It’s a Piece of Cake to Bake a Pretty Cake

Sky news claims that 7 million London based workers stayed home from work yesterday and another 2 million played hooky today due to the worst snowy weather London has seen in 18 years.  Drew managed to walk to work this morning.  Living close to work has its benefits and its drawbacks…  I must say, though, I would have gone if I had the choice myself.  The grass is always greener on the other side.

Tomorrow, when I’ve gone through all the job vacancies relevant to my skills and work history, I think I’ll start calling bakeries.  My sister asked why I couldn’t make a living making cupcakes or decorating cakes.  It was funny at first; I am cake snob who knows I don’t have any real marketable skill in this area.  But then I gave it another moment in my head.  Why couldn’t I work for a bakery anyway?  Someone has to assist the decorator right?!  Someone bakes the cakes, takes the orders, and cleans up at night.  Why couldn’t that be me?  Brilliant.  You’ll be fat when you leave London.

La Cage aux Folles (and an Interview)

Along the river, near the North end of the Hungerford Bridge, the Playhouse Theatre is home to an extended run of the critically acclaimed La Cage aux Folles.

la cage

lobby

beads

stage

Some of you are likely to have seen the film version which starred Robin Williams (The Birdcage), but I can promise that Graham Norton is stunning in his interpretation of Albin. Stephen Pacey (Georges) and Stuart Neal (Jean-Michelle) are fabulous – and pitch perfect. It is hard to say who steals the show; the competition between the characters involved in the central plot are juxtaposed against the awesome presence of Les Cagelles, a troupe of superbly talented performers. Of course, Jason Pennycooke (Jacob) tickled me to death with his impeccable delivery of cleverly orchestrated comedy.

The creative team are to be commended for their role in creating a campy, tacky, over-the-top experience that was at the same time dazzling – and heartwarmingly familiar.   Productions like these are labor intensive; it appeared that the audience truly appreciated the attention to each detail.

So, what would I consider the highlights? The sentiment, the dancing, the singing, the glitter and feathers, the beach balls in the audience, a ripple into the splits (not just once, but twice), feeling like a participant, and the eyelashes. Who could forget the mascara?

I hear you asking about the interview as well. I very much like the company and the people on the team. The journey to the little town was rather uneventful; if only I had a change of clothes and a little sunlight, I might have enjoyed lunch at The Marlow Donkey and taking photographs for you. Unfortunately, it was dark and rainy – my first interview on a rainy day, in fact. And I still haven’t figured out how to deal with five inch heals, long pants, and trekking across England without carrying a rather unprofessional looking bag. I think it’s time to get some ballet flats and have all of my pants hemmed. Some casual boots would also come in handy when I finally get the job.   Who’s coming to shop with me?

Do You Still Need Someone to Play the Lead Tree?

My heart is achy (the good kind of sore, like you have the day after a 7 hour dance rehearsal) as I attempt to put a punctuation mark on the end of this week and begin a new sentence again.  As hard as it was to hear the recruiters tell me that I had not been a successful candidate for this position and that, I know that the lows are necessary; there’s always down before there is up.  I did get a couple positive bits of news in the sea of “no”.  I still have an interview Wednesday, and some serious interest expressed from two other, very reputable, organizations.  Best of all, I received the compliments and praise of two people whom I dearly love and admire–with perfect timing.  And I was reminded that sometimes I need people more than they need me.  It’s beautiful, really.

We’ve made two lovely new friends, Emily and Kerry, through a colleague of Drew’s (thanks Todd!).  They are ex-pats who have both previously lived in London and recently come back for more of the big wild city.  Spending time with Emily and Kerry might be a good kick in the pants for me.  They are both familiar with the city and can suggest an infinite list of fun things to do.  I am inspired by their story.

Emily planned a Saturday afternoon adventure for the four of us.  We met near the Green Park Station and walked to White Cube gallery in Mason’s Yard.  (We were looking for the Testori gallery, but it was closed.)  I am not sure what to say about the Miroslaw Balk exhibition inside, entitled ‘Nothere’, but you might find it interesting.  Perhaps if I knew more about Polish history or current events I might have connected with the meaning without picking up the leaflet.

We also visited Hamiltons to see Richard Caldicott’s ‘New Work’.  It is amazing how something as simple as stack of cups can become such an intriguing piece of art.  I don’t think I would mind having one of these pieces in my home.  That’s why I need a job.

For lunch we stopped at Eat Thai.  That’s what you do there, in case you were wondering.  I know the name is a bit ambiguous, but I’ll talk you through it when you are here to visit.  We can recommend the Sweet Corn Cakes, Green Curry–though I can’t remember what the dish we had was called, and the Jungle Curry.

Today started as a lazy, rainy, grey day.  It was a great excuse for “from scratch” pancakes.  I quite enjoy them with the preserves Drew’s mom sent home with us– instead of syrup!  

The weather stayed pretty dismal all day, but we shook off the chill to a hot new song, at a video shoot for an up and coming London artist.  The sets were constructed inside different rooms of an old warehouse tucked in an alley about two or three miles from our flat. 

video shoot

The warehouse is a home for old props; it’s a naturally fun place to stage a music video!  I can’t wait for the next one…  I think I’ll volunteer to make tea for the crew and if I am lucky, they’ll let me.

Is it That Late Already?

Sadly, I feel that there is very little news to report.  I have rearranged my CV so many times, and written so many covering letters, I am quite tired of myself.  I have lost count of the number of jobs about which I have contacted recruiters–or the numbers of recruiters I have contacted to be considered for potentially suitable roles.  There are a handful of positions I am seriously pursuing and I have an interview on Thursday.  Whew!  Being unemployed is a lot of work.

 

I have managed to keep the laundry at bay and cook meals that didn’t get scraped out the window or into the bin.  I also had lunch with Drew and Janita on Thursday at Wagamama. (I think I might compare it to Pei Wei, though it’s not quite the same.)  After lunch Janita and I inadvertently led Drew to an arcade in search of caffeine after our meal.  At least I got to show Drew my favorite store in London–Octopus.  Who needs any of this stuff?  And why do I want it so badly anyway?

octopus
 

What I didn’t do today was prepare the magic notebook, pack a contest survival bag, or copy an insane number of cds for a Field Day performance.  I did, however, let my thoughts drift off to those crazy folks who are doing those things.

Would You Like to Dance?

Where to begin…

With a sequence of events not entirely unlike a roller coaster ride–the kind you wait in line nearly half a day to ride and get off feeling sick, exhilarated, and thankful to be alive–it’s hard to know exactly how to begin to tell the story of the last two and a half days.  This may eventually make its way into the draft copy of that book I told you about.

Monday there were yummy (vegan) Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Icing.

vegan gingerbread cupcake

I had an interview on Tuesday morning with the CEO of a dynamic and specialized medical company looking for a Clinic Coordinator.  The long term goals of the organization are quite inspiring and I was honored to have made it to their short list.  However, I think our recent relocation may have given them the idea that I may not offer them the longevity they are hoping to find in the right candidate, raising a tiny red flag.  Although I can’t make any promises about what the next five years hold for us, this opportunity would be a dream for someone looking for career advancement in my field– and in related fields.  There are quite a few potential leads in the wings at the moment, but I am intrigued at the challenges presented for this Clinic Coordinator as well being very impressed with the clarity of the plan.  The environment is small and manageable enough still that there should be a moment to get acquainted with the role before the expansion and growth begins.  There is a bright future for them, regardless what they decide about me.

There are several other opportunities in the wings that are more closely in line with the work I was doing when I left the states.  Unfortunately, I will probably not know anything about those opportunities until January as most employers during this season are just lining applicants up for hiring at that time, when teams have returned from holidays.  I do find it a bit strange that my previous employer has not contacted me since I arrived in the UK, though I did make sure to pass along my contact information and I had received such positive feedback from the team here.  It seems I was more starry-eyed about them than they were about me.

Headsick and hopeful, I left my interview to get you some photos of Carnaby Street.  It’s a fun little pedestrianized shopping street near Oxford Street Tube Station where big Macy’s-Day-Parade-like snowman balloons hang in the air above your head as you wander along shopping.

snowman 1

snowman 2

snowman 3

snowman 4

Wow, snowmen and tea shop window displays do wonders for that part of my head that almost never stops asking questions that keep me awake at night.

whittard 1

whittard 2

You know what else eases my mind?  Modern dance done well.  I know that seems like quite the non sequitur, but stay with me here.  It has always been my view that Drew could appreciate modern dance if we were to identify a choreographer that had something in common with him.    Tuesday night I had the chance to find my answer.

edward scissorhands

When Drew was offered tickets to Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands at the Sadler Wells Theatre in our neighborhood I was thrilled.  It is essentially a contemporary ballet (which relies heavily on movement as a theatrical tool as well for its purely enjoyable aesthetics).  The show is a must see for contemporary theatre, Danny Elfman, and dance lovers.  Though the story took a slight departure from the film, it was still an incredibly staged adaption ending in [SPOILER ALERT]  snow for the audience, too.  I much appreciate the live orchestra and superb company of dance/actors as well as the talent and vision of the team who put the show together.  Wow.  Even Drew was really impressed and dance is not normally his favorite thing.  Dang, Gina.  I wonder if there are any dance classes in the area for old, out of shape, degree holding dance minors who can sizzle like bacon and rise like smoke from an invisible fire…

And this is where the story starts to get really personal.  It’s hard sometimes to decide what details to share with the world.  I am quite aware that my potential employer might be the type that Googles every candidate and well aware that my former students cannot be kept from reading something publicly available on the world wide web.  With all of that said, you know that I do give great consideration to the content of our blog and that I make every effort to ensure every embarrassing and/or personal divulgence is relevant to some worthwhile point.  I talk too much.

There is such a thing as being too eager.  I am suspicious that this eagerness is often the catalyst for the weird situations in which I find myself.  Wednesday morning I nervously rushed around to be sure that I had everything I needed for my first appointment at a clinic here in the UK: plenty of water in my body, passport, National Insurance number on my welcome letter, my pap smear results from my April exam back in the states, and a vile of urine.

Drew, my sister, and I went through a lot of trouble to get those stinkin’ lab results from my physician before we left the states because I had done research on the subject; my sources strongly advised having original medical and dental records upon arrival in your new country of residence.  Besides, it is programmed in my thinking that you cannot get a prescription for birth control without those yearly exams and I intended to avoid an unnecessary exam if at all possible.  Ladies, are you with me?

(If you really don’t want to get to know me personally, skip the next paragraph or several.  If you can talk about medical things that happen and apply to us all (or the women in your life, for the  gentlemen) without thinking about the fact that it’s me in this story, read on.  But be forewarned.)

As for the urine sample, picture this: I have taped aluminum foil around the specimen cup to avoid getting the label wet.  Like a ten year old with a science project, I have also constructed an aluminum foil funnel that I am also seriously considering using.  This is the only time I have ever stopped to consider the convenience of being a boy.  Anyway, due to lack of time and planning I decided to forego the funnel.  My brain may have stopped functioning for a few fractions of a second when I got creeped out by having my hand dangling in the toilet; instinct told me to stand up a little and try to look to see if I was about to accidentally put the cup in the water.  You know what they say about stopping mid-stream.  Fun times.  As a side note, I have a legitimate reason for being freaked out by the whole peeing in a cup scenario, but that’s another story for another day.

So, I jaunt off to my appointments with all my documents and urine sample in cup in a baggie in another baggie in my purse.  I am supposed to see the doctor at 10:20a and the nurse at 10:40a.  A little weird to see the doctor before the nurse, but no one else seems to think it is weird, so why should I?  On my way to the clinic I went over in my head all of the ways in which I could be discovered carrying urine in my purse.  What if a cyclist mowed me down and the nurses in the emergency room had to go through my things to get my ID before I regained consciousness?  What if I fainted and someone wanted to see if I had a cell phone to call an ambulance?  What if I stopped to buy a bottle of water on my way to the clinic and the clerk saw what was sitting next to my wallet?  I can’t believe this is a normal practice here.  Weirdos.

I arrived at the clinic just prior to my appointment and waited my turn to speak with the receptionist.  When she was free, I gave her my name.  She greeted me as if she expected to see me and I was very impressed.  I handed her the paperwork I had brought with me and asked if that could be added to my chart.  She took it, said yes, and went back to her computer screen so I took a seat amongst the other waiting patients.  It was weird to walk away without marking on a sign-in sheet, getting out an insurance card, or paying a co-pay.

The environment was very different from the private practice offices I am used to, but similar to the clinic I remember on my university campus.  When it is your turn to be seen, your name and room number pop up on an announcement screen.  A loud beep sounds each time a patient is directed to a treatment room so that everyone knows to check the screen.  Moms sat with children and cute little old people nodded off in their chairs.  There were also a few young-ish people reading magazines while they waited.  Everyone seemed to get pretty comfortable in their chair before they were called back, but I didn’t notice any really long wait times, except for me.  At 11:30 my heart was pounding.  I was afraid there has been a mistake and I was keen to get it straightened out; I preferred to straighten it out like a normal person and avoid being perceived as a self-absorbed American, but I was slightly concerned because  I know that missing an appointment can result in being removed from a practice’s treatment list and I wanted my first appointment to go smoothly.  In my two encounters with this receptionist she has been impersonal, if not rude.  I finally ended up approaching her.  She motioned for me to talk to her even though she has just said hello to someone she called on the phone.

Me: Hi, I am really sorry to bother you.  I have been waiting for over an hour for my appointment and I just want to make sure this is normal.

Receptionist (with the phone to her ear, apparently on hold):  What time is your appointment?

Me: I had a 10:20 appointment with the doctor and a 10:40 with the nurse.

Receptionist: You didn’t sign in.

Me: I’m sorry.  I thought all I needed to do was give you my name, which I did when I first arrived.

Receptionist: You didn’t tell me you had two appointments.

 

 

Me: I didn’t realize it mattered or that you wouldn’t already know that I had two appointments.  I just said my name and I thought you knew why I was here and then I asked you if my medical records from my previous doctor could be added to my chart.

Receptionist (with a flash of recognition, a touch of color coming into her face, and sterner, louder tone of voice):  You just handed me papers to go in your chart.  You didn’t tell me you had an appointment.   You have to sign in for your appointments.  I am afraid you are not going to seen.

Me (wondering why else I would have been in the clinic if I wasn’t registering or turning up for an appointment): What should I have done to sign in?

Receptionist: You have to come to the counter and give me your name.  And you have to sign in.

Me (attempting a sincere tone of curiousity and well intention): What do you mean by “sign in”?  Do I have to actually sign something?  What part of “signing in” did I fail to do?

 

 

Receptionist (apparently the other party on the line is speaking to her now): Hold on.

Big, fat, crocodile tears began to fall uncontrollably down my face.  (Don’t get too upset, I am a self-professed crybaby experiencing PMS, it could have happened at any moment anyway.)  There was no sobbing, but my face is hot and wet.  I was embarrassed that I had somehow missed something after attempting so hard to meld into the system.  I was embarrassed that this person had raised her voice at me, had become defensive at my mere request for information, and the fact that she was belittling me at a medium volume in front of her colleagues and a small waiting room crowd.  I was embarrassed that I was letting it affect me–and that I was falling apart in front of all of these people–while she took a phone call.  When she had hung up and turned her face to me again, I calmly attempted to speak with her again.

Me: I apologize, again.  This is my first appointment with a physician in the UK.  I understand that I have missed my appointments today and will not be seen, but in future, I do need to know how to sign in.

Receptionist (calmer and in her regular loud voice): You just come to the counter and give me your name and sign in.

Me: Ok.  This morning I gave you my name.  How do I sign in?

Receptionist: Everything is computerized so when you sign in we let the staff know you are here and they can call you back.  When it is your turn your name and room number will come up on the screen in the waiting area and you go to the room indicated.

Me: Ok.  How do I sign in?

 

 

Receptionist: You give me your name and you sign in.

I was absolutely exasperated at this moment and I took a moment to breathe.  I knew that the issue  may have been that I am pretty intelligent and that she didn’t know how to explain what I needed to know.  We had both made some incorrect assumptions.  I got it.  She obviously didn’t.

Receptionist: You handed me paperwork; you didn’t say you were here for an appointment.

Me: So, to “sign in”, I need to tell you I am here for an appointment.  [Because you don’t know to expect me and have not looked at the day’s schedule.  I have worked in a busy medical clinic and our front office staff knew who was on the schedule to be seen that day, even when we had over a 100 patients on the schedule.  If they didn’t recognize your face, which was rare, they sure as heck recognized your name as one being on the schedule when you went to the window and gave it to them.]

Being a nice person who could see a miscommunication for what it was, she kindly phoned the nurse and doctor to explain what had happened and arranged for me to be seen.

The nurse was very kind and let me pull myself together before she started taking the necessary vital signs and history.  She teared up as she asked me to explain what had gotten me so upset.  I gave her the short version of our relocation trials and explained that PMS+last straw+being new to everything at almost 30=occasionally getting overwhelmed.   The nurse also explained that people pop in to drop off paperwork or pick up prescriptions.  It is quite common that people show up in the office without appointments for other reasons.  Note to self.  I saw the doctor next.  This is your intermission.  Take the opportunity to make a bowl of popcorn or warm your coffee.  I’ve been working on this entry for about three to four hours already, so we all need a break.

As far as I can tell, no one ever looked at my chart or those lab results I brought that caused all of the confusion.  By the time I sat with the doctor I may have been in shock already.  These rooms in which I met the nurse and doctor were more like offices than exam rooms.  Except, they were more like the offices you met your biology professor in to discuss taking a test early so you could miss class for an out of state trip with this color guard group–that no one understands is really a sports team competing in world class competition, sort of like the Olympics (well, maybe that’s a stretch).  I explained that I just wanted to get the birth control and migraine medicine most similar to what I had been taking.  I looked around the strange room while she Googled the brand names of my prescriptions.  Yes, she did.

What she said next kind of made my head spin.  If you have ever felt faint or been on the Tilt-A-Whirl, you know you the sensation I mean.  In the UK, migraine sufferers (especially those who are   age 35 and/or smokers) are not prescribed combination type birth control pills, which is the most popular type of contraceptive.  This is what I had been taking.  Apparently, the risk of stroke is something taken very seriously.  My natural defenses were lit and I felt offended that she might be implying that American physicians are ignorant or reckless.  Of course, I was too dumbstruck to know what to say in response.  She said that I could opt to use occasional methods which are widely available at pharmacies over the counter or I could choose between two more effective treatments available through the clinic.  The progestogen only pill is an option only slightly less effective with a different set of potential side effects.  Equally as effective as this option is the insertion of an intra-uterine device (IUD) which prevents pregnancy without chemicals (though you can opt to have one with hormones for symptom management or as a spermicide).  Both of these options holds a new set of risks.  I’ll let you do the research you care to do.  That part isn’t really what’s important in this story.

I enjoy a healthy dose of drama just as much as the next girl.  But this was more than I thought I would be faced with at this juncture.  This type of combined-hormone pill therapy was something I chose as a treatment option ten years ago when my doctor recommended it for symptom management.  It has been something I have been thankful for as I enjoyed having time to be married without children.  And it is something that gave me time to enjoy working with that crazy string of teenagers I love so much (not in the weird Michael Jackson way).  I have always looked forward to having kids, but I have also wanted to wait until I had more patience, more wisdom to share, and more love to give to them as a less selfish me.  Babies are a thrilling and heartwarming prospect, but it’s not something I want to juggle alongside getting settled–and I need to earn a little money for a while to kick start our plan.  Having a baby, though awesome, has more serious consequences than dropping an M&M.

I came expecting the unexpected and I know the challenges are far from over.  But I was still caught off guard when our relocation affected me in such a truly personal way.  You don’t get more intimate than this.  (I have done some research today and I am certain that I already have all of the side effects that any of these options could cause [in less than 3% of subjects studied versus those on placebo].)  BTW, if anyone understands why those two people on top of the cliff are holding hands from separate bath tubs at the end of the Cialis commercials, please fill me in.

Before this experience I had no frame of reference to even begin forming questions about it.  Now, I am prompted to research things I never thought would be applicable to me.  It’s quite funny considering that I have worked in pharmaceutical related industries for ten years and medical related industries for four of those.  You would just think that I might have come across this information in my research.  Well, maybe not.  Not every woman relocating from the states to the UK is a migraine sufferer on combined hormone birth control pills.  The IUD is also less commonly used in the states.  None of my friends have mentioned it.  Is someone holding out on me?  Point being, who knew?!

There was no time to sit around and feel sorry for myself for being conflicted about some serious choices ahead of me and having been so fantastically embarrassed. I had an appointment with a genius at the Apple store over 2 miles away. Carrying my computer to the tube station nearest me on the Central Line and getting off in the busiest area of town year round, let alone at Christmas, was probably quite a site for people watching. Dang Gina. By the time I got to the Apple store I was hot and sweaty, but thankful to be somewhere quite familiar. I had an appointment. I was thirty minutes early. It was awesome. Maybe it wasn’t that awesome, but in comparison, I didn’t know that. There were fun people waiting beside me and I had a short conversation with two of them. Then, I discovered that my genius was personable and we ended up having a pretty cool conversation. He asked me out on a double date; he and his fiance are in the process of relocating here from Australia and we have both put in some time in the field of clinical research. Did I just make a friend? (If any technophiles have made it this far, I just need to replace the RAM.)

Later that afternoon, I got my prescriptions filled at my local pharmacy (chemist). A very nice family runs it. My migraine medicine was £7.10 for 6 pills, a year’s worth of the progestogen is free, but I may not need it that long. The jury is still out.

At the end of the day, the two contrasting experiences left me with a sense of being from another planet.

The communication breakdown at the clinic combined with the realization that medical care is structured more differently here than I had imagined started that train of deep thoughts and ranting…  It was like I said to the nurse, I will eventually be thankful for the emotionally poignant experience I now have to remind me that there is no shame in admitting you are new to something and that reaching out is worth the difficulty of doing so.  I was also reminded that the world is big and that as much I want to be unbiased, I am still displaying stereotypical American traits that are not so desirable.   (I am proud and I assume MY WAY is THE WAY.)  Maybe the staff at the clinic will appreciate this opportunity to reassess how new patients are handled.  Perhaps I have helped them to identify a breakdown in their systems and procedures.  If not, I at least modeled an attitude of flexibility and willingness , without looking to place blame, in the midst of a stressful situation.

I don’t think my experience with the receptionist at the medical clinic brings to light issues solely related to the medical community here.  There is a culture of impersonality that permeates London.  People are not unfriendly, though.  I have enjoyed my share of impromptu conversations with strangers.  Most of the time I smile at someone, that smile is returned to me. Today I may have made a friend in a busy store.  The issue is sheer volume.  The number of people conducting business–or just going about their day–in this big wild city have changed the way people interact.  It is certainly foreign to me.  I am still attempting to enjoy those tiny human connections appreciated in more rural areas through such conventions as customer service.  When you hear it said that people in cities like New York, Paris, and London are unfriendly and callous, you should consider that your perceptions are based on societal norms that don’t apply in that place.  It’s not a case of Nashville versus Venice; it’s a case of “when in Rome…”  As for me, I will continue to smile at strangers and give open-mindedness a jolly good go.  I will also bite the bullet more often and ask questions, even when I think I know the answer.

About nine years ago I had a brilliant dance instructor that told me to quit thinking of gravity (or more so the concept of weight) and the floor as obstacles, but to be mindful of them as essential tools for movement. Part of the trick was, of course, learning to properly use the tools. For me, it was one of those concepts that I could only understand at first in bursts of what I describe as being wow-the-universe-is-big moments. Once I was in that moment, I really felt like I was part of the floor and I could work in tandem with gravity. But, it is also knowledge like everything else, that fades in to the recesses when it isn’t being used. That concept, at least, does seem applicable to this situation and quite often in life. Maybe Edward Scissorhands tickets weren’t so random after all. It may have been the reminder I needed that there is no coming to consciousness without pain.

One More Small Hurdle

I have been trying to be such a good girl this year, but I seem to be a magnet for slightly annoying chains of challenge.  There will either be nothing but coal in my stocking for the trouble I cause–or I will earn a medal by facing these challenges without developing a drinking problem in a country where that is acceptable.  Oh wait, I chose this trouble.  Dangit.  I think that means I have no right to complain.

This week I have several job leads, and one interview so far scheduled, but my computer has come down with something so I am floundering around on Drew’s laptop.  We may have to give my dear iMac a shot of adrenaline and some epinephrine–perhaps the paddles–to retrieve some files pertinent to my interview tomorrow…  We shall see how brave I get in the next few crucial hours.

We have some fun things to look forward to and as soon as I get my computer running again, I’ll be adding photos to the blog and to the Flickr page.  I wish I had some amazing updates from the weekend.  Unfortunately (and quite fortunately) we did a lot of nothing.  I had a great time.  The laundry I’ve done also gives the place a nice smell.

We’ll be back in full swing again soon.  Please keep tuning in.

You’ll Need to Bring This Back With You.

Term of the Day: Bits and Bobs

  • Odds and ends

A good portion of normal, everyday Londoners order groceries online and have them delivered; they pop in to local stores for the random bits and bobs.  Within my frame of reference, that would have seemed very posh two months ago.  After discovering the challenges simple grocery shopping poses in a big city like London, I now fully appreciate the concept.  Space is at a premium so not all stores can stock a full range of items, it’s hard to carry your groceries if you can’t manage to do a little shopping everyday, moms+kids+groceries+public transport= : ( , and you might have to visit several stores to get everything on your list–or do without Maple Syrup this week.

I met one of our neighbors two days ago.  She is lovely and has lively Terrier who rather liked me.  Maybe she could sense how desperate I’ve become for some animal attention.  Dang Gina, I miss my cat.  So, the neighbor filled me in on some very interesting news–news that might put you at ease.  If you must come to visit in a large group, or you need a little more privacy than we can offer you, there are six guest flats on campus that we can rent.  We actually live next door to a double (£45/night) and a single (£27/night) guest room.  I am not encouraging you to stay next door, but if you all come at the same time it may be an option we have to explore.  Large groups could be fun actually…

For those of you reading who may be looking for a solution to your quest for shortening in the UK, I would like to recommend Stork and White Flora.  If these products are stocked in your local grocery they will most likely be refrigerated and you will find it near the margarine.  They don’t advertise themselves as shortening, they are “cooking products”, so search for the “great for baking” and “great for cakes and pastries” wording on tubs.

The Sainsbury’s in Islington has now trumped my local Waitrose to become my favorite grocery store.  As my idea of the size of my local neighborhood expands, so does my level of expectation grow.  Such good things are hidden in the nooks and crannies I haven’t yet explored.

I know that you are all curious about medical care here within the NHS.  Of course, being the responsible investigative reporter than I am, I have taken it upon myself to discover how it all works–which translates to “I am running out of birth control soon.”  

Some of the straightforward information I have gathered regarding seeking medical care within the NHS, so far, is as follows.

  • You must register with a General Practioner (GP) in your local area.  If no GP in your area is able to add another patient, you may appeal to see one outside your area.  GPs are paid based on the number of patients registered with their practice.
  • To register you must show ID and turn in your paperwork to the clinic.  Within 48 hours your address and National Insurance (NI) number are verified so that you may call to make your first appointment and any records may be transferred from your previous physician, if necessary.
  • Physicians make house calls in special cases, for home bound patients, and to mothers with newborn babies.
  • To see a specialist, your GP must refer you.
  • Not all GPs prescribe medicine; it depends on their specific training and degree level.
  • Pharmacists can prescribe certain medications and are especially knowledgeable in the area of topical medications for irritations and rashes.  These professionals have special training in the area of medicine and prescribing; sometimes more than certain types of GPs.

Finding a nearby clinic was easy with a tiny bit of research.  I was able to visit their website, print out the necessary registration forms, and drop those off yesterday.  Dropping off my paperwork took me less than one minute and the receptionist gave me a specimen cup to bring back my urine sample on my first visit.  Ok, that may have been strange.  Some of me is still wondering if this is a joke they play on brand new patients.  I will definitely inquire about it when I call to make my appointment.

I know you are wondering what in the world I have done this week.  I wonder myself.  HHmmm.

Monday

Identified new vacancies for which I will apply, Grocery, Borders (to get the recent issue of Design Week for Drew), Christmas trip planning, normal housework

Tuesday

Sent CV in reference to 16 vacancies, normal housework, scheduled a preliminary interview for Wednesday morning, scheduled a preliminary phone interview for Wednesday afternoon, met Drew at his office, had dinner with Drew and Janita when they were finally ready to leave at 10p (A “fire” started while I was in transit to the office; I owe Nashville echoneer, Anton, Maynards Wine Gums for his awesomeness in firefighting.)  Fun times.

Wednesday

Attended interview, emailed my Dad (Happy Wednesday!!) registered at local clinic, topped up cell phone service, grocery, normal housework, called my sister to check in for the big day (my Mom is having her supersonic hearing installed–next Christmas we might buy her X-ray vision.  A little over the top?), attended(?) phone interview, called home again, made cupcakes, had a frosty beverage at the local pub (The Shakespeare) waiting for news from my sister, received an update, made dinner (dishes), and crashed
in the oven

fuzzy cupcake

iced

the shakespeare

Today I am still a little tired and waiting for it to be late enough in the day that I can call home again.  I am so thankful the dark morning has given way to a good bit of clear sky and sunshine.  I be will carrying cupcakes to Drew’s office at tea time–doing it in the dark and the rain doesn’t sound appealing.  The cloudy, dark sky also tends to make the bed seem like a very, very wonderful (magical, even) place to be.  It’s good that we don’t have more days like that.

MMmmmm.

For my mom, who always wants to know what we had for dinner.

Thanksgiving is alive and well for these two Huddlestons in London and we may not eat again until December.  Our lovely friends Virginia and Scott laboriously prepared for us a hand made vegetarian feast and allowed us to enjoy their sweet children for an evening.  We first enjoyed champagne with a bruschetta type appetizer topped with fruit compote, blue cheese, and pecans.  The flavors were amazing together.  A warm and filling wild mushroom soup preceded a golden vegetable pot pie, (steamed?) Brussells sprouts, and real bread stuffing.  The soup and main course were complimented by a red wine better than any I had ever tried.  For dessert we had moist, gooey, vegan German chocolate cupcakes and (by occurrence of a small miracle) pumpkin pie topped with home made whipped cream.

I did a puzzle with Holland, listening to Abba, and giggled with August.  Days like this remind me to look forward to a time when we will welcome babies into our lives…  

For a moment, I think it’s hard believe that two of the very first people we met in London feel so much like home to me, but they don’t call me the Master Manifester for nothin’.  I guess it’s easy to find beautiful people when you are looking.

On a completely unrelated note, I am still job hunting.  I may have been a bit overqualified or goal oriented for the particular position I applied for this week.  Although I am disappointed, I am slightly relieved to have another chance to find something that might be a bigger departure from my comfort zone.

That Is a Cuss Word Where I Come From

If Lelan Statom (my favorite meteorologist, and the sole reason I watched News Channel Five) said the word “snow” in his forecast, within four hours grocery stores ran out of bread, milk, eggs, batteries, gallons of water, and Swiss Miss.  If the lovely Carol Kirkwood, BBC weather presenter, mentions snow it’s considered a horrible slight to the dreams of young children all over London.  It may snow elsewhere on this island, but people actually laughed at me when I asked if it ever snowed here in the city.

I only bring up this controversial issue because I was innocently walking down the street today, thinking about my new trainers and the way that some of the leaves have still clung to their trees, when a mother leaned over to her child and said that she heard it might snow on Sunday.  I began to walk very slowly indeed.  The grocery store was behind me; I helplessly began to run through our kitchen contents in my mind before I decided not to give in to the Tennessee Storm Terror Sickness.

I had more important things to worry about.  There is an after work party for Drew’s boss who’s been promoted to a position overseas and I needed a card and chocolate.  For the boss.  Not for my too-big-for-the-black-suit-pants arse.  Anyway, as I was picking out truffles, the lady at Thornton’s asked me if I had ever tried their specialty chocolates; I hadn’t.  That is, I had not tried their truffles until she handed me one to sample.  (I swear, chocolate is out to get me.)  Thornton’s does in fact have yummy chocolate.  Very yummy chocolate. I do not, however, endorse this as a vegan friendly product. Just be aware.

The calories from the truffle may have been burned off when I found out that I have been invited back for a second interview!  It’s Tuesday at 2:30pm.  You’ll just be starting your day as I am rushing around, but maybe you can sip your morning beverage and think of me.  While you are at it, imagine that I am slightly taller and thinnish with a fantastic smile.  That should do the trick!

Yeah, I did, actually.

Word of the Day: Lippy

  • lipstick
Standard math problem: How do you get one mile from your flat to your job interview in suit pants meant to be worn with 3-5 inch heels, without wearing the heels, on your journey and leaving one hour before your scheduled interview time?  Answer: You put socks on over your hose, tuck your pants into the tops of your socks, lace your trainers on your feet, put your heels in your briefcase thingy, and start walking.  Yeah, I did, actually.  I just stopped for an orange juice in a coffee shop around the block from my destination and made the switch.
I like the people I met.  The environment seems very nice and the job sounds perfect.  I was so excited when I left that I thought wearing my heels back to the flat would be totally manageable.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  The super spikey [Angel] heels I had chosen to wear are the kind that squish all your toes together and I think my toes had each other for lunch.
After I had nursed my poor feet into my trainers again, I went downstairs to grab a bagel sandwich for lunch.  I ran into the same kids I see at lunchtime most weekdays; they seem to come out of several nearby buildings to have lunch.  Because they all wear the tell tale black dance and drama rehearsal wear I’ve come to know and love, I finally worked up the courage to ask if they are attending a local dance or theatre school.  I cannot believe that I live next door to The Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

guildhall

I’ll let you decide how smashing you think that news is.

Having had very little sleep last night, I did indulge in a short nap before meeting Drew and coworker Janita at their office to have dinner and deliver the fairy cakes I made to the tired celebrators. (One of Drew’s bosses has been promoted to a job overseas and late nights have been had; I wonder if a week’s worth of going away parties is normal here or if he was just really well liked.) We had dinner at Hamburger Union.  The Vegetarian Sausage burger is pretty yummy.  They also have a Falafel Burger that is Drew’s favorite. Janita quite likes the Citrus Marinated Halloumi Burger, but they do have burgers for meat eaters, too.

I’ve been thinking…  If I get a job soon, I won’t have the time to write all day.  I guess I better take advantage of this precious free time that is sitting in my lap at the moment–before it’s gone!

For the Win

I know so many women that handle their work as housewives and moms with such grace–and I managed to do well for a solid month (with no kids or pets to care for, mind you)–but I don’t know how these ladies stay motivated to battle the neverending cycle of laundry, dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping, errands, phone calls to sort out problems, and meals.  For the moment I am trying to remember that my paycheck, or rather my right to buy clothes and goodies, is based (in theory) to me fulfilling the job requirements.  I have imposed these rules on myself to balance out the weirdness of depending totally on Drew for the first time ever in our whole relationship.  This is a new concept for him as well.  He felt bad the first few times I made him breakfast, but I think he’s gotten used to it and rather likes it now.  I would like to imagine that he looks forward to discovering what yummy dinner I’ve whipped up as he’s making his two mile walk home.  You may not know this totally awesome tidbit about Drew, but he is pretty easy to please.  Yeah, he’s a picky eater, but he’ll eat the things he likes in lots of combinations and repeatedly. FTW, Pinky, for the win.

I will admit that it is nice to have clean clothes when we need them; we no longer have to dig things out of the hamper at the eleventh hour and throw them in the dryer with a Downy sheet, bachelor style…  It also makes me quite proud that we have not once opted for peanut butter and jelly after trying one of my off the cuff dinner creations.  The fact that I have not been lost and/or crying on any of my treks through this big city, is also something I consider to be an accomplishment.  I am certainly more brave than I was upon landing in the UK on the 5th of October.  Wait a minute–I think I kind of enjoy this house wife thing now that I’ve pondered it.  Maybe it’s not the work itself getting me down, maybe it’s the lack of conversation. 

So, what makes any cloudy day a more enjoyable one?  Baking.  Yeah, some of you got that one wrong.  (Although baking is the most correct answer, if you said hot chocolate, napping, loving on your pets, or snuggling–you are also for the awesome.)  I used to make amazing cupcakes and cakes when we were back in the states.

Vegan Cupcake

For now, I am still testing the new appliances, using fewer tools, creating hillbilly solutions for tools I don’t have (also known as “rigging”), and trying out the measurement conversions.  The end results aren’t yet glamorous enough for photos.  But seriously, check out this icing tool I made out of a crappy, flimsy sandwich bag.

Basic Fairy Cake Icing
Hillbilly Icing Contraption

I didn’t have an icing tip to stick in it and because of the way the bag was shaped the icing job looked worse than amateurish.  It was still easier than icing them all with a spoon!  Fortunately, Drew’s coworkers don’t seem to mind that the treats I send in are slightly decrepit because (I’ve heard) they are super yummy.  Maybe I should be looking for work in a bakery.  Have I said that already?!

More quick updates:

  • We only have four channels on the telly (all BBC) and they cost us £139.00 per year (I’ve ordered some additional stuff and should have it by the weekend)
  • I have applied for my NI number; Drew has received his already
  • The nob on the oven that I thought was a timer is actually the control used to delay the start of cooking  (I kept wondering why the cupcakes weren’t baking and the over never got more than warm, even though the fan was running!)
  • Showering without getting water everywhere is a challenge; I think I will look for a video about how I am supposed to do be doing it and I will send you the link to watch it as part of your coming-to-visit instructions
  • I think I might tattoo on my arm the list of things to make sure I have on my person as I am leaving the flat so that I never again end up without my Oyster Card

Well, I am off to prepare for the big day tomorrow.  I have to practice going over where I will see myself in 5 years and decide what my three strengths and weaknesses are.  There is probably a good chance I will need to know what flavor of ice cream I would be, what animal I feel akin to, what kind of car I might be, and why.

All my love~

A Terrifically Terrible Tuesday That Was Also Terribly Terrific

Although it started out as a normal day, it soon turned into a frenzy of action and hilarity.  Several times I have had to ask myself why I cannot be a person of less drama.  I guess that would make this boring blog all that more uninteresting, now wouldn’t it?  Nevermind.  Bring on the crazy.

I have done my homework and I know what the experts say.  It is a good idea to try on your interview outfit a couple of days before you go.  You can ensure that you have thought of undergarments, chosen accessories, cleaned your shoes, and considered how you will carry your belongings (purse+carry vs. briefcase type thing).  Go ahead and run through your grooming regimen as well; ladies should not let their hair and/or make-up be a distraction.

There might have been tears and an hours worth of crunches when I discovered that I could not zip the black suit pants.  The zipper worked fine on the hanger, but when I put them on, my body got in the way.  Furthermore, the brown suit is too big.  Linebacker big.  Good news and bad news, but what am I going to wear on Thursday?!  It’s a little too chilly to go naked, that’s not really the type of job I was trying to get, and since the pants didn’t fit–maybe not so enjoyable for them either…  I thought all of this extra walking would have been great for my waistline, but it seems that I ate the benefits plus some.  Being on a budget can result in a lot of pasta and maybe I should re-think our dinner menus.

So I took a break for a pep talk.  “Ok, muster some productive thoughts…  Get dressed without crying and we (when I am really upset talking to myself there’s two of us) can fix this.  We need a suit.  While we are at it, we should get a make-up foundation that matches our return-to-winter-season-white skin.  Gathering stuff is fun and we can laugh at people who look silly because it will make us feel so much better–and well, they are everywhere.”

I went to Debenham’s to solve the world’s problems (ok, ok, just mine).  I must admit that the window displays did me quite a bit of good.  When you stand there looking at them and the crowds they attract, you notice that they inspire smiles on the faces of adults and children alike.  There is yet hope in the world.

 lady
toy box
snowman

I don’t know if all of the displays throughout the year are like these, but the Christmas ones are like fantastic puppet shows that make happy.  I didn’t leave out a word; they might actually manufacture happy.

 

Debenham’s in London is very similar to a department store in the states, except there are five floors and two cafes–one serving five course meals and the other serving gourmet tea and scones.  Maybe this is what department stores are like in New York City and Chicago.  Standing in front of the escalator and blinking dumbly at the directory is a very dangerous place to be.  While I was trying to decide where I would find ladies’ suits, an energetic employee offered to match my skin to a make-up foundation.  I immediately thought “no”–until I remembered that this was one item to be collected on the mission, so I hesitantly explained that I was shopping for make-up without animal products.  It just so happened that she was peddling Urban Decay products (more about them in a moment) in celebration of their debut in this Debenham’s store.  I jumped on the adventure train, telling her that I was preparing for an interview and needed a new foundation for my lighter winter skin tone.  She happily agreed to remove my make-up and match me for the perfect shade.  Of course, she also promised to “put me back right” for my shopping the rest of the day.  All of the ladies know what this means.  These girls put one of everything in their drawer on your face hoping that you will decide you cannot live without it all.  (I am normally a huge pushover.  She stopped the right girl.)

As I was sitting there allowing her to put layers of powdery, magical, colored fairy dust all over me, I kept trying to think of an animal species in which the female was more ornately colored or decorated than the male.  What is wrong with this scenario?  All I really needed today was foundation.  What I got was a circus on my face.

 circus

Much due to the incredible improvement in my mood at the sight of my own face in the mirror, I was able to request a different shade of lipstick that I might actually wear in my daily life and confidently bought only the things I wanted.  Maybe when I said “interview” she heard “interview for a hostess job at a strip joint”.

Urban Decay seems to be a line of make-up marketed to young adults and hippies, especially those into the rock star and glam (maybe even goth) looks.  What makes them special to me is the long list of products they sell that are animal and cruelty free.  This is the first time I have purchased Urban Decay products; I was surprised that they are no more expensive than other department store brands and only slightly more expensive than the drug store brands.  I have no idea, though, how it shakes up in the states.

urban decay

With one purchase down, I stood once more in front of the escalators and the directory.  What the heck else do you call a suit–or work clothes for that matter?!  Someone offered to style my hair and when I explained that I was trying to get a suit for an interview her colleague stepped over to offer me a spray tan at a greatly discounted winter season price.  (After all, a tan helps you to look your best for an interview.)  I don’t know where it came from, but giggling (slightly like a mad woman on a mission interrupted) I spoke.

Me: I appreciate your offers, I really do.  I have to get a suit for an interview and I’ve already been talked into having a circus painted on my face.  I am on a serious mission and I can’t seem to get past this point in the store.

Flat Iron Girl: Good luck shopping and with your interview! (she gets it, 3 points for Flat Iron Girl)

Spray Tan Girl: When you’ve found your suit, come back for your tan.  I’ll be the one doing the spraying and now we’ve already met.  (Dang Gina, this one is thick!  She thinks that’s comforting.  -10 points for Spray Tan Girl.)

Me: I can’t get naked with you, you’d pass out and I don’t know how to call you an ambulance.  (She’s laughing, but I am not sure she gets it.  Quick, make a run for it.)

I turned for the escalators and got on one going up.  It didn’t matter that I had not yet learned where I was going–I just had to get out of the quicksand.

I was relieved to find that choosing a suit, once I found the right department, was much more uneventful.  The pleasant employee that sold it to me happened to notice that I had a passport and eventually prompted me to explain that I had just relocated and was preparing for an interview.  She shot me a strange and giggly-faced look before she asked where we had lived previously.  There I was, back to listing names of Tennesseans I thought she might recognize, when I remembered my face and laughed.

Me: Not everyone from Tennessee does their eyes like Dolly Parton; I got accosted downstairs.

Suit Hanging Girl: Ah, it looks… very nice.  (I have no idea what she means, but I don’t care; she is smiling and maybe this brightens her day somehow.)

Maybe everyone I passed on my way home also enjoyed a little laugh as the circus made its way through town, or maybe it was just my imagination.  It’s what I get for giggling at their neon yellow, 1980s-style, Reebok hi tops.  Shows what I know–apparently they’re making a righteous comeback.

P.S. I thought it would be fun to put a number at the end of posts representing the number of times my attempts to publish a blog entry failed before finally appearing on the site, if that number is greater than 0.  This will allow you to share in the fun I am having (and appreciate what I go through for my adoring public).

3

Fabulous Friday the 14th

A beautiful sunny morning gave way to a cloudy afternoon; it was blustery all day, but the temperature was so yummy that I opened the windows and turned off the heat.  I may have been a bit lazy today, but I still managed to get out and enjoy the gorgeous weather.  I also spent a good bit of time discussing with a recruiter a clinical trial position for which I would have been a great fit.  However, the office is located more than 30 miles away and transport links are poor, meaning that it would take me a little over two hours to get there.  I had to tell him I was not interested in pursuing that position.  Of course, after getting off the phone with him, I was contacted by a company inviting me for an interview on Thursday.  This company is located approximately 1.3 miles from our flat and I have applied for a Project Coordinator/Manager post; they are an agency specializing in facilitating communication related to pharmaceuticals.  I am prepared to knocks their socks off.

After all of that excitement I enjoyed an evening walk to the grocery store and came home to prepare a meal inspired by a friend’s recipe post.  I have to admit that I am discovering that I am pretty crafty.  I had to adapt the recipe for a smaller yield, make it vegetarian, and incorporate weird British ingredients.  I also had to construct a hillbilly casserole dish…
casserole

Here are the Spicy Black Bean Enchiladas before going into the oven:
before oven

Unfortunately, Drew beat me to the kitchen when they were done. Fortunately, he cleaned his plate. You get the idea.
after voen

While we were eating we watched quite a bit of the Children in Need telethon. It’s a big deal here in Britain. I guess it’s as well known as St. Jude’s but provides a range of services that is mind boggling.

Our evening will most likely involve and episode of Ugly Betty and a good amount of snoring.  I am worn out for no good reason at all!  See you tomorrow.