Friday, July 31, 2009

Pluckin’ at My Chicken Feathers

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before, but my mom doesn’t fly. Or drive on the freeway. Or venture out of the western United States, Mexico and Canada. My dad happily complies with these limitations, which means that my childhood was a pretty darn sheltered one.

It also means that I am sometimes temporarily paralyzed when it comes to embarking on new experiences. The insecure, small-town chicken inside me pipes up and clucks, “That is scary! Don’t do it!” Which is, of course, my indicator that I have to do it—if only to get over the fear.

This was exactly the case when I considered going into central London by myself. What if I got on the wrong train? What if there was a terrorist attack and all the trains shut down? What if someone stole my purse? What if I got sold into prostitution? What if I had to pee and couldn’t find a bathroom anywhere?

I expressed these concerns to my dear friend C, and she said, “What the hell are you talking about? Knock it off and get yourself into the city.”

Although I still took the semi-chicken route (selecting a tube stop on the main line out of Richmond so I didn’t have to switch) I put on my big girl panties and took the train to Westminster for the afternoon. And it was great!

Two of the times I’ve been to London, I’ve tried to go to Westminster Abbey and it’s been closed. So when I came around the corner and saw its doors open, I was thrilled. What a beautiful place it is, the tombs of knights and royalty lining its insides.

One of the alcoves I went into was dedicated to Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth (not sure which one) and my heart just swelled in there. My grandmas’ names are Mary and Elizabeth and they were both queens in their own right.

But the very best part of the Abbey was the Poets’ Corner. I didn’t even know such a thing existed until I wandered to a portion of the floor covered with incredible writers’ names—Robert Browning, Chaucer, Tennyson, Dickens, T.S. Eliot. It was like stumbling through the pearly gates into writers’ heaven. And I couldn’t take a picture of it. Heartbreaking.

After I finished my tour, I wandered over to The Eye and did some shopping at a gift shop. The whole trip went off without a hitch. And as expected, when I told my mom I had taken the tube alone she gasped, “You did WHAT?”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sometimes You Have to Make Your Own Sunshine

Despite the fact that I got what I wanted; that I’m here with the man I love; that I’m having the opportunity to travel every weekend, I found myself falling into a funk at the end of last week.

I couldn’t get my Internet access to function right, which made work quite challenging. I’d had it with the rain and wind turning my “summer break” into a soggy slog with one bad hair day after another. I got pissed when we tried to go to multiple grocery stores, multiple times, and they were closed over and over…carrying your bags home ¾ of a mile isn’t something I’m used to doing every few days. And I didn't even have PMS.

I found myself missing home.

Missing home when there are incredible sights all around me. Missing home when I’m in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Missing home when I should’ve been enjoying every moment of my time here.

After Mr. W went to bed Sunday, I punched myself in the face and wrote in my journal until I could get my positive outlook back.

Thankfully, it returned Monday morning. And what do you know, the Internet has worked better, the weather has been nicer, the groceries haven’t felt so heavy. I’m trying to stop and soak everything in—to enjoy every detail of this experience. Because really, it’s incredible.

Yesterday, I walked to the town cheese shop and bought some goat and Camembert, then took the back way home and stopped off in the Terrace Garden above our apartment. I sat down to read a book and laughed as I watched a cat pounce between rose bushes hunting something I couldn’t see. The clouds rolled in, the wind picked up. But it didn’t matter. It was still a lovely day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

High Minds and Small Crimes

This past weekend, Mr. Wonderful rented a car for us so that we could drive to Oxford, Stonehenge and a spot he’d picked out along the southern coast.

I’ve always known that Mr. W had some dreamy, mad skills—like small plane piloting, bathroom remodeling, and excellent spreadsheet development—but watching him drive a stick-shift with his left hand on the wrong side of the street was nothing less than hot. He circled the roundabouts like a pro and navigated streets like he’d lived here forever.

We lucked out with gorgeous weather in Oxford; the blue skies were an incredible backdrop for all the gothic buildings. Being highly civilized, we stopped for afternoon tea. It was Mr. W’s first time and although he liked it, I’m not sure he was nearly as pinky-out poised and proper as I was…

After agreeing to quit our jobs and go back to school at Oxford (because there’s no doubt we could both get in through the senior citizen program) Mr. W and I hit the road and planned to make the most of our weekend vehicle with a trip to the grocery store.

We stopped off home to grab our recycled bags, and when we went to get back in our sweet, electric blue Nissan, Mr. W realized he had left the security gate clicker inside the car. We were locked on the other side with no way of getting in.

“I guess we’ll have to go to one of the neighbor’s doors and see if they’ll come let us in,” I said as I peered through the bars trying to find a back entrance.

Mr. W was inspecting the electrical box…and the next thing I knew, the gate started sliding open.

“What’d you just do?!” I asked.


“Did you just hot wire the security gate?”


Although Mr. W’s mug may be hanging in the local post office soon, his hotness quotient has now reached an all-time high.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Lovely Copout

I was going to write a real post today about important British stuff...but I'm just not feeling motivated. Instead, I thought I'd just share some pictures from the lovely day Mr. Wonderful and I spent together at Kew Gardens.

Just a tube stop away from Richmond, the Gardens hold hundreds of plant species—some of which are extinct. Above, you can see the treetop walkway 60 feet above ground that winds through some of their giant oaks. Below, you can see some of the impressive "glass houses" as they call them here, and the beautiful flora that lie within them.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Like Disneyland for Grown-Ups

Walking from the train station into the city streets of Bruges was like stepping into some sort of fairytale land of joy and magic and beer. The little cobbled streets, colorful connected buildings, and geranium-filled window boxes could not have been more precious or delightful. Although I was schlepping a purse and a backpack on my way in, I wanted nothing more than to skip through the streets singing made-up Dutch songs (which I did later right into Mr. Wonderful’s ear).

This cute little guy was playing music outside a chocolate shop when we arrived and for some reason I thought of Pinocchio and the Land of Play and his brief stint as a donkey. Bruges seemed so filled with decadent things that one might run the risk of waking up with big floppy ears like Pinocchio did...

We stayed near City Hall in Burg Square—also the location of the Church of the Holy Blood. Apparently, this one very ornate gold cask thingee inside there holds a vial of Christ’s blood…

Another interesting liquid in the city: Cannibal sauce. No idea what’s going on there…

In addition to indulging in many free chocolate samples and guzzling down several pints of Hoegaarden and other wheat beer, Mr. W and I found time to partake of some waffles. And oohh ver dey gooood.

We also took a water tour of the city (it’s known as the Venice of Belgium) that led us through many quaint passageways but also felt a lot like the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Our driver teased me as we passed the town convent, telling me I could become a sister. I told him I like the wiener schnitzel too much to ever let that happen…

There was a Salvatore Dali exhibit going on in one of the squares that I found endlessly entertaining. The oddities and pervertedness of his works seemed to fit right in with the weekend.

Finally, one of the most delicious sights in the entire city: A solid chocolate statue of Obama. Perhaps this is Belgium’s highest honor…

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Digs

When I was 20 years old, I packed up and moved down toward the beach to transition from community college to a state school. My girlfriend from high school already had an apartment in the area and welcomed me to it with open arms. I had never shared a bedroom with anyone before in my life…and we would be sharing bunk beds.

I remember feeling strange and excited all in the same as I settled in and found empty spaces for my stuff. I tried to make it feel like my place, too. I’m not sure it ever really did. Eight months later, I caved under the pressure of missing my first boyfriend and being wooed by my previous employer and I moved back to my childhood town, commuting to school for 2 more years.

That was 12 years ago.

Since then, I’ve had boyfriends stay with me at my place, but I’ve never had to make a home in someone else’s space. Until now.

It was an odd feeling to hang my clothes up in Mr. Wonderful’s closet. It felt funny to fill the shelf he’d cleared in the medicine cabinet. It was hard to figure out how everything worked—the stove, the stereo, the washing machine and dryer (seriously, who’s ever heard of a setting called “cupboard dry”?) But I’m happy to say, I think I’m getting the hang of it. And this feels like it might be about 35-40% my place. I’m sure 50% is yet to come.

Mr. W seems to be adjusting just fine, even though I cleaned up his junk pile on the kitchen island and teased him about organizing his clothes like a fancy boutique owner. Seriously, the boy will position a single pair of shoes on one shelf or cascade his perfectly folded underwear across a single drawer. Not like me who can cram every bit of clothing into one tiny space.

He didn’t even get upset when, after telling me about his bad cavity gene (apparently he’s had several fillings and a root canal or two), I watched him hold a burp in his mouth—cheeks puffed out under the pressure—and declared, “Maybe if you actually let your burps out, your teeth wouldn’t be so rotten.”

Yes folks, I think this whole living together thing might just work out for us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wild Things in Richmond Surrey

So this was the colony I was considering joining if I couldn’t find my way out of the park yesterday. These cute little guys are all over Richmond Park—a plot of 2300+ acres that has about 600 deer living within its boundaries.

The weather is one of the wildest things in this city. The sky can go from looking like it does above to raining in mere minutes. Today it rained about six times, in between wind gusts and bright, warm summer sky. It’s sort of like Hawaii but colder, breezier and without the bikinis. Needless to say, my umbrella has taken up permanent residence in my purse. Doesn’t that shot above just weep of Heathcliff and Catherine whispering along the moors?

The other wild things in the neighborhood? Spiders. Yesterday as I wandered through the penthouse looking for good Internet reception locations, I discovered five (FIVE!) big spiders on the ceiling in the loft. Of course I ran downstairs and texted Mr. W immediately. For some reason the Brits who own the joint don’t believe in vacuum ownership, so if I want to relocate them, I’m going to have to catch them one-by-one in a glass like I do at home. I’m a little worried that they might employ a pack mentality, though, and swarm me as soon as I try to get one. Mr. W could very well come home to find me wrapped in a giant cocoon.

I miss my bug-eating cats.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Am Here

I’ve always liked the John Mayer song, Why Georgia? As I waited to de-board the plane, balancing my carryon luggage on the seat next to me, feeling the humidity begin to work its way in around me, that song started to play from somewhere above.

“Am I living it right?” John asked.

I can remember driving home from work 5 years ago and asking myself that question as I listened to the song. “Not quite,” I thought. “But someday.” This time when I heard it, there was no question about it. Yes. Yes I was living it right. I am living it right.

Seeing Mr. Wonderful at the airport in his hip new British t-shirt further confirmed it. This is where I’m supposed to be right now. He feels like home.

He took me to a delicious little tapas restaurant for dinner that night. We polished off a bottle of red wine then walked to a pub called The Old Ship, where I proceeded to down another glass of chardonnay—telling him repeatedly, “You shouldn’t have given me this one! I’m drunk!”

It started to rain on our walk home, and my wet feet slipped out of my flip-flops about five times. California Girl: Welcome to Richmond upon Thames.

Yesterday we went into London proper and did some shopping at Harrods. Well, you might not really call it shopping… Mr. W did buy a heart monitor watch, but we were really there for the cheese. We bought 3 kinds, plus some salami and prosciutto. Then we had to buy frozen broccoli to keep it all cold in the bag while we walked around some more. The city was crazy busy—I much prefer the pace out here on the outskirts.

Although…the outskirts can be a bit crazy in their own special way. This morning I went for a walk in the huge park by the Penthouse, and I got lost for about 40 minutes. Being lost in the wilderness is a little scarier than the city, I think. At least in the city you can ask anyone you see for directions or buy a map. I had to follow the Canadian geese and the position of the sun. Okay not really…I asked some people…but it did take me awhile to find them. Pictures to come of the deer I hung out with.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mmmmm Chocolate and Beer

I was planning to write a recap of some exciting weekend events like when my Mom flashed her 63-year-old rack at my sister and nieces (and they screamed), or how my Dad announced that he had lost his belly button after playing golf, or how my 11-year-old niece shaved her legs for the first time and the bathtub looked like Chewbacca had been soaking in there for a day.

But that all got eclipsed today by the news that Mr. Wonderful planned our first weekend trip in Europe. He booked a room and train tickets to Bruges, Belgium for the 18th.

Aside from the whole waffles thing, I don’t know a whole lot about Belgium. Oh, right, except for the chocolate and beer. But that’s really it. I looked on Lonely Planet and it said this about Bruges:

“Touristy, overcrowded and a tad fake. Preface any other city with these descriptions and it would be struck off the list. But not Bruges. This Flemish city is Belgium’s most popular destination and, despite being overrun much of the year, it’s not to be missed.”

I asked Mr. W if he thought I would produce more phlegm since we’d be staying in a Flemish city. He replied, “Gross. No.”

I’m not sure (haha I just typed “snot sure” by accident—how appropriate) that Mr. W really knows what he’s in for over the next several weeks. I’ve tried to warn him about the singing and dancing around the house and love of baritone burps, and although he has probably tried to mentally prepare himself on some level, I think he’s in for a surprise. At least he’ll have exotic beer to help him make it through…

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Where There’s Smoke

It was a cool night in late spring and for some reason I was the only one sitting by the fire. My sister, brother-in-law, and nieces were elsewhere in camp. It was just me and my journal.

Despite the ample lumber teepee propped amongst the flames, I watched the fire slowly descend unto itself and turn to embers and smoke.

My immediate reaction was to throw more wood on; blow on it; try to get it back. No success.

I went to get my brother-in-law for help, leaving the fire unattended for several minutes.

When we returned, the embers had lit the wood and the fire was lapping the air in ferocious flicks. At the time I had a mini epiphany that maybe if I treated my relationships like the fire, they’d heat up. If I just left things alone and let them develop on their own, they’d end up where I wanted them. I sat back down and wrote about this in my journal.

When I talked to my boss about working abroad back on May 12, I could see the flames around me shrinking. For over a month, it was smoke and a few glowing coals. No answers. No light. A lot of tension and drafty feelings as I wondered whether the fire would somehow get stoked.

Closed-door meetings and exasperated glances followed. And I just had to wait to see if time and some oxygen might do the trick.

I am relieved to report that the fire is still going. It’s a little sputtery right now, but I should have enough of a blaze to keep me warm during the next 7 weeks.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cherry on the Cat Sundae

After making my big discovery of the vomiting kitten video yesterday, I emailed my cousin (Big T's wife) with a link so she—another crazy cat lady—could enjoy the hilarity of it as I had.

She responded shortly thereafter, pleased with the link and adding to my mounting cheer with her own cat story. Apparently, while cleaning out her underwear drawer recently, she discovered an old scented drawer sachet that was shaped like a bra.

Naturally, she thought, "I bet I could get this on the cat!"

She wrangled her chubby kitty into the mini brazier and admitted to saying aloud, "Oooh, you're wearing a kitty Wonder Bra, you went from an A to a C in just seconds!"

I hope people who don't know my cousin find that funny because I cracked up. And I found the picture comforting to look at after Mr. W IMed me today and told me that his filming schedule may get pushed out a week so we won't get to go on vacation at the end of my stay with him. So much for Berlin, Munich and Prague... At least I'll have cats in bras to enjoy.