Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reader, I finished Jane Eyre

I'm industriously working my way through the classics on my Kindle. I've read Sherlock Holmes, Northanger Abbey, Tess of the D'Urbervilles (mostly, I gave up 3/4 of the way through because I HATED it) and I've just finished Jane Eyre.

I saw a play based on Jane Eyre when I was about 9 - all I remembered from it was that it was really scary and that there were waif-like orphans all over the place. So I was a little bit surprised when the book left the orphans after a few chapters, and that it was decidedly un-scary.

I liked it much more than Wuthering Heights - I thought Jane was surprisingly spunky and independent.

I'm definitely going to watch the 2011 adaptation - I had been waiting to finish the book before watching the movie.

Any other classics that I might have missed?

I have two quilts to bind, so what am I up to? Starting a new knitting pattern, obviously!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Adventure in London

Evan, a friend from New Ro, was in town for work last weekend. He stayed an extra day in London after his meetings finished, and we had Grand Adventures in town.

Here he is, reading the paper (with a croissant and a cuppa). How very European!

We went an a walking tour, the Notting Hill walk, and it was excellent. We saw the remnants of the Potteries, and then Robbie Williams' house:

And we saw super-suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst's house:

This was our tour guide. He was funny, witty, full of good stories, and generally excellent.

And then, because we were on the Notting Hill tour, we saw Richard Curtis and his wife! We actually encountered his wife first - our tour guide had said "Now, Richard Curtis does still live in Notting Hill, quite near here, actually."

Then, our enormous tour (30-odd people) were crossing a quiet street while a woman in a car made a u-turn. She got somewhat stuck behind us all. So she rolled down the window, pointed to her house, and asked the guide, "Are you talking about our house?"

"No," replied our guide, "I didn't think you'd want me to!"

"Oh, no, it's fine - we figured you would. Carry on!"

And drove off.

Our guide turned to the assembled and said, "Well, that's Richard Curtis' wife (and son). And that is his house (gesturing across the road)." At which point, Richard Curtis opened his front door, looked at us, and closed it again. "And that was Richard Curtis!"

Srsly. Can't make this stuff up.

So we then went to the Famous Notting Hill Bookshop (which has since gone out of business, because all the tourists took pictures of the bookshop but nobody ever bought anything).

And then we had a lovely lunch (panini!)

And then, we got ourselves some BORIS BIKES! Love. We picked them up in Notting Hill, wove our way across to Hyde Park, then rode down through the parks to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, where we dropped the bikes and went in search of a pub. I, naturally, steered us rather close to Liberty where we then had to make a quick visit. Who, me? Naw!

And took this picture while we were both riding. Yes, I am that clever. And no, we didn't fall off. There were a few shouts of "Evan! Keep LEFT!" Otherwise, uneventful. The whole "grab a bike when you need it, then give it back later" is an excellent idea.

HRH was not in residence but we said "hi" anyway.

Then we picked up another set of bikes and rode them across town from Bloomsbury to Paddington, where I picked up my bags, and then we walked to dinner and the tube and then home to Suffolk (or New York).

At dinner (Wagamama, of course!) we both kind of sat there, contemplating our warm bowls of noodles and our aching feet. I had been instructed to provide a fun London day out - I think I succeeded!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm not alone in my crafting failures

As far as I am concerned, Kate Davies (of Needled fame) is a knitting goddess. Her designs are interesting, challenging, well-constructed, and aesthetically pleasing. I have made 3 of her patterns (Owls, Owlet, and Mini-Manu), and look forward to making more. She's a super-fast knitter, is excellent at colourwork, and has an amazing eye for detail.

Pardon me. I could seriously gush for days.

Anyhow, she recently posted that she BOTCHED something. Erm, yes, it happens to all of us. Granted, it was sewing rather than knitting, so it doesn't really count.

In the spirit of confessions, here goes.

I was really embarrassed about the final pictures of my Bardot Sweater - it's more noticeable in this picture than in real life, but one sleeve is substantially longer than the other. Or one is shorter. In any event, they're not the same. Oops. It's warm, though, and I like it, even though it definitely adds 10lbs!

But if Kate Davies can have a crafting fail, so can I. So there you go.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reviews: two excellent books

The last two books I've read have both been excellent. I almost wish I had spread them out a little bit with some mediocre books in between, so I could have appreciated them even more.

This week, I finished The Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett. Like Her Fearful Symmetry, a main character dies in the first sentence. By page 2, I missed him. I found the book to be captivating, well-written, and entertaining. There were vivid descriptions, so much so that I had the odd moment where I looked up from the book and was startled to find myself in my bedroom or at my desk at work, rather than in a farmhouse in Nebraska. My only complaint is that the cover image of the edition I had from the library (not the one on Patchett's site) had a very misleading farmhouse picture. Oh, well.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, has had a huge amount of press over the last year or so. Justifiably. It's the best non-fiction book I've read in a long time. I started it while standing at the leisure center, waiting for James to finish a climbing-wall morning, and was completely captivated. I ended up going to sit in the car so I could have quiet while I was reading.

Skloot tells a very-well researched tale of Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cancerous cervical cells have made huge leaps in scientific research possible. Skloot also sheds light on the story of the rest of Henrietta's family and the effect the cells have had on them. I was astounded by some of the writing from various poor Southern adults, which is reproduced verbatim in the book. Whatever America's doing to educate poor people in the South, it's not working.

I'd recommend them both, enthusiastically!

(Random picture of flowers follows)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Leslie Sansone DVDs

I used to live in New York. You probably know that already.

I didn't have a whole lot of money, so I ate as frugally as I could despite not really having a kitchen (I had a hot plate, a microwave, and a George Foreman grill). Mostly veggies and ethnic food. So I didn't eat a whole lot, but I definitely didn't go hungry. I also couldn't afford to take cabs very much, so I mostly walked and took the bus and the subway. I walked half a mile to the subway (3 long blocks) every time I wanted to go anywhere), and frequently walked home from work (1.6 miles, according to google maps).

After I moved to England, 6 years ago, I more sedentary. I took the car to and from work, went for the occasional weekend walk, but otherwise sat. And sat. And sat some more.

I gained about 15lbs - not a huge amount, but really noticeable, at least to me (and my wallet).

Then, I signed up for the Global Corporate Challenge through work, in the summer of 2010. And walked. And walked some more. And kept walking. And lost most of the 15lbs. (Go me!)

Then the challenge ended. I started taking the train to and from work a few days a week, with a 1.3 mile walk to and from the station at the other end. When I was home, I noticed that my mom looked GREAT.

She said, "Oh, it's Leslie!"


"Leslie! One of my friends looked amazing so I asked her what she was doing and she said. 'LESLIE!'"

It turns out that the famous Leslie Sansone has a seemingly endless catalogue of DVDs, all of which let you walk and hop around at home in your pjs (or your fancy exercise gear) and stay in shape. I can't say that I ever would have picked one up on my own, but I love the two DVDs that I have. They're especially good for the Cold Dark English Winter, when the winter blues remedy of exercise can be slightly hard to come by in dark, snowless Suffolk.

My goal for the rest of the winter is to get up to the full 45 minutes (I normally do 15 to 20 before collapsing in a puddle). We'll see.

And after the Leslie, I can go back to the baking and the reading. (A semi-fail of coconut-raspberry tray-bake - the tray was too deep and not wide enough so the middle was a mush...sigh).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Things I made recently

When we were in Holland, I picked up the parts for a camera necklace (arranged neatly, below). Green leather cord (it's more of a forest green in real life), and a little camera charm. LOVE.

This fabric had been sitting in my "make it already!" pile since I bought it back in September in Rhode Island (at Joann's, of all places). They were destined to be napkins. So now there are 6. And they're cute. They may need a little ironing.

And then I went a little nuts with the Muckle Mitts Ravelry pattern and customised it. I like it better than the "real" pattern. The only irritating thing has been unwinding through the rest of the Mochi ball to find where the purple starts again so the mittens "match." Because I'm way too OCD to have unmatched mittens.

Ravelled, here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

He comes by it honestly

We have been on the receiving end of some excellent stepson-generated baked goods.

He took an apple/raspberry crumble back to his other house on New Year's Eve (special request):

And our Christmas gift was a big box of homemade cookies. Mmmmm. Clever teenager.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Holland: part 2 (long overdue)

We took the Herreshoff and Tiger to the train museum (Het Spoorwegmuseum) in Utrecht. They wanted to go. Who were we to refuse?

They enjoyed the journey to Utrecht from Amsterdam (we rode on the top level of a double-decker train).

I got to pretend that I was a conductor!

Then we went through the "Train Worlds" - World 1 was in a mock-up of an English coal-mining village (with Do Not Enter signs in Dutch, obviously).

The rest of the museum was excellent. It was well-organised, well-maintained (of course), entertaining, and informative.

We walked back from the museum to the train station, accidentally detouring through the old center of Utrecht. I had no idea the city was so beautiful - I'd only really ever seen the inside of the enormous train station.

The obligatory train-arriving shot, for my Dad.

And a marching brass band of Zwarte Pieten (Sinterklaas' assistant) on the Damrak:

And an extremely happy few hours spent building and tinkering and experimenting and playing at the NEMO science museum.

My efforts on the binary word-maker:

After all of our playing (and a LONG troop across Amsterdam, including the FOAM photography museum [crap] and the Rijksmuseum [abbreviated, under renovation]), we had some jenever. YUM.

And then the next day, we feasted on carbs. Pancakes and the BEST apple cake ever.

Yup, that up there was AMAZING. It's at a tiny little hole in the wall called Winkel. We were directed there by our b&b host (we had a super time at Maes B&B) after asking for a good place to go for apple cake. He didn't miss a beat. After watching a steady stream of apple cake portions leave the kitchen, I asked our waitress how many cakes they got through in a day. On a quiet day, apparently, only 60. On a busy day, though, up to 150 cakes. One hundred and fifty apple cakes in ONE day. And it was not a big restaurant.

One last opportunity for frites, frikandel and fritessaus (oh, dear God, I just found a recipe online). This blogger writes about it best, I think. Nectar of the Gods. I could eat it with a spoon. I purposely did NOT buy some to take home. That would mean I'd have to give up on real clothes and just wear a muumuu all day. I didn't get a picture of the actual f/f/f - they were consumed too quickly. Mmmm.

Friday, January 6, 2012

I love Etsy

I bought this nautical coordinates necklace from Etsy for my friend for her birthday. She's a sailor, so I asked for the coordinates to point to her home marina (she moves around a lot). She LOVED it.

Source: via Kate on Pinterest

And then, there's this Skinny Laminx pillow. I haven't bought it, yet.

Source: via Kate on Pinterest

It's only a matter of time, I think.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Miscellaneous media

I did something evil to my back the day before new year's eve (which has now been fixed with a refresh of the Alexander Technique), and consequently spent the entire long weekend reading, sleeping, watching Downton Abbey, and generally being taken care of by the Husband.

Husband had already bought Downton (season 2) on DVD, since we're hopeless at watching tv when The Television tells us to.

I'd heard it was depressing, and was fretting slightly.

Yes, it takes place during World War I, and the following flu epidemic. But no, I didn't find it depressing. And it's easy to find things depressing during January in England. We have yet to watch the Christmas special, so no spoilers please!

If anyone (local) would like to borrow Downton, just email me.

I also now have a rather dog-eared copy of Inheritance. I loved the other three - I think this was my least favorite, but I still enjoyed it. DRAGONS! It was epic, though. One of those books that you can't actually hold up while you're reading - it has to rest on your legs or the bed. Should have Kindled it. The New York Times did a feature on his "Dragon Lair" aka bedroom in last week's magazine - I thought it was really funny.