Monday, July 28, 2008

Baking With Brit Boy

My weekend was nice. We had some wonderfully warm, sunny weather here and Brit Boy and I were thrilled. We haven’t had much summery weather this year here, so we are overjoyed when we can get any. Even this morning it is quite warm and bordering on hot here, so it is great.

We ventured into town on Saturday to find new pillows for our bed. Our pillows had become rather worn down. They were made with this anti-allergy covering on them and after a while it had become fuzzy and shed this white fuzzy stuff, so we decided to get new pillows. We found some new pillows that don’t have that anti-allergy covering and they are quite comfortable. I still like the idea of the anti-allergy bed things, but the pillows that we had were just not very well made. I have had anti-allergy pillows before in my life that were fine, so we just simply had a couple of duds. (smile) I like our new pillows though and I think that we are already sleeping better just a couple of nights later.

On Saturday night, we watched “Inspector Morse”, which is a favorite mystery show that Brit Boy and I both enjoy. In fact, I used to watch “Inspector Morse” back home in the US years ago, before I ever knew Brit Boy. And unbeknownst to me, he was over here in Britain being a fan too. Who knew? (smile) The show ended a while back, but is still shown in re-runs. Then after that, we watched, the movie, “The Shining”, which is a favorite of ours.

On Sunday, we hung out around home and enjoyed the sunshine out in the back yard. We watched TV and just chilled out. Brit Boy is finished with his school for the summer, so we took full advantage of school being out for him, by relaxing on the couch. We plan to do more outings now that he has a break from school, but this weekend we just took a breather and chilled on the sofa. We just hope that the weather continues to be nice. We are hoping to get a couple of trips to the beach in as well as having some daytrips. Running around Wiltshire and the Cotswolds should be fun if the weather stays nice. I will share any photos that I take here on my blog. So watch this space. (smile)

Anyway, later on Sunday, long after we had had dinner, we both got a taste for something snacky…preferably cake or cookies. We didn’t have anything ready-made, so we decided to make something from scratch using what we had in our cupboards. Here’s the funny bit, we started out using a recipe for chocolate cookies, but it didn’t look right, so I just kept adding flour and brown sugar whilst Brit Boy handled the mixer. Brit Boy was really into it. He likes mixing things. (smile) Then I pulled out the muffin tin and we ended up making chocolate cupcakes/muffins that were very tasty. We didn’t have a lot of cocoa left to put into the bowl, so the cakes turned out sort of milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate, but they tasted so good. So leave it to us to use a dark chocolate cookie recipe in the beginning and come out with a milk chocolate cupcake/muffin in the end. (laugh)

Here’s a photo of our yummy cake. The top of the cake here looks darker, but inside the cake is very light and milk chocolate- looking, but either way they were good. We were gluttons and ate three a piece at about 9:30pm last night. (laugh) So I took this photo before they are all gone.

The Last Lecture

I just wanted to mention the passing of a truly great guy who inspired me and many others around the world. Randy Pausch was a university professor who found out that he had cancer and had only a short time to live and decided to give his last lecture. It is a thing that is batted around within the academic community where professors are asked if they could give their last lecture, what would they say. So Randy Pausch took this challenge on when he found out that he was terminally ill, as his last lecture, but also as a way to remind us all how brief life is and that we should enjoy life while we are here. I have heard him say that he especially wanted to do this last lecture for his three young children.

His words have helped me and I would urge those who haven’t viewed his last lecture, to maybe take a look. Sometimes a gentle reminder of the fragility of life is all that I need to kick me in the rear and fix my perspective on things. So I thank him and all the others who have tried to light the way for us all. We lose special people every day in this world and Friday we lost another one. But he left a great legacy behind.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Wannabe Actress Days & Judging Amy

I am a great fan of the television show from back home called, “Judging Amy” starring Amy Brenneman and Tyne Daly, as a mother and daughter who live together. Amy Brenneman’s character is called Amy Gray, who is a juvenile court judge, who has moved back in with her mother after divorcing and is raising her young daughter Lauren. Tyne Daly’s character is Maxine Gray, a social worker that is thoroughly dedicated to her work in saving children from bad homes and situations.

I used to always love this show back home when it was shown on TV from 1999 to 2005. I watched it every week. I would get home from a hard day’s work and a long commute from Atlanta and then sit down to watch it in the evenings. My mom was a big fan of the show too. So when I found that they show it on cable here in England, I started watching it again.

Brit Boy had never watched the show before, but he started watching it with me when he got home from work and very quickly became hooked on the show like me. The show is basically about Amy, her daughter Lauren, and the mother/grandmother Maxine who live together in the house where Amy grew up. But the show also does a great job at showing truthful family dynamics as they bring Amy’s brothers Peter and Vincent into the story, along with Peter’s wife Gillian and their son. So the show meanders through all of their lives and relationships and then couples their home lives with Maxine and Amy’s work lives, as a social worker and judge. A lot of the time there is an issue that comes up in Amy’s court room that mirrors her own life in some way or her relationship with her family. The transitions are just seamless and I often can relate to her and the universal things we all go through in our families. Brit Boy and I always say that it was one of the most well-written shows on TV. While the show was on the air, it won many accolades from the TV industry as well as respect from those who work with childrens’ issues in real life.

The only problem though is that Brit Boy and I can’t find it on DVD anywhere. It is hard to come by and we always halfway joke that we are going to start a campaign to get it on DVD. (smile) Also the channel that we watch it on here, seems to get to a certain point with the different years of the show and then stops abruptly and doesn’t finish the series of all the years. So we just hope that one day they will make all the years of the show available on DVD, so that we can relive them and Brit Boy can finally see them all like I have.

I do have a connection with two people from this show, but only vaguely. Many years ago, when I was a very young, bright-eyed girl, I did some work as an extra in movies and commercials. It was a great way to make extra spending money and I thought I might want to be an actress back then. (smile) Not anymore though. Anyway, once I did an extra part in an airline commercial and that same year I did a part as an extra in a TV movie.

Well the TV movie, starred none other than Tyne Daly who was Maxine years later on in “Judging Amy”. The movie also starred Richard Crenna who played Maxine’s boyfriend on “Judging Amy” for a while. The movie was called “Kids Like These”. Parts of it were being shot in Atlanta, so I was able to participate. In the movie Tyne Daly and Richard Crenna played a husband and wife who had a Down Syndrome child. I just remember both Tyne Daly and Richard Crenna to be very pleasant people and great professionals about their work. They were great to watch together. Richard Crenna sadly, passed away in 2003, during the time that he was on "Judging Amy".

So every time I see them together on “Judging Amy”, I tell Brit Boy that I have to watch my “co-stars”. (laugh) Yeah, right, I wish…but being an extra was great fun too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pizza, The Moon, and EVPs

I didn’t know what to do with myself when I woke up on Saturday morning and didn’t have to get dressed to go to the acupuncturist. I was accustomed to getting up out of bed and getting into town by my appointment time. There hadn’t been that many Saturday lie-ins for me or Brit Boy lately. So I woke up at 9am and sat up to look at the clock. I thought that I had overslept. Then a few seconds later it dawned on me that I was taking a break from acupuncture. So I flopped back down on my pillow. It is funny how something can become a habit so quickly in life. Brit Boy was already up and he was downstairs studying in his pajamas. He is racing towards a deadline with his work, so he got up earlier. I stretched out over the whole bed for a few minutes to luxuriate in having it all to myself. Don’t get me wrong. I love being married to Brit Boy and having a bed buddy, but it’s also fun to hog all of the bed for yourself sometimes. (smile) Although a bed alone on a cold winter’s night is not ideal. It is just fun sometimes to play with having a choice. (smile) And I wouldn’t trade my cute bed buddy husband for anything in the world.

After I got out of bed, we just hung out around home. I made some breakfast while Brit Boy studied. The weather has been rather windy and overcast here lately. So it was great when the sun came out at the end of the day. I was so excited that I decided to document it and save it for later.(smile) Here is a photo that I took of the lovely blue sky. I was leaning back on our bed as I took it. It was a beautiful end to the day.

We were running kind of low on groceries, so we splurged and had a pizza delivered. We did our bit to support the local economy of our village and ordered from a place on the High Street here. It’s a little independent shop and the pizza is quite good. We ordered their version of a Mediterranean pizza and it was really tasty. In the past we used to order from them quite often, but we have pulled back from that to save money and besides I love to cook. Of course I hate to wash the dishes, but that’s a story for another day. (laugh) Anyway, they used to know us so well that when we told them which address to deliver it to, they would finish our sentence for us. (laugh) This time though, they had to be actually told the full address, so I think we are definitely on a more frugal track now. (smile)

To finish off the night, I watched this show about paranormal phenomena. I have become a bit obsessed with shows like this lately. There are so many of them on TV nowadays. I joked to Brit Boy that I know I must be watching too many because one of the ladies whipped out a piece of equipment and I immediately said, “Oh, that’s her EVP.” (smile) An EVP for those who aren’t into this stuff is an electronic voice phenomena recorder. It is supposed to pick up the voices of ghosts. As I have written before, I love creepy movies and all things Vincent Price, so I guess that shows like this are fun for me to watch sometimes. It makes for a great night in.

After my shows ended, I went downstairs to take a look out our back window. We have a big window that shows our back yard/garden and there is a glass door next to that. So you can get a great view of things. I was soon joined by Brit Boy. I have this lifelong love affair with the moon and I have brought Brit Boy along for the ride. He enjoys looking at it with me too. The moon was full here on Friday night, but it was cloudy. So I went to see if anything was visible. Brit Boy and I were not disappointed. The moon was big and fat and luminous with a scattering of clouds shielding it at intervals. I love the full moon when there are no clouds, but I think that I love it more when there is just a hint of cloud to add some mystery.

Watching the moon always makes me think of my parents. Whenever I was outside following my daddy around the garden at the end of a summer’s day and the moon was just showing itself, I would love it. I would tell my daddy that I wanted to bite a piece out of the moon. He would humor me and say, “Yeah, I guess it does look like cheese.” And I was very fond of going outside to see it as I grew up and would sometimes drive further down into the countryside to get a clearer look and my mom would always come along for the ride. She never liked missing a ride. (smile) Those calm, sweet moments that I remember with my parents always carry me through when I am missing them. (smile)

Today, we had a grocery delivery just in time. We were getting rather low. We had one more coupon that we could use to get free delivery. So since the truck is always out our way, we figured that our groceries could catch a ride along with everyone else’s. (smile) I do like that about living here that you can get groceries delivered from most of the supermarkets even if you live a ways out of town. Maybe things have changed back home since I was there, but when I was back in my part of Georgia, we didn’t have this service. It is a great idea though. It saves time and gas.

Now the day is coming to an end and I am going to go and watch my other favorite kind of TV show…mysteries. They make a lot of mystery type shows here in England that I love to watch. I love the whole whodunit thing and also they are usually filmed in some lovely villages across the country. The program started a few minutes ago and I have been typing this during the commercials, but now I am going to give it my proper attention. Later, I may take a look outside to see if there are any other interesting things twinkling in the sky tonight. And hopefully my bed buddy will come too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Herbal Treatment

Since I have finished taking my acupuncture treatments for the foreseeable future, I am now trying to finish off the herbal part of my treatment. While I was having the acupuncture, over the last year, I was also given some Chinese herbs to take. When I first started off with the treatments, I was taking a strong, bitter tea. Each time that I visited Karen’s shop, she would give me several bags of herbs that I had to brew for a while and then strain and then drink, twice a day. The herbs were in very organic form and were in a mixture of leaves and barks. But I was game because I had so much pain. I bought a cheap pot especially for the brewing because I figured that once I brewed the herbs, the smell would last in the pot forever. (smile) I was right. The smell was very, very strong and the taste was even stronger. But I persisted. This went on for a while and it really did help me.

Then I switched to the supplement form of the herbs, which worked out to be cheaper and did the same thing. And I have to say, as I have said before, I can’t say how acupuncture and/or herbs will work for everyone, but they did work for me. I think in the end, that the herbs and acupuncture worked well in conjunction with my physical therapy and now I am nearly 100% better.

I realized the other day that I still have some supplements that I have to finish, so I have started back taking them to finish off my treatment since these are the last ones I was given. I used to be a bad girl sometimes and skip them, so that is why I have some left over. (smile) Karen would be proud of me for following through.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Weekend and Scary Fun

This past weekend was beautifully normal and quiet, which was good. It is great to get a breather sometimes. On Saturday, I went into town to have my last acupuncture appointment for a while. My back has been steadily improving, so I am going to stop the appointments for now. I am feeling pretty great. Also we need to cut back on things financially, especially since we are trying to rebound from our addiction to concerts. (laugh) I am doing fine though, so it’s all good.

I realized that it was nearly a year to the day that I first started on my journey with acupuncture. The first day that I walked in there, I was hardly walking at all. Brit Boy and I had a car accident at the end of 2006 and I was increasingly walking slower and slower, with lots of pain. I sought out traditional treatments also, but it took me a while to get in to see someone sadly, so things sort of deteriorated quickly. Thankfully I finally got in to see a physical therapist and I saw a chiropractor for a while. I was in the middle of my waiting around to be seen by someone and just happened to be peering into the window of the acupuncture shop. Karen approached me and I must say, I am grateful that she did. I shuffled into her shop a year ago, with not much hope that I would ever be myself again, and on this past Saturday, I walked out of there with a stronger back, a stronger spirit, a stronger body, and a new friend. I will definitely be dropping by there every time I am in town. As an expat you learn that you have to pull in every opportunity for friendship with open arms. (smile) I told her that I will drop by and pick up some advice from her on taking care of myself, so she will still see my face around there.

Karen didn’t do the actual placing of the needles, because Ta did that, but Karen offered a valuable piece of the healing too. She offered me the kind words that I craved when I was having such bouts of loneliness here, coupled with physical pain, and the only person I knew here was my Brit Boy. We shared stories of what life is like when you are trying to make a life in a new country. And sometimes, she was just a knowledgeable friend who helped me forget my worries. When I left her shop on Saturday, I hugged her. It felt so natural and she hugged me back. It wasn’t a shop owner and a patron hugging, it was simply two friends being friends. (smile)

After I left Karen’s acupuncture shop and found Brit Boy, we did our errands. They were having an Italian Market this weekend. A few months ago, they had a French Market where I sampled the French prawnies, but this time I didn’t get anything. The weather was a lot better for this market in comparison to the French one. During the French Market, it was freezing cold, but during the market on Saturday the weather was okay. I love these markets though, because they bring a bit of the tastes of continental Europe to our neck of the woods and it brings nice variety.

As we traveled home from town later, we came the back way home and it takes us through some of the most beautiful Wiltshire countryside. We could see that there was a storm brewing and it seemed to be following us home to our little village. I looked off into the distance, across the valley and I saw a huge black cloud hanging over town. It was an awesome sight to see the rain coming down back where we had come from, miles away, and we were riding along in partial sunshine. It was one of those beautiful nature moments that I love. The minute that we walked into our house, the rain did eventually find us too. (smile)

One of my favorite things to do on a rainy weekend afternoon, is to watch old movies. I grew up watching these and they still always satisfy. I love modern movies too, but there is just something about a movie from times gone by. Brit Boy was on the computer, so I had movie time to myself. I watched “High Society” with Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Bing Crosby. It was great. Grace Kelly had a fabulous wardrobe in that film…classic. Then I watched “The Last Time I Saw Paris” with Van Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Donna Reed. I loved the fashions in this one too and it was set in Paris, so it definitely satisfied. Elizabeth Taylor was ravishing in this movie. She was at her absolute beauty peak in this movie. She looked beautiful in every outfit, but my favorite was her in this beautiful jet black gown. Her hair was cut short into a pixie cut at this point in the movie and she wore these beautiful diamond earrings. The sparkle of the earrings next to her jet black hair, all together with her gown, just made for a striking image. After all of the talk of fashion, I have to say, the movie was actually a very emotional one, with problems of drinking, marital problems, and jealousy. I really enjoyed both movies. It made for a wonderful afternoon.

On Sunday, I watched “The Bat” which was a great spooky movie starring Vincent Price. He was one of my favorites. I absolutely love spooky movies, so he is “the man” of horror for me and I’m sure many others. (smile) This movie was very campy, but I love a good helping of campiness every once in a while. It makes me think that it was probably a great movie to see during the era of drive-in movies. Love that Vincent Price! (smile) Some of my best Friday night movie nights are all owed to him.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stevie and Memories of the Rain

Things have calmed down a bit since our trip to London for Wimbledon and the Nelson Mandela birthday concert, but there’s always fun around the corner. (smile) We have another event to add to our calendar for 2008. As I have written about before , we are going to see Madonna in Cardiff on August 23rd. Well Brit Boy and I can’t stop it seems, just yet. We are having to cut back like everyone out there, but we had to get one more event in for this year and then it is cold turkey withdrawal for “gig heads” like us. (laugh) We found out that Stevie Wonder is touring again and he is coming to the UK! He is Brit Boy’s favorite singer and he is a great, great favorite of mine, so we simply couldn’t pass up the chance to see this living legend in person. We often sit around and go through our list of who we have seen and who we still want to see perform. I told Brit Boy that we should write down our list to keep it all straight. (smile)

Anyway, we are going to see Stevie Wonder in London in September. We will go up for the concert and then come right back. And then we have promised ourselves that we are keeping our gig tendencies under control for a while. (smile) But we are just so, so excited! We have been really lucky to see so many wonderful performers in the last couple of years…from new artists to bonafide legends. So I will certainly share our experience of the concert here in my blog. We can’t wait for the show.

Yesterday I went out with Brit Boy while he went to see a client. He likes to have me come along for the ride. We had quite a distance to go yesterday…far into the Wiltshire countryside, to a sweet little town called Mere. It’s a lovely little place with cozy houses that are centuries old. The ride down that way of the world is always great. Yesterday though, we drove down there through continuous rain and it never let up. Here is a photo of the rainy weather that we traveled through.

Brit Boy remarked that it reminded him of our drive down that way about four years ago. Back then, we were on our way to Stourhead, which is the lovely place where Brit Boy proposed to me, on a sweet little footbridge. Stourhead is a huge country estate that is part of the National Trust. The National Trust is entrusted with caring for and preserving places like this and Stourhead is just gorgeous. To give you an idea of how picturesque it is, when we were there, they were filming the latest big screen version of Pride and Prejudice. It’s a very romantic setting.So anyway, on the day that we were driving down there, it was pouring down rain and then the rain was also coming at us sideways. (laugh) It was absolutely drenching, but it didn’t rain when we got there that day. So it turned out beautiful on the day we were engaged.

Yesterday, it certainly brought back memories for us. However this time, the rain never let up. It seems that July is going to be a wet month. But we are counting our blessings because the rain stayed away when we were at Wimbledon and at the Mandela concert. It couldn’t have turned out better.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Nelson Mandela and The Rest of Our Story

Today I will finish up my story of our time in London from June 23-28th. As I have said before, it was a glorious week with many highlights. I mentioned before that going to Wimbledon helped me to remember that there is still fun and good in the world because it was just a wonderful experience and was done so well. And I mentioned that there was also another highlight. It was the greatest of them all. Brit Boy and I saw Nelson Mandela! (smile) That was a glorious experience that neither one of us will ever forget. But I don’t want to skip ahead too much here. I still have the day before that to tell you about. So I will pick up where I left off last time.

On the Thursday morning of that great week, we woke up and took our time getting going. We had had an early wakeup on all the other days, so this day we decided to chill a bit. We got up at about 10am, got dressed, and then headed to the tube station. We topped up our Oyster cards at this point at the machine there. We figured that it would be best to do it then when the station wasn’t busy and there was a long line. After we put more credit onto our Oyster cards, we headed on our journey to Piccadilly Circus.

Piccadilly Circus is a wildly frenzied place, full of throngs of people and activity. There are tourists and native Brits all walking around this way and that together and I love the feel of it. I am usually not one for crowds of people, but in some situations like this, I feel it is the only way to go…you feel a part of everybody else. I like it there. You feel like you are in the middle of the action. It is touristy in bits, but what’s wrong with that? (smile) We like it a lot. It is like a playground to us.

We went to the area to have our nice lunch, or as Brit Boy calls it, our “slap-up meal”. This is his Brit-ism for a nice meal. (smile) We went to our favorite steak place for our splurge of the trip. We had been eating inexpensively the rest of the time so that we could spend a bit more to have our special meal. This place is becoming a bit of a tradition for us. It is not terribly expensive there, but it costs more than McDonald’s. (smile) Anyway, we had our splurge.

We had the same waitress as we had back in April, which was nice. She is always good to us. Brit Boy and I both had the steak and fries/chips, along with a nice green salad that we shared. For our appetizer, Brit Boy had potato skins and I had shrimp/prawns that were as light as a feather. Both things were so good. For dessert, we both had a slice of strawberry cheesecake that was divine. Here is a photo of mine before I dived in.

After our nice lunch, we headed to the tube station across the street. We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum. There is a tunnel from the tube that goes right into the museum and some of the others around there. Along the tunnel, there was a busker/musician who was playing his guitar beautifully…sort of a jazzy, classical feel to his music. He was great. I dropped a few coins in his case. Brit Boy noticed that the busker also had a sign telling about his website. It was cool….an age-old music tradition meeting new millennium technology. Gotta love it. (smile)

We went to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) mostly to see an exhibition of memorabilia of The Supremes. It was fabulous. The gowns were amazing and timeless. A lot of those dresses that were from the 60s still could look fabulous if worn now. There is something about dresses from the 40s, 50s, and 60s that transcends the particular decade and will always look good. There were programs, photos, and all kinds of artifacts of this fabulous group of ladies. Mary Wilson had held onto a lot of this stuff, so she put it all together and now we have this great exhibit to see. I heard her in an interview here where she said that she didn’t throw anything away from that time. Thank God for her. (smile) The exhibit also had film of her and others talking about Motown and The Supremes. There was also a bit of archival footage of Martin Luther King Jr and things about the Civil Rights Movement as a background to give a feel of the times when Motown and The Supremes were doing their thing. It showed just how massive their achievement was and how it shaped history. They altered the perceptions of many in the rest of the world. The Supremes were elegant and all of the girl groups after them have a great example to follow. The Supremes were at their height before I was born, but I grew up hearing their music like everyone else and I think they were wonderful. The little girl in me just wanted to break into the exhibition cases and try on all of the clothes. (smile) As a former wannabee fashion designer, I was loving the fashions and the music is classic.

Whilst at the V&A we also looked at the costume collections, the jewelry, the photography, and sculptures. We were only allowed to take photos in certain areas. Here is a photo of some busts in one of the galleries. It is a lovely place.

Here is the outside of the V&A. Very stately.

After we came out of the museum, we decided to take a walk to Hyde Park since it was a nice day. We sat on a bench for a while and looked out across the lake. It was quiet and peaceful there and you forget that you are in the middle of a big noisy city. Hyde Park is probably my favorite place in London.

We watched the little blue paddle boats going across the water and then decided to give it a try ourselves. So we paddled out on the lake and I must admit that at first it was a bit unsettling since the wind got up and the currents were dragging us sideways when that was not the way we wanted to go. (laugh) I kept hoping that we wouldn’t spring a leak. But eventually things leveled out. We both loved it though. It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Whilst we were there in the park, we could hear them practicing for the Mandela concert the next day. Here are a couple of photos of us in the middle of the lake.You can just about see the edge of our blue paddle boat in the second photo.

Then we took the boat back to shore and walked over and had ice cream from one of the stands in the park. We found another bench and sat watching guys and a girl roller-blading and doing tricks. Along this same stretch of road, vans were going back and forth with VIPs inside of them to and from the concert area. We didn’t see anyone though. All the windows were blacked out. It was a fun time though. We bought sandwiches and potato chips/crisps from a stand at the tube station and headed back to our hotel.

On the walk from the tube station to our hotel, they were having a concert at Wembley Arena, which is next to Wembley Stadium. We couldn’t tell who was performing, but the crowds around there seemed excited. We kept walking to our home away from home. (smile) We watched the big Euro 2008 football/soccer match…I sort of read and watched. Brit Boy was really into it. It was a good restful evening. The next day was Mandela. We couldn’t wait!

The next day, we got up with the great expectation of seeing Nelson Mandela. The concert wasn’t until around 6:30pm so we had some time to kill. We took our time getting up. We left our hotel at about 11am and headed to McDonald’s down near the tube station to have brunch. Then we left and took the tube to Green Park.

Green Park is a lovely park too and has lovely mature trees and is fabulously…well, green. (smile) It is a peaceful place to hang out. Brit Boy and I found a bench and sat there to take all the beautiful nature in. We talked and then the rain came. First it was light, so we were fine with that. We are both immune to bother about light rain now. (smile) I am a recent convert now that I have been here a while. Plus, the trees are so big and thick that the canopies of leaves sort of act as an umbrella. But soon the rain came down too hard so we hopped back on the tube and went to Oxford Street. We figured that we could find some shelter in one or two of the many shops along there.

We wandered around Borders for a while. This store is my paradise. I love reading. Brit Boy enjoys it there too. We also popped in to a few boutiques…can’t forget the inner fashionista. (laugh) We didn’t buy anything because we didn’t want to be weighted down at the concert and also we were trying to be frugal.

Soon the rain let up and stayed that way all the way through the concert later. We walked along to Hyde Park in excited anticipation of the concert. We queued up with everybody else and waited to be let into the gates. We eventually got inside and claimed excellent spots near the front of the crowd. They had a circle right at the stage cordoned off for people with gold circle tickets, but we were right behind that group and had a great view.

We sat down yoga-style on the grass and took in the scene. We were sitting next to a fellow who had come over from Germany just for the concert. He was nice. He asked me if I would hold his spot next to me and I said sure. So he went to get a drink. He had a piece of yellow plastic that he sat on, so I used that to hold his spot and I placed our binoculars on top of it. He was gone for quite a while and I thought that he might have found somewhere else to sit, but a while later he came back. He told me that if the rain did come that I could have his other piece of plastic to cover us since I had held his place. I thought that was so nice and so in tune with the vibe of the event. Miraculously though, it didn’t rain. The sky looked quite ominous at several points, but it held off. Here is a photo of the stage before the concert started.

Soon the concert got underway and everyone stood up. The concert was great. Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith helped out with the presenting and Will at one point came out on his own to get the crowd going. He said that he had to get in on the action since he was introducing all of the other acts and he wanted to see if he still “had it”. (smile) Well, Will still has it. He was great. He did a bit of one of his hits and then he did a bit of the theme tune from his show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. I was singing along through it all. It was great. (smile) He really rocked da house!! The crowd loved it.

Eddy Grant was also great and had a sing-a-long with the crowd. He looks the same as he did in the 80s and can still do his thing. He is a great performer and is going on tour again. He brought lots of life to the stage. Here is a photo of him in action.

Simple Minds was great. I loved it when they did their song from years ago, “Mandela Day”. They also did “Don’t You Forget About Me”. It was great because they were one of the acts from the very beginning who worked to raise awareness of Mandela’s plight and what was going on in South Africa. Here is a photo from when they were on stage.

The Children of Agape Choir were wonderful along with Annie Lennox. Their song was so stirring to the soul. They sang with a raw, beautiful power. Annie Lennox is one of my favorite singers and she is also one who has been fighting the good fight for years on behalf of those involved in the 46664 campaign. She showed a photo and talked a bit about this little girl who was an AIDS orphan and had AIDS herself. Her face was gaunt and she looked as if she were on the brink of death at such a tender age. Then Annie showed the other photo of this little girl, who was hugging Annie, and she looked like a totally different child. It showed the power of what the access to proper AIDS medication can do to save lives. The little girl is not cured of course, but she has been given a chance. It was a powerful illustration.

The Soweto Gospel Choir was wonderful too. They were a great addition to many of the acts that were on stage. They were dressed in beautiful brightly-colored outfits that just popped out at you. They were glorious to see and hear. Beautiful voices. Josh Groban was great. He has an amazing voice. Emmanuel Jal is a great hip hop artist who was a child soldier in Sudan. He is now performing music about reconciliation and hope and he is very talented. He really got the crowd going with his set too.

I really enjoyed everyone and there is just not enough room here to talk about all of them. I wish that I could. (smile) They had a great line-up. There were artists from all over the world and they were wonderful.

In the middle of the concert, there was a pause for the great one. Will Smith came out and introduced Mr Nelson Mandela. Here is a photo of him coming onstage.

Both Brit Boy and I were very moved by this moment. I was overcome with such joy at that moment when Mr Mandela or as they call him “Madiba”, came out to speak. I instantly welled up with tears because I knew that this was surely one of the greatest honors of my life to see him. There was a hush that fell over the crowd of nearly 50,000 people. Mr Mandela is coming upon his 90th birthday now, so of course he has to take it slow as he walks, but I know that he was determined to come and speak to us. He had traveled a long way to come to England, but he did so in order to help out the 46664 campaign and the work it does and also to be there for everyone to honor him on his 90th year of life. It was amazing, but you could just feel all of this love in the air when he was onstage. The air changed. It was wonderful. Mr Mandela gave a short speech, but every word vibrated all around us. And what I took away from it is what the slogan of the concert said, “it’s in our hands”. It was like he was saying, I have been on this journey my whole life and now it is your turn to do what you can. And I thought yes. He has done so much for humanity and if anyone deserves a rest, he does. I hope to be as able as he is when I am 90 years old. I figure that all of us were amazingly lucky to be able to see him and hear him. I know that it has validated and awakened some plans within me to help others. I just felt like he was passing the torch to all of us to do whatever we can to help others in whatever way we wish. I can’t be Nelson Mandela, but I can be me and do things even if it is in little ways. I have always sought out this path in life and now I just want to do even more. (smile) Brit Boy does too. The 46664 campaign is one great way to help others.

Near the end of the concert, Brit Boy and I decided that we needed some air and we were hungry, so we squeezed our way away from the front and went to the food stalls. The crowd was more dispersed back there. We went to a food van that was selling foot long hotdogs. The van had car license plates from the US all over it and it just so happens that one of the license plates was from Georgia…my old stomping ground. (smile) We ate our hotdogs and watched the concert from further back.

We made a run for it right near the end of the concert to beat some of the crowd heading to the tube station. Others were thinking the same thing. The security let us out of a side gate which was coincidentally the same side that we had been sitting along the day before, watching for VIPs. So in a full circle moment for the week, who should we see leaving out of this side gate but Boris Becker!!!! He was only a few feet away from me. (laugh) So Mr Becker was "thisclose" and I was thrilled. Back in the day, he was a fave of mine. I decided to not run up to him for an autograph because it was dimly lit over there and I didn’t want him to think we were going to attack him. (laugh) It was enough to just see him again. I took it as a good sign and a full circle moment that we had seen him twice…once at the beginning of our adventure at Wimbledon and once at the end of the glorious week at the concert. Maybe I will get an autograph one of these days! (smile)

The next day was Saturday and we headed home. We checked out of our hotel and walked back to the tube station in the hot sun. It was great though. I had become very brawny over the course of the week and pulled that bag like it weighed nothing even though it didn’t. I know that we must have walked thousands and thousands of steps by the end of our trip. We both joked that it had been like being on a wonderful marathon across a continent or two. (smile)

We took the tube to Victoria Station. We had a couple of baguettes and a drink. We then headed around to the coach station. Brit Boy and I were talking about the fact that the coach station is tiny and not even big enough for the amount of people that come through there.

We took our coach/bus back home and then got a taxicab back home. We both crashed on the sofa with a dopey smile on our faces. We were so happy to have had such fun and we were so tired. But I tell you, I will take that kind of tired any day, when it is due to such a wonderful ride like we had through that glorious week.

Friday, July 04, 2008

King Tut and St Paul

Brit Boy and I have had our bit of Fourth of July today. We just put out our two little American flags on the table. In the interest of fairness, we also have tiny England flags that we put out on St George's Day. (smile) We had cheeseburgers, potato salad, and beans. It was reminiscent of the picnic food that my mom would make for the Fourth of July when I was back home. We would have even more sometimes…hotdogs, ribs, chicken, deviled eggs, and sometimes some homemade ice cream. Then there were usually fireworks in the evening in town. Those were good times. (smile) Anyway, we did our own little version of a picnic and it turned out great. And I have to say, that my potato salad was incredible if I do say so myself. (smile) I got really into it and it turned out great. The secret I think was the bit of dijon mustard that gave it a slight kick. My mom would be proud and my brother Tim would have loved it too. He LOVED potato salad and was known to get up in the wee hours of the morning to make it, because he had a taste for it as he awoke from sleep. (smile)

Just an update, we finally got our broadband sorted out. Basically our old router went kaput and we had to get another one. Doesn’t it seem that there is always something to spend money on? (smile) Oh well, both Brit Boy and I need it for work, so it’s all good. We are just glad that it is working.

So I will pick up now with my story of our trip to London last week. I left off last time with my story of our Wimbledon experience. Well, the next day we headed to the O2 Arena to see the King Tut exhibit and we took a trip to St Paul’s Cathedral.

We started out the day early-ish. Thankfully they fixed our shower, so we could do the cleaning thing. We had tickets to the King Tut exhibit that were for a certain window of entry. Our window was from 10:30-11:00am. We had a bit of a trip on the tube to the O2, but we made it in plenty of time.

The exhibit was interesting and the pieces were intriguing. I did learn quite a bit about King Tutankhamen. Some experts had once thought that he may have had a curvature of his spine, but now they think that he may have not had this at all. But his body was possibly slightly twisted when he was being mummified and prepared for burial.

Here are photos of the outside of the exhibition.

After we came out of the exhibit, we decided that we would have something to eat at the O2 complex since it was getting along to lunch time and we hadn’t eaten. They have lots of restaurants there in the complex, so there was quite a lot to choose from. But as ever, we were trying to eat on a budget. (smile) We settled on eating at Pizza Express which has lovely, authentic, fresh pizza as well as many other tasty things. I wanted to try everything and so did Brit Boy. (smile) We both had two slices of pepperoni pizza, and we shared a big green salad. Brit Boy had a Sprite and I had a Sicilian lemonade and I will just say, it was like being back home. (laugh) I’ve written here before about my search for lemonade. Well, who knew that the southern lemonade that I had back home is a close cousin to Sicilian lemonade. (smile) It was very slightly sweet and tart and just right…smooth.

There is a structure in the lobby area of the O2 that I always find intriguing. It looks like strands of huge pearls suspended. Here is a photo of it.

Once we were back outside again, we headed for the tube station. I had to take a photo of the O2. I love it. It is very unusual looking from the outside. Here is a photo as I walked backwards to the tube station.

Then we headed off to see St Paul’s Cathedral. I have been to London many times now and I have seen a lot of it, but not all of it by any stretch of the imagination. One place neither I, nor Brit Boy had visited, was the cathedral. It was a very breezy day and so as we rounded the corner to the cathedral, I got grit in my eyes that blew up from the street. This seemed to be a recurring theme most days. (laugh) So it was murder on my eye makeup. Anyway, the cathedral is magnificent. They don’t allow photography inside, but I got a photo of the outside. Here it is.

I will just say that the inside is glorious. (smile) Truly divine. Everywhere you look it is just awe-inspiring. The stonework, the carvings, the decoration, the ceilings…just amazing! Visitors are allowed to go up into the rotunda, but you have to brave hundreds of steps. It is so worth the effort. (smile) We walked 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery. When you get up there, there is a railing that you can walk along and look down to the cathedral floor. The cool thing is that you can whisper up there on one side and it can be heard on the other side of the rotunda. It is cool. You are also allowed to go further up to the next level. The view from there is amazing.

When we came back downstairs, they were doing The Lord’s Prayer and invited visitors to join in. So Brit Boy and I participated. After that, we walked around and looked at all of the dedications and such. Over in one corner, there is the American Chapel which is to honor the help of the US during WWII. This caused a bit of a lump in my throat, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, just on a simple level it was good to see cooperation between people for the common good and this memorial was about Britain and America and Brit Boy and I come from across that divide. So I don’t know…it was just deep. But also, my dad was a WWII veteran, and thankfully he made it home. As I have mentioned before, I am the last of a long line of kids and there is a gap between me and the others in years. I was a late comer. (smile) Also, my dad was quite a few years older than my mother, so that is why I have a dad who was a WWII vet and not a grandfather who was one. (smile) So I had a moment there in that chapel.

Then we went down into the tombs of the cathedral. We saw dedications to and tombs of: the Duke of Wellington, William Blake, J.M.W. Turner, Florence Nightingale, Horatio Nelson, Alexander Fleming, and of course…"The Guy They Call Sir", Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul’s that I mentioned in an earlier post. There were many, many dedications and tombs and I was intrigued by them all, but I had to see Sir Christopher’s. (smile) I live nearby where he was born, so I had to pay my respects. He did beautiful work on the cathedral also. And I thought this was a nice touch that his tomb is right next to a radiator in a corner. I like to think that it’s there to keep him warm. (smile) Well he deserves it for designing such a beautiful place.

When we came back outside, we noticed the Temple Bar. It is a barrier arch that marks the westernmost extent of the City of London. Here is a photo.

After this we took a lengthy walk in search of The Monument, which marks the spot where the Great Fire started. When we eventually found it, it was covered with scaffolding for work to be done.

After that, we were tired and it had been a long day. So we headed for the tube to go back to our hotel. On the short walk from the tube station to our hotel, we stopped at McDonald’s and had a bite to eat.

Later that night, we were lying around in bed watching a bit of television. I got up and looked outside and saw some teenagers in fancy gowns coming to the hotel. Brit Boy and I watched the scene unfold. Apparently they were having their school prom. I did think that it was unusual that they were having their prom on a Wednesday night, but perhaps they had already finished school. I don't know. It didn't go on too late I don't think. It was nice to see the teens having fun. (smile) Proms have been a part of American high school culture for decades and in the last few years they have become more popular here in England. I was surprised to read some things lately in the news media here about some people saying that proms aren't a good tradition because it costs too much and seems to be all about money or having the fancy gowns or fancy cars and such and it is consumerism gone wild. Some media even went so far as to call it a tacky tradition. Well I don’t agree with that at all.

Proms back in the day in America were more low-key and were usually held in high school gyms and not in hotels like they are now. And from what I hear from my older sisters a lot of the time the gowns were homemade or bought cheap. It was just a wonderful rite of passage to signify the end of your high school days. A first formal affair as kids went out into the adult world. So proms were simply fun. Nowadays, kids want proms at hotels and yes they get fancy gowns and tuxedos and limos and all of that, but these newer ways of doing things are just symptoms of our times. It can get over the top sometimes now, but people should look at our world now…it is just different in good ways and bad. Still, I think that I would rather that kids do get dressed up and go to proms, even in limos, if it will keep them from skipping out on school altogether and the prom, in favor of falling down drunk in the street and puking in the gutters like you see on the news. Yeah, the prom nowadays is a bit splashier, but it is a gentle thing compared to a lot of the evil out there. So I say, lighten up to the media, and let the kids have their proms if they want, here and back home. (smile)And at the end of the day, sometimes some things are just to have fun. What is wrong with that? You are only young once.

When Brit Boy and I were watching the kids arriving, we saw this family…a mom, dad, little sister, and teenage girl dressed in a flowing dress. She was lovely. The golden sheen of her dress was set off by her beautiful brown skin. It was so sweet. She didn’t arrive in a limo. Mom and Dad and sis dropped her off. They parked along the street and took a series of photos of the girl, and then of her with various members of her family. It was a sweet scene and is really what the prom and special occasions in our lives are all about…the memories that we make. (smile) I told Brit Boy that it was just like watching kids back home. It was one of those universal moments we all share whether this girl and her family were here or back home in my Georgia town. It is like that saying goes; we are all alike more than we are different sometimes. I'm not saying that everyone has to do what America does, because I believe in cultures having their own thing going,but after all, it's just a fancy dance for teenagers. (smile) I love individuality like the next person, but sometimes there is a tug from within when I see shared experiences reflected between people. I think it is important for Britain to have its traditions and America and everywhere else to have their traditions, but I don’t think it hurts a thing or encroaches on anybody’s turf to see ourselves in each other sometimes. (smile)There is so much bad in the world that we all have to share, so why not share a fun thing. I know it may sound simplistic, but sometimes things are debated too much and it is much ado about nothing.

After all of the photo-taking, the family all hugged…even little sis and big sis and then this lovely young lady’s parents waved her off and she walked into her prom. They will never forget that moment within their family, and neither will I.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Our Day at Wimbledon

Our day at Wimbledon was fantastic. Brit Boy and I both kept saying, “I can’t believe that we are here.” You know how it is sometimes when you look forward to experiencing something in your life and then you finally get to experience it and you say to yourself, ‘Is that all that there is?’ Well going to Wimbledon was not one of those situations at all. (smile) We have all had our share of letdowns in life and God knows that I have had my share in my life, but this day at Wimbledon was just a beautiful reminder that there are still some great experiences out there despite the problems in the world. Our experience at Wimbledon was my first of two reminders last week that there are still glories and truths and things in this world to be excited about. My other reminder came a few days later, but more about that to come.

So Brit Boy and I got up bright and early on Tuesday, June 24th and readied ourselves for our day out. The gates were to open at Wimbledon around 10:30ish and since we had to travel a bit from Wembley to get there, we had to get going early. We had a bit of a hiccup that morning with our hotel room. I mentioned in my last entry that we had to wait a good while to get checked in and then had to collect our key later. Well the fun just kept happening because that morning I was the first into the shower and it was not working. Ugh!!!! Not a good thing.(laugh)But I didn't miss a beat and just plopped myself down and had a very quick bath and Brit Boy did the same. There was no way that we were gonna turn up at the storied lawns of Wimbledon without touching a bit of water. (smile) This was only a minor blip. Nothing was going to stop us that day. I wore my mom's green-stoned ring. I always wear something of hers when I go somewhere new here, because I feel like I am taking her with me. I never got the chance to show her England like I wanted to because she missed making it here by three months. So I take a bit of her with me and it feels like it sets things right. So anyway,when we got down to the lobby, we reported our shower not working and then we were off to Wimbledon.

Brit Boy and I had been praying for great weather for weeks and we certainly got it that day. It was just wonderful…warm and sunny with a breeze. I had always heard that the Wimbledon area was leafy and green and it is that way on the walk down to the complex. There were shuttle buses taking people to the tennis complex from the tube station, but we just walked along with everyone else. The day was too pretty to not walk the couple of blocks and take it all in. Along the way, there were vendors selling food and things. Also there were street teams giving out cereal bars to spectators. Brit Boy and I got a couple. They were chocolate and orange cereal bars. The chocolate and orange combination is a very popular combination here in England. It was free and we hadn’t eaten yet, so I ate it as we walked along. (smile) Brit Boy ate his when we sat down later.

Just as we arrived, the gates were opening. Across the street, some people were veering off to another area to wait to see if they could possibly pick up some tickets to at least get into the grounds. We had thought about doing that too if we hadn’t been so lucky to get our tickets. It is a good option and a good chance to get in also. So anyway, we went through the gates with everyone else and then went through security. They just checked your bags or whatever you were carrying. We traveled lightly. I only had my small over the shoulder purse and my camera. Brit Boy carried a small bag with a couple of things in it.

Once we made it through security, we headed over to get a bit to eat. We timed it just right, because there weren’t too many people in line at that point and the drinks were nice and cold.(smile) We found a nice seat on a bench near a flower pot and had sandwiches and Pepsi. Then as a chaser, we had the traditional strawberries and cream that are a part of the whole Wimbledon scene. They were nice. Brit Boy did remark that he thought that the cream was more like milk than cream. We both thought that it would be thicker when we imagined what it would be like, but it was still wonderful. Here is a photo.

After we finished our little picnic, we took a walk around. People were steadily arriving and there was a lovely atmosphere. Our first quasi-“celebrity” that we spotted was a journalist from Sky News here in the UK. I can’t recall her name and neither can Brit Boy, but she was one of the blond ladies on there. (smile) She was talking on a cell phone as she passed us. Here is a photo of the part of the grounds that they call Henman Hill. It’s named after the former British #1 tennis star Tim Henman.

Then we walked around to the souvenir shop. We were going to go into the museum, but it was closed at that point. We always try to find a keepsake from our adventures together, so we bought a little keepsake box that has the Wimbledon insignia on it. Each of us also purchased a t-shirt. Mine is pink with the Wimbledon emblem on it done up in sparkly beads. What can I say, I love a bit of bling sometimes. (smile) Brit Boy opted for a basic white shirt with a small emblem on the chest. Here is another photo of the grounds.

After a bit more of a walk around, we went ahead and made our way to our seats in Centre Court. While we waited for play to start, we saw the backs of retired tennis star Tracy Austin and Sue Barker who were doing a courtside bit of chat for tv preceding the match. Sue Barker is a former British tennis star who now does commentary and sports presenting for the BBC. Tracy Austin also does commentary for the BBC. Here is a photo of Centre Court before the first match.

The first match that we saw was Venus Williams versus Naomi Cavaday. From her very first serve, I was just in awe of Venus’ muscular tennis-playing prowess. Wow, you can see why she is the champ. Her serves were like lightning. I told Brit Boy that I so want sleek muscular arms like her. She is powerful. She is tall and has long legs and arms which would make you think that would make control tough for her. But she uses her length to her advantage and couples it beautifully with sheer athleticism. She is a great athlete and I am so glad that we had a chance to see her play and win. (smile) Her opponent Naomi Cavaday was good too. She held her own and kept the match close most of the whole way through.

The second match that we saw was Rafael Nadal versus Andreas Beck. Nadal is also tremendously muscular and powerful in his play. I watched the monitor that showed the speed of serves and he and Venus had serves that were similar in speed…well into the 100mph plus range. During the match, a lady collapsed in the stands across the court from us. This guy ran up from several rows down to come to the lady’s aid. The guy running was the reason that most of us noticed the activity. Brit Boy and I wondered how the guy noticed it from that far below the commotion. We wondered if he was a doctor or something since he seemed to be tending to her. There were others crowded around the lady and security was there to help. The guy that ran up the stairs yelled, “Call 911.” We figured he must have been from my side of the pond, because here the emergency number is 999 and it is 911 back home. And kudos to him and all of the other helpful people that were there to help this lady. She was helped away to get medical attention and I guess that she was alright. I hope so. The match continued on after an initial halt when she passed out.

In between the sets you are allowed to go in and out of the match to get refreshments or whatever. Brit Boy and I sat through both of the first two matches, because we didn’t want to miss anything, but by the third match we were getting hungry. So we ducked out after the Nadal match and went to get food. This time the lines were quite a bit longer, but we still made out okay. This time Brit Boy had a tuna and cucumber sandwich and I was feeling adventurous and had a wrap with duck in it. I had never had duck before, so I figured that I would live a little. Well, let me just say, that was my first time and last time having duck probably. I ate it and didn’t let it go to waste, but I didn't like the taste. Brit Boy said that he had had duck before and he didn’t like it also. So that is another thing we have in common. (smile) I know that lots of people like duck and that is great. Everything doesn't suit everyone's taste. That is the fun in the world...there is something for every taste. (smile) After we ate, we walked back towards Centre Court, but stopped off to share a cup of ice cream…it was praline and caramel. Lovely stuff. (smile)

Then we went back to watch the last match with Andy Murray and Fabrice Santoro. They had started by the time we got back so we had to wait a minute to go back to our seats. This match was good too. Murray won.

When we were walking around the grounds before we left, we looked at one of the balconies and saw tennis greats Boris Becker and Tracy Austin being interviewed. Boris Becker popped up again in our London adventure later in the week and he was nearly thisclose. (smile) I’ll tell about that later. Here is a photo of a bit of a trellis along the grounds that I thought was pretty.

We walked back to the tube station with all of the other happy spectators. It had been fabulous and everyone was in a good mood. The tube station was bursting at the seams by the time we got there. There were scores of people queued to buy tickets. Thankfully we had our Oyster cards which are a prepaid card that you use for journeys on London public transport. We bought them before the last time we went to London and now when we go up there we just top them up with more credit. So we swiped our Oyster cards, got on the tube and headed back to our hotel.

We had a glorious day and we will never forget it. Going to Wimbledon is a great experience that we hope to repeat again. I don’t know if fate will hand us Centre Court seats like that ever again, but after that great experience, we can’t be picky. (smile)