Tag Archives: expat

We Are Not Afraid

23 Mar

I was watching a matinee performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when it happened. The brilliant Imelda Staunton as Martha was lambasting her husband for not knowing the origin of the phrase “What a dump!”, while less than a mile away pedestrians were being plowed down on Westminster Bridge and a police officer was stabbed to death. I didn’t find out about it until I turned my phone on during the interval. My dad had texted me to see if I was OK.

“There’s been an attack near Westminster,” someone behind me said.

“Oh dear,” said an older woman. Somehow those two words seemed to convey so much — “I hope everyone is alright. Though I guess it was only a matter of time before we had another terror attack. …I wonder if Martha is really going to cheat on George in the next act?”

Nobody panicked. Some people made calls to loved ones to ensure they were alright, but most people just sat and ate their tiny cups of Häagen-Dazs, waiting for the play to resume.

I admit my first feeling upon hearing of the attack was not that of fear, but of practicality — how was I going to walk home after the show? Would all the roads be closed? I didn’t have any proof of address on me to show the police if my street was barricaded. Would Tesco still be open? I needed to buy some grapes.

When the curtain rose we were once again immersed in the twisted lives of Martha and George and the outside world temporarily didn’t matter. Every once in a while someone’s phone would go off, likely a worried friend or relative trying to check in (who would only grow more worried when the person didn’t respond for two hours). But for the most part, the proverbial show went on.

Afterward I hesitatingly emerged from the theatre, mentally exhausted from essentially watching a couple fight for 3 hours, unsure of what the post-attack atmosphere would be like. The first thing I saw was a couple taking a selfie. As I made my way towards Trafalgar Square, I encountered more tourists cheerily taking photos as if nothing tragic had just happened 3 hours earlier. Past Trafalgar Square all the roads were blocked off by cones, police officers and tape, but pedestrians were allowed through. I popped into Tesco, got my grapes, and went home.

“It’s so quiet out there,” Stephen said when he got home from work. While there was the constant buzz of helicopters overhead, there were no cars, taxis or buses zooming by.

The next morning the streets in Westminster were still closed. I debated whether I wanted to go run — not because I was afraid, but because all the road closures seemed like a hassle — would I be able to get to the park easily? I looked out my window and noticed the police who were previously stopping pedestrians were now letting them through. So I went out. It was eerie seeing major streets without any cars, but aside from the increased police presence, it felt like any other day. The annoying European school groups were out in full force — some of them even mocked me as I ran in place to warm up. I smiled. London was going to be OK.

Rick Steves posted a video from 1990 on his Facebook page that still rings true today.

Europe will always have terrorists. But the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is still statistically tiny. You shouldn’t cancel your European vacation every time there’s an attack, just like you shouldn’t cancel your flight every time there’s a crash. Of course we should mourn and honour those who were injured and killed in the acts, but we also need to keep living our lives. While #prayforLondon has been trending worldwide, the hashtag that’s been trending in London is #WeAreNotAfraid.

we are not afraid

I’m glad I went out for a run today. It was a beautiful day. But as I was going through Green Park, admiring the fields of daffodils, a piece of a tree branch broke off in the wind and struck me in the neck. If the wind had been stronger and the branch piece sharper, I might have been killed or at least seriously injured. And just like that it all came together: pretty much anything out there can kill you — even Mother Nature herself. But that’s no reason to never leave the house. You have to be smart and alert, but not afraid. There’s so much out there worth living for.

A visit to Twinings Tea Store

10 Mar

I’m trying to remember when my love affair with tea started. Perhaps there’s just something in the British air that makes one crave a cuppa. I certainly didn’t come here liking tea. But slowly it’s grown on me.

I think it started a few years ago when I got on a workout kick. I wasn’t running yet, but I was doing Jillian Michaels videos. Either she or a random internet stranger suggested drinking green tea before a workout. If you google “green tea workout” or “green tea health benefits” you can convince yourself that green tea is some cure-all magical elixir of the gods (but then again, if you get deep enough into Google, you can convince yourself that anything is — or isn’t). So I bought some Twinings green tea on sale at Sainsbury’s — mango and pineapple flavours, because I had to ease myself into it. Slowly I went from only drinking it cold loaded with sugar, to drinking it hot with honey, to drinking it hot or cold multiple times a day with stevia or whatever-the-green-tea-equivalent-of-‘black’-is. Soon my two-box collection of tea expanded into 4 boxes, then it spilled out from its designated shelf into its own cupboard, and before I knew it my tea collection was taking up two cupboards in my kitchen.

I had a problem.

When we moved into our new flat with a smaller kitchen, I told myself my collection could only take up one cupboard, so I couldn’t buy any more tea until there was an opening. Even drinking 2-4 cups a day, there was no way I was going to get through it all. Surprisingly I’ve kept to my promise, and I get a little thrill every time I finish a box. Though what follows is always the hard part: what new flavour to get?

Twinings tea store to the rescue!

Whenever I need to bring tea back to friends or family in the U.S., I go to Whittards or Fortnum & Mason — fancy pants shops that scream (or rather suggest in a polite, but posh way) “London.” I’ve never been to Twinings’ store because you can buy Twinings tea in all the supermarkets and they even sell it in some U.S. supermarkets. But then I discovered the Twinings Tea Shop on the Strand had something all the other fancy pants shops didn’t — pick ‘n mix tea. (Translation: individual bags.) I didn’t have to commit to a full box of tea that would take up valuable shelf space and may not even taste good (like the M&S Christmas tea I bought last year. There’s a reason it was less than £2 for 40 bags. Luckily I found a far superior Christmas tea at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which may just be one of the most random places to find quality Christmas tea. But I digress.) The individual Twinings bags were 15p each with a minimum purchase of 15. I bought 20 for £3, which is slightly more expensive than a full 20-bag box at the supermarket, but the variety makes it worth it.

twinings pick n mix

Twinings’ shop is also worth a visit just because, according to Wikipedia, it’s London’s longest-standing rate-payer, having occupied the same premises on the Strand since 1706. Another fun fact: Twinings holds the world’s oldest continually-used company logo. ::the more you know::

They had some expensive fancy-pants loose leaf teas, but also a lot of the same tea you can find in the supermarkets cheaper. I saw a guy buying just two boxes of the new fruit infusions and I wanted to tell him, “You know those are half price at Tesco right now,” but maybe he was buying them at the store for the experience, and the coveted fancy shopping bag (which I totally got too — 20 little tea bags could easily fit in my purse, but the shopping bag had gold ribbon handles!).

twinings strand bag

Which brings me to my last question: Do actual real live Londoners ever shop at Twinings, Whittards or Fortnum & Mason? Every time I go into those stores they’re just full of tourists loading up on “authentic London” presents to bring home. Am I not a true English teaphile because I like the flavoured stuff? Are Yorkshire Tea, Tetley, Typhoo or PG Tips the only types of tea you’d find in a British person’s tea cupboard? Inquiring minds must know.

A random post about nothing, grocery shopping and a cute panda video

2 Mar

Hello, friends, family and internet strangers (especially those of you who found me through my Priceline refund post, I’m so happy it’s been helping people!).

I feel like it’s been too long since I last posted, yet I don’t really have anything to post about. I’m not sure one can use the word “boring” about living in central London, but no matter where you live you tend to fall into a routine — work, run, somehow get caught up in the changing of the guard while trying to cut through Horseguards no matter what time it is, eat, more work. The usual.

Our new place is finally starting to feel like home, even though we still haven’t painted or made the cosmetic changes we’ve been talking about for months. (Finding a reputable, reasonably priced builder is surprisingly hard.) But I’ve gotten used to the location and know all the best shortcuts to get around the tourist-infested streets. I can’t seem to break my once a week grocery shopping habit though. At our old place we lived over a mile from all the best stores, so every Monday I would lug my little trolley to Aldi, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and sometimes other stores to stock up for the week. But now we live reasonably close to a Tesco so I could go every day if I wanted to. I don’t need to buy vegetables on Monday for Friday and worry if they’ll still be fresh. And yet I still find myself doing a big shop on Monday, just because Monday has been grocery shopping day for so long. I can’t even wean myself off my Aldi habit. Not only are their prices so much better than Tesco, they sell things Tesco doesn’t have, like frozen cherries and blueberries. So now about once a month my trolley and I take the Tube up to Aldi and I wipe out their supply of thousand island salad dressing, frozen fruit, and dark chocolate (at least that’s what I go in intending to buy — I always leave with a trolley so full I have to bring my giant tote bag for overflow). It’s such a hassle and I keep telling myself I should stop — I can deal with the subpar, more expensive dressing at Tesco and can use other fruits in my smoothies, but the Aldi lure is just too strong. I’m looking forward to checking out Aldi in the U.S. on my upcoming visit, they just built a nice new one by my parents’ house.

Hey, I just made a post about grocery shopping, just like in the good old days of the blog!

I’ll end with this amazing baby panda video. I know they say when you work with pandas you mostly just clean up poo and prepare bamboo, but I totally wouldn’t mind doing that with this little guy in tow!

(Though I really want to tell iPanda it should be “Nanny, you can’t resist my cuteness!” Do you think they’ll accept my editing services in exchange for baby panda playtime?)

Running and Pokemon updates

17 Feb

Just for kicks, I threw my name into the proverbial hat again for a spot in the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October. Last year I was really counting on it and was gutted when I didn’t get a spot. This year I’m not even sure I want to run another half. And it turns out I won’t be, because once again I was not allotted a spot. Alas. I do feel like I need to work towards some running goal besides catching Pokemon. A half marathon is a big undertaking though, so I think I’ll just work on improving my 5K time. There’s a race in Kentucky I’m hoping I can do in May. If I hadn’t aged up into the next group I may have had a chance at a top 3 age group award, but those darn 30- to 39-year-old Kentucky women are fast! …I’m talking like I can actually run 5K quickly now, I’m not even sure I could do it without stopping. I haven’t in awhile. It’s been cold out, but mostly I’ve been lazy. Now that I have some goal to work towards, that should change. Then again, they just added 80 new Pokemon to Pokemon Go yesterday, so we’ll see how that goes.

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Speaking of Pokemon, yes, I’m a 30-year-old who’s still playing. The other day there was an AskReddit thread about trends that died out as quickly as they started and Pokemon Go was one of the top answers. But everyone reminisced fondly of the first few weeks it was out when everyone was out and about exploring their neighborhoods and interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds towards a common goal. I experienced a bit of that hanging out with my brother and our cousins in July. But I never really felt it in London… until the other day. I was battling at the Buckingham Palace Pokemon Gym, surely photobombing countless tourist photos, when I heard a little voice pipe up behind me, “Whoa, she’s got a Jolteon!” Jolteon isn’t even a good Pokemon, I’m not even sure why I was using him. The little boy had climbed on the statue behind me to get a bird’s eye view of my iPhone screen. His friends quickly joined him. When I went back to the main Pokemon screen and they saw my army of Gyrados, their minds were blown. “Oh my god, she has 6 Gyrados! 6! She must be really good!” They were talking about me as if I couldn’t hear them, maybe because I was wearing headphones. I turned and smiled at them, then jogged off victorious. I probably should have stayed to chat, but I’m already a fully grown woman who battles animated monsters, I don’t need to be the stranger who talks to little kids about them. Still, it was nice to hear someone appreciates my collection!

Cold running and power struggles

26 Jan

Can you get frostbite through gloves? I genuinely wondered this during my run this morning. It was just above freezing, but it was certainly the coldest it’s been in London all year. I’ve definitely run in colder weather — like my first two Thanksgiving Day Races in Cincinnati — but I’m not sure running in extreme weather is ever something you get used to. I also think the body is quick to forget how miserable extreme temperatures are. Facebook memories recently showed a photo I took of myself bundled up, ready to walk to work in the -30 windchill. Good thing I wasn’t a runner back then!

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I only made it 3 miles before I had to call it quits and come home to warm up. I plugged my phone in so it could charge a little while I showered, but the charging icon didn’t come on. I flipped the outlet switch, but nothing happened. Then I noticed my computer wasn’t charging. And the lamp wouldn’t turn on. And …oh crap we lost power.

Back when we frequently had our water turned off at our old flat, I liked to play a little “would you rather” with myself — would you rather be without power or water? Now that I’ve experienced both, I’d definitely say water. Being without water is inconvenient — you can’t shower, flush the toilet or fill up the Brita pitcher, but as I realized this afternoon, without power I can’t do anything. I couldn’t shower because it was dark in the bathroom. I thought I’d eat first, but realized I couldn’t make my traditional lunch of a smoothie and warm Quest bar because the blender and microwave wouldn’t work. I thought maybe I’d do some work since my laptop was fully charged, but then I remembered the Internet requires power. So I just sat there and stretched while listening to podcasts on my phone, nervous that it was already at 40% battery. The porter assured me the power would be back in a half hour, and it was the longest half hour ever. I couldn’t stand being in my sweaty running clothes anymore, so I took a shower in the dark with the door slightly ajar. Thankfully right after I caved and ate my Quest bar at room temperature, the power came back. I never really realized how reliant my entire day is on electricity and how grossly unprepared I am for a disaster. We really should invest in a flashlight (or torch as they call them here) that’s not connected to an iPhone.

Weekend theatre extravaganza

24 Jan

Remember how I said I wanted 2017 to be the year I see more than 9 West End shows? I’m off to a good start.

Last Monday I saw BU21, a play about how six people cope with a [fictional] London terrorist attack. While it was heavy and all too realistic, it was also quite funny. Life (and theatre) isn’t often only comedy or tragedy — as my favorite band Over the Rhine often says, it’s a head-on collision between both.

So I started my week with some “tragedy porn” (as one of the actors described it while breaking the fourth wall), and needed to end it with something a little more fun. One of my friends from university has been working in London for a few months, so I asked her if she wanted to go see School of Rock the musical on Friday. When I explained the concept of day seats to her, she was all in, especially since I volunteered to do the queuing for tickets.

homer-do-what-i-do-best

My first day seat queue of 2017! And it consisted solely of …me. The entire time. When I’m the first to arrive in a day seat queue, two thoughts go through my head: 1. Am I in the right place? Is there some secret side door to the box office where everyone else is queuing? And 2. Ah man, I could have slept another 10 to 40 minutes! It was particularly cold on Friday, too, and my touchscreen gloves were not cooperating with my phone, so I had to alternate between being bored & warm and entertained by my phone & cold. I brought my overnight oats and ate that while watching the workmen load an abundance of god-knows-what into a van right in front of the theatre, while I’m sure they watched me wondering what on earth I was waiting for and what on earth I was eating that was pink. (For the record, raspberry overnight oats.)

A taxi driver pulled up and asked if I was waiting for a taxi. I told him no, I was waiting for tickets. He then informed me that the theatre was closed, as if I hadn’t noticed. I told him I was aware that it was currently closed and that I was waiting for it to open at 10am. I’m sure I would have looked a lot less silly if there were other people queuing with me. But considering how London black cab drivers claim to be experts about the city — way more than Uber drivers, of course! — you’d think they’d know about the concept of day seats. If I were a taxi driver my number one tip for tourists would be theatre day seats (though maybe not, I wouldn’t want the queuing competition!). Finally the box office doors opened and I was able to buy my front row tickets. As annoying as waiting in the cold is, when I’m sitting in the front row knowing I only paid £20 or less, it’s always worth it. My friend and I loved the show. I loved the movie as a kid and it transferred well to a live musical. All the kids actually played the instruments, which was amazing!

At the interval my friend told me she was free the next day, Saturday, so we looked up shows we could see. We settled on The Kite Runner, since they offered day seats. I read the book and saw the movie, so I was curious how they’d adapt the story to the stage.

So the next day I got up and did it again — arrived at the day seat queue too early. At least this time there were three people in front of me, but when we went to pay they all went for the matinee. So at least it meant we got the best front row center seats. Even though I knew the plot and what was coming, the show was heavy. Good, but emotionally draining. So naturally we went for gelato afterward to recoup. And while we hacked on the giant shave-your-own block of dark chocolate, we got a crazy idea.

“Should we see another show tomorrow?” my friend asked.

“I’m always down for another show!” I replied.

cant wait for sunday.gif

Our options were limited for a Sunday performance, but we settled on Peter Pan Goes Wrong. If it was good enough for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it was good enough for us. Plus, tickets were cheap on TodayTix (hooray for not having to get up early to queue!) and we needed to end our crazy weekend of theatre with a comedy. It was a comedy alright, full of slapstick and humor that bordered on cringey, but it was a good time. I’m glad I went with a friend though, as it seemed like a show best enjoyed with company.

So I saw 4 shows over the course of a week. Not a bad way to start the 2017 theatre season. My friend goes back to the US in a couple weeks, but we’re hoping to fit in a couple more shows before she goes. If only we could have some luck with the Aladdin and Dream Girls ticket lotteries!

Why you shouldn’t text and run

18 Jan

I pride myself on my ability to multitask while on the move. Every day I play Songpop while walking around getting Fitbit steps and am constantly flinging Pokeballs while running. But as I was walking around playing Songpop after dinner tonight, I realized my knees were hurting a little. And then I remembered what happened this morning.

Every driver thinks they can text and drive — until they get into an accident. I thought I could text and run. Until today. I was running along the Thames, having just caught a rare Lapras in Victoria Embankment Gardens, and was heading up to Green Park where another Lapras had spawned. I don’t normally run south on Victoria Embankment, though I obviously knew what direction I was going. So when I got a text from Stephen, I didn’t look up before replying — I could sense there were no people in front of me, just a guy running right behind me. However, I could not see that there was a bridge support column right in my path, and so I ran into it. Literally. At 6 miles an hour.
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dog wall.gif

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Luckily I hit the lower part of the column pictured below, so I bent at the waist and only my knees crashed into the concrete.
embankment column.png
The whole experience was so completely disorienting and shocking that all I could do was laugh. I’m dying to know what the guy running right behind me was thinking. Probably “Stupid kids and their phones! I bet she was playing Pokemon!” (For the record I was, but not at that instant.) My knees hurt initially, but not enough to make me call it quits and walk home (I had another Lapras to catch, after all!). I’m really lucky I was not seriously injured. There’s a lesson to be learned here — probably “don’t text or play Pokemon while running and always stay aware of your surroundings,” but I’ll just stick with “only text and play Pokemon while running if you’re absolutely sure there are no obstacles ahead.” (Baby steps!)