i am grateful ....

for 1 rapid response paramedic.
for 2 london ambulence paramedics.
for claire (?) in the back of the ambulence chatting .
for james holding my hand.
for being seen so quickly.
for the 2 injections which hurt like hell but made it stop.
for the nurse that checked on me often.
for Dr Kate (?) making me laugh.
for the fact that she looked 18 and i didn't care.
for the 2 bags of happy juice/iv that made the world stop spinning.

for getting my own room with purple walls.
for being seen by a doctor at 2 & 6 a.m.
for the lady in the room next door with determination of not sleeping.
for the buzzer that produces a nurse asking 'how can I help you'.
for the feeling of being able to eat food again.
for the nice nurse with the nose ring bringing me drugs.
for another bag of happy juice/iv which helped me pass the time.
for sally jesse raphael.
for warm ravioli and yogurt.
for the chance to stare for hours at the purple walls.
for james visiting and trying to get the snooker scores.

for 2 doctors telling me i could go home.
for the nice nurse w/the nose ring telling me to put my feet up at home & waving goodbye.
for the fact i am ok now--just a bit sore.
for the peace of mind knowing that all the above was completely FREE of charge.
for a brand new day.


bag tag

the contents of my bag are not as nearly as exciting as my friend Sherrie's, but i thought i'd do a show and tell anyway.

1. keys - notice the long old style one, a lot of houses/apartments have this style of lock--very cool cause you don't see this in america. you can't see it very well but i've got a points card for our local grocery store tesco and a hawaii 'sunset' (never been *sigh*, given to me by my sister) on my key ring.

2. body shop lotion- a girls gotta have soft hands.

3. mobile phone- usually not in my bag, but for some reason it was today.

4. pen- james got me into this habit, don't ask me why.

5. oyster card- can't travel in london without it.

6. maxi pad- yes i'm being brave by showing this and no it's not that 'time' but i never leave home without at least one hidden away in the deepest depths of my hand bag.

7. receipts for waterstones book store and toni and guy {hair}---tells you where my priorities are huh?

8. crussh loyalty card- one of about 12 we have lying around as we gotta have our smoothies and wheat grass.

9. body shop lip gloss- i love body Shop can you tell? i can't leave home without at least a couple of these babies cause i'm always loosing them!

10. money- i never have much money on me so i thought I'd show it off as its a rare occasion. A whole £35 {$70} is there. i feel so rich!

11. my wallet- very hard wearing, bought it in switzerland actually.

12. panadol---pain reliever, long story but a must have when i am away from home.

13. umbrella or 'brolley' as the call it here- its london what do you expect? can't fit it in this bag but we always have one on us so thought i'd include it in my shot.

14. my 'every day' bag--by 'fat face' {like it matters} but love it because it fits with my personality. have other bags for other occasions too {can't believe i'm admitting this cause it makes me sound like such a girl!}.

i tag anyone who is bored enough at the moment to take a picture of what's in their bag and post it on the world wide web. it can actually be quite liberating if your willing to admit the contents. with this in mind-i'd like to see any blokes/guys do this with their wallets---they wouldn't have the guts!


Dream House

Have you ever walked/drove/ran by a house and took a deep *sigh* and every ounce of your soul wanted to live there? For the past six years we've wanted a house near Blackheath Hill/Village that we consistently pass on our runs/walks. There's something about it that seems to be calling to us---Buy Me. Its a house that I totally can picture us having friends over for dinner parties and to reminisce about the good old times and how our children don't visit as much as they used to. The worst part of all of this is that it has come up for sale recently not once but twice in the last year and a half.

It is a Victorian house (19th/20th Century) has 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 3 floors, a large garden, a huge kitchen, a conservatory, wine cellars and a 2 car garage. All for the lovely price of £2,650,000 (about 4.5 million dollars). So unless we seriously come into some big money, this beauty is sadly going to stay a 'dream' . (Cue violin) I'm ok with this I guess, but a girl has the right to at least salivate and I guarantee you every time I pass by this gem I'll be doing just that.


Lessons in 'Celebrity'

Whilst I was home sick last night (long story) James was out conversing with celebrities after a performance of David Mamet's play, 'Speed-the-Plow'. He got a chance to meet Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum yesterday (very nice people actually), in the usual autograph signing/quick chat sessions that happen after most shows that have big names in the West End. I'm not really that jealous of James particularly as I've met Kevin briefly before (K-Pax premiere) and I've got my own list of people I've met too over the years. I think I'm just bummed cause I love my theater stops, had been looking forward to going to this play for a while and James was out doing something fun whilst I was left hugging a water bottle and downing herbal teas to try to settle my stomach. Anyway, I'll get over it and I'm sure they'll be other opportunities like this arise.

London as you expect can be a bit of a celebrity magnet. A lot of people in the public eye particularly actors come here to either relax, live, or perform on the stage in the West End (London's version of Broadway) or work on their upcoming film (this and most European premieres for films are in Leicester Square ). With all this going on statistics are generally in your favor for the occasional opportunity that arises to meet and/or see someone of at least some notoriety. It used to be uber cool when I first moved here to meet people like that, but after I had met a handful I started to become less and less starstruck because I started to see the bigger picture.

I realized:

- A lot of celebrities are actually incredibly shy & down to earth. They get quite bemused with why fans drool over them like they do. The shyness may actually be a defense mechanism as well--- who do you trust when you are in the public eye?

-They are just people with really weird/public jobs. They still get old and have to eat their cereal in the morning like the rest of us.

-The character they play is not who they really are. Some actors are not the 'lovable' people you know on screen in real life. Yes, they can be mean!! Some don't look anything like what they do on screen!

- Its not right to treat them as commodities -- taking pictures like they are objects not people, putting them up on pedestals and writing things that aren't true for the sake of a newspaper headline or a quick 'buck'.

-They actually are real people.

So out of my experiences these last few years meeting celebrities I guess you can say I've learned a few things. Not that I was some horrible crazed fan or stalker or anything beforehand, but I just have a new perspective on it after living here. I'm no expert though--heck who can be on such a superficial and fickle business. Some would be disappointed after humanizing your favorite screen heroes/idols---all they want is the dream. For me though, I'm grateful for these lessons as it makes me appreciate them so much more and that they are not so different from the rest of us after all.


Affordable Travel

I realize it may seem that I go on a lot of exotic trips around Europe and abroad which may make us seem uber rich. To clarify though, James and I are by no means financially wealthy by most standards. We just plan our trips 'REALLY' well and we know (James in particular) how to make our money go as far as possible in all areas. (*It also helps we don't have children or have to pay rent or a mortgage--all paid off.) Anyway, if you are curious how we make our holidays a reality this is what we do:

- Book far enough in advance to get cheap rates. If you book in advance you can also implement paying it off over a further time making it easier on the pocket books. When we go to Paris, if you book ahead a First Class Eurostar ticket is only £30-45 more each way than Standard class. You don't get food on Standard Class--so you have to figure this expense in as well. A first class ticket, with food and booked ahead is actually a better deal than a Standard fare.

**Our 3 week holidays we go on we book between 4-6 months prior. Weekend breaks we usually book 3-4 months prior.

- Use exchange rates to your advantage. For our long breaks we go to places where the exchange rates are excellent for us. Generally any less developed countries, the Far East, etc you'll be able to make your money go far. For the British Pound going to America right now is economical as its nearly 2 for 1 (1.97$ = 1.00£). We watch the exchange rates for the Dollar like a hawk. The Dollar is the most accepted currency worldwide. When its a good rate, we go to the Post Office here (where we get commission free currency) and change over what we can afford and then keep them for a future trip. Always research to see if you can find a place to change over money commission free. Avoid airports because the fees are ridiculous.

Another thing we do is for small purchases abroad we use our cash, for larger ones--credit cards. You get a better exchange rate for credit cards (i.e. the business rate, not the tourist rate) and you have a month to pay it off before having to pay any interest on it.

-Shop around/compare prices. We spend a lot of time on the internet looking for the best deal for transport and accomodation. Always check more than one site before booking. We frequently stop by the usual places like expedia.com or opodo. For hotels--look on main booking sites to see if you can get a flight/hotel combo deal and then look on the hotels main website page to see if they have a better deal directly. We tend to also avoid travel agents but only use them as a guideline when needed. They will generally charge you more cause they are on commission. Buy a guidebook to get advice on hotels as well.

-Less is More. What we have gotten into with recent trips is doing a dirt cheap base holiday--like two to three star hotels and then ending with a nicer hotel as a treat. Also look into bed and breakfasts because sometimes they are cheaper than a mainstream place.

Souvenirs- traveling makes even the most stupid things in the shops seem cooler. You may think that souvenir 'official' Eiffel Tower beret is great at the time but when you get home you may think twice. Just because its beautiful doesn't mean that it needs to be bought. Sometimes the 'beautiful' should just stay in the shop (like all the amazing shoes I saw in Rome this weekend). Endless trinkets and souvenir plates can make your home more cluttered in my opinion. We do buy trinkets and the 'fun' ocassionally, but we have moved on to buying things that we need or will add to our home in a practical way. For example--- we have bought really nice olive oil for cooking and even cooking utensils and dish towels in the past. If its cheaper abroad and you need it at home why not get it? We only buy something if it will add to our life and if we will regret 'not' getting it when we get home.

- Look at the big picture. Be sure to check which airport you are flying into and whether a good deal for a hotel means that you have to take a 15 minute shuttle bus into the city every day. It actually may be more economical to get as close as you can to the center because of other costs added on top of it.

- Be among the people. Eating on holiday can be a pain in the you know where. For me because I love 'good' food not touristy food finding something that won't make me regret eating it can be a challenge. Generally we avoid eating in hotels as they are more expensive and we also tend to try to find restaurants 'off the touristy' spots (like not eating at the Eiffel Tower). We also look for restaurants that don't have pictures next to them or are printed out all in English (usually horrible translations). If you have waiters standing outside trying to get you in---not a good sign for the quality of the food.

Go to places where mostly the locals go---you'll usually get better food and it will be cheaper. Again look for menus not printed all in English and buy a phrase book to find out what everything is. Its a sad fact that most touristy restaurants don't put as much care into cooking as do locals. Locals keep going back, tourists you'll see once. So who care's if the food is bad?

Find local grocery stores to buy your snacks or lunches. Take a back-pack/day sack and load it up with your water and pringles or whatever. In Rome, we went to the deli counter at a local store and got just enough bread, slices of ham and cheese for sandwiches for lunch. Our entire lunch came to about 8 Euros. Eat your food in a local park or find some curb somewhere as it can be great fun.

-Stop making excuses. There's every reason in the book to say why you can't afford something or can't do something. If you want to do it make it happen. You only have one life and you don't want to say when your 80 and on your death bed, "I only wish I had done this".... Anything is possible and in the end everything does work out with finances somehow.

So these are my 'secrets' on how I can afford so many trips. Not very complicated you can see but it works for us and has given us so many 'priceless' memories in return.


Weekend in Rome

Its not suprising that Rome and the word 'bellisimo' should go in the same sentence. Even if you have been previously as we have, each time you visit its a true feast of all the senses. There's so much to see, to eat and to listen to it can be a bit mind boggling.

I could tell you absolutely everything about my trip but that would take the fun out of it. I will give you a little taster of the best and worst of the weekend but then I would encourage you to go and discover this incredible city for yourself. So here goes:

  • Casa Howard- I usually don't talk too much about hotels, but this one was a true find. At only 200 Euros a night which is a steal in Europe it was worth every penny. Fabulously decorated, incredibly 'homey', amazing breakfasts brought direct to your room (freshly squeezed juice, fresh fruit and warm croissants & toasts) and a great central location (only a few steps from the Spanish Steps & the Trevi Fountain). We hear they have a guesthouse in Florence and we loved our stay so much here in Rome, we're going to check this place in Florence out as well.
  • Food Glorious Food- I think we both ate our own weight in gelato because the icecream is so divine. Giolotti's is apparently has the best icecream in the city and luckily our hotel was just around the corner. We also managed to have 'true Roman' pizza at Da Baffetto. The pizza is amazing and made in a wood burning stove right before your eyes. The people that work there make the entire experience what it is. It was kind of like a cross between an episode of Seinfeld (the soup natzi), Giovanni the pizza owner from 'Everybody loves Raymond' and an episode of the Soprano's rolled into one. Show up at 6:30 p.m. for dinner or you'll end up lining up outside waiting for a table---its that good!
  • Trevi Fountain- I've been lucky to see some pretty beautiful things in my life, but this fountain will take your breath away. Its magnificent, tranquil and absolutely awe-inspiring. It was my absolute favorite this weekend. Legend has it if you throw a coin in this fountain, you are destined to return to Rome. ( I threw in about 12!!!)
  • La Bocca della Verita (aka 'the mouth of truth')- Everyone who has seen Roman holiday knows the scene where Gregory Peck puts his hand in the mouth of truth. I didn't get to see this last time I was in Rome, but we managed to find it this weekend! Its in a quiet little church next to the Circus Maximus (old horse racing grounds). Very beautiful!
  • Humidity- It was SOOOOOOOO hot!
  • The Crowds- Note to whoever wants to visit this city, between Easter and August avoid unless you want to be stuck behind a large tour group with matching hats. We managed to get round this by getting up very early to take pictures.
  • The walking- On holidays we walk absolutely everywhere. But after two full days of walking 7-8 hours a day around Rome, we were completely knackered!

Here's some pictures---If you want to see more I've got some on Flickr too.


Off to Roma

Off to Rome tomorrow for a long weekend, to indulge in warm weather, great food and amazing museums. I'm so looking forward to it and for the chance to get my mind off the marathon and other things. So see you in a few days!


Celebrity Soulmate

Take the Quiz

Saw this on Rebecca's blog (one of my blogging friends) and couldn't resist. George Clooney reminds me of Cary Grant, I admire his humanitarian work, plus he's just darn dreamy. So I reckon a great match huh? Anyway.......A girl can dream. :)


The European Food Enigma

As an American expat in Europe, I think I have a unique perspective on the differences in peoples waistlines on both sides of the pond. It is not news that Americans struggle with their weight and that nearly 2/3 now are considered 'overweight'--(umm, me included but working on it!!). Europeans seem to be able to eat foods like pasta and fatty foods like eclairs and loads of white bread and cheese (France) and still be skinnier than most Americans. Doctors have studied the French diet and particularly the Mediterranean diet (encompasses most of Europe--considered one of the healthiest out there) for answers. I've studied diet a lot in my weight loss efforts and I hear this constantly:

- No white breads
- No pasta
- No whole eggs
- Avoid deserts
- No cheese
- Avoid alcohol
- Don't eat after 6 p.m.

None of the above makes sense to me, because you constantly see it happening here. So why are Europeans skinnier? This is what I reckon:

- Portion Sizes: I think people forget what a true portion size is, the size of your fist. How many times have you gone to a restaurant in the US and seen this? Some portion sizes offer almost an entire day's allowance for calories. Although in Europe you are seeing plate sizes on the increase, they are very very little in comparison to what you get across the pond. When I have visited the US, I have cut my servings in half then half again---eating only 1/4 of what comes out. Taking the rest home is better than eating too much.

-Stress: The average holiday/vacation time in Europe is 28 days which doesn't include sick leave or public holidays (Bank holidays). We have our health care covered and in most places there is a real laid back feel to life. Stress/cortisol puts on weight particularly in your stomach area and stress also contributes to eating more (emotional eating!).

-Built for walking/moving: Petrol/gas prices at least in England are around $12 (£6) a gallon and its similiar on mainland Europe. In London, we are charged during the week to drive in the heart of the city--(the congestion charge) at $16 (£8) a day. This doesn't include car taxes/m.o.t. or insurance. People can't generally afford to drive and public transport (although exceptional in comparison to the US) can be a bit annoying. Everywhere you go you see people walking, having to climb stairs (the tube) or riding bikes. In Paris they recently implemented a rent-a-bike scheme where you pop in a coin and you can rent a bike for an hour or so. So in Europe they move because they have to. In the US, it can be quite rare for people to walk a lot (unless you live in like New York city) and people generally drive their cars everywhere.

-Time eating: Meals last a lot longer here. Its not unheard of having a dinner last more than 2 hours. I remember when I first moved here how long I thought restaurants took to bring the food out. Now it doesn't bother me if I'm at a restaurant for more than an hour. Food is meant to be enjoyed slowly and savoured. You see meals here as a chance to sit with families and take your time! Bringing awareness/quiet to your eating (truly tasting everything) makes a huge difference too.

-How food is cooked: traditional French or Italian food you get in the states is WAY different than the food you get in both these countries. For example--American pizza is layered with mozarella cheese. True Italian pizza--the cheese is an accessory not the main act, everything complements each other so you can taste all of the ingredients. Food is cooked fresh w/fresh ingredients---none of the processed stuff. Food is also not overcooked so that all the essential nutrients are maintained (i.e. pasta cooked al dente).

-Whats on the plate: You seriously see more vegetables eaten here particularly on the mainland. Eating according to the seasons happens as well as trying to have healthy fats like loads of olive oil, avacadoes, etc. Fish--is a huge part of the diet too--at least twice a week. In Venice for example, most of the pasta dishes have some sort of fish in them. Again---avoiding the processed foods as well. Its important to remember that nearly every quick meal (Mac & cheese for example) has a healthier or freshly made alternative.

There are exceptions to the above and there are overweight people here too, but this is generally what I personally have noticed as far as differences in the whole eating experience between countries. I find it fascinating the cultural gaps out there in something as simple as 'eating'. Anyway, all this talk on food is making me hungry!!