That time I was in the The Daily Show audience

13 Jun

The last time (read: one and only time) I was in a live studio audience it was a rather disappointing experience. It was for a show I didn’t watch with guests I wasn’t familiar with and they never even showed the audience on TV. I needed to have another, better, experience with a show I actually watch. So when I decided to go to New York for a few days to meet up with Stephen, I immediately booked a ticket for The Daily Show. I’ve watched The Daily Show on a daily basis for years now, ever since it popped up on Sky on demand. I went from being someone who was completely apathetic about politics and news to someone who can’t get enough of it. Obviously, as a trained journalist I get my news from multiple sources, but the Daily Show does a good job of highlighting the headlines with humor (and a little left-leaning bias). I was excited to witness how the proverbial sausage was made.

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This sign is hanging above the door to the studio

Because I booked the ticket about 3 weeks in advance, the guaranteed tickets were sold out, which meant I got a non-guaranteed ticket. Which meant I had to queue. As an honorary Brit and day seat connoisseur, I am no stranger to standing in line outside of theaters. I just had to figure out the all-important question: what time to arrive? Because the only thing worse than showing up an hour earlier than needed is showing up 5 minutes too late. The ticket said I had to arrive by 5pm, but online comments suggested I get there by 4pm. I played it safe and arrived around 3:35pm. There was a decent amount of people ahead of me — perhaps around 30? — and by the time 5pm arrived, there were at least 50 people behind me. When it got close to 5pm, a producer came out and explained the process. Once they determined how many seats they had available and how many guaranteed ticket holders showed up, they’d start allowing us in. “In” being into the next queue, of course. Then we’d go through airport-like security before going into the studio. A little after 5pm they let a big group of people at the front of the line move forward, which of course meant they cut the line 3 people in front of me. I was going to be so mad if I came that close to going in! Fortunately as the guaranteed ticket holders made their way into the studio, they let a second group of unguaranteed in. A producer with an iPad came around and took our names to verify our reservations and handed us numbered tickets.

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“You needed to book a ticket online? I thought it was free!” The guy three people ahead of me said. The producer was as nice as she could have been about it, but she couldn’t let him in without a booking. He waited almost two hours for nothing! As much as it sucks, I’m glad they stick to their rules. A couple girls with guaranteed tickets showed up at 5:05pm, but since they missed the 5pm cut off, they were sent to the very back of the unguaranteed line. Around 5:15pm another producer came out and told us it was our last chance to use the restroom before going into the studio, as once we were seated, we couldn’t leave until filming was over. The guy behind me went nuts, complaining about how you can’t do that to people — not let them pee for two hours! — some people have medical conditions! But as far as I know, he survived. I went down to the bathroom in the basement before rejoining my place in the queue outside. Eventually I made it through security and was escorted into the theater. It’s a bit of a cliche, but it was indeed surreal walking across the set of The Daily Show to find my seat. I was lucky to be seated close to the center instead of on the very end of the row.

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Once all the seats were filled, they played a little safety video starring all of the correspondents, with cheeky tips like “if a joke is made about a black person, look to your nearest black person and only laugh if they’re laughing.” Everyone laughed at that. One thing The Daily Show did differently than The Jonathan Ross Show did in London was that they allowed us to take photos and use our phones up until the taping began. This made it much more enjoyable to kill time, plus everyone knows “pics or it didn’t happen,” so a selfie with the set in the background is necessary. Around 6pm, the warmup comedian came out to get everyone hyped up. Instead of making us do embarrassing dance moves like Johnathan Ross’s guy did, he mostly did crowd work, asking people where they were from and what they did for work and riffing on that. He was really funny and got everyone laughing, clapping and whooping. I expected there to be more instructions — indications to applaud, etc, but they basically just told us to “lose our sh*t.” A little after 6:30pm the main producer came out, which the comedian said was a sign the show was going to start soon.

“How much longer?” the comedian asked. I figured he would say “5 minutes.”

“30 seconds!” he said. Then suddenly the intro theme song started playing and all of us rose to our feet, clapping and cheering. Even though I had already waited 3 hours for this 30-min taping, it felt like it was all happening so soon. When Trevor came out the audience truly did “lose their sh*t.” He sat down, looked directly at the camera, then jumped right into the show. When the commercial break came, a bevy of I’m assuming writers and producers rushed the stage to talk to Trevor. When they left he finally acknowledged us, which, of course, made everyone “lose their sh*t.” I had read in reviews of the taping that Trevor likes to interact with the audience during the commercial breaks, but I have to admit, a lot of his interaction felt scripted. Like he was using the material written for him that got cut from the show. He continued to rip on how cheap EPA chief Scott Pruitt is, which was the main story of the first half of the show. When the show resumed, it was interesting to watch what Trevor did when the news clips or taped pieces were playing. A lot of times he laughed along, or just stared straight ahead into the camera, working on the correct facial expression to have when the camera turned back to him. The guest that night was actress Regina King. I was expecting the interview to go long like on The Johnathan Ross Show and they’d edit together the best bits, but what they filmed was what aired. I’m still glad I went to the taping, but the audience members don’t get to see anything extra that the audience at home misses out on. (Except maybe Trevor’s killer dance moves while he’s standing up waiting to introduce the moment of zen at the end!) When the taping ended, Trevor thanked us all once again, then rushed back to the green room. Row by row we were escorted out of the studio.

I finally had a good live studio audience experience! That night I watched the show with the sole purpose of looking for myself in the audience. After the interview with Regina King, if you paused in the right moment and squinted, you could almost see me!

Daily Show audience

Which is more than I can say about The Jonathan Ross Show. Since it involved so much waiting around, I probably wouldn’t go to a taping every time I’m in New York City, but I’m really glad I went this time!

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3 things that are surprisingly more expensive in the US than in London

30 May

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London is expensive. That’s often the first thing people mention when I tell them I live there. Things like housing, petrol/gas, and movie theatre tickets cost way more than they do in Chicago or New York, yet alone suburban Kentucky. But on this recent visit back to the states, I’ve realized there are three things that are surprisingly expensive in America compared to London.

Groceries, especially produce

I first went to Aldi in the UK a few years ago. Produce is generally cheap at Tesco (a major supermarket chain), but produce at Aldi is a whole ‘nother level of cheap. I raved about Aldi so much I inspired my mom to check out the Aldi in northern Kentucky. She agreed that the produce deals couldn’t be beat. But it was only when I went to the Kentucky Aldi that I realized we had different definitions of “cheap produce.” For example, a stalk of broccoli at Aldi UK costs 39p, approximately 50 cents. At Aldi KY it’s $1.99. At Tesco I can get organic mushrooms for £1 ($1.33). At Kroger that would be $3.99. At Tesco a red bell pepper is 55p (73 cents). At Kroger it’s $1.50. The U.S. prices don’t even include sales tax, so they’re actually even higher! I’m comparing the most expensive city in the UK to one of the cheaper cities in the U.S., too. I recently read an article on Business Insider comparing London supermarkets with New York.  London’s Tesco Express won by a landslide! Who would have thought Tesco would be one thing I’d miss when I’m back in the U.S.?

Toilet paper

I never realized I was a toilet paper snob until now. In London there aren’t many options, so I just buy Tesco Luxury Soft Toilet Tissue, which always seems to be on sale 2 for £6 (that’s two nine-roll packs for £6, so 18 rolls for $8). It’s generic for Andrex, which is British for Cottonelle. But it turns out that even though they both use cute puppies in their ads, British Cottonelle is very different from American Cottonelle, which I recently discovered is the worst toilet paper ever created. My mom bought it because it was on sale and she had coupons, and even then it wasn’t that cheap. Without any coupons, a 6-roll pack of Cottonelle costs $8! In the UK, I get 3 times as much TP for that, and it is not the worst toilet paper ever created. I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to buy my own toilet paper when I’m visiting my parents, which is probably why I forgot how much American toilet paper costs, but I hated the Cottonelle so much I decided to buy my own 4-pack of a different brand, thinking it’d be like $2, since a 4-pack in London is £1.75. A 6-pack of Charmin still set me back $5 (it was on sale too and I had a $1 off coupon – normally that 6-pack would be $9.49!) and it’s only marginally better than the Cottonelle. I’d still prefer the generic Tesco tissue. Considering Americans are known for their horrible eating habits which inevitably leads to horrible bowel issues, you’d think they’d have the toilet paper game down. Or maybe that’s exactly why it costs so much. All I know is I’m tempted to throw a 9-pack of Tesco TP in my suitcase for my next visit!

Theatre tickets

I’m going to New York next week to meet up with Stephen. While he’s in meetings, I figured I’d take in a Broadway show. So I started looking at shows on the TodayTix app to decide which one I wanted to see, and I realized something: Broadway shows are freaking expensive! That should seem obvious (it’s Broadway!) but I’m so used to seeing West End shows for so cheap. Thanks to day seats and the TodayTix app, I rarely pay more than £25 ($33) for a ticket. TodayTix seems to function differently in New York and has way less lotteries and rush tickets than they do in London. They mostly just give 30 to 50% off, which means the tickets usually still cost more than $100. I’d really like to see Come From Away, a musical about the small Newfoundland town that took in 7,000 stranded passengers on 9/11, but a matinee ticket on TodayTix is $227. I could try the TKTS booth when I get there, which is what every tourist seems to do, but there’s a chance they won’t have that show, and even if they do, a ticket will likely still set me back more than $100. It’s not just Broadway shows that are pricy, either. Part of the reason I think I wasn’t enamored with Hamilton when I saw it in Chicago last year was because I kept thinking about how expensive it was (and we got the cheapest seats possible!). Even seeing the Nutcracker in Milwaukee set me back more than a West End show. London theatre scene, you’ve truly spoiled me!

Despite my papercuts (cheeky Hello Internet reference there!), I’m having a lovely time visiting friends and family back home. It’s oppressively hot which has made running and basically everything else outdoors miserable, but I’m trying to keep my weather-related complaints to a minimum of 8 times a day.

That time I ate so much nutritional yeast I got a rash

26 Apr

nutritional yeastAre you familiar with nutritional yeast? If you’re not a vegan, vegetarian or health nut, you probably aren’t. I remember I went in search of it 6 year ago(!) when my health nut phase was just beginning and no one in the UK had ever heard of it. In fact, they sold me brewer’s yeast, which is absolutely not the same thing. (I wrote about it in this post, where I also marveled at the concept of almond butter. Funny how quickly things change, almond butter is all over the US and UK now and while still expensive, it’s way cheaper than £11!)

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that is grown on molasses. It has a nutty, almost cheese-like flavor, which is why it’s popular with vegans. It’s also popular because it’s high in B vitamins and often fortified with B12, which is normally only available through animal products. I’ve been enjoying it for years now, sprinkling it on pasta, soup and sweet potatoes, but ever since I went pescetarian 6 months ago, I’ve been eating it even more.

A few days ago I was making one of my favorite dinners — lentil and chickpea pasta with kale, mushrooms and pesto, and got out the container of nutritional yeast so I would remember to stir some into the pasta at the end. All of a sudden it hit me how hungry I was, and there was no way I could wait 9 minutes for the pasta to be done. I needed to eat immediately. So I got out some stale rice crackers and sprinkled them with the nutritional yeast (or “nooch” as those in the food blog community often call it). When I finished the rice crackers, I grabbed a pinch of just nutritional yeast and sprinkled it into my mouth. Then suddenly I had a spoon in my hand and was shoveling the nooch into my mouth like it was cereal. This was not a proud moment, but I convinced myself it was better than binging on nut butter, and nutritional yeast was nutritional — it has it right there in the name! I wasn’t keeping track of how much I was eating, but considering a serving size is 5g, I probably ate at least 50g, maybe even 100g. Did I mention I’m not proud of this?

I finally cut myself off and got to prepping the vegetables. I boiled water for corn and reached my arm across the hot pasta burner to get the corn pot. I didn’t think much of it, but a few minutes later my arm started to burn.

“I didn’t get that close to the burner, there’s no way I burned myself!” I thought. I looked down at my arm. It was red. Really red. In fact, both arms were. They were covered in hives like I was having some kind of allergic reaction, but there was nothing around for me to be allergic to. My skin was hot and itchy like I had a sunburn. I ran to the mirror and saw that my face and ears were also red.

“What is happening to me?!” I said out loud.

I ate my pasta with one hand, the other hand imputing my symptoms into Google on my phone. The only culprit I could think of was the nutritional yeast, even though I’d eaten it hundreds of times before. There was no way I could be allergic to it!

I searched nutritional yeast and hives until finally I got an answer.

Niacin.

Nutritional yeast is high in B vitamins, one of which is niacin. I remembered reading about niacin as a possible cholesterol lowering supplement, but when I asked my doctor about it, he said it’s not usually recommended anymore because of the flush.

The flush.

I was having a niacin flush. I had consumed so much nutritional yeast I gave myself a niacin flush.

I looked at the nutritional label of the nooch. A 5g serving has 17mg of niacin, which is already 107% of the recommended daily amount. If I ate 50g of nooch, that would be 170mg of niacin, and I probably ate more than 50g of nooch. Google tells me that consuming 100mg or more of niacin can trigger a flush, so that had to be what I was experiencing.

I was relieved to find the cause of my reaction and embarrassed that my binging had such immediate physical results. It was definitely a wake up call that just because something is healthy doesn’t mean you should consume spoonfuls of it. Even water can be toxic in extreme amounts!

I laid off the nooch for a few days, but I’m happy to report that I had some on my pasta tonight with no adverse effects. There’s nothing like a good red, hot rash all over your body to make you conscientious of recommended serving sizes!

Love at first ink dip

4 Apr

Remember how I said I’d like to focus on lettering and calligraphy in 2018?

I have been. Perhaps even a little too much.

I started with basic brush lettering. I didn’t really know what I was doing and my work was pretty sloppy, but I made an Instagram account and started posting photos of my work. I was inspired by all the great stuff posted by other hand lettering artists and calligraphers, and tried to copy some of their styles.

Then this idea popped into my head: I should take a class. As an anti-social introvert, this was a big deal. I always wanted to learn pointed pen calligraphy, so I signed up for a class at Quill London, a little modern calligraphy shop near Angel. I was nervous —  more about the social aspect of the class than the calligraphy — but the instructor and fellow students were all welcoming and lovely. And the minute I dipped my nib into the ink for the first time, I fell in love. Pointed pen was what was missing from my life. I was able to achieve those distinct thin and thick lines I had been trying for with brush pens. The class consisted of a little instruction, but mostly it was just dedicated practice time. The instructor walked around and corrected our form and answered our questions. Honestly, I should have taken advantage of her more, but I was entranced. I wrote out the alphabet repeatedly, then tried a few words. By the end of the three hours my hand was cramping and sore, but I was riding an inexplicable high.

It’s hard to explain the thrill I get from what is essentially fancified handwriting. There’s something calming about the repetitive movements and the sound of the nib scratching on paper. And of course there’s the Instagram likes. I try not to do it just for that, but when the likes and follows start to flow in from Internet strangers, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. For now it’s just a hobby, and I’ve told myself I’ll keep doing it as long as it brings me joy. The minute I feel like I “have to” create and post something instead of I “get to” or “want to,” then I know it’s time to stop.

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It snowed in London!

28 Feb

It started with wimpy flurries on Monday. I went for a walk and didn’t even need my snow boots. Yesterday our builder said he needed the day off, so I took the opportunity to go for a daytime run. When I left it was sunny with the wimpiest of flurries — the kind that are so small and sporadic you’re not even sure if it’s really snowing. The pavement wasn’t even wet. I checked the forecast and there were no pictures of snowflakes for the next few hours, so I figured I was safe.

In fact, in Hyde Park I even took this photo to mock the Great Snowpocalypse 2018.

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Haha, look at all the snow London got! Some “Beast from the East” polar vortex storm!

And then exactly 5 minutes later I took this photo:

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And this one:

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Suddenly I was running in a blizzard. In the nearly 5 years I’ve been running, I’m not sure I’ve ever ran in snow before. I’ve ran days later once the sidewalks had been cleared, but not while the snow was coming down. Of course my first thought was “It’s the perfect texture for running!” because it really was, it was nice and crunchy under my feet.

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But it was coming down so hard I couldn’t see two feet in front of me, so I had to stop and walk lest I end up on my butt. My face was burning and I was losing feeling in my fingers despite wearing two layers of gloves.

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I actually laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. Green Park was empty and eerily beautiful covered in a blanket of white. It almost felt wrong to desecrate it with my footsteps. Except, of course, I really needed to get home before the frostbite kicked in.

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The snow stopped 15 minutes after it started. And if the evidence wasn’t still lying on the ground, you’d never know the mini blizzard had happened — the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was shining. Tourists just emerging from hotels and museums gawked at my snow-covered clothing, like I was that car you see on road trips that has snow on its roof even though it never snowed on the highway you’re driving on. That’s what I get for believing the no-snow weather forecast!

It snowed more overnight, which wreaked havoc on public transport. Our builder texted me this morning that he wouldn’t be able to come because all the trains were canceled. And it looks like there’s snow in the forecast for tomorrow and Friday, so who knows if he’ll be able to come at all this week. Our little “two-week” project really might just turn into a two-month one!

Adult snow day

12 Feb

At 8 this morning our doorbell didn’t ring. Chris, one of our builders, is never late. I’m convinced he comes 10 minutes early and smokes outside so he can be upstairs at exactly 8 am. One time he even rang at 7:59 am. But not this morning. At 8:13am our contractor called. He hurt his back, Andy the other builder has a prior commitment, so none of the guys were going to come in today.

And just like that I have an adult snow day.

And just like a childhood snow day, it would have been nice to know the night prior so I could sleep in, but I still have a whole free day ahead of me.

It could be just like old times! I can run in the afternoon daylight instead of at dusk! I can work from my bed instead of from the home office desk! I could see a play, or maybe go shopping, and not have to be back at 4 pm when the builders leave. I could even go back to sleep!

But what did I do? I made myself a cup of tea, as I have been every morning since the builders started a month ago, and took it into the home office. Because I’m a creature of habit, and as much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m a lot more productive at this desk than I am in bed.

The guys have been making progress and our living room is looking more and more majestic. On Friday I asked them how much longer they thought everything would take.

Their response?

Two weeks.

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Two weeks

27 Jan

Two weeks ago when I told my mom our builders would be working on our reception room renovations for two weeks she sent me a compilation video from The Money Pit.

“Haha,” I replied.

But I knew our situation would be different. It really would only take 2 weeks — heck, judging by the speed with which they removed the old cornice, frieze and fireplace, it could take even less!

And then the cornice and ceiling decorations actually arrived. And it turns out getting an ornately patterned cornice to match up in a room that’s not a complete square, or even a proper rectangle (apparently one wall is 3 cm longer than the other (?!), is really difficult. So that one-day job turned into a four-day job, because we had to order an extra piece.

Then it was time to tackle the decorative ceiling.

“We’ll get the whole ceiling done on Friday!” one of the builders told me. And then they unwrapped the plaster mouldings and realized the pattern didn’t match up. So I had to call the manufacturer, who insisted it was not a problem, but they finally agreed to send one of their installers on Monday to help our builders.

Once the ceiling is done, they have to do the decorative molding on the walls. And install the new fireplace. And paint everything. And then we decided, hey, let’s get some floor tiles and do that too!

“Two weeks.” Haha! Two weeks! I’ll honestly be happy if we get all this done in two months.

I wasn’t sure what it would be like having strangers working in my home all day. I thought the noise would be the most troublesome part, but it hasn’t been bad at all. The worst part is having to wake up early and adjust my whole routine. Since my bedroom is right off the living room where they’re working, I spend the whole day on the other side of the flat in our office/guest room. I can’t walk around the flat to get Fitbit steps because there’s hardly an inch of space not covered in decorations, furniture or equipment. I have to do my work at Stephen’s desk like an actual working person, because the guest bed is covered in a giant slab of decorative plaster. I can’t run during the day like I usually do, I have to wait until the guys leave, which is always when it’s dark. Running in the dark is the worst. I have to eat all my meals earlier than I normally would, because I have to go to bed earlier to wake up earlier.

I keep telling myself it’ll all be worth it when we have a majestic reception room. But having space and a flexible schedule is like being healthy — you take it for granted until suddenly you’re sick, or everything in your flat is covered in a thin layer of plaster dust and you can’t walk two feet without bumping into a decoration.