This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Amsterdam Day Three

Today we decided to venture back into the city to see Anne Frank's hiding place. Afterwards, we had planned to separate, so that I could take the girls shopping and Tim could check out the Red Light District.

First, we decided to try a local bakery for breakfast. We all had some sort of sweet pastry, which was divine. I had a good strong coffee with mine. Another thing that is “small” here – coffee. Espresso mugs filled with wonderfully strong coffee. There are no vendis and grandes in these parts. One size fits all and it works perfectly.

The cool thing about this bakery, other than it was FILLED TO THE TEE with breads, pastries, donuts, etc. was that it also had kitty cats all about. The hostess kept tripping over her cat behind the counter as she helped us and merely laughed about it. When we sat down to eat, there was another cat lying cozily on the radiator, right next to where Mi-Mi was eating.

We find that pets are very much family here. I have seen several dogs run alongside their owners and their bikes, or the little ones are tucked away in a basket. And they all seem to be able to go anywhere: grocery shopping, the trams, throughout the city, restaurants, etc. I love it.

After the bakery, we walked over to a center called “Loods 6” and perused a shop called “Sissy Boy”. Well, you'd have to be a sissy boy to afford the items in here! It was a little reminiscent of a Pottery Barn, but with clothing. Pants were around 100 euros, which is about, I don't know how much, but since the dollar sucks, it would be well over $100 dollars...I think I heard 1.5 times, so around $150. Furniture and plates were all high dollar as well. A beautiful store to LOOK at, but certainly, out of my budget.

Tim went back to the boat after just a few minutes hanging out with us at Sissy Boy. The girls and I strolled further down Loods 6 and found several shops that were closed. Apparently, Mondays are the equivalent of Sundays in the U.S. -- everything is closed!

We saw one shop that was well lit and try as we might, we could not figure out how to get in. We just assumed it too was closed...

So we strolled through the neighborhood and passed through a 'play area' with basketball, 'soccer' areas and a playground. All this situated on concrete. But there's a great view of the water.

We made it back to the boat to ready ourselves for our jaunt back into the city. We were able to take the nearby tram all the way to the area where Anne Frank's hideout would be. Usually, we have to get off, take another tram, then get on/off at Central Station. Thankfully, this tram was a one-way trip. Oh, this is a great shot of a billboard at the tram station we use (the #10), and it appears in many of the other tram stations throughout - the girls giggle everytime we see it:

We actually wanted to eat first, before heading to Anne Frank's house. It was lunch time around the time we made it into the city. As easy as one would think it would be to find a place to eat, it wasn't. Did I mention that Mondays here are like Sundays in the U.S.? Many places were closed. But we did stumble onto one eatery, which again, was heavenly. Here's it's daily menu: I started off with the house red wine and while Tim and CJ each had a coke, Mi-Mi opted for chocolate milk, which came out in a nice tall soda-fountain type glass, with a mound of fresh whipped cream. I had to give it a was divine.

We can't really decipher the menu as most places NOT on the regular tourist path are not in English (and why would they be? We are not in the U.S.). We do our best to recognize some parts and order what would be our best guess.

My picky eater CJ ordered the hamburger, or as it was advertised, “Smart Burger” as it was made with bio-beef (whatever that means).

Tim ordered the Club sandwich and we had an order of “Tosti”. I can't remember if I had anything else, but it was all so, so good.

After lunch, we made it to Anne Frank's hideout. No pictures are allowed, so I don't have any to share. I could get this statue of her right before heading over to the hideout:

It was a bit sobering but a very interesting tour that I'm quite glad we did. It wasn't very crowded, which was great news. Apparently, the queues to get in and can get really long but I think we came at a better time...even though it is an Easter holiday for some folks out here.

It was about 4:30 PM when we got done with the hideout. Tim was directing me to where I wanted to shop, which was called “Nine Streets” and he headed off to the Red Light District. First, I had to feed CJ, who would not eat the scrumptious bio-burger because there was something “red” in it. My girl had not eaten a thing all day, except the pastry from the bakery earlier that day.

We hit a pizza place where she had a cheese pizza. Mi-Mi had ice cream and I had a glass of wine. Nearby, there was a cat being cozy at the table:

The pizza looked divine: a very thin, fresh looking crust, with fresh looking tomato sauce and covered with mozzarella. When the pizza is brought to the table, it's uncut, which seemed unusual. She ate nearly half the pizza, she was so famished. I was really sad that I was still full from our lunch because I really wanted to try the pizza.

So we started our shopping trip and walked down one of the busier streets. I wanted to hit the paths along the canal, because according to my map, that was where all the quirky shops would be.

So we walked a bit and I started getting frustrated because I wasn't seeing as many shops as I thought there would be. We finally came across a really quaint soap shop and decided to look through there. I found out that all the soaps in the shop were made by its owner and they were all so beautiful. I picked up a few for some friends, as did CJ.

We found a few more shops and when we entered the toy shop, the owner was closing it up and explaining to another patron that she closes at 5:30, but would stay open longer for her. It was now 5:50 PM. This was not a good sign, as most of these little shops would probably close around 5:30 too.

Even though we found some shops, it wasn't nearly the number outlined in our little tour book. And what we did see were now closed. Tim had mentioned an indoor shopping area that he had seen in the book (before we separated) so I looked it up and found that it closed at 7PM. We could get a good hour to look through there – and according to my map – we were only a few blocks away.

So off we go. The maps in our tour books are not very detailed, so some of the streets do not show up on the map. I found one intersection that we were on and assumed that I had my orientation correct and we walked on. Instead, I started seeing street signs that I could not find on my map. Again, I decided that it must be because these streets were just not being named on the map so I kept going, thinking that the next street down would provide me a name of a street that would BE on the map.

CJ finally said, maybe we should just walk around and not try to find the mall. This made me feel so much better, as I was concentrating on the map rather than our surroundings. So we dropped the map and started touring.

We found one brightly colored store, I think it was called Blokker, that looked like a fun store to shop in. All the lights were on but we could not find a door. We walked around this thing a good few times and no luck, no door. The only thing we could figure out was that the garage door was it's door, and since it was closed shut, this indicated that the brightly lit store must be closed.

We walked around more and laughed about the fact that we were LIA – Lost in Amsterdam. We weren't panicked because I knew I could always get a taxi. In my mind, I am still waiting for that recognizable street name to get me back oriented to where I needed to go.

Finally, Tim and I exchange text messages. He's headed to Centraal Station and I tell him we're happily lost and we'll be there when we can.

After crossing over several tram tracks, I find that we are nowhere near a Tram station. I see a sign that indicates where to go for a tram and we follow it. I have no clue where we are in Amsterdam, but it's obvious that we found the non-tourist district. It seemed to be a Turkish area, where we had a few glances from the locals of being out of place. We finally reached the tram station and I approached two men waiting for one and asked if this would get me to Centraal Station. They both said I was on the wrong side and had to cross (my first indication that I was way off on my orientation) and to get on the #17.

So we cross and the #17 arrives and we get on. I see on the tram's location board that Centraal Station is nowhere on it, which means we were way, way, way off. I believe we were about eight stops away from Centraal Station, which means, if I had been going the way I thought we were going, I should have only been three stops away.

As we move closer to Centraal Station, I see all the streets that I was looking for...and the indoor shopping center I was also looking for? We passed that too. Oh well. At least we had a nice walking tour of the city.

We meet up with Tim at Centraal Station and head back to the area where our boat is. We stopped at the grocery store to pick up some food to fix for dinner.

Again, no super-sized shopping carts. People buy stuff for one to two days, hence, no need for the big refrigerator. Everything appears fresh – bread, fruits, meats, eggs, etc. Bags cost money, so most folks have their own shopping bags. We paid 15 cents (whatever the equivalent is in euro) for ours... I thought: if we could do this in the U.S., make people pay for their shopping bags, we would have less trash and promote reuse. But of course, someone there would protest something about their rights being violated...

It's around this time – the route between the grocery store and our houseboat – that the girls get giddy and silly. We have no idea what happens, but this section makes them laugh at everything and Mi-Mi gets in her silly mode. It's funny for a few minutes then it's like, alright already. But because Tim and I are in vacation mode, we seem to have more patience and tolerate the giddiness.

Back at the ranch, we enjoy another glass (or two) of wine. Tim and I have a toast out on the deck of the boat, as the weather was 'warm' enough to sit outside and enjoy the view. “Warm” it wasn't – you could still see our breath as we talked, but because we've been acclimated to the weather, we knew it was the warmest it could get and we took advantage of it.

Dinner was pasta with pesto, cheese and bread. Divine.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Amsterdam Day Two

We got up pretty late in the morning on day two, although they (Europe) had their version of daylight savings time and moved the clocks back an hour. Nonetheless, we enjoyed some croissants with ham and cheese for breakfast with our Senseo coffee maker, which seems pretty common around here.

We decided to hit the city and found the tram, only to find we had to switch trams to make it to Central Station.

Central Station is BUSY. When we got off the tram, we were greeted with street musicians who, strangely, were there when we left the city around 8PM.
We stopped for lunch at the tourist trap, where the food was more 'westernized' and double in price than where we are staying.I had the 'hot snacks' which consisted of fried cheese: mozzarella and a yellow cheese, fried egg rolls, and fried meat roll and meat patty. All quite good. The girls had hamburgers with french fries...the hamburgers had quite an odd texture and the taste was okay. Honestly, as long as I didn't know what it really was, I was okay with it.

Tim bought us water taxi tickets, which was great because we had it for the day – which means you can get on and off anywhere at anytime (until 6PM on Sunday). This was our hangout for the day, along with getting off and hitting a bar, much to my children's dismay.

Our intention initially was to hit Anne Frank's house and possibly the Van Gogh museum. Instead, we hit about three cafes for drinks. CJ initially was pleased to be “soda-hopping” but after one, she was pretty sick of them.

Food is amazing here. We had a cheese plate at the last place, along with french fries for the girls. I was expecting some sort of “pomme frittes” type dish – what that is, I'm not sure, but it wasn't standard shoestring American fries...which is what we end up getting at every stop.

The wonderful thing for me, as a wine drinker, is at every stop, when asked what I want, I simply say “red wine” and that's it. Whatever is served to me, which I am assuming is the house wine, is spectacular. The aroma is divine, which is the first thing I enjoy when I receive my glass.

Tim and Phillip opt for the beers while Mi-Mi has her 'lemonade” (which is really sprite) and CJ her coke. By the way, coke and pepsi come in these teeny tiny cans or bottles. It's very cool and I'm trying to figure out how I can get them smuggled into the US.

I am just enamored with the look of the city. I'm not an architectural fanatic, but I can't help but be awed by the buildings around me. The canals and the houseboats are amazing too. I just learned that houseboats are prime property as has to be 'grandfathered' in to inherit, or be given, these houseboats. And these folks can get pretty creative with the looks of these places...

Now, these are just the houseboats...apparently, property is prime in Amsterdam so finding a flat is just as hard! But wow. How amazing it would be to live here...

Here is an elaborate building that sits across from where we picked up our water taxi: Graffiti in english, right by where we picked up our water taxi: We passed another elaborate building of another kind during our water taxi ride, this Chinese restaurant: One of the many streets of Amsterdam: Crossing over one of the many canals:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Amsterdam Day One

We had an easy flight to Amsterdam...approximately 1 ½ hour from Heathrow. We found Uncle Phillip, who flew in from Florida to join us for our adventure, and we were able to grab a minivan taxi.

The layout of Amsterdam is vastly different from the bustle of the London city-life. Very green, lots of water, and well, so far, a very relaxed atmosphere. What I have enjoyed seeing the most are the number of bikes that are prevalent throughout this place, as well as the number of people riding them. Bike paths everywhere. Love it. Would love to see more U.S. cities adopt this way of transportation...

Our houseboat is amazing. It is docked, so we will not be sailing it. I don't know if it is common for people to take their houseboats out, but I'm assuming it is it's a strange question to receive from people about whether we will be out on the water, 'sailing'. We will NOT.

It is quite breezy and yet the boat does not rock much. Hardly at all, but I have felt it a little bit.Right across the street from our boat are apartments where the ground floors house bars and other stores.

Here are some pictures of the paths on either side of us:

For lunch, we ate at “de wereldbold”where I enjoyed “bar food” that consisted of a plate of carpaccio with slivers of parmesan and sprigs of arugula (my favorite),along with a big ass salad of iceberg, bibb, arugula, tomatoes and more slivers of parmesan, plus a small bowl of spaghetti with a dabble of pesto, PLUS bread with a bit of tomato relish AND a little bit of pesto, which I assumed went on the salad, since I had no dressing. This was a three course meal AT A BAR. I had to have a nice red wine with it, which was just ordered that way “Red wine, please”...or “dank u weil (veil)”, which accompanied my food very well.

Tim had a focaccia rear end accidents involved to gain focaccia here. :-)

Service was unbelievable. The host was very accommodating with us foreigners and provided a local beer recommendation for Uncle Phil and Tim. Did I mention that the carpaccio was out of this world? Maybe it was just the entire atmosphere that made it so wonderful.

Back at the boat,

we discovered we had a waterbed in the master room. Um, yeah, that was actually quite comfy. I fell asleep...for about two hours...and then the girls fell asleep, separately, for about the same amount of time.

After we were rejuvenated, we set out for dinner. We didn't go far. We hit the other bar that is right across from the houseboat, Cafe Kanis en Meiland. Here I had a steak with the most amazing brown gravy, with a side of small potatoes. Cerina and Mia had chicken satay. Wow. Very hearty and wonderful...and again, labeled “bar food”. The best thing about this place, besides the food and atmosphere, DOGS ARE ALLOWED. When we arrived, we met this dog:

Then we met these two beautiful dogs with a very friendly owner:

We had to have “take-away” with the girls' and Tim's food...but I was able to enjoy ALL OF MINE.

Schiphol Airport

My first international trip has taken me through five airports: RDU, Detroit, Gatwick (London), Heathrow (London) and Schiphol in Amsterdam. Let me tell you, Schiphol blows all away.

The minute we got off the airplane, there were little buggies to put luggage on. And I mean LITTLE. They are there, free for the taking – no coin machine/credit card thing to pay in order to get one...and one you have to really fight to get.

I grabbed two and was really trying to figure out how on earth we would get [our tremendously huge and in quantity] bags onto them.

I noticed when we traveled from our gate to the baggage hall that the gates had electronic boards with information. State-of-the-art which added a touch of sophistication to a usually 'hustle-and-bustle' environment. People around me were calm. So calm that Tim almost stepped on one as we moved off the people mover, as he was busy texting on his mobile.

When we got close to the escalator, I noticed barriers preventing users from bringing their carts with them. I searched for the lifts, thinking that would be the only way to get them down there when I noticed a sign that stated that the carts had to be left there but others would be available at the baggage area. A clear and concise message that didn't leave me wondering how I was going to get my bags out of there. I now knew why they offered small carts from where we deplaned: a courtesy for travelers to carry their carry on. Big points for providing a great user experience.

Before retrieving our bags, we had to pass through the passport inspection. Absolutely no lines. A vast difference from our arrival at Gatwick in London. We made it through with flying colors and found bigger carts for our luggage. Guess what? FREE.

A big sign that this airport has its shit together, we found our bags quickly and in tact. We swooped out of the baggage hall, to our arrival hall, where people wait right outside for their friends and loved ones. It was, again, a great way to provide a pleasurable experience – plenty of space for people to get out with their luggage, as well as plenty of space for the folks to wait – and see clearly – the people they are waiting for.

Information on the arrival boards was straightforward and easy to understand because the layout of the airport was clear and concise, so we knew exactly where we needed to go.

And the layout of this particular airport is quite like many others: a very mall-like environment. Stores everywhere as well as small cafes and restaurants. At one point, there is an aisle that has only stores and restaurants on both sides and it feels like you are walking through a mall.

Schiphol Airport has their crap together. The best experience I've ever had at an airport and as a consummate for good experiences, this airport has done more than what one would want for customers within an airport.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Terminal 5

So, I'm not sure what was being broadcasted in the U.S. but in London, all week, Heathrow's Terminal 5 has been headline news.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow was touted as the new state-of-the-art facility, that was to provide an amazing experience for passengers. Here are some of the news items I found, espousing the luxury of Terminal 5.

On the building itself:
The building — designed to be the prime aviation gateway to London and the United Kingdom —is drop-dead gorgeous. Rising 130 feet high and bathed in natural light, the glassy structure —designed by British ‘starchitect’ Richard Rogers — has floors of marble and hardwoods, panoramic windows, passenger lounges for first and business class flyers worthy of a 5-star hotel, no fewer than 112 shops ranging from luxury brands such as Tiffany to High Street pharmacy-chain favorite Boots, and restaurants galore. One of the latter, Gordon Ramsey Plane Food, is the handiwork of the bad-boy celebrity chef.

On the baggage drop zones:
Terminal 5 also features 90-odd bag-drop stations that accept checked luggage and automatically whisk the bags onto 18 kilometers of moving tracks and belts. Bags zip along at up to 30 miles per hour on a system that updates prototypes used in Oslo, Hong Kong and Amsterdam airports. Lost baggage has been a headache at Heathrow and has often proved to be a problem for BA, the UK’s largest airline.

Terminal 5 debuted on Thursday, March 27th. We were scheduled to fly out of Terminal 5 on Saturday. Since we were pretty much immersed in the British media after Terminal 5 opened, we knew we were about to become SOL.

The news around us was the 'debacle' that Terminal 5 ended up being. Pictures of piles of baggage were shown on the front page, because the technologically advanced baggage zones were not working properly. Mainly, they were jamming up because employees could not get to work!

Employees had a hard time entering their parking areas and then security clearances were not allowing them in, so there were limited staff to help with getting passengers checked in, and/or getting baggages moving along.

So what did British Airways do (the only airline within Terminal 5)? They started canceling flights. Friday, the news broadcast that 70 flights were canceled that day. That's a lot of damn flights. We found that indeed, our flight out of Terminal 5 for Saturday was one of the many canceled for that day.

The mad dash to find another flight ensued. Tim spent a good deal of time on the phone with British Airways, who profusely apologized but never found us a flight at the same price that we had paid three months before. Although we paid only a little bit more for our new flights, it was nowhere near the price we had paid in our pre-planning. But the point of the matter was that they fucked it all up and we, the peons, were left scrambling to figure out how to proceed.

It appears that Londoners are quite embarrassed by this...and I don't blame them. I can't believe these people didn't test their system out? Can they really claim to have? Because as a previous tester (and I don't think it can leave the system, if you've ever been a tester), there is NO WAY failures at this magnitude could happen...

Some new quotes about Terminal 5:
He [Jim Fitzpatrick, the aviation minister] said 28,000 bags were now stranded, rather than the 15,000 admitted by the airline over the weekend. It could take up to a week for the bags to be reunited with their owners, he said

Mr Fitzpatrick said passengers using the £4.3 billion terminal had suffered an "unacceptably poor experience" and delivery had fallen "well short of expectation".

The employees problems:
Many British Airways airport workers complained they were delayed getting to the building because of a shortage of specially-designated car parking spaces.

Some also reported that staff overflow car parks were not open and they had been forced to drive around in circles to find somewhere to put their cars.

Then, once inside the terminal building, workers also faced problems getting to the restricted "airside" via security checkpoints.

We at least didn't arrive at Heathrow Terminal 5, but were flying out. Here is what happened to a family going on a skiing trip, who did go through Terminal 5:
A family going on a skiing holiday in Switzerland last year received only £100 from BA despite having to spend £1,000 on replacement ski gear when their bags were lost for a fortnight.

London Day Three

Our last full day in London was a blistering, windy day. Oh, and a bit of rain too.

The funny thing is we knew it would be rainy throughout our stay in London, then Amsterdam. We bought each of us an umbrella from the dollar store. Thursday, when we went out, we didn't bring any of our umbrellas, so we purchased two more.

Fortunately, we brought our umbrellas with us today, or we'd have to purchase another bag just for all the umbrellas.

Anyway, today we went to see the changing of the guards. We had to get there early to grab a spot.

Obviously, the changing of the guards happens at Buckingham Palace. I can't imagine why these people need a house so big. My Super Size Me post does not apply to royalty.

This picture is of the monument that is in front of the Palace. Later, this gets completely filled with people, in which the very patient police reprimanded several people to get down from wherever they climbed up to:

The wind and rain is picking up and I get excited because I can see some guards coming from the right of the palace:

Now this is what the monument looks like after the crowd gets bigger:

But that's the last we see of anything for another 20 minutes and it's freezing cold!

But in the background, I can hear music and then we see a marching band. I'm excited again:

But after that, that's it for several more minutes and then we have yet another band, this time, in different attire (and a better view):

Next come the guards on the horses (and by golly, I am putting all these videos here...I took 'em, you see em):

And then we're done with this part of British tradition. Within Buckingham Palace's gated area, the actual procession takes place, but since we were on the other side, the crowd has gathered to gawk at the gates and there's no way we could get through to see it. Plus, we had been out there for about an hour of waiting and we were just done.

We hit The Underground and grab a coffee at Costa Coffee. Funny, every corner has a Starbucks. I, the ugly American, want London fare.

The girls had hot chocolate, both with a chocolate spoon (not pictured because they were eaten pretty quickly).

After our coffee break, more shopping ensued. This time, it was Tim's turn. I pulled butt loads of clothes for him to try on. The store we hit this time is called Primark, which apparently is extremely competitively priced. It was for us -- I was dumbfounded: jeans for 6 pounds. I did NOT go to the women's department because, well, I would never leave the store.

The Londoners all are very smart dressers -- very, very fashionable. Again, I felt like an American slob because these folks take great care in their appearance, even in their blue jeans. Tim said it's no wonder that they can dress as nice as they do since the prices, especially at this particular store, are so good.

We meet Jhun again for lunch. As we vacation, everyone else still has a life and must work. Poor Jhun. He wanted the days off but apparently, there are some upcoming events (boat races, i think) that didn't allow him to take days off, but he was able to take half days to spend time with us. He thought he was going to be able to join us for a bit in Amsterdam, but that too, didn't work to his advantage.

But nonetheless, we stopped at a pizza place for lunch. We needed to since my poor picky eater, CJ, was just not eating anything. Well, I exaggerate. She enjoyed the fish and chips and then while we were at The Ritz, Jhun had taken her to go to McDonald's (sigh) but apparently, stopped at a local chicken joint and picked up some chicken wings (yay!). But today, I think the most she ate was a bit of cereal and a chocolate muffin at Costa Coffee.

We order and the girls each get a cheese pizza. I opted for their lunch special, which was a salad (or soup) with pasta. Not bad although Joyce later told me she was embarrassed to have us eat there. She was not happy with the food.

I was thrilled with the salad as it had a 'whole' half of an avocado (picture is ghostly, as my kids smeared the lens goofing off with the camera):

At that point, Joyce and I decided that we would head back to the flat, as I wanted to get some laundry done before our trip in the morning. Plus, I had to re-pack since my bag was now broke. Fortunately, we had brought an extra bag on our trip for souvenirs and such, so this was now the bag I had to fit all my crap in.

Tim and Jhun headed to the Museum of Natural History and these are some of the pictures he was able to get:

Super Size Me

What I've noticed more than anything here in London is that everything is smaller.

Or let me put it another way: everything in the U.S. is outrageously bigger, larger.

The cars, the refrigerators, the homes. Maybe it's just where we live...well, no, not really. I've lived in many places throughout the U.S. and it's been all the no, we just have bigger homes and more stuff to put in them. Ridiculous.

Is it necessary? Apparently not. These people seem to do just fine with what they have.

It's really embarrassing to me, that 'we' have these things that are so excessively bigger than it needs to be.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Puttin' on the Ritz

So there was mention of us going to The Ritz before we came to London. My mom and Jhun passed the message along that we needed some "smart clothing" in order to go to The Ritz.

Apparently, Jhun's godfather works there and he was offering a trip for tea there. Reservations are made well in advance, as in months, so getting us in would be a treat. And in the filipino life, especially here in London, as Joyce said, "It's not what you know, it's who you know" and my family appears to know many well-connected folks.

Since I never called anyone in London, prior to coming here, with any plans, the arrangements for tea were not really made. So we were led to believe it wasn't going to happen on such short notice. For Tim and I, we were okay about it since we didn't know what the big deal was with the Ritz. A nice gesture on the part of my family, but whatever...we are enjoying our time with the family thus far.

So at 4:30PM, Jhun called Joyce to say "we're in - get them ready for The Ritz for 7:30 PM", we were on overdrive yet again. Of course, we had schlupped all around London for most of the day and now, we had to get back.

And as you read from the previous post, I got us lost LOOKING at the very flat we needed to enter. And I learned that tea at the Ritz was for only Tim and I. I panicked a bit: are we ready for that? To be released in London by ourselves?

But they had it planned to a tee: Jhun would drive us and escort us in...we would sit...enjoy tea...and he would pick us up and take us back home.

Getting ready was fun. With the help of my stylish cousin Joyce, I was London chic for my tea. She did my hair (she is a stylist) and Tim looked quite dapper in his suit and tie.

Off we went -- while the girls hung out with the familia.

Jhun took us into The Ritz and asked the doorman where we needed to go for tea and the doorman promptly said to him that he was not dressed appropriately (he was in jeans). Jhun corrected him and said it wasn't for him but us where the doorman promptly apologized to Jhun and then showed us the way. Such nice folks, these British.

Tea at the Ritz is on a platform with very elegantly set tables. There were two ladies in front of us mentioning their 7:30 tea reservations. The host apologized and said he could not find their reservation. I wondered if we would get in, since we had just received them that day.

Well, we did and then I thought, we must have bumped those poor ladies off.

We were seated in the back center of the tea area. The waiter explained how everything went and we were brought coffee instead of tea (I don't drink tea). Each one of us received our own polished silver urn of coffee. Sugar cubes were available for us with small silver tongs.

Then a three-tiered tray was place on the table. The bottom tier had two rows of finger sandwiches -- exact replicas for me and for Tim. These were the best. Oh my god, I pigged out on these. One had a cucumber filling, another mayonnaise (which is quite popular here) and a green herb, and a few others that I can't remember. The only one I didn't touch was the salmon.

The top tier had all of the cakes - little petit four type cakes. These were good but I couldn't eat but a bite from a couple because I had stuffed myself with sandwiches...along with the number of coffees I had in my system.

The middle tier was filled last with scones. These were so good. I enjoyed these more than the little cakes, quite honestly. There was clotted cream at the table (it looks like mayonnaise) and I loved the combination of this with the scones.

After an hour, we were pretty much done and slowly drinking out 12th cup of coffee. Another waiter came by with two sparkling glasses of champagne. He said it was compliments of Rudy, as he was told to expect our arrival.

Wow. We felt so priviledged! And we could see a few eyes turn to us...maybe wondering who we were to get such attention.

The champagne was amazing. I am really not a champagne person but oh my! This stuff was the nectar of the gods. We drank slowly and enjoyed the bubbly and basked in the glow of such an amazing experience.

And suddenly, another waiter came to me with a Ritz bag. Inside was a teddy bear with a Ritz shirt and Ritz chocolates, contained in a Top Hat box. Again, all eyes are on us and I am overwhelmed with this attention. As I enjoyed all the 'stuff', in the back of my head I'm trying to figure out who was going to get the teddy bear: CJ or Mi-Mi...

Once done, we placed our voucher on the table, grabbed my coat and headed out. We asked another doorman where a pub was and he pointed us to The Claremont, which was across the street.

We thought we'd hit the pub as we waited for Jhun to pick us up. It was a good 10-15 minute drive to get here, so we assumed we had enough time for a drink.

We had no cash so when we got our pints (well, I had a half a pint), we hadn't spent enough to use a credit card. But there was a machine to get cash so Tim was trying to get some from the ATM. For whatever reason, it wasn't happening so he went back to the bar and added a bourbon and coke to our bill.

We sat at a bar table with two beers and a bourbon, while Tim slowly typed away on the phone, a text message to Jhun that we were done and waiting for him at The Claremont.

Not only can Tim not type fast, he also types a novel. I said nothing as I watched him type sentence (full sentences) after sentence to Jhun. By the time he finally sent it, we had received a text from Jhun that he was waiting outside for us. Tim went to check it out and then rushed back in to say we had to go.

We left full drinks sitting on the table, which I was able to enjoy (although I really didn't as I was full and the ginger beer was not all that great to me) but Tim maybe had one sip since he was busy typing the bible into a phone.

We make it back to the flat which is now full of people. Uncle Rudy was there (the fine man who got us into the Ritz) as well as other extended family members.

My auntie Tess had prepared my favorite dish, pancit lug-lug, and I eyed it enviously, wishing I had enough room to eat a small plate. I did much midnight snack and by god, it was divine.

Anyway, Mi-Mi and CJ received much attention from everyone and even received money from a real relative (married to an uncle), Auntie Precy. Apparently, Auntie Precy remembered me from when I was about CJ's size, when we lived in the Philippines.

It was a warm, family feeling -- all the noise, the talk, the comfort of having special folks around. We had a blast chatting with everyone -- getting more attention after our time at The Ritz.

I have no idea how I am going to survive back in Raleigh, becoming an ordinary joe again.

That's if my head fits through the door of the plane...

London Day Two

Wow. London is incredible. And my family's flat in London is fabulous, especially where it's located. So close to so much.

Today, Joyce was our tour guide -- and a might fine one she is.

Temps are cold and windy, plus rain throughout the day. One minute it is sunny, the next minute, rain.

Today we made it to Kensington Palace, home of the late Princess Diana.

It's unbelievable that this palace is so accessible to people, well, the gardens, that is. I loved Princess Di's fairy tale story -- I was in middle school when she was presented as Lady Diana Spencer, school teacher and future bride of the prince. I was moved being there...Joyce reminded me about how many flowers had filled this area up after her tragic death...

Next stop after that: shopping! And who better to show us the tricks of the trade but Ms. Stylish herself, Joyce.

We hit the streets of London, making our way to whereever Harrod's is located. Before we hit the very pricey Harrod's, however, we roamed its street:

This particular store was located throughout London. I loved the typo ;-):

I picked up a few items in a great boutique -- can't remember the name. But I think it' so cool that I can just use my credit card (debit) and it work in pounds...

Next stop was Harrod's.

I can't begin to explain how massive this ONE store is. It is truly amazing. Sections are divied throughout, focusing on perfume, makeup, shoes, handbags, clothing, and then, the restaurants... Those are divided as well: pizza section, bakery, candy, sushi, etc. I mean, this store is tremongous.

Joyce then took us to the memorial for Princess Diana. I thought it was strange, that Harrod's would have a memorial for her, but then, I knew she was very loved by the British, so then I thought how nice. However, when I got to it, it was a memorial for Princess Diana *and* Dodi al Fayed. Okay, that was a little strange...until I learned that the owner of Harrod's is Dodi's father:

After our trip to Harrod's, we left the area to meet Jhun for lunch. We had mentioned how CJ was excited to try the fish-n-chips when he mentioned that there was only one place to go for this, which was Sea Shell. Not only did he think that this was the best fish-n-chips in London, but in all of the UK. Wow. Such high praise from a man who appreciates great food.

We found that Sea Shell is off the beaten path. Not located in a place where tourists could find...only a true Londoner would know where this was. It was surrounded by nothing but a school. The fish was indeed fabulous and to my great delight, CJ had her chips traditionally: with malt vinegar (and loved it).

After the great meal, Jhun left for errands and Joyce stuck around to show us more of the city. It was wonderful. We ended up at yet another department store where I went crazy to try on several outfits. The prices were incredible.

Soon, Joyce received a phone call from Jhun to let us know that they obtained tickets for us to have tea at the Ritz. And we had to be there at was around 4:30PM. We decided to head back to the flat in order to get ready, as the Ritz is a suit-and-tied phenomenon.

We took the bus back and we decided to let Joyce stop off at the grocery store first, with the girls, in order to pick out some snacks and breakfast for my picky eaters. She was really concerned about Tim and I getting lost and I assured her, we would be just fine. I knew the address and we were on the street we needed to be. She got off at the stop before ours, desperately seeking assurance from us that we would be okay. GO! DON'T WORRY! I yelled to her.

So how did we muck it all up? We were stupid. We got off the bus and walked to the address that the flat was located. But to me, the flat looked completely different so I decided, despite the address being spot on, that it was NOT the place.

We walked up and down that street, trying to determine what went wrong. We ended up in front of Cromwell Hospital, which was vaguely familiar to us. I texted Jhun to tell him where we were and how do we get to his flat. He wrote 'just start walking till you reach the address'. Well, this was completely silly to us, as we didn't know which way we were supposed to walk and by god, we just saw the address and it wasn't it! So I texted back that we were at the address but it was all brick. His response "Stay there, I'm coming for you".

Well, we couldn't stay and decided to pick up some wine at the grocery store. I knew it had to be the same one Joyce had gone to, so I am now thinking how surprised she's going to be to see us in there...and that we walked the full stop _back_ to where she'd gotten off.

Sure enough, we saw her and had a great laugh. Jhun found us too -- he had quickly retrieved his bike to save the day. And when we walked back to the address that I had poo-pood, we walked right in. It was, after all, the flat we were supposed to be...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Full Speed Ahead

Our first day in London is somewhat of a blur. We were tired from the plane trip but certainly adrenalized to be in London, so we didn't feel tired. We just knew we had to be...

I knew we were in for a long day when Jhun said, at the airport, I hope you're not too tired because we have a lot least make it to five o'clock. At this time, it was about 8:30 AM.

We made the long trip from Gatwick to London with lots of traffic and man, those speed bumps in some of those London boroughs. We also learned that there is a bit of a state-of-the-art traffic system, in which speed is measured by cameras, and well, you will most likely be caught and mailed your ticket for speeding. Very similar to our red-light cameras in Raleigh.

They also ticket for talking on the phone while driving – again, through the use of cameras. Apparently, CCTV is prevalent throughout the city, so no matter what, you could be found out without anyone seeing you in front of their face.

As for driving through the city, fuhgeddaboutit! Holy crap – how on earth do people drive in this city? Especially when it seems so unnecessary, with the city transportation available.

After a quick shower , brunch, and brush of our nasty teeth, we hit the streets of London. We walked through an amazing alley of shops, with cobblestones under my feet. I was enthralled.

The Underground was about a block away so we hit that first. Joyce bought our tickets and apparently, children are free.

While we waited for Joyce to get our tickets, my Auntie Tess was staring and studying a public loo. It looked extremely daunting, with several lines of instruction on what to do to use this loo...but, it was free to use.

Anyway, we hit the Underground and arrived someplace and with some more walking, we were at Big Ben. BIG BEN. I couldn't believe I was looking at Big Ben. And there were many beautiful buildings next to Big Ben.

We saw the London Eye and much to my cousin's dismay, we opted NOT to ride it.

I have a fear of heights...and at a random moment during my youth, I discovered that I was scared of riding on ferris wheels. Year after year, I rode the ferris wheel at the HOG (Happening On the Green, a yearly festival that Clark AFB held, full of games and rides) and suddenly, one year, I crouched down in great fear as I rode...not even THINKING that it would be scary and yet, it was the last time I can remember ever riding one.

And here in London, was the Eye, a landmark and I knew I couldn't ride it. NO WAY. Not only that, it was a slow moving ferris wheel that, if you looked right at it, you couldn't tell it was actually moving. You could only tell if you watched long enough, and found a landmark to compare the cart too (like a tree) and eventually, you would see the cart by the tree, so it was apparent it was moving...but not to the naked eye (at least not mine).

We walked further down whatever street we were on and came upon Westminster Abbey. My cousins noticed paparazzi, which didn't stand out for me but hey, I'm from Raleigh. They knew something was up and so we ended up joining in the gawking and after nearly an hour of standing, waiting (for something we didn't know would happen, although we assumed it would be the French president, since he happened to be in town), and watching the police cordon off the area, we did indeed see the French President and his supermodel wife, Carla Brunei. Unbelievably, they rode right past us and I shot this quick video. You can see him wave and then a quick shot of his woman to his side.
Coincidentally, when we finally arrived back home at the end of the day, they had drove right past us again.

It's at this point that Mi-Mi received her nickname from the family.

While we waited for the French president, Mi-Mi was desperate about going to the loo. We found out it was across the street ('by the big tree' i was told, but there were three big trees...fortunately, a nice englishman clarified which big tree it was) and Tim volunteered to take her there.

Once the president and his first lady, diva Carla, went inside Westminster Abbey, we stood around for a few more minutes when Jhun said, very nonchalantly, “Now we wait for the other princess to arrive”...a few seconds go by and Joyce says, you mean “Princess Mi-Mi” and he nodded with assurance. This would become her bane throughout our stay in London...Princess Mi-Mi with her scowling back “I'm not a princess!!!”

So we humped all throughout London and at the end of this long day, we ended up in Chinatown.

We hit one of the many chinese eateries, with duck and stuff hanging from the windows, and had a great feast. I had singapore noodles (my favorite), plus there was an order of egg fried rice, sauteed vegetables, roast duck, roast pork, etc. I tried a piece of the duck out of courtesy...I no like. Tim loved it and deemed it his favorite. CJ even tried a piece, but she opted for her sweet and sour chicken.

After all that food, I sat there, in the restaurant, and I felt totally buzzed out. I was wondering if they had snuck anything into my Jasmine tea, because as far as I knew, I was sober. But I felt soooo drunk.

We walked out and stopped outside of a Chinese bakery to pick up some pastries then we had the walk back home. In between all the walking throughout the day, we did pick up the double-decker bus, which was Princess Mi-Mi's favorite. We made it back and tried our best to make the best of some small talk before Tim and I ventured to bed and fell fast asleep.

Welcome to London

Our arrival at Gatwick Airport in London was not a bad one, but it certainly wasn't pleasant.

When we finally arrived at what we thought would be the baggage claim area, we noticed an extremely long line...for passport identification. There is a line for the europeans and then, all others, with a by-line of "including US passports". I found that truly ignorant, for the U.S., because apparently, a number of U.S. citizens had to ask "are we 'other'?" or that by-line wouldn't need to be there...

We finally made it through and found our baggage claim area. But once we got there, the conveyor belt thingie was done. As in, all bags had been delivered. I saw a small grouping of bags but none were recognizable to me. However, upon closer inspection, I noticed a pair lacy bright green panties that were oddly familiar to me...just hanging from an open bag. Um, well, those familiar panties were MINE. And my bag had been ripped wide open to show off all of my other privately packed items.

Welcome to London! Of course, this could have happened en route and in Detroit, but the next thing I had to do was stand in another line to claim my damage. Meanwhile, I am texting my cousin, Jhun, who is waiting patiently for us while we deal with these lines...oh wait, let me get my lingo straight, queues.

We finally make it out, rolling my ripped bag, and I find my cousin Jhun straight-away. He immediately goes to Tim. I haven't seen Jhun since 1982, maybe even before that. He and my cousin Joyce have lived in London throughout their lives, but for a good bit of time, came back to the Philippines and went to school there. That's the last I remember seeing them and now, 26 years later, we meet again!

We were so totally American -- a ripped bag among five bags that we had, plus carrying a Whole Foods grocery bag with stuff in it, our backpacks (packed full), as well as carrying our coats, and also, one of us carrying Mi-Mi's things, because she just can't carry anything. This we tried, and successfully, packed into Jhun's Volvo hatchback. I doubt that he could see anything out of the back window.

None the less, the ride to London takes off. The girls and I are in the back, enjoying the scenery. Tim and Jhun talk a bit up front and then at some point, the three girls in the back fell asleep. Man, we were tired after that flight...

It took quite awhile to get to where my cousins live, which is in Central London -- within the hub of the city life. I loved it. Most people say, "I live in New York" but it's really the outskirts of NY...but when my cousins say they live in London, they LIVE IN LONDON.

Their flat is on a nice street on Cromwell and we were able to drop our massive amount of luggage off and met Joyce at the entryway. She is so teeny tiny and just beautiful. The great news is that they are on the first floor of the flat, so we didn't have to squeeze ourselves into the lift.

Life was probably very calm for my cousins (and Aunt, their mum) before we arrived. We just had all this crap and busied up the household. They were great -- they didn't seem to care.

Fly By Night

We knew our flight from Detroit to London was going to be a long one, especially for the girls. But our hope was that, since we were flying during the hours of sleep, that we (especially the girls) would sleep most of the trip away.

How very silly of us.

The flight itself was quite nice. We had first-class treatment by the stewardesses, or whatever they are called now. No bitchy ones on this flight, can you believe it?

We had free drinks – and I'm not just talking about the cokes. Dinner was served, which was quite good. And we all had individual TVs to watch, so CJ picked “Juno” to watch; Mi-Mi did too; Tim enjoyed “American Gangster” and I watched “Becoming Jane” (beautiful movie to watch but oh-so sad...). Movies were free and later, we played games, which were also free.

So we definitely felt like first class flyers.

But what we were missing that the first-class flyers had were comfortable seats for sleeping. The seats go back about 5 degrees, so instead of a 90 degree seating, you “lie” at an 85 degree generous.

We had the four seats in the middle, so there was no window to lean our head against. When the girls finally did sleep, it was a fretful sleep because they could not get comfortable. Quite a few fits of anger from them: grunts, kicking, flailing, and of course, the furrowing of the eyebrows.

Tim and I got even less. I know I fell asleep but I woke up every few minutes to try to get my head to bob the other way. Tim and I both gave up about four in the morning and just watched Spongebob...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two Days and Counting

We were fast approaching our first International vacation trip to London, then Amsterdam.

Our plan was to arrive in London on Wednesday, March 26th. I had Wednesday off and had been planning to get my packing done Tuesday evening; even a hair appointment scheduled for Wednesday morning. Our flight was around 4PM, so I had sometime Wednesday to prepare for the 4PM departure.

Monday evening, Tim and I are just giddy with excitement about our trip. We were outlining our plan: laundry, maybe clean up a bit, then start packing slowly-but-surely. After all, we had two days to do all of this.

Tim decided to look up our tickets on the Northwest Airline site. He was explaining how he had attempted to check us in on Sunday and the site said he had one more day before check-in. We thought that was odd since we knew we had two days before check-in.

So time passes...about 45 minutes...when Tim says to me 'we have a problem'. The problem? We were to leave RDU at 4PM on Tuesday, not Wednesday, as we had believed for three full months.

So everything that we had planned to go slow and steady ended up at lightning speed. A scramble to pack – I hadn't even made my list of things to remember to bring!

I came into work Tuesday simply to send a note to immediate friends and co-workers that I was leaving a day earlier than I had thought (duh) and to cancel my hair appointment (after explaining for 5 minutes why I was canceling yet another appointment). But took the day off and rushed home to finish wrapping up everything we needed to finish.

And then...we were off...a day early than we thought. Quite lucky, really. I can't imagine how more stupid we would have felt to show up at the airport a day later.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My New Tattoo: Session 10

Double digit sessions now!

Yes, I am still working on this monstrosity. I had a long break with the Coach Bubba Race and my trip to San Diego. I originally had a session scheduled before my 20K, which I promptly canceled after I figured out that I would be running the next day. And then I had an appointment the Friday that I came back from San Diego on the red eye, so I just couldn't find the energy to sit through a three hour session.

So I finally made it Friday. Durham was a bit crowded and it took me a little bit to find a darn parking space. Dogstar was pretty busy that day so I felt REALLY SPECIAL having my session, where people were being turned away for drop-ins...:-)

Friday's session was shading day. I wasn't nervous or anticipating any pain. While being away for several weeks, it was like childbirth and I 'forgot' the pain. Once she started, though, man oh man I wasn't sure how I would manage three hours. It hurt. It hurt so bad my face made those contorted faces.

But those were the sore spots. The non-sore-spots were quite nice. The feeling is hard to describe to people who aren't into pain. Oh, did I just say that out loud? No, I wrote it. I do have a high tolerance for pain, I must admit. I have the high tolerance because I'm a sicko -- I like the pain. It can be soothing and in places, the needle feels really good.

A needle in the terms of tattooing. I don't like those others needles, like shots. And I don't do drugs so I don't get anything out of that...

So here is the latest work, so you can see how an outline progresses to shading. Again, the shading is all her and her amazing artistic eye.

Enoteca Vin

This is my favorite Wine Bar in Raleigh. It's always our first stop when Tim and I have our "old fogeys" bar-hopping nights.

We always choose to sit at the bar. Our interest is in one to three glasses of wine (always red...have you been paying attention?), the cheese plate (the $14 version, which includes all of the five cheeses they are showcasing), and olives. We added deviled eggs, to celebrate Easter -- which in the our household, is everything about Bunnies and eggs...

The great thing about going to this place is 1) you will be drinking some really, really, really great wine. I had a Rioja and a Shiraz. Although the Shiraz was a pricier glass than the Rioja, the Rioja by jar was the best. I highly recommend it: Rioja Reserva, Heredad de Baroja. Tim had a cab which was pretty outstanding. I was really leaning towards my second glass being the cab, but I decided to try the pricier Shiraz. While it was awesome, I was just blown away by the Rioja.

It was pretty crowded for a Saturday evening at 7:30ish. We had the same server we usually have when we go there, so I find that pretty impressive for area restaurants -- as volatile as they are ESPECIALLY HERE. Nice to see a familiar face even though, this past Saturday, he seemed a bit hurried.

But it will remain as the main launching ground for our Glenwood sprees.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Take Your Daughter To Work

I did this when I was a young lass. I probably shouldn't mention it -- I grew up being secretive about what my dad did -- but he was, what the military called, a "bomb dumper". In other words: he made bombs.

So you can imagine how interesting it was to take me to work. And this was an event that was highly promoted in DoD (Dept. of Defense) schools, so I wasn't the only daughter going to work with her dad.

It seems very unusual now, but it certainly wasn't then. We were given tours of the bomb dump area: these oddly shaped buildings that housed bombs. Once (there were more than one 'take you daughter to work' times), we were taken into a cave...a cave, I believe, that was created due to war (as in, IN BATTLE), and bats were flying all over the place and the one thing that freaked me out was having a bat "live" in my hair. We were instructed to wear ponytails because bats liked to fly, and stay, in long hair. This may be an urban legend but at the time, I didn't know what the hell was an urban legend and all I knew was an adult was telling me this, so it must be true.

I survived the cave trek and now it is one of my most fondest memories of growing up as a military brat overseas. BTW, my dad was none-too-happy about the tour in the cave, with torches: fire in an old WWII cave, surrounded by explosives...

Anyway, I occasionally read The Onion and when I do, I usually find something really funny...and I did this time. And it's related to my story above:

Army Holds Annual 'Bring Your Daughter To War' Day

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Run for the Oaks 2008

First off: I started this blog approximately one year ago, my first post about my run at Run for the Oaks last year. About one year ago is when I met Dori and enjoyed her birthday cake and made my PR at this race. Can you believe it?

This year I ran the 5K again. This is a great race which seems to attract a lot of people ready to enjoy a race season.

The route was new and for me, I enjoyed it to some degree. There is a comfort in the old race: I knew exactly where I was going and what to expect. But the other cool thing about not knowing is being surprised and NOT knowing what was ahead.

This race was a blur for me. I can't even describe the course. I felt bad that my cohorts were talking about the challenge of this race. I didn't see it since, well, I was in a fog running it.

It's not a good thing, mind you, to be in a fog. I was hoping to do at least 27 mn, but according to the gun time, I was at 27:30 (chip time was 26:55 -- not sure why this wouldn't be the official time...).

I arrived at the race, to pick up my packet and chip, approximately four minutes before the race started (it actually started a bit later, but not much...these races usually start a few minutes behind).

I didn't see $Bill, who I always look for when I know he's running. I wanted to give him big props for running this 5K, as he was shooting for a PR. I never saw him until I finished...

The race started s-l-o-w. As you can see from my chip time to the gun time, there was quite a lag between the two. I didn't think I was that far back!

I decided to follow a similar notion that "Mark" did for me last year, which was to spot someone to pace and to follow them. I found someone: a cute girl who appeared to be a "runner". She had great form and seemed to be confident about her pace (whatever that means...).

I tried to make myself not look obvious in my picking her as my pacer. But by mile one, when I heard we were at a 9:30 pace, then I thought: um, she's not as fast as I would want to pace.

Frankly, she was, as she sped up through the race -- I think she beat me because I don't recall ever passing her. I kept an eye on her for most of the race but lost interest in her bing my pacer at some point...mainly because she was going faster than a pace I wanted to run.

At close to two miles, I found a brisk pace that was faster than the first mile, but I started balking at the pace as it was making me feel uncomfortable. But lo and behold, someone ran up to me and said "Hey, don't you work at 'company foo'?' A fellow company foo employee. Great.

I thought he was starting to chat with me. He said something about what a great day for the race. I replied nicely but in my head I thought, please leave me alone. Don't you realize I'm running at an uncomfortable pace?????

He didn't talk any further and he seemed to be doing very well at the pace that seemed a bit brisk for me.

But, if you can believe it, I sped up even more. I was trapped in one of those border patrols where people are on all sides at a slower pace than one wants. So I picked up speed to get around them. When I did that, I noticed my fellow foo employee keeping up with me and at that point, I resolved myself to being his pace setter and felt pretty darn good about it. I felt good at the pace -- challenging but more than do-able -- and at this point, he was breathing pretty hard. YAY FOR ME!

So I decided to hang in there with him and we ran together for a good half mile or more. For those who don't run regularly, or maybe it's just me, this is a very intimate moment for a runner/me: allowing myself to run side-by-side with someone, with my patterned breathing and total concentration on keeping my pace. It's not something I am normally comfortable with and the fact that I allowed this guy to join me either shows I'm letting my guard down, or that I am maturing...

At some point, even though I let my pace slide back down, I lost him...he was really breathing hard and I knew this wasn't his normal pace. So, if you don't get what I'm saying, I lost him because I was going too fast for him :-).

After mile two, which apparently ended up being close to an 8:13 pace according to my foo co-worker's GPS watch (which I believe was really more an 8:30 pace), everything kind of blurred for me. I was looking for mile three, which I don't recall seing, and suddenly, I was at the end.

I wasn't totally disappointed with my time -- I just thought about the year before and how easy it felt to make my PR and this time, even though I didn't push myself, how hard I ran to get the time I got.

My 'easy' runs are done. I'm ready to challenge myself for another race. I'm eyeing another half for the end of the year and I'm sure I'll thrown in a few 5Ks for 'fun'.

Women's Health Guide to Office Bathroom Etiquette

Women's Health is a great magazine and their website is kick-ass. One of the finer websites utilizing technology to showcase their on-line articles. This is one of the articles I ran across that was just too funny: Office Bathroom Etiquette.

A couple from me, from my perspective:
1) WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS. If you don't wash them normally, then shame on you. But at least ACT LIKE YOU GIVE A SHIT when a co-worker is in the john with you. DISGUSTING AND SHAME ON YOU.

2) Clean up the water on the countertop after you wash your GD hands. Really? You're going to leave puddles of water all around the sink once your done? You do this at home?

Bathroom Etiquette

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Book Review: The Ghost's Grave by Peg Kehret

This is a book that CJ wanted me to read. She initially bought it for herself at her school's book fair, but for whatever reason (maybe too scary?) she decided she didn't want to read it anymore and gave it to me as a present.

Of course, I didn't hesitate! Well, it took me awhile to actually take it and read it. I forgot about it but I finally remembered.

Not only did I want to read it at of basic interest in the book, but the idea that my daughter wanted me to read something she initially thought she was interested in. I remember reading books at her age -- devouring them like crazy -- and whenever my dad read one of my books, it made me feel, I don't know, like my interests really mattered? Like I wasn't just a kid? It made me feel GOOD that I could discuss a book with my dad. That he genuinely cared about my ideas *and* that he shared my passion for reading (who, along with my mom, I owe credit to for my liken to books).

So I wanted to 'recreate' this opportunity as the parent. And although she hadn't read the book, I did share the story with her and Mi-Mi, which then somewhat encouraged her to say "well, maybe I will read this book".

The book is quite cute and sweet and a great novel for CJ's age and beyond. This would have been exactly the kind of book I would have bought from the Scholastic Book order form for my own enjoyment, so at 39 years of age, I could still enjoy reading something like this.

Josh is a young 12 year old boy who suddenly loses his summer at home playing baseball, to spending it with an old aunt in another aunt not by blood, but by his step-father's genes.

What happens to Josh that summer is more than any baseball game could provide: he bonds with a mother cat (Mrs. Stray) and her three kittens, he sees his aunt shoot a bat down and enjoyed the best cakes ever made in the universe, and most of all, he befriends Willie the coal miner, a ghost who past away in a coal mining disaster in the early 1900s.

Willie has one request he's had for over a century: to reunite his leg bone (that he lost in the explosion) with the rest of his body. The leg was buried in the town's cemetery; his body somewhere else.

And since Josh is one of very few humans that can see and hear him, he begs Josh to do this. Josh reluctantly agrees and the task to do this brings other surprises that I'll leave for others to enjoy.

I really enjoyed this -- great characters and a wonderful sense of humor that is very real. It was SO MUCH better than the past couple of books I've read and I'm now looking forward to my next book, our book club choice of The Eyre Affair.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Our Justice System at Work...

Treffly Coyne was out of her car for just minutes and no more than 10 yards away. But that was long and far enough to land her in court after a police officer spotted her sleeping 2-year-old daughter alone in the vehicle; Coyne had taken her two older daughters to pour $8.29 in coins into a Salvation Army kettle.

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Pick Your Battles?

I heard this on the radio this morning and thought it was worth adding to the blog. I guess this was a battle worth airing out...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: Run by Ann Patchett

Well, I finished this dozer. I don't know what this book was supposed to be about. I waited and waited for the 'punchline' and at some point, I realized there wasn't any and this was what the book would be about.

Essentially, it starts off with a man who loses his wife and we learn that they had adopted two black sons (they are white, with a natural born son). That was one chapter and then suddenly, we read about these boys being men, early 20s. There is very little about Bernadette, the wife. Well, in pieces, we learn that she had cancer, had a slow death, and loved her boys -- the adopted and the natural born. But that's it. There really is no other connection recited back to Bernadette other than this.

We learn about the two adopted sons, sort of. And we learn a little bit more about the natural born son, who somehow felt deserted by his family by the adoption of these two boys.

We learn a little bit about Doyle, the dad. But we only learn very superficial things about his personality. He was a mayor and well, that's it.

Then among this, an accident occurs and a woman, with a young eleven year old child, is badly injured. Soon, we learn that thism mother is in fact, the mother of the two adopted sons. The girl ends up staying in a house full of 'strange' men -- and although nothing happens that one would assume would happen in this day and age -- it's just so out-of-touch with what most people would consider while reading this.

I don't like dissing books because it takes a lot for someone to pour their heart and soul into something and for someone like me, a nobody, to question their reasoning is, well, unreasonable.

But this book was crap. I received no redeeming value out of reading this vs. not reading it at all. I have nothing to quote; no great character to follow me through the weeks; nothing but what the heck was Ann Patchett trying to accomplish with this novel. What is this book about? She recognized almost each character in depth (to a degree) and more so.

Nearly 300 pages and I was left utterly feeling that I wasted my days reading this...


For the older generation, you may remember what this acronym meant: Love You Like A Sister. I wrote this on all my nicely folded notes I gave to my best gal pals. One of those gal pals is Maria.

Maria and I were best friends in the Philippines. Actually, she was my best friend, along with her little sister, Cathy. We lived in the same subdivision, about four streets apart. I went to her house, they came to mine. We lip-synched to the popular songs and danced are skinny booties off (back then, mine was a **little** skinnier than it is now). Sleepovers, which back then were called, "spending the night", at each other's homes.

We were girl scouts together. I don't recall too much about girl scouts other than her dad taking me to girl scouts because my dad forgot to pick me up after school to take me there. This was an often occurrence by my dad, who I adore, and was completely sober...

The summer before we began sixth grade, her family got re-assigned to California (both our dads were military). That was approximately 1981, I think. But since that year, we have kept in touch. More often when we were teenagers by snail mail, and as adults, by e-mail.

So when I mentioned to her that I was going to be in San Diego for a week, my dear friend Maria did not hesitate to buy tickets to fly down from the bay area of CA to San Diego. Isn't that amazing? True, lasting friendship...

She came to pick me up at my hotel Thursday afternoon and I met her man, Noel. We connected after about half an hour. I'm sure he was sizing me up, wondering why the hell his girlfriend would fly out to see me, somewhat a 'stranger' after all these years. Well, maybe he didn't connect with me but I did with him. And for me and Maria, I really felt like we picked up where we left off.

She is still as beautiful as ever. She gained no weight and looked amazingly fit after having three children. Granted, she had those much earlier in life; lucky her, she will be 'free' from taking care of children in this lifetime. They're practically grown.

And what did they do for me? They took me to Coronado. Wow. What an amazing place. I would love to live here. A beautiful, clean, maintained city with the most amazing beach. The sand was so, so, soft. I loved it.

We went to the Hotel del Coronado. Naturally, I knew this hotel and I knew it was haunted. I asked everyone that worked there if they had seen the ghost.

We enjoyed a nice bottle of wine together in the lounge. This was our friendly waiter, who was the bomb, but I forgot his name:

We had a blast and took many, many pictures of each other in various (non-sexual) poses. It was so much fun to feel silly and goofy like that. Maria has since invited me back to stay with them, with my familia, and they would show us around Napa valley. Now, we are hoping we can plan that kind of trip real soon...