Thursday, July 31, 2008

How crazy is this?!

Saudi Arabia's religious police say they have begun enforcing a ban on the sale of cats and dogs as pets and walking them in public because men use the animals to hit on women.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Colors, Mad Men

As you can see, I changed the template for my blog recently. I found it online, and just tweaked it a little bit. The first version featured the dark brown background, with a light brown foreground that appeared on my laptop screen to be a taupe-like color, kind of like hot chocolate (the powdered kind). Then I looked at it on my home monitor, and wow, it was so different. More like coffee with cream. It was a tad too yellow for my tastes, so I adjusted it. Now when I look at it on my laptop, it appears almost pink! So much for being picky about how it looks. It seems everyone will get a different effect, depending on their screen. Oh well.

While I'm here, I'd love to blab on about what's up, but really, there's not much. Work is slow. It can be boring, and the day can go by soooo slooooowly (and yet somehow it seems unreal that July is almost over!!). Yet it also affords time to just sit and chat with coworkers, and I love everyone I work with. At home, things are the same. Comet is well. The house is fine. I've got grass growing now, but it's crabgrass, which is supposedly the bane of every gardener's existence. I say, at least it's green! The weather here has been super hot and muggy, until the skies decide to give it up and just rain already. Then it cools off a bit. Today isn't too bad though. I plan to start growing some herbs, so maybe I'll post some pictures here of the progress.

I've been watching this great show on AMC called Mad Men. It's been getting a lot of attention because it won Golden Globes and now it's nominated for 16 Emmys. There was a marathon on Sunday of the entire first season (Season 2 starts Sunday). I watched many that day, and have been watching the rest this week. It's fantastic. It takes place in 1960 (although I hear season 2 will open on Valentine's Day 1962) and they've created a universe which, whether or not it's realistic, is quite amusing. Doctors smoking as they examine patients, pregnant women tossing back cocktails, children playing with plastic bags on their heads, the divorcee who moves in down the block causing as much controversy as an interracial gay couple would cause in Alabama today. And oh, the womanizing! No wonder women felt the need to start a movement! The main character of the show is Don Draper, an ad man working on Madison Avenue. His colleagues have no qualms about telling the "girls" from the steno pool to shorten their skirts--and they do it! Don himself is married with two kids, but had two affairs in the first season alone. His wife has anxiety attacks (wouldn't you?) so she sees a psychiatrist, who reports on her issues to her husband as if they're dealing with a child. His boss is openly anti-Semitic, and there is nary a minority to be found in the entire office. His boss also has a heart attack, and says something along the lines of, "I always thought it would be my ulcer. I drank the cream, ate the butter, just like I was told, and now this." It's crazy how much things can change in just under 50 years. It sounds like a long time in terms of one person's life span, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to all of history. The Middle Ages lasted, depending on whom you ask, from 500-700 years, where everything stayed basically the same. The pace in modern times is pretty swift.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Final result

And yes, the ponytail is going to Locks of Love.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wednesday, June 11

We got up at 7:15 and I took my shower first. Unfortunately when getting out of the shower tub I slipped and fell (the floor of the tub was about 3 inches higher than the floor of the bathroom), bruising my right side and right arm. It shook me up because it was a hard fall but thankfully nothing was broken. Over the next couple of days, the bruises got worse and worse. This was three days later, at lunch in the Cotswolds:

Thankfully it was cool enough most of the time that I could wear a long sleeved sweater so it was covered.

Our intention was to be at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square by 9:30 (for half price theater tickets), and that’s about when we arrived. We'd stopped at a Pret a Manger, commonly referred to as Pret, on the way for breakfast. (It means "ready to eat" in French.) They're everywhere in London (literally--there are two at Trafalgar Square alone!), and they now have locations in New York City. It's basically a sandwich shop, and they also serve coffee and smoothies. Everything's pre-made, but they guarantee it's recently made, with fresh ingredients that haven't been shipped a gazillion miles or doused in chemicals or processed to oblivion. So you can feel good about this fast food. You just walk in and pick it up off the shelf--super quick, if you can decide what you want, because there are many enticing options. I had egg salad, the closest thing to breakfast without meat, and it was yummy--and under ₤3 ($6), so a bargain by London standards. This is a different Pret location, to give you an idea:

And here's part of the display at the Heathrow Pret:

While waiting in line at the ticket booth, we met a very nice Australian couple visiting London for a few days during their 6-week vacation around Europe. They said it took them 9 hours to fly from Brisbane to Singapore, then another 14 from Singapore to London. Yikes! Even though we chatted for a good 20 minutes, we never got their names, so Nicole and I decided they should be Bob and Suzanna. They left their teenagers at home and this was their trip of a lifetime, they said. At first they were going to get Billy Elliott tickets, but while standing in line Suzanna said she really wanted to see Hairspray (which was full price). We decided on Sound of Music. It was between that and Chicago, and SofM just seems more British. We paid about ₤30 ($60) per ticket...can you believe that’s half price??! But it was 8th row, so that was exciting. We checked on the map where our theater, the London Palladium, was located, and then headed for the Tube, towards Shakespeare's Globe.

Alas, I forgot my 2-for-1 voucher for the Globe in the hotel room, so we had to pay full price (₤10 each). The tour was ok. I’d read that tours were led by actors, but our guide was not. She was nice enough though. At first we weren’t allowed to take photos, because the cast was on stage in costume for a press stop to promote their latest production, Merry Wives of Windsor. But then they went on a tea break (!) so we could snap away. The theater itself seems relatively small, and it's hard to believe that 1500 people can fit inside. Even harder to believe was that they used to cram 3000! You can buy tickets these days for ₤15 if you want to sit on a bench, or only ₤5 if you can manage to stand for three hours. Not me! When the tour finished, we walked through the exhibition (costumes, models of the theater, etc.) and then popped over to the Tate Modern next door just for a peek. We went to the fourth floor espresso bar for the view, but alas, the balcony was closed. Even though I’m not a fan of modern art, I couldn’t enter a museum and leave without seeing at least one piece of art, so we walked through just a few rooms--which basically confirmed my “I don’t like modern art” opinion.

We walked across the Millennium Foot Bridge and noticed that the tide was out (the Thames is a tidal river) so we found some stairs down to the shore and did a bit of beachcombing. (This is a view of the beach from our river cruise the following day.)

I’d seen Rick Steves do it on his show about London. He said you can find these little tubes that used to be filled with tobacco. People would put them in their pipes, then when they were finished, they would throw the tube in the river. There were tons of them down there! There was also a lot of broken pottery. I don’t quite know how it all go there, or how old it is*, but it’s kind of cool to find. Nicole and I could have spent hours there, but we had to move on so we could stick to our schedule. My pockets were full of pottery shards as we made our way to lunch.

*After we got back from London, I did a little research, and found this blog post about the pottery in the Thames. Fascinating!!

Back up on the bank, we found a Salvation Army cafeteria that was surprisingly chic looking,

so we had some lunch. The baguette sandwich was kind of dry but they had some hot meals to choose from that would probably be better. We also had some "strong onion and cheese" potato chips (oh, don't get me started on the Brits and their weird chip flavors again!)

At St. Paul's, we bought our tickets (there were never any lines for the attractions--I guess June is a good time to go to London) and then started the tour Rick Steves has in his guidebook. It's interesting how one half of the cathedral lives up to architect Christopher Wren’s preferences (he valued simplicity), while the other half is completely Victorian and gaudy. You can actually see the line where they changed styles. I wish we could take photos! I did sneak a couple of covert ones, of course, with my itty bitty camera.

Taken while sitting up in the Whispering Gallery, at the base of the dome.

We climbed the stairs (150 if I recall) up to the Whispering Gallery, which was so cool, because it worked! They say that the dome of the cathedral is so perfectly shaped, the acoustics are such that you can stand on one side, and your friend can stand on the other, and you can whisper to each other and hear it. It’s kind of weird! Then we huffed and puffed up the next 120 or so stairs to the first observation level, which offered good views of surrounding London. We took lots of pics, caught our breath, and then climbed the last batch of steps (about another 120) to the very top. This time we decided to count, so we would know how much further we had to go. That helped a lot. The views at the very top were spectacular. Totally worth the climb.

(Following two pics courtesy of Nicole.)

You can't get a pic of this unless you climb to the top!!

Going back down--much easier!

We took the tube back to our hotel and got changed for dinner and the play.

We tubed to Oxford Circus and ate at a Garfunkel's. It's a chain restaurant and the food is reasonably priced, more or less. We shared chicken kebabs and a mushroom lasagna. Tasty enough. The play started at 7:30, and lasted until about 10. It's a beautiful theater.

Of course it was a musical, and the lead actress looked so much like Julie Andrews. All of the cast had good, strong voices, and although parts of the story seemed rushed, overall it was very enjoyable. I really liked all the nuns singing at the end. This solidified for me the desire to see an evensong (which we ended up doing two days later). The intermission was kind of interesting...they sell ice cream right in the theater, so you don't have to go into the lobby. We still did, though, to stretch our legs. After the play ended, we went back to our room and crashed. Not before planning out the next day, though.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The perfect summer peach

Bought at Harris Teeter on Wednesday. Four cost nearly six bucks. Luckily, they've ripened magnificently and are worth every penny. Fragrant, juicy, and sweet!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tuesday, June 10

Our flight was uneventful. I managed to sleep 5-6 hours, thanks to benadryl and a few sips of wine. We tried to watch Horton Hears a Who on our seat-back TV's but man, when your body thinks it's 3am, that crap is annoying! As we were nearing the end of the flight, I kept looking out the window, and at one point I went, "Oh my god!" and literally had to catch my breath. My eyeballs must have popped out of my head like in the cartoons. It was the London Eye! I grabbed my camera and started snapping away--I posted the photo earlier.

We landed at Heathrow around 3pm and thankfully there was not a really long line to get our passports stamped. There were at least a dozen agents so it went quickly. The giant sign that says UK Border was begging to be photographed. We managed two shots and then got yelled at by security for taking pictures. Welcome! Our luggage arrived safe and sound, and the chaos of Terminal 5 we'd heard on the news was nowhere to be found. It was, in fact, eerily quiet. We may or may not have seen Simon Cowell's girlfriend at the baggage carousel. (Nicole insists it was her; I had no clue.)

We'd decided to hire a car to take us to our hotel, and our driver was waiting for us with all the others. He took our luggage and led us to the car, which was a Toyota minivan. The drive to our hotel took about 50 minutes. We passed by several landmarks on the way, like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. The driver could have been friendlier, but we arrived safely and checked in. Our room was “triple as twin,” which means there was a double bed and a twin bed.

The room was huge compared to what I was expecting, and compared to the other London hotel we stayed in towards the end of the trip. Our view was other hotel windows--not beautiful, but we could see the sky at least, and the top of the London Eye. We settled in a bit then went out to explore!

It was a beautiful day; barely a cloud in the sky. We walked along the Thames, across Westminster Bridge (there's Big Ben!)

then up Whitehall (stopping to see the Horse Guard)

to Trafalgar Square.

On the way to Covent Garden we stopped to buy our 7-day passes to use on the Tube. Covent Garden was not as lively as I expected, although granted, it was past 8pm. We had Cornish pasties for dinner--they're like pot pies, but semi-circular in shape, and you hold it in your hands like pizza. Yum! Less than ₤3 each. We stopped at a Tesco to check out what a British grocery store would be like, and ended up buying junk food—Cadbury bar, mint Aero bar, and weird chip flavors (Steak & Onion, Prawn Cocktail, Bacon Rashers).* We meandered our way to Waterloo Bridge, getting some great dusk shots of Big Ben, the Eye, etc.

It’s disarming how late it stays light outside! Then it was back to the hotel to get some sleep in an actual bed.

*Go here to see all the disgusting tantalizing flavors of Walkers crisps. Worcester Sauce? Seriously? Didn't see those.

New Milk Jugs

This is what I'm talking about. We need more of this.

Click to enlarge.

Read the great New York Times article here. And come on, it can't be that hard to pour.