31.12.07

A Year in Reflection

New Years Eve not only is a time of celebration but a chance to reflect on the last year. Last year this time I made a huge list of New Years Resolutions and where I wanted to be. Well, looking back I can say that not a single item on my list was completed. The year was probably the most difficult and dowright painful I've ever had since moving to London. However, instead of listing my failures and struggles these last several months, the only thing that I can do is move forward. This year is gone and there's nothing I can do to change the things I have had to deal with. I feel that life is made up of opportunities to learn from the challenges and I definitely feel like I've grown this year and learned a lot about myself. I hope that the New Year will be somewhat easier than this last one, but if not that I will be able to cope with whatever comes my way.

Instead of a long list of resolutions this time round, my one goal this new year is to have more compassion. Compassion towards myself, compassion towards James, compassion towards others and compassion towards my environment/world. I really think this one thing will make so many other things that are insignificant in comparison fall in place. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone changed their perspective/focus to things like compassion & gratitude? It makes you think and personally I can't wait to see the potential for change it will bring to my own life.

So watch this space and hopefully this next time next year I will have a much different report to give! In the mean time, Happy New Year to all of you as well and I hope that the new year will bring blessings to you and your family.

The Kite Runner


What an incredibly beautiful film. I found it refreshing to hear a story from this area of the world (Afghanistan) that wasn't demonizing. Although I haven't read the book "The Kite Runner", I understand that it has been an international best-seller and I can see why with its universal themes of family, friendship and forgiveness . I have read Khaled Hosseini's other book, "A Thousand Splendid Suns" about women in Afghanistan and found it very inspiring as well. I love stories like this where I feel like I'm being educated and learning about the lives of others. If the film is not for you (although its PG-13 /12A in UK there's some strong subject matter) I would definitely recommend reading the book instead as its such a wonderful, beautiful story that everyone should hear. I'm very glad I got to see the film, particularly on the last day of the year!

28.12.07

Christmas in the Country

Again this year we spent Christmas and Boxing Day in the West Midlands (the Shire) with James' family. It was a great break and nice to get away from the hectic worries of London. It was nice to go running along the lanes in the countryside and was even better to catch up with friends and relatives. I feel there's something really great about being in the fresh air around horses, chickens and other 'live' animals. It can do anyone the world of good. Anyway, here are some pictures from our trip:


James' niece and nephew
Views of the Countryside

18.12.07

The Best Christmas Movie of all Time




It's a wonderful life is my most favorite Christmas movie (and one of my favorite ever). I've seen it over and over and the ending never ceases to choke me up every time. To me this is what Christmas is about: love, compassion, friendship and family.

This in mind, may you all have a Merry Christmas and nothing but blessings come to you in the New Year.

Lots of Love,

Christine & James

17.12.07

Drinking in England

Being the holiday season, the never-ending problem of drinking in England becomes even more apparent than it does the rest of the year. The last two to three weeks in December, most people in this country are either drunk or in the process of nursing hang-overs. Its got to the point that James and I won't even go out on New Years because there's just too many drunk people around who are annoying and cause trouble.

Binge drinking is officially a problem in England. Many government initiatives have been started, with little positive results to squash and regulate this. I'm not surprised though because pub life is a huge part of the culture. When you think of pub's you think of seedy little bars with flashing neon lights, the smell of smoke and weird creepy men eyeing you up. Well, its not like that (for the most part) here. Pub's are a place you take the family for Sunday lunches out and is where friends and work colleagues meet. The government banned smoking inside pubs and most are old Victorian style, with beautiful interiors. The entire social networking is centered around visits to pubs and even if you don't drink alcohol, you still go to the pub and have a huge choice of alternate beverages open to you. In a way, pubs are very similar to cafe's, but a lot more 'homey'. So, based on all of this you can see why its so incredibly difficult to not grace through the doors of a pub in this country. If you don't you can pretty much kiss any chance of friends goodbye.

Being fond of 'the drink', the English have learned the art of making alcohol. Besides tea (that's a completely different subject) the amount of beer that this little island makes is astonishing. Alcohol in Europe has more alcohol content than the U.S. and your lucky to find anything for beer below 5%. (Beer in America is around 1 1/2-2%) and wine is ludicrous at 12.5%. The term 'alco-pops' is a big thing as well. There's a huge choice of sugar-laden alcohol related drinks that you literally cannot tell they are alcoholic as they taste of soda-pop. Its unfortunately become a problem for young teens obtaining these 'alco-pops' before the legal age requirement of being 18 years old. Its very common seeing teens standing around drinking because they have little else to do with their time.

The country caters to this 'abuse' and then is surprised when they have more problems with anti-social behaviors and other problems. Too many use alcohol as a coping mechanism, which only covers the real source of the problem in my opinion. I don't think a downright ban is necessary but more education should exist about the effects as well as alternate coping skills in dealing with stress. Alcohol should be approached with a very very mature attitude or completely avoided if not possible to drink in moderation. This has been my approach to it since I've lived here and James tries to do the same. On a positive note though, a lot of people it seems are starting to become more health conscious and binge drinking is getting better. I don't think that this problem will ever go away entirely but I think that there is hope for the future.

15.12.07

Training: Ten Mile Marker

Well since my last post, I've managed to break over that 6 mile hump finally. Slowly but surely, I have been adding the miles and today for the first time in my life I ran for over 2 hours, non-stop making the grand total 10 miles. I was having serious doubts I could ever get to this point and funny enough today I enjoyed every bit of the way. Blackheath and Greenwich (near where I live) are beautiful before 8 o'clock in the morning, bloody freezing this time of year but make absolutely beautiful running routes. We've seen a family of swans in a nearby lake and a couple of times we have even seen fox's! Anyway--the next hump is 15 miles and getting the ol' speed up. Hopefully it will be early in the new year when I can write again about how this who process is going.

In the mean time, I would like to mention that my partner James and I are required to raise sponsorship money for charity in order to run the London Marathon. Although there is plenty of time to think about this (its not until April), we would both be grateful for any assistance in reaching our goal. Please see the button in my side-bar for 'JustGiving' for more information should the mood take you!

The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army


One of the best reasons for living in London is the incredible once in a life-time exhibitions that come here. Today was one of those great experiences as I had the privilege to see at the British Museum , the largest exhibition to date outside of China of the famed 'Terracotta Army".

The exhibition was housed in the Museum's library, famous in its own right for having reader's grace through its doors such as Karl Marx and Arthur Conan Doyle. It has a dome ceiling which adds to the grandness of what you are seeing. You walk up a set of stairs and immediately its overwhelming, so much to see, read and absorb.
The first part of the exhibition was learning about the man behind the Army: China's very first emperor, Quin (pronounced 'Chin' which is where the name China comes from). He came from a family of horse breeders, I believe he was poor and after uprising he pronounced himself leader. The 120 artifacts included in this section were normal every day items of the time--things of significance like bells, clay roof tiles, money (including what they used for money before a form of currency) and items used during rituals. One thing I found interesting was the fact the emperor wanted to consider himself ruler of not only China, but the universe (heaven & earth). He actually planned the spots for his temples based on the stars. His idea's of death & being ruler of the spirit world led to him making the artifacts (including the Terracotta Army) that surround his tomb.
A farmer found the Terracotta Army in 1974 accidentally, not realizing that it would become one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th Century and be considered now the 8th wonder of the world covering an area about 56k/36 miles. Apparently only 1/3 has been excavated so far and to date they have managed to put back together approximately 7,000 (they were broken obviously) of the Warriors, have found 40,000 arrowheads, found about 87 pieces of armour (each has about 500 pieces, they have put back together two), found horses, chariots, acrobats, Strongmen, musicians and animals and man made rivers of mercury. The actual tomb these items surround, has not been touched. Some say the emperor created an entire replica of China inside the massive mound. There is no plans on opening the tomb just yet and they are focusing on the pits surrounding it first. Who knows whether this will be opened in our lifetime.
In the last part of the exhibition I was able to see 20 of these warriors, including some of the horses, one of two in existence of the pieces of armour, some acrobats, archers, strongmen, as well as some of the birds and musicians. Obviously only a tiny, tiny fraction of what exists but a good sampling of the items anyway. It was great because although the actual warriors were surrounded by a heavily alarmed motion sensory bar, we were able to get incredibly incredibly close. Each warrior if you would believe is made unique, with different hairstyles as well as facial and physical features. The detail is exquisite and they look so life-like. Apparently 700,000 people worked (including convicts) over 38 years in making this mausoleum for the Emperor. Many obviously died unfortunately in the process.

Although I hope to go to China one day and see these again in the country of orgin, I doubt I would ever be able to get up as close as I did today. If you can't tell by this post it was an amazing experience to see them and one that I will honestly never forget the rest of my life.

10.12.07

Christmas across London

I love the Christmas decorations this year in the city. In years past it seems like they haven't put much thought into them, but this year its different. This year its been fantastic and it really sets the mood for the whole holiday season. Here are a few shots from the city:


Trafalgar Square

If you click on the picture to enlarge you can see the details and the twinkly lights of the tree better. The tree in Trafalgar Square is a gift given by Norway every year as a thank you for England's help in WWII. The views are great here at night when the fountains are lit up and you can see Big Ben in the background.



Setting up in Greenwich Market

I live about 10 minutes away from this market and although this picture doesn't do it justice, the decorations are beautiful this year. Greenwich Market is fabulous for buying artisan goods of everything you can imagine- particularly beautiful hand made bags. The stall directly to the right is selling mulled wine and apple cider, traditional English drinks for the holiday season.


Covent Garden
Covent Garden is absolutely beautiful this year. All the lights are decorated with icicles and it looks like a winter wonderland. Covent Garden dates back to the 1600's and was generally a place where people sold things. It became famous for its flower sellers and was the inspiration for Eliza Doolittle in My fair Lady. It is also well known for the street puppetry of 'Punch and Judy'. Today it is full of musicians who perform, great shops, open stalls, great food and street performers of all sorts. Two of my favorite places of the market include a vintage toy shop called Pollock's and of course the Royal Opera House which is right in the main square. You can never go wrong with a day at Covent Garden and I personally find it a lot more manageable shopping here than some of the busier places like Oxford Street or Bond Street.

7.12.07

Pumpkin Spice Cake

This cake is truly a divine inspiration. Its a Martha Stewart recipe and I made it for Thanksgiving this year. Loved it SO MUCH that I think I'll be making it again for the Christmas season. P.S. --If you're worried about your waist-line, please see my healthy subsitutes at the end of the recipe.




Be sure to use canned pumpkin puree -- not pumpkin pie filling or fresh pumpkin puree.

Note: You can also use a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan: Increase baking time by 25 to 30 minutes (tent loaf with foil if it browns too quickly).

Prep: 25 minutes Total: 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

Serves 9

FOR THE CAKE

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon each allspice and cloves)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree

FOR THE HONEY FROSTING

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 bar (8 ounces) regular (or reduced-fat) cream cheese, very soft
1/4 cup honey

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter, and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.

  3. Turn batter into prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan, and cool completely, right side up, on a rack.

  4. Make Honey Frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk butter, cream cheese, and honey until smooth.
    Spread top of cooled cake with honey frosting. Cut cake into squares to serve.
MY SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE IT HEALTHIER:
  • I used 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour and only 1 cup all purpose flour.
  • I cut the salt by half and only used a pinch. If you use sea-salt as its better for you and stronger, you'll need even less.
  • The cream cheese I used was reduced fat and had added benecol. Benecol is good for the heart.
  • I reduced the amount of sugar by half a cup to only 1 cup. It depends on your tastes obviously.
  • I used one full egg and the other egg I used only egg whites.

Note on Frosting: When I made the frosting, I turned out a bit runny. I put it in the fridge for a couple of hours to harden up and it was a lot better. When it hardens on the cake, you won't notice a difference either.

2.12.07

Seasonal Treats in England

As I sit here scoffing down a mince pie it dawned on me that not many know of the seasonal treats you have in England. As an American I can see how some have managed to make it across the pond (like fruitcake & mince pies). However, a few have taken a long time for me to get used to and I've just come to the conclusion they are acquired tastes.



Yule Logs: These are not the most favorite around or traditional, but you see them every year in the shops. I rather like them (best home made) because of the sheer amounts of chocolate.



Christmas cake (Fruitcake): Everyone usually makes this each year and usually people have it the evening of Christmas Day or Boxing Day (day after Christmas). Apparently the tradition of this cake goes back to Victorian times. Putting some sort of figurines on top is a must too.



Christmas pudding: Now when you think of Charles Dicken's christmas carol you think of this. Technically its fruitcake aged (apparently the traditional way is to put it under a bed in a container for 6-10 months to ferment). You then pour brandy over it and I kid you not light it on fire. The flame turns a lovely blue color and goes out once all the alcohol has burned out. You then serve it w/brandy butter (VERY FATTENING, alcohol also burned out of it). It tastes like burnt cake (no surprise there) but is a must and staple at every christmas table and like everything in England has deep roots in tradition. This isn't my favorite seasonal treat but I usually manage to have a spoonful every year anyway.



Mince Pies: These are divine and like the mince pies you get for Thanksgiving just smaller and no 'real' meat. They are sprinkled w/powdered sugar and you can have them w/brandy butter. I adore these and you can't just have one. They are consumed throughout the holiday season and go great w/ a warm cup of apple cider or hot chocolate.

Each of these are fabulous in their own right but of course fattening. All I can say is thank goodness I'm doing so much exercise at the moment!

21.11.07

Training, Day 22: Six miles or Bust!

Until marathon day in April I thought every once in a while I could chronicle how my training is going for the big day--the frustrations and particularly the little achievements. I figured it would be a neat way to look back at my journey to complete this thing. So anyway here goes:

Well we're nearly 3 weeks into running again after Morocco and it feels like a lifetime. The weather has been cold and dark. Can I emphasize the word dark? Because it gets dark so early now 95% of our running is after the sun has gone down. Our run on Monday was in the pouring rain and whilst I was completely soaked running in the mud and freezing, I kept asking myself now why am I doing this? If it wasn't for James' relentless positive outlook and motivation I honestly think I'd still be curled up in bed on a Saturday morning.

We're up to 6 miles per run, about 3-4 times a week (the other days per week we do yoga or weight training). Last week we did about 15 miles. As we get closer and closer to the time we'll be doing about 40-50 miles a week to train--about 15-20+ miles per run. From what I understand from James and his dad (who've both done marathons) this torture to my body is necessary so that the 26.2 miles won't be such a shock to my system.

At the moment, getting over this six mile mark is a huge psychological barrier for me. I've never run more than 6 miles at a time in my life. The longest race I've done is a 10k and I can feel my body being pushed in ways that its frankly just not used to both mentally and physically. I think mentally this race will be very hard because when you hit that wall of sheer physical exhaustion its the mental that has to carry you through to the finish. I know that it will be a huge barrier to get over especially with my history of self-doubt. I'm up for the challenge though and have wanted to do a marathon for so long. I was always the fat kid growing up and I want to do it to get over this stereotype and finally loose that last little bit of weight. With the amount of running I'll be doing and the calories it burns I'm sure I'll finally do it!

So---Watch this space and hopefully by my next 'training' entry I'll be over the six mile hump!

18.11.07

The Muppets




The weather has been rubbish this weekend so we've been stuck inside watching dvd's. We recently got the second season of the Muppets on DVD and have been enjoying reliving the episodes from our childhood. I adore the Muppets and wish that they'd come back to television to bring some sort of quality to what's on nowdays. There's something about them that just brings a smile to your face and after a while you forget you're watching puppets or barnyard animals. What I remember most is the musical numbers (this and 'Pigs in Space'---total classic) thus the clip. My favorite characters were Kermit, Gonzo and Animal. I'd be interested if any of you loved the Muppet Show as much as I did and if so what were your favorite parts? Anyway--I hear the Swedish Chef calling. Enjoy the clip.

2.11.07

Got a Spot


30.10.07

Human Dignity

One of the biggest things I hate when it comes to travelling outside of the Western world is seeing the poverty people face on a daily basis. In a world where there is so much wealth I find it amazing that individuals still are starving or suffering. It just doesn't make sense. I wish I could give to everyone but we have been constantly told on the trips we have made to be careful who we give to and how because it encourages children skipping school, buying sweets or even more unemployment, etc. So when we were told in Morocco about one individual we could actually help James and I jumped at the chance to make a difference.

Morocco has only a 50% literacy rate. You see many children younger than 15 herding sheep, working in the fields or even serving in cafe's. Every few steps you take you consistently get the 'open palm' begging for a few dirham. Loads try to sell items in shops but with 20 others on the same block selling exactly the same thing, times can become rough. Imagine trying to conquer this inevitable poverty if you were disabled!

In Essaouira we were told about a chap (I can't remember his name unfortunately) who has severe spina bifida which confined him to a wheelchair and is quite disabled because of it. Instead of begging or ending up in an institution he learned how to paint using his mouth and 365 days a year (including Ramadan--a month long period of fasting during the day) paints in the main square. He uses a tray on his wheel chair as a display and with the money he earns from painting he supports himself, his mother and I believe his sister as well.

No matter who you are, you want the dignity and the basic right of being able to provide for yourself. I was so inspired by his determination to overcome any odds to be able to do this. We just had to help him for this reason so we bought three of his small paintings (see below) and gave him extra. The extra was nothing to us (about £6) but was probably double of what he would have made in a week (the average Moroccan makes approximately $3.00 a week). No wonder why his smile was so big with our purchase!

It really is not about the money but about changing someone's life and giving them the self respect and dignity to continue. Although we just chatted to this chap for a minute it is one of the moments I'll remember from my trip the most! It felt so great to make a difference even when I was on holiday!

Here are the paintings:


my favorite-- I love the colors!


Medinas, Mountains and Kasbahs

Wow--what a glorious three weeks! I can't believe the time went by so fast and how much I packed into the trip (saw most of the country). I took nearly 400 pictures and was so pleased with the results for the first time I feel like I should put my name on them, i.e. copyright. Although I've only posted a few pictures on here and just over a dozen on Flickr--they are still a good reflection of what kind of trip I had.

Morocco reminded me of my trip to Egypt a few years back but it was much more Western because of being previously under the rule of France. The appeal of Morocco is that much of life hasn't changed since the beginning of time and the idea of 'artisans' still is very much in existence. Wandering the medinas (old medevil markets) you can easily get lost and overwhelmed in the sites, smells and culture (and by the number of cats!). The art on everything is beautiful usually based on words from the Koran , the influence of mosques and uses 'mosaics' absolutely everywhere. In our trip we actually went to a place where they did mosaics and it was interesting to learn how they do it and see the patience and love that goes into their creations (to put the mosaics together, they have to do the patterns backwards on the floor).

In most cities are Medinas and my favorite was in Fes which had blacksmiths, wood-carvers, glass-makers, leather workers and fabric weavers. In the open spaces of many of the medinas they would often have storytellers, jugglers, snake-charmers, acrobats, etc. It was like a carnival gone wild. The most famous of these is in Marrakech.

Besides wandering the Medinas, the countryside and Mountains are absolutely gorgeous. We ended up doing over 15 hours of hiking throughout the trip and it was amazing. Hiking between villages, through agricultural fields we got a first hand look at how life really outside of the city. The villages or Kasbah's (mud huts) were very impressive (particularly Ait Ben Haddou and the people so friendly (French is spoken in Morocco). The children all waved and said Bonjour and begged for 1 dirham (money in Morocco). I wish I could have taken more pictures of the people but many Moroccans unfortunately have a very bad view on photographs and get upset when pictures are taken.

Next to the sublime peacefulness of the mountains I really enjoyed the ocean in Essaouira. Who doesn't like the sounds of the ocean and the fresh sea air? I slept so well and I loved wandering the streets and shopping. The blue and white decor of the city apparently is the Andalucian way of warding off the evil eye which they must have successfully done because the city has such a relaxed and blissful vibe to it.

In the end--A very good trip one that I'll remember for the rest of my life. I'm very glad to be home but enjoyed getting away from everything and escaping to Morocco for a few weeks! So here are some pictures (I would double click on them to see their full size) and please remember there are more pics in Flickr:


Fes




Marrakech- the main square




The High Atlas Mountains---very near the highest peak in North Africa
Ait Ben Haddou-The most impressive Kasbah in Morocco. (Has been used in NUMEROUS movies)
Hassan mosque in Casablanca. You can get a little bit of an idea how big the place was!

8.10.07

Moroccan Adventure


Leaving in a couple of days for Morocco and I can't freakin' wait! Going to be spending nearly 3 weeks travelling around the country and seeing absolutely everything as well as eating divine Mediterranean food. Looking forward to the fact it will be a heck of a lot warmer than it is here in London and that the shopping will be amazing. If you want to read a bit more about what I'll be up to on my tour of the country--check out my side-bar under 'October trip'. Our first port of call is Casablanca, very exciting. Apparently there is an actual 'Ricks Cafe' as well--go figure eh? Well-enjoy the month of October and I'll post plenty of pictures when I get back!!

---
* A quick note: You may be interested that for most of our trips we do a carbon offsetting scheme through Climatecare.org. Basically you can figure out how much CO2 your trip will be, pay some money and they invest in third world countries to help reduce global warming. If you are interested in this organization please check my side bar under 'What have you done today?'

4.10.07

Eat, Pray, Love


Only 7 days (not counting or anything!) till my holiday to Morocco and I thought heck why not get a little start on my book I bought specifically to take with me. Well 4 days later I've finished the darn thing! I blame the author for writing such an enjoyable, inspiring, thought provoking book about her journey of self-discovery traveling for a year through Italy, India and Indonesia. Its her fault the pages are now all dog-eared and underlined due to the fact I don't want to forget the inspiring things she's said and that I'm sleep deprived due to staying up till nearly 1 a.m. the last few nights trying to find out what happens next. Its her fault as well I have to find a new book now to take on holiday--so Damn You Elizabeth Gilbert!! Anyway--Its interesting though how things come in your life at the exact moment you need them and this book has filled this beautifully. To some who read this it may not hit a chord or you may think its rubbish but for me this book I could relate to on so many different levels. I guess that's why I feel so exhausted (in a good way) having finished it because her journey has been my journey. Sure the exact circumstances surrounding hers was different, but each one of us is ultimately on the same path aren't we; to try to figure ourselves out and to find peace and happiness. We sure beat ourselves up in the process sometimes (myself included) but if we take the time to slow down, listen and understand the words self-compassion and love we can do and enjoy so much more of this short period of existence called life. It reminds me of a passage in the book that says, " The problem with all this swinging through the vines of thought is that you are never where you are. You are always digging in the past or poking in the future, but rarely do you rest in the moment."
My life has had periods of such chaos and I forget sometimes to experience and take in the moment. Even if it is painful and horrid I need to embrace these times as well because it is all part of listening to what God/the universe/whatever you want to call it is trying to teach me. The chance to truly listen though comes only when you peel away all the layers of your life. I like what the book says about this, " The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart. "
Although I'm exhausted and my pillow is beckoning me--I am glad I read the book. I guess what I learned from this in the end is to embrace the stillness, embrace the moment, listen more, to love myself and to love others. Sure I'll mess up but I'm going to just do my best each day which is all anyone can do really. Its not the end result that we learn the most from, its the process getting there. Being alive is extraordinary and I have/ we all have so much to be grateful for and to be exuberant about. Having this gratitude, this contentment is so key to obtaining inner peace and ultimately being able to help yourself and others. Its like the book says, " The search for contentment is...not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but a generous gift to the world. "

25.9.07

Best of London

Not much is new in our lives at the moment so I thought I'd give my two cents about what I believe is the best of London. A lot of these are my favorite places, things to do,etc and I'm sure nearly every Londoner will give you a different answer for each. This is what is so great about the city--so many options for every type of personality. The list could go on and on but here are just a few:

Best............

place to eat out on a budget- Carluccio's in Canary Wharf

place to buy groceries- Waitrose

park- Greenwich

au natural smoothies- Crussh

museum to get lost in- Victoria & Albert

overall shopping experience- Selfridges

shopping for everything
including the kitchen sink- John Lewis

Clothes shop- Zara

art- National Gallery

food market- Borough Market-London bridge

crafts/outdoor market- Greenwich

place to watch movies- The Empire in Leicester Square

place to make fun of tourists- The tube (subway)

View of the city- Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Ice-cream- Movenpick/Green & Blacks

Cultural Experience- A play on the West End

place to hear a concert- Royal Albert Hall

Touristy Spot- Covent Garden

Place for a cup of tea- Organic Cafe, Greenwich

Thing to do on a Sunday morning- Walk through Blackheath Common to Greenwich Park

place for peace and quiet- Greenwich Park on a weekday morning

16.9.07

Two weeks & Running

I've been going extra extra gung-ho on the exercise the last few months or so . This is due to a lot of reasons but mainly I need to get my weight down quickly for my health. I've been doing running races every year since 2002 but the last two weeks I had the bright idea to do two 5k (3 mile) races back to back. My total mileage including the race since last Sunday is 10 miles and this doesn't include my usual time I clocked at the gym and doing yoga this week. I've just got a few more weeks to keep this routine up (if I don't pass out first) and then I've got trekking in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to look forward to in October as well. 4-5 hours of hiking a day in the high mountains of North Africa will be definitely a challenge. So, keep your fingers crossed and end of November/December I should hopefully have dropped at least a little bit of weight.

The races these last two weeks were the same distance but two completely different worlds. The first one was the London Peace Run through Greenwich Park. About 100 people participated, 80 of them professional runners. Mentally I found this one horrible because half the people darted way ahead at the start, the heat was draining and the difficulty of the hills were unexpected. My time was crap but James did it with me and that made it a lot more worthwhile. Here are some pics of James and I at the end of the race:

The second one, the Hydro Active Women's Challenge was quite humorous due to the amount of people involved. 20,000 runners just in London participate every year to do a little 3 mile race and professional runners come from all over the world to run as well. Its an absolutely huge event and highlights are even shown on the 5 o'clock news. You also get a great goodie bag and medal at the end full of t-shirts, organic food and samples galore of everything you could imagine. I swear people do it more for the stuff at the end than the actual challenge of the race. My time was a lot better than the Peace Run cause the route was easier. In the end I managed to do it in about 34:00 which is a personal best for me (My very first 5k I did it in about 46 min). You can see from the sheer amount of people in the pic below how popular this run is. Also, although the expression of my face at the end makes me looks out of it, I was just glad to get these darn races over with.

8.9.07

Atonement

Only one word can describe it--Beautiful. I'm talking about the film Atonement with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley which came out this weekend in the UK (released 7 Dec-US). Its got the critics salivating quite a bit at the mouths here and its being talked as the Best British film in years and that it could easily sweep the Oscars. (The same director of Pride and Prejudice reunited with Keira Knightley for this picture). Media hype easily dies down obviously but I absolutely loved it. I saw it today with my friend Helen and it was worth the £15 ($30) ticket to see it in Leicester Square. The story and acting are brilliant (loved Vanessa Redgrave in particular), the music is incredibly gorgeous and the photography--well its in a world all its own and reminded me of a 'Monet painting'. I'd love to read the book eventually too and hear that its a treat in itself (books always are!). I really adore movies like this that are so multi-layered and appeal to those who can appreciate films as a work of art. It seems such a rarity now in films today which is another reason why this film was absolutely a sheer pleasure. It will be interesting to see if the hype of 'Atonement' continues when it opens in other countries but in the meantime I'm glad I got a chance to see such a brilliant film!

4.9.07

My projects

I want to introduce you to the following:

The Gan Sabra Orphanage- I met an amazing woman through Unicef named Lucy. She lives in North East India near Burma and Bangladesh. She's 31 and she's a social worker who has set up the only orphanage for AIDS orphans in Aizawl--which is the capital of Mizoram, the state they live in. She has set up day cares and has provided assitance to the families of children suffering from HIV/AIDS. The work she has done is amazing (it seems she's doing this alone) and they take care of 10+ (all under the age of 10) children with medicines and everything for only $200 a month. Because of lack of funds they can only take care of a certain number but currently have a waiting list of over 90 kids. What these children have to endure is ridiculous and most are not living past 12 yrs old due to the discrimination, lack of care and abuse (including rapes unfortunately). They have been the feature of some press coverage for mostly European news companies (panos.co.uk and a german site) and now have their own website (click on the link above to see! If you want to see pictures of some of the kids click HERE). Whilst they have many hardships they have many successes. The two eldest recently passed their school exams and are first in their class and they are building a new day care from land that was donated!

Hope Runs
I have become friends with the founders Claire and Lara through Blogger actually. Their site was a 'blog of note' and I randomly e-mailed them and discussed our work w/orphanages and have been friends since. Claire and Lara are American, graduates from Stanford and only 25. They have set up a charity/NGO called Hope Runs for HIV/AIDS orphans in Nyeri, Kenya. They use running as a means of motivation and giving hope to these kids (about 120 of them up to the ages of 22 approx) in the form of after school clubs, etc. They are also doing other things to assist like getting I.T. and art programs sorted for them and trying to create long-term sustainability for the children's home they live in. 22 of the children (all with HIV/AIDS)recently completed the Kenya Marathon--some doing the 26.2 miles in 4 hours I believe! (If you want to see pictures of the kids click HERE and to see the site maintained by the kids click HERE)

I have been helping Gan Sabra since Jan 2007 and have been doing little things for Hope Runs since the spring (approx). Although I am not the richest person in the world, I have managed to help these folks a bit and I can see the fruits of my labors (particularly Gan Sabra). The joy I get hearing about the fact these rugrats are doing well just doesn't compare with anything. I never thought I could do much to make a difference but I know that even the smallest thing can change the world. I've got my own problems believe me and am far from being the next Mother Theresa but I know that everything I'm facing is miniscule compared to what some of the youngters go through. It puts stuff into perspective and one word comes to mind--gratitude. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be living!! Life is too short and people (including myself at times) waste so much time worrying about or doing things that just don't matter in the long term. How great would the world be if people smiled at strangers or still offered to help little old ladies across the street? Anyway--I challenge any of my readers to not only read about these orphanages (and if you can help in some minute way great) but to do one random act of kindness today (who know's it may, heaven forbid, spread to others!!!)

29.8.07

Wales

James and I spent the last 5 days in Wales. We've been here many times before as his parents own a summer home here but it has been two and a half years since we last went! Everyone goes to Wales to get their fill of camping, hiking and outdoor adventures. Its absolutely stunning, a lot of people speak Welsh (think lots of consonants) and most drive like maniacs on roads only wide enough for one car. The food aint bad--similiar to traditional English food and sheep are absolutely everywhere. If you don't see these balls of fluff--you are guaranteed to walk in their remnants if you know what I mean. We went to the ocean, Portmeirion and did two amazing hikes where the views kicked ass. There is absolutely no way that I could post all my pictures (WAY TOO MANY!)--so these are my absolute favorites and then if you are desperate to see more you can check them out on my Flickr account.

This is one of many views from the cottage we were staying at. The mountains in the background included "Cader Idris" (on right hand side--tallest peak). I had the bright idea to hike this thing and I am still sore two days later from it. The total time hiking this peak (up & down) not including time at the top was 4 hours and I believe its about 3,000 ft which is a lot considering everything in the surrounding area is at sea level. The top was quite a challenge as it was incredibly rocky and it felt more of a climb than hiking. I am not a professional hiker or anything but I have done more than a lot of people. Anytime I ever do any hiking though I am a bit of a wimp on the descent. It really challenges my confidence and I always prefer going up because you can hug the mountain a bit more, etc. etc. It felt great getting to the top though and the views were well worth the pain.

Here is a very horrible picture of me on the other hike we did up behind the cottage. If you look in the background beyond the mountains, that is the Atlantic ocean!!
Sheep!!! (yes it really is this green too)

This is part of Portmeirion (built I believe between 1920-1970). Its a coastal village in Mid Wales that's really strange because its done in the Italian/Mediterranean style complete with palm trees. There are swanky hotels here and they are world famous for their pottery. It has great views of the sea and really good icecream.


Views of the Atlantic Ocean!
Harlech Castle, which is right next to the ocean. Wales has many many castles in order to offer coastal protection on the West Coast from any invaders in the past. I've been to this castle on previous trips as well as Caernarfon Castle.
I hated leaving Wales but it was nice to get away from the stress of London for a few days especially at the moment. We also got a chance to see James' niece and nephew and spend time with his parents. Its amazing how fast the little rugrats grow and I had a good time playing with them and their collection of my little ponies and reading stories. Its a bit of a bummer being back in London but unfortunately nice things have to come to an end I guess. At least we have another break to Morocco in I believe about 6 weeks to look forward to!!!

7.8.07

James and I as Simpson characters

Can you tell I'm bored? Today I found this free site and although its sponsored by Burger King (can't stand fast food) its a bit o'fun to see what you look like as a cartoon. If you look at the picture of James and I in the sidebar this is what it went off of. I think James' one looks more realistic than mine. What do you think? Anyway--if you are bored check it out.



6.8.07

Proms, Palaces and Picnics

James and I had an absolutely glorious weekend. It was the first weekend that there was not a cloud in the sky and it actually resembled the summer. We got out and took advantage of the weather and managed to get some pretty decent sunburns in the process.

Friday we went to:

the PROMS

Every year during the summer London has a 3 month classical music festival where every single day there is a different orchestra performing. Some of the best orchestras in the world play and the last night of the Proms is a national show of patriotism where flags fly for the national anthem and other English songs. Since moving here I've been every year and this year was no exception. We heard the BBC Symphony Orchestra--they played Russian music Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. I particularly liked the Rachmaninov piece---very beautiful smooth melodies. Anyway--we're going next week as well to the Proms so looking forward to it.

Saturday we went to:

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is just in the outskirts of London next to the Thames river. It was the home of Henry VIII (the guy with the many wives). It was absolutely huge and magnificent and reminded me of the palace of Versailles in Paris because of the sheer size of the Palace and gardens. They have activities throughout the Palace such as minstrels, guided costumed tours, etc. They also have a working tudor kitchen which is the oldest 'working' tudor kitchen still in existence. The chefs were making marzipan and bread and it was great fun watching them and the smells were divine. The palace has a deer park (the deer are original descendants of the flock belonging to Henry VIII), the largest and oldest grape vine in existence (planted in the 1700's and still living, produces a grape crop of 600-700 lb a year) and one of the biggest outdoor mazes in the world. In just under 4 hours we managed to see everything except the deer park. It was wonderful and a really great day out. Here are some pictures from the day (there are more on my flickr page):



We ended our weekend by having a picnic in Greenwich Park and reading our books whilst catching some rays in the sun. It was an absolutely wonderful weekend and I wasn't very happy it had to end!

2.8.07

I LOVE..........


..YOGA
I started doing yoga about two years ago and I love it. It clears my mind, heals the soul and absolutely kicks my butt physically. I had a lot of misconceptions about the practice before I started--that you do a lot of chanting 'om' and its 'just' stretching and is 'not really much of a workout'. Boy was I wrong--sure you can chant if you want (most mainstream classes don't do this actually) but its so much more. Its whatever you want it to be really.
Its amazing how much emotion imprints itself on our bodies--the stress, the fears or even a lack of self-esteem. Well-yoga releases this in a way that other exercise doesn't through stretching, deep breathing and a variety of poses and sequences. It utilizes one of those things that you hear a lot about--the mind, body and spirit connection that is so often forgot in our busy lifestyles.
The last few months I've gotten the courage to go to more yoga classes (I used to do mostly dvd's). Its amazing how much I see the improvement being able to physically do things I never could. Its so rewarding knowing that I am getting stronger every day and that I am getting the self-esteem and courage to try more difficult positions. The physical benefits are obvious as I've dropped nearly 4 dress sizes (and still going). The other benefits- emotionally, spiritually and mentally are there too. I am a lot more calm, have a lot more self-esteem, am more centered and I feel like I am finally beginning to heal from a difficult youth.
So this is one thing I love and that is a big part of my life. I am so grateful that I discovered this and look forward to growing and improving in my practice in the future.

23.7.07

Totally Sick of Harry!!

Sorry Potter fans--forgive me for this little rant!

Living in the birthplace of Harry Potter its impossible to not know when a new Harry Potter book is coming out. Its plastered all over the news, all of the bookstores have midnight openings, every shopping centre seems to have 'wizard weekends', you get random people in the grocery store dressed up as Potter characters and even the pubs have 1/2 price pints for potter fans. It seems to go away after a while until the new movie comes out or the next book installment.

I figured it would be the same this time for the last book. Boy was I wrong though---It has totally completely gotten out of hand. You would think the Beatles landed or something. Most bookstores are completely out of stock already due to the (I kid you not)--2 to 3 mile long lines to get your greasy little hand on one. People apparently came from all over the world to stand in one of the lines here in the birthplace of Harry!! Why spend your only vacation time standing in line to get a book? Was a trip to the Taj Mahal too much money?

Saturday we did a bit o' shopping at Canary Wharf and I saw about 5 complete brownie troups getting their faces painted and then standing in line to ride the huge broom ride. Are they even old enough to read the darn thing? Of course the usual dressed up people and by the end of the day I thought I was going to barf if I saw another little kid dressed up like Harry or Hermione. That and the thought of how much money is being made off a little book.

If you can't tell I'm sick of the hype around Harry Potter. Seriously I think its great that it gets kids and adults reading and excited about it. However, I doubt that most of the hype is due to the fact that these books will win the pulitzer or some other award for their amazing good writing. I think its because everyone is doing it because its the 'cool' thing to do at the moment. I've never read any of the books and actually walked out of the first movie cause I thought it was rubbish and have never turned back since. Call me strange but I'd rather read a book or go to a movie cause I want to not because everyone else is doing it. I am sure its great mindless fun but at the moment I just would rather do other more worthwhile things. Maybe when I'm retired I'll buy my first copy of a Harry Potter book, I just don't know. In the mean time I'm really sick of this whole thing and can't wait until this whole thing passes.

12.7.07

Mean Girls



Call me bitter but growing up I've realized that some things do not change much from High School. There are still cliques, and there is still the craving to be accepted by the "cool people". Getting older you figure out different ways to prey on the weak whether it be soccer moms ganging up on someone whose still childless or not being invited to the annual neighborhood BBQ down the street. It may not be the same as the petty things we dealt with like not sitting next to someone at the lunch table but it still hurts the same. As the years progress though--we just have more things to distract us and for this reason its easier to bounce back and forget about the hurtful actions of others. Either this or its true what they say that the older you get the wiser you become.

I have often wondered why the never ending quest to be associated with popular people. I think its down to the primal urge of survival of the fittest. If the weak in the pack shadow the strong--maybe their status will improve and they will one day emerge the leader. I believe this is why many people refuse to even speak to or acknowledge those that are deemed "weak" in any way---it does not benefit or improve their social standing.

Anyway--I'll never understand the psychology surrounding people sometimes. Although I believe people are generally good--I just think they forget whats important. Even if some things dont change from high school I do think as you get older more are willing to step out of that "mean girl" phase and help those that may be trailing behind. People are generally good in my opinion and whether you are 30 or 84 you eventually figure stuff like this out.

8.7.07

The Tour de France in a Minute or Less

The Tour de France started in London this year. Every year they do the Prologue and Stage 1 in a different country before moving to France and this year we're lucky enough that it was here. The route was actually scheduled to go through Greenwich which is only 10 minutes from where I live. This was an incredible opportunity to see something like this so we stood waiting for about 45 minutes just to see the riders. This is actually the first time we've seen the beginning of the race. A couple of years ago we by default were in Paris on the Champs Elysee at the very end of the race when Lance Armstrong won his 6th title.

It was crazy watching the race though as there was more entourage than cyclists on the route. Buses, Sponsors, French and British Police, Cars with extra bikes and Race Officials were the majority of what we saw. When it came time for the hundred or so cyclists they were so fast that they were gone in like less than a minute. Even though it was short and we had to deal with rude people trying to push into our view--it was definitely worth it. I really admire people who do this kind of thing which is the ultimate test of endurance and strength of character. I feel really grateful that I live in London so I can have these opportunities to be a part of experiences like this!

4.7.07

Happy Fourth of July!




3.7.07

Life Doesn't Frighten Me

I've been fascinated with buying children's books recently mostly because of new nieces, nephews for James and I plus my recent work with two AIDS Orphanages. My favorites lately have been: Aliens love underpants and Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou. The latter one by Ms. Angelou actually I would secretly love to buy for myself and would really recommend to get. Its a fantastic poem about fear and having courage and has the most amazing paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist who died in his late 20's. Anyway- I thought I'd share you this poem and one of my favorite paintings from the book. Please be aware the book does it way more justice though and it is a lot more moving if read it in its original context with ALL the paintings.




(Jean Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait--1982?)
Life Doesn't Frighten Me
by Maya Angelou
Shadows on the Wall
Noises down the Hall
Life Doesn't Frighten me at all
Bad Dogs Barking Loud
Big Ghosts in a cloud
Life Doesn't Frighten me at all.
Mean Old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don't frighten me at all
Dragon's breathing flame
on my counterpane
That Doesn't frighten me at all.
I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won't cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild
Life doesn't frighten me at all.
Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn't frighten me at all.
Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don't frighten me at all.
That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
with their hair in curls)
They don't frighten me at all.
Don't show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my screams
If I'm afraid at all
It's only in my dreams.
I've got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve,
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.
Life doesn't frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.
Life doesn't frighten me at all.