers have to pay for childcare, unlike couples with a stay-at-home-parent, increasing the cost of care and limiting options.

David Cameron has apologised for the unfairness of this new system as he recognises that people see the incongruent logic behind it; apparently the threshold and the policy are based on the current tax system that does not recognize income on a household basis and it would cost more to change the tax system than to just institute this cut. The Tories are also trying to help by saying they'll give a tax credit to married couples, which is absolutely ridiculous because, again, single moms and those who don't want to be married lose out.

Everyone knows the economy isn't quite stable, and that economic austerity is the way forward, and I'm okay with that. But I really believe, as a taxpayer in 2 countries, that the cuts and policies put forward as solutions to our troubled economy MUST be fair to all. You can't take something away from those who need it most just to keep the solution neat and tidy. I really hope that the coalition government rethinks how it cuts the child benefit and just who is going to make the most sacrifices for our collective economic health.

I'm back!

Sorry it took me so long to post, guys. I flew back from Athens on Sunday night and promptly passed out on the sofa, waking at 10pm with a nasty head cold. Then it was back to work on Monday and go-go-go.

The conference was absolutely amazing. The organizers call it a "unconference" because it's entirely self-directed - "user generated content" if you will. There are a few anchoring events, but all of the other sessions are developed and presented by the attendees. I was really nervous about going because everyone is encouraged to come with content to share but I didn't think that was directed at little old me! Plus, I'm really bad at mingling... I have a hard time making small talk with people I don't know! Those two things combined made the conference a perfect storm of stress for me, made worse when I realized that I hadn't brought any business cards with me. Efffffff!

But I did it and I loved it! I learned a lot, met some really cool and inspirational people, had some really interesting conversations with some really fascinating people (entrepreneurs who started their first startup at 23 and are on their 3rd...). Sigh. And I even got to lay on the beach for a bit though the air was pretty cold.

Verdict: I'd go again in a heartbeat. And I'd remember to bring business cards.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This charmed life

When I talk to friends at home in the US, sometimes I have to pinch myself a bit; complaining about work or traffic or whatever sometimes sounds a bit rich when it's in the context of living in London. I sometimes have to bite my tongue when moaning to Americans about how little vacation time I have (25 days per year, for the record, completely allocated through the end of 2011), or how rainy an English summer can be, or how annoying it is when the Tube workers or French air traffic controllers go on strike. Even though it's crap in context, it just sounds glamorous.

So when my boss called me into a meeting room last week to tell me I'd been selected to go to a super-exclusive training conference in Athens for three days starting this Thursday, my first thought was "man, I have to give up my weekend plans." But of course, I'm excited - as my friend Kat said "most people get sent to Scranton for training... you're going to Greece!". I've never been to Greece, and I'm pumped because the average temperature is meant to be around 30°C this weekend. Woot! Who cares if I've already packed my summer clothes away!

And that is one of the most amazing things about living abroad: all of a sudden, the world is smaller, more accessible, not just at your fingertips but in the palm of your hand. Weekends away can be in the lovely rolling English countryside, or in world capitals like Paris and Rome, or in places you might not considered visiting before like Zagreb or Malmo. London is in some ways the center of the universe - not in the way that the UK thought of themselves during the height of the Empire of the Rising Sun - it is perfectly located straddling continents, regions, and time zones to reach pretty much everywhere.

Thus, everytime something really seems crap - like when I have to get up at 5:30am tomorrow for the taxi to take me to the airport to fly to Athens - I have to remind myself that, oh, it could be so much worse. The life of an expat might not be glamorous at all, but definitely has its perks.

Monday, September 27, 2010

English Outlet Shopping

On Saturday, The Irishman and I ventured out of London in our favorite Streetcar Polo and headed towards Oxford to visit Bicester Village. It's sort of local legend here in London, being nearly 1.5 hours away by both car and train - a mecca of shopping where bewildering deals can be had if you're brave enough to face hoards of Asian tourists and girls from up North.

I've known about Bicester Village for a while now and really haven't ever had the desire to go. It was actually The Irishman who wanted to go - he has a new job now that requires him to wear more suits, and all of his dress shirts look a mite raggedy - and I think he figured that if we went there and he was forced to shop in a confined area, it might not be that bad.

And... it wasn't really, but it also wasn't pleasant. I haven't been outlet shopping in a long time, but I never particularly liked it. I'm a pretty average size in clothes and shoes, so anything good that's a good price is rarely available in my size. Yes, it was crowded - for some shops you had to wait in line just to get in! But on the upside, there were some seriously good labels there: Diane von Furstenberg, Vivienne Westwood, Bally, theory. Which brings me to my biggest turnoff: clothing in the UK is expensive, full stop. I am often turned off from buying anything really expensive here from the high street or a designer because I'm convinced I can get it 20-30% in the US with the exchange rate. Sure there are exceptions, but a silk DKNY dress for £65 at the outlet is no bargain; I can probably go to Macy's with some coupons and get it for $40. The prices at the outlet weren't that great on most things, and obviously most of the fashion was last season. So towards the end of the day, I was pretty much over it.

So verdict? The Irishman got a lot of stuff, exactly what he was looking for: suits, shirts, ties, a pair of shoes. Me? I got some baby and birthday gifts. Was it worth the trip? If I had a really fancy event to go to, I might consider it to splurge on a Matthew Williamson floor length gown (RRP £1,000, sold for £555) or maybe to get an Aquascutum raincoat (I tried on a few lovely raincoats, but nothing was in my size, of course). Would I go again? Maybe, in like 2 years, or as part as a weekend away in the country - it's near enough to Oxford, Cheltenham, and the Cotswolds that you could definitely fit it in if you have a car. But like any discount center, you have to be crafty and shrewd to sniff out the best deals - otherwise it's just a big mall.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A la mode

So! This past week was London Fashion Week, ending today, running simultaneously alongside the London Design Festival - basically meaning the entire city (well, at least East London) has been overrun with people wearing fantastic outfits in chic locations looking at beautiful things. I'll be attending a few London Design Festival events, including Tent London and the AppLounge and Hel Yes!, a Finnish pop-up restaurant. I've also already dragged The Irishman down to Trafalgar Square to check out the Outrace robots painting with light. Here's a photo I snapped over the weekend of the robots arms:

As for fashion, well - I'm not on trend (OT) enough to go to the shows but let me tell you it is fall and therefore the shops are all crammed chockablocka with A/W collections. Capes, sweaters, trousers, boots ... I'm totally overwhelmed with excitement and am lusting after quite a lot of items. I recently was awarded a small bonus from work and have some cash with which to treat myself, and I'm tempted nearly daily to blow it on the high street in Uniqlo or French Connection (just look at this cape!). But instead I've decided to invest in something wonderful, and I've found an out-of-season bag from Vivienne Westwood in a classic shape that I have been dreaming about for a week now.


In other fashion news though, I've been spotting a totally retro 90s fashion icon making a big return here in London: the Doc Marten 8-hole boot.

On my bike ride in, I noticed no less than four girls wearing them. Thing is, they're like fashion now - we're not talking about grunge girls, more fashionistas. Seeing these ladies wearing them confidently as a fashion statement made me really wish I still had my trusty old 8-holes, though I'd had them for so long and wore them so far down that they were actually a health hazard in any sort of inclement weather. I remember sliding around the streets of NYC in them and nearly biting the pavement far too many times - and THAT is why I don't even try to go to any sort of Fashion Week events.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mail - e and real

One of the cool things about living in London as an American is that when you go to bed, the US has their whole evening ahead of them - which means that when you wake up, there are oftentimes fun treats in your email inbox from your American friends. Yippee!

Or, there can slightly uncomfortable emails in your inbox like the one I got today from my dad saying my he read my real mail and my US bank account balance was overdrawn. I have a student loan that I pay on monthly direct debits from my US account, and periodically send myself some cash - when I remember. So I'm not sure which is worse - my dad reading my mail, or my dad finding out I'm slightly disorganized in life enough that I forget to send myself money on a regular basis. Sigh.

Blogger Kristina wrote an apt post about how being an expat involves 2x as much paperwork as just being a "normal" citizen, and sometimes I think I got a bad roll of the dice to have lived in the two most paperwork-intensive countries in the world. Although Jon might remind me that I'm lucky to not have to deal with French redtape, it is weird to realize that I actually maintain 6 bank accounts. SIX. For one girl. Sheesh.

And wherever you live, it's really easy to get caught up in day-to-day life and forget about paperwork - bills, renewals, forms, etc etc etc - that's why there are wonderful things like direct debits and automatic payments. But multiply all of that by 2... and combine the fact that my job is pretty much all admin... I'm suffering from admin overload!

And of course there is that pesky "permanent address" issue that I'm sure all expats face - where does all of that American mail GO? I'm lucky that my parents are kind enough to collect my mail and stack it up in a pile for me. Every so often they'll package it up and send it over, or if they are visiting they will bring it along. They didn't used to read it all, but after an incident when Citibank started changing all of their terms, and not telling anyone except by letter, they are doing what any good parent would do - read my mail. I suppose I'm okay with it; I suppose I have to be okay with it. They're gracious enough to take on some of my bloody admin, for which I am grateful. But it is weird - that's MY mail, and MY bank account, even if it only has $15 in it!

So I guess it is a good thing I have my dad opening my mail - now I just need to get over the embarrassment, and lack of privacy - of him finding out my innermost financial secrets. And I guess also grow up and get organized, stat, so I can stay on top of all of bank accounts and debits and various other annoying life necessities.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A recap of the first week of fall

Monday: I bought new tights at M&S - 3 for £8, not bad. I started the habit of throwing my tights out every spring when the weather is firmly warm, so that when it is time to re-embrace covered legs I'm not dredging up holey, pilled, and stretched out hosiery. The plus side is that the feeling of new tights is glorious.

Tuesday: I wore a wool jacket and scarf. Enough said.

Wednesday: It was so dark when my yoga class ended that I needed to put my bike lights on for the ride home.

Thursday: It was so cold that night that I wished for the heavier duvet.

Friday: It is officially no longer rosé season, and I opted for red wine at the pub.

Saturday: I went to Liberty to find that the Christmas shop is now open on the top floor, but the Irishman deemed it too early for us to visit.

Sunday: I switched my wardrobe over, putting summer clothes in storage and welcoming my winter dresses back into rotatio

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To volunteer or not to volunteer

So, for a while now, I've been considering becoming a volunteer for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The Olympics are big news here in London, and it feels like they have been forever. Ever since London won the bid to host the 2012 summer games, there is a story on every newscast and in every day's paper about the preparation, the construction, the budget, the drama, the controversy - it just escalates the closer and closer we get. The mascots were launched a few months ago, and publicity is just tremendous about every facet of the event.

Personally, I'm not really a fan of the Olympics; I thought they were cool when they came around every 4 years and it was an "Olympic year" and everyone got really excited - now it seems like there is always another bloody Olympics happening. I mean, didn't something just take place in Vancouver? I've seriously thought,if I'm still here in 2012, of leaving the city during the games to avoid all of the chaos it will cause.

But I can't help but think, if I am here in London in 2012, it may be my only chance in my lifetime to experience an Olympics up close. And you can't get much closer than volunteering. But apparently there are strict rules - you have to be over 18 (check), English speaking (check), have right to work (check), be available for 10 days (err...), and take whatever job you are given - which can range from giving water to athletes (cool!) to directing traffic in parking lots (uh, have you seen my driving?).

So the jury is out. What about you guys? Any readers here ever volunteered for an Olympic Games? Good stories? Horror stories? Thoughts? I wanna know!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh, Beeeeeb

So, I just got home from yoga (my first class in a while, ouch) and the Irishman is out with workmates for a leaving do. I don't really expect him home any time soon which means the TV IS MINE. Helpfully, the BBC is on my side and one of my favorite girly flicks is on - Serendipity. The movie takes me back to snuggling under blankets with my ladies from college, sighing over Lloyd Dobbler-I mean, John Cusack- and his adorable nerdiness, and the-actor-who-plays-Aidan-in-Sex-and-the-City as a ridiculous new age musician. Of course, being set in New York it reminds me of being a single lady looking for love in the big city and some of the best years of my life. And so, with the BBC announcer's admonishment to "get yourself a glass of something, get yourself some chocos, and get ready for a movie you're going to love - a movie about love", I'm armed with Dairy Milk and red wine and I'm going to get stuck into one of my favorite things: a cheezy romcom. Irishman, don't hurry home xx

Monday, September 13, 2010

Embracing autumn

This past weekend was the start of the new season for me, and I welcomed it with open arms. It was squash and root vegetables at the Farmers Market, crisp mornings and sun-baked afternoons, a shift from rosé to red wine, and a lot of layers. It means hibernation, warming soups, and crackling fires. I made chicken stock, we ate a stew, I bought some sunflowers, and the Irishman and I were naughty and bailed on an out-of-town obligation in favor of curling up in front of some of the DVR'd tv shows we'd missed while on holiday. < eeps! >

As I sit here typing this at 5:30pm, the sky is already closing in and in the mornings it is noticeably darker longer. Though it's colder and the sun won't shine as much as in the summer, I do love the fall and I am really excited for some brisk walks through crackling leaves and settling into the pub for an afternoon. I have a few days out planned to various areas of town for lovely strolls that I'm looking forward to, and I am craving this delicious red lentil soup that I might make this week.

It is slightly frightening, though, that the year has gone so fast. Only this time last year was I getting back from my holiday in Croatia and Italy, and planning for my visit home to the US. It's nuts that I haven't been back since last November, so I'm also really looking forward to seeing the family and my friends and just being American for a while. I am starting to feel like autumn, while usually a season of twilight, a time for endings and closure and preparation for the stark death of winter, may actually be my time for reestablishing myself and my identity and my person by returning to my homeland and reconnecting with everyone I love. I am kind of excited about reclaiming the season as one of renewal, rather than one of ending. It's already the season of the Jewish New Year (shana tova, peeps!) and that of the harvest, so I think I'll start really celebrating the bounty in my life - of my friends, family, health, and happiness. I'm sure it will do me good.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The ubiquity of the summer house

Last post about my holiday, I promise (can you tell I loved it?).

One thing I didn't mention in my previous posts was our "small world" encounter in Biot: the Irishman's aunt and uncle, who we met in Villefranche for dinner, were actually on the Cote d'Azur to spend a week with friends who own a house in Biot and several other couples who have known the Irishman since he was a lad. Though we were intending for our holiday to be more of a romantic getaway than family reunion, when faced with four sets of Irish parent-types inviting us to a big communal dinner we couldn't really say no. We ended up having an amazing meal at Chez Odile - Odile herself admonished all of the men (including my Irishman) to eat their vegetables. Adorable.

But I couldn't help but be struck at how similar the whole situation was, running into families one has grown up with in a beach resort area miles from home, to how the Jersey Shore and similar places work in America. While at first I was really impressed that this Irish family spent all of their time off in Biot, going swimming in the sea and finding little local restaurants to frequent, I realized that it's no different to all of those friends I knew (and still know) whose families own a shore house, or rent a splace "down the shore" , and use any excuse of a long weekend, public holiday, etc, to flee to the sea. The only difference here is, well, Ireland doesn't exactly get hot, and doesn't really have guaranteed sun. So it's understandable that families who crave a real summer would seek it abroad. And with a 2 hour flight the only thing separating Britain and Ireland from the Cote d'Azur, it's really not much different than driving to a British or Irish coast.

It's easy to forget, as an American, that comparatively speaking, Europe isn't actually that big; when you live in the US, you know there is this magical world across the ocean that holds so much history and culture and wonder but you don't really comprehend its geography. When you become an expat, and avail yourself of Ryanair and Easyjet and Eurostar, you start to realize that France - while linguistically and culturally still a million miles away - is actually a similar distance from the UK as New York is from Boston. The close proximity of European states makes all of the differences in food, lifestyle, fashion, everything!, so much more fascinating and intriguing - and easy to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And the other shoe has... dropped.

Well! I must have been on a holiday high or something yesterday because I breezed through the (somewhat) sunny day in a lovely summery outfit, showing off my tan, rising above the stress of thousands of commuters freaking out about the tube strike and smiling the whole time. Today, however, I woke up to cloudy skies and cold weather and I was just plain exhausted. I was distinctly not with it for most of the morning, stooping to the level of blanking out on the number 19 bus and nearly missing my stop. I wore flip-flops for the commute, and had that weird feeling when your toes are so cold they can't grip the soles, and I noticed that all of the girls I passed had their boots on already. It's only 8 September but I guess it's properly autumn now - Waitrose is selling pumpkins, for goodness sakes! - and therefore my summer holiday is officially over. Yet at the same time, even though I'm wearing layered shirts, cardigans, and scarves (and I changed into heels in the office so, you know, my toes are covered), I feel really zen. Like I really absorbed all of that French sun, and it's powering me from the inside out. It's a lovely feeling, even if I can't quite get moving in the mornings, and I'm hoping I can keep it going for a while. In that spirit, here are a few choice pix from the holiday to inspire me (and you).