Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Party

Saturday night was our annual Christmas party with our sunday school class. (I was going to write s.s. class because the words sunday school make me feel like I'm 6 again, but s.s. sounds a bit Nazi-ish so we'll stick with the former.) As stated in the previous post, we host everyone at our house for the potlucks to end all potlucks with everyone bringing their signature dish. Terri's ham, Dan with any kind of beef, Kristi's pineapple stuffing, Faith's mac and cheese, Pam's vegetables, Ashley's chocolate dessert, you get the idea. So. Much. Food.

And after eating we gather 'round the family room for the "gift" exchange. The only rule is that it should be no more than $5 so it usually ends up being crap that's lying around your house that you want to get rid of. You have your obligatory scented candles and your stuffed animals, etc. The ones that get the laughs like the fart machine, the Toasty Wrap (a generic snuggie), the garden gnome (which has a long and storied past that I won't go into detail here but his fame spreads far and wide clear down to Florida...hey Aytons!), and of course..."The Head." I've gotta add that the biggest laugh was a few years ago when Ashley pulled out of a gift bag this gigantic rack of deer horns and as she was holding it up and looking it over with a very curious stare, Faith yells out, "Nice rack, Ashley!"

But anyway..."The Head" is this seriously ugly speckled ceramic head that Rob found years ago when cleaning out a deserted building at our church property. (I know...really.) This thing has been passed around for years and nobody wants to pick up a heavy box or gift bag for fear that you've now inherited "The Head".

Well, it was Phil's turn to pick a gift and he got a bit concerned with how heavy it was. But as he tore off the wrapping paper and opened the box out came a sign that stated, "A Wonderful Dinner for Two." The next sign, "Step 1 Use this rub on some beef, chicken, or pork. Slap it on the grill and cook it how you like." Cool...he'd gotten the gift from Dan who is famous in these parts for his homemade bbq sauce and his prowess on the grill. Next sign, "Step 2 Use this BBQ sauce to complete the meal and make it delicious!" All right! Final sign with a tealight candle taped to it, "Step 3 Light the candle, put it under "The Head" and enjoy the romance." Aw man...That's right. Underneath all the tissue paper was "The Head". So now begins the creative thinking in order to disguise it in next year's exchange.

The gift that was fought over the most? Two tickets for a dinner of wings over at Bud and Paula's house to watch an Eagles game with them. And this is quite the experience if you've never been with Bud during an Eagles game. There are pre-game songs, the jumping on the couch for a touchdown dance, the Eagles fight song with arms flapping like wings, and the volume...oh, the volume. You will never see or hear anything like it. And it was a hot item.

Bobby and Emily added a new game this year that was bit like Taboo and then ends in charades. I'll just say that thanks to Kristi, "Herbie the Elf" will now become a tradition that will be passed for years to come.

The party ended a bit before midnight but my "party" is still going on. One more tradition that started years ago? As people leave, some hide the "gifts" that they don't want (ie the crap) in places all over my house so for days I find little treasures everywhere. Darn you, Rob.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas In NYC

Phil flew home from London on Tuesday night and then hopped on a train early Wed. morning for a couple of days of meetings in New York. We decided I'd take a train up on Friday morning and meet him for a fun day in NYC. (Although the phrase "fun day in NYC" does not usually come out of the mouth of Phil.) He hates NYC. Must've been the 2 hour + commuting each morning and night for a couple of years that jaded him. Go figure...

Regardless, I got on the 9:14 am express train on Friday that got me in to Penn Station around 10:30 am. And the obvious that hit me (literally, actually) as I stood in the taxi line? I picked the coldest day of the year so far to come to NYC. They said it wasn't getting over 30 degrees but the wind chill made it feel like 9. Yep...9 degrees. And I think that was even generous.

I met Phil at the hotel he was staying at near Rockefeller Plaza. After finishing up one more work call, we bundled up (and here I add that yes, I may have looked like a dork with my ski headband covering my ears, but I was willing to sacrifice my fashion-sense for non-frozen ears), and made our way to the big tree in Rockefeller Plaza. It's a big tree. Didn't spend too much time looking at it, though, 'cause as I said before, it felt like 9 degrees outside.

We went into a COSI to warm up and get something hot to drink and a little snack. Mmmm...hot mulled cider and a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. A little taste of heaven. We made it into our seats for the 1:00 pm show of Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes. What a fun show. Loved it.

After the show we went to a late lunch at Del Frisco's for some of the best filet mignon I've had in a while. So good. And the salad, the warm bread, the mashed potatoes, and the strawberry cheesecake...I think you could've rolled me out of there. Our last stop before grabbing a cab to back to Penn Station? Just across the street to Magnolia's Bakery which is well-known for their cupcakes. So with a 6-pack of cupcakes in a carry-out box we made our way back to the train station.

And I'm glad to report that a near-disaster was avoided when I nodded off somewhere before our stop in Trenton and the rustling of the plastic bag alerted me to the fact that our cupcakes were headed to a collision with the floor of the train. The cupcakes were saved and all was fine.

And tonight? We are hosting our annual Christmas party with our Sunday School class. Everyone brings their signature dish and we have the potluck to end all potlucks. Seriously...so much food. And the highlight? The "gift" exchange with a cost limit of $5...or in other words, what crap do you have laying around your house that you'd love to get rid of. Should be a fun night.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving

You got to love Thanksgiving. It hasn't been too commercialized yet. Although, yes, I have seen one or two huge blow-up turkeys sitting on some front lawns. Why, why?? And yes, it does revolve around a serious table of food. Oh the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the green bean casserole, the pumpkin pie...all the yummy stuff that you usually eat once or twice a year. But it really all comes down to family.

And this year the whole family is heading to Philly for Thanksgiving!! Whoo hoo! It's been two years since we've all been together so I'm so looking forward to this. The first wave hits on Sunday when my sister and her family come in from Georgia. Mom and dad get in on Tuesday. Phil flies home on Wednesday night, and my brother and his family arrive on Thanksgiving Day.
Sox is going to be beside himself with so many free hands to pet him.

The smell of celery and onions sauting in a pan to be used for the stuffing? Check. Just the smell of turkey roasting all day? Check. Mom making her pumpkin and apple pies? Blessed Check. Macy's Day Parade on in the morning? Check. Football the rest of the day? Check. Some serious card playing tournaments? Check. Semi-annual family picture? Check. The guys going to play golf for a day? Check. Christmas gift exchange? Check. Heading down to see the sights in Philly? Check.

Just all being together? Check!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You Got to Love Baseball in November

The Phillies in the World Series...awesome. Being in the U.S. this year to watch the Phillies in the World Series...fantastic. Getting tickets to game 5...priceless.
Too bad the fan in front got a bit excited waving his towel. Back to New York...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What's With the Bumper Sticker?

I've never gotten bumper stickers. Why in the world would you want to paste something on the outside of your car? As if your car didn't depreciate enough when you drove it off the car lot, you're going to plaster the back of it with pithy little sayings that tell the world more about you than really should be told?
Yesterday I was driving along the idyllic streets of Langhorne when I started reading the one on the car in front of me. (Here's where I admit they do help pass the time when waiting at a red light.) But this one...did I just read what I thought I read?
No lie...here's what I read, "The reason I'm going so fast is that I really need to get home to poop." Um...what? Who on earth would put that on the back of your car? Did it have a little pile of poop next to the sentence? Yes...yes it did. And the kicker? The little metal thing that holds your license plate in place read, "The Holy Bible is the literal Word of God." Truly.
Do I believe that the Bible is the literal word of God? You bet. Would I put a bumper sticker referring to bowel movements next to said statement of my personal theology? Uh...no. Just wondering what would make someone do that.
Of course not all bumper stickers make me scratch my head. Some are down right funny. And the funniest one I've ever seen? A few years ago I was driving back to work from my lunch break (why yes...I probably was coming back from McDonald's) and I was stopped at a red light behind this huge pickup truck. The kind of truck you usually find on the rural streets of good ol' Ohio...not necessarily the East Coast. Not a slam on Ohio...just stating fact. Anyway, I see proudly displayed the round sticker of the NRA. And right next to it? A sticker for PETA. Yeah...me too. Just didn't go together. I remember thinking how in the world would an NRA member also be a member of PETA?
As I crept slowly closer to the back of the truck, I saw that PETA did not in fact, stand for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. On this particular jacked-up pick-up truck PETA stood for People for the Eating of Tasty Animals. Still makes me laugh, years later.
How about you? What's the funniest bumper sticker you've ever seen?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Girl Talk, Zip Lines, and Mannequin Heads

Got back yesterday afternoon from a weekend away with the girls at a women's retreat down at Sandy Cove, Maryland. Such a good time! Truly, I haven't laughed that hard in I don't know how long. My Top 5 Moments...

1. The Diana Exhibit in Philadelphia.
On the way down Beth, Kristi, and I stopped at the Constitution Center where a traveling exhibit on Princess Diana had it's opening day. (Why an exhibit on Diana at the Constitution Center, I don't know...) For those of you've who've stuck around since my blogging days in Sydney...yes, this is the same exhibit I saw at a museum down there. Still lovin' the up close and personal with the wedding dress.

2. Girl Talk
Starting in the car on the way down I-95 and continuing for the next two days, I believe most every topic imaginable was covered at some point during the weekend. I'm still laughing at the So You Think You Can Dance Tour story at the Italian place for dinner. Friday night back in the room-me, Beth, Kristi, and Aimee till 1:00 in the am...

3. The Zip Line
Those who know me, know that I don't do heights. I usually stay off of most roller coasters and don't even give ferris wheels a second glance. Lucky me, the girls wanted to do the zip line Saturday afternoon after our morning sessions and lunch. I figured I'd chat away with them while I stayed in line and then before I had to step into the harness, I'd tell them I had decided not to do it (they all knew that I was waffling back and forth). I had even picked out the tree where I would stand in the shade so I could watch all of them. But...peer pressure is a very real and insidious thing. The next thing I knew, I was in the harness, my helmet on, and I was very slowly climbing a 40 foot telephone poll up to the wooden platform. My heart was pounding furiously and I was flat out terrified. Ah...but the girls...the girls were cheering me on. And knowing there was no other way down but to jump into the nothingness (and after I could finally pry my hand off of the metal grip on the telephone poll)...I did it. I wouldn't do it again, but I did it. Yeah for me.

4. The Mannequin Head
Saturday night found me, Beth, Aimee, and Maria in our room watching Terri cut Kristi's hair. Terri has recently begun beauty school and I'm telling you...after three weeks if she can cut hair like that, she's gonna be in high demand once she graduates. She brought in her huge bag from school with all of her equipment...which included three mannquin heads that are used to practice cutting and styling hair. Two women and a man. The man has flowing brown locks with a full mustache and beard. Picture a flannel-graph Jesus from your childhood Sunday School lessons. It began with laying his head on Aimee's pillow and stuffing pillows under the covers while she was out of the room for a minute. It escalated to Kristi running it across the hall and doing the same with Marcy's bed while she was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. We waited in the hallway. The shriek/wail that came out of Marcy's mouth after she turned the corner from the bathroom...priceless. Have you ever laughed so hard for so long that your cheeks just hurt? Do I need to mention that by this time it was getting a little later in the night?

5. Makeovers
Who knew that an eyelash curler is just plain magic for your eyes? The night continued on with some makeovers. We felt like we were 14 again and on one big sleepover.

So much fun. And of course, the sessions were good as well. Convicting stuff. Jesus showing obedience through His suffering. How can I not show mercy to other people when I stop and think about how much mercy has been shown to me? The example of Christ's humility in Philippians 2. Lots to continue to think about. Just love girl's weekends away...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Birthday to My Boo

*Disclaimer here...Phil is not my boo. I think the phrase "my boo" is the one of the funniest things I've ever heard. (Really...who calls someone their boo?) It makes me laugh out loud when I hear the phrase "my boo" and that's why I wrote it here. Because Phil makes me laugh out loud. Like the time when I told him we just found out at work that we got our annual 2% raise and he replied (in a rather patronizing tone), "Aw...that's great. Now you can supersize your lunch with all that extra money they're paying you." (That's for you too, Joan, since I know that one makes you laugh out loud too.) And not just funny, but just plain fun. So Phil...in honor of your birthday (which now means we are exactly the same age so no more jokes about how I'm a shameless cradle robber...seriously...three months) I give you my

"Oh, The Places I Will Go (Because I'm With Phil) List"

1. Killington, Vermont...where we skied "The Juggernaut"
Did I know "The Juggernaut" was a 10 mile cross-country/slight downhill trek before I agreed to do it? No...no, I did not.

2. The Caribbean
Snorkeling off Cancun (after an, ahem, harrowing ride in the small, orange boat), walking up Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, parasailing in Grand Cayman (well...you, not me), Atlantis, the cruise ship where you remained calm at the blackjack table while I felt like throwing up on my shoes after what I thought was a 25 cent slot machine was actually a $25 dollar slot machine...but then made your jaw drop after I moved on to a nickel slot with my remaining $2 and won a whopping $250 dollar jackpot!! (and thus ending my night in the casino)

3. Disneyworld, Disneyland, and Tokyo Disney
So. Much. Fun.

4. Hawaii
The cruise around the islands. Driving the mud buggies in Kauai and getting mud uh, everywhere. Watching the sunrise over the Haleakala volcano crater. Touring Pearl Harbor.

5. Sydney, Australia
For a whole year...seriously, who would've thought?

6. The Great Barrier Reef
Me snorkeling and you scuba diving.

7. Chesapeake City, Maryland
Taking the boat with Rob and Faith on an overnight trip in waters that I would never believe could be so rough. So much up-chucking in such a small amount of time. I don't think Faith has been on the boat since...

8. Baltimore, Maryland
Exploring the Inner Harbor for an anniversary away. The aquarium, Ft. McHenry, water taxi rides, etc.

9. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Fireworks on the beach may sound like a romantic thought, but not when they are actual fireworks and instead of heading out over the water they turn 180 degrees and zone in on the beach house next door like a heat-seeking missile and explode in a burst of brilliant color about two feet from the big bay window. We laugh now, but I think that's the first time I almost wet my pants as an adult.

10. Falling Water, somewhere in Western PA
We go to check out the famous house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and who do we see walking along the path next to us after just having toured it? That's right...Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. My first real celebrity sighting...

11. The New York Stock Exchange floor
Yep...put the required jacket on me (because you can't be on the floor of the exchange without wearing one), and you and Mark gave me a personal tour around the floor. The shouting, the little papers flying, the hand signals...so cool.

12. The White House
Of course you knew someone who's brother worked for the National Security Administration and could give us a private tour of the White House. Pictures on the lawn, in the Rose Garden, in the Press Room behind the presidential lecturn...And all while George W. Bush was in office...the icing on the cake!

13. New Zealand
Riding horses up the side of the mountain (gulp) in Hanmer Springs. Archery. The hot springs. Freezing in the blizzard room at the Antarctic Exploration Center. Watching the Phillies beat the Rays at the sports bar in Christchurch last season.

14. Singapore
Eating Spanish tapas along that river that was all lit up with lights. Street luge rides in Sentosa.
The charging monkeys on the well, monkey bars behind that old British fort. The smells, ah the smells.

15. Bin Tam, Indonesia
Watching the dragonboat races. And...oh, yeah...that's all we did because we just wanted to take the ferry to get out of there. :)

16. Paris
Boat ride on the Seine. Fondue with Mark and Janelle. Wallet stolen on the metro. Morning with the police about said wallet. Forget the wallet...remember the crepes. Montmartre. Eiffel Tower. Arc de Triomphe.

17. London
Madame Tussaud's wax museum (spot on with your impersonation of the Dali Lama, I might add). Buckingham Palace. Houses of Parliament. Westminster Abbey. The London Eye. Tour on the red, double-decker bus. 10 Downing Street. The Cabinet War Rooms. The British Museum. The Tower of London. The boat ride down the Thames. Ah...and "Wicked". And "Stomp". and most recently, "Hairspray".

18. Speaking of Musicals...
"Lion King" in Boston. "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables" in Philly. "Fiddler On the Roof" in New York. (and here's where I forgive you for falling asleep three times during Fiddler. I know it's enough that you were at least there.)

19. Ocean City, New Jersey
Flying the plane over there for lunch and a walk on the boardwalk was a perfect way to say goodbye to the summer. (As long as I kept looking at the horizon and not straight down so I didn't hurl on our way down like I did the last time we did that.)

20. Golf Courses
Me, golf? Right. No...you hit the links and I take my book to read while you're on the links and then once you hop on, I hit the pedal on the cart to whiz us over to the next hole. Does everyone know how fun it is to drive a golf cart?

And that is just one of the reasons why I love you. (Besides all the laughing.) You make me take my nose out of my books and really see what is around me. No matter where we end up. So here's to another year together...Happy Birthday! (my boo) Hee hee...see, it's just such a funny thing to say.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Sorry about the wait. I know you were on the edge of your seat with baited breath waiting to hear the next installment of my adventures overseas. I know...but indulge me.

I flew overnight (Gotta love trying to sleep while sitting straight up in coach...afraid my trips to Sydney in business class have ruined me forever) and arrived at Heathrow a little after 11:00 the next morning. I made my way to the Heathrow Express train that would take me to Paddington Station where I was to meet up with Phil.

And how did my weekend start out with a bang? I got on the train intending to pay my ticket (19.00 one way!) once I was on the train. The man taking the tickets said he'd be back to collect my money. As we were getting off at Paddington (and still having never given my money to the guy) I noticed him coming back up the aisle. I stopped him and told him I never paid and his response? "Consider it your welcome to London," he said with a wink. Nice...welcome indeed!

After meeting up with Phil, we took a cab back to the apartment to leave my suitcase there. Going on along the banks of the Thames River that weekend was The Mayor's Festival, a gathering of small booths of crafts, food and live music. Sort of interesting but oh, so crowded. And if you know me at all...I hate crowds. We walked for awhile and then Phil thankfully suggested walking up to Leicester Square to the half price ticket booth to see if there were any seats still left for any shows that night.

So where did we find ourselves after a dinner of some good pizza? Sitting at a theater getting ready for the musical "Hairspray" to start! That's right...Phil agreed to see a musical. And what a fabulous show! Ah...the singing, the dancing...And the best quote of the night as we were walking back to the tube station to go home? And I quote Phil here, "That wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be." I can feel him coming over to the dark side...

The next day we woke up and decided to take the tube to the British Museum for the day. It's a free museum that has thousands of well...old stuff. Exhibits on Africa, Ancient Egypt (thought of you, Claire, while looking at all the mummies), Ancient Greece and Rome, Medieval Europe, and the Middle East. Pretty cool. And what can I check off my list as having now seen it? (Well, it wasn't really on my list, but I do vaguely remember hearing about it in school at some point.) I give you...The Rosetta Stone.

A stone with a bunch of writing on it that unlocked the mysteries of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. All in all, a neat museum. Interested in more...check out www.britishmusem.org
Monday morning began with Phil going off to work and me starting out on my day of exploring. And where did I end up? I took the tube to Victoria Station and walked up to fabulous Buckingham Palace. I saw the traveling exhibit of Princess Diana's dresses while at a museum in Sydney so I could not pass the chance to actually get into the palace to have a look around. Apparently every year between the end of July and the end of September the Queen leaves the palace to go...I really have no idea but the fact of the matter was, she isn't there so they open the palace for tours. Free, you ask? Uh...right. 16.50 later and armed with my "free" headset guide, I was off. You can go at your own pace through the 20 rooms they have designated for the tour and did I ever make the most of the opportunity.
Let's just say here that the Queen does not live in a shabby place. I'm telling you...I have never seen anything like it. Absolutely stunning, opulent, over the top, etc. There was also an exhibit of the Queen's dresses from different overseas tours that she has done in the sixty years since naming the countries of the British commonwealth. Not quite like Diana's wedding dress, but definitely a close second. The tour ends in the garden which you walk through until you're escorted out of the back gate. (Of course after you walk through the palace gift shop. Truly...there's a palace gift shop. And yes...I did add another Christmas ornament to my collection of places we've been.) Alas...the garden was the only place you could take pictures. As soon as I can get them from the camera still in London, I'll post.
After my tour of Buckingham Palace, I walked through St. James' Park, took some outside pictures of Churchill's The Cabinet War Rooms Museum (by the way...one of the best museums I've ever been in!), the Prime Minister's house at 10 Downing St. (actually a picture of the huge iron gates and weapons-armed guards that guard his place), Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye ferris wheel. Of course I was hungry after all this walking and tourisming so where did I stop to eat? Of course, McDonald's. Oh yeah...I'm still lovin' it.
And would you believe my luck? The Houses of Parliament were also opened for tours since the members were gone for the summer, so I got in on a tour of that as well. Fantastic! The House of Lords, the gold throne that the Queen sits on when she opens Parliament every year, the House of Commons...all of it, so darn interesting.
Tuesday morning found me saying goodbye to Phil :( at the tube station while he went on to work and I hopped on the tube to find my way back to Paddington Station and then back on the Heathrow Express to get back to the airport. Can we say a little crowded at rush hour? Can we say I was standing up not holding on to any part of the subway because we were so packed in like sardines that I didn't need to hold on to anything because none of us could move? Can we say hurray for fresh breath and deoderant when forced to stand so close to a perfect stranger?
Can we say how awkward it feels to be staring at said perfect stranger when your faces are three inches from each other?
All in all such a great long weekend. And capped off by a seat in business (was less miles than purchasing a seat in coach...whoo hoo) for the flight back home where I could watch The Proposal on my own little tv screen. And an episode of America's Next Top Model. And an episode of Trading Spaces. And an episode of Peter Perfect Design Show. And The Proposal again. And three sets on my ipod. And several chapters in my book And...(it's no flight to Sydney, but 8 hours is still a long to be on a plane...)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Seriously...Who Buys This Stuff? Sky Mall Edition

I'm back from London. Such a great weekend! I'm holding off a bit on posting about the actual trip because I need to see if Phil can email me the pictures I took (and left on the card in the camera that's still in London) to add to the post. A sneak peak...a musical, some seriously old stuff, a big stone, two fantastic tours, and making my way on the tube. More to follow.

But today...some musings regarding the Sky Mall magazine. I've spent quite a bit of time on planes in the past two years and always pick up a Sky Mall to pass some time. Listed below is my list I call, "Seriously...Who Buys This Stuff?"

1.Truck Antlers
Weatherproof molded plastic antlers that you attach to the front seat side windows. Really...why would anyone do that?

2. The Indoor Dog Restroom
It's a mat and tray system that lets your dog pee on the mat which allows liquid to drain into the tray below it. Who wants to pick up a 2 feet square tray and carry it over to your toilet to empty? It holds up to two gallons. Uh...eew.

3. The World's Largest Crossword Puzzle
It holds the Guiness World's Record for it's size. It's 7 feet by 7 feet and has 28,000 clues for over 91,000 squares. I'm all for a good crossword now and then, but that's ridiculous. Who clears wall space to hang a 7 ft by 7 ft crossword puzzle?

4. The Talking Timepiece
It's a watch with a "pleasant female voice" that with the push of one button repeats the current time. Maybe I'm not getting it, but can't you just look down and see the time on the watch? Although "you can supplant the female voice with a built-in rooster call". Interesting...

5. The Voice Activated R2D2
It's an actual little robot (a bit over a foot tall) that moves around from room to room. It even "dances while playing the famed cantina music". What every household in America truly needs for a mere $170.00.

6. The Hidden Litter Box
Made to look like a clay pot that holds an artifical plant. You can turn the hole that the cat walks through to face the back of your living room. I think if your cat's litter box is in your living room, there are more serious issues at hand here.

7. Your Passenger Seat Office
A workstation that straps to your car's passenger seat and "provides a non-slip writing surface, hanging file section and space for your laptop and printer." The picture shows a lady with one hand typing on her laptop, the other grabbing a file folder out of the hanging file section, and her cell phone tucked under her cheek while looking at the page coming out of her printer. Again...call me crazy but aren't you actually supposed to be driving when you're behind the wheel of your car?

8. Peanut Butter Maker
"Fill the hopper with your favorite nuts and grind them into smooth or chunky butter." I got to say the picture of carmel-colored goo flowing into the vat below is quite nasty looking.

and finally...my personal favorites...

9. Decorative statues for your backyard garden
"Treebeard Ent with Mystical Orb"- a two foot tall sculpted tree complete with eyes, nose and mouth with limbs holding out a white ball
"Basho the Sumo Wrestler"- also comes with 27" diameter piece of glass to use for a lovely table for your next garden party
"The Dragon of Falkenberg Castle Moat"- 2 foot long dragon complete with scales, wings and a treacherous tail. "Your neighbors will steer clear when they see this intricately sculpted dragon"...yeah, no kidding...you have a dragon statue in your backyard.
"Bigfoot, the Garden Yeti"- with his characteristically huge feet, "you will have your neighbors doing a double-take as they admire your creative home or garden style!" I don't think that's why your neighbors are doing the double-take. You have a statue of Bigfoot in your back yard.

So there you have it. London to soon follow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Back to London

I'm flying back to London tonight to see Phil for a couple of days. (And yes, I'm sure everything will be fine and good, but I'm not so sure I'd have picked this particular day to fly if I had been aware of the exact date when I booked it.) To be honest, I'm more concerned whether or not someone is going to be sitting right next to me or not on this overnight flight. My dramamine is packed (alright, no...I haven't quite packed yet but it's coming) in order to knock me out as soon as possible, but I have no grand illusions of hours of restful sleep sitting upright in coach. So hopefully the seat next to me is empty and I can stretch out a bit.

No big plans for the weekend yet, but I did note with excitement on the internet yesterday that at the Royal Air Force Museum in North London they're putting on a Battle of Britain Weekend with lots of cool stuff going on. Will Phil relent (he wasn't wild about the idea when I pitched it over the phone yesterday) and decide to take us there? Will we spend a day at Oxford or Cambridge? Maybe Bath? I'll let you know when I get back.

Oh...and Monday when he's at busy at work? I've got my day planned out. I'm spending the day with the Queen. At least at her residence. They open Buckingham Palace up for tours from the end of July through the end of September so I'm going to hop on the tube and go spend the day touring the palace and gardens. Blogs and lots of pictures to follow when I get back, but to hold you over...from when we were in London four years ago.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On to Versailles

One of Phil's co-workers along with his wife and little girl picked us up in the morning and drove us out to Versailles. How to know you're in France? The 15 month old was gnawing on a French baguette for breakfast in her car seat. Very cute. My first impressions of Versailles? Very crowded and ridiculously huge, but a beautiful palace. Here's a view from the front.

And of course, what every king needs at his palace...his own chapel. Although it defeats the purpose when you place your seat at the front of the chapel looking out over the pews so that everyone is staring/singing/praying to you when facing front...

The Hall of Mirrors...

Marie Antoinette's bedroom...again, a bit over the top.

We walked around to the gardens after touring the palace. As if being out in the middle of nowhere wasn't enough for Louis the 14th, he had to add 250 acres of gardens. ponds, and even a canal to his palace. And you wonder why there was a revolution?

After having a nice lunch at a little outdoor cafe somewhere in the maze of the gardens, we drove back to Paris and were dropped off at the last place on my list of places to see, Notre Dame.

We took a taxi back to the hotel (metro? no thanks) and had dinner at The Hard Rock Cafe. Where, I might add, that the servers have obviously been trained on how to work at a restaurant where probably most of the people there aren't from France. They were actually friendly, didn't make you feel like you demanded their first born when you politely asked for the check, and generally didn't look at you like you were the scum on the bottom of their shoe.
After a good night's sleep, Phil walked me over to the bus stop on his way to the office and I hopped on the bus that would take me to Charles de Gaulle. And the sweet ending? It was less dividend miles to get a business class ticket home than a coach seat. Nice. Now where else can I go using the 300,000+ miles that Phil has racked up?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Up Close & Personal With the Police in Paris

Day 2 in Paris started out like every other day. We got up and ready to meet Mark and Janelle at the Eiffel Tower for some serious touristy stuff. We hopped on to the metro and thus began our journey into the abysmal day. I noticed this teen girl in front of me acting funny as I tried to make my way into the metro car. She was moving very slowly and just acting weird. I thought, "Just move in, all ready. People are trying to get on." She shifted over in front of Phil as I grabbed the pole to hang on and turned around to face the door that I had just walked through. As the metro began to move very slowly forward a group of 3 or 4 teen girls (including the weird acting one) suddenly shoved their way through the crowd standing around us and pushed the button to open the door.

As they all jumped off onto the platform I thought (naive me), "Good thing they realized they got on the wrong train before we really got going." I leaned back to Phil and jokingly asked him if he still had his wallet. Not jokingly, and in a voice that can only be described as sheer panic, along with a frantic patting of all his pockets he replied (very loudly), "No...no, I don't." Yes...Phil just got pick-pocketed by a group of teen girls. Who are so good at what they do, I might add, that he didn't even feel the one who snagged his wallet...from his front pocket.

We jumped off the metro at the next stop, and after letting off a bit of steam (there's an electrical box with a nice big dent on the front of it at the Opera stop on the Paris metro, if you're ever inclined to take a look) we made our way to the station attendant who directed us to the nearest police station above ground.

Of course the police station was closed. We were somewhere in Paris with no credit cards, three euros to our name, no metro tickets, and no clue. There was a phone number to call on a plaque outside of the station so Phil called and a policeman said they would send a car our way. When the car arrived, we gave a description of the girls (which, by the way, they described perfectly because apparently small groups of Eastern European teen girls are notorious for pick-pocketing on the metro) although they said we'd never see the wallet again. They drove us to a central station where I proceded to try and tell the policeman what happened for the police report while Phil was on the phone with credit card companies trying to cancel all his cards. What a pain. Even more of a pain when the person whose cards have been stolen has accounts in the US, Australia, and the UK. Lots of calls, lots of headaches. Not to mention the stolen US dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs, Euros, Paris metro tickets, London tube pass, etc...

Hours later, we emerged from the police station, found out we were on the Champs Elysees (not quite how I pictured first seeing the famous street) and given a map to follow to find our way back to the hotel...on foot. And here's where I add that I think in the US, we would've been given a ride back to our hotel seeing as we had no money to get cab or the metro. The French...

After all the drama of the morning we did meet up with Mark and Janelle for lunch and then toured Sacre-Coeur, a church in Montmarte with an amazing view of the city.

We then took the metro (my debit card worked at an ATM so we could take out some euros...whew) to the Arc de Triomphe to look around.
After the Arc, we walked over to Hotel des Invalides. It was originally built as a hospital for veterans returning from war but now houses Napoleon's tomb.

Off to the side was a very pretty garden...

We all had dinner at a little cafe in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and then walked over to the tower to finally see it (at least for Phil and I).

A bit later we stopped at a little restaurant for crepes and coffee and had a great view of the Eiffel Tower all lit up.

We walked back to the Arc de Triomphe and then a bit down a very crowded Champs Elysees before we parted company. Not really feeling like another trip on the metro, we took a cab back to our hotel. After getting to our room, Phil jokingly says to me, "Hey...check your wallet and make sure you still have it." I had left it in my purse which was in my suitcase for safe keeping and all. Yes...you guessed it...a hotel employee with a key card apparently thought it was ok to go into my suitcase and then into my purse and steal all my money but 4 dollars. Seriously?!!??

And the worse part of it? After calling the front desk, then getting the run around the next day, the hotel really didn't think it was that big of an issue to aggressively pursue. Truly. Here it is almost a month later and we still haven't heard a thing from the hotel. So...if you're ever in Paris looking for a nice hotel to stay in, and you want to keep all the money you came with, do not choose the Banke Hotel on Rue de Layfette. Now...on to Versailles.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Paris Day One

The day started out bright and early with the taxi coming to pick us up at 5:15 am to take us to the train station. As we passed near Westminster Abbey and got an eyeful of Big Ben just could not resist leaning to Phil and saying, "Look kids...Big Ben." A little Nat'l Lampoon's European Vacation humor...but really, it was 5:30 in the morning and I thought myself hilarious. The train took us through the Chunnel and on to Paris. Another taxi took us to our our hotel, Banke Hotel on Rue de Layfette. It's a converted bank building (hence the name) and has quite the domed lobby, along with more black and red than I've seen in one area in a while.

I walked with Phil to his office building so I knew where he was and then armed once again with a trusty street map began to make my way to the Louvre. I knew it was south of where I was and if I hit the Seine River I'd gone too far, so with that nugget of knowledge I began my trek. Yep...I concede I'll never win any awards for map reading (which I blame on never being a Girl Scout) but eventually did find the Louvre. Impressively huge. According to my brochure it houses 35,000 pieces of art in more than 645,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space. Hmm...how much of that can I see in one afternoon?

And what's the yellow-shirted guy pointing at? No idea.

The glass pyramid is indeed the entrance to the Louvre. Got my bag checked, made my way down the escalators, bought my entrance ticket, picked up my museum guide in English, and joined the "herd of cattle" on it's way to the Mona Lisa. Just how many people did I have to go through to get a picture? How many tourists elbowed me in the back and side as they clamored for a picture as well? You make the call.

Yes, that wee, tiny picture is the famous Mona Lisa. Honestly, I expected a bit more. I mean, nice and all but really kind of small.

On to the next "must see" according to my brochure. The Winged Victory of Samothrace. I wasn't aware that I must see it, but who am I to argue with the brochure.
Here it is in all it's glory. On to the Venus de Milo...after fighting another crowd to get up close.

Did I mention more than 645,000 sq. ft of exhibition space at the Louvre? Arts of Islam, Sculptures, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities, The Medieval Louvre, Oriental Antiquities, Arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas, Prints and Drawings, French Paintings, German, Flemish, and Dutch Paintings, German, Flemish, Belgian, Russian, Swiss, and Scandanavian Paintings, etc. Honestly...after awhile, you've seen one painting and/or sculpture, you've seen them all. I've never claimed to be a huge patron of the arts...

I left the Louvre and impressively, I might add, found my way back to the hotel to wait for Phil to get off of work. Good friends of ours from our Cedarville days happened to be in France celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary so we had arranged to meet up that night for dinner. We found a cozy little place in the Latin quarter with wood-beamed ceilings and stucco walls and started a very good meal with some cheese fondue. Yummy.
We walked over to the Seine River and took a boat ride down the Seine. Just lovely. Talking and laughing with good friends, the Eiffel Tower, along with the entire city all lit up...priceless. On to day two. Have you ever seen Paris while in the backseat of a police car before spending your entire morning at a police station? I can now say that yes...yes, I have. Good times.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

One of the best museums in London...

On Thursday of my stay in Europe, Phil headed off to work and I made my way over to the Canary Wharf stop of the tube. After getting off at the Elephant & Castle stop (how British does that sound?), armed with my trusty street map of London I began my walk to find the Imperial War Museum. I had wanted to see it when Phil and I were in London three years ago, but alas, not enough days to squeeze in one more museum.

After a few stops and starts, a couple of "just where am I?" moments, after ducking in to a bus station when the sky opened up and began to pour (seriously...you'd think I'd be carrying the umbrella I had stuffed into my suitcase now that we were in London), I finally made it to the museum. The building is on the grounds of a really nice park that used to house a famous insane asylum called Bedlam. (No, I'm not making this up.) They actually used to chain the really crazies and put them on display for people to line up and watch. Truly. The picture below is the front of the museum. I'm sure the gun display wasn't there when it was the insane asylum. (Although that is an interesting thought.) And why are we all milling about out front? More on that in a bit.

And the inside? What a fantastic museum. Four floors to wander around in to my heart's content. Read every single plaque and display? Why yes, I could because Phil wasn't with me. (One of my quirks if I'm at a museum that really interests me. Did he know that before he married me? Probably not.) Covering every war and military action that Britain has been in since WWI, I was in museum heaven.

From planes, rockets, and tanks...

to walking through a London street during the Blitz of WWII as well as a WWI trench...
to a display on the Winter War between Finland and Russia in WWII (just for you, dad)...

to Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, up to the very latest happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even a whole wing dedicated to the "Secret War"- spy stuff with MI5 and MI6. And that wing was where I was when an alarm siren started going off along with an automated voice over the loud speaker asking everyone to quickly make their way to the nearest exit. My first reaction was to wonder if this was part of the exhibit. Do I try to find the nearest exit? Deciding that was the best option, I soon found myself swallowed up in the mass exodus of people making their way down the stairs and out the front doors.
As were shuffling along, I heard people wondering out loud what was going on. Then I heard a female voice directly behind me say, "Oh...it's probably just a bomb." Uh...after turning around to get a good look at the lady behind me (after all, I was just in spy world...had to memorize what she looked like in case I needed to report her to the authorities) as well as wondering where the heck she was from that a bomb was a common occurence, we made our way outside. Turns out it was just a very small kitchen fire in the museum cafe. After the all clear, I made it back upstairs to where I left off and continued on.
All in all, six glorious hours of examining every inch of the museum. I'm sure Phil was glad he had to work. I took the tube back to our apartment and then later met Phil for dinner. We walked to a pub called The Cat and the Canary (again, how British sounding is that?) where I had my perennial British favorite- fish and chips. So good. We went to bed early because the taxi was picking us up at 5:15 am to take us to the train station. It's on to Paris...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Greenwich (That's pronounced Gren-itch), England

Phil and I flew from Milan to London on Monday night. My first impression of our apartment in London? Very Ikea-ish. Not quite the spectacle of our Sydney place but a close second. It has a teeny balcony (not quite enough room for a chair, but you could stand out there) off of the living room overlooking the Thames River as well as the venue where Michael Jackson would've been doing his 50-event London tour this fall. The apartment's other claim to fame? The washing machine (oddly in the kitchen by the oven) is also the dryer. Yes, you add detergent, put your clothes in, and then after going through the wash cycle it will also dry them. How? No idea, but very intrigued by the whole thing.
Once again Phil walked me around so I could find his office building the next day when I was on my own. A bit confusing. We walked over the suspension bridge, in the lobby of one building, down the escalator, into an underground mall, down another escalator, into the Canary Wharf stop of the tube (English-speak for subway) up another escalator, into another mall (where we stopped for a late dinner at Wagamama- a noodle place. See I'm branching out. I've discovered I like dumplings.), down another escalator, up another escalator, into an office building, round the corner, up another escalator into the lobby of his building. Seriously...did he really believe I'd remember all that for the next day?

But, amazingly enough (has the Amazing Race dream just been re-planted?), I managed the whole route the next day and met him for lunch in the cafeteria of his office's building. And yes, just ham and swiss on the whole grain bread. No, I don't want mayonaise. Nope, no lettuce or mustard. Certainly no on the cucumbers. Just ham and cheese.

After leaving Phil to slave away at work, I hopped on the DLR (which stands for Docklands Light Rail-basically the above ground subway) and headed towards Greenwich. Great little town.
I headed over to the Royal Observatory. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 "for the purpose of finding longitude at sea." Here's a view of the Observatory in Greenwich Park (which, for all you Olympic fans (Karen) will be site of all the equestrian events in the 2012 London Olympics.) The little red ball at the top of the tower is the Time-Ball which is one of the world's earliest public time signals. (Yes, I'm copying this from my brochure.) It continues to fall at 13:00 every day.

And let me tell you...that is a serious hike up to the Observatory. A closer look...

And just what is that crowd of people on the other side of the gate? They are all clamoring to get their picture on the Prime Meridian. Yes...I did the same cheesy thing and below is me with one foot in the Western Hemisphere and the other in the Eastern Hemisphere.

What? You don't believe that little line is the Prime Meridian? No, really it is. But you're right...a bit anti-climatic.

The view was great at the top of the hill. See the cluster of buildings on the right? That's where Phil was right at that moment slaving away at work. Stinks to be him.

The building right in front is the Old Royal Naval College which I toured as soon as I headed back down the hill. And after that, I took in the National Maritime Museum, a short walk away. Pretty good.

After getting back on the DLR, I met Phil for dinner at an Argentinian beef place called Gaucho. Mmm...beef. Then it was to bed (because yes, another late dinner) because I had places to go in the morning. Tomorrow...London.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

On To Milan

Phil and I took the train from Venice back to Milan on Sunday night. We got to the hotel courtesy of our female cab driver. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it just struck me odd that our driver was a woman. We threw our stuff in the room and headed out to walk around a bit. A few blocks from our hotel was this giant cathedral called Duomo. Apparently it's pretty popular and everyone knows about it, but me, knowing nothing about Milan had no clue it existed. At any rate...here's the entire area, known as Piazza Duomo.

The building just to the left of the church is called the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele...otherwise known as a shopping mall. Definitely fits the bigger name. We headed back to the hotel because Phil had to get up early to head in to the office. Oh yeah...the reason why we were in Italy to begin with.
The next morning after breakfast (and let me just say here that you can always pick out the American businessman at an overseas hotel breakfast buffet by the massive piling of food on his plate compared to the locals) I walked with Phil over to his office so I knew where he was. I headed back to Duomo to take a tour inside. No pictures allowed inside but here's a few from the outside so you can see just how massive this cathedral is.

I walked around for a bit but then went back to the hotel and took the elevator up to the roof to go out to the Garden Terrace. Took some pictures and then settled down to read for a bit. (One book down...four left to read.)

At the top of every hour (yes, I was up there for a few hours) the bells in the basilica tower on the right would start to ring. (And yes, I did picture the wedding scene in The Sound of Music. What is it with Europe that makes me think of that movie?)

I explored the city a little more than stopped at good ol' McDonald's for lunch. For those who've been following our adventures since our time in Australia will remember that I don't like to try new foods and have made it a personal goal to eat at a McDonald's in as many countries that I can. (Not really a social experiment or anything, I just like their cheeseburgers.) The McDonald's was in that fancy building next to Duomo, and if you thought that outside was ornate, take a look at the ceiling.

We had dinner with a work associate of Phil's and his wife at this very nice restaurant. The longer I've stayed in Europe, the more I'm realizing that over here, nobody eats dinner at around 6:00 or so like in the States. They eat later and take much longer than I'm used to. We sat down at 8:30 pm and were finishing up at 11:30 pm. Seriously. And the restaurant was still pretty full. And the lost in translation moment? At the beginning of the meal when the waiter asked us, "Gas or still?" Uh...are you asking if I want gas with my meal, because I can tell you right now that I would prefer not to have any of that, thank you. Turns out he meant sparkling water or still water. Oh...good to know.

The next morning Phil again left for work while I, armed with two street maps, was determined to find the bus stop associated with the big, red Milan sightseeing bus. You know the ones that take you all around the city and you can hop on and hop off at any stop and do the tourist thing to your heart's content? Well...I have truly nailed the lid on the coffin of my dream to compete in The Amazing Race. Even armed with 2 maps, I wandered that city for a good hour trying to find the stupid bus stop. Alas...no tourist bus for me. So I gave up and went shopping instead. Then back to the roof top of the hotel to read some more before Phil came back and we headed to the airport to fly to London. Tomorrow...London.

Friday, July 31, 2009

First Time in Venice? Me too.

I'm back from my 10 day, 3 country trip following Phil around as he worked at different offices around Europe. My thoughts on his schedule? Couldn't do it for too long. Ever had this fuzzy feeling as you're walking around somewhere asking yourself, "What day is it? Where am I again? What time is it?" Seriously in a fog some times, but thoroughly enjoyed the trip...until Paris but that will be blogged about soon.
My first stop was from Philly to Milan. Yes, I know the title says Venice, but I flew into Milan, met Phil at the airport (after a rather unsettlingly 20 minutes wondering where he was and realizing that my U.S. cell does not work overseas), and then we hopped on the train for a 2 and a half hour ride to Venice.
But first...as we were on the way, I got my first glimpse of the Swiss Alps. Beautiful. And the strains of "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music was swirling through my head. Corny, yes, but true. Now...my impressions of Venice, Italy. Along with some pictures.

1. Okay...I knew there were canals in Venice, but I really had no idea that the entire city is actually an island off of the coast of Italy and the entire city is canals. Truly. No cars...you either walk or take a water taxi. And yes, the stone bridges that span these canals are glorious (until you have to heft your suitcase over each blessed step.)

2. I can honestly say I've now slept in a hotel room with fabric walls, a chandelier hanging down, and one of the lowest beds I've ever been on. Yes, that cutout in the wall leads to the bathroom. The hotel was a 16th century palazzo (according to the brochure in the lobby.)

3. Pizza and spaghetti are good in Italy. As well as lemon granita (sort of like a slushy).

4. When you take a tour of a Murano glass factory (of which Italy is known for, apparently) it doesn't matter how many times you tell your guide that you are not interested in purchasing a $20,000 statue, gaudy chandelier, or stemware set, they will still try to convince you that you cannot go on in life without one. Or two. (By the way, this guy was incredible at making blown glass.)
5. Venice can put on some good fireworks. We happened to be there for "Festa Del Redentore". The Festival of the Redeemer. It dates back to 1577 and it celebrates the city's deliverance from a terrible plague and the construction of Palladio's "Redentore" Church. Only complaint? The fireworks don't start until 11:30 pm. Fine unless you've just recently flown over and are still trying to get used to the time difference.

6. The tiny alleyway streets of Venice can be very confusing. Even more confusing at 1:30 am while trying to find your way back to your hotel after a firework show and all the stores are closed and just look like big metal garage doors. Lost in Venice? Not as romantic as it might sound.

7. Lung cancer has to be the number one killer in Italy as everyone smokes and doesn't mind blowing their smoke in your face.

8. Between speedos, capri pants, red/yellow/pink pants, and bright green/purple/silver shoes...the men of Italy do not dress like any American men that I know.

9. A gondola ride would be cool if one wanted to fork over 100 euros for a 4o minute ride. Still pretty to watch, though.

10. Public toilets are called WC (for water closet). At the airport you have to pay one euro to use them. In Venice up to 1.50 euros. And there only open from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm, so if you have to go after that, well...you're on your own.