Saturday, December 31, 2005

Non-book Book Group

Spent the afternoon in the city today- I took the train in with Liz and then meandered uptown, trying to do some clothes shopping for John. The stores were completely muzzled- I have no idea why everyone decided that today was the day to mob Eddie Bauer and Banana Republic and the Gap. I got a green sweater for John (I like the color but I have a feeling he might hate it). My life is so exciting.

Went to Book Group after all my shopping...we've decided that it's much more fun to sit around and chat with each other, and have abandoned the Book part of the Group. We still read, on our own, but haven't been motivated to find new books to read in addition to coordinating four New York and transatlantic schedules. Any suggestions for book group books are apprecitated, but there are no promises that we'll read them....

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Seascape and Manhattanscape

Went to see Francis Sternhagen's new play with my great-aunt Ruthie today. It was one of the weirder ones that I've seen. Basically, there is an older couple on a beach, talking about their life together and what they're going to do, and then a pair of lizards show up and start talking to them. V. strange. It was pretty good, but very bizarre. We were going to go see Frannie after the show (she lives down the street from my parents and we've known her forever), but she was too tired. Sad. I can't imagine doing 8 shows a week (two on Wednesday and Sunday). I don't blame her for wanting to take a nap.

Had a bunch of people over last night for my dad's 60th birthday- it was great fun! Various neighbors, some miscellaneous family, and some of my parents' friends. It was originally going to be a Dad birthday/John birthday (same day)/Kate and John engagement party, but without John here it was scaled down to just a Dad birthday party. Still lots of fun, though.

I was walking through the city today on the way to the play and remembered how much I love New York (and hate tourists). The guy standing outside the Chinese restaurant on 45th street hollering, "We have 200 chairs!! Come inside and see!!" cracked me up. No mention of the food...the chairs seemed to be the selling point.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Heraclitus the Cat

Heraclitus the kitten has adopted Freda and Travis. Yes, it's generally the people that adopt the cat, but this particular cat seems to be running the show.

On Saturday, when I talked to John, he mentioned that his parents had been feeding a stray kitten who turned up at their back door. Travis assured me that the kitten would be taken to the animal shelter next week and under NO circumstances would the kitten be coming into the house. John said that his parents had taken quite a liking to the kitten, feeding it cat food and milk (and some smoked salmon). When I talked to them last night, they said that they were quite worried about a fox that they've seen in the yard, since the kitten is only about 3 months old and not up to defending itself. So they brought a whole bunch of blankets out to the garage and locked the kitten in for the night so he would be safe from the fox.

Then on Sunday morning they brought him in for Christmas breakfast (more salmon), named him Heraclitus, and gave him full run of the house. And then discovered that he is a girl. Oh well. They can call her Herry or something and pretend it's short for Harriet.

Sunday night, the kitten spent the night IN the house, curled up in what was previously my chair.

Something tells she's here to stay. ::sneeze::

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Crackers

Merry Christmas (and Happy Hanukah)!

Had a great time singing carols at Frannie's last night...lots of neighbors were there and all the little kids who I babysat for are now walking, talking, and driving. I'm so old. At least none of them are getting married, yet. :)

Sang at church- it just wasn't the same without Judie at the organ. For the last few years, Christmas Eve featured a bunch of cobbled-together alumnae singing together on a few rehearsals. Judie (our music director who left this fall) would call everyone at the beginning of December, and then we'd all sing together for a few rehearsals. It was great to catch up with everyone and we always had lots of fun. This year, my mom ran into one of our church friends who sometimes sings with the alumnae (and is also in the regular choir), who asked if I could sing on Christmas Eve. Off I went, expecting the girls, and was v. disappointed to find that it was the normal Sunday choir. And a pared down Sunday choir, at that, as a result of a huge split over the minister at the church. Most people have left the church completely, and the remaining members are split over whether he should stay or go. NOT good. The service was only about 2/3 full (it's normally packed), which was really depressing.

Christmas itself was really good- we went to my aunt's for lunch. We had latkes with our roast and beans and salad, since tonight is the first night of Hanukah and my uncle is Jewish. I LOVE latkes...they're almost worth converting for. John, brace yourself.

Speaking of cooking, my parents also gave me two cookbooks: one by Rachel Ray and one by Paula Deen. YUUUM, as Paula would say. I'll get my Food Network fix in Stowmarket after all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

New Ro

Home in New Ro as of Wednesday night...yay!

Had an uneventful trip home...we took the train down to London, I puttered around for a while, and then John took me over to Paddington station where I took the Heathrow Express. Now that NYC is done with the MTA strike, they should put their money into a one-seat ride from the center of the city (Grand Central would be good) to JFK and La Guardia. We'’re one of the only major cities in the world without a good, fast, cheapish way to get to the airport. I'’ve taken the AirTrain a few times, which is nice once you're on it, but you have to get it from Jamaica, Queens. In order to get there from Midtown, you can either haul over to Penn Station and take the LIRR or you can ride the somewhat unreliable E train for about an hour until you emerge in the boonies of Queens. Fun times, either way. And not something I'd EVER recommend to a tourist.

On the other hand, the Heathrow Express is kind of expensive (£14, about $25), but it takes you right into the middle of the airport and drops you at a place with free luggage trolleys. Door to door, it was less than an hour from Music Sales to the terminal. And then I had a Starbucks, so life was good.

And usually on an airplane, there'’s more than one movie. And the movies are listed somewhere. Yes, the movies that you want to see are ALWAYS for the Westbound journey from Tokyo to Capetown, but still. We got to watch Pirates of the Carribean (not mentioned anywhere in the movie leaflet) on a loop. Granted, it'’s not a bad movie, and Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom are v. hot, but there'’s a limit to how many times I can watch it in an 8 hour period. Have mercy, American Airlines.

I was whining on Tuesday night to Emily about leaving John and she put it into perspective- we've done this before, for a lot longer, and I'll be going back soon. AND I made it through six weeks in England without getting deported. Go ME!!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Through the Wardrobe into New York

Gearing up to come back to NY- I'll be home (and zonked) on Wednesday night.

Had a fantastic day with John on Saturday. We had gone to the Music Sales holiday party the night before in Bury, and taken a cab home. So Saturday morning we slept in (not too late, but it was the first day in AGES that neither of us had to get up early for something), hopped on a train to Bury, picked up the car, had a full English breakfast (YUM!!), finished the Christmas shopping, went to Starbucks, saw Narnia (AWESOME MOVIE!!!!), drove home, went back to Bury for dinner with John's friends Ian and Caroline, and crashed at their place around 1am. PHEW.

When we arrived, Caroline said to me, "Just so you know, we have some rats upstairs." As a New Yorker, I was envisioning the NYC variety. For those of you not familiar, New York rats are the size of cats. Needless to say, I was skeptical. But apparently these are "Fancy Rats" (their official name). They look more like big-ish mice (and are very cute and tame). Not New Yorky at all. Thankfully.

Narnia was really good- it was a fantastic adaptation of the book. It's such a good story and it made a great movie. Liam Neeson was the voice of Aslan, and the kids were substantially better actors than the Harry Potter lot. I liked it MUCH better than any of the HP movies- it's more on a level with Lord of the Rings. Go see it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Amelia Bedelia Makes a Wreath

Helped out with the wreath making was quite a group.

I'm not an expert, but having heard the instructions twice and made a wreath myself, I have a reasonable idea of what to do.

One of the steps involves putting small pieces of laurel onto the wreath. Sean, the Head Gardener, had told the group that they needed a series of leafy branches with about four inches of stem for each. As I went around, handing out the laurel, I reiterated the "four inches of stem" guidelines, while the ladies nodded. When I checked on them about five minutes later, I found an entire table of ladies who were very busily cutting the laurel stems into four inch sections and then meticulously pulling off the leaves. I inquired as to what they were doing, and they responded that they were making their four inch stems, as I had told them. I should have let them carry on...the stems would have looked really funny on a wreath.

Amelia Bedelia, eat your heart out.

New Digs

Where I used to work:

Where I work now:


(Slow day at work, anyone?)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pick John Out Of A Lineup

Chatting with John last night about the execution of Tookie, and he was taking about the position in the UK on the death penalty and crime in general. He said, "All but the most serious crimes in the UK have a time limits, where it gets to a point when you no longer have anything on your record and you don't have to declare that you ever committed a crime. At least that's what the officers told me."

"What officers??"

"The officers I met when I was in the ID-lineup."

"What ID-lineups??"

"The ID-lineups that I did when I was in college."


Apparently, when John was in college, he participated in police lineups to earn his beer money. At that point, the scars on his face were pretty new, and when coupled with his long hair (it was the 80s, remember), he fit the vague description of a lot of criminals. Into the lineups he went. While standing in a line with a hardened criminal is not my idea of a nice afternoon activity, the £15 was sufficient motivation for our John.

And now he knows about time limits on crimes. Oh joy.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Slow day in Stowmarket

View from Ickworth at sunset on Saturday.

Had a good weekend with John and James- went to Bury and Ickworth on Saturday and then to Freda and Travis' yesterday. Spent most of the day cleaning the apartment and doing laundry, and then went for a walk around Stowmarket and up to the Leisure Centre. There's a pool and a climbing wall and badminton courts and all sorts of other fun stuff. It remains to be seen how motivated I am to go up there and swim/climb/run around, but it's nice to know it exists.

I've rediscovered the joys of curry-in-a-jar. Sautee some chicken and veg, the Tikka Masala sauce over it, simmer for 10 mins, and all of a sudden you're eating yummy curry and the flat smells like Curry Row. Yum! Apparently my mom used them all the time when we lived here. I haven't found them in the US, but then again I haven't been looking. I'll keep my eyes open when I'm home.

Speaking of which, I'll be back on the night of the 21st. I'll be there for a while- probably about 3 weeks. I have to get visas and things sorted out. It's going to be great to be able to see everyone and go to Redeemer and drive. And eat New York food.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Tea and Sympathy

Quite a day at Ickworth...not only have my colleagues decided that I'm the resident computer fixer, but I'm the designer as well. Computer fixer, I can handle. Some right-clicks here, a restart there. Nothing I haven't watched John do a million times.

But designer? I'm HOPELESS! Ellice, I'm flying you over to design the Ickworth education pamphlets. It all started when I had to make a little gift certificate last week so I muddled around in Quark (a design program) for a while and put some text and color blocks on top of a picture of the house, and poof! everyone's all excited and I'm the Fairy QuarkMother.

Then we were setting up Santa's Christmas Grotto, which we thought was going to be a forlorn rocking chair in the corner of the Orangery, but Mark the Forester (yes, he's hot) had created an elaborate Narnia-esque teepee-shaped thing out of gnarled old oak branches that he found around the property. He's added an entryway, and tomorrow we're going to put some evergreen branches on it and some fairy lights. Julia has visions of fake snow...I'm not sure if that's going to add anything. and it's quite possibly the coolest thing I've ever seen. It's also impossible to describe. If I can get a picture of it tomorrow, I'll post it.

On my way out of the West Wing, I slipped on the wet gravel at the bottom of the steps, turned my ankle, and took a monstrous digger. I thought I was fine, tried to get up, and my ankle gave way again. So Sarah and Mark put me on the bottom step, at which point I went completely gray and Sarah thought I was going to pass out. She radioed the rest of the house to request "First Aid at the West Wing" in a somewhat pannicky voice. Having been on the receiving end of this kind of call, and knowing how scary it is to have a non-descript first aid emergency radioed to you, I was trying to get her to describe WHAT the problem was, so they didn't call an ambulance, but she wasn't paying much attention. Within about 3 minutes, I had Sarah, Mark, Charlotte , Jenny the first aider, and two members of house staff. Quite an audience. Once the house staffers realized that I was fine, they announced that they were going to go back in the house and put the kettle on so I would have a nice reviving cup of tea to make me feel better. How tea relates to twisted ankles I have yet to establish. Silly Brits.

I'm fine now, buoyed by a vast quantity of fish and chips, a glass of wine, a hot bath, and lots of sympathy from John.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

A Picture for My Dad

Seen at the Model Train Show in Birmingham, England.

Fairy Lights

John was down in London today- he woke up at 5:15 to take a 6:30 train and be there by 8. Needless to say, I didn't get up and have breakfast with him. I love him, but not that much. :) I was going to experiment with a curry tonight but I think I'll make something safer...maybe sausages and mash with green beans. He should be home by 7:30- it's about an hour and a half on the train, which makes for a really long day.

He picked up our Christmas cards during his we get to write them! My mom designs her own card every year- I'm always impressed at how good they turn out (and then less so when I need to spend hours coloring in green wreaths and red berries).

I was going to buy some "fairy lights" (Christmas lights) for the flat, to go with my oh-so-festive Ickworth wreath, but they're SO expensive over here!! The sets I saw were £15 (about $25) for a little strand of 100 lights that I would pay about $5 for in Duane Reade. I think I need to decide exactly HOW Christmasy I feel this year. We have the wreath and some poinsiettas from Freda and Travis, and I'll be in New Ro on the 21st to get the full effect of the Hughes Christmas tree madness. My friend's mom (who I love dearly and so shall remain nameless) themes their tree every year, with either colors or types of ornaments. It always looks fabulous. My family's theme every year is "Put Every Single Ornament That We Own On The Tree," with accompaniment from the scratchy old Sesame Street Christmas record. Doesn't get any better, really.

John's friend Pete has installed Tiger on my Mac...I've gotten sort of addicted to the Sudoku widget. I should get out more. :)

Working at the Trust tomorrow and Friday, and then James all weekend. Crazyness!

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Tickets and Spaghetti Sauce

Fact: My wonderful and fabulous fiance is a computer uber-geek and can make them do anything he wants.
Fact: I'm a reasonably competent computer geek-in-training with programs like Excel and Publisher.

Fact: Today, I spent 4 hours designing, printing, cutting, and then hand-numbering and perforating 600 tickets for an event at Ickworth this weekend.

It was my lucky day, I guess.

I could figure out how to make consecutive numbered excel. I could figure out how to design the kind of ticket I publisher. But could I figure out how to make a ticket thingy and have them auto-number? HECK NO! So I wrote out the numbers 1-599, twice, today. Awesome.

I really like my job, but sometimes I have to do the randomest tasks.

In other news, I have perfected my 'spaghetti sauce from scratch' recipe. Way better than the stuff in a jar and not that hard to make. It's a mishmash of my French host mother's tomato soup, Mom's spaghetti sauce (minus the fennel, ugh), and Andrew's grandma's gravy. Dry roast some herbes de provence, add olive oil, onions and garlic, then add crushed canned tomatoes, sugar, salt, tomato paste, and a bay leaf. Simmer for half an hour and you have spaghetti goodness that is a direct line to John's heart. I think my next experiment is going to involve some grated nutmeg in the spaghetti sauce. My other new favorite thing to cook is lentil soup...yum! I made leek and potato soup a la Alton Brown yesterday. Episode title? "Sprung A Leek." Teehee. It improved on the other recipe I had by using veggie stock instead of water and was v. yummy and reviving as leftovers at work today. I hate cleaning leeks, though...they have too many layers with little teeny pieces of dirt in each layer. And then they get all squeaky when you try to chop them. It's a conspiracy.

I need to figure out how to make a curry...John loves them and the last time I tried to do it, it was more of a bastard spaghetti sauce. Not exactly what I was aiming for. He's v. good at making them (although sometimes overdoes it on the spice front), but it's nice for me to have dinner ready when I'm home all day and he's at work.

One other food-ish related thing: NEVER buy "Lite" Ribena, no matter how many ads you read telling you it's as good as the real stuff. It's not. It's all nutrasweety and it's gross. For those of you who have no clue what I'm talking about, Ribena is a concentrated blackcurrant juice that all Brits drink. It's, as they would say, lovely. I'm addicted to the full-sugar stuff but it's got more sugar in it than Coke. Zing!!

Monday, December 5, 2005

No garden? No problem!

The newest addition to the flat?

A garden railway.

John and I went to Birmingham yesterday for the National Model Railway show (yes, we're geeks), and had a fantastic time looking at all the trains and scenery and steam engines. We ended up falling in love with a little garden railway set, which has trains that are about 8 inches high. Our set came with a steam engine (sound included!), 2 cars, 4 little people, and a reasonable amount of track. So now we have a loop of track that goes around one of the chairs in the living room and then a siding that goes out into the hallway for about 10 feet. It's completely taken over the apartment.

I talked to my parents last night and told them all about the show and the train set- I think they both wanted to fly over to the UK and take my temperature. My dad has been a train geek since he was little, and we've always had trains around the house. It's always been HIS thing, though, which I think is part of the reason that we got such big trains. If we want to run HO stuff, we can go to New Ro and go crazy with it.

And the next step?

Buy a house with a garden. And build more trains.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Upside-Down Parliament

The Houses of Parliament, reflected in a puddle.

Look, Baudelaire!

Survived the crazyness at Ickworth on Wednesday...we had about 500 people through, as far as I could tell. It went REALLY well and everyone loves the new space. Freda and I are going over today to help out with the Christmas Wreath making. John and I will probably hang our new handmade wreath from the balcony rather than on our front door, for 2 reasons.
1. Nobody but our pothead neighbors see our front door (we're in a teeny little hallway)
2. Our pothead neighbors might take the wreath down and try to smoke it.

Balcony it is.

Went to London on Thursay morning (after sleeping for 12 hours), since John was there for the week to install the new phone system. Met him around lunchtime on Thursday, dropped my stuff at the hotel, then went to Wagamama for lunch. The same one that Julia and Andrea and I went to when we were in London a few years ago. It's right around the corner from the National Gallery, which was great since that was my next stop. There's some GREAT stuff- I'm such a sucker for the Impressionists after taking an art history course in Paris. It's really cool to see the original work after I've seen it as a slide and learned all about it.

The art history course took place in the biggest lecture hall I've ever seen, in the basement of the Jardin de Luxembourg campus of the Sorbonne. Our professor was way at the front, with his little slide projector remote and a laser pointer. During one class, we were looking at Manet's Music in the Tuileries Garden, and our professor was telling us all about how Manet painted himself and a whole bunch of his friends into the picture. He picked up his laser pointer and very clearly pointed out Manet, and then said, "VOILA, c'est Baudelaire." (Look, it's Baudelaire). And waved his laser pointer all over the picture. Some smartass in the back called out, "WHERE??" and the prof repeated his motion. The class started laughing and it became a running joke that anytime he showed us a painting with a crowd scene, someone would shout out, "VOILA! BAUDELAIRE!"

So then when I saw the painting at the National Gallery on Thursday, I was standing in front of it, chuckling about Baudelaire. As I read the caption, I saw that they ALSO mentioned Baudelaire, but didn't say where in the picture he's standing. Oh will have to remain one of life's great mysteries.

Yesterday I went to the Tate Britain, at Liz's recommendation. She was right, it's a very cool museum. It's a total mishmash of British art, but the rooms are fantastic. They have two rooms of John Constable's works- I didn't realize that he grew up about 20 miles from here and painted the landscape all over Suffolk. It was neat looking at famous art that looks like the view out Freda and Travis' living room window.