Snow Day, Redux?

Big Winter storm is at our doorstep.
It is reminiscent of last year's mid February storm where I poo-poo'd the weatherman's prediction of large amounts of snow. They were right, I was wrong and I admit it.

So I will have a little more faith in the weatherman this time - school has already been canceled tomorrow, and the kids are bouncing off the walls. Let's hope the weatherman is indeed correct......

Snow in our backyard as of 5pm today:


That's a First

I am really only posting because I updated the blog yesterday (Jan 29), but because I started my London post on Jan 28, it is flagged as such and WILL NOT update on the Scrapshare Blog Roll.
So I am posting so that I move up on the list. Yeah, I realize that is totally lame and I should really get a life, but I am a little grumpy, still being a little bit jet lagged out (getting up at 4am and tired at 7pm - I think that puts me out in the middle of the Atlantic).

But getting back to the title of the post - I experienced something so special on my return flight from Heathrow into Chicago this weekend that I must mention it here - my large suitcase was the VERY FIRST bag off the plane. I know that "someone's bag has to be first", but it has never been me. So there.


London Daze

Flowers at Borough Market

On the backend of the business trip to the UK, I stayed with Michele and Andrew in their Shepherd’s Bush Flat. On Friday I took a cab from Regent’s Park with a cabbie who seemed a bit daft – he attempted to impress upon me his knowledge of the Great Lakes’ names using the acrostic HOMES and then proceeded to spell HOMES incorrectly. He couldn’t quite pinpoint the exact street that my sister lives on, asked for directions from a chap in the street and even after that had to pull out a street map. Needless to say, I verified I was at the correct flat before paying him. I love the trees that line the street where they live:

Since Andrew was flying in from Seattle that morning, I simply hung around the flat with Michele. In the early evening, we headed into London via the Tube to Bond Street where we walked through the shopping district, our destination being the Fortnum and Mason shop. Not simply a shop, but a tea / sweets / biscuits / jam emporium, I purchased my fill of goodies – several teas, stem ginger biscuits, biscuits with treacle, biscuits with currants, lemon biscuits, mango jam and chocolates. We walked through Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square’s Theatre district into Covent Garden. I learn that it is Burns night, in celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns, so tonight’s restaurant is a Scottish one specializing in seasonal seafood. Of course, the meal is wonderful. We end the evening after dinner, as Andrew is clearly starting to zone out due to jet lag.

Saturday morning arrives, a mild 45 degrees and sunny day. I feel blessed to be able to experience London with such ideal conditions. Michele and I take a quick jog around the local park before sitting down to a lovely breakfast of smoked trout, eggs, toast and tea. After a week of mass produced breakfast buffets, this is so very nice – Andrew and Michele are totally spoiling me.

More walking, food, museums and London sights are in store for me today – we take the Central line to the Bank Stop and make our way through the streets to the London Monument before crossing London Bridge. This Doric column erected among various modern high rises marks the origin of the great London fire in 1666. The Monument is currently closed for refurbishment, but one can normally climb to the top for a panoramic view of London. The walk across the London Bridge affords me these views of the Tower Bridge

Michele also had to take a picture of me taking a picture.

Along the lower Thames, we head into Borough Market, a huge bustling marketplace set at the foot of Southwark Cathedral. It is a feast for one’s stomach and eyes – beautifully displayed produce, meats, cheeses and flowers abound. We nosh on Andrew’s favorite chorizo sausage sandwiches and nibble on free cheese samples. Here is my favorite, stilton cheese – doesn’t that wheel of cheese make you hungry?

Time for a sisterly picture!

Next stop – the Tate Modern Museum, built since my last visit to London, it is a totally new experience for me. Its modern theme serves quite a contrast to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge that I visited on my first day of this trip.
The ground floor of the Tate Modern, the Turbine Hall, is a space commissioned to a new artist once a year. Until March of 2008, Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth, occupies the space. She created a large, flowing crack in the concrete floor, originating from an existing crack that starts at the West entrance ramp, seen here next to Andrew’s shoes.

It is fascinating to watch how people interact with something as simple as a crack in the floor.

I shot this picture from the a 1st floor window – a view of the Millennium Bridge from the Tate Modern across the Thames up to St Paul’s Cathedral, structurally joining the Modern with the Traditional.

We left the Tate Modern at dusk, just as a gorgeous fuchsia and magenta sunset was unfolding across the city. Michele, having the same shutterbug tendencies as me, allowed me to indulge in my desire to capture a decent picture from the cold and windy Millennium Bridge without a tripod. This required several shots, lens changes and general patience. Yeah, these would have been better with a tripod, but I am generally pleased with them.

This picture of the Tower Bridge came out better than I thought it would, given the vantage point and distance. This evening’s walk to St Paul’s was simply breathtaking.

We finished off our day and my visit to London at a local eatery in Shepherd’s Bush. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect end to the visit. I really would like to come back with the family – London has so much to see and do.


Martini Culture

I am not a martini drinker, but have some observations as a result of this trip, as the martini became a recurring mini-theme.

  • Don’t order a martini in an Indian Restaurant.
Anthony ordered a martini at Monday’s dinner. We should have known this was trouble when the waiter asked “what flavor” he wanted. More trouble – the waiter did not know what an olive was. Once Anthony explained that a martini composed of vodka and an olive, the waiter brought back a shot glass of warm vodka [hey, I guess I drank a lot of Indian Martinis in college, LOL]. Anthony ended up with two of these drinks (he requested another one from different waiter, hoping for a different result). It was rather humorous, and I wish I had brought my camera….

  • Many Martinis are mixed drinks in disguise, using the martini glass as the costume.
Lycee martini from Tuesday’s dinner at the Chinese dim sum restaurant, and the dirty cosmopolitan Andrew made on Saturday night. Don't get me wrong - they were very nice drinks, but do they really qualify as a martini? (I guess it is all in the name and presentation)

  • The olive is a key element to a traditional martini.
The traditional Martini consists of gin or vodka, maybe with a splash of vermouth or some other liquor, garnished with the olive. While the other martinis above were garnished with flower and orange zest, the olive is meant to be eaten, adding a nice saltiness to the drink. (Otherwise, it is just cold vodka / gin). It still blows my mind that the Indians did not know what olives were. Here are some of the olives I encountered during the trip:

A small bowl of olives at the Tapas restaurant

Jars of olives at Borough Market.

All this talk and pictures of pretty martinis - I think I’ll buy a set of martini glasses when I get home…..


Windsor Castle and Stonehenge

I am just wrapping up a week in the UK. As part of my job, I occasionally travel outside the US to teach training classes at our various facilities. The last time I did this was back in July 2006, where I spent two weeks in China. This time, I am in Cardiff, Wales.

Here's the normal drill - you leave the US Saturday evening and arrive in the UK on Sunday morning, which gives you the entire day to roam around, sightsee a bit and try to adjust to the new time zone. No difference this time, and I met up with two colleagues (Anthony and Mark) from the Boston area. We were all flying on American Airlines, coming into Heathrow around 7:00 am and planned to meet at the baggage claim area. Except that their plane landed 30 minutes early and they got impatient (really, just Anthony) and left me to fend for myself. I guess to be fair, I did tell Anthony that I "could take the train" in the event that flights were delayed, etc. (But the flights weren't delayed - Anthony is just impatient). Fortunately, I was able to call Anthony's Blackberry and he was kind enough to come back to get me.

We stopped at Windsor Castle, located a couple of exits from Heathrow, off the M4. We walked around the city for a bit before the castle was open to the public.

Some of the gardens and towers, St George’s Cathedral.

After several hours in the castle grounds, we got back on the road and I inquired about the location of Stonehenge, having recalled that it was “somewhat close” to Wales. The nice thing about traveling with two IT guys is that they have the most recent electronic gadgets – Mark determined that Stonehenge was only 70 miles out of our way, he plugged that location into the GPS and we were on our way.

I always conjured up this grand image of Stonehenge - large looming stones, filled with mystery and mystique. It is located in the English county of Wiltshire, along the rolling hills of the countryside. As we approach our destination (announced by the GPS lady), I see that the monument is set by the highway, merely separated from the highway by a chain linked fence. The circular collection of rocks doesn't look too great and looming from the highway, but hey, we are at The Famous Stonehenge and we are going to see it up close. Plus, we have been in the car for more than an hour with the air conditioning set to "on" so that Anthony doesn't fall asleep at the wheel - it is time to get out of the car. A light rain mists the air and we brace against the stiff wind.

The Stonehenge experience includes an audio tour and allows the visitor to view circle of stones from a distance of 50 yards. Yeah, those who stop along the highway can see exactly what we are seeing for free (we paid 10 Pounds each). I guess we get a more unobstructed view (no chain linked fence) and that audio commentary (here is a quote we found to be particularly vivid -"[the Stonehenge rocks are] teeth out of the gums of the earth"). I took many pictures, but after about the 10th one, I realized they all looked the same and the greyness of sky emphasized that these were simply gray rocks, but hey it's Stonehenge and now I can say I have seen it in person.

Mark and Anthony, with Mark looking particularly cold....

Hey - I'm in front of Stonehenge!!

After leaving Stonehenge, the darn GPS (Anthony used another term for the device) navigated us back to the M4 via the "scenic route", winding us through the english countryside, through small little towns. We observed several interesting street signs, namely these "tank crossing" warnings:

(Anthony stopped the car in the middle of the road in order for me to obtain these pictures, so by golly they are going on the Blog).

We did safely arrive in Cardiff around 5pm. Quite a full day ......


She calls me “Mom”

Maybe it’s a New year’s resolution thing, maybe it’s just a phase, but Erica has started calling me “Mom”. I noticed that she had started calling me “Momma” before Christmas, but didn’t really think anything of it. Now, when I refer to myself as “Mommy” (like when I ask her “What can Mommy get for you this morning”), Erica retorts, “I’m too old for Mommy – you are now my Mom, not my Mommy”.

Huh?? What happened to my little girl who has ALWAYS called me “Mommy”? When did I become “Mom”? That’s not me – that’s my mother!

Now, I really feel like my mother, being addressed like this “Mom – have you signed my homework checklist”. “Mom – can you help me get the cat into her room”. “Mom – it’s time to go to school”. Yeah, and I feel old.

But when she is feeling sad, tired, or grumpy, Erica will let the “Mommy” slip. And I smile and realize that I will always be “Mommy” in some respect.

I just really dread the time when Brian will declare the same thing….



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