Tag Archives: expat

How is it mid-November already?

17 Nov

Is it just me, or does the time between the end of August and Thanksgiving go by in about 10 minutes? I swear we were just getting back from our summer holiday, and now I’m looking at the massive amount of Christmas presents I’ve purchased over the past few weeks and am wondering how I’m going to fit them all in my suitcase when I head back to the U.S. on Tuesday. I’m seriously contemplating not packing any clothing — I have a closet full of sweaters at my parents’, and we already have plans to hit the outlet mall on Black Friday. The only thing I need to bring is running clothes for the Thanksgiving 10K. I keep checking the Thanksgiving Day forecast for Cincinnati hoping for it to warm up. It has changed from snow to rain to sun, so we’re headed in the right direction, but my body is definitely not used to running in freezing temperatures. A PR would be nice, but I’m not sure I’ve trained enough for one, so I may have to settle with just finishing.

I was hoping to fit in one more West End show before my trip back, but I couldn’t manage to score lottery tickets to see Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones) in Venus in Fur and didn’t want to see it badly enough to queue for day seats. I only managed 3 day seat queues this year, which is impressive considering I saw 16 shows. I finally got out of the 9 shows a year slump! 16 is a nice even number to go out on, and is setting the bar high for next year. And while I may be done with London shows for 2017, I’m not done with theatre for the year — my friend and I got tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago next month! We’ll see if it lives up to the hype (and believe me, at the insane ticket price and the non-stop “OMG HAMILTON!!” on social media, my expectations are sky high).

As per tradition, I walked around Oxford Street yesterday to take in all the Christmas lights. It’s the same display they had last year (and possibly every year), which is beautiful, but like most things in life, would be even more beautiful if there weren’t so many people everywhere. I was particularly intrigued by the conversation this couple walking next to me was having.

“Look how impressive this is now, just imagine how it will look once they turn the lights on!” the guy said to his girlfriend.

I did not take any photos of the Oxford Street lights, so I’ll post one from Time Out.

oxford st lights

That’s what the street looked like. As the American saying goes, “It was lit up like the 4th of July.” From the stores to the hanging bulbs above the street, the whole area was awash in light. No bulb remained unlit.

What was he talking about?!

He kept repeating it too. “It’s gonna look so cool with all the lights on!”

“All the lights are on, you nitwit!” I wanted to shout.

Perhaps he was confusing Oxford Street with Regent Street. Oxford Street turned their lights on on November 7, while Regent Street waited until yesterday. I walked down Regent Street in the early evening yesterday and the lights weren’t on yet, and it was very obvious to tell. I’m not sure what additional lights he was hoping would be turned on on Oxford Street. He certainly needed to turn on the light in his head.

Advertisements

What does healthy eating even mean?

8 Nov

It’s hard to eat healthily. Not just because unhealthy things like cake, french fries and pizza are so delicious, but because it’s hard to define what actually is “healthy.”

Is “healthy” just about losing weight? If so, technically you should be able to eat whatever you want as long as you maintain a calorie deficit, as this nutrition profession’s junk food diet showed.

Is healthy about getting the most nutrients, vitamins and minerals in order to lower cholesterol, avoid disease and prolong life?

According to the popular paleo diet, eating healthily is emulating the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors — which means eating grass-fed meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts and seeds. Grains, beans and legumes are a big no-no, as are processed foods and sugar — there were no Oreos or Doritos in paleolithic times, after all.

Celebrity fitness trainer Vinnie Tortorich claims you can lose weight and eat as much as you want as long as you follow his NSNG philosophy — no sugar no grains. He also calls it being a “Carnivorous Vegan.” Load up on the eggs, red meat, full-fat dairy products and butter! Just as long as you stay away from the candy, bread and oatmeal. And watch the fruit, as he says your body does not know the difference between fructose from an apple or high fructose corn syrup. (Definitely no fruit juice, even if it’s fresh and “green.”)

The Netflix documentary What the Health says sugar is OK in moderation — it’s actually meat that’s increasing your risk of diabetes! According to the movie, if you want to reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease and be a super strong Ninja Warrior, you should follow a vegan, plant-based diet. No meat, fish, eggs or dairy (sorry, Vinnie!). Whole grains, beans and legumes are actually OK and encouraged (take that, paleo hunter-gather ancestors!).

And then there’s the Mediterranean diet, touted for its heart-healthy benefits. The Mediterranean diet, contrary to the pizza, pasta and gelato diet I followed in the Mediterranean, focuses on eating whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, plus healthy fats like fish, nuts and olive oil. Red meat should be kept to a minimum, but grains and beans are fair game.

It seems like the only thing every diet can agree on is that vegetables are good for you.

kevin broccoli gif.gif

But wait… I forgot to mention Tom Brady’s diet! The superstar quarterback’s diet consists of 80% organic veggies and whole grains like quinoa, millet and beans, then 20% grass-fed organic lean meats like steak, wild salmon, duck and chicken. Though he eats a lot of vegetables, he doesn’t eat nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms or eggplants, because they’re not anti-inflammatory.

So we can’t even agree that all vegetables are good for you?!

You can see why I’m struggling. All my favorite “healthy” food — oatmeal, salmon, chickpeas, edamame, mushrooms, eggplants — could be considered “bad” if I followed any of the above diets. The only one that doesn’t forbid any of those things is the Mediterranean diet. I’d say what I eat falls mostly into that diet, but I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. In fact, for the past six weeks now I’ve been pescatarian — basically a vegetarian who also eats fish, but no other meat. But I’m not sure I want to commit to the label or lifestyle either. Because as much as I want to “eat healthily,” I never want to be THAT person at a party or gathering — the “I can’t eat that” person. I may have severely cut back on my meat intake, but on Thanksgiving I’m going to have turkey. I’ve also cut out sugar, but I’m going to eat some Christmas cookies when I bake them, and on my birthday I’m going to have cake. And as much as I want to say I’ve given up processed foods, I can’t kick my Quest protein bar habit, especially now that they’ve released a birthday cake flavor!

Apparently there’s a term for this diet — flexitarianism, or as The Guardian describes it, “vegetarianism with cheating.” (“A solitary pack of bacon in a fridge full of beans and tofu.”) I eat what makes me feel good, which is usually whole, plant-based foods. But sometimes I want a birthday cake protein bar. Or actual birthday cake. Or meat. And that’s OK.

I’m getting old and may be losing my mind

30 Oct

pug sleepingI completely forgot about the time change yesterday. I don’t mean I woke up, saw the time on my phone and clock were different and got confused, I mean I woke up, went about my day as normal, and it was only when we were at lunch with friends and one of them mentioned the time change that I found out about it.

“You mean I lost an hour of sleep without even knowing it?” I exclaimed.

“No. You got an extra hour of sleep without knowing it,” our friend clarified.

When I lamented my misstep to my mom over text, she said I’m either getting old or lead a relaxing life with no time restrictions. It’s probably a bit of both. Though it’s because my phone and Fitbit automatically adjusted that I didn’t realize the change, and was not an hour early to lunch. Back in the day there were always a handful of people who showed up an hour late or early to church or other events on the Sunday after the time change. Now, thanks to technology, we can completely forget about the time change and not be all that affected.

I am getting old, though. The other day I had a “senior moment” in Tesco. I brought my shopping trolley because I was planning on buying some heavy items. I wheeled it around the store in one hand, and wheeled a shopping basket in the other. When it was time to checkout, I got in the queue and figured I should remove my tote bag from my trolley to make it easier to pack. Then panic struck. Where was my trolley? It was gone. I was only wheeling my shopping basket. Had I even brought it with me? Yes, I remembered wheeling it into the store. But where did it go? I jumped out of the queue and ran through every aisle. Luckily even the bigger Tesco Metros are still tiny compared to an American supermarket, and I only had to gaze down 4 aisles before I saw my trolley abandoned by the bananas. I had absolutely no recollection of leaving it there. Aren’t I too young for “sometimers” moments? The only thing I can think is that muscle memory kicked in — since I wheeled the trolley all the way to the store, my body was used to wheeling something behind me in one hand, so when I wheeled my shopping basket around, that felt like the trolley. It does feel unnatural to wheel things in each hand, which is what I have to do with a trolley and basket.

If getting older means experiencing more and more of these moments, I am not looking forward to it!

Another day seat queue character

13 Oct

ink play londonOf the record-breaking(!) 14 shows I’ve seen in London this year, I surprisingly only got day seats for 2 of them. So I was due for a good queue.

I decided to see Ink, a new play about Rupert Murdoch and The Sun newspaper, because I feel like I don’t know enough about the London newspaper scene, and it was a transfer from the Almeida Theatre, and every Almeida West End transfer I’ve seen has been nothing short of phenomenal.

The play has been getting rave reviews, but it doesn’t seem to be extraordinarily popular, so I arrived at the theatre 30 minutes before the box office opened. There were only a handful of people queuing. I proceeded to kill time on my phone until the character arrived. Every day seat queue seems to have a character.

This one was a full-blooded New Yorker who would have been a prime contestant on a Buzzfeed “Homeless Man or Aging Hippie?” quiz. He wore a tie-dye Bob Dylan T-shirt, an “Impeach Trump” button on his hat, had a scraggly beard and walked with a cane. And he was a talker, as only Americans can be. Every once in a while queuers will strike up conversation, but most keep to their phones, books, magazines, or even use their laptop whilst standing up like the guy in front of me. But this character wanted to talk and he didn’t particularly care who wanted to listen. The Australian woman in front of him wasn’t biting, so he tried the man next to me. He was properly British, giving polite responses and appeasing the character, but I could tell he’d much rather be reading the magazine in his hand.

“So how does this work?” the character asked to no one in particular. I wanted to say, “What do you mean how does this work? Are you so New York that you just saw a line of people and decided you must queue?” (Wait, New Yorkers don’t say “queue” or even “wait in line.” They wait “on line.” And yes, that scene about New Yorkers waiting on line from The Gilmore Girls reboot is still fresh in my mind.) He lamented about how he must have an aisle seat, but doesn’t want to spend too much money. Eventually I couldn’t handle it anymore and had to jump in.

“Front row day seats are £15,” I said. And just like that I was roped in. Luckily the box office doors had just opened, but there was only one window and each transaction seemed to last 5 minutes, so I had plenty of time to hear about why I absolutely must see Bob Dylan live, what it was like to see Anthony Hopkins play King Leer at the National Theatre back in 1986, and how badly the Bengals are playing this year. By the time we got to U.S. politics, it was my turn to buy my ticket.

“See you later, Cincinnati!” the character called out after me when I left. I smiled, thinking I would never see the guy again, but sure enough there he was on the aisle, 3 seats away from me at the matinee. Though he didn’t seem to recognize me with makeup on and my hair down as I crawled over him to get to my seat, so the poor English guy next to him had to hear all about his thoughts on how Rupert Murdoch ruined the New York Post.

At the interval I jumped up to use the ladies room, but because I was sitting front row center and there was little leg room, I wasn’t able to bolt there first like I normally do. So I had to queue. There were only 4 stalls, so naturally it was a long queue. In fact, it somehow became two queues, as women poured in from both sides. An outspoken American (of course!) devised a plan.

“We will merge just like we’re on the highway,” she announced. “One person from this line, then one person from your line.” Everyone within earshot agreed, and for a while the merging technique worked surprisingly well. Until a lady from the other queue got talking with her back to us, and so no one from her queue was moving, so my queue slowly became the main queue. An American woman 5 people behind me apparently did not see this occur, and jumped in front of the woman behind me.

“I’m sorry, what are you doing?” the British woman behind me asked her politely.

“We’re merging, isn’t that what we’re doing?” The American woman said, rather hostilely.

“Yes, we were, but you were behind me. We’ve all been waiting much longer than you have.” She smiled and continued to be incredibly polite. The American woman realized her mistake, but in typical American fashion, was not about to admit it. She jumped back a few people in the queue.

“Is this OK?” she said with an attitude. The British lady smiled again. “As long as you’re behind me.”

“Whatever” the American woman muttered under her breath.

It would be hard to make up a more stereotypical exchange between the two cultures if I tried!

Besides that little bathroom kerfuffle, the show was excellent. My seat was so good I had fake money thrown at me (of course I saved one of the notes!) and was even splattered a bit with ink. (It was only when I got home that I realized it was on my face. Good thing I was wearing dark colors!) The world of London newspapers during the 1960s is a fascinating one, but watching the show made me glad I’m no longer in that industry.

London’s latest protest

9 Oct

On Saturday morning we went out for our usual run through the Royal Parks. Starting from the minute we stepped outside we noticed an increased police presence. As we got to Hyde Park it was hard to ignore — there were officers, horses and police cars everywhere.

“Is it some kind of protest?” Stephen asked me, and I tried to google it on my phone. Googling “Protest in London today” only brought up results of past protests, ranging from Muslims against ISIS to Harry Potter fans against the construction outside the Palace Theatre. I’m not exaggerating when I say Londoners really like to protest.

We noticed large groups of people walking towards Park Lane and Piccadilly, which is where we guessed the protest had to be happening. Except they were mostly middle-aged, balding, white men, which — if I may racially profile — are not the usual protesting demographic.

“Are they skinheads?” I asked rhetorically with trepidation. That would explain the excessive police presence.

Our curiosity got the best of us and we approached a police officer who was standing on the corner.

“What’s going on?” Stephen asked him.

“There’s a protest,” the officer replied. “Which way are you guys going?”

“Into the park,” we said, and he told us we’d be fine then. But we couldn’t end the conversation there, we needed answers.

“What kind of protest is it?” Stephen asked.

“Football fans,” the officer replied, pausing, then smirking slightly. “Protesting against terrorism.”

We couldn’t help but laugh at the seemingly randomness of it, but the protest was no laughing matter — the Football Lads Alliance (because of course they have an official name, and of course it has the word “Lads” in it) drew a crowd of 30,000+ supporters who marched through the streets of London. I’m guessing the police were out in droves because the group reportedly has some ties to some far right and racist movements, plus with that many people you can never be too careful. From what I read, though, the demonstration was peaceful aside from some heated words exchanged with counter-protestors.

…Just another weekend in central London!

football lads association march london

Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail

One year later

18 Sep

Exactly a year ago today I ran 13.1 miles. I remember the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I felt immediately after finishing the half marathon, followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, then — after a big meal and a nap — an overwhelming sense of pain. I thought I’d never be able to walk, run or use the toilet pain-free again, and yet eventually the achiness vanished… along with my long distance running motivation.

Yesterday I struggled through our usual 4 miles. Who knew taking two weeks off running and fueling your body with gelato, gnocchi and truffle oil could be detrimental? I foolishly brought my running gear on holiday too, not even realizing that none of our accommodations had gyms. We did manage to rent bikes one day and cycle around the beautiful walls of Lucca, Italy.

lucca bike rental.pngAnd one day we managed to seemingly walk the entirety of Budapest, logging 21,324 steps and 9.3 miles on my Fitbit. But now it’s time to get back on track. The Cincinnati Thanksgiving 10K is just over 2 months away. It’d be nice to get another PR, but realistically it’d just be nice to actually run 6 miles again without stopping.

Though as I reflect on my experience training for and running the Richmond Half, I wonder if I have another one in me. Should I keep trying to get into the Royal Parks Half, or sign up for a different one in England… or Cincinnati. And even crazier — if I miraculously am allotted a spot in the full London marathon, should I give it a go? For the moment I should probably focus on acing that 10K and running a mile without stopping, wheezing or catching a Pokemon. But the race bug really is contagious!

That time we were stranded in Italy

15 Sep

gelato siena.pngIs there anything better (or worse) than coming home from vacation? You get to sleep in your own bed again and return to the daily routine. On the other hand, you have to return to the daily routine — no more sailing along the Danube, driving with the top down through Tuscany or eating gelato for both an appetizer and dessert.

We just returned from an epic holiday to Prague, Budapest and Tuscany (as per our tradition, three places that are not really close and have absolutely nothing to do with each other). It was one of our best trips yet — until we tried to get back to London.

We booked a flight out of Florence on CityJet — an airline that previously canceled our Paris flight and made us take the Eurostar train. But that was weather-related, so surely we’d be fine flying out of Florence. It was a bright and sunny day the day we were scheduled to leave. And yet no planes seemed to be doing that — leaving. As we sat in the terminal, slowly we saw each flight on the monitor go from “delayed” to “diverted” to “canceled.” It was a clear day and yet no planes were taking off or landing in Florence. I was tracking our plane on my phone and noticed its landing time kept getting pushed back by 5 minutes before it finally switched to the dreaded “diverted.” It was diverted to Rimini near San Marino, a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Florence Airport.

High winds was the excuse they gave us, though the weather reports were showing only 20mph gusts. Stephen has his own theory about an air traffic control officer who took a long riposo (Italian siesta). Something didn’t add up.

Since no flights were landing at the airport, every airline bused their passengers to nearby cities like Pisa or Rome. CityJet put us on a bus to Pisa. The employee at the gate ensured us that we would be put up in a hotel and that CityJet would text us about our rescheduled flight, which would likely be flying out of Pisa airport the next morning. Another passenger told me this had happened to her before and they rescheduled her flight for 6am. At least we’ll get back to London early and not waste another entire day, I thought. I envisioned us staying in the center of Pisa as we had just a week before, enjoying one last Italian meal and stroll by the leaning tower at night.

Instead the bus pulled up to a hotel 20 minutes outside of Pisa with absolutely nothing nearby besides a gas station. We were stranded. Our room didn’t even have WiFi. CityJet texted me that they were working on sourcing a crew and aircraft for us to fly out of Pisa and would continue to send updates. The next update was that they were rebooking us on alternate airlines and would email us our new itinerary. As we entered the lobby of the hotel, we were greeted by a chorus of CityJet hold music emitting from fellow passengers’ phones. We overheard one woman who had managed to get through to someone.

“You bused me out to Pisa then booked me on a flight leaving tomorrow night from Florence Airport with a layover in Amsterdam? That is unacceptable!”

We hadn’t received our rebooking yet, but I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be on the direct British Airways flight out of Pisa. I was correct.

“Paris,” I told Stephen. “They’ve rebooked us on a flight out of Florence Airport tomorrow with a connection in Paris.”

He immediately got out his phone to call CityJet.

“Are you going to complain?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I’m going to get our money back. We’re not taking that flight. We’re not risking it with Florence Airport again. Look up cheap flights from Pisa or Rome.”

And that’s how we ended up spending the next day taking a taxi to Pisa’s train station, riding a 4-hour train to Rome, riding a 30-min train to Fiumicino airport, sitting at the airport for 3 hours, finding out our flight was delayed 30 minutes and wanting to cry, but finally landing at London Gatwick.

We left our Florence hotel at 9:30 am on Tuesday, thinking we’d be back in London at 2:30pm. We got back at 11:30pm on Wednesday. That is two entire days of our lives wasted on traveling. Though I suppose I should look on the bright side — we did manage to get home safely, our transportation costs to Rome should be reimbursed by CityJet, and the refund we’ll receive from our original flight should cover the cost of our EasyJet flight from Rome. But, man, talk about putting a damper on an otherwise amazing trip. We’ll certainly be back to Tuscany, but the next time we’ll think twice about flying in and out of Florence.