Friday, September 23, 2011

Feeling a little loo-pee right now

Musings on the tube
There's something about the tube that fascinates me. Did you get that? For one thing, most of the stations are not accessible for the disabled. The transit authority is in the process of updating their facilities, but it is a huge job. Jeff and I had to haul all our heavy bags up and down several flights of stairs upon arriving in and leaving London. I was cursing them the whole time, especially after Jeff broke the wheels of one of his bags as he bounced it up the steps. In fact, when we arrived in East Finchley and I was verbally anticipating the long descent, one of the station bosses heard me.  He very nicely carried my bags all the way down to the ground. These Londoners are so polite.
But the stations with escalators. Oh man, the architecture astounds me. It is Escher-esque. I feel like I'm in the middle of Labrynth when I ride them. Gnome King, where are you?

See what I mean?
And then I get vertigo as we ascend, the flights are so long and the structural patterns so disorienting.

But enough of the underground.

A funny (funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha) story.
We flew Iceland Air, so had a stopover in Keflavik. The first leg was uneventful, if long. Seven hours. The plane was packed. Iceland is an unusual country. It has slightly more than 300,000 residents and more than half of them live in Reykjavic, the capital city. Approaching it from the air is weird, as most of the country is flat and covered in what looks like tundra, with a few illuminated towns scattered on the landscape. 

The second leg was thankfully only about two-and-a-half hours. I say "thankfully" because there was a woman in the seat across the aisle from us who proceeded to have a very loud and opinionated conversation with her seatmate. She hardly paused for breath and her gravelly nicotine-voice and laugh permeated every second of the flight. 

As we stood in the shuttle bus at Heathrow, I said to Jeff, I think I will scream if I have to listen to that woman for one more minute. There was a young couple standing next to us and she turned to me and said, Yes! Thank you, I feel very validated. They had been sitting right in front of her, which I cannot even imagine. We agreed that people like her give Americans a bad name and they probably romp through life having absolutely no idea of the effect they have on everyone else. 

A little thought danced daintily in and out of my head that perhaps the young couple were Mormons. I chased it out immediately, having nothing on which to base the assumption. Then, after all the passport rigmarole, I needed to find a toilet, as usual, and there was the girl, waiting for her husband. She was still there, talking to Jeff, when I came out, and I saw that she was wearing a BYU sweatshirt. She had been facing away from me before so I hadn't noticed it.
How weird was that?

The London weight-loss plan.
1. Have a bad case of dysentery for two days.
2. Don't eat much because food is so expensive. 
Seriously. A small ice cream cone is two pounds. That's four dollars. A pastry is two or three pounds.

But two excellent things.

First excellent thing: I know where all the good toilets are to be found in Westminster and the surrounding environs.

A couple of toilet tips.
1. Don't pay 50p to pee.

2. Find a nice hotel close by, saunter in and pretend like you're supposed to be there. Somewhere close to the entrance will be a top-notch toilet.

Yes, I know, Novotel isn't a Very Nice Hotel, but it was my first attempt. I got better. The next night I sauntered into a very swanky hotel and totally got away with it.
Oh, and Harrods has Luxury Toilets. Which means that there is a large lady attendant who says "Thank you Modom" when you leave her a tip in the little silver tray. Which I didn't mind doing because there was free rose-scented hand cream and expensive perfumes by the wash basin.

Second excellent thing: we found this lovely pub just down the road from Trafalgar Square. 
The Lord Moon on the Mall.

For a semi-reasonable price you can get a filling meal with lots of peas.

Only Jeff hates peas with a passion, so they subbed a very tasty salad for the peas.
He was happy with his bangers and mash.

And I?
I got steak and kidney pudding.

Oh my.
I was in heaven.
Although I picked the kidneys out, like usual.

It tasted like manna from heaven.
Only, maybe it was just because we were so hungry, because the next day we went back and it was only average.
And then we went lots more fun places, but I need to go to bed so I'll tell you about it later. 
You could hit the "like" button if you got all the way to the end!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Photos from Day One

Our beautiful bed where we spent three nights in East Finchley, London.
It's the details that count.
The view from our window.
How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?

We ignored jet lag on the first day and took the tube into Westminster.
Big Ben rules the skyline.
Did you know that Big Ben is actually the name of the bell that chimes every hour, on the hour? The structure is officially called the Clock Tower. The hour hand is 9 feet long, the minute hand is 14 feet long. 
The Clock Tower is part of the Houses of Parliament, or the Palace of Westminster, as it is also known. There are no adjectives to describe this view.
The mind-blowing thing is that every time you turn a corner in London, you see something like this.
Security is tight, but, strangely, not as ominous as when I was here with Bethany in the 90's and the IRA  was still a threat.
This enormous ferris wheel is called the Eye of London.
We wandered over the river to take a look and possibly ride it.
The fare was about $30 each so we opted for visiting the sights instead of viewing them from above.
Yes, I am as cheap as ever.
This is on the Thames River Walk and was built to commemorate the emancipation of slaves.
There are a crazy number of cyclists in London and they are crazy too. There are few bike lanes and they zip right along with the cars. We saw more than one woman in a skirt and high heels, commuting from work. About ten cyclists die a year on London roads and many more are injured.
The Houses of Parliament are an imposing view from the other side of the Thames too.
We wandered into a courtyard at the Marriott and this sign made me laugh.
And then we went back to East Finchley and couldn't sleep because we were over-tired.
The end.

How to be a good mole, or, minding the gap

Rules for surviving the Underground:
1. Never look your fellow traveler in the eye. Look at his knees, check out her funky shoes, read the back page of her newspaper, or focus intently on the station map above his head. If you happen to inadvertently catch his eye, quickly slide your eyes to the left or right and pretend you were casually glancing at the person next to him.

2. Put your walking shoes on. The English are hardy souls who love to run up and down massive flights of stairs. Most stations don't have escalators. Even when there are escalators, the commuters employ a dainty, tripping little step as they dash past you. Stand on the right, please.

3. Accepted activities whilst on the train are: listening to music on a headset (don't hum or bounce to the beat) ; texting on your smartphone (no talking); reading the free evening paper (no laughing aloud); and snoozing (no leaning on the guy next to you).

4. Carry an underground map with you at all times. Use phrases like "Jubilee Line" and "Euston Station" frequently so that people will think you're an old hand at this tube thing.
5. Carry a pocketful of change for the buskers. Some of the best music you will ever hear will be at the entrances to the tube. This guy, from Trinidad, was playing a steel drum that had twenty-nine tones, three octaves worth. He was supremely talented and I wish we had listened longer.

6. Buy a day pass. It will save you lots of money. Riding the train is an expensive proposition. I don't know how Londoners can afford it.
7. Above all, mind the gap. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thanks for the memories

I don't remember the last time I had fresh peaches and blueberries in my kitchen at the same time. 
Thank you, weird weather patterns.
Today, I made a double batch of peach and blueberry muffins.
They are but a sweet reminiscence.

Grandchildren devoured them, hot from the oven...

...and whimpered with regret when I informed them that the remainder were going to friends.

But after we delivered them we stopped and played at a park and they forgave me.
And, because I love you, I am sharing the recipe.
I think you should make some.
Right now.
Because they will make you happy.

The recipe is from the Taste of Home cookbook.
With a few alterations.
I love Taste of Home, its recipes rarely fail me.

Berry Cream Muffins

2 c flour
Scant cup of sugar (you know, just tip a bit out!)
1/2 tsp BP
1/2 tsp B. Soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c fruit (raspberries, like the recipe says, or blueberries and peaches, only I'm sure I added more like 2 c)
2 eggs
1 c sour cream (I didn't say they were low-fat!)
1/2 c vegetable oil (I subbed part of it with olive oil)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Throw the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir. Mix in the wet ingredients and then the fruit. Bake in lined or greased muffin cups for 18-22 minutes at 350 degrees. Help, somebody tell me where the degree key is!
Makes about a dozen muffins, depending on your pan size.

Dang, I think I'll make another batch tomorrow for the road.

Also looming on my mind this week were a gazillion pounds of Italian prunes which I picked for free over the mountain. If I was going to be here when they ripen I would dry them and perhaps bottle some. But, alas, I am not, so I have been giving them away to anyone I could sucker into saying Yes.
I still have a 5-gallon bucketful.
Any takers?

And now, if you will excuse me, I will go work on my British slang.
Crikey, gimme a cuppa.
Eh, wotch out that lorry doesn't knock you on yer bum on the way to the loo.
Eee, I was right chuffed when that bloke gave me a buttie.
Don't forget yer brolly and wellies.

Oh dear, hope I haven't offended my two dear English readers!
Next time you hear from me, it will be from Merry Old England.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eating on my mind

As usual.

So here's the annual peach shortcake.
I tried to cook it in a solar oven but I've got some refining of the process to do.
Actually, I think I need a different pan.
Go here for the recipe, if you feel inclined towards yumminess.

Remember the tomato cages I proudly built?
They're paying off in spades.
It took me a couple of weeks to figure out that these were supposed to be yellow!
Jeff says they're very sweet and juicy.
I wouldn't know.
I don't eat tomatoes.

The first red tomatoes harvested a couple of weeks ago.

And now I'm slow-roasting about a pan a day for the freezer.
Actually, I put it in the oven before I go to bed and wake up to the smell of pasta sauce in the morning.

Which goes very nicely with some home-made bread, full of flax seed and other goodies.

And the obligatory chocolate for dessert.
I found this gorgeous bar at Grocery Outlet, my source of all things delicious.

Are you hungry yet?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years

Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust!"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hummingbirds, flagpoles, and bumblebees

Go back with me, if you will, to the summer of 1980.

I know, most of you were barely alive, but humour an old lady, will ya?

Jeff and I were newly married and living in a non-air-conditioned, upstairs apartment in Orange County, California. Bethany was born nine months and six days past our wedding day, so yes, I was pregnant. 
And miserable. 
Nauseous, tired, and hot
I got a little job sewing drill team uniforms for a high school team and, on the days I managed to crawl out of bed, I sewed and listened to the radio. Ironically, this song was very popular that year. It played over and over until I imagined its only purpose was to drive me irrevocably mad.

Even now, when I hear the song, it causes faint waves of nausea to wash over my body.

And what does that have to do with the price of vanilla pods in Madagascar, you may ask?
Well, it has been in the upper 90's all week and it just doesn't seem to be worth the bother of putting in the A/C. 
It is, after all, the middle of September. 
We manage quite nicely most of the day. We close the windows mid-morning and start the fans. It gets a bit steamy around dinnertime and then cools down in the evening, so we open all the windows and listen to the crickets chirping as we fall asleep. But I have taken to wandering around in my dreaded muumuu and sporting a minimal amount of supportive clothing, if you get my drift. Which has nothing to do with the steaminess at dinnertime, so hush your mouth! 
It kinda reminds of those blissfully miserable days of our first years together. 

Josh came over to spend the night last night. We spent most of the the evening watering our new cypress hedge and all of the flowerpots and vegetables. Joshie loves to water things. By the time we finished it was cooling down so we sat on the deck and I said to Josh, If we sit quietly maybe we'll see some bees and butterflies and even a hummingbird.
He thought that sounded pretty neat, so we sat and watched the bees and butterflies and it wasn't two minutes later that a hummingbird darted into view. 
We were pleased.
Josh thought I was awesome.
I think.

I took this photo this morning when I heard the distinctive "click click" of the hummingbird. I didn't really have time to do anything but grab my camera and zoom, so the focus is terrible, but it's proof positive of the visit.

I've purposefully planted my flowerbeds with perennials and annuals that attract hummingbirds and I've been tickled with how often they visit. Almost any time I sit on the deck for a few minutes I am enchanted by a visit from one of the endearing little birds. The last verse of this poem  sums up my feelings.

Diminutive, defiant darter -
tiny heart in pounding pace;
we savor every fleeting glance
- a streak of heaven's fragile grace.

After Josh had bathed and eaten his bedtime snack and read his books for "22 minutes" (a compromise he wheedled out of me when I told him he had twenty minutes) I tucked him in and said, Josh, do you hear the crickets? His window at home is always closed tightly at night so I knew it would be unusual for him to be able to hear them.
He listened for a few seconds and said, Nana, how do you know about crickets?

Ah, glasshoppah, I am all-knowing!


I've been playing with my new camera. I love the natural light photos I've been taking but I haven't quite figured out the inside settings.
Witness these of my lovely Josh.

There's nothing as sweet as a sleeping child.
For breakfast, he ate a whole juicy peach, a large bowl of cinnamon oatmeal and two maple-flavoured sausages.


In other breaking news, Jeff installed our new flagpole this week. 
Made in the USA.
Guaranteed to never bend in the wind.
Just like us.
It will fly at half mast tomorrow and we will be thinking of those who died ten years ago.
And of our Charlie.


I tried out the close-up mode on the camera this afternoon. That is what gave me the most grief on the old camera so I was thrilled with the results.
The flowers were blowing in the light breeze and I was my usually jumpy self, so I'm way impressed by the clarity of these shots. They are only lightly edited.


Another gratifying feature is the accuracy of the red end of the colour spectrum. My Hot Cocoa rose has always defied the camera lens, but it only took a little brightness and shadow tuning to get this picture, which is very true to the actual dusky-red shade.

Then I had some fun with the bumble bees.

Thanks for reading.
Did I ever mention how happy you make me?