Archive | January, 2015

What does the fox say?

25 Jan

So it turns out, Ylvis, that the fox does not say “Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow!” or “Jacha-chacha-chacha-chow!” In real life the fox screams like a child being murdered outside your window at 2 a.m.

Photo courtesy of The Guardian

Photo courtesy of The Guardian

The first time I heard the strange noise a few weeks ago I was convinced it was the screams of a child in trouble. The second time I realized it was probably an animal of some sort. And then after last night’s ruckus I found myself googling “London animal screaming” this morning. The first result? “Foxes make really loud screaming noises like someone’s being murdered.”

Bingo.

And then I googled “foxes London” and this was the first result:

Londoners call in snipers to shoot dangerous urban foxes

I can see it now: Coming in 2016 — English Sniper: The Most Lethal Fox Sniper in U.K. History.

fox sniper

Why does this photo even exist, Internet?!

In all seriousness, I’ve read about London’s fox problem, but since I’m not out and about at night too often, I haven’t experienced it first hand. But now I cannot unhear their screams. January is apparently the height of fox mating season, but thankfully, according to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s website, “The problem of fox noise is seasonal and lasts for just a couple of weeks.” Please, please let that be true.

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Life lately through pictures

23 Jan

I thought it’d be easier to discuss life lately through a series of photos, many of which are about food.

Last weekend Stephen and I celebrated our 9th anniversary. NINETH, as in 1 away from 10. Insane.

We decided to go to lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus, because I have high hopes of someday visiting all of his restaurants and lunch was reasonably priced … for a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London.

I knew the place was classy because the first thing the guy did after seating us was bring over a little stool so my precious purse would not have to touch the ground.

purse stool

At first I felt silly (like an Instagram cliche) taking photos of every dish, but then I realized people at the tables around us were taking photos too. The food was just too pretty! This was my starter, ham hock terrine with crispy quail’s egg, pickles and grilled sour dough on the side. I may or may not have just copied and pasted that from the menu online.

petrus ham hock

My main was rump of lamb. I can’t give you any more detail because apparently the online menu has already changed since last weekend.

petrus lamb

Desert was a chocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycomb. It came out as a perfect chocolate sphere and the waiter slowly poured chocolate sauce over it to melt it. Unfortunately I only got a photo of it in its sad half-melted phase.

petrus chocolate sphere

Here it is after I ate the top.

petrus chocolate sphere inside

When I made the reservation a month ago I wrote that it was our anniversary. Apparently they actually remember and take note of that stuff, because they brought us these ice cream truffles on the house to celebrate. We were both pretty full, but one cannot not consume free ice cream truffles. They were amazing, as was all the food.

petrus chocolates

On the way home we noticed this car parked in our building’s garage. How is this even a spot? And more importantly, how did this car get itself in there?

austin powers parking

“Lots of Austin Powering,” Stephen and I both agreed.

austin powers car

The other night I saw Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies was on, and I got all excited thinking it was a new movie. Nope, they just changed the name since British people probably don’t know what White Castle is. They don’t know what they’re missing!(“Those tender little White Castle burgers with those little, itty-bitty grilled onions that just explode in your mouth like flavor crystals every time you bite into one!” … and the subsequent stomach ache)

kumar munchies

Perhaps this should have been my lead story, but I saw a corgi in Hyde Park yesterday! Can I start a new style of race that strategically places cute dogs along the course? Because nothing makes me run faster than thinking I spot a corgi ahead. I then tried to slyly take photos as the corgi’s owner eyed me.

corgi hyde park hyde park corgi

I’m slowly getting back into a healthy eating and running routine after being corrupted by the American diet for a while. I’m still obsessed with sweet potatoes, but not this one that fell behind the slow cooker in the back of the cabinet months ago and was just discovered:

sweet potato old

You know what I just said about healthy eating and running? I had a really nice run this morning and a healthy breakfast, and it all went to crap when I stopped at Tesco and bought this:

tesco bourbon cream spread

Cookie spreads that are basically just sugar and oil that I say I’m only going to buy to put a tablespoon of which on my oatmeal occasionally but then end up eating 600 calories worth of which in front of the TV with a spoon are my Kryptonite. Tesco bourbon biscuit spread isn’t even as good as Nutella. When I finish this jar in, let’s face it, 3 more 600-calorie servings, I am not buying it again.

Fitbit one year stats

13 Jan

Today is a very important day for me — it’s my one-year Fitbit anniversary. On Jan. 13, 2014 my backordered belated birthday gift of a Fitbit Force arrived. As I said in a previous post, 2014 was the year of walking for me — inside, outside and in multiple countries. Since it is my one-year Fitbit anniversary, I took a look at my lifetime stats to get the total number of steps and miles I walked/ran in a year.

Fitbit steps year

Fitbit miles year

Not too shabby! My goal every day is to hit 10,000 steps and 5 miles. I hit my 10,000-step goal 344 times, which means I only missed it 20 times in a year. I would say this year my goal is to never miss it, but I think I may have missed it once or twice already with my traveling.

My best day of the year was on April 22 when I hit 25,563 steps and 11.39 miles. I was in NYC visiting Stephen and practically walked all of Manhattan and then ran on the treadmill. I think my goal for 2015 is to get the 30,000 steps in a day badge.

So I’m back in London now, and coping surprisingly well with the jetlag. Can you guess which day I flew based on my Fitbit sleep data?

Fitbit sleep jetlag

I think I slept maybe 10 minutes on the plane and then took a 3-hour nap when I got home. It’s not so much that I can’t sleep on planes as that I can’t sleep sitting upright. And with all the fights over airplane seat reclining that have made the news lately, I didn’t even recline my seat the entire 8 hours. It was not a very pleasant journey — especially in the last 5 minutes when the girl next to me reached over into my seat compartment, grabbed my airsick bag and promptly used it — but I’m back. I do not miss the polar vortex of the US, however London gave me a warm welcome on my first run of the year with a torrential downpour. Of course the sun came back out the minute I got back inside.

I can’t remember what else I was going to write, so here’s a photo of a corgi dressed like bacon:

corgi bacon

Christmastime at the Biltmore Estate

4 Jan

Have you ever been to the Biltmore Estate? Or, perhaps more importantly, do you even know what or where it is? Up until a year ago I didn’t. It’s the largest private home in America (owned by the Vanderbilt family) and I had never heard of it. But after a friend visited at Christmastime last year and raved about it, my parents and I decided we had to go.

So a few weeks ago we drove nearly 6 hours to Asheville, North Carolina, to see what all the fuss over a giant house was about. Our first stop was the winery where I sampled too many wines like I knew what I was doing.

biltmore wine tasting

biltmore winery

Then we went to see the aminals! (Yes, that spelling is intentional)

biltmore goat

This goat enjoyed munching on my coat.

goat eat coat

And this one preferred tree branches.

goat eat tree

I was disappointed by the lack of pugs in the farmyard.

petting zoo pug

Once we got our fill of farm animals, we headed over to the house. And here comes the part where I sound like a spoiled world traveler with impossible standards: I thought this was the back or the side of the house. In fact, I was so convinced that it was that I actually asked an employee how I could get to the front of the house. She simply pointed back the way I came.

biltmore winter

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was photos like these online that gave me unrealistic expectations:

biltmore christmas night

biltmore-estate-christmas-schedule

…but the outside of the house did not blow me away like I thought it would. It was no Versailles or Schönbrunn Palace.

versailles

Schönbrunn Palace

However, the lions were in a festive spirit, so I had to be too.

biltmore lion

And once we got inside the house (where no photos are allowed), I took back everything I said about not being impressed. The entire house was impeccably decorated for Christmas, with hundreds of trees throughout and even carolers. This house built in 1895 had an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley! The inside tour was way more impressive and extensive than any European palace tour I’ve done. The Vanderbilts sure knew how to live!

After our evening candlelight tour we had dinner next door at the Stable Cafe, where we dined inside an old stable stall. The food was amazing, as was the ambiance.

biltmore stable restaurant

And then we got to see the house at night with the tree all lit up. For some expectation vs. reality, compare the photo I took below to the professional ones above.

biltmore christmas night

The next day we headed over to the Grove Park Inn to see the winners of the 22nd Annual National Gingerbread House Competition. The hotel was amazing and had a very impressive fireplace.

grove park inn fire place

The gingerbread houses were also amazing, even if they went by a very liberal definition of both “gingerbread” and “house.”

grove park inn gingerbread

gingerbread grove park inn

grove park gingerbread

I couldn’t believe these chipmunks (and the one to the left on them) didn’t win anything!

gingerbread contest

This was the grand prize winner, a gingerbread chessboard called Pawn Stars.

grove park inn gingerbread winner

Then we went back over to the house again since the weather was better. We walked through the gardens, which I’m sure are a lot more impressive in the spring than in December.

biltmore gardens winter

biltmore gardens

biltmore blue sky sunny

biltmore sunny

Overall we had a great time. The Biltmore Estate is in no way unimpressive, I just went in with impossible expectations. The inside of the house definitely blew me away. A part of me is bummed they didn’t allow photos, but on the other hand it forced me to be present and soak everything in instead of worrying about what angles to capture and how to maneuver around everyone else with their cameras out. I would definitely recommend The Biltmore Estate at Christmastime, or during the spring when all the flowers are blooming. I just hope you get warmer weather than we did — when we went the second week of December it was colder in North Carolina than Kentucky! We were told that was a fluke, of course.

A look back at 2014

1 Jan

And just like that, it’s 2015.

My 2014 started with a bang quite literally — the sound of my Megabus’ tire blowing out, which resulted in a fire and the loss of my prized luggage. It was a good lesson in not getting too attached to personal belongings (and also don’t pack expensive and treasured items in your Megabus luggage, or any luggage for that matter). At first 2014 seemed like any other year — I traveled, I ran, I worked — but it had some highlights. I got my Fitbit Force on January 13, which really transformed how I move and live. 2014 was the year of walking for me, even if a lot of it was done in circles around my flat or my parent’s house.

It was also the year of surprises. I flew back to Cincinnati in March to surprise my mom for her birthday and my best friend before her due date. I also surprised Stephen in New York City.

In the summer I started three new freelance writing and editing gigs, which inspire and challenge me, and allow me the flexibility to still get my walking, running and traveling in.

In September we lost our beloved butt-head, Squirt. I still tiptoe into the laundry room at night so as not to wake him. It’s not the same being here without him, but in the end he wasn’t himself anymore. I made a shadowbox in his memory with his famous striped shirt, collar and photos, and my friend made me a beautiful photo collage.

Besides my surprise visits, in 2014 I traveled to Switzerland, Scotland, Bath, Stonehenge, Istanbul, the French Riviera and Biltmore (Biltmore post coming soon!). I saw nine shows in London and one on Broadway in NYC. I got to see my favorite band, Over the Rhine, perform twice in 2014 (including once with the Cincinnati Ballet), bringing my tally up to 17 Over the Rhine shows (which is paltry among their die-hard fans).

I don’t really like to make resolutions since every year they seem to be the same (stop eating like a pig, be able to run faster than an asthmatic 80-year-old smoker), so here’s to health and happiness in 2015!