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.