Tag Archives: london

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.

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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.

snow running

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.

Everything is covered in dust and my lungs are full of plaster: flat renovation 2018

17 Jan

When we moved into this flat over a year ago we immediately started planning how we were going to renovated it. We were going to get rid of the ugly wallpaper in the bedroom and the ugly floor in the kitchen. We were going to add more kitchen cabinets. We were going to remove the cornice and frieze from the reception room and add more majestic ones, complete with ceiling decorations that made it look nicer than a room at Buckingham Palace. New Year’s Eve 2016 we were showing our friends possible designs, musing how much better our living room would look this time next year.

And then life happened. Stephen got caught up with work, we struggled to find a reliable builder for a reasonable price, and, mostly, we got lazy. This is why people do renovations before they move into the property. Because once your furniture is set and everything is unpacked, the thought of moving everything around and living in what feels like a war zone does not sound appealing.

But we’re finally doing it. Last weekend just the two of us moved all the living room furniture into other rooms in the flat and laid down carpet underlay to protect the wood floor. Then the builders came yesterday and removed all the cornicing, creating a dust storm to rival those in the Sahara. They made a makeshift plastic curtain to block off the living room, and we made a makeshift plastic curtain out of recycling bags to block off the hallway, plus we closed the kitchen door, and yet my kitchen countertops are covered in plaster dust. I was working in the second bedroom down the hall — the farthest room possible from the living room — and started to notice dust coming in under the door. Then I realized it was on the desk. And in my hair. And in my drink. And (likely) in my eyes and lungs. I thought the noise would be the worst part of the demolition, so when I realized it was tolerable, I decided to stay instead of going to a cafe. I didn’t even think about the dust!

I asked one of the builders if it was bad for us to be breathing in this plaster dust all day.

“Um, we do this every day,” he replied with a smile and a shrug, which now that I think about it, isn’t really an answer. They wore masks during the demolition, but took them off when they were cleaning up and the dust was settling. I probably should have worn one too while I was working. Or, you know, left the flat for the entire day like a wise person would.

The loud and dusty part is over (I think), but this week is probably a good time to catch a West End matinee and get out of the house. I may have complained a little to Stephen that working from home means I have to deal with all the renovations while he gets to escape to the office. His response? “You’re the one that will get to enjoy the finished product while I’m always at work.” Touche.

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