What do watermelons and guidebooks have in common?

30 Jul

Friends, I think something might be wrong with me. Today I walked to Oxford Street to go shopping (24,000 Fitbit steps and counting today!), as is tradition before I go on holiday. There’s just something about wearing new clothes in a new place. I was gone for five hours (5!) and I came home with a pair of off-brand Chucks (shoes), some socks, and a watermelon. (And a finger that is still somewhat numb from lugging said watermelon over a mile in a cheap Tesco bag). I went into so many stores. I tried on so many things. And yet nothing seemed worth buying. It either didn’t fit right or I realized I have at least three shirts that are too similar. That, and I think I’m getting too old for many stores. Why must all the shirts be crop tops? Why does everything scream “drunken hot mess at an outdoor music festival”? Why do the jeans have so many holes in them? When I was in high school one of my classmates told me my style of dress was “career mom.” I took it as a complement, though I’m sure she meant it as a diss. I like to think I dress better now than I did back then, but I can’t shake the career mom vibe entirely, despite the fact that I work from home in pajamas most days and have no intention of becoming anything other than a dog mama. In short, I have a closet — closets — full of clothing I barely get to wear that will happily journey with me to Portugal and Belgium next week, along with my new blue cheapo Chucks.

Rick steves ebooksThat’s right, next week we begin our August holiday, which in typical Renee and Stephen fashion is to two countries that are not geographically close and have absolutely nothing to do with each other other than the fact that they’re both places we want to visit. For some reason we procrastinated and struggled to decide on a destination this year (#firstworldproblems, I know). There are so many places to go and see, but it also turns out a lot of the world is hell’s-waiting-room hot and muggy in August, so we had to narrow our choices. I’ve been reading and writing about Lisbon a bit for one of my jobs and we’ve never been to Portugal, and Stephen’s never been to Belgium. I went with my parents to Brussels and Bruges two years ago, but I told him I would happily return to the land of chocolate, waffles, frites and lambic (aka fruit beer that actually tastes like fruit and not beer. Take note, Bud Light Lime!). I’m still working on a tentative itinerary with the help of my homeboy, Rick Steves. Is there anything that screams “American in Europe” more than toting around a Rick Steves book? Maybe wearing an NFL jersey with white socks and trainers, but I tote my Rick Steves with pride. Frommers and Lonely Planet just don’t compare. This time I’ll just be toting my Rick a little more discretely on my iPad, but not because I’m not proud to be an American, but because guide books are freaking heavy (and my finger may never heal from lugging that watermelon).

“You’re lucky you got air conditioning in here like mother nature intended!”

1 Jul

We need an “Eat your food, there are starving children in Africa” equivalent for people who complain about air conditioning being too cold. It is 95 degrees (35C) in London today and most places do not have AC — there is no such thing as air conditioning that it is too cold in this heat!

I guess it’s a sign that things are going pretty well in my life when my biggest worry is the weather. Though “worry” is probably an understatement, because I have obsessed about today for a week. I opened the weather app on my phone multiple times a day, praying that somehow that gleaming “Wednesday: 95″ would change. And actually one time it did, but I quickly realized I had swiped to Florence, KY’s weather by accident (which for once is actually better than London’s in the summer). How I was going to handle 95 degrees without air conditioning was all I could think about.

I decided to get a matinee day seat for Death of a Salesman (after I confirmed the theatre had air conditioning, of course). It was already hot at 9 a.m. when I arrived, the first one in the queue. Several others quickly followed, and it seemed like it was going to be a typical, antisocial wait. And then this older guy from California arrived. He immediately started joking around and blabbering in a stereotypical American fashion, but he got absolutely no response. It was almost embarrassing to watch. The first man he tried to engage in conversation was actually talking on his phone, and then he asked the woman behind me if she was an educator. “No.” she said, only briefly looking up from her kindle, and that was that. Thankfully a young Scottish girl arrived and kept him entertained, and I briefly chimed in when he asked if anyone had seen Elephant Man. Just as the box office was about the open, the woman next to me got up and tried to take a photo of the marquee. She stepped backwards onto the street just as a truck was backing up, and came within inches of being hit. Everyone was screaming at her and freaking out, and she just calmly stepped onto the sidewalk like nothing happened. It was bizarre. The book she was reading was in Italian, but she had to understand some English if she was queuing to see a play. The truck driver got out and started shouting, but she ignored him. Never a dull moment in the day seat queue.

I got my front row ticket, but wasn’t sure what to do next. I usually go to the library to work, but I’m pretty sure it’s not air-conditioned, and is filled with enough hobo funk on a cool day. I ended up at a museum cafe, and it was gloriously air-conditioned and quiet. I got a lot of work done and then went to get lunch. Maybe it was my productivity, maybe it was the time spent in the AC, but when I got outside I actually thought, “This isn’t too bad!” I was silly to obsess over the weather so much. I ate lunch in the park and was not a miserable hot sack of crabbiness like I anticipated.

The play was magnificent and the acting was phenomenal. You just can’t beat front row seats (and air conditioning). Crazy California guy actually put on a jacket because he was too cold (for the record: it was most definitely not too cold).

And then I had to go outside again. The humidity and heat hit me like a Florida brick of misery. 95 degrees is butt hot. The sun was blaring, there were school groups and tourists everywhere, and I could feel the hanger brewing (no, not hungry-anger, hot-anger).

angry cartmanI had an important decision to make: how was I going to get home in the heat? Both the Tube and bus would be like a sauna, but I didn’t want to walk 3 miles in the heat. I ended up choosing the Tube since it would be quickest. Even though I work from home with only a fan to keep me cool, I am so glad I do not have to commute in the summer.

To make a long post short (TL;DR): summer is the worst, and air conditioning and day seats are the best.

Bradley Cooper in London and life without the internets

26 Jun

I saw Bradley Cooper the other day! And by “saw” I mean I paid money to watch him perform in “The Elephant Man.” He was absolutely brilliant! If his name wasn’t plastered everywhere, I probably would not have known it was him. That is mostly due to his acting chops, but also because I was seated in the very back row of the very highest balcony. Boy, have I been spoiled by front row day seats. I’m not sure if it was the show itself or my seat, but I just couldn’t get into the play. I kept shifting positions trying to look around the guy in front of me’s giant head, and I kept getting annoyed by the littlest of things, like the girl next to me who kept digging in her bag constantly. I dread the queuing aspect of day seats, but you really can’t beat the immersive experience of being in the front row.

It’s officially summer now, which means it’s starting to get hot in London. Not hot for the average person, but hot for me (though I fear next week it will get properly hot — I’m seeing 90F/32C in the forecast! Dear god let that please change before Wednesday!) So I decided to walk home from the show instead of sit on a hot and stuffy bus or Tube (I also did it for the Fitbit steps, naturally). I finally made it back, ready to finish up the work I put off in favor of seeing Bradley Cooper from a far distance, but my email wasn’t loading. No website was loading. So I attempted the usual fix — unplugging and restarting the router — but it didn’t work. The normally white smiley Internet icon was orange.

I sent Stephen this photo:

south park no internetAnd then I called Sky. After being on hold for ages, I was eventually told there must be an outage and the engineers were working on it, but it could take up to 5 days to fix.

5 days. No internet for 5 days.

Basically the only time I am not using the internet is when I am sleeping or showering. Even when I run or cook I stream music or podcasts. If I’m not working, I’m watching Netflix or surfing Facebook and other sites. I cannot just not have internet. I started planning how I could handle the next 5 days, going to the library or Starbucks to work, and then using my unlimited phone data while at home. I thought we might have to head out Californee way in search of some internet.

south park internet refugee campAfter resetting the router again in vain, I realized I had to relax. I was still on track to get my required work done by Friday, and everything else could wait until the next day. In a weird way, a sense of relief came over me. It was like being on an airplane. I’m almost glad airplanes don’t have [free] WiFi, because then I’d feel obligated to be productive. The only good part about a long flight is having that guilt-free time away from work and distractions. One of the pros of working from home is not having set hours, but it’s also a con in that I’m never really done working for the day. But that day, I was. I wish I could say I used my internet-less time wisely and wrote a story or read an actual book, but in reality I was glued to my phone. Still, my mind wasn’t thinking about all the things I had to write or edit, I could fully enjoy Doug the pug’s Instagram.

And then when I woke up the next day the orange light was back to white. The Internet Fairy (or Sky engineer) had come! No need to head to Starbucks or out Californee way. I never want to live without the internet, but I guess occasionally it’s good to know that I can (…for a night).

A new friend for the day [seat queue]

17 Jun

american buffalo london

I made a new day seat single-serving friend today. I was queuing for American Buffalo (starring Damian Lewis and John Goodman) behind some American students. They were talking about going clubbing in London.

But if you know me, you’ll know I did not strike up a conversation with them. No, my single-serving friend was behind me. He smelled a little like the men who cluster around the computers in the public library, and I’ll admit at first whiff I thought he was an old homeless man. But he stayed in the queue, reading his newspaper, while the other 10 of us were glued to our phones. Ten minutes before the box office opened, he struck up a conversation. I can’t remember about what, but before I knew it, we were comparing West End shows and swapping day seat stories — something I know way more about than the club scene.  Our seats ended up being next to each other, so the conversation continued 4 hours later. He told me he had traveled to all 50 states and hit 91 of America’s 100 most populated cities — an impressive feat for an American, yet alone a 70-something-year-old English man. Then he gave me this bit of advice:

“If there’s one place in the world you should never go, it’s Akron, Ohio.”

This came completely out of left field — we were discussing California beforehand, and I hadn’t even told him I was from Cincinnati. He said the whole city of Akron was completely deserted during the day, and there wasn’t even a McDonald’s in the city center. I should have asked him what year he was there, as it was probably awhile ago, and I like to think downtown Akron now has a McDonald’s and perhaps even a Chipotle. It was so refreshing to talk to someone who had been to both more U.S. states and West End shows than I have.

After the show we both agreed the acting was better than the play — Damian Lewis and John Goodman were both brilliant. Then we got up and parted ways with a simple — “See you in the next day seat queue!”

A post about how I meant to post about meaning to post, plus some roses

12 Jun

Well. I had a whole post typed up about how I was recovering from jetlag quickly despite the fact that I wrote multiple blog posts in my head when I could not fall asleep the other night, so I guess I spoke/wrote/thought too soon. I also wrote that post about hypothetically writing posts a week ago. Whoops. I’ve been back in the UK for over a week now, and yet haven’t managed to sneak a blog post in. I guess I underestimated how much time running, working, grocery shopping, eating and cleaning takes. So I’ll have to go with the abridged version of the post, since the previous one went into way too much detail about Eurovision, and I don’t think most of my American readers care (half the post was about how Americans don’t know what Eurovision is).

When I arrived last Thursday the weather in London was gorgeous, so naturally I had to take a 3-hour nap. Then Stephen and I went for a much-needed run in Regents Park before we settled in to watch the Eurovision final. It aired on May 23, but I didn’t have time to watch it online in the US, plus it just wouldn’t feel right. I downloaded the soundtrack weeks ago and have been listening to it while running. Based solely on good running songs, my favorites were Belarus and Germany. Belarus did not even qualify for the final and Germany got zero points (nought!), so apparently this American knows absolutely nothing about what makes a winning Eurovision song, but I still enjoyed watching all the performances for the songs I had been listening to.

The weather this past week was amazing — 60s with some clouds. I feel like there are two types of people — those who love when it’s 80 and sunny, and those who prefer 64 and cloudy. I am definitely the latter. I was not sad about leaving the 80- and 90-degree days in Cincinnati. London looks like it will be in the 70s this coming week, which shouldn’t be too bad, but I may have to start running earlier so I’m not out there sweating buckets in the afternoon.

Just because this post needs some pics, here are some I took this past week on runs. This first one is what happens when you stop running for a minute and are slightly disoriented and think your finger is the pavement:

serpentine fingerAvenue Gardens in Regents Park, always gorgeous:

avenue gardens regents parkI was happy to see the rose garden in full bloom, as there were only buds in April.

rose garden london rose garden regents park

My month in Cincinnati in photos

2 Jun

The fact that I’ve barely had time to blog means I’ve had a great U.S. visit. I have several blog drafts that I’ve started, ranging from complaining about hot weather and the FedEx guy who didn’t ring the doorbell to a 5K race recap, but I think a photo post might be better.

My visit began with a performance and poetry reading by one of my favorite local bands, Ellery.

Ellery northsideThe next day we had a fancy night downtown with dinner and a play. We went to Jean-Robert’s Table, a “chef-owned eatery serving upscale French fare in an intimate room,” according to Google. I had stuffed my face with Panera only a couple hours before our 5pm dinner reservation, so I wasn’t that hungry and just got this amazing crab salad:

jean robert table saladAnd chocolate mousse, of course!

jean robert table mousseThere was a baby bird in my parents’ backyard:

baby bird backyardI ran a local 5K in under 30 min! My clock time said 27:23, but the race was so small it wasn’t chip-timed, and according to MapMyRun, the course was only 2.99 miles, so I kept running after I crossed the finish line. I’m sure the onlookers thought I was nuts, but I wanted a real 5K time! So I ran 5K in 28:25 according to my phone app. I’m proud of that time considering how hilly the course was. The race was also special because it was on May 16, which would have been Squirt’s golden birthday (16 on the 16th).

5k race time We went to Big Bone Lick State Park to see the baby bison, but they weren’t visible. So we went a little too far into unpaved territory to get a glimpse at them, which warranted a stern talking to by the park ranger. It was worth it though, because we got to see the baby and other pregnant mamas up close and we did not get crushed by giant bison (there was a fence!).

big bone bisonI got to spend a lot of quality time with a dear friend — the very first person I met when my family moved to Kentucky almost 20 years ago. She went on vacation for a week so I took care of her cat. We had a fun time despite my cat allergies (my £5 six-month supply of allergy medicine was one of the best Groupons I’ve ever bought!).

daisy catI saw this vending machine at an Asian buffet restaurant.

playful pandaI kind of regret not getting a Playful Panda, but a photo is probably better.playfun panda vending machineWe went to Florence’s Public Services Night Out, where we got free food and cool water bottles. Apparently the water bottles were not dishwasher-safe though.

florence water bottleOn a rare day when it was not obnoxiously hot and both my parents were off, we went to the zoo. It was teeming with school trips, but we still got to see a lot of aminals (intentional misspelling). The okapi, my mom’s favorite animal, were out!

okapi cincinnati zooSo was the red panda. He’s no giant panda, but he’s still pretty cute.

red panda cincinnati zooI made delicious Amish sugar cookies, as well as several other kinds. I don’t bake much in London, so I take full advantage of my parents’ new kitchen (and their willingness to consume copious amounts of cookies).

amish sugar cookiesWe went to visit my brother in Louisville and went strawberry picking. I may or may not have consumed this monstrosity while still in the field.strawberry freakThis bad boy was not ripe yet.weird strawberryI bought 4 lbs of strawberries all for myself, and ate all of them in less than a week (aside from a small bag that I froze).

hubert farm strawberries

One of the main reasons I wanted to come back in May was because Over the Rhine, my favorite band, was having a barn raising — a concert on their actual property, Nowhere Else, to raise money to restore an old barn into a performing arts center.

otr barn

It was my 18th Over the Rhine show and every bit as magical as I dreamed it would be.otr barn raising I even spotted a swallow on their farm!

otr swallow nesting

I miss running in the Royal Parks, but I recently discovered some nice trails running distance from my parents’ house. Of course I discovered the best one two days before I leave.florence creek

It turns out the Standard American Diet of bottomless chips, sangria, wings, curly fries and ice cream is not conducive to speedy running. But Bruster’s birthday cake ice cream was worth it. brusters ice cream

It’s been good, Cincinnati. But London’s calling.cincinnati ohio river

Choking on the sweet taste of high fructose freedom

21 May

A weird thing is happening. The other day my friend asked me what American foods I miss when I’m in London and I struggled to think of something. My usual answers are sweet gherkin pickles, neon orange cheese, tater tots, Twizzlers and Good ‘N Plenties. But I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost a month now and I have not eaten a single tater tot dipped in neon orange cheese, and worse, never felt the need to. A couple days ago we went to Cici’s Pizza buffet for lunch and then I ate half a box of Good ‘N Plenties and half a bag of Twizzler Bites while at the movies and woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick.

“Your stomach isn’t American anymore!” my friend joked when I texted her. I laughed and made a freedom joke, but couldn’t help but wonder (a la Carrie Bradshaw) — was it true? Can my body no longer handle immense amounts of high fructose corn syrup and bacon ranch pizza? I stocked up on Quest and Pure Protein bars to bring back to London since they’re so much cheaper here, but that may be the only American food I bring back.

I’ve also noticed things taste different here — the butter, cottage cheese, Cadbury eggs. Shouldn’t it be the other way around — American is normal and British food is “weird”? Between my stomach issues, resistance to make small talk with neighbors and fellow grocery shoppers, and the fact that I understood that “cheeky Nandos” post that made the rounds on Tumblr and Buzzfeed, I fear I’m becoming more British than I ever thought. I almost feel like I need to go buy a gun at Walmart and take it to the shooting range that just opened up on Mall Road or they may take my U.S. citizenship away. (I’m kidding, if I die having never shot a gun I think I’ll be OK with that, even if it makes me less ‘Murican.)

You know what else I miss about London? Toilet paper. Yes, this is a real issue I’m choosing to blog about. I cannot find a brand of American toilet paper I like. They’re all either too flimsy or too cushiony. In the UK I like several generic brands as well as Andrex. Andrex is the sister company of Cottonelle — they both advertise with those adorable puppies. Yet Cottonelle here has these weird stupid “clean ripples.” I don’t want ripples, quilts, or flower designs, I want simple TP with the perfect balance of softness and strength. This, basically:

andrex toilet paperI may just have to throw some Andrex in my suitcase next to the Cadbury and tea on my next trip back.

And just in case you get the wrong idea, I am really enjoying my time in the US. If the only things I can complain about are toilet paper and ODing on candy, things are going pretty swell. I’ll close things out with a dog floating in space:

space dog

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