Archive | April, 2011

Royal wedding reflection

30 Apr

It’s hard to believe the royal wedding is over. So much hype and hoopla over one day. It’s only a matter of time before shops remove all the engagement photo memorabilia and replace it with wedding photo pillows, shot glasses and post cards.

I’ve had a lot of friends ask me about the royal wedding, and some of them seemed disappointed that I watched it from home. It did feel a bit weird, to be so close to the action, yet so far away. I really hate crowds though (remember my Cartman graphics a few posts ago?) and from what I saw on the telly, that’s all there was. I felt a bit like this when Obama was elected. He was having a huge celebration in Grant Park — walking distance from my apartment, but I watched it on TV. I guess I’ll just have to settle with telling future generations “I watched Obama be elected and Will and Kate get married on my television,” instead of having a great story about Oprah crying on my shoulder or being trampled by a guy covered in Will and Kate postcards in front of Buckingham Palace.

I think there’s something else that kept me away from the wedding. This photo has been popping up a lot on Facebook:

While my feelings aren’t that strong — I liked watching the hats, the crabby little bridesmaid and adored Kate’s dress — there was something the BBC commentators kept saying that rang true, “This is what it means to be British.” I’m not sure if they were referring to the crazy hats or the crazy people who camped out along the mall to get a glimpse of the newlyweds as they rode by in the carriage, but there was a clear spirit of camaraderie among the crazies. I don’t know if I’m allowed to compare it to Obama’s election night, but both involved a massive amount of people joyful for their country. I’ve done my fair share of Wikipediaing the royal family lately, but I still don’t understand it in the least bit. (Like why are Kate and Will now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? Do they just assign them random cities?) Putting aside my hatred of crowds and love of sleep, I didn’t go to Westminster at 4 a.m. on Friday because it’s not my history or royal family. I can pretend to care about it (I did watch the entire ceremony, from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm), but I’ll never fully understand it or be a part of it. Maybe that’s how British people feel about the Super Bowl.

99p store knees up

27 Apr

Yesterday I made a well-overdue trip to the 99p store. It’s like a dollar store, except at the current exchange rate it’s more of a $1.646 store (why isn’t it $1.55 anymore?!). I love the dollar store in the US, so it’s only natural I love the 99p store. And like the dollar store, you never know what you’re going to find, and you have to navigate your way through the crowds and narrow aisles to find the gold. I went in only intending to buy a dishwashing brush, a six-pack of paper towels (6! for 99p! Yeah they’re thin and small, but you get 6! For 99p!) and a claw hair clip, because the one I bought at Walmart in 2007 finally bit the dust. I found those things (even the hair clips came in a six pack, which is nice, but I really only wanted one, maybe two. I got home and used one and immediately realized why there were six — one broke when I opened it and one was broken in the packaging and I didn’t notice at the store. So now I have four clips), but like anyone who’s ever been to a dollar/99p store, you can’t go in and buy just what you need. Yesterday markers caught my eye. I haven’t been in school for years, but I’m always drawn to the school supply section of the dollar store. The 99p store had a set of 15 brilliantly colored markers for 99p. I have a set of markers that I don’t use at home, but I had to have these. They were so pretty — and only 99p! So I bought what I needed, plus the markers and some Cadbury Eggs, which I was saddened to find weren’t on sale. Tesco still had their Cadbury Eggs full price the day after Easter, too. Someone needs to bring England up to speed on post-holiday candy sales.

Besides candy and school supplies, the store had a nice selection of royal wedding memorabilia. I think these two are my favorite:

I bet Will and Kate are used to the paparazzi now, but I wonder if they are used to seeing their faces on everything. It creeps me out and it’s not even me.

Speaking of the royal wedding, I saw a sign in front of a pub on my walk to the store that was obviously in English but completely incomprehensible to my American mind. I cursed myself for not having a pen and paper handy, because sure enough I forgot it when I got home. I remember the phrase “royal knees up” was used, which according to Google means a party or lively gathering. Google also told me Will and Kate are building a nightclub in Buckingham Palace for a royal knees up after the wedding. That’s the thing about Britain, their tabloids are so good it’s hard to distinguish them from the legit news sources, so I have no idea if that’s true or not.

One more royal wedding note — someone please tell me the Queen’s corgis will be involved in the ceremony in one form or another. That would make my day.


And in case you were wondering, I pulled out my sketchbook and have been using the markers everyday since I bought them. I can’t believe the quality for 99p, usually dollar store markers are dried up, but these work great. Well done, 99p store, well done.

A long post about my Cartman-like hatred for tourists

21 Apr

Stephen’s been gone on business for over a week now. While I sometimes enjoy the alone time, I’m starting to think I’m losing my ability to have simple human interaction. So today I decided I would have some indirect interactions with people and go to the National Gallery to research my new blog (check it out! /shameless plug). The sun was shining, cherry blossom petals were in the air, it was a great day.

And then I got on the Tube.

I’ve had some unpleasant Tube experiences based on delays or sheer crowdness, but today was my first awkward interaction with a person. A young Indian guy sat down next to me. After a few minutes he said, “Excuse me?” Thinking he was going to ask which stop to get off for Buckingham Palace, I obliged him. “How are you?” he asked. And then I got a sinking feeling in my gut. This guy was trying to hit on me. He proceeded to make small talk while I eventually brought up Stephen. Then we didn’t talk again. At all. The time between then and my stop was the most awkward and longest three minutes. Looking back, I probably could have handled it better, but I was thrown off guard. Did I also mention I’ve been deprived of human interaction for the past few days? I probably could have been more polite about it, or even said something cheeky, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. It wasn’t a big deal — guys hit on taken women all the time, right? — but it left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. My mood went from “It’s such a lovely day!” to “I HATE EVERYONE.” And when you’re feeling like that, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square are two of the worst places to go. Back when I was happy-go-lucky, I decided to get off near Buckingham Palace and walk to the museum, taking in the pre-royal wedding sights. I was no longer in the mood to do so, but had no choice since I needed to get off the train ASAP. So I got off at Green Park and followed the hordes of people.

Buckingham Palace with flags and crowds.

I followed them to the palace, where there were British flags and construction crews, nothing too fancy, then followed the crowds through St. Jame’s Park. The whole time I was feeling like Cartman when there are too many people in his amusement park.

I don’t like crowds on a good day, but I was feeling especially hostile today. I was almost tripped by strollers (“pushchairs”) and derailed by tourists who suddenly decided to stop in my path for a photo. I felt another Cartman moment coming on:

"Daddy, daddy, can we ride the rockets?" - "G*d d*mn it, get the f*** out of my way!!"

Luckily I was able to contain myself and made it to the museum. The museum was crowded, but not as bad as the square, and at least it was air conditioned. I looked at every single painting (or at least it felt that way) before I decided to walk to Parliament Square. Stupid idea #2. My reasoning is that I will likely not be anywhere near the area come the royal wedding. I hate crowds and heat, and I’m sure there will be an abundance of both that day. But people are always asking me about the wedding, and I do feel slightly guilty about being here and not seeing any of it, so I wanted to see if Westminster was preparing for it. I pushed my way through the crowds, only to discover Westminster Abbey looks exactly the same as I saw it last month.

There are still protesters. Maybe those white poles are new, but that’s about it. Disappointing. And here’s a photo that embodies tourist London — trying to get a shot of Big Ben and a guy jumps in front of me to give a tourist directions.


So I gave up and got back on the Tube, purposely sitting next to women. Sometimes I feel guilty for not spending more time in tourist London, but every time I do, I remember why I don’t. If you’re looking for me on April 29, I’ll be on my couch, watching the royal wedding with some tortilla chips and Squeeze Cheese.

Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry: Heaven in an Unusually Small Cup

19 Apr

It is currently 75 degrees (24 C) outside. 75! In April! In London! While Cincinnati and Chicago are getting April showers, London is getting April sunburns. Since the weather is lovely, I decided it was about time I headed out in search of one of these babies:

Yes, that is a Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry. Cadbury Creme Eggs are possibly the best Easter candy ever, and apparently only the British (and Canadian) are awesome enough to put them in a McFlurry.

I had to have one.

There is no McDonald’s in my neighborhood, so I had to venture through Regent’s Park to Baker Street. I’ve walked through the park a few times and there’s always a handful of people feeding the ducks, but today there were people everywhere — enjoying a sandwich on a bench, lying in the shade, pushing babies in “pushchairs” (why call it a “stroller” when you call it what it is?). I not only had to manuever around the pigeons too fat and lazy to get out of my way, but I had to move around people too. This must be what summer in London is like.

Regent's Park

Flowers and people in the park

I finally made it to “MacDons” (as I’ve heard people here call it) and got my precious McFlurry. It was only £1.19 ($1.90), which seems cheaper than the US, but it also was about half the size of an American McFlurry (perhaps another reason Americans are fat?) I went back to Regent’s Park and ate it while sitting on a bench, shooing away the pigeons that wanted to taste something besides stale bread. I took some pictorial proof that the mystical Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry exists. Here it is chilling with a waterfall in Regent’s Park:

And chilling on a park bench:

Close up of the half-eaten goodness:

Sock shrinkage

18 Apr

The other day I did some “spring cleaning.” I guess it wasn’t cleaning, more organizing. I took everything out of my sock/underwear and cami/tank drawers, and sure enough, I found things I have never worn and forgot I bought. For kicks I counted how many pairs of underwear I have and how many tanks and camis. I’m not going to publish the result because it was depressing. I could definitely go several months without doing laundry, I’ll just say that.

And speaking of doing laundry, I discovered some Adidas socks that I bought in a six pack a year ago. There was one pair that got stuck at the bottom of the drawer and has never been worn, a couple pairs I’ve worn a few times, and a couple pairs that I wear all the time. I was shocked at the size difference between them. I don’t know who to blame — my washing machine that doesn’t have a cycle colder than 30 C (86 F) or my dryer that takes at least 75 minutes to dry. I decided to photograph this shrinkage for your entertainment and amazement.

Here they are lined up in order of shrinkage. The one on the bottom has never been washed or worn. The one on the top is in fact clean, little fuzzies just get attached to it over time.

Isn’t that ridiculous? Here is another perspective with the three of them stacked on top of each other:

…and it seems I devote entire posts to socks these days.

The Sugar Pit, or, Cooking in the UK with US Recipes

15 Apr

Recently I got this desire to cook. But since I’m cheap and don’t want a bunch of half-used bags and bottles of ingredients lying around, I decided to make two types of candy that require little ingredients. Both recipes start with a healthy fruit or vegetable, to which you add a metric crapload of sugar until no traces of nutrients are left. Sounds like my kind of treat.

I learned an important lesson during these projects — not about cavities or healthy eating, but about the dangers of following US recipes while in the UK. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I have all my US measuring cups and spoons with me. But it wasn’t that easy. My first recipe, candied citrus peels, required 4 cups of sugar. So I went to Sainsbury’s and bought their largest container of sugar, which looked to be about 4 cups. When I measured it out it was 3 1/2 cups. Bollocks. But I just reduced the amount of water I added to 3 1/2 cups and the peels turned out fine.

My second recipe was a little more vague. While surfing the Internet I found a simple recipe for potato candy. You mash up a potato, add some vanilla extract and icing sugar (powdered or confectioners’ sugar, to you Yanks), spread on peanut butter, roll it up like a jelly roll and slice it, and it’s supposed to be delicious (according to the people reviewing the recipe online). I’m not a huge fan of peanut butter and didn’t feel like buying it, so I planned to substitute blue frosting, because I’m a sucker for unnaturally colored foods.

I ran into trouble when it came to the sugar. The recipe called for “a box of powdered sugar.” No measurement in cups, just “a box.” It’s been awhile since I’ve bought powdered sugar in the states, so I have no idea how large a box is. So I went to Sainsbury’s and bought a box of icing sugar. I added it to my mushed potato and it was supposed to magically turn into dough that I could roll. It didn’t. It turned into soup that I could suck through a straw. Crap. Today was supposed to be my cook and don’t leave the flat day, but instead I was power-walking to Tesco Express to buy more icing sugar. I bought another box and added it slowly to my bowl. Surely it wouldn’t require two whole 500 g boxes. The mixture thickened slightly, but was still nowhere near dough consistency. I finally said “screw it” and dumped the whole box in. My arm hurt from stirring and I was getting hopeful I might have some candy soon. I dropped a dollop of the mixture on waxed paper and attempted to roll it. It was not happening. It was sticky and slippery and nowhere near rollable consistency. There was absolutely no liquid in the recipe besides a teaspoon of vanilla, why was it so runny?

When you throw money at an entity or venture to no avail, it’s a money pit. What I had was a sugar pit. Fed up, I covered the mixture and put it in the fridge.

Now I have a decision to make. Do I run to Tesco tomorrow and buy another box (or two?!) of sugar for my sugar pit? Or do I call it a loss and toss it? The whole reason I decided to make it was so I could bring this “delicious candy” to a friend’s get-together tomorrow night and have everyone say, “This is made out of potato? No way! It’s so delicious! And blue!” But instead, I’ve got sticky icing sugar potato soup. It basically tastes like powdered sugar because that’s almost all it is. I’m afraid if I add another box of sugar, everyone’s teeth will decay on contact when they take a bite of it. But I also never fully absorbed the concept of “sunk cost” in econ class, so I hate that I already spent time and money on making this stupid candy and want something to show for it.

This, friends, is why I don’t cook.

(Addendum: I just looked it up and a box of powdered sugar is 2 lb, which is equal to 907 g. I added two 500 g boxes. Why do I not have dough?!)

Spare 60 pence?

13 Apr

There’s this guy who stands outside the St. John’s Wood tube station and asks for change. Not just any amount of change — 60 pence. I thought it was a freak thing, but I’ve seen him twice now standing there asking if anyone can spare 60 pence. London doesn’t seem to have too many panhandlers, especially not in NW8, so he piqued my interest. Living in Chicago made me cold-hearted towards beggers, so I ignored him, but I really wanted to ask him why 60 pence. That’s not enough to ride the tube. The first time I thought maybe someone had already given him £1.30 (maybe he has an Oyster card) or £3.40 and he needed 60 pence to make up the difference for a ticket, but that would be odd two days in a row.

It reminded me of the time Stephen and I encountered a big flamboyant begger in Chicago who asked us — with a lisp — if we could spare $2 so he could go to “the gay area of Belmont.” I didn’t have any cash on me, but he certainly won points for creativity.