Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Learning Kind of Weekend

This has been another fast-flying weekend. It seems like it was just Friday evening and now, already, I have to think about what to wear for work tomorrow.

Still, it has been a good weekend. It's actually been a good weekend for learning. I think probably every weekend is a good weekend for learning but this one in particular has been quite education.

For example, I learned that Possibly-Joe is actually named Matt. This is good because I know longer have to awkwardly stumble around trying to figure out what his name is without having to ask. I learned his name from his mother who I met this weekend. It's rather a relief, let me tell you.

I also learned that carving pumpkins can cause bruises. I spent Friday night having a lovely 'Pumpkin Night'. This involved my annual tradition of watching the first "Harry Potter" film while carving my pumpkins. I also made curried pumpkin soup for dinner which I served in a mini pumpkin as my bowl and drank a pumpkin martini- a 'pumpkintini', if you will. Normally, I drink pumpkin beer but I'm having a hard time finding any this year so I tried something different. Anyway, I carved three pumpkins. By the end of the night, the sides of my wrist and forearm were sore from where I had constantly rubbed them on the rim of the pumpkin while scooping out the insides. When I woke up on Saturday, I had some bruises. I found this quite entertaining actually- I do scrape and scoop my pumpkins with vigor.

I also learned that if you suspect a movie is going to be silly, you probably shouldn't pay $7.50 to see it. I went to see "Paranormal Activity 3". I only went to see it because the first one inspired me to write "The Reluctant Demon" and I felt like since I'd seen the other two, I should see the third one. I find those movies a little like going on a roller coaster- they make you jump and build up the anticipation but when you leave, you sort of wonder why you went on it in the first place. By the way, I'm probably going to spoil the film so if you want to see it and not get spoiled, you can skip ahead in the blog. Part 3 certainly had some of those "boo!" moments where it made me jump but I'm actually a little sad the filmmakers felt compelled to explain why the demon was haunting the girls. I have complained in the past that the demons in movies do all sorts of things to scare the homeowners/people around them but it seems a little silly- why not get to killing the people if that's their end goal? Why rearrange furniture, slam doors or run around in the attic? In the case of "Paranormal Activity 3", some vague witchy explaination is given for what the demon wants and you realize it's chosen it's hauntees on purpose. Yet, naturally, it does a lot of door slamming, running around and peculiar things with sheets. This particular demon also manifests itself an imaginary friend to a little girl. His name is Toby. Toby is apparently very old and tall according to the little girl. Yet, in a scene in the movie, the demon is caught on camera creeping up on a babysitter with a sheet over itself- a bit like Caspar the Friendly Ghost. The camera is mounted on a fan so that it osciallates so in one room, you see the "ghost" and then when the camera oscillates back around, the "ghost" has moved behind the babysitter and then, "poof!" the demon vanishes and the sheet tumbles to the ground.

The thing is, the "ghost" is not taller than a child. I'm sorry but if a demon is only four feet tall, is it really that scary? It should have been a taller "ghost". Also, I learned that if you're a man that likes to videotape things because you have a demon in your house, you're going to get killed by Katie Featherstone- she's the girl from all of the "Paranormal Activities". She's now killed three photographers.

So, overall, I learned that if my instinct is that a film is not going to be good, I should probably just rent it because otherwise I'll always be annoyed that I didn't listen to my instincts better.

Finally, I learned that this song I keep hearing on the radio and getting stuck in my head is called "Pumped up Kicks" by Foster the People. I don't even know if I like the song- all I know is that it gets stuck in my head terribly. I originally thought it was "all the other kids like thier bomb bomb daddies" (don't ask where that came from, that's just what I kept thinking they said. Then I thought it was "all the other kids like their pumped up kitties". Yes, that is a true statement. Now I know they're actually saying "pumped up kicks" but I'm not sure what that means. I have a vision of those shoes from a few years ago that you used to pump up by pushing a 'button' the the tongue of the shoe. That's probably not what they mean but I'm too lazy to google it. I don't particularly like having that song stuck in my head but I suppose it's good to know the actual lyrics.

I'm sure I learned many more things but these are the big lessons. I bet you thought I was going to say I learned something meaningful, didn't you? I probably did but it's not coming to mind at the moment. Thus, I'll stick with the valuable facts that I have, in fact, learned this weekend.

Now it's winding down but there's still time to learn something else new... I'll keep you posted. Happy Monday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

But I Don't Want to Exercise!

It is far more difficult to eat healthily once it stops being nice and warm outside, I find. All year, I’ve been working to try to lose weight and minimize how much ‘bad food’ I eat. I’ve done well so far this year. When you have a mission to lose a certain amount of weight, that mission must be completed- at least in my case.

By the time summer came around, I’d hit my ‘goal’ weight and decided to keep going. It was easy during the summer because it’s hot outside and fresh veggies are plentiful. It’s easy to want a salad when the sun is shining and the ingredients are fresh.

However, now it’s autumn and the fresh vegetables are less fresh. The stores and markets are full of root vegetables and hearty ingredients. When it’s cold and rainy outside, it’s hard to want something light and healthy. It’s much more comforting to settle down with a bowl of beef stew or a nice warming soup.

The problem with this is that beef stew and nice warming soups while not unhealthy are not as light in calories or fat as summer foods. Also, I find that I’m hungrier when it’s cold. This is probably not really the case. It’s probably more that there’s more sitting around and less activity going on than there is in the summer months when I’m constantly outside doing something.

I suppose the answer is that I should start actually exercising rather than using normal every day activities to exercise. This way I wouldn’t have to worry so much about what I’m eating. It’s an easy solution in theory and one many of my friends have incorporated. It’s just that…well, honestly, I don’t like exercising. There, I said it. Once I start doing it and get into a routine, it’s not so bad. I even convince myself that I like it. It feels good. I know it gets the endorphins going. Yet, it’s so easy to…stop. I know the saying goes that it takes 21 days to form a habit and 3 days to break one. I think this is absolutely true. Which is why whenever I start exercising, it’s easy to stop.

For me, it’s a question of time. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become far less patient with wasting my time. It’s in short supply. When you work 9 hours a day, every moment is precious. I am not a Monkeypants who doesn’t need sleep. I need my sleep badly. I have two dogs. They don’t understand why their mother is leaping around in front of the TV breathing heavily and is all red in the face. I’ve tried doing an exercise video in front of them and it results in them trying to join in which, while cute, is not terribly helpful.

I could gate them in the kitchen but, well, I’m softhearted and I feel bad doing that unless necessary.

I could go to the gym but between trying to get back into writing, having an uncertain workday (I never know what time I’m going to get to leave) and liking to cook something decent for dinner….there’s the time factor. I could do it before work but…I’ll have to talk myself into that.

It would probably be easier if I had a buddy to exercise with rather than alone. I might be inclined to do it but, as I’ve pathetically mentioned, I don’t have many friends here because all my friends are elsewhere. It’s hard to meet female friends.

So, for now, until I come up with an exercise resolution, I’ll keep trying to eat less. It’s really just an issue of self-control. I figure that if I stay at my goal weight, I’m ok…anything above and an exercise routine WILL be enforced.

I’m actually quite good at enforcing rules upon myself. It sounds a little odd but I do have rather good self-control. It’s why I can sit in my office with a bucket of candy and just watch as everyone else in the office eats it or I can go out to lunch for a working lunch and make sure I don’t order the pizza that looks so tempting and I order a nice light bowl of soup and a salad instead. I am the consumer who reads the nutrition label. I might splurge once in a while but, well, I try not to on a regular basis.

It’s just a little harder in the cooler months of the year when comfort food is calling and I would rather eat a nice bowl of hot stew than a salad. However, the good thing is that I still like salad and even though I’d rather have the stew, I know when to eat the salad instead and, even if I don’t, I’ll just contemplate finding time to exercise and that salad is more appealing.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t exercise. I walk the pups a lot. I do a lot of work outside and I do on occasion use my ab roller. According to my calorie count software program, I actually burn as many calories on an average weekend doing my normal activities as I would if I did cardio. My last doctor’s visit rule me very healthy with a low BP and everything so, for now, I’m good.

And, yes, this is really my way of justifying the guilt I feel by not having a regular exercise program. But I will think about it.

After all, thinking is exercise for the brain, isn’t it?

Happy Friday- have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Halloween Decorating Police Game

I can’t believe it’s almost Halloween already. I mean that in more of a figurative way than a literal way. If I meant it literally, I’d be lying because the Halloween decorations began creeping into stores in early September and my neighbourhood has slowly become one long string of “who has the best fake cemetery” and “Who can hang the most ghosts, zombies, skeletons and Frankenstein’s Monsters from their porch.”

Also, there are the giant inflatables. I remember when they started popping up. It used to be just for Christmas. The first one I saw was pretty nifty- it was a giant snowglobe with a polar bear in it and a fan blew the snow around. Then they became more popular and there were trains with waving penguins and santas, reindeer popping out of presents and variations on the giant snowglobe theme.

Then, of course, they stopped being just for Christmas and giant Easter bunnies began cropping up. There were giant turkeys for Thanksgiving and, of course, the Halloween versions. The Halloween versions are actually exactly the same as the Christmas versions except there are ghosts and pumpkins instead of santas and reindeer. Oh, and they’re orange and black instead of green and red. I even saw the “Halloween on a train” inflatable yesterday. Do ghosts and ghouls really ride trains and wave at people? I think not.

I prefer the more gruesome Halloween decorations myself. Someone in my neighbourhood has decorated their cemetery as a crime scene. There are fake evidence numbers scattered around bloody body parts which seem to stick out of the ground. Naturally, I find this quite funny. Hey, if you haven’t figured out I’m a little dark and twisted yet, you clearly haven’t read enough of my blogs. I especially appreciate the touch that they have a decaying corpse watching over the entire scene and he looks disturbingly real.

I enjoy this time of year. It makes walking the pups in the evening even more fun. Our neighbourhood is clustered into batches. There are Those Who Decorate and Those Who Do Not Decorate. If one house decorates, those around it tend to at least place some token decorations outside. Then we’ll walk for a stretch into an area of Those Who Do Not Decorate. These are the boring houses. As daft as it sounds, I like to mentally grade houses on their efforts. It serves no purpose other than to allow myself a little extra amusement while the pups sniff and scamper their way on our walks.

My grading system is easy. A house gets points for efforts. If it’s a really well done decorating job, they get top marks. If they’ve at least made an effort, we take that into consideration. If not effort is made, they FAIL. Nothing much happens except I whisper to the pups that “We have a FAIL on our hands, girls!” They pay no attention to me because there are squirrels to chase and, frankly, when there are squirrels to be chased, a quirky ‘mother’/’owner’ is really not important enough to merit paying any attention.

I’m very generous with my points though. Even if a house has a mere single pumpkin on the porch, they get to scrape a ‘pass’ from me. I mean it’s something. We do take chrysanthemums into consideration too since they are a traditional autumn flower. If a house has a spectacular display of mums that was clearly planted with love and attention, we give them a pass. If they have a token dying chrysanthemum in their flower garden that’s clearly an afterthought, they don’t necessarily pass.

It’s a silly game but I enjoy it. One of my favourite houses is the one where the little old lady has a toy cat in the window and she dresses it in little outfits for the seasons. It has Easter bunny ears, an Uncle Sam hat and now it has a witches hat and cape. She also has a lovely display of Jack o’ Lanterns and some pretty mums. She gets high marks. It’s all about the effort and there’s bonus points for cuteness. I’m not a cat person but I adore her stuffed toy cat because you can tell she has fun with it and what’s life if you can’t have a little fun with it?

I also play the game at Christmas too although it’s usually a little colder and harder to linger. I like to grade the Christmas displays. I know that’s not politically correct because not everyone celebrates and there may be a reason there isn’t a shimmering display of Christmas lights out front but this is why I only grade the houses that do participate. Also, we grade on indoor decorations too so if there’s a particularly pretty tree inside the house but no outdoor decorations, it’s pretty obvious they’re celebrators of Chrismas and it’s ok to grade them.

I am aware that this is probably a peculiar habit and there’s absolutely no point at all. I have visualized forming a squad of Decorating Police but I think I’d be the only member and it would be rather odd to walk up to people and say, “By the way, your scarecrows are dirty and leaking straw. I think it’s time to get some new ones. Also, you have too many ghosts and not enough zombies.” It would be sort of entertaining but as I always say, I do like to keep up some attempt of normalcy with my neighbours.

Halloween is only the beginning. There will be some giant inflatable turkeys popping up over the next few weeks and they will soon be succeeded by all manner of holiday inflatables and lights. I have to admit, I’m looking forward to it. Walking with the dogs is always a nice way to get out and about but it’s even more fun when I can play Undercover Decorating Police.

Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Food, Fun and Pumpkins!

It's another Sunday evening with the start of the work week looming closer. It has also been another great weekend.

I spent the weekend at my parents. It was a beautiful autumnal weekend with only a minor chill in the air. The pups had a great time hunting grasshoppers and crickets. I haven't quite figured out if they actually eat the insects or they just like the stalking and hunting part. I've seen them..sort of chew on them but I don't think they actually eat them. I'd prefer to think they don't anyway.

One of the other things I got to do with my parents is go to a local-ish butcher shop. I say local-ish because it's not in their town but is only abour 25 minutes away. It's sort of in the middle of nowhere but it's immensely popular and the meat is great. It's all fresh and butchered in-house. It's also very reasonably priced. It gave me a chance to stock up my little chest freezer with meat that will last several months. I like doing that- it makes cooking fun because there are so many options and I always have meat on hand with which to make something interesting. I'm a big fan of stocking up, especially when I ended up buying probably 20 meals worth of meat for less than $30.

It's fun to go to the butchers and select my purchases. When I was a child in England, we had a local butcher that was at the end of a parade of shops which also featured a greengrocer, post office, newsagent and small grocery store. Back then, while there were big grocery shops, people still went to specialty shops for most of their daily purchases. There was still a milk man who delivered the milk.

It wasn't that long ago, honestly but times have changed. Nowadays both in England and the states, the specialty stores don't exist the same way anymore. If they do, they're novelties. In my opinion, it's a shame. While it's way easier to go to the local supermarket for one-stop grocery shopping, it's just not the same. Bread from the bakery in England was so fresh, it was often still a little warm when you got it and it was so crusty, it was flaky. The fresh cream cakes such as chocolate eclairs and filled buns were fresh and unique. The produce from the greengrocer was better than supermarket fruits and vegetables because that's what the greengrocer did. He didn't try to sell produce AND dairy or meat or cheese...he specialized in fresh veggies and fruits.

The world moves faster now. We want to go to one place and get everything we need. We don't want to spend hours running around to butchers, to bakers, to candlestick makers to complete a list.

Yet...something has been lost in our need for convenience and speed. I miss the smell of the old butcher shops, their floors covered in sawdust. I miss the bakers where the fresh smell of crusty bread called you inside before you even got to the store. Sure, there are still speciality shops around. I mean, the farmers market is, essentially and outdoor greengrocers.'s not quite the same. I think that's why I'm so drawn to markets in general- Findlay Market here in Cincinnati is one of my favourite places because it's essentially a series of specialty stores all under one roof. In New York, I instantly loved Chelsea Market for the same reason. It's the same reason I loved the butchers shop I went to with my parents. Speciality stores do still exist- it's just not quite as easy to get to them.

I'm partial to butchers shops. I know that's probably not very politically correct to vegetarians and I know that Peta would probably have something to say to me about it but, well, I'm a foodie. I adore vegetables and making vegetable dishes but it's hard to be a real foodie without eating meat. There are so many possibilities when you have different meat on hand- it allows creativity to shine through and to just have fun in both the planning and preparation of a meal.

So, even though it sounds a little odd, going to the butchers with my parents was just a great way to spend time with them and it was just plain fun.

Of course, I didn't just spend the weekend in a butchers shop and watching my dogs chase crickets. I also got to spend some quality time with my sister and my niece. We carved pumpkins. Well, that is to say, I carved, they painted. My niece is an abstract artist and I've never seen such a colourful pumpkin in all my life. I think Jackson Pollock would have been impressed. My sister is a far more disciplined artist and she adorned her pumpkin with a rather impressive Halloween collage of witches and ghosts. My pumpkin turned out rather well- it turns out that there is a reason that they sell pumpkin carving kits. They're great! All this time, I've made do with a selection of knives and trying to draw on a design. However, with the right tools, carving is much easier! Since I gave my pumpkin to my niece for her Halloween display, I'll be carving more of my own next weekend. It's one of my favourite Halloween traditions- I always watch "Harry Potter" while I carve and then roast the seeds. It's a lovely autumn tradition.

All in all, this has been the best kind of autumn weekend- family, fun and's a shame as always that the weekend is ending but when it's been as good as this one, I don't mind as much.

I hope you had a great weekend too. Happy Monday!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Other Side of Autumn

Well, we finally got the rain that was threatening us the last time I blogged. It’s pretty much been raining steadily ever since. I don’t mind although it’s a little colder than I expected. I even had to turn on the heat this morning since the pups and I were on the verge of shivering. I had the two of them curled up next to me under the covers last night since it was so chilly- they don’t like their noses to be cold. I’ve noticed they’re a lot cuddlier in the cooler months than in the summer.

It’s definitely another side to Autumn, this weather. Instead of getting to walk through the crisp, multicoloured fallen leaves, we get to see them pounded flat against the pavement in soggy clumps.

I don’t mind the rain though. It gives me an excuse to stay inside, put my pajamas on a little earlier than normal and curl up on the couch with the dogs. They’ve accepted there will be no walks in the rain. While it wouldn’t kill us to go out in the wetness, we all prefer not to if we can avoid it. Rory, especially, dislikes getting wet. She runs outside and then, when she realizes she’s getting wet, she quickly runs back to shelter and looks at me as if to say, “What on earth did you DO?”

It is supposed to stop raining this weekend though. I’m hoping to spend the weekend doing splendid autumn things with my family. My sister mentioned a pumpkin patch but our backup plan is pumpkin carving or something equally Halloweeny at home just in case it’s still raining. Also, her rather odd looking puppy had to have surgery this week to correct a problem with her legs and the poor thing is immobile at the moment so we may have to stay home with her. I don’t mind. I think I can be in the autumn spirit if we go out or not.

Still, before the weekend, there’s a Friday to get through. They’re usually pretty quiet around here. People tend to leave early or find an excuse to be out of the office. I’d like to skedaddle a little early to be able to get on the road to my parents a little early. I’m don’t mind driving in the dark but it makes for a long day now the days are getting shorter. I’m actually looking forward to the clocks changing though- it would be rather nice to get up in the morning and have it not still be dark out there. At the moment when my alarm goes off at 6:45 a.m., it still looks like nighttime and trying to persuade two slumbering dachshunds that it really is time to get out of bed is proving difficult. Sookie doesn’t mind so much but for the past several mornings, I’m greeted with loud groans from Rory who refuses to move until she’s ready.

I actually don’t mind the clocks changing so much in the autumn because we get an extra hour of sleep and that’s never a bad thing. Spring is harder because we lose sleep and I’m a Monkeypants who needs her sleep. Even though I think we really don’t need to change the clocks, the extra hour in the Fall is like Autumns way of giving us a little present- a way of saying “Here, have an extra hour to do something with- you can use it for anything but I recommend sleep!”

I know I’ve been waxing poetical about Autumn in a lot of my blogs lately but for me, it’s that time of year. The world slows down a little and starts to die back readying itself for Winters season of recharge and recuperation. There’s colour everywhere. Suddenly the idea of a bowl of hot soup sounds much more appealing than a caprese salad which, only a month before, was a summer treat.

The rainy days we’re dealing with are simply another side of Autumn. It can’t all be crisp leaves, bonfires and balmy breezes. Winter, after all, is coming and Autumn is simply guiding us into that season as gently as she knows how with a little taste of it here and there until finally, she’s ready to step aside and let Winter have his say.

For now, though, Winter is still in the wings and I’m hoping we have quite a few more crisp leaf-apple cider days to go.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beef Stew Kinds of Days

This is definitely a blah day as far as days go. It’s the type of day which has been grey and gloomy with the promise of rain but the rain hasn’t actually arrived yet. The weather keeps telling us it’s going to arrive but we’re in the nether area where the sun has abandoned us and the rain is yet to fall.

It’s really what I like to call a beef stew kind of day which is why I’m having beef stew for dinner.

Beef stew days are gloomy days where nothing really fabulous happens and it seems like everyone’s under their own little dark cloud. In our office, we’re having a wee bit of stress regarding finding candidates- we have the jobs but no one to fill them- so everyone’s a little bit tense. Also, it’s still close to the beginning of the week which means people are still in a bit of a post-weekend funk.

Beef stew days are days where the idea of going home, curling up on the couch with your cuddly object of choice (mine are my dachshund pups- Sookie and Rory but yours might be a cat, person or stuffed animal depending on your preference), putting on a favourite film or TV show and eating a big bowl of beef stew.

Unless, of course, you’re a vegetarian and you don’t eat beef so then you might want something like macaroni and cheese. Or tomato soup.

Unless of course you’re a vegan and you don’t eat dairy so you might choose to eat a bowl of watery-er tomato soup (because, let’s face it, it’s WAY better with real milk) or you might eat, uh, a bowl of…lentils? Rice? Sorry….I respect vegans for their dietary choices but I don’t think I’m mentally capable of being one and, honestly, have no desire to so thus, I’m not as familiar with vegan comfort foods as I could be.

Anyway, you get my point. Today is a comfort food type of day. I still prefer to call it a beef stew kind of day. You can substitute your comfort food of choice re: the above babbling.

I like beef stew. I didn’t when I was younger. In fact, I was quite opposed to all ‘gravy dinners’. Just ask my poor mother who worked hard to make sure I had something on the plate I liked. ‘Gravy dinners’ to me, as a child in England, were things like beef casserole, liver and bacon (which, by the way, is still a big ‘yuck’ to me now) and mince and gravy (I don’t think there’s an American equivalent of this but essentially it’s hamburger that is simmered in a thick beef gravy and served with either mashed potatoes (traditional) or noodles (I think that’s my family’s German twist on it). I hated mince. I liked the noodles. My grandmother would make her version but she’d make it a little different and I loved it. My mother may still hold a grudge about that.

Regardless, I did not like gravy dinners as a child. I preferred dinners with chips (french fries), baked potatoes or anything fried. Also, I preferred ‘non dinners’ such as beans on toast, bacon sandwiches or bread and cheese. It wasn’t that I refused to eat them because otherwise I’d have been hungry. I just would pick at them. Until we got a microwave, I’d have to eat mashed potatoes which I only recently have started liking, if you can believe that. I used to use the mashed potato in which to bury the unwanted components of my meal. I used to try to make it look like I simultaneously had eaten some of my mashed potato and also that I hadn’t buried pieces of liver in it. I know liver is good for you but the texture was and is vile to me. Also, it smelled funny. Then again, I used to think lasagna smelled like vomit and now I’m a huge fan of anything like that so…things do change as a child.

Anyhow, I don’t think my mashed potato reverse-excavations were really that successful. I’m pretty sure my mother knew that I was hiding my food. When we did get a microwave, my mother would kindly make me a baked potato instead of the mashed so I would, at least, have something on the dinner plate that I liked. Yes, I am from a generations where microwaves were actually once a new technology and yes, I know this makes me sound old.

I disliked gravy dinners a lot. Including beef stew which, really, was the same as beef casserole. It was just cooked in a different dish.

The, as I’ve mentioned before, somewhere in my late teens, my tastebuds changed. Either that or as a constantly-hungry college student/summer intern, I realized that eating something was better than being hungry and I started eating different things.

Now, I’m a foodie and I am far more open. I even eat gravy dinners now. I often make mincemeat and gravy with noodles on cooler days. That’s a good comfort food. I even make beef stew as I did for tonight. I serve it on my terms- i.e. no mashed potatoes with it. Instead, I prefer a nice piece of crusty bread. It’s actually quite healthy too because of the large amount of veggies in it. It was simmering in the crockpot all day, ready for me to come home to on this gloomy, grey day. It’s a nice, thick, bowl of comfort that’s easily made and left to its own devices as it simmers its way to readiness.

It’s the perfect antidote to a blah day where not much happens and even the rain is dithering on whether it wants to come down or not.

Yep, this has definitely been a beef stew sort of day.

Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Outdoor Sort of Weekends...

This has been a beautiful autumn weekend. The weather has been warm with a cool wind and the sun has been shining. It's the kind of weather that makes you feel guilty for staying indoors.

Thus, I tried not to stay indoors. I spent much of the time with the girls outside. I took them for a long walk on Saturday over the park. We haven't been there since the spring- our last visit was after we'd had floods and it was a wet soggy mess. Soon after, the weather got too hot to walk for too long outside and so this was our first trip back for a while.

It was the perfect time for walking. I've found that the woods where we walk (aka, the park) is far less busy on Saturdays than Sundays. I think this is because most people use Saturdays for productivity and Sundays for relaxation.

Thus, we had the woods mostly to ourselves. We did our usual trek. It was a wonderful hike- the leaves were thick enough to crunch under our feet but the ground was dry enough that we didn't slip at all. Autumn was all around us as we walked.

I was a little apprehensive because Rory has become a little, uh, lazy since the spring. As I've mentioned, she has a penchant for sitting down when she's had enough. Still, since the weather has cooled, she hasn't sat down for a while so I was hopeful.

Well, we made it 3/4 of the way through our trek and then she dug her heels in and didn't want to walk anymore. Sookie was fine. After trying to coax her to keep moving, I eventually gave in and ended up carrying her for a little way. This seemed to appease her and shortly after, she began walking again, albeit a little more slowly.

By the time we were done, both dogs and I were all rather tired but happy. It was a windy day and there's nothing more refreshing than a long walk on a breezy autumn day.

As for today, I spent the majority of the day outside. It's coming time to winterize the garden and though many of my flowers are still in bloom, I decided to clean out my shed and clear off the patio. It's a little sad but it's also nice to know that I've accomplished something. I spent the rest of the afternoon weeding and trimming back the overgrown areas. In a couple of weeks, I'll start pulling up the flowers as they die back but for now, it's nice to see that the flowers aren't ready to give up yet.

I love weekends like this where I have no set agenda but have a flexible 'to do' list. I think since it is such a lovely day, I shall try to finish it off outside. The days are already getting shorter so I'll try to catch the sunshine while it's there.

Even though it's back to work tomorrow, I'm still forever grateful that we get two days a week away from the normal drudgery of the work day. I even like my job and I'm still happy to get away for a couple of days. This week, especially, is a big week for me as it's the year anniversary of when I left my old job that made me unhappy and started this one which has been significantly better. Obviously, no job is perfect but I'm pretty pleased with mine.

Still, before the work week starts all over, there's a few more hours of my autumnal weekend to enjoy. The breeze is still blowing and the sun is still shining...I've said it before and I'll say it again. I love Autumn!

Thanks, as always for reading and Happy Monday!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flying Economy: The New Steerage

So, I have once again decided that I dislike flying. This is nothing new. I’ve blogged about it before. In my novel, Emmy Goes to Hell, I set the entry method to get to Hell at an airport for a reason. I’ve been back from my trip for about 5 days now yet still I’m slightly irked about the steady decline of airline service since I first flew in the 1980’s.

Back then, flying was a treat. It was something exotic. For a kid like me, it was an adventure. They would give out free alcohol to the adults. There were a lot of snacks. The food, never great, was decent and there was a fair amount of it. Airline stewards and stewardesses treated you as though you were a human being. Luggage was something that you could bring and check in and forget about. There was room to sit in a seat with enough space to reach forward and shove something under the seat.

Cut to now. I know airlines have huge budget issues. I know they take huge losses every year. It still doesn’t make it easier to fly and feel a little like you’re a member of a cattle herd.

When I flew to the UK, I had a coach seat because, well, I’m a normal human who simply can’t afford to fly First Class. In the olden days (even up to five years ago), Coach and Economy were the same thing.

Nowadays, there’s not just Economy and Economy Plus. Yes, even the bottom dwellers can get kicked lower.

If you’ve ever seen Titanic you may remember the difference in treatment between the First Class travelers and those in steerage. In between, there were the ordinary people who didn’t have luxury cabins but also weren’t down with the rats in steerage either. Until recently, flying Economy was more like being in this middle section- it was definitely not luxurious but it was functional.

Things have changed now. Steerage class is back. There may not be any rats unless you count the fact that you often feel like you’re treated a bit like one. Economy is the new steerage.

Let me explain. Somewhere in the midst of the airlines starting to struggle for revenue, some bright soul took a look at the layout of the seats in Economy and decided that people did not, in fact, need much legroom and thus added several more rows of seats. This resulted in a traveling experience that made you feel like a sardine. There is little room to lean forward and put your carry-on under the seat without accidentally whacking your heard on the seat in front of you. Merely crossing your legs becomes a bit difficult and I don’t even have very big legs. Bringing down the tray table for an average-sized person is ok- it rests just short of actually hitting you in the abdomen. For larger folks, it often rests on the abdomen.

And then there’s the issue of the reclining seats. Somewhere in this brainchild of taking away the leg-room, they decided that reclining seats should stay. Thus, when the person in front of you reclines their seat, there goes what little room you had left. Even if you put the tray table back up, getting out of your seat to go to the bathroom is rather a difficult thing. There is simply not enough room to squeeze between your seat and the recliner in front of you without feeling like you’re breaking out of a pod of some kind. I was going to use a birthing analogy but decided that would be a little disgusting.

As if this is not humiliating enough, when you get on a plane, they make it perfectly clear that steerage folk (i.e. Economy travelers) are absolutely forbidden to use the bathrooms set aside for the Business Travelers AND the First Class travelers. You must use the bathrooms delegated to your ‘class.’ It’s bad enough that to get to the steerage seats, you have to walk through the cabins of the elite. You see those individual, spaced out little pods where the First Class traveler can fly in comfort, drinking free champagne and getting better food. Even the Business Class is far above steerage- spacy, comfortable seats that provide privacy and comfort. And free champagne.

I’ve never understood that, honestly. Steerage folk can’t even buy champagne on a plane. It’s not offered. We get the choice of red or white wine or a bottle of beer for $7 each. Newsflash: For the most part, those people in First Class are either rich, didn’t pay for their ticket or travel so often they get upgraded and thus, didn’t pay for the upgrade. They can afford to buy the bloody champagne and wine they’re given for free. Also, in their little Pods o’ Flying Comfort, they don’t really need the added tranquilizer for an overnight flight because THEY ARE COMFORTABLE.

Meanwhile, back in steerage, trying to sleep is rather difficult due to the reclined chair in front of you, the fact that you pretty much have to sit with your arms pinned to your sides so you don’t accidentally invade your fellow steerage passenger’s space. Seriously, try sitting with your elbows out a little- you end up bumping your next-door neighbour on one side and, if you’re on the aisle, getting in the way of the drink cart.

To add insult to injury, as I mentioned before, they’ve added Economy Plus. Yes, for a mere $100+, you, too, can buy a little extra space in which you might actually get to put your legs out and have them be semi-straight.

That’s all you get for your $100- the extra leg room. Thus, by First Class standards, it’s still steerage. However, to the Economy Plus traveller, it still affords a little superiority over the less fortunate in Economy who are currently sitting with their knees by their ears, trying to figure out why their video screen keeps going black.

After flying to the UK in an Economy seat, I came to the conclusion that it was one step away from being strapped in the cargo hold as luggage. It’s not that much less comfortable, I’m sure. Sometimes when I was doing aerobic contortions trying to get my bag from under the seat while the person in front of me had reclined and the attendants forgot to pick up the rubbish from our dinner plates, I thought longingly of the days when there was space to do that without pulling a muscle. I couldn’t really sleep because I was so uncomfortable- a glass of wine usually helps but at $7 a glass, it’s a little steep.

So, even though I was furious about having to do so, I paid for the Economy Plus seat on the way back. Since my ticket was paid for by my company in the first place, it was a little easier. Sadly, it was worth it. While I didn’t get a free drink and was delegated to going all the way to the back of the plane to use the bathroom, being able to sit somewhat comfortably was worth it.

I resent having to pay $100 for the freedom to cross and uncross my legs but, sadly, I can see why people do it. Also, I felt like I could look back at the lower class in plain old Economy and gloat.

Until I remember that they were probably $100 richer than me because they hadn’t caved to the Lure of Economy Plus.

I’m a sucker…what can I say. I’m a willing victim of the airlines’ attempt to exort every last dollar out of me merely because I wanted to land in Chicago without feeling like I was a cro-magnon cavewoman, bent over and never able to stand up straight again.

I’d love to hope that some day airline travel will be a luxurious experience again but I’m a realist: I say let’s be glad that we can still go to the bathroom on the plane without depositing a coin and that we aren’t put in the cargo hold because the way things are going, it’s only a matter of time.

Also, they still give you some semblance of free food on those international flights. Note: ALWAYS go with the pasta. It may taste like Chef Boyardee but it’s still better than black, gelatinous beef and dried, blobby chicken.

I suppose, for now, we should be thankful for what we have. Us steerage folks may as well appreciate the small perks such as having a seat at all and being fed and watered. It would be nicer if we weren’t herded through the upper class cabins like cattle, shuffling as we avoid getting whacked in the head by someone shoving their luggage in the overhead while watching them calmly and serenely settle into their individual chairs, drinking free champagne and clearly ready for comfort. When we finally reach the Economy Plus section and realize, sadly, that even that isn’t where we belong, it’s just plain pathetic.

Unless, of course, you pay the $100. Then you belong.

Otherwise…you’re just steerage. Ah well, at least there are no rats.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn is in Control...

So, I’ve been back from my trip for three days now, give or take a few hours. I’m still feeling a slight case of jet lag- going to bed isn’t a problem, it’s the waking up at 4 a.m. and not being able to get to sleep that’s a pain. I’m back at work and starting to feel like I’m catching up again. The pups are a little more cuddly than usual- as though they’re afraid I’m going to leave them again. However, for the most part, I’m feeling almost back to normal.

It’s amazing how much things can change when you’re away for ten days. Before I left, Autumn was just starting to creep in and exert her strength over the waning summer. Her paintbrush of colour was just starting to turn the leaves a little but, for the most part, they were all still on the trees.

When I got back, quite a transformation had occurred: A canvas of colour has taken over and the ground is littered with leaves. There are reds, golds, yellows and oranges fighting each other for grandeur in the trees that line my street. The summer flowers, still in bloom when I left, seem to have conceded that they can no longer match the glory of the trees and thus have faded a lot and started to bow their heads in defeat.

I love it. Up and down my street, people have their autumnal decorations out. There are pumpkins, scarecrows, ghosts, graveyards and all sorts of Halloween fun. I did get my own decorations out last night. I don’t do much other than to weave a garland of silk autumn leaves up my little lamppost, put out my autumn flag and line up some small scarecrows.

This time of year is wonderful. We’re still having the warm temperatures of late summer but the crisp, cool nights of Autumn. It’s far too early for Winter to attempt to wrestle control and so things are a warm glow of fall splendor.

I took the girls for a walk last night- our first in a while. They love the leaves on the ground, foraging in the piles to see if they can hunt any living creatures. The most they find is usually a grasshopper. Sookie’s quite partial to grasshoppers and while I know they’re actually quite nutritious, I still prefer to pretend she doesn’t eat them.

It’s nice to walk in the autumn. It’s a little quieter than the summer. The neighbourhood kids still play together but there’s not that manic abandon of summer anymore. The bike riding and trampolining has died down a lot and while they still run up and down, laughing and shouting, it’s not nearly as wild and energized. There are far less people working outside on their gardens. We occasionally passed the odd leaf-blower or raker but mostly, people have started to be indoor folk a little more.

It’s definitely Autumn. There’s no mistake about it anymore. Soon, I’ll get my annual pumpkin(s) and carve them, reserving the seeds for roasting. I’ve already started cooking a little more autumnally: I have an acorn squash to roast as well as a butternut squash with which to make ravioli, hopefully this weekend. I’ll start making more soups and stews before much longer. At the moment, I’m still using the final yield of my tomato crop- plucking the last fresh basil before it turns to seed. Soon, I’ll use more sage and thyme. That’s one of the harder parts of the waning warm weather- no fresh herbs to pick from the garden.

Still, I do enjoy the crunch of the leaves, the vivid colours and the pumpkin-spiced atmosphere of Autumn. Even though there were signs of it over the UK, somewhere between there and here, Autumn really took the reigns of control. It’s a lovely picture to return to and I intend on enjoying every bit of the season.

Happy Wednesday and thanks, as always, for reading!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Homes, Sweet Homes....

Well, I'm finally back Stateside after 10 days in the UK. Even though the trip back was pretty exhausting (an 18 hour travel day will do that to you), I had a great time.

The trip was essentially two halves for me- the first half was London which was my reward trip from work and the second half was in Essex with my family.

Both halves were fantastic but quite different. London was very lively as cities generally are. Even though the people there are all people who work for our company, they brought their spouses and the whole event did not feel like work at all. It probably helped that the most we had to do for work was one two-hour meeting to discuss ideas for moving the company forward. The rest of the time was spent in more social events as well as free time.

The social events were actually fun. Since we were all essentially there on holiday, it was a very relaxed atmosphere and I had a lot of fun getting to know some of the spouses. I was sort of held up as the resident expert on London and ended up being the translater of all things decidely British (i.e. what's 'rocket'? Answer: Arugula), the converter of currency (i.e. "how much is 52 pounds in American dollars?) and the navigator on the London underground. I didn't mind a bit. I love London and don't mind showing off my knowledge of the city.

The free time we had was fantastic. I got to be a tourist and see things I've never had the time to see such as the Tower of London. I loved it. My rather dark streak gravitates to the more gruesome aspects of British history so seeing the tower where prisoners were kept, the private execution spot, the torture devices and seeing where Henry the Eight's wives were buried was fascinating to me. I also took a trip around the National Gallery, briefly visited Harrods' food Hall and became somewhat of a regular at Fortnum and Mason since it had a fantasic food hall and was only a brief walk from the hotel.

I also got to spend a day with my cousin who I haven't seen in quite a few years. It was lovely to discover that she has also got the same dark streak as me and when she suggested we go to the London Dungeon, I knew that we were definitely related. That place is a lot of fun- it highlights all of the more brutal aspects of British history. I think, by nature, the British do tend to embrace our dark sides a little more and it's not considered quite so twisted to be interested in that stuff when you're there.

Obviously, one of my favourite parts of the whole trip was the food. I abandoned my typical healthy eating/diet and decided to just enjoy myself. Each day, we had access to an amazing breakfast buffet from the hotel which included all the fixings of a traditional full English breakfast as well as kippers, smoked salmon and multiple bread selections. I also got to indulge in lots of my favourite British foods such as sausage rolls, pork pies, fish and chips and, of course, good beer. Fortunately, my terrible eating was counteracted somewhat by the massive amount of walking I did. I seriously think that for the most part, I walked several miles a day which is rather easy to do in London.

All in all, the London part of the trip was wonderful. It was nice being a tourist but not really feeling like one. By the time everyone else left for the airport, I was ready to begin the second half of my trip so after a little drama with Fed Ex- my coworker had left me in charge of a package because she had to catch a plane- I did manage to catch my train two hours late and head to my grandparent's, a mere 35 minutes away.

That part of my trip was far more relaxed. I got to spend the first day and a half with just my granny since my grandad was away in Germany- his native land. It was lovely to just relax in her kitchen- the traditional gathering spot of my grandparents' house since I've been alive. I haven't been back for three years so it was lovely to catch up and feel right at home.

When my grandad came back, he was laden with German goodies such as sausage, bread and chocolate galore. Thus, I got a nice German feast as well as the traditional British food that I normally enjoy.

The only problem with staying with my grandparents is that my granny thinks she needs to feed me. She declared that I was quite thin and could thus stand to eat more. This meant that anytime I sat for more than 10 minutes, I was either offered food or food was placed subtly in front of me. Believe me, I'm not complaining but I do think that now I'm back in the U.S., I'll be calorie counting a lot harder than usual and trying to exercise a little more. I have to make up for all that terrible but wonderful food somehow.

I also got to see more of my cousins as well as my aunts and uncles. I didn't do too much once I hit Essex other than go for walks around the town and once to the neighbourhood where I grew up. It's strange how instantly it seems so familiar and yet seems so distant. Our old house has changed but elements are still the same. I wandered around with that nostalgia that hits when you realize that time moves ever forward. It doesn't seem that long ago when I used to do somersaults on the pole that was a support for the little porch of our house or I used to plant marigolds in a makeshift flowerbed I created in our old front yard. The ghosts of my playmates still hang in the air and walking down the street that was once home made me remember everything so clearly, it actually felt it had all just happened.

It was a good thing to do, that walk. It made me realize that I think no matter how long I stay away, England will always be home. It's in my blood. I wasn't that old when I left but I was old enough to be a person, not just a child and that person was formed by the years spent living in the UK. The U.S. has left it's imprint on me too but at my core, I'm a diehard Brit.

By the time I left on Saturday morning to begin my long journey home, I had managed to do all the things I wanted to do, see all the people I wanted to see and eat all the food I wanted to eat. I left with a sadness that always occurs when you leave a place you love but it was also nice to get home.

It also helps that I had two little furry dachshunds to launch themselves upon me as soon as I walked into my parents house and who've barely left my side since.

In a way, I feel like my trip to the UK took me home. Yet I also came home when I saw my parents at the airport and was assaulted with affection from Sookie and Rory when we were reunited. I think I'll always feel like I have a foot on each continent as long as I'm alive but it's only now when I realize that that's definitely a wonderful thing. I plan on going back a little more often than I have been going.

But...not for a while. I need to do a little dieting first.

Happy Monday and thanks for reading!