Friday, December 30, 2011

(Almost) Last Day of the Year

There's a golf ball in my throat.

Oh wait, that's actually just my throat.

Scratchy, scratchy. Ugggh!

OK, so I'm a little down and out health-wise but hopefully by the time this post is done, the paracetamol will have kicked in and bliss will be forthcoming. (Funny, we don't have "paracetamol" back home. It's some exotic concoction that the FDA hasn't yet approved for sale, I guess. Or maybe it's just Excedrin PM with another name. Not sure, but I LIKE it.)

So time to wax poetical about the year gone past? About the dramatic twists and turns life has taken? About the great leaps forwards in matters of the heart, wallet or shoe collection?


I thought I'd keep it simple and talk about the joy of fuzzy socks.

Yep, that's right, fuzzy socks. I'm wearing them. Warm, woolly, fuzzy socks made by Totes with the little slip-resistant pads at the bottom...e.g., the closest adults can get to footie-pajamas without shopping in the husky boys section of Penny's. Paul got me some for Christmas...see other, forthcoming posts for who this "Paul" is...and I dig them. They like put the split in banana split, the party in party time, the friday in TGIF. You get my drift.

I like the fact that they keep my toes warm...always an issue in England, even in summertime. They also allow me to go all bed, bath and beyond with no change of footwear...another big plus. And because they've got snowflakes and a furry top on, they make me feel like I'm in a Swiss ski chalet, toasting myself in front of the fire after another great black diamond run.


In other words, they make me feel comfy.

So maybe that is my philosophical waxing for the year.

Don't forget to take joy in the simple pleasures of life. Even if they border on the delusional--I can barely survive the bunny slopes but Swiss Alps there I was!

It's your life, your delusions. Make the most of both!

Happy 2012 everyone!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (and Chiswick)

Today is the first day of Lent.

I'd like to say it snuck up on me, but seeing as I had a calendar alert programmed weeks ago, the answer would be no.

That said, I WAS surprised to see the alert pop up when I sat down to my computer this morning. (What a struggle to get it into gear...boy did I need that first cup of coffee.)

On the one hand, I'm kinda bummed that I missed the chance to celebrate Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday as we call it back home, in proper, over-the-top style. I had dreams of hosting a bead-festooned, King Cake-loving, Bourbon Street-themed extravaganza for friends here in London. Show folks how to celebrate like they do in ol' New Orleans.

Heck, I might have even flipped a pancake or two for the cause, as that's how it's traditionally celebrated here in England. Alas, the evening turned into lamb shanks for one and an argument with my boyfriend. More on that later.

But that leaves me thinking, in the spirit of the spirit of preparing for Easter with a real sense of expectancy that something great is about to will I prepare?

In the past I've given up TV, caffeine and alcohol. Of the three, TV was the most interesting choice. Alcohol and caffeine were much easier to kick as I'm a light drinker at best and a "one cup is more than enough to get me going" coffee consumer.

Giving up TV definitely had its hardships. 40 days! Cold turkey? Really???

So that particular sacrifice had to have its own rules. For example, I could watch movies and syndicated shows on DVD but no broadcast/no Internet viewing. The idea being that I should be more thoughtful of what I consumed (or chose not to consume) each day, rather than just mindlessly flipping through the channels at the end of the day and settling for whatever crap...I mean quality programming...was on.

At first it was hard, admittedly. Living alone, I missed the noise, if nothing else. It's called a squawk box for a reason.

But at a deeper level, it felt more personal. It felt like I'd lost an old companion. A faithful friend who greeted me enthusiastically every morning and then sweetly lulled me to sleep every evening. And despite living in a high-rise apartment in the center of Manhattan and having a world of friends just walking distance away, I had to admit that TV had become through routine my first and last "human" contact of the day.

Maybe this Lent thing was going a bit too far.

Then I got more into the spirit of it all and discovered a wealth of classic movies, e.g., Cassablanca, North by Northwest, Roman Holiday, etc., that cried out for viewing. So I started picking a new title each night so I could settle in for some uninterrupted, choice-based entertainment.


It didn't take long to realize how hard it was for me to sit still for 2 hours and not be drawn into multi-tasking...a phone call here, an email there, a little web surfing in between.

God how I craved those heavenly breaks...every 8 minutes or so...that you could rely on during broadcast TV. So darn useful for doing odd bits around the house, dashing off a quick text or grabbing a sandwich between cliff-hanging plot points. Oh yeah, that's me saying I actually missed COMMERCIALS!

So despite trying to work my way through Hitchcock's entire ouevre--or maybe because of just that--I found out that I couldn't really be mindful with the tube on after all, which had been the whole purpose of switching off to begin with.

So I simply found myself in front of the TV less and less.

Tell you what.

My dog, Gabby, loved it! She never saw so much of Central Park as during that time. We spent the evenings and weekends exploring its lovely grassy knolls...traipsing North to the reservoir, east to the Met, west to Strawberry Fields and everywhere in between.

But denial hasn't been my only experience of Lent. In my home church, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian, we also observed the practice of chosing to add a commitment to your life during Lent, something that could serve as a daily reminder of the journey.

This curiously enough, I found much, much harder.


Well, when you're a natural doer, giving up something feels like a release, a vacation, a well-deserved break. Taking on something more feels like, well...a punishment. "Don't I already have enough on my plate?" "Who needs another to-do on an already overcrowded list?"

But interestingly enough, the "adding on" years were some of the most heart-changing. I made more friends, found myself being happier, and connected more with my city, during those seasons when I chose:
* to say hello to one stranger each day or
* to start every morning reflecting on something I was grateful for or
* to take at least one detour during work/play/errands so I could practice seeing things afresh.

So back to 2011.

To give up or to take on, that is the question.

Well, this year, as you know, I'm a little behind the curve but the meditation has begun.

I'm in a period of transition at the moment and I feel like there's a lot I'm family, my plucky sense of security, my dear old FAPC, my late 30s (ok, well in one month I will be). So as a result, I'm sensing gratitude needs to be back on the list.

I find that I've been feeling a little put upon lately and experience proves there's no better cure for that feeling than to adopt an attitude of thankfulness.

So though the roots of my Lenten traditions are firmly planted in Brooklyn, where I was born, this year "the tree" and the journey towards Easter begins in terra (kinda) incognita...Chiswick.

Tonight you'll find me expanding my traditions, observing them here in England, as I join the everning service at St. Peter's in Hammersmith for communion and the imposition of ashes.

Hopefully great things will bloom.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cupid's Arrow

Oh my, looky here, it's February 14...


And what do we behold? Yet once again, there's a brazen, naked cherub flitting about, shooting candy-coated, heart-shaped arrows into lovestruck men and women the world 'round.

And once again striking fear in the hearts of singletons.

I should know. I used to be one of them.

Uh-huh. Yep. SINGLE.

But let me tell you what happened...and to do it properly, best to begin at the beginning.


Valentine's Day for me has always been the Hallmark holiday to hate.

For those in love...Great! Fab! Excellent!

But don't you love-smitten pups get 365 perfectly good days to demonstrate your affection? Why pick just one?

Ahhh, because you forget and need a reminder? Because you're lazy and need a bit of a nudge? Because you're cynical and can't be bothered to wash, rinse and repeat more than once a year? Yes, now we're getting to the bottom of it.

But what about us, your single, unpartnered friends? Why must we suffer!

Whether by choice or by circumstance, we're out there facing this great big world on our own.

And whether that means cocktails out with the girls, footie down at the local with the lads or nights home on the settee with our designer puggles, we don't need your pink, fizzy love erupting all over us every February like a build-your-own-volcano kit gone very wrong.

We need you to remember what it was like not to have Jane's tights drying over the shower rail and John's tighty whiteys strewn across the bedroom floor.

We need you to remember what it was like not to share mortgage payments on your first fixer-upper, end of terrace Victorian in up-and-coming East London.

We need you to remember what it was like when begging off a house party at your college roommates' new Williamsburg duplex was as unthinkable as spending a Saturday building flatpack furniture from Ikea.

Heck, let's cut to the chase, we need you remember what it was like to pick up the darn phone and answer our calls to come out for cocktails or footie or walking the puggle!

And I haven't even gotten to the best of the worst...all the horrors of Valentine's Days past. Too many to recall, but there's one that lives long in the annals of BFs gone to rest.

It's the one where the guy I was seeing at the time completely and utterly freaked out after we'd shared a particularly intimate moment, broke things off immediately and forced me to walk home (alone!) in the middle of a snow blizzard. Yep. On Valentine's Day. And trust me, you can't make this stuff up. Were the hedgehogs he kept as pets a tip off? As in his inability to connect with warm, fluffy, approachable creatures like cats, dogs and girlfriends?

So when did things turn around?

Ahhh, well that's a long story. Involving time, toil and quite a few sessions on the therapist's couch. Thanks Joe!

But as a result, I can happily report that this year...I'm as loved up as I can stand.

So at 5:30 this morning, after a lovely homemade breakfast of fried eggs, cumberland sausage, kiwi and bananas, my eyes grew very wide when, from the hidden depths of his workbag, my beloved produced an over-sized, overly red, and all-round over-the-top greeting card, making me promise not to open it until he left for work.

So off he went, then it was back to bed for me. And now, at a much more reasonable 10:00am, I'm sitting with a cup and his card and having read his words of love and commitment, I'm thinking, hey, maybe that Cupid guy ain't so bad after all.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cereal Wars

It's a slippery slope.

Writing a blog about being a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker turned Londonista and not falling into the all-too-easy trap of trying to compare and contrast everything.

Is New York better? Is London better?

Even friends and acquaintances fall down the rabbit hole. "Don't you miss New York?" "Isn't London so much cleaner?" "Isn't it hard to find late-night takeout over there?"

Yes. Yes. And yes.

But there's so much more to talk about...and I'm a firm believer that simple questions can attract simple answers. Two world-class cities like London and New York, can't be reduced to side-by-side pros and cons lists.

Well, except when it comes to today's meditation.

Breakfast cereal.

That's right. Uh-huh. I'm gonna write (and you're about to read) about my love affair with Rice Krispies, Cocoa Puffs, and Cap'n Crunch. And why I'm desperate for my old favorites in a land that eschews these breakfast (...lunch and dinner) staples.

It may not be as highbrow as fellow Stephen Fry lovers might like, but if you've ever faced an empty cupboard at 10:30 at night with nothing but a bowl, a spoon and 8 oz of semi-skimmed milk to see you through til morning, you'll know it definitely deserves a pass.

So, um, what happened here? And by here, I mean in the UK. I've been to the largest grocers/retailers...Sainsbury's, Tesco, M&S, Waitrose, Asda...and it's like wandering the aisles in the land that cereal forgot.

Oh, don't get me wrong. There's "cereal" on the shelves all right...muesli, porridge (e.g., oatmeal), unsweetened corn flakes...but there's no CEREAL.

Cereal. You know the stuff that turns your milk pink, your tongue blue and your insides...well, let's not think about that right now. I'm talking kids cereal, sugary cereal, fun cereal. Cereal that comes with toys, with clusters, with a surgeon general 's warning.

I've concluded. It's far too healthy here.

And I'm not ashamed to say, I DO NOT like it. I do not like it one bit! It's enough to make a single expat gal cry out, "Darn it all; I want me Lucky Charms!"

Sure there's "Honey O's" and "Honey Balls" and "Choco Puffs" but none of the over-the-top cereal creativity I've come to love back in the US. Or to imagine inventing corn flakes covered with honey and peanuts, combined with chocolate nougat pecan clusters and star-shaped multi-colored marshmallow bits. The kind of creativity that can make a grown woman look forward to that rummage in the cupboard at 10:30 at night.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating that we feed this food to ACTUAL children. Kiddies should have muesli...and porridge...and unsweetened corn flakes. As well as fresh fruit, lean proteins and lots of bright-colored veg.

I'm just saying that we need a UK food retail industry that learns to cater to the adults that these well-fed kids grow up to be. Time-starved, 30-minute (or less) recipe dependent, and yes, every once in a while, desperate for a late night sugar fix...adults.

Londoners like (you and) me!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

These Hips Don't Lie

My back hurts. My shoulders ache. My knees go "Snap, Crackle, Pop!"

And I haven't even gotten off the couch yet!

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating just a wee bit, but suffice it to say, as the new year rolled around, I took a good long look in the mirror and saw that I was ripe for some intervention...exercise intervention, that is.

So what did I want to achieve from this new fitness buzz?

Sure, like anyone else, I wanted to tone up, slim down and look better, but it wasn't just cosmetic concerns spurring me on. More than anything I wanted to have fun. Find something I could do consistently (rain, snow, sun) and that I found inherently motivating. I wanted a date at the gym vs. an appointment. (You know the difference.)

Also, with my other active passions, like tennis and salsa, I also knew I wanted to ramp up my energy levels and improve my stamina. All that fancy footwork on the court and in the dance studio comes at a cost!

Last, I thought, if I was super lucky, I could maybe even figure out how to work a little more sazon ("spice") into my not-quite-so Cuban motion.

I think I had just the ticket.

I'd heard about a new exercise craze called Zumba ( and even vaguely remembered seeing an infomercial on it a while back in the States. But in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I'd pretty much forgotten about it.

That is until a friend posted on Facebook that she'd gotten a set of DVDs from her mom for Christmas and loved them. Then another (mutual) friend responded, saying that she could top that! She'd become a certified instructor back in Minneapolis. That was all the motivation I needed.

Now luckily I belong to a gym here in London, Virgin Active (, that not only offers great equipment and facilities, but that also specializes in innovative fitness classes. So I scoured their club listings until I found enough classes to fill a week's worth of options.

Feel like getting my workout in early? I could hit the 9:30am class at Hammersmith. Got a little time in the City after work? How about the 5:45pm class at Tower Hill? Indulged a bit too much at the weekend? Ahhh, then a wealth of Saturday and Sunday options abound.

So many choices. I decided to hit my nearest club first to see what kind of local talent was on offer.

Trust me, I was not disappointed!

Jasmine rocked it out!

How to describe?

Imagine taking your favorite latin rhythms (reggaeton, salsa, mambo, cumbia), adding your favorite artists and songs (Celia Cruz, La Vida es un Carnaval; Daddy Yankee, Gasolina; Shakira, Hips Don't Lie) and smushing them all together with super-sexy, booty-shaking, dancefloor-worthy moves ("gimme a shimmy!", "work it out") that keep you smiling, laughing and pumping your arms, hips and legs the whole time! That's Zumba.

Yes, you warm about a little belly dancing? Then you get the blood we salsa. Feeling adventurous?...must be time for some drumming and V-steps with a reggaeton twist. Still want more? There's isometrics and sun salutations, cumbia and mambo. And the mix goes on and on...

Needless to say, I'm hooked.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year, New Me

I'm not a huge fan of resolutions.

Well, at least not at the New Year.

I think the practice is rife with, they sell a kit for that???...not to mention, the potential for utter disappointment and failure...was I supposed to enjoy eating cabbage and leeks 5 times a day?

Not exactly the best way to start off a new year.

Plus, in my mind, anything done while still giddy on drink from the night before can't be good.

Hmmm, well, I take that one back. Most things done while still giddy on drink from the night before can't be good.

So back to resolutions. I try to avoid them. Like the plague. I prefer to think of every day as a new day to try something different, to be someone different.

So instead of making rigid commitments on January 1 to say:
* lose a stone (for my American friends, that's 14 lbs....don't ask why), or
* knit scarves for my entire family by Easter, or
* finally organize my photo collection into themed albums, complete with ticket stubs, menu snippets, and witty narrative

...I prefer to reflect on the previous year and choose just a couple of things that I think will be good steering for the one ahead.

So in that spirit, I've decided I want to do three things this year...
1. meet more people
2. write more
3. become more interesting

Easy enough, right?

Even better, they all seem to share a seed of commonality. For example, if I meet new people, interesting things will happen...and no that's not a euphemism for something more sinister...which will certainly fuel my passion for writing. And if I write more, I'll obviously need material and sources, encouraging me to reach out to an ever-broader circle of friends and acquaintances to find new things to write about, becoming, yes, that's right, more interesting in the process. And if I become more interesting...let's say I attempt to stake a claim at being the world's leading expert on carillon bell societies in 19th century Britain...see post to come later this spring...well, then all bets are off. Let the resolution trifecta begin!

Which brings me to last night. I made a modest, yet exciting step towards that goal. I went to a Meetup. (

Sure, sure, sure. Scoff if you will..."that's not very original, or hard, or even dangerous" and I'm sure it's old hat to most, but for the uninitiated, Meetups are activities going on around your town, generally for free, where like-minded people gather for social, professional, educational or other ends. Nice, huh?

So last night, I decided to pick a Meetup that feeds both a personal and professional media (

The guest speaker, Marko Saric, blogging pro from and Social Media Manager at, talked about being intentional about making time to blog and other tips for being successful in social media.

The particular tip that made several folks in the room gasp, myself included, was the idea of gaining more time in the day by simply tossing out your telly. That's right, kids! Giving the boob tube the old heave-ho, Marko suggested, so you could try trading 3-4 hours a day of (unintentional) entertainment for more focused, productive time doing the things you love.

Now how's that for a radical New Year's resolution!

Whew, that was close!

It's a good thing for my telly that I don't do resolutions.

But if I did, that one would certainly be INTERESTING.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lost and Found in Vauxhall

Really? Is this where I'm headed? Brrrr.

As I step off the number 156 into the dark, cold and wet of the Thames' south bank...and no, not the pretty bit up by the London Eye, mind you...I wonder, what have I gotten myself into?

But then pure instinct kicks in. Well that and my fierce "don't even look my way" New York attitude, so I double back a block from the bus stop and head straight into the empty, more-than-slightly forboding industrial park across the road. Hopefully the Thames and the Battersea Barge will lie just on the other side.

Well, maybe not.

After several minutes wandering back alleys, passing FedEx depots, cement mixers, seemingly abandoned boats plus who knows what else...things do take on weird shapes in the dark, don't they?...I get a wee bit concerned.

"Maybe you only THINK you know how to get there," the little voice in my head scolds.

"But I'm good with directions. Remember how I just seem to find my way out of things. And when I get lost, I always seem to figure out how to get back on track, no maps, no GPS. Anyway, Cauline told me so once and she must be right!," I retort.

The confidence least another 30 seconds or so, until a beat up sedan slowly pulls out from the curb, headlights off, making its way towards me. And then, just when I'm about to really despair, ahh, a good samaritan arrives. (OK, a guy on rusty bike).

"Um, hi, do you know where the Battersea Barge is?"

He says, pointing, "Yeah, it's just that way. You can either cut through this industrial estate over or head that way and follow the river. It's basically the last boat moored down at the end."

"OK, great. Thanks!" I say. And he's right. Less than 10 minutes later, I see the welcoming beacon of bright lights...OK, a string of twinkly Christmas lights...and the broad gangplank of the Barge. A couple enters just ahead of me. I step through the wooden door and take a minute to let the warmth and security sink in.

"Oooh, Cherryl, you're here. So good to see you." Kiss, kiss Paul.

"I didn't know you were coming until Paul told me this morning. How nice!" Kiss, kiss Alessio.

"Wouldn't miss it," I say, smug now that I'm inside with both my wits and my purse intact. "How was your Christmas?," I ask.

"Great and yours?," says Alessio.

"Delightful and happy new year."

"Buon anno nuovo."

"Wait, how do you say it again?" Me, just loving the tongue-twisty slipperiness of the Italian.

"Buon anno nuovo."

"Hmmm, maybe I better stick with what I know and can pronounce. Buon natale, it is then."

"Buon natale. Now tell me about this young man of yours..."

And so, the loneliness of the walk soon forgotten, I'm swept along in Alessio's warm embrace, shown to my table, introduced to two other panto enthusiasts like myself and invited to join in a good bit of chin-wagging with an old friend. All too soon the music starts and the performers take the stage.

Everything as it should be.


You know, without being lost, being found wouldn't feel nearly so good.

NB: Though never excessive, certain narrative liberties, designed to heighten the storytelling, may have been taken in the writing of this blog.

The real deal...

Reached easily from Vauxhall tube station by the #344 or #156 bus, the Battesea Barge is an absolutely lovely cabaret venue set on the Thames. Last night's show was the spectaclar final performance of the 2010 panto, "Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling," produced by Paul Martin of Excess All Areas. Feel free to visit or for 2011 productions.