October 31, 2006

Wedding Blog

My super sweet friends David and Rachel are getting married in 2007. As they begin their wedding planning adventures they've setup a blog called 40% Chance of Rain. I love wedding planning stories. People get swept up in the activities. Plus, this is a great way to stay in touch even though they are back in Oakland.

What is super cool about D&R is their love of arts, food, wine, cats, and breaking out of the norm. I hope they post some stories about the interesting ceremony they are planning. (Hint).

Learn more about Rachel at her Vampituity blog.

P.S. - I've got my dress for their nuptials - purchased it in Montreal. Now I have six months to work on super sleek arms. I'm hoping for a warm day without rain.

P.P.S - I think I should start a second blog... not yet sure of the topic...

Inmates Training Guide Dogs

Today's New York Times has an article about guide dogs trained by inmates, "Trained by Inmates, New Best Friends for Disabled Veterans" by Stephanie Storm. Although the article focuses on the advances in services that the dogs offer - aiding in walking and wheelchair movement - I am more fascinated by the training component.

PHOTO: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
Roland Paquette, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, and his new service dog, Rainbow, visiting Thomas Davison, right, who trained the dog.

What a tremendous idea to utilise inmates to train the dogs. From the article:

It takes about half the time to train dogs in prison as it does in foster homes, Ms. O’Brien said, because of the more intensive training they get from inmates.

Inmates are enthusiastic about the program. “It’s great to do something that really helps someone else, especially a guy like him [the veteran],” said Thomas Davison, who trained Rainbow at the Northeast Correctional Center here. “I’ve never had a chance to do that, and I wasn’t sure I could handle the responsibility.”

Kathleen M. Dennehy, the state correction commissioner, said the program had profound effects on the culture of a prison.

“Officers stop by to pat the dogs, they smile, maybe they strike up a conversation with the inmate training the dog,” Ms. Dennehy said. “It establishes a basic human connection.”
James J. Saba, superintendent at Northeast, is unsure, however, whether the program, already in six prisons in Massachusetts, can be expanded.

“We have 268 inmates in this prison alone, which is already too many,” Mr. Saba said. “And for every puppy, we lose a bed because the dogs take the place of an inmate in the cell.”

Mr. Paquette and Rainbow visited Mr. Davison and the four other inmate trainers at the prison on Thursday. Mr. Davison gave him a few pointers and handed over the toys he had bought the dog with the $28 a week he received for training her.

Investing in programs that allow inmates to build confidence, social skills and provide a service creates a positive opportunity out of a negative situation. The fact that this inmate spent his small pay on toys for the dog is a selfless act that illustrates his commitment.

Learn more about NEADS - New England Assistance Dog Services. They also innovative when it comes to fundraising, offering the opportunity to purchase naming rights for the dog. Rainbow, the dog featured in the New York Times story, was named by a troupe of Rainbow Girls who raised $500 from pancake breakfasts to help underwrite her purchase and training. I admire this organisation's vision for galvanizing communities and individuals towards a common goal.

October 30, 2006

Ear Wax Removed

Despite all the advice against sticking anything in my ear Stephen was able to get the offending waxy bit out of with tweezers. It was not easy since I put up such a fuss. Frankly, I was scared about him poking my ear drum. His gleeful smile indicated that this was the most boy fun he had had for a long time - poking around in an ear.

I am not going to post a photo of what came out because I don't want to upset anyone's dinner. The entire time it was lodged in there I imagined a small piece of wax. When Stephen was probing away at it, as we laid on the couch and he held the flashlight in his teeth, I imagined he was trying to pull out the tiniest bit of wax. We were both shocked into awe when he pulled out an inch long piece of wax that was perfectly molded to the shape of my inner ear. No WONDER I couldn't hear for four days. I immediately freaked out and chucked it in the trash and then spent the next thirty minutes asking Stephen all kinds of detailed gross questions about the probing. He likes to do the work, I like to analyse it.

His final comment, "did you hear it make a pop when it came out?" Frankly, I hadn't. So absolutely disgusting. Tell me more. Okay, no more ear plugs for me.

October 28, 2006

Images of Paris - Updated

Stephen treated us to a roundtrip train ride on Eurostar - first class through the chunnel. Here he is sending me a kiss. We started the trip off with champagne and dinner - the start to five days of French cuisine.

Musee de O'rsay features impressionist, post-impressionist, pre-impressionist, impressions of impressionists as well as Rodins and Art Nouveau in an old converted train station.

Our hotel was situated in the Jewish neighbourhood with all kinds of Kosher restaurants and this Folies Bergere which was premiering Cabaret while we were there. It was fun to watch them spiffy up the front of the theatre in preparation for the red carpet event.

These two painters are in the Louvre. What fun to be able to paint and also take photos in all these places!
The stately older man standing amongst the bushes in front of Notre Dame is feading birds from his hands. The bushes were filled with them. He was training the little girl by his side to feed the finches too.
The Pantheon, where multitudes of French heroes are barried and Foucault's Pendulum swings hosted an organic and dreamy art installation.
Views of Paris from Arc de Triomphe. Stephen smiles in anticipation of climbing the stairs to the Eiffel Tower. I pushed myself past my fear of open spaces and actually walked up to the first level. Coming down was very scary and I was "that lady hyperventilating on the stairs" which was probably the amusing highlight of some folks' vacations. But, I made it down and I think I'm almost over that fear. Next to concure ear wax removal - read the next post for details.

Paris Museum Pass

In preparation for our trip to Paris I raided the library and took out eight tour books, including one called the DaVinci Code tour of Paris. The best bit of advice we received and followed through on was to purchase a Paris Museum Pass. For 30 Euros each the pass lasted four days and allowed us into 56 attractions. We used it at least three times each day. PLUS it allows you to skip all the lines. Yes, people who are waiting on line get huffy when you move to the front but as soon as you flash your pass at them they get the picture. It was an incentive to visit places on a whim without giving it a second thought.

10 Answers in 14 Minutes

Well loyal readers you will be impressed to know that I received ten pieces of useful advice in fourteen minutes on the Yahoo Answers website regarding the ear wax problem. Stephen thinks the best recommendation is that I go to a doctor immediately, "you wouldn't mess around with your eye would you?" states one responder.

Here are some of the posts - they get points when they post answsers and if I declare that one of them offers the best advice that person receives the most points. Stephen says points equal prizes. Incentive!

Frankly, I agree with the coalminer and Stephen has verrified from the man's profile that he is from a coalmining town. Take note, I posted this at 11am on a Saturday. Clearly people are networked in the UK and use this as an exciting past time.

Member since: 20 May 2006
Total points: 5,242 (Level 5)

Pour warm olive oil in your ear.
13 minutes ago

Member since: 24 October 2006
Total points: 160 (Level 1)

Get some biosun hopi earcandles or go to the website to find a local trained therapist who can do this for you. Lovely and relaxing and will solve your problem. Hope this helps.
12 minutes ago

Member since: 05 April 2006
Total points: 896 (Level 2)

go to doctors or minor injuries, it could cause an infection, which are painful and upset your balance, dont start pouring stuff, in, get a pro to fix it, you may make it worse.hope you get it out, good luck

Kevin A
Member since: 27 October 2006
Total points: 126 (Level 1)

Get some weak hydrogen peroxide or dilute it and use a drinking straw to drop it into your ear whilst your head is on one side. The effervescence will eventually dislodge the wax and cause it to float to the top. Hold a tissue over your ear when tilting your head the opposite way and you'll see what falls out!
11 minutes ago -

Member since: 21 January 2006
Total points: 173 (Level 1)
Try sweet oil, you can buy it over the counter at Wal Mart. Source(s):
personal experience
8 minutes ago

Member since: 19 October 2006
Total points: 245 (Level 1)
You could use warm salty water to rinse it out but it is probably safest to go to the doctors and they may syringe it for you.
7 minutes ago

Member since: 03 May 2006
Total points: 347 (Level 2)
I'm a coal miner, this is very common for me from month to month. mix hydrogen proxide with warm tap water. 50/50 suck solution into a dropper and drop 5 drops into the affected ear. Continue for 2 or three days the wax will break up fine enough to pass though the ear canal and hearing will repair itself.Hope it helps,Jimhttp://www.bettermember.net/
5 minutes ago

Denise W
Member since: 25 July 2006
Total points: 1,966 (Level 3)

go to A&E NOW, this is not a small matter, your ears are very very delicate & you could easily pierce your eardrum messing about with it yourself....would you start poking around & poring stuff in your EYES...NO I don't think so do you ? Its just as important to have proffessional help with your ears, so get your coat on and get to A&E.

A Quick First Aid Question

Okay, please don't laugh. Or, go ahead and have a good chuckle and then send me advice.

Here's the problem. I used wax earplugs while in Paris and a bit of the wax has gotten stuck in my ear. It is now securely lodged deep in my ear canal and I can't get it out.

Paris is dotted with little pharmacies and the one near our hotel said that I would need to go to the doctor to get it removed. Maybe they would have pulled a Van Gough on me and cut the ear off. Yes, I should just be thankful they spoke English.

It has been four days now that the wax is stuck. To prevent infection we told another pharmacy (without going into the details) that I have an ear ache and they provided me with spray medication. I've been spraying that stuff in my ear three times a day. It is gooey but not making a difference. Now I can tell that the hearing is a bit off in that ear. Clogged from swimming kind of hearing loss.

Now that we're back in London I'm going to see if a pharmacy here has ear wax removal spray - which I know is intended for the wax that you naturally accumulate in your ear. It is worth a try.

For additional assistance I've posted a question on this cool Yahoo website that I saw featured on a poster in the Tube. It is called Yahoo Answer.

Okay, I can hear you giggling.

Back from Paris

Postings and photos to come very soon.

October 19, 2006

Mama Madonna

The Madonna adoption controversy is in full swing here in London where people seem to have a outward love inward hate relationship with the pop idol. At first I was upset with the baby adoption thinking that it was just another publicity stunt. The photos of her with the African children all looked like she was checking their ears for bugs. She seemed to be above the law and procedures that other families have to wade through for years just to hope for an adoption.

But then I read an article on CNN that reported how these children will likely never be adopted and will probably die orphans with AIDS. Once again Madonna has brought attention to an issue that others try to sweep under the carpet. Yes, she’s in your face but after 20+ years in the limelight would we expect anything less from this woman who keeps redefining feminism?

Madonna has posted an open letter on her website which I believe is an authentic statement about her intentions. Clearly she and her husband have given the adoption much consideration and already feel that baby David is a member of their family. If her adoption can be the catalyst for saving other children I applaud her actions.

October 16, 2006

Arts Indulgence

Finally we delved into the world of arts, culture and cuisine with a full Saturday of adventuring. Now there is no turning back.

We began with a visit to Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park. Lasting merely four days the fair is housed in a giant tent that is transformed into a shopping mall of art galleries. Row upon row of exhibitions featured some of the world’s most contemporary artworks. My sister and I say that when you are in the Mall for too long you are afflicted with Mall Blindness. Everything starts to blend and your brain shuts down. But remarkably and unexpectedly this did not happen. Stephen and I pretended have a budget and were shopping for pieces to place in our living room. Of course nothing had prices – dahling if you need to ask you can’t afford. The most popular subjects seem to be sex and we’re not talking pretty. I also managed to keep my inside voice quiet for all but one comment - "they call that art?"

Next we walked over to the British Library which is a spectacular piece of architecture. The library features two galleries – one that has changing exhibitions and the other Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library which permanently displays the most amazing publications. I saw live and in person (Note: order of importance is set by Amy and not by historians) Shakespeare’s original folio of plays, Lewis Carroll’s handwritten Alice in Wonderland, the Magna Carta, a golden Haggadah, and the actual stamps that set off the Boston Tea Party. Additionally, the library has a Philatelic exhibition featuring 80,000 stamps and envelopes. [Images of the British Library from the COLIN ST JOHN WILSON AND PARTNERS website. The taller building in the background is King's Cross Station]

Our day continued at the Hampstead Theatre to see the staged version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated. I’m officially a Safran Foer junky having now read both his books, seen the movie and stage versions of Everything is Illuminated and having heard him read in San Francisco. I can’t get enough of this guy. The play was outstanding. It was written by Simon Block and was more in the spirit of Safran Foer’s original text than the movie – although I enjoyed both.

How did we complete this tremendous day of the arts? Why at Benihana restaurant of course! It was the only place open for dinner near the theatre at 10pm. Okay, we love the drama of Hibachi cooking. The food was excellent and so was the chef entertainer. Except I wasn’t up for him chucking overcooked tuna at my mouth – perhaps after a bottle of wine it would have appealed. The other diners at our table went all out and ordered one of everything on the menu. They were nice enough to offer us their untouched sushi which I reluctantly devoured. It was delicious.

You ask me to report to you on the arts and this is what you get. Full Frontal Arts Reportage! Stay tuned as Stephen and I explore Paris next week. This week it is back to job hunting.

October 14, 2006

Grand Union Canal Walk

London has a canal system that inconspicuously snakes through some if its urban neighbourhoods. The area in which we live, between Kensington & Chelsea and Paddington (yes, like the bear), features a portion of the Grand Union Canal.

According to “The Grand Union Canal Walk: London to Birmingham” a guide book by Clive Holmes, “This route, something of a ‘round the houses’ circuit, was finished during 1790.” It was built by blasting with gunpowder and was for a short period a major means of commerce.

Holmes’ book explores the 145 mile walk from an area called Little Venice in West London (where we live) to the City of Birmingham. This week I ventured out to explore the nearest portion of the canal.

A five minute walk from our flat and just a block from the tube and train tracks is the canal’s nearest entry point. Stepping onto the towpath I instantly was transferred into a different world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday London. Not many folks were on the path, just a few walkers, joggers and bicyclists.

I started off in the direction of Birmingham and walked about a mile along the canal. The pigeon-free waters were dotted instead with gatherings of Canadian geese and swans. Next to one segment of the canal, in a park off of Portobello Road, is a swamp area in which a regal heron stood on an old wooden dock. It really was difficult to imagine I was in the heart of London.

The most exciting features are the dozens of canal boats moored along the banks. They appear to be inhabited homes and each reflects the personality and house decorating skills of its owner. They ranged from boats with lovely gardens and lace curtains to nomadic habitats with wood piles on the roof and brick-a-brack on the stern.

Along this portion of the route I passed parks, swamps, housing projects, condos, under pedestrian walk paths and bridges, and a supermarket that allows boaters to dock and shop. It then curls through an area known as Shepherds Bush which is more industrial. This zone features Kensal Green Cemetery on one side and then giant Victorian cisterns for water on the other.

The following day I went in the opposite direction towards Paddington to the area known as Little Venice. This direction had a completely different feel. The canal snaked under the highway and was edged by housing complexes. Little Venice was the junction of two canals and even featured a floating café. It appeared to be marketed as a tourist destination. Unfortunately the houseboats in this area have private moorings so the walkway along the canal is locked requiring that you walk along the street.

It was surprising how close this all is to our flat. Distance was difficult to judge and when I looked on the map it turned out that I was only a tube stop away from our neighbourhood. I am eager to rent a bike and explore further in the direction of Birmingham.

October 11, 2006

Getting Time Out in London

The lifeline to arts, culture and heritage events in London is Time Out. We subscribe to the publication which arrives lie clockwork each Wednesday. It is more than a calendar listing, it is a lens through which you can see the London scene to discover places to be seen.

I find myself spending more time reading it than actually venturing out to arts events. The next issue arrives and I realise that all the dog-eared pages I carefully flagged for future action now mark events that have quickly passed.

Each issue features a cover story that contextualises the hottest event in the arts and asks - how does this impact the scene at large and influence trends? It pulls you in and there’s no holding back.

My pick for this week, which I promise to actually see and not just imagine attending, is the Frieze Art Festival. Time Out’s article doesn’t just say, “hey, check this out” that’s for unthinking periodicals. The feature is called Moving Pictures and the first paragraph states:

“From modest spaces in the East End to giant halls in the west, the capital’s galleries are on the move. On the eve of the Freize Art Fair, Sarah Ken talks to the dealers and museum directors reshaping the London art world…”

Let’s be honest, do you think you would see this kind of article in the San Francisco Chronicle Pink Section? I should think not. Do they even have a Time Out San Francisco? I've never seen it. A quick search reveals that they do http://www.timeout.com/travel/sanfrancisco/. Interesting, this is only an online calendar. What's holding them back from the full blown publication for the City by the Bay? Fear not San Francisco the arts can use a little Time Out.

Mark this date/time

Freaky fake Tika cat on the couch meowed without being touched. 3:30pm 11.10.6.

What was Tika doing at this time?

I'm a bit spooked.

October 9, 2006

Getting with the Program

You may be asking yourself, “what the heck is Amy doing with her time in London? All she blogs about is her cat in Connecticut. What about all the cultural insights we expected from her beyond Cheers, Lovely and Brilliant?”

Well, I’ve been wondering the same things. What have I been doing with my time?

10% sleeping – although fitful rest because of loud busses passing along the street and having to put in ear plugs mid-way through the night.

10% eating – cooking the old standards and going to amazing yummy restaurants that are abundant with every possible cuisine.

10% exercising – yes, its true, I’ve been going a bit overboard on the health classes but they are just so darn good here. Lots of yoga. Today tried Body Pump and I had my rump kicked by a fiery Irish lady body builder.

20% job hunting – I’ve applied for several positions – mostly arts and culture posts that are with granting organisations or borough councils. Searching for a job is a job. I spend 7-10 hours on each application. Plus, I have to figure out the lingo and use it my covering letter and CV (aka cover letter and resume).

20% hanging with me boy – Stephen and I veg in the evenings in front of the TV and weekends are very mellow.

20% socializing – Have done a good amount of hanging out with my mate Simone from San Francisco. She gives birth to her baby today! Also trying to connect with friends of friends. Lots of time connecting via email and telephone with many of my pals in the US.

5% life coaching – Simone, who is a professional life coach and operates cameron coaching, previously coached me. Now her friend Karen is my coach and it is fantastic. Both women are superb at helping you set goals, priorities and action steps.

5% domestic chores – ironing, shopping, laundry, dishes, finding a gardener to do up our two balconies.

10% adventuring – I am exploring the Tube system and will soon move onto the busses. Walking is in the mix too.

Notice what’s missing? Arts and Culture! Actually, just being in London is a huge cultural bath. Every street offers something interesting. I notice that first you look at the sidewalks to get your bearings and avoid dog crap. Next you look at eye level at the buildings, people and parks. I’m at the next phase of actually looking up and to the distance at sights such as tree tops, buildings, and church spires.

Same thing with arts – first I am just amazed by the urban landscape including the people who are arts projects in themselves. Now I’m starting to see public art and galleries. Next phase is actually going out to see art. Stay tuned...

October 8, 2006

Tika Again

Well, Miss Tika is now sleeping on my grandmother's bed. I think she enjoys resting in fields of flowers.

The "fake" Tika cat in our flat receives lots of attention from us and especially from guests who think she is so amusing. The strangest thing about the cat (who has a lovely voicebox that makes her sound brilliant) is that sometimes she'll meow without anyone touching her button. Maybe she is channeling Tika or the mother ship.

Photo by Lorraine Kweskin aka Tika Foster Mum

October 4, 2006

Lovely, Brilliant and Cheers

These are the three primary words in the British vernacular. I have yet to use Cheers but am quite smitten with Lovely and Brilliant. Language in general seems to be much more formal and I find in the cover letters (called covering letters) I am falling into the British style of writing.

Cheers: Used to toast a drink (Stephen prefers to say “cheers big ears”), to say thank you when you do something well or offer helpful assistance. Also used when you say good bye on the phone and in person. I’ve found that people are a bit sad at the end of a phone call if you say, “thank you and let’s talk soon.” They really want a Cheers!

Lovely: Used to describe anything good, well done, beautiful or as a conclusive statement.

Brilliant: Similar to Lovely but a more powerful exclamation. When I gave someone my address over the phone (a gardener who is going to redesign our flat’s balconies and get rid of the bloody pigeons) he said, “Brilliant!” after I completed the information. Was it really brilliant? Indeed I must be smarter here.

And for those of you who laugh at Madonna or think that I am now writing with affected British style – pooh on you. It just can’t be helped. This is really how people talk.

Cheers Mate.

Making Time

Ventured out to Greenwich today and had a wander up to the Royal Observatory. To my surprise, since I’m not a history/science buff, I discovered the Prime Meridian Line. Plus, they have a camera obscura. All for Free.

First image is of the sundial sculpture on the line. The second is of the clock that documents the official time. Although it looks like a quiet place there were dozens of folks standing on the line taking photos. Okay, I'm still a tourist.

October 1, 2006

Tika in Sunflowers

A photo from my mom of Tika in Connecticut. She's claimed the guest bedroom/computer room as her own. Notice the beautiful orange nails.